Thursday, May 27, 2010

America for Sale

Ron Ault
Memorial Day, 2010

Are you paying attention to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that threatens the entire Gulf, all of Florida and even the East Coast?  Republicans are saying this is Obama’s Katrina!  What is the Federal Government doing about the oil spill? Why hasn’t Obama taken over and plugged the leak?

Duh! What is wrong with this picture?  Has everyone in America eaten a stupid pill? Dumbass is somewhat contagious, but this is pure stupidity on a grand scale!

How can the federal government be responsible for what the private sector does to us?  If our food is poisonous, is it the fault of the federal government?  If the medicines we take cause cancer, is it the fault of the federal government?

Didn’t we sell yours and mine mineral rights on our public lands to energy companies?   Yes, we did. We voted to do it .…You and I agreed to give millions of dollars worth of public mineral rights to millions of acres of public land for just pennies an acre mineral lease rights to these companies.  And then we agreed to deregulate these very same industries so they didn’t have to invest any money in safeguards against neglect and unsafe mining and drilling techniques that kill workers and poison our air and water. YES, we did, don’t deny it!

And we are still demanding more – look at the “Tea Party” demonstrations. What do they demand: smaller government; no taxes; “take back our government;” deregulate; no rules; free markets… stop “socialism!”

Well, Gulf Coast residents, welcome to the returns on the investment that the “Free Market” oil industry brings you! Foreign ownership, foreign built rigs, foreign technology, all used to drill and then when all hell breaks loose and millions of barrels of crude oil is spilling into the US coastal waters, it is the United States federal government that is supposed to jump in and bail out BP and the foreign governments who own these companies?

Remember what the eminent Grover Nordquist said would be the ultimate in conservative government: Make it small enough to drown in a bathtub. Now, the bathtub is full of oil, and we’re drowning in it!

Didn’t we vote for the Contract for America when Newt Gingrich and his Republicans pledged to roll back regulations, make government smaller less intrusive that would free up investments and be more business friendly?  Didn’t we vote for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney?  Didn’t we go to war in the Middle East in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom to keep the oil flowing? Didn’t we support those politicians who deregulated the coal mining and oil exploration industry? Didn’t we vote to re-elect these same Senators and Congressmen and women term after term, rewarding them for their votes? Meanwhile, these lawmakers de-regulated, dismantled and removed federal safeguards from the banks and energy companies that are harming us today. 

Free enterprise isn’t free for you and me. It is free from regulation – free from federal inspectors checking up on cheats and unscrupulous businesses; free from mine inspections and meat inspectors; free from DOL Wage and Hour inspectors, free from CDC scientists working on new vaccines that only affect a few thousand Americans (so it isn’t profitable for drug companies to do); free from border patrol and law officers; free from public school teachers and fire fighters; unburdened of all those federally-supported services that our taxes provide. Wall Street is lobbying our Congress so they don’t have to pay the same taxes as you and I pay. And, 36 lawmakers lined up to support Wall Street over you and me…including some Blue Dog Democrats who should be voted out of office, like Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas. 

But I digress…America is for sale. Private industry has waged an expensive decades-old public relations campaign to brainwash the general public into believing that any government regulation is bad and only totally free enterprise, free trade is good. Kinda like saying sin is great and virtue is bad. Say it loud enough and repeat it often enough on every TV channel and soon it is no longer an ad, or just an opinion – it is the truth….it is the Golden Rule: Those with the gold rule.

Don’t you get it? America is being sold to foreign interests every day of the week. We are a third world country being mined by foreign national governments for our raw materials. Huge tracts of American farms are foreign government-owned and the crops harvested in the USA go directly to those nations…Same story for our forests. Raw logs are loaded in ships and shipped directly overseas for raw materials; not as a finished, valued-added product. Why should we be surprised that crude oil is being drilled in the deep water US coastal Gulf by foreign government owned businesses like BP, the Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, the United Arab Emirates, China Development Fund, etc? As Sarah says: Drill, Baby, Drill!

Almost nothing that has benefitted Main Street America in our entire history is from private enterprise.  Required reading in every school in America should be Jeff Madrick’s “Case for Big Government,” a book written in layman’s language, (so that even an old country Boy from Arkansas like me can understand it) that details his conclusion that a public relations campaign has been systematically waged against America so we vote against our own interests and with greedy corporations who, with our help, legally steal money from the general public (that’s us).    

Jeff Madrick is the editor of “Challenge” magazine and senior fellow at the New School’s Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis. He creates a fact-filled, “connect the dots” road map for every day citizens to understand the complexities of economics in plain language. After reading this book, you will clearly see the lies and deception heaped upon America by the greedy and unscrupulous mining and energy corporations who use public lands to make billions of dollars of pure profits that belong to you and me, and then avoid paying anything for the land and avoiding taxes on their profits. Incredible! 

So shut up America. You asked for this. You paid for it. You voted for this, and you continue to support the system that is dumping millions of barrels of oil in the Gulf. You made the deal; so live with it!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Memorial Day Message

Ron Ault May 23, 2010

The last Monday in May has been observed as the Memorial Day federal holiday since 1971.  Before then, it was known as “Decoration Day” to decorate the graves and monuments that honor our fallen servicemen and women.  This observance goes all the way back to 1871 to honor the dead servicemen who served in the Civil War. 

This history of Memorial Day shows that the more things change, the more they remain the same, especially when we are in a temporary time of peace between the numerous wars our nation has fought since 1871.

Today, the  public’s perception is that we are at peace with other nations, although that isn’t entirely true.  We are at war and it is with nations; not just a loose group of so-called terrorist groups;  al Qaeda  may be the face of their surrogate, but these terrorists are sponsored and supported by nation states hell bent on harming America. At the same time, we are in the worst economic recession/depression since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

2010 looks an awful lot like the state of the world in 1938, before World War II.  History has a way of repeating itself. The world of the “haves” and the “have nots” during the Great Depression actually triggered World War II. Adolph Hitler came to power united behind a starving Germany that was largely unemployed. Today, we are seeing riots in Europe, political uprisings in the Far East and an angry American electorate that is voting long-term incumbents out of office.  We have sleeper cell terrorists attempting to bomb New York City’s Times Square just to kill innocent civilians.

The United States Constitution specifically requires the US Congress to provide a Navy for the national defense…not the Department of Defense; not the President of the US; but Congress. Yet, in these dangerous and uncertain times, what is happening to our Navy?

The Navy’s recently released 30-year shipbuilding plan is fraught with faulty assumptions that are based purely on shortages of shipbuilding funding. And, if Congress simply rubber stamps the recommendations of this report, it will be giving up its constitutionally mandated responsibility to provide a Navy to auditors and bean counters.

It costs a lot of money to have a modern two ocean Navy and our nation doesn’t have any money to spare. The war in Iraq bankrupted America. This war has actually lasted longer than WWII —it is the longest and most expensive war we have ever had. To shift money to fight the war of our choice in Afghanistan, the US has decided to cancel new defense programs saying that no other nation on Earth has the technology we currently have in our military, so we don’t need new systems. This decision will have long term consequences.

By cutting the development of future weapons systems we are dismantling our national defense industrial base, and by doing so we give up our ability to build our own weapons systems we will need to defend ourselves.

Any nation that cannot build their own defense weapons cannot be considered a world power and must buy whatever weapons other nations are willing to sell to them.  This is especially true in the Naval Shipbuilding industrial base. America has only six major shipyards that are capable of building complex large deck Naval combat ships and submarines; listed from West to East: National Steel Shipyard owned by General Dynamics Corporation located in San Diego, California; Avondale Shipyards, owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation and located just outside New Orleans, Louisiana; Ingalls Shipyard owned by Northrop Grumman Corporation located in Pascagoula, Mississippi; Newport News Shipbuilding, owned by Northrop Grumman and located in Newport News, Virginia; Electric Boat, owned by General Dynamics Corporation and located in Groton, Connecticut; and Bath Iron Works, owned by General Dynamics and located in Bath, Maine.

Newport News is the only shipyard currently building nuclear powered aircraft carriers and Electric Boat is a nuclear submarine yard. Bath Iron Works, Ingalls, Avondale and National Steel Shipyards are building the non nuclear, combat surface ships, including destroyers, amphibious ships, fleet underway replenishment ships (formerly called fleet oilers), minesweepers, frigates and cruisers.

We haven’t built a modern icebreaker in decades and considering the Russian race for oil exploration in the Arctic Circle, seems pretty short sighted.

The modernization of the aging Coast Guard fleet and the US coastal trade, Jones Act fleet of US Merchant Marine ships requires more than six shipyards, but without federal support for such programs, America will lose the last vestiges of heavy industry manufacturing left in America and we will have to buy our ships from China and South Korea with money we borrow from them.

What most Americans don’t realize is that these shipyards are the largest private employers in their respective states and generate and additional $7.80 for every dollar they spend in economic activity in their regions and within the shipbuilding supplier base.

The income taxes on wages paid to our workers offset some of the costs of Naval and Coast Guard purchases, but no one accounts for that.

Every single state in the US has industries that supply the US shipbuilding industry. Every job in these shipyards is a good-paying, middle class job.

When all variables are factored in the economic pie that is sliced up, I submit that the economic impact of shipbuilding is self-sustaining. Once any of these shipyards is closed, there will never be another shipyard built in the United States again.

No one can afford to invest the billions of dollars into the infrastructure to build a shipyard, and the environmental permits would NEVER be approved to dig and build dry docks, dredge berthing and outfitting spaces, waterfront piers, machines, electrical conduits, piping, sheet metal and steel fabrication shops and massive heavy lift cranes and weight handling equipment used in modular construction of massive metal ship structures.

America’s shipyards are national treasures and should not belong to private enterprise, but they do and as such they are operated on a supply and demand basis. They must make a profit or be closed, sold and disposed of, regardless of the impact on our national security.  Had America closed down its shipbuilding base between the crash of 1929 and December 7, 1941, we would have the axis flags of Germany and Japan flying over Washington, D.C. today. History ignored is history to be repeated.

This Memorial Day as we honor our fallen and our currently serving American armed forces, let’s not put future generations at risk by short sighted defense policies based on budget rather than on our national needs. As Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld candidly said when asked by news reporters about why our Humvees were not ordered built with IED armor to prevent unnecessary US causalities: “We go to war with the Army we have. They're not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

Our shipbuilders build every U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ship knowing it is their sons and daughters who will crew and fight in those ships.
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Friday, May 21, 2010

America’s Fractious Two Party System

by Ron Ault
May 20, 2010
Results from the so-called Super Tuesday elections are in.  A friend of workers, Senator Arlen Specter, lost his bid to be elected as a Democrat and will retire after 30 years of service. Senator Specter is caught up in the anger of America at a broken two-party political system that doesn’t work. To work there must be a willingness on the part of the minority party to abide by the will of the majority. And both sides must be willing to compromise to achieve bipartisanship.  Instead the partisan rancor has been ratcheted up a notch and nothing is coming out of the Senate where Democrats hold a razor thin majority over Republicans.
In the 2008 general election Americans voted for a change.  In the special elections last Tuesday they continued to vote for change.  Hello, professional politicians, didn’t you hear the voters? Where is the CHANGE we voted for?
Why is there a so called “Tea Party”?  Why are incumbents losing elections right and left?  CHANGE is what we want; not more of the same. Using a minority status and abusing the rules of the Senate to block any change in government is a sure fire strategy to piss off America and that is exactly what Senator Mitch McConnell’s political strategy has been.  McConnell believes that if his party can block everything in the Senate and mire down government so that nothing gets done voters will blame the Democrats and vote for Republicans in the mid term elections. McConnell’s strategy is purely self-serving, hard-ball politics above the good of the public. In carrying that strategy out, the Republicans are hurting America in the worst economic recession in our lifetime. And this negative strategy of could not have come at a worse time for our nation. We need bold, new ideas from our legislators to recover from the recession, not gridlock.
The voters are smarter than McConnell thinks they are.  Voters say throw them all out. So we are seeing the baby thrown out with the bath water, so to speak in the special elections.  Since there are more Democrats running for re-election in the 2010 mid term elections than Republicans McConnell’s strategy might work- but not as he intended.
America wanted to change the direction we were headed under Bush- so far, Senator McConnell has blocked the will of the 2008 election. How is it possible for a minority to block the will of a majority?  Want to know the answer? The rules of the Senate empower a single Senator to put a hold on confirmations of Presidential appointments, effectively stopping the President from putting his new government in place.  The rules of the Senate allow for endless debate unless a “super majority” of 60 votes to invoke cloture and end debate. These rules are not part of our constitution, they are made up by the Senate. They are not really required and should be scrapped in today’s poisoned partisanship climate.
Gridlock strategy is frustrating the base on both the left and the right. The outgrowth is parties within the parties—the Tea Partiers, Club for Growth and others among Republicans and, among Democrats, a range of political approaches—from “Blue Dogs” to “Progressives”. This factionalism weakens the mainstream of each of the two parties and encourages extremists to hijack party platforms that, for better or worse, express the vision and ideals of a political party. In place of platforms, the extremists find it safer, easier and more appealing to play to anger and frustration—in other words, demagoguery in place of idealism. Although we continue to maintain that we have a two party system, the reality is that we have a multi-party system, but the two institutionalized parties retain total control over the fund raising and organizational machinery.
What America really needs is to abandon the two party political system, but neither party is willing to do that. Both political parties like the system in place. They like being able to block elections and stymie the will of the majority of voters so they don’t have to listen to you and I. Change is something neither political party wants.  America is in deep doo doo.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Anti Worker Policies that Kill the Middle Class

By Ron AultMetal Trades Department, AFL-CIO

May 7, 2010

The Bush Administration left us a lot of excess baggage in anti-worker federal policies. One especially onerous policy came out of the National Nuclear Security Administration of the Department of Energy. It was proposed in order to eliminate defined benefit pension plans and post retirement health care programs for all the contract workers who perform the nation’s nuclear weapons work. Organized labor blocked the policy by having Congress pass a bill that said in essence that DOE could not spend any funds to implement that policy. Shortly afterward, then-DOE Secretary Samuel Bodman met with me and several other national labor leaders, including then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, to tell us that DOE was withdrawing the DOE directive over defined benefit pensions.

We relaxed and moved on to other battles. Big mistake. DOE was secretly implementing the directive by including it within the procurement bid process, called “solicitation for bids,” that would require any successful contractor to implement the DOE/NNSA policy that Secretary Bodman told us they were withdrawing.

We worked night and day to elect a worker friendly administration in 2008 to stop attacks on workers and the elimination of a middle class in America. We welcomed President Obama and applauded his appointment of Secretary Chu as Energy Secretary.

On January 21, 2009, I sent Secretary Chu a letter asking for an opportunity to sit down with him over the issue of DOE policies that were harmful to workers we represent. In June, almost exactly ix months later, I received a cryptic email thanking me for my communication to Secretary Chu, but due to his busy schedule he could not accept my invitation for a meeting. In the meantime we were locked in battles at DOE Sandia National Laboratory with Lockheed (DOE’s prime contractor that runs the lab for them) over the elimination of defined benefit pension for workers that have had this provision in their union contract at Sandia for more than fifty years. The defined benefit pension plan at Sandia is virtually free. It currently operates at no cost to the government and it is currently overfund by 167% (as of May 17, 2010) AND WILL NOT REQUIRE ANY ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTION IN THE FORSEEABLE FUTURE! Apparently, for DOE, facts should not get in the way of a policy. In this case, the overfunded status was irrelevant for DOE.

The agency insisted that the contractors take away the defined benefit pensions in collective bargaining negotiations even if it meant a strike and required that the employer start a new defined contribution pension program (a 401 (K) program) that actually increased the costs to the government and added to the federal budget deficit.

The Metal Trades took a strike vote at Sandia, but the bargaining unit turned it down in face of the worst recession in modern history.

Same story at DOE Hanford in Richland, Washington; at the Oak Ridge Tennessee facility; and at all other DOE/NNSA nuclear weapons programs, in addition to our Idaho Falls Naval Nuclear Reactor facility that is a joint Navy/DOE facility. For more than two years now Secretary Chu has refused to meet with me over these DOE anti-worker policies even though he has met with many of our Metal Trades Council and Atomic Trades Council local presidents when he makes visits to the many thousands of Metal Trades Department-represented workers at all these DOE locations.

On Good Friday this past month before the Easter Holiday, NNSA/DOE posted on their website a new requirement for contractor bids on a combined operations and maintenance contract our Pantex Nuclear Weapons Plant in Amarillo, Texas; our Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge Tennessee; and, within two years, at the DOE Savannah River Weapons Complex in South Carolina. The plan is to link these operations together under a single contract, with a new provision that the successful contractor will have the “flexibility” (for the first time in history) not to hire the present employees, who have decades of seniority and valuable experience after (in many cases) decades of working at these DOE facilities for every previous DOE contractor. Even worse, the successful contractor is free to set wages and benefits without regard to the rates of pay and benefits contained in our collective bargaining agreements.

How many thousands of highly skilled, high security, nuclear qualified employees could this affect? What classifications will be affected? Will this be a wholesale replacement of the entire present workforces in all three locations with brand new kids fresh out of high school? Hell, don’t ask me. I am only the National President of the largest labor organization representing workers within NNSA- they haven’t seen fit to even brief me or any of our unions. We read about this just like John Q. Public did.

I recently wrote DOE Secretary Chu a letter similar to the January 21, 2009 letter I previously had sent to him, again asking for a meeting to discuss these disturbingly anti-worker developments by his Department of government. We haven’t heard a word from DOE.