Monday, February 5, 2018

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Transit Delays are a Symptom of a Larger Problem

NJ Transit train problems
NJ Transit has plagued with problems for years
Commuters via NJ Transit to New York Penn Station this morning were subject to an extra 20 minute delay due to a switch problem on Amtrak’s line. In addition, an Amtrak train hit a person near Milltown, NJ which also caused delays. None of the passengers on the train were hurt.

Amtrak began work on repairs its tracks Monday that will continue throughout the summer, ending September 10th.  Trains on the Morris & Essex line will now end at Newark Penn Station instead of New York Penn Station while repairs are ongoing.

PATH trains and ferries will honor NJ Transit ticket holders for the duration of the repairs. The increased options for public transit to New York made the first day better than many expected. Unfortunately, some of the extra buses provided Monday will not be a transit option going forward.

Getting into New York Penn Station already takes more than an hour from most stations in New Jersey that are close as the crow flies. However, due to the state of the tunnel and the tracks, trains are unable to go faster than a glacial pace quite often.

The system is so old there have been several train derailments already this year. Thus, repairs due to age as well as Hurricane Sandy are urgently needed. But they have been delayed for so long the entire system is crumbling.

NJ Transit is already operating at a diminished capacity due to the massive budget cuts it sustained under Chris Christie, having gone from a $350 million a year budget in 2005 to a $33 million a year budget in 2015.

When New Jersey raised the gas tax last year to address its transit woes, it did so at the expense of the estate tax. The estate tax, which especially affects the wealthy, will be eliminated next year, thus making the tax system worse for the average New Jerseyan. And this was a deal that was finalized only after months of negotiation.

During his campaign, Trump pledged to spend more on public infrastructure. However, his most recent proposal would cut infrastructure spending. To address the issue, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have been pushing the Gateway project for quite some time while funding problems persist due to opposition from Republicans. The project would double the capacity of NJ Transit and Amtrak which would reduce travel time.

The poor state of our infrastructure is a subject of great political contention and has been so for some time. When a politician gives a speech declaring the need for a new bridge or road, some reactionary polemic will inevitably call him a “socialist”. However, a strong infrastructure is one of the qualities that define many industrialized, capitalist countries versus third world nations.

The poor state of our infrastructure is merely another symptom of runaway inequality and how the wealthy and their conservative allies have hallowed out our society. Transportation of course is merely one part of the U.S. domestic budget that is considerably underfunded due to austerity measures and tax loopholes favoring large corporations at the expense of the average taxpayer.

Of course, the irony is that if at some point, infrastructure funding increases dramatically and new projects pop up everywhere, the delays will be nearly as dreadful as those faced on the daily commute, at least temporarily.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Bill O’Reilly Being Paid $25 Million for Leaving Show

Bill O'Reilly has been let go from Fox News after they have been
forced to settle sexual harassment lawsuits with multiple women.
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is going to be paid $25 million to step down from his prime time cable news show “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News by its parent company, News Corp. The $25 million represents one year of his salary which News Corp. is obliged to pay him as per his contract.

O’Reilly is being forced out after allegations of sexual harassment have risen from multiple women including reportedly calling an African American woman “hot chocolate”.

News Corp. has already paid $13 million to five women who were guests or staff on the show.

The O’Reilly Factor has consistently been the most popular evening news program on cable television for 15 years. O’Reilly continues to deny that he sexually harassed any women.

Fox News would have likely kept O’Reilly in his primetime slot if several prominent corporations hadn’t pulled their ads from the show making O’Reilly a financial liability. Among the fifty advertisers who severed their ties due to the sexual harassment suit included several auto, insurance, and major pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer.

He has served as the titular host of the “O’Reilly Factor” since 1996, the year Fox News was launched.

O’Reilly more than any other media figure has shaped political debate for the worse during his tenure. He claimed to be in the “No Spin Zone” has done nothing but spin facts to suit his conservative viewpoint. In fact, he can be called the “Godfather” of Fake News. He passionately insisted that Saddam Hussein was allied with Al Qaeda. He assets that climate change is not real, and that Black Lives Matter is a hate group,as one of his many bogus claims, all of which are unfounded assertions designed to scare viewers, cause controversy, and boost ratings.

This hypocritical figure who has claimed to stand for “traditional values” has done nothing of the sort. He mocked those who would criticized George W. Bush’s push towards the Iraq War which has since destabilized the Middle East and created a power vacuum that has been filled by figures far worse than Saddam Hussein.

In light of all this, it even more galling that his ratings didn’t suffer from the allegations. In fact, O'Reilly's downfall has been a long time coming. Many allege he lied about being saving a colleague during the Falklands war in the 1980’s.

O’Reilly’s obnoxious, faux populist, reactionary and rhetoric arguably enabled the rise of conservative figures for the last 20 years including George W. Bush, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. In fact, O’Reilly has been a consistent fan of Trump on air, supporting most of his controversial and remarks and defending him from critics. The two are personally close, having attended baseball games together.

Trump returned the favor to O’Reilly by coming out in support of him earlier this month saying he was a “good person” when controversy first arose around O’Reilly.

O’Reilly’s self-righteous pose and bluster inspired Stephen Colbert’s bombastically foolish character on the “Colbert Report”. He has ultimately poisoned American political discourse for years to come.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Georgia Special Election Might Embarrass Trump Tonight

Jon Ossoff, GA Democratic congressional candidate
Jon Ossoff, the 30-year old Congressional candidate might
upset the political order with a win in his race for an empty seat
A special election today for Georgia’s 6th Congressional district might be won by a Democrat. The seat was vacated by Tom Price who was made Secretary of Health and Human Services by Trump. The Democratic nominee is Jon Ossoff, a 30- year old small businessman and former congressional staffer.

Ossoff has run a strong campaign for the seat declaring his candidacy in January. He made headlines when he sent an email saying, “Make Trump Furious” framing his election as a dent in Trump or part of “the Resistance”. He has been able to raise more than $8.3 million for the special election which has led many to take notice. That’s 17 times more than his closest opponent. Less than half a million came from within Georgia itself, though the near 200,000 donations averaged $43 per donor suggesting that a legitimate virtual grassroots network is propelling Ossoff versus receiving funding from a few large donors.

In addition to raising huge sums of money, Ossoff has been polling near 40% in recent days.  However, his success has made National Republicans kick into high gear. It’s well-publicized that he doesn’t currently live in the district, despite having been raised there. In addition, Trump recorded a robocall criticizing Ossoff that was sent out yesterday. $2.2 million has been spent by Republican PACs criticizing his age and allegations that he padded his resume his time as a congressional staffer

While his opponents have been portraying his age as a liability, he might be able to turn that into an advantage. Twenty-seven percent of registered voters in the district are between the ages of 18 and 34 and thus might be welcome a fellow Millennial as their Congressman.

Due in part to the nature of Georgia’s election rules, there are 17 other candidates running against Ossoff for the seat, including multiple Republicans. Thus, it’s likely the top vote-getters will compete in a runoff scheduled for June 20th. At that point, it might be far more difficult for Ossoff to compete against a single Republican backed a by a united party and funded by mega-donors.

Georgia’s 6th district, situated outside Atlanta, is staunchly conservative and quite wealthy. It was formerly held by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich while in Congress. Price himself was also extremely conservative while in Congress and recently led the failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act as HHS Secretary. But while the district has been historically Republican, Trump only won it by 1.5 percent.  

A win tonight would reinvigorate the Democratic Party which has been struggling to recover in the wake of Trump’s victory last November. It would likely be seen as a sign that the party has been reinvigorated by its time in the opposition and can expect support in many formerly solid Republican districts.

Many diehards Democrats are especially anxious to see this election as the turning point against Trump. In the recent Kansas election to replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo, James Thompson, the Democratic candidate came extremely close to winning the seat with 46 percent of the vote despite receiving little support from the national party. It should be noted Ossoff has tried to portray himself as a near centrist in contrast to Thompson who portrayed himself being more in the mold of a Bernie Sanders progressive.

However, Georgia’s 6th district is not the ideal place to hold a special election that will be the turning point against Trump. The fact that the district has been held by Republicans since the Carter Administration doesn’t bode well in attempts to win it in the first place let alone hold the seat in the upcoming midterm elections. In fact, it has been 21 years since a Democrat won at least 40 percent of the vote in the district. There are far more districts throughout the Midwest which were held by a Democrat at one point during the Obama Administration where Democrats have performed better in the past. But if Ossoff does ultimately win the race, then Trump and the Republicans are going to be doomed sooner than expected.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

AG Sessions Recuses Himself From Investigation Into Trump Campaign’s Russian Ties

Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a press conference
Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a press conference
recusing himself
WASHINGTON- Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he has recused himself over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collaboration with Russia.

It was revealed that last year during the presidential campaign, he met with Russian Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak at the same time it’s suspected that Russian intelligence hacked the DNC to weaken Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Sessions met twice with the ambassador, once during the Republican convention in July and again in September.

“For the good of the country, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should resign,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in regards to Sessions’ meetings.

Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee which has jurisdiction over such issues, echoed Schumer’s call and called for further investigations saying “there is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission to investigate this issue.”

The call for an investigation into the matter was bipartisan with Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Chairman of the Oversight Committee saying Sessions should clarify his statements. Many other Republicans have called for Sessions to recuse himself prior to the announcement while nearly Democrats had gone further and called for Sessions to resign.

Democrats now are calling for an independent commission into the matter.

Sessions’ announcement of his recusal was notable for the fact that earlier in the day both Trump and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Sessions would not need to recuse himself.

It’s likely that Sessions perjured himself during his Senate confirmation hearing when asked by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked whether he was in contact with anyone in the Russian government about the campaign and he denied it.

Sessions was a Republican Senator from Alabama for 20 years prior to his appointment as Attorney General under Trump. He was a close advisor to Trump during the campaign, having been one of the first Senators to endorse him.

He has held extremely conservative positions throughout his political career. He opposes gay marriage, drug reform, immigration, and the separation of church and state. Sessions is likely eager to reverse many of the legal gains made under the Obama Administration and Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.

During his confirmation fight, it became widely publicized that he was passed over for a federal judgeship during the Reagan Administration for allegations of racism. Coretta Scott King wrote a long letter criticizing his record as a U.S. Attorney on civil rights and voting rights.

It has become increasingly clear that the Trump campaign collaborated with the Russian government which sought to influence the presidential election.

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has already resigned for lying to Vice President Mike Pence in regards to his conversations with Kislyak. Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned over ties to Russia.

The more evidence that comes out regarding Sessions’ conversation with Kislyak, the more Congressional Republicans will be unable to ignore the writing on the wall and maintain unity. The Russian scandal is also likely to bog down the overall Republican agenda with many archconservatives unwilling to sign on anything that more moderates concerned about losing election will push.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

National Right to Work Bill Introduced in Congress

Republican control of both chambers of Congress and the
Presidency has to led to a tide of conservative legislation
WASHINGTON-Republicans in Congress introduced a national Right to Work bill in Congress yesterday which threatens to decimates the American Labor movement.

Republicans Steve King of Iowa and Joe “You lie” Wilson of South Carolina are co-sponsoring the bill. Both have had reputations as extremely conservative for years.

Only King and Wilson are sponsoring the bill for now, which is a good sign. The likelihood of a bill’s passage is strengthened by the number of Members who agree to co-sponsor the bill. In addition, there is no Senate sponsor yet. It’s unclear whether it will pass.

In a best-case scenario, the bill will get buried in committee and won’t receive a hearing. By the end of the current session of Congress in January 2019, it will die a quiet death.

Unfortunately, Right to Work laws have spread in recent years despite the fact that Right to Work states have lower wages.

In a company where a union is in place, all employees receive the benefits a union can extract due to its leverage from collective bargaining for the group. Under Right to Work laws, employees can easily opt-out of the union, thereby contributing to a “free rider problem”.

Kentucky became a Right to Work state in January at warp speed. Because Republicans also have both the Governorship and both chambers of the legislature in Missouri and New Hampshire are also feared to fall this year as well.

During the campaign, Trump praised Right to Work laws. But he recently met with Building Trade union leaders in the Oval Office who might be able to soften his position. However, they would likely support his notion of building a wall on the Mexican border.

Even if a national Right to Work law doesn’t pass, Trump will pursue anti-worker agenda including blocking the Fight for 15 movement, paid sick days, and defunding the Department of Labor. His appointees will likely allow companies to ignore existing labor laws with impunity. In addition, his Supreme Court nominee if confirmed is likely to rule against the existence of public sector unions, among other things.

Contracts bargained by unions led to a general increase in living standards. Many point to their decline as part of the reason inequality has increased.

Unions funnel millions of dollars and volunteers into Democratic campaigns and causes. The AFL-CIO was a crucial leader in the coalition backing the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank in President Obama’s first term. In 1963, the United Auto Workers union was a key backer of the March on Washington. The SEIU is the main funder of the Fight for 15 movement.

Martin Luther King and Walter Reuther
Martin Luther King with UAW President Walter Reuther at the
March on Washington in 1963.
How Did We Get Here?

In their heyday, many unions grew comfortable when nearly 1/3 of the American workforce was unionized at their peak. But being at one’s peak leads to a level of hubris that can be hard to shake until the chips are down. Unions have been in a slow decline for 40 years. New methods of organizing have been embraced in recent years to replace the union members lost when their jobs were outsourced with varying degrees of success.

When President Obama took office with strong labor support, the Right fought back. Charles and David Koch, oil tycoons from Kansas, poured money into the Tea Party through Americans for Prosperity and the American Legislative Council (ALEC) an association of state legislators united in decimating social and economic progress. Many of their candidates won in the 2010 midterm elections which wiped out Democratic majorities both on the national and state level. Along with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Chamber of Commerce, the Kochs have been pushing an anti-worker agenda successfully despite unions’ best efforts.

Under current labor law, union are bound by an enormous amount of red tape in terms of the activities they can engage in both in the workplace and politically. The process by which a workplace can become unionized is extremely difficult.

In order to survive, unions and their allies have to fight with everything they have and more in new and creative ways, including civil disobedience. The fact that every progressive cause is under siege won’t make it any easier.

The idea of General Strike on February 17th by which workers in a variety industries protest instead of working to stop Trump’s policies is starting to gain momentum.

Join us in the fight!