THE FALL NLRB SEASON


My latest Prospect piece explains why this fall could be the last opportunity for pro-labor NLRB decisions for a long time, and suggests what some significant ones could be:

Over the past months, the GOP has escalated attacks on the NLRB as a rogue job-killing agency, and Republicans’ willingness to use procedural tactics to block even recess appointments further raises the likelihood that once the pro-labor majority reaches its January expiration date, the board could be left to languish until the next presidential election. Although President Barack Obama inherited an NLRB with three vacancies, it took 14 months for him to fill any of them, due to a familiar combination of Republican obstruction and Democratic hesitance. Since then, “they’ve been playing defense,” says law professor and former NLRB attorney Jeff Hirsch, “and I don’t fault the board for that because they haven’t had a lot of time.” Come January, “I would be stunned if they actually get a third member on,” he adds. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Republicans are trying “everything they can to prevent the NLRB from actually doing what it’s intended to do.”

Check it out.

WHAT OBAMA COULD HAVE SAID ABOUT BOEING


At his press conference yesterday, President Obama made another move to distance himself from the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing for anti-union retaliation. While insisting he wouldn’t get into the merits of the case, Obama took the chance to emphasize the importance of capital mobility within the United States.

Here’s a different way he could have answered the question:

“There’s an legal process underway here, both Boeing and the union are having their day in court, and I’m not going to weigh in on what the evidence will show. I’m always happy to see cases like this reach a settlement both sides can live with – but that’s up to the parties. What I do know is this: there’s an important principle at issue here – the protection of workers’ right to engage in collective action without being punished. Workers taking action together for their families and their communities is part of what has made this country great. Every worker, union or not, should know that there are laws not just regulating their working conditions but also protecting their right to push to make their jobs better. On my watch, those laws will be enforced.”

Same refusal to judge the merits of the case. But a very different emphasis.

SASHA AND MALIA: DAMSELS NOT IN DISTRESS


President Obama managed to muse publicly about guarding the innocence of his preteen daughters twice in one week. Politico reports that he stopped by Sister Act on Broadway to joke

that the “Sister Act” movie series helped him decide to which convent to send his daughters Sasha and Malia, who are “getting a little too old and a little too cute.”

That comes one week after he went on Good Morning America to discuss Malia turning 13 and said

I should also point out that I have men with guns that surround them, often. And a great incentive for running for reelection is that means they never get in a car with a boy who had a beer. And that’s a pretty good thing.

Get it?
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EARTH TO A PATRONIZING PLANET


The Netroots Nation conference has traditionally been an occasion for mainstream media types to take a whack at the unreasonableness of the left. Michael Grunwald offered up, if not a classic, a fairly representative example of the genre on Swampland yesterday. Take this paragraph designed to dispatch left criticisms of Barack Obama with patronizing parentheticals:

It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.) He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.)

Let’s take the parenthetical potshots one at a time:

It’s true that Obama has posted on Daily Kos – although the most prominent instance was when he took to Daily Kos to criticize progressives for being too hard on senators that backed John Roberts (more on that one here and here).

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LABOR BOARD DEFENDS WORKERS, CONSERVATIVES FREAK OUT

My new piece debunking right-wing rhetoric about the NLRB’s Boeing complaint is up on Counterpunch and Common Dreams:

During the Bush years, many progressives gave up hope that the government could really make companies pay when they broke the law. Now a big company may have to pay a big price for illegally punishing workers. Last month the National Labor Relations Board, the federal body that enforces labor law, issued a complaint charging that Boeing illegally transferred the production of a line of aircraft out of Washington State. Boeing is accused of transferring the production to punish the workers there for going on strike. Punishing workers for union activity is retaliation, and it’s illegal. If Boeing is found guilty, it could be made to transfer the whole production line back. Naturally, the prospect of the Labor Board seriously enforcing labor law has Republicans freaking out…

Right-wingers are rising to defend Boeing, bash the NLRB, and blame Obama. But rather than debate retaliation against workers, conservatives want to conjure phantom menaces: bureaucrats micro-managing production, Democrats punishing “Right to Work” states, and union bosses paralyzing job creators.

Check it out.

Update (5/29): It’s now up on Talking Union and ZNet too.

WHAT IS LINDSEY GRAHAM TALKING ABOUT? (or “Poison Duck?”)

Lindsey Graham went on Face the Nation today to trot out one of his favorite metaphors:

“If you want to have a chance of passing START, you better start over and do it in the next Congress, because this lame duck has been poisoned,” Graham told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer.

“The last two weeks have been an absolutely excruciating exercise. ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ a controversial topic – some say the civil rights issue of our generation, others say battlefield effectiveness – was passed in the lame-duck session without one amendment being offered,” Graham said.

This is the same guy who warned that the healthcare bill would poison the well for immigration, climate, closing Guantanamo, and the year 2010. It’s a favorite phrase of Lindsey Graham’s. And it’s totally bogus.

It’s bogus because it’s based in a view of politics like marriage counseling, where to get anything done the participants need to trust each other and share common goals, and offenses or betrayals can be paralyzing. When Lindsey Graham talks about poisoning the well, the implication is that Republicans may want to get things done that Democrats want too, but be unable to make them happen because they’re not feeling good about Democrats.
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FIGHTING WORDS

Adam Serwer: “So in the past day, the following things have been happened: The idea that there was outside pressure from the administration to close the case has been shown to have no evidentiary basis, the commission has been exposed as deliberately attempting to damage the administration with this investigation, and Adams’ claim that the Voting Section does not intervene on behalf of white voters has been proven conclusively false. This story should now be over. It won’t be, but it should.”

Eric Alterman:”The Journal editors warned against the “temptation…to settle for a lowest common denominator stimulus, for the sake of bipartisanship.” But this was only the beginning. “The transformed political landscape should also boost other Bush initiatives,” the editors argued. They went on to argue that Bush should use the attacks to demand more offshore oil drilling, greater authority to negotiate free trade agreements, the approval of all of Bush’s nominees to various offices and a whole host of things that had nothing whatever to do with protecting America from terrorism. Meanwhile, eight years later, with a new president, one could find the editors making an almost perfectly contrary argument.”

Chris Hayes: “This all seems eerily familiar. The conversation—if it can be called that—about deficits recalls the national conversation about war in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. From one day to the next, what was once accepted by the establishment as tolerable—Saddam Hussein—became intolerable, a crisis of such pressing urgency that “serious people” were required to present their ideas about how to deal with it. Once the burden of proof shifted from those who favored war to those who opposed it, the argument was lost.”

FOR ONCE IT WOULD ACTUALLY BE GOOD FOR OBAMA TO LISTEN TO DAVID BROOKS

If Barack Obama only listens to one piece of advice from David Brooks (and unfortunately, he seems to listen to a lot more than that), this would be a good one on the Supreme Court:

I think, if I were sitting there in the Obama White House, from a Democratic perspective, I would say: Hey, we’re going to lose six to eight senators. We’re never going to get another shot to nominate a liberal. Let’s take our chances with this one.

If Obama’s going to give David Brooks’ views more weight than Paul Krugman’s (let alone Barbara Ehrenreich’s), let’s hope he at least takes this rare bit of good advice.

MCCARTHY’S TORTURED LOGIC

Andy McCarthy (you may remember him as the guy that thinks Bill Ayers is Obama’s ghost writer) doesn’t seem to see much distinction between criticizing the American government and being an enemy of America:

CCR has pushed for the indictment of Bush administration officials for war crimes and bragged that its recruitment of lawyers effectively shut down interrogations, depriving the United States of vital wartime intelligence. What more does CCR need to do to prove that, as between the United States and the Islamists, CCR is with the Islamists?

Well, in 2006, [Daskal] campaigned for the UN Human Rights Committee to condemn the United States for its waging of the “so called ‘war on terrorism,'” for what she portrayed as our serial violations of international law obligations, for our “cloak of federalism” (which she described as the means by which the U.S. defies international governance at the state and local level); for our purported infliction of torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment on Muslim detainees at Gitmo and on all prisoners held in U.S. “supermax” prisons, etc…most people would find Daskal’s role at DOJ frightening.

In other words, US Government = America, and Critics of US Government (or of torture) = Enemies of the State. Besides the obvious weakness and shameful history of that kind of argument, it’s a pretty awkward one for someone to make in the process of attacking US Government appointees in the Justice Department.

If US Government = America, Critics of US Government actions = America’s Enemies, what happens when people who’ve criticized the US Government become…part of the US Government. What punishment will Andy McCarthy mete out for enemies of the state like Andy McCarthy?

Fortunately for McCarthy and company, this paradox is avoided if you don’t accept that Barack Obama is legitimately the President of the United States.

WHAT’S THE PLAN?

Two weeks ago, lots of folks were predicting that Scott Brown would win the next day’s election. I don’t think as many people predicted (I didn’t) that by February it would still be left to Washington Kremlinologists to try to figure out what exactly Obama, Pelosi, and Reid want to see happen, and how quickly, on healthcare. I thought by February, the American people, let alone the American Congress, would have a clear idea what the leadership wanted to see. I definitely would not have predicted that an hour after the vote Barney Frank would be on TV talking about scuttling the bill.

It’s like a thousand-times-magnified version of the 2006 dust-up over who would chair the Intelligence Committee in the new Democratic majority. It didn’t captivate the media, but it did provide a slow burn of embarrassing stories for the Speaker-to-be speculating whether she would tap hawkish Harman or impeached-as-a-judge Hastings. In the end, she went with the 3rd most senior Democrat. In the weeks it took Pelosi to make that call, I kept wondering: Why didn’t Pelosi mull this one over ahead of time in October when it looked clear she was headed to victory?

Speaking of what Dems should do now, Jon Stewart got at something last week: “No matter what you do, the Republicans are not going to let you into the station wagon. They’re never going to let you in. And here’s the worst part: You’re the majority. It’s your car!”

If Pelosi and Reid’s folks are indeed working on how to make the reconciliation sidecar work (we can only hope), now would be a good time to be reminding the members why it’s gotta happen. Nature abhors your vacuum, but Dick Armey doesn’t.

JARRING

I think Matt Yglesias is going too easy on Harry Reid when he says

To clarify what I said yesterday it’s the very lack of having really done anything wrong that makes Reid’s situation to sticky. It’s just jarring for those of us under a certain age to think of an old white guy walking around saying “negro” and wielding political influence. But Reid can’t really apologize for being the sort of old white guy who would say that because he is, in fact, just such an old white guy. On the merits, the observation that it’s a political asset for Obama that he doesn’t speak in a manner that’s racially coded as black is pretty much banal conventional wisdom.

First, I’m sure are plenty of senior citizens, including African-Americans, who still find it jarring that the US Senate is run by a guy who uses the word “Negro” in conversation with journalists. Beyond that, I don’t think Matt believes that Harry Reid is just physically incapable of not saying Negro. I’m sure he’s done much harder things in thirty-some years in public life.

There’s a range of readings of what someone could mean by using the word “Negro” to describe the “dialect” Obama doesn’t use, from “the way Black people talk in my racist stereotype,” to “the way Black people talk in the minds of ignorant racists,” and I don’t know any way to discern exactly where Harry Reid’s intended meaning falls on the spectrum. But he was right to apologize.

That said, any comparison between Harry Reid’s comments about his support for a Black man for President and Trent Lott’s support for a White supremacist for President can only make Harry Reid look very, very good. And Republicans’ attempts to conflate the two just leave the impression that they never really understood what was wrong with what Trent Lott said in the first place. On this, I agree with Matt entirely.

LEAPING TO JUDGMENT?

Something else on Henry Louis Gates: It’s not surprising to see the congealing conventional wisdom that Barack Obama screwed up by saying anything about what the Cambridge Police did to him, but it’s disappointing that a number of pundits seem to think not just that it diluted Obama’s focus on healthcare, but that it’s categorically wrong for the President of the United States to take any position in such a situation. I think that position is easy to maintain if you start from the premise that it’s not clear who’s at fault – the premise for much of the media, and the premise Obama implicitly granted credence with the much-hyped Beer Summit. But it is clear that James Crowley was at fault in arresting a man in his own home for being rude to the police. It would still be wrong if it were a young Black man without a cane. It’s wrong regardless of what particular proportions of race, pride, and police authority motivated him to do it.

Was it wrong for our Head of State to come out so quickly in praise of Captain Sully for landing his crew safely in the Hudson river? If not, why shouldn’t he have said that what Crowley did to Gates was wrong?