President Trump is looking for a surefire conservative for the Supreme Court. For all the escalating rancor, this round to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia could be the prelude to a more consequential battle. The possibility of a second Supreme Court vacancy in the near future is subtly affecting the strategy of the Republican Trump team in the final stages of selecting a candidate and of Democratic opponents girding for what could be years of political turmoil surrounding the composition of America’s highest court.
Scalia, who died last February, was a rigid conservative on social issues so Trump’s replacement would likely be a wash. But a Trump successor to either of the two eldest justices — liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who will turn 84 in March, or centrist-conservative Anthony Kennedy, turning 81 in July — could truly transform the law in America.
How the Fate of Unions Fell Into The Hands of a Single Man
In Commonwealth v. Hunt, (1842), an American legal case in which the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that the common-law doctrine of criminal conspiracy did not apply to labor unions. Until then, workers’ attempts to establish closed shops had been subject to prosecution. Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw asserted, however, that trade unions were legal and that they had the right to strike or take other steps of peaceful coercion to raise wages and ban nonunion workers.
The case stemmed from a demand by the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society that an employer fire one of its members who had disobeyed the society’s rules. The employer, fearing a strike, complied, but the dismissed employee complained to the district attorney, who then drew an indictment charging the society with conspiracy. The Boston Municipal Court found the union guilty.
Justice Shaw, hearing the case on appeal, altered the traditional criteria for conspiracy by holding that the mere act of combining for some purpose was not illegal. Only those combinations intended “to accomplish some criminal or unlawful purpose, or to accomplish some purpose, not in itself criminal or unlawful, by criminal or unlawful means” could be prosecuted.
Shaw, in effect, legalized the American labor union movement by this decision.
Let’s hope that the inevitable Democratic show of force on the first nomination serves as a warning to Trump not to put up an uncompromising conservative for a more consequential opening.
President-elect Donald Trump had the most perfect New Year’s tweet. And by perfect, we mean perfectly awful. Say what you will, the man has an uncanny ability to compress his entire sick personality into a mere 140 characters.
“Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!” he tweeted.
It’s a little hard to celebrate the end of 2016, a truly awful year, when in 20 days, this petty, vindictive man with the maturity and impulse control of a five-year-old and the ossified views of a dinosaur will be president. Though you may be cowering under your bed in dread at the idea, we thought we’d take you on a little stroll to recap of some of the horrors and absurdities the right wing visited upon us during the year that was.
1. Donald Trump staged a year-long assault on the truth.
Donald Trump lies all the time. He lies malignantly, and he lies ridiculously. His entire political career is founded on the birther lie, which he still brags about. He ran his campaign on lies about black crime, dangerous immigrants and non-existent jobs, more or less defrauding the American people the same way he defrauded the students of Trump University. In some cases, the lies he told were so demonstrably false that they were almost funny. Almost.
“There is no drought,” Donald Trump told Californians while campaigning in the drought-stricken state last May.
If there is a water problem, he continued, it’s because someone closed the water, so Trump is going to open it.
“If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water so that you can have your farmers survive,” Trump said.
It’s just so crazy to say this. Arguably, it’s one thing to deny climate change, which is a bit complicated and requires scientists to explain it. But droughts? Not to mention air pollution. Dude, we can see those.
Another bizarre lie in the final days of the campaign was a depiction of how President Obama dealt with a protester at a Clinton campaign rally.
“He was talking to the protester, screaming at him, really screaming at him,” Trump told his insanely gullible crowd in Tampa, Florida.
“By the way, if I spoke the way Obama spoke to that protester, they [the mean old media] would say, he became unhinged! He spent so much time screaming at this protester and frankly, it was a disgrace.”
This was, in fact, the very opposite of what happened. In what was televised for all to see, President Obama urged the slightly rowdy crowd to take it easy on the protester, who was older and appeared to be a veteran.
So this was not just a lie, it was a masterpiece of projection. For Donald Trump is the one who consistently endangered protesters at his rallies by inciting his supporters to rough them up and worse.
The persistence and outrageousness of Trump’s many lies can be attributed the sobering reality that the Trump era helped usher in the post-truth world we now find ourselves living in. The tweeter-in-chief spreads conspiracy theories, spins minor victories into major coups and occasionally in an unguarded moment spews some accidental truth about how he can’t believe so many people actually believe anything he says.
But still, you’re not supposed to just come out and say that truth and facts don’t matter.
CNN Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes confirmed all of our worst fears after the election when she said, “There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts,” on the Diane Rehm Show on WAMU, an NPR affiliate.
She was explaining the truth according to Trump to her fellow aghast panelists when it comes to Trump’s claim that “millions of fraudulent voters” gave Hillary Clinton her 2.8 million popular vote victory.
Here is what Hughes purported to be her logic:
“Mr. Trump’s tweets amongst a certain crowd, a large—a large part of the population, are truth. When he says that millions of people illegally voted, he has some, in his, amongst him and his supporters, and people believe they have facts to back that up. Those that do not like Mr. Trump, they say that those are lies, and there’s no facts to back it up.”
That is seriously scary. We have a president and his minions who now believe truth is what he says it is.
Trump’s videotaped assertions that he could grab women by the genitals because he is famous threw some of his surrogates into disarray, though not all. And a few of them performed some of the more hilarious contortions seen on the campaign trail to deflect attention from the damaging revelations.
One was Newt Gingrich who reinforced his already creepy image by conflating sex and sexual assault in a dustup with Megyn Kelly in October. While she pressed for answers and expressed concerns for women’s safety, Gingrich countered with the accusation that Kelly is “fascinated with sex,” because she kept talking about it.
Funnier still was Betsy McCaughey, the former Lieutenant Governor or New York, whose nutjob takedown of Obamacare invented the concept of death panels. She argued that if you like Beyoncé’s music, you can’t complain about sexual assault. Like other right-wingers, she seemed to think the problem with the leaked video was Trump’s foul language, rather than the whole rapey/consent thing.
Hillary Clinton, a fan of Beyoncé, likes bad words more than Donald Trump, McCaughey argued, before whipping out and performing the lyrics to “Formation.”
“‘I came to slay, bitch. When he f-ed me good I take his ass to Red Lobster.’ That happens to be from Beyoncé, her favorite performer,” McCaughey said of Clinton. “Whom she says she idolizes and would like to imitate. There’s a lot of hypocrisy, in Hillary Clinton expressing such horror at language on the bus.”
McCaughey was triumphant. She really scored there.
Later, after several women accused Trump of sexually assault, McCaughey called their accusations an example of “man-shaming” and suggested the women should not be believed.
“With all due respect, that was the same thing that the folks over at Bill Cosby’s camp said,” CNN Don Lemon pointed out.
“Well, and sometimes they’re right and sometimes they’re wrong,” McCaughey countered.
In October, Ted Cruz, who for some reason had forgotten that everyone including his own party detests him, floated an idea about the Supreme Court. Maybe, if Hillary Clinton were to win the presidency, Senate Republicans really would just take all of their toys and go home and stonewall on any Supreme Court appointment she attempted to make. So there.
“There is long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices,” Cruz lied at a campaign event. “Just recently Justice [Stephen] Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job, that’s a debate that we are going to have.”
Cruz’s threat did not quite pack the punch of fellow tea partier Joe Walsh’s threat to “grab a musket” if the election did not go Trump’s way, but was more in Cruz’s trademark mealy-mouthed and thoroughly dishonest style.
For starters, there is no long history of that, and secondly, Breyer did not say that. The Senate’s inaction on Supreme Court appointees has severely affected the high court’s ability to do its job. Deadlocking on cases involving immigration and unions and other vital issues means the court is literally failing to do its job, which is to decide things.
The Supreme Court is only the best known example of the harm GOP stonewalling has done to the judiciary. Republicans have confirmed only 18 of Obama’s federal court nominees, and created a “judicial emergency,” which is a term for when courts are so back-logged and caseloads are so high that Americans’ access to justice is endangered.
Cruz knows about this judicial emergency and has gleefully propagated it. Unlike his idiotic fellow traveler John McCain, whom Cruz was echoing. Cruz is a lawyer and touts himself as a constitutionalist, but for some reason it’s okay for him to ignore the part of the U.S. Constitution that gives the power of appointing justices to the current president of the United States.
Cut to present and Cruz’s name has sickeningly been floated for a Trump appointment to the Supreme Court, while Cruz accused the Democrats of threatening to be the most obstructionist party in history.
Ha! One hopes.
5. Melania Trump’s barely hidden misogyny revealed itself in an interview with Anderson Cooper.
At first glance, Melania Trump did a good job of seeming like a decent and sane person in her softball interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper in October. She reported that her husband had apologized to her about bragging he sexually assaults women, and that she accepted his apology. But she pointed out, it was not his fault. Billy Bush made him do it. Donald is, she acknowledged, a big kid, barely more mature than their 11-year-old, Barron.
But her mixed messages about her husband’s level of maturity were only part of the problem. On closer inspection, there was quite a bit of misogyny lurking behind her words, and viewing women as the real predators seems pretty firmly ensconced in her worldview. Since boys will of course be endearing if potty-mouthed boys, Melania blamed the manipulative women who are always hitting on her husband, sometimes right in front of her, throwing themselves at him. This was in the context of talking about sexual assault allegations, so the unmistakable conclusion was that she was implying some women are asking for it.
As for Natasha Stoynoff, the People magazine writer who said Trump forcibly kissed her at Mar-a Lago, the most important thing Melania wanted to convey was that she was never friends with Stoynoff and would not recognize her on Fifth Avenue, despite the fact that Stoynoff attended the Trumps’ wedding. (And the most important thing Mr. Trump would have you know is that Stoynoff is not his idea of attractive enough for him to sexually assault. Stoynoff has recently confirmed that knowing Trump would attack her looks did give her pause before going public with her ordeal. How many more?)
6. Rudy ‘9/11’ Giuliani conveniently forgot when 9/11 happened.
In September, self-proclaimed September 11 hero mayor Rudy Giuliani managed to forget when 9/11 happened so that he could make the laughably false statement that there were no terrorist incidents before President Obama took office. Around the same time he made that brain fart, and right after the first debate in which Trump tanked badly, Rudy posted a banner week sucking up Trump’s fumes. Here were some of the lowlights:
Immediately following the debate, Giuliani was the first to float the idea that Trump should skip the rest of the debates. Why? Because Trump blew it so badly, and his gnat-like attention span prevents him from actually preparing? No, because it was rigged! Lester Holt was so unfair when he corrected Trump a few times on his lies! (Especially when Holt pointed out to Trump that the police practice he and Giuliani so love, stop-and-frisk, is unconstitutional and racist.)
Later in the week, Giuliani joined the fray in criticizing Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs, because that’s just extremely relevant to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and Giuliani has always been an exemplary husband and father. Because he cares so much about women and children, Giuliani helpfully pointed out how “stupid” Hillary is to have stayed with Bill. In the same dizzying spew, Giuliani called Trump a “feminist” for hiring women (even if he fat-shames them and fires them for not being attractive enough). He also claimed Bill Clinton “violated” Monica Lewinsky, and as a former prosecutor, isn’t he supposed to know that’s not the case?
By the end of the week, Giuliani decided it was appropriate to make racist, anti-immigrant remarks and insult Mexicans working in the kitchen at the Waldorf Astoria during a black-tie event there, even managing to offend the various business leaders assembled. Red-faced, the head of the Commercial Finance Association, obviously a left-wing organization, was forced to issue a formal apology to attendees.
Diagnosis: The bile has finally eaten all the way through Giuliani’s brain.
7. Britt Hume idiotically whined about how he’s not even allowed to say Hillary Clinton is shrill and needs to smile more.
Hume, Fox News’ so-called reasonable one, gave the following critique after Hillary Clinton’s Democratic convention speech: “She has a habit, when speaking, of breaking into a kind of a sharp, lecturing tone, [it] makes you feel like. She has a great asset, as a public person, which is a radiant smile, but she has a not-so-attractive voice.”
Now, technically, he did not actually use the word “shrill” having somehow gotten the message that that word is not very well-disguised sexism. A few weeks later, Hume and Tucker Carlson were having a little chat about what they can and cannot say about Hillary Clinton. It’s so frustrating being a white male these days. Everybody’s always picking on you, trying to take away the privileges to which you’ve become accustomed.
They were discussing the outrage of Clinton not smiling enough while she was talking to the families of dead soldiers during the “Commander-in-Chief” forum. Carlson said he admires Clinton’s toughness (ha! no), but thinks she undercuts that when she mentions the sexism in the media’s coverage of her. How so? Not sure.
But poor Hume just doesn’t even know what he can say anymore, everything has become so unfair.
“You know at the Democratic convention, I was on after her speech, and it struck me that she did some things effectively in that speech, particularly her critique of Donald Trump,” Hume said. “But she seemed—and she has at other times in the campaign—to be kind of angry and joyless, and yes, unsmiling. I said that on the air, and I really caught it on Twitter from people who said, ‘You’re just a sexist, I can’t believe somebody’s saying that.’ But it raises this question, Tucker, in America today, is it possible for a woman to be shrill, and if so, or joyless, or unsmiling, is it possible for somebody to say that without ending up in jail?”
The dreadful persecution of Hume and other men who wish to call women shrill with impunity continues.
8. Pond scum emerges, says vile scummy things, gets book contract.
If there is a more despicable piece of shower mold than Breitbart’s Milo Yiannopoulos, we do not know it.
In a mediascape that normalized Trump’s demagogic drunk uncle act and legitimized him into the presidency, this other creature from a hateful lagoon was granted a hearing on ABC “Nightline” with Terry Moran.
Yiannopoulos has been banned from Twitter for leading a harassment campaign against the comedian Leslie Jones, something he is apparently proud of.
“I like to think of myself as a virtuous troll,” Yiannopoulos bizarrely self-aggrandized in the interview.
We like to think of him with a stake driven through his tongue, but hey, we like to think lots of things.
Moran thought maybe he could pull some decency out of this cockroach, and asked if Yiannopoulos would tell Jones “she looks like a dude” in person.
Moran again tried to reason with the moron. “You’re going to go after somebody’s body to denigrate their ideas? What grade are you in? Seriously. Are you a 13-year-old boy? Because somebody doesn’t have a weight that you think is proper? That’s revolting.”
Revolting is a word Yiannopoulos can relate to.
“I’ll tell you what’s revolting,” Yiannopoulos responded. “What’s revolting is the body positivity movement. What’s revolting is this idea now that you can tell women that they’ll be healthy at any size.”
And now, having discussed this vile piece of bellybutton lint, we need to go take a bath.
9. Trump sons went from comparing refugees to Skittles to just making sh*t up.
It was Donald Trump, Jr. who compared refugees to Skittles, prompting the candymaker to distance itself from the Trump campaign (as Tic Tac later did). But it was son Eric who made up the absurd original lie of his father’s sh*tshow of a campaign in the fall. He swore it was not President Obama’s Kenyan birth or his secret status as a Muslim Manchurian candidate, it was a Christmas story. Who doesn’t love a Christmas story?
During an interview, Eric said Trump entered the political sphere because the Obama/Grinches stole Chistmas. “He sees the tree on the White House lawn has been renamed Holiday tree instead of Christmas tree. I could go on and on for hours. Those are the very things that made my father run, and those are the very things he cares about.”
One teeny tiny leetle problem. It’s not true. As in has no basis in reality. Didn’t happen. Throughout the Obama administration, the White House Christmas Tree has been called the “White House Christmas Tree.” It’s not even the “White House Xmas Tree.”
So this is a made-up story, a myth, a manufactured crisis, and all part of the nonexistent war on Christmas that isn’t being waged anywhere.
Eric also pointed out other pseudo outrages galvanizing his father’s run.
“He opens the paper and some new school district has just eliminated the ability for its students to say the Pledge of Allegiance, or some fire department in some town is ordered by the mayor to no longer fly the American flag on the back of a fire truck,” Eric Trump told the Stream’s James Robinson.
There are just a few things wrong with this statement. Chiefly, Donald Trump doesn’t open a paper. He opens his Twitter feed, Fox News or maybe Breitbart. Sometimes he glances at the National Enquirer, especially if “people are saying” there’s a good conspiracy theory about Ted Cruz’s father or Hillary Clinton’s health on the cover.
The Kool-Aid in the Trump household was clearly very strong.
10. Before Trump surrogate Carl Paladino said horrendously racist and hateful things about the Obamas, he said other horrible racist things.
Back in August, while Trump was attacking the Khan family for having an American war hero son while being Muslim, his pal and upstate New York school board official Carl Paladino went on “Imus in the Morning” to defend his right to do so. He started by making up stuff about Hillary Clinton.
“We’ve got an unindicted felon [he means Clinton] as his opponent and you’re talking about Khan, about [Trump] making a remark about this man? All right, I don’t care if he’s a Gold Star parent. He certainly doesn’t deserve that title, OK, if he’s as anti-American as he’s illustrated in his speeches and in his discussion. I mean, if he’s a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or supporting, you know, the ISIS-type of attitude against America, there’s no reason for Donald Trump to have to honor this man.”
It’s hard to be worse than Trump himself, but apparently manageable for some.
Keeping the level of discourse as high as possible, Paladino went on to insist that Obama is a Muslim and Hillary Clinton is “devious” for hiding her alleged health problems (that have been thorougly debunked).
“But if you’re really looking at what’s been exposed about Hillary and Hillary’s demeanor, I mean, just look at the deviousness. If it is true about her health problems, I mean, how devious can a woman possibly be? And not telling the American people that she’s got some sickness, she’s definitely impaired.”
Diagnosis: Paladino is morally impaired.
11. Bill O’Reilly instructed black people to hate Black Lives Matter.
In December Bill O’Reilly let his white aupremacist flag fly in a rant about opponents of the Electoral College.
But we shouldn’t let that despicable moment obscure another despicable moment back in July, when several police officers in Dallas were gunned down after a peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstration, which had nothing to do with the shooting.
O’Reilly took the opportunity to insist that everyone must hate and fear Black Lives Matter immediately. He and other Fox Newsians spent a good deal of their post-Dallas airtime whipping up as much hysteria and anger as possible against a group that has a name and a message no sane person can argue with. But sane people do not sit at Fox roundtables, as an episode of “Outnumbered” clearly shows. Meanwhile, colleagues Megyn Kelly and racist ex-cop Mark Fuhrman took it upon themselves to lecture black people to stop exaggerating problems with the police. You got that, Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Alton Sterling?
But O’Reilly is just so sick and tired of black people not listening to him when he tells them what is good for them. Speaking to his guest, NAACP director Hilary Shelton, O’Reilly said, “So, you know what I think? I think that if you really want, if African Americans really want to bring the country together and have good racial relations, they have to distance themselves from Black Lives Matter. Am I wrong?”
Yeah, you’re wrong, Shelton said, explaining that the Black Lives Matter marches are occurring for a very good reason. And lots of people understand that.
But white people ha-a-a-te Black Lives Matter, O’Reilly whined, mistaking the echo chamber in his head for reality once again. “White Americans despise this crew. And if black Americans don’t understand that, we’re just going to grow further apart.”
Shelton carried on saying reasonable things that were in the spirit of bringing people together, among other things pointing out that people of all races join Black Lives Matter marches and believe in the movement and in justice for all Americans.
All on deaf ears. O’Reilly was just too busy breaking the douchebag-o-meter.
12. Fox Newsians said—with straight faces—that asking Trump for his tax return was discrimination against rich people.
No, seriously, Kimberly Guilfoyle really did say this. She and her co-hosts from “The Five” were discussing this terrible miscarriage of justice—the fact that Mitt Romney suggested there might be a bombshell in Donald Trump’s unreleased tax returns, and that now everyone is all over his case to release them. The Donald had up with various reasons not to produce them, including the hilarious statement that the IRS picks on him because he’s such a strong Christian. One suspects the real secret the Donald is hiding is that he is not nearly as wealthy as he makes himself out to be, which is the only revelation in the universe that could bring the shameless reality star the remotest sense of shame.
But Guilfoyle and equally idiotic Eric Bolling just thought it was so mean—so, so rude—to ask the Donald to produce his tax returns. Co-host Dana Perino tried to explain that the office of the presidency is that of a public servant, not the gold-plated throne from which to order decrees that Trump imagines it to be, and pointed out that although taxes are “complicated for [insert the word rich] people,” they would likely be an issue in the general election.
Juan Williams pointed out that Donald’s taxes are “relevant right now.”
Guilfoyle jumped all over that, whining, “What about discrimination, Juan?”
“Against rich people,” Guilfoyle said. “And one percenters. Nobody ever asks to see the poor—it’s so rude.”
What those striking are now bravely confronting in Atlantic City should resonate deeply with American workers, their unions, and beyond
In Atlantic City workers at the Trump Taj Mahal casino hotel, members of UNITE HERE Local 54 wagered a struggle that should make it one of those crystallizing flashpoints that garner national attention and mobilize support from the entire labor movement, progressives, and working people at large.
Such flashpoints arise only occasionally in workers’ struggles for justice. In living memory, for example, Eastern Airlines, PATCO, Pittston, the Decatur wars, UPS, and most recently Verizon are among those that have attained that status.
Those flashpoints of national concern and mobilization occur when what particular groups of workers are fighting for and against connects with broader tendencies and concerns in workplaces and the society in general. Downsizing, speedup, outsourcing, privatization, capital flight, unsafe working conditions, profitable employers’ demands for concessions that imperil workers’ standard of living are all among conditions that have triggered those moments.
The striking Trump Taj Mahal workers are involved in precisely such a fundamental struggle now, one that should resonate far and wide among American workers and their unions.
How It Started
Nearly 1,000 cooks, bartenders, housekeepers, cocktail servers and other workers there went on strike on July 1—the culmination of a twenty-month struggle to restore pay and benefit cuts that Donald Trump’s crony and notorious billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn imposed on workers after obtaining permission to do so from a bankruptcy judge. Last year, it should be noted, Trump indicated that if elected he “would love to bring my friend Carl Icahn” to his administration as Treasury Secretary.
The Trump Taj Mahal Bankruptcy Ruling’s Devastation
Following the bankruptcy ruling, Trump Taj Mahal workers lost health insurance, pensions, even severance pay. Workers have seen their average total compensation cut by more than a third. One striker with a chronic medical condition recently died alone at home without access to medical care, and there is no reason to believe that his case is unique. There are many other horror stories, including workers faced with losing their homes and apartments in addition to suffering other material and emotional hardships.
Why This Fight is Everybody’s Fight
The Trump Taj Mahal strike is an important moment for us all because these workers are on the frontline against forces that threaten us all and that lay bare what a Donald Trump presidency would have in store for millions of American workers.
Both Trump, who built the Taj Mahal, and Icahn, who is the current owner, have taken millions from the property, driven it into bankruptcy, and left the workers holding the bag. Icahn, as Trump Taj Mahal’s sole debtholder between 2010 and 2014, took $350 million out of the business. Icahn has a long history—going back nearly thirty years to his takeover of TWA airlines—of bleeding companies of assets, gutting pensions and benefits, and then tossing aside the firms’ hollowed out carcasses. Manipulation of employer-friendly bankruptcy laws has also been a Trump specialty, one that he has used on several occasions to stiff contractors, going back to when he was the original “too big to fail” scamster at the beginning of the 1990s. Combined, Trump and Icahn have used the bankruptcy tool at the Taj Mahal multiple times.
Another reason we need to see the Trump Taj Mahal strike as all our fight—in addition to the outrageous injustice and hardship Icahn has perpetrated on these workers—is that this struggle in Atlantic City sheds light on some important mystifications that need to be clarified if we hope to turn the tide against the intensifying predatory assaults on American workers’ standard of living.
The Taj Mahal fight is a frontline battle in the systematic attacks on working people’s living standards in this country perpetrated by the likes of Donald Trump and Carl Icahn and their ideological affiliates Mike Pence, Scott Walker, Bruce Rauner, Pat McCrory, Paul Ryan and the Congressional Republicans, the education “reform” billionaires, the Koch brothers and ALEC, the many tentacles of the carceral state, all of whom are intent on destroying public goods and services, and good public jobs, if not the very idea of a public. To keep the focus on Icahn and Trump, however, what better poster boys could there be for the predatory “billionaire class”?
If the Trump Taj Mahal was permitted to operate on the terms Icahn imposed, workers, the union, and the broader community understand that the result would be a local race to the bottom, as other casino operators would argue that they have to compete with Icahn’s sweatshop model to remain viable. As by far the dominant industry in the city, the hospitality and gaming sector is directly linked to the economic health and well-being not only of casino workers but of the community at large. It is decent hospitality sector jobs that enable workers to buy houses and provide the backbone for the entire local economy.
And Atlantic City is not alone. Icahn’s attack on Taj Mahal workers is of a piece with broader right-wing attempts to drive down workers’ living standards everywhere. This is what is behind the systematic attacks on teachers’ unions and other public sector unions and efforts to destroy the national postal service. Partly it stems from a desire to eliminate any organized expressions of workers’ power, to clear the way to realizing the other objective: creation of a world in which we would have no alternative other than to accept work on whatever terms employers choose to offer it.
That, of course, would be employers’ utopia and workers’ hell.
The issues at the core of the Trump Taj Mahal strike reflect the concerns shared broadly by workers in this country. The struggle presents a clear window onto the danger within the false promises Trump seems to offer some, and the strikers and their union provide a clear, practical model of the sort of movement we will need to change this country’s political direction to center on the needs of working people.
Making this fight a national issue on the order of those earlier key labor flashpoints certainly seems like a no-brainer.
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A Message from Donald Conrad
I am Donald Conrad, President and CEO of Conrad Capital Management. CCM is based in the heart of Long Island, Islandia (New York), right between the Hamptons and Manhattan. I have offered investment counseling, retirement plan advice to families and businesses across the country since 1998. I began my career in the financial services industry in 1982. Throughout my 34 year professional career I have helped labor union workers throughout NY State. My clients have included indispensable, experienced workers with specialized knowledge from all walks of life, ranging from firefighters to nurses to police officers and air pilots. I have seen firsthand the benefits that unions bring to their members and I worked hard to provide highly customized face-to-face fiduciary investment advice for affordable fees to active and retired workers.
“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I hold Series 7, 24, 63 and 65 licenses, as well as Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) Certification. I am an independent investment advisor; – registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission, as such subject to the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, and have a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of my clients. In this role I have worked with complex portfolios and served the many unique needs that often require special management strategies. Previously, I served as Senior VP – at PaineWebber (1993 – 1997), Sr. Vice President at Shearson Lehman Hutton (1987 – 1993) and Sr. VP at E. F. Hutton & Co. (1982 – 1987).
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In early 2016, a remarkable thing happened. Mainstream liberal opinion makers suddenly decided that labor unions do good things, and that they are worthy of the public’s support. Last February, the Editorial Board of The New York Times sadly described America as “a nation where the long decline in unions has led to a pervasive slump in wages,” and they worried about the ongoing struggle between “pro- and anti-union forces,” noting that “Republicans’ support for anti-union legislation is at odds with their professed commitments to helping the middle class.”
The previous week, the Times op-ed contributor Nicholas Kristof had operatically outed himself as a born-again supporter of labor unions. Saying that, “[l]ike many Americans, I’ve been wary of labor unions,” Kristof first repeated some carefully distorted anti-union anecdotes, but then he announced: “I was wrong. . . . [A]s unions wane in American life, it’s also increasingly clear that they were doing a lot of good in sustaining middle class life.”
This new theme has now become prominent in the Times and elsewhere, with (among many examples) another Editorial Board piece in October extolling the role of union power in raising the wages of automotive workers and in pushing for a higher minimum wage, as well as occasional guest op-eds making similar points. Suddenly, it is acceptable for mainstream liberals to say that they support unions.
The Question of Unions’ Role in American Life
The question of unions’ role in American life found its way into the Supreme Court earlier this month, in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, in which the justices will decide whether public-employee labor unions can continue to collect dues from non-members to help pay for the union’s efforts that raise pay and benefits for members and non-members alike, while leaving in place the prohibition on using non-members’ money to support political activities. The current system prevents the classic “free rider” problem, in which people will sensibly choose not to pay for something when they know that they will be able to benefit from it in any event.
The oral argument in the case was rather astonishing. Chief Justice Roberts blithely offered the unsupported claim that the financial costs to unions resulting from losing the case would be “really insignificant,” evidently believing that people will pay for things that they like, even when they are not required to do so.
But the Chief Justice’s rationalizations were the least of the problem. Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse, calling a comment by Justice Kennedy at oral argument “as unconstrained and revealing a rant as I’ve heard from the Supreme Court bench,” noted that Justices Kennedy and Scalia are now arguing that there simply is no distinction between political and non-political activities by a public-sector union. Justice Kennedy even described as “almost axiomatic” the idea that government agencies deal with matters of public concern, so that if a non-member thinks that the union should not be taking one position or another in negotiations, that position is per se political, with the union “making these teachers ‘compelled riders’ for issues on which they strongly disagree.”
The justices in the majority thus apparently believe that there can be no real distinction between a union’s workplace activities and its political activities. One might impertinently suggest that this would also be true of private-sector unions, many of whose members would also surely be willing to say that they disagree with their representatives’ activities. But whether the Roberts majority ultimately decides to selectively look past the public/private distinction in this area is as yet unknown.
In any event, the outcome of the Friedrichs case seems certain. And with union membership having dropped to ten percent of American workers, and with the vast majority of those who do belong to unions being in public-sector jobs, this could be a further blow to the ability of unions to do the good things that the editors of The New York Times and other liberals now proudly support.
If this outcome is not the death blow to unions, therefore, it will certainly be a major event. And if mainstream liberals are worried about this case, they need to think seriously about how we reached the point where unions are in such a precarious state.
The New Political Case for Unions
At the top of the Democratic Party, there is continued discomfort with pro-union activity. When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker aggressively attacked his state’s public-employee unions, as part of a broader national strategy to weaken labor unions even further, President Obama was notably absent from that debate. Wisconsin’s progressive activists were disappointed but not surprised, because Obama had been tepid at best in his support of labor’s interests.
Even so, people who used to disparage or discount the importance of unions are now apparently seeing the light. It is easy to see why. With inequality having become a matter of concern even among some Republicans, we can no longer ignore the clear connection between declining unionization and the expanding gap between the wealthy and everyone else. These recent decades in which Democrats have been pulling away from unions, after all, are exactly when we have seen workers’ incomes essentially stagnate even while workers’ productivity has multiplied impressively.
Neil H. Buchanan, an economist and legal scholar, a Professor of Law at George Washington University, and a Senior Fellow at the Taxation Law and Policy Research Institute asks and answers;
“Is still time to prevent further declines in the role that unions play in America? And can the decline of unions be reversed?
“Liberals who once recoiled from unions have suddenly seen that unions must play an important role going forward. If it is too late to stop the anti-union momentum in this country, however, the killing of the labor movement – and of widely shared American prosperity – will have been aided and abetted by far too many people who should have known better.”
I don’t belong to a union. I didn’t have to because my maternal grandfather was a member of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. His brother was, too, and their sister belonged to the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Another brother drove a taxi, a union button pinned to his cap.
They were part of a labor movement that was midwife to the American middle class.
Unions never enrolled a majority of workers. At their high point in the 1950s, they counted a third of American workers as members. But their impact was far greater. Where unions are strong, nonunion workers benefit because employers offer competitive wages to keep their workforce from defecting.
That’s how I got to wear a white shirt and tie, the dress uniform of the middle class. I was a child during the Great Depression, when my father sometimes drove a cab. Other times he was a furniture mover, and most often he was out of work. Then defense production for World War II kicked off an economic boom, and my father became a department store salesman.
There was no union, as many white-collar workers disdained the labor movement as beneath their newfound dignity. But salaries were decent, buoyed by the general rise in pay as unions got members a bigger slice of the pie. My father could afford for me to stay in school and go to college. So here I am. And not just me. Such was the experience of myriad families.
Earlier this month the justices heard oral arguments in the case that turns on the so-called no-free-lunch provision of the union contract in a school district near Anaheim, Calif. It requires teachers to pay a portion of the union’s dues even if they choose not to join. Several teachers sued, claiming that violates their First Amendment rights. Unions take political positions, the teachers noted, with which they might not agree.
By the union’s logic, all teachers benefit from the salary scale it negotiates. So shouldn’t all have to pay their share of the cost of negotiating a contract? Can’t the free-speech issue can be addressed by giving nonmembers a discount — subtracting an amount proportional to what the union spends on political activities?
Some legal scholars say it’s hard to imagine a line cleanly separating politicking from collective bargaining. Fair enough, but should the justices agree, it will close a chapter of what, in the heady days of the 1960s, was proclaimed “People’s History.” The story of the little guy. The kind who carries a lunchbox and a thermos to work.
Before unions, he long got the short end of the stick. His work day was arduous — 10 and even 12 hours was the norm — and extra pay for overtime was unheard of. In the needle trades, when orders backed up, the boss’ mantra was: “If you don’t come in on Sunday, don’t bother to come in on Monday.” Unions were handicapped by courts declaring them a “conspiracy.” Even when unions got a toehold, progress was painfully slow.
My grandfather supplemented his sweatshop wages by working evenings at home. I can still see him sitting behind a sewing machine, occasionally joining the conversation between running a line of stitches. Yet even then, the union provided a benefit: an exhilarating sense that a worker wasn’t on his own. My grandmother complained that all her husband wanted to talk about was “shop, shop, union, union.”
The benefits got more tangible in the postwar decades. Industries that had held union organizers at bay were organized. Assembly line workers got contracts, and the nation’s demography was radically altered. Most societies look like a pyramid: a few rich people at the top, a lot of poor people at the bottom, and a small middle class in between. But America’s profile got a potbelly: the middle class grew until, by 1971, it was larger than the upper and lower classes combined.
Ordinary folks bought homes and, every few years, could trade in their car for a newer model. They proudly watched their kids go off to college.
But beginning in the 1970s, the process was reversed. Decade after decade, the middle class declined and its clout was lost proportionally. Now a week doesn’t go by without the media or a blogger proclaiming that America’s middle class is getting squeezed out.
As the Great Recession eased, upper-income folks did nicely. Middle-class families went back to the short end of the stick. No voice insisted that they get a fair share of the pie — as the labor movement did at the end of the Great Depression. Union membership has declined to about 11 percent of the workforce. Organized labor’s remaining strength is in public-sector unions, and that is up for grabs — pending the Supreme Court’s ruling on the no-free-lunch issue.
Yet if its fate is sealed, it deserves a proper obituary. So let us remember the mothers and fathers of the middle class, brave souls who persuaded others to sign petitions asking for union representation. Who denied themselves a paycheck by voting to strike. Who walked picket lines. Who came home bubbling over with news of the shop and the union, the shop and the union.