Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Keith speaks at Cornell:

Part 1, University Days
Part 2, America and Labor
Part 3, Questions and Answers
Video via Current.com

video 'podcast': part 1, part 2, part 3

The Cornell Speech: America and Labor

This is the script I wrote as the centerpiece for my "Evening" at Cornell, so the thirty minutes of hilarious recaps of every second of my Cornell life - plus my observation that while Karl Rove will be speaking at this University, he will be speaking in the Agriculture quad and thus by Ann Coulter's definition won't be speaking at the "real" Cornell - and the question and answer session that followed will have to wait until we edit and post the video, probably Thursday afternoon.

But here are those serious remarks, more or less as delivered:

Let me start in the MOST exciting way possible, by reading you part of a bill proposed in our United States House of Representatives. This is HR 1135, introduced by Mr. Jordan of Ohio, Mr. Scott of South Carolina, Mr. Garrett of New Jersey, Mr. Burton of Indiana, and Mr. Gohmert of Texas.There's a lot of interesting stuff in here but nothing more interesting than paragraph three, which is titled, with amazing straightforwardness and the kind of gall that would make a cat burglar flinch, "STRIKING WORKERS INELIGIBLE."

"Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no member of a family unit shall participate in the Food Stamp program at any time, that any able-bodied work eligible adult of such household is on strike as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act - 1947 (29 U.S.C., 142, 2)...

Howdy, College of Industrial and Labor Relations students.

College of Industrial and Labor Relations students

"No member of a family unit shall participate in the Food Stamp program at any time, that any able-bodied work eligible adult of such household is on strike as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act - 1947 (29 U.S.C., 142, 2), because of a labor dispute (other than a lockout) as defined in section 2 (9) of the National Labor Relations Act."

We should all be passing out at this point. Not even hidden in flowery legalese is a Republican measure that if passed by the House and somehow by the Senate, and then inexplicably not vetoed by the President, would - even more simply put - deny food stamps to any American worker, public or private, who has the audacity to go on strike.

It actually gets worse. Let me quote again from HR 1135. If a worker is already so abused and battered by our economic system, so failed by education, by industrialization, by international corporations, by outsourcing, by the greed of Wall Street, by Bernie Madoff and a million as-yet unidentified Bernie Madoffs, even - throwing a bone to the Conservative Paranoia Of The Month Club - even so failed because illegal alien terrorist atheist anarchist liberal socialist fascist communist immigrants have come in and taken all those good jobs like cleaning the deep-fryer at McDonald's or the horse stalls at Lou Dobbs' daughters' favorite horse and country club - if an American, one of us is so failed by some part of the system that he's got a job and he's already on food stamps - and there are 42 MILLION of us on Food Stamps right now - when a strike occurs, these Congressional Republicans will not go all Ebenezer Scrooge on their ass - they will not actually take those food stamps away.


Quoting HR 1135 yet again, food stamps will continue, "If the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike. However, such family unit shall NOT receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household."

In short, you want to go on strike, whether over unsafe work conditions or subsistence wages or forced unpaid overtime? Great. Prepare to starve, too.

That is where we are today, in the greatest nation on earth, at the time of the greatest wealth in its history, at a time that would make the Robber Barons of the 19th Century think about turning themselves in to the police.

We are threatening every low-income American, for whom the safety net is already way too narrow and way too aged, with a choice of their legal right to strike, or their moral right to eat food not cardboard.

Mr. Jordan of Ohio, Mr. Scott of South Carolina, Mr. Garrett of New Jersey, Mr. Burton of Indiana - who I thought was dead - and Mr. Gohmert of Texas, the one who believes that pregnant women are immigrating here illegally so their babies would become citizens and then they can train them to be suicide bombers. Mr.Gohmert - the "Terror Babies" moron - who apparently got on this cause because he read it in... a comic book or something.

Mr. Gohmert has now signed on to a bill that would bring a kind of medieval climax to two months of the most concentrated action against organized labor in this country perhaps since the Peekskill riots of 1938 - when the cops and the strikebreakers did the rioting. Or perhaps it's the most concentrated action against organized labor in this country since the Haymarket Bombing in 1886 when a bomb was thrown into a crowd at an union rally in Chicago and seven so-called Anarchists were sentenced to death for having written pro-Union works that might have inspired whoever actually threw the bomb to throw it, since they never found who did throw it. They wound up hanging six of them and the other blew his own head off.

Do not mistake me. I am not a supporter of bombs and I don't think the union is right every time and I don't think every strike is justified or even in the self-interest of those who go on strike. But the strike is inherently dangerous to the rich, and to the corporations who have brought this country to her knees, because it is the only defense the ordinary citizen has. It is perhaps the greatest progressive act - indeed the greatest progress - since the emancipation of the slaves - or at least it's tied with votes for women.

It is the only thing that tilts back the playing field from its natural condition in this country - natural since a clerk in the Supreme Court accidentally declared that corporations were people; natural since a jerk in the Supreme Court named Scalia helped declare that those corporate people could spend whatever the hell they wanted on political advertising because you can't deny our corporate citizens their First Amendment rights merely because the First Amendment was clearly designed to protect individual breathing human beings and not artificial entities created by lawyers billing at a thousand dollars an hour.

Thus 21st Century America goes after the Unions.

You know about Wisconsin. You know about the Governor Scott Walker, the kind of sad looking, overmatched goofball who was clearly misinformed about what would happen when he would become a henchman for the corporations and the almost religious zealotry of the Koch Brothers and their Un-American Ilk.

But maybe you don't know about Mr. Carlos F. Lam (that's not L-A-M-B, as in Baa Baaa Baaa, that's L-A-M as in "on the"). Mr. Lam is "on" kinda. He is - or more correctly, Mr. Lam was - a deputy prosecutor for the state of Indiana, and a big fan of Governor Walker, who really is turning out to be completely overmatched.

But back to his friend Mr. Lam.

Well, to his pen-pal, Mr. Lam, on the 19th of February this year, decided to send Governor Walker a little suggestion.

"FROM: Carlos Lam

TO: Governor Scott Walker

Subject: Stay Strong!

Dear Gov. Walker,

This Hoosier public employee is asking that you stay strong and NOT cave to the union demands! The way that government works HAS to change and - by all appearances - that MUST begin in WI. We cannot have the public unions hold the taxpayer hostage with their outrageous demands."

You know: a living wage, collective bargaining rights, and food. Or food STAMPS. Or EDIBLE STAMPS. But again, I digress.

"As an aside," Mr Lam's email continued, "I've been involved in GOP politics here in Indiana for 18 years and I think that the situation in WI presents a good opportunity for what's called a "false flag" operation. If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you) you could discredit the public unions."

I'll just read that part again. "You could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you, or even use a firearm against you." Mr. Lam does not suggest exactly where on the body Mr. Walker should get himself shot.

I would suggest not in the FOOT... because the Governor seems to have done that a couple times already.

"Currently, the media is painting the union protest as a democratic uprising and failing to mention the role of the DNC and umbrella union organizations in the protest. Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support that the media may be creating in favor of the unions.

"God Bless,

Carlos F. Lam."

That's right, Gov. Try to get yourself shot. Take one for the team. That'll show those bastards willing to work for the people, for state governments! That'll show them that they don't deserve the same right of collective bargaining afforded to most private employees. That'll teach 'em to volunteer for public service!

Confronted with this email, Mr. Lam at first explained that he hadn't written it, that he was out shopping for a mini-van with his family at the time stamped on the email. Later, as the fine folks over at the Help Desk traced the email to his town, then to his neighborhood, then to his street, Lam said that clearly his email account had been hacked, insomuch as it had been hacked previously and he was damn sure those bastards had done it again. Which doesn't explain why he didn't... you know... get a different email account.

Having run out of stories and apparently unwilling to say that the family dog was very bright and might possibly have written the email as a joke, Mr. Lam finally called his boss at 5 in the morning last week and said "yeah, I wrote it, I think I should resign."


Governor Walker is not responsible for crazy emails from gun-happy nutjobs from the Great Hoosier State. The problem for him arises when you remember that this isn't the only time that this prospect of what Mr. Lam so aptly called a "false flag operation" was raised to him.

Three days after this email, a blogger called the very gullible governor and posed as one of the Koch brothers - David Koch, a huge donor to the Walker campaign - and suggested, in a conversation that was fully recorded, that the next time the capital in Madison filled up with this pro-union rabble, Walker should plant troublemakers in the crowd so that there'd be violence that could be blamed on Democrats and unions and Rush Limbaugh would get to breathe heavy on the radio and talk about liberating American workers - liberating them from safety regulations and food and stuff.

And Governor Walker committed political suicide that day, February 22nd. "Well the only problem with that - because we thought about that... my only fear would be is if there was a ruckus caused is that that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has gotta settle, to avoid all these problems."

So. False Flag Operation? No problem. Get thugs to beat up somebody in the crowd? No problem. Use state resources to arrange such atrocities? No problem. The possibility that the reaction would be "My God, the Governor has to compromise on this union stuff? That was the problem.

The good news in all this is pretty simple. In just under three months in office, Governor Walker has managed to turn a five or six point favorable margin into a five or six point unfavorable margin because he forgot that there were also Republican union members.

Once again, the strongest defense of the staples of our democracy is not vigilance, not intrepid reporting, not dedicated public service, but the stupidity of Conservatives who will never settle for two-thirds of everything. They want the rest of it too. The whole premise of being Republican is the awful thought that somewhere, some poor person has a dollar that some rich person actually deserves.

Mistake it not. Whether or not you've ever been in a union, you are benefiting, right now, from unions. The 40-hour week, the 8-hour day, holidays, overtime, rules that keep you from getting your fingers cut off, these didn't happen because John D. Rockefeller said "Say Fellers, we've got enough money, let's be nice to the little folks." They did it because they were forced to. And they will keep doing it only because we keep forcing them to.

And if the obviousness of that isn't plain to you - if a Governor contemplating getting people on his own side beaten up by plants, or not calling a news conference to say "this idiot from Indiana just said I should get myself shot by a friend and blame it on the unions," doesn't make the point - or a bill to deny food stamps to you if you go on strike and your family does not have enough to survive - if the obviousness of that isn't plain to you, consider what last Friday was.

Last Friday, it was a century since the Triangle Waist Company Fire on Washington Square in New York City. ILR has a wonderful, honorable website to this nightmare of our history, which I urge you to look at in case you don't know the story. In brief, on March 25th 1911, 168 young workers in an underwear factory in Manhattan died, horribly, crushed or suffocated or burned to death at the doors of their sweatshop, or by crashing to the street after they jumped or fell from the windows on the 9th floor at a time when fire ladders only went to the 6th. Mostly young women. Mostly with their clothes or their hair on fire. Jumping to the deaths.

It was the birth of the real American labor movement in this country and the true nightmare of it is that the reason they all died - is not because of the fire - but because the doors to their work floor were locked from the outside. And the doors were locked from the outside because the owners wanted to make sure that union organizers did not sneak in and try to convince the girls to join up.

Strike... or Eat!

Strike, or Live!

And don't tell me it can't go back to being that bad. Because after the parades and the mourning and the new legislation that followed in the torrent of tears after Triangle, in the days and months that began 100 years ago right now... the owners of Triangle Waist, opened a new factory. And on the 20th of August 1913, a year-and-a-half after they killed 168 Americans just to keep them from joining a union, those owners were convicted of going to the doors of their new factory floor and locking them from the outside to make sure that union organizers did not sneak in and try to convince the girls to join up.

They were fined 25 dollars.

The march of this nation has been, from the day of its founding, inexorably towards progress. We are not a "center-right country"...we are not leftist and we are not conservative and we are not socialist and we are not Christian and we are not Muslim and we are not Jewish and we are not Protestant.

We are a Progressive nation.

And from any point in the past, to any part of our society now, we can look with pride at what we have done to increase the happiness and the health and the welfare of the largest number of Americans the quickest we could do it.

But this does not come without vigilance!

The Triangle Waist Company is alive and well and living in the dreams of the Koch Brothers and Carlos F. Lam and Governor Scott Walker. And Ann God Damned Coulter.

And let us make sure that that is exactly where the Triangle Waist Company stays.