Week In Review

A Weekly Column by Bill Onasch
July 27, 2010

We resumed our regular schedule of updating the Daily Labor News Digest this morning.

Fox and the Chickens
The racist character assassins on fierce Fox cable “news”--instantly appeased by the cowardly chickens in the White House and NAACP--went a tad too far even for today’s witch-hunt atmosphere when they took on Shirley Sherrod.

This administration parted from their party’s previous efforts to make the cable scum pariahs. Instead they now recognize them as the gold standard for public opinion. Fox plumbs the depths of the cistern of high tech racist rightists. That’s where they found the spliced and staged “documentary” that libeled ACORN, leading to that group’s ultimate demise.

From the same source they found a snippet of video portraying Sherrod as voicing prejudice against white farmers. The USDA immediately sent her home from her mid-level civil service job. USDA Deputy Undersecretary Cheryl Cook told Sherrod she must resign because “you're going to be on 'Glenn Beck' tonight.” She was asked to pull over to the side of the road and to send her resignation in through her Blackberry. By then, the NAACP was already denouncing her recorded remarks–made at an NAACP event 24 years ago–as “shameful.” Just to twist the knife a little more, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the media he was very sensitive to such questions because of the Department’s unfortunate past record on race discrimination and that Sherrod had to go because he has a “zero tolerance” of racism.

(The past practices referred to were of course discrimination against Black farmers. The government recently reached settlement of a law suit brought by some victims of USDA discrimination–but the Democrat controlled Senate has so far refused to fund the award.)

It is understandable that Sherrod would harbor resentment against white farmers in Georgia. When she was a teenager her father–a farmer and deacon in his church--was shot and killed by one in a dispute over cows. An all white grand jury refused to bring any charges against her dad’s murderer. After first considering leaving the Jim Crow South she decided to stay instead to change it. She was an activist in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Sixties.

Later she went on to earn a bachelor’s in sociology at Albany [Georgia] State University and a master’s in community development at Antioch. She long worked on organizing farmer co-ops–modeled on Israeli kibbutzim–but a combination of drought and lack of access to credit eventually led to their failure. A year ago she was appointed the USDA's Georgia state director of rural development.

In the speech for which she was fired she explained how her views on white farmers and workers evolved,

“The only difference is the folks with money want to stay in power. It's always about money, y'all God helped me to see that it's not just about Black people. It's about poor people. I've come a long way.”

She had, in fact, even assisted the white farm family she confessed feeling prejudice toward in the Fox snippet. They credit her with saving their farm and, unlike the NAA, remained her loyal supporters in her time of crisis. Video is available on the Internet of the entire speech clearly showing the context of her acknowledgment of past reluctance to aggressively advocate for whites.

But all this probably wouldn’t have helped Sherrod to avoid the same fate as Van Jones and ACORN if it hadn’t been for the intervention of another cable news giant. CNN saw this as a great opportunity to bloody the nose of their Fox competitor, exposing dishonesty and hypocrisy in the process of featuring Sherrod’s story.

That set in to motion another mainstay of contemporary Establishment politics–The Apology. NAACP President Benjamin Jealous declared that “we were snookered” by Fox. Somehow I can’t imagine even mild mannered predecessors such as Benjamin Hooks being snookered by Fox-like trash in the past. No, Jealous got snookered by the White House that gives him his marching orders.

Even one of the snookerers, Bill O’Reilly, apologized for not doing his homework.

Trying to protect his boss, Secretary Vilsack fell on the sword, taking full responsibility for hasty action, heaping praise on the victim while offering her a new “unique” position.

New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has seen enough circuses to be able to tell the difference between the clowns and ringmasters,

“This woman was thrown to the wolves without even the courtesy of a conversation. Her side of the story? The truth? The administration wasn’t interested.

“And the blame for that falls squarely on the people at the very top in the White House. Why didn’t President Obama or Vice President Joe Biden or Rahm (call me Rahmbo) Emanuel, or somebody somewhere in the upper echelon say, ‘Hey, what the heck are you doing? You can’t fire a person without hearing her side of the story. This is not the Kremlin. Are you nuts?’...

“Black people are in a terrible condition right now — economically, socially, educationally and otherwise — and there is no effective champion fighting for their interests. Mr. Jealous and the new edition of the NAACP have shown in this episode that they are not ready for prime time, and President Obama seems reluctant to even utter the word black. Or poor, for that matter.”

Here’s Health
Even though congress took longer than the human gestation cycle to finally pass a health insurance reform bill that could have been credited as a stimulus for the paper industry, there’s a few details yet to be determined. One is what counts as part of the eighty percent of premiums that must now be spent on patient benefit. Says the New York Times,

“But state regulators are only now deciding what precisely that means, as they draft the rules to enact the law. WellPoint, which operates Blue Cross plans in more than a dozen states, wants to include the cost of verifying the credentials of doctors in its networks. Insurance companies like Aetna argue that ferreting out fraud by identifying doctors performing unnecessary operations should count the same way as programs that keep people who have diabetes out of emergency rooms. Some insurers even insist that typical business expenses — like sales commissions for insurance agents and taxes paid on investments — should not be considered part of insurance premiums, which would make it easier for them to meet the 80-cent minimum.”

The Wall Street Journal notes,

“Since the creation of Social Security and Medicare, younger workers have funded programs for the elderly. It's a compact in which workers paid for retirees with the understanding that they'd be looked after by the generation behind them. The health overhaul diverges by tapping a program for the elderly to help provide insurance to 32 million Americans of younger generations.”

The Washington Post reports,

“Nonprofit health insurers may be setting aside unnecessarily large surpluses even as some of them continue to raise premiums, according to an analysis by a consumer rights group.”

The so-called “nonprofits” include seven of the ten Blue Cross/Blue Shield affiliates.

Check out a new website, Hands Off Our Medicare, dedicated to preserve and protect Social Security and Medicare.

We’re Not Ready
That was the title of another Bob Herbert column last week. After noting so many redundant fail-safes either failed or were bypassed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster Herbert says,

“Nuclear plants are the new hot energy item. The Obama administration is offering federal loan guarantees to encourage the construction of a handful of new plants in the U.S., the first in decades. Not to be outdone, Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a certifiable nuke zealot, would like to see 100 new plants built over the next 20 years. There is no way to overstate how cautiously we need to proceed along this treacherous road....

“We have to be concerned about the very real possibility of a worst-case scenario erupting at one of the many aging nuclear plants already operating (in some cases with safety records that would make your hair stand on end), and at any of the new ones that so many people are calling for....

“Americans are not particularly good at learning even the most painful lessons. Denial is our default mode. But at the very least this tragedy in the gulf should push us to look much harder at the systems we need to prevent a catastrophic accident at a nuclear power plant, and for responding to such an event if it occurred.

“Right now, we’re not ready.”

Iraq Government Pulls Plug On Electrical Workers Union
A report posted on the US Labor Against the War website says,

“Police raided and shut down electricity unions across Iraq in mid-July, carrying out an order from the Minister of Electricity that could have been lifted from Saddam Hussein’s rule book. The order prohibits ‘all trade union activities at the ministry and its departments and sites’ and authorizes the police ‘to close all trade union offices and bases and to take control of unions' assets properties and documents, furniture and computers.’ The Iraqi trade union movement is calling on trade union members and labor solidarity activists everywhere to raise their voices in protest.”

You can find out more, and how to help, by clicking here.

That’s all for this week.

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