The quiet man – who taught by example

The quiet man – who taught by example

Homer Theodore Folkert – June 6, 1912

June 6, 2014

The man I admired most while growing up celebrates his 102nd birthday today – he’s not around in person but truly is in spirit.

A quiet but thoughtful man. A dedicated husband and father. A companion of his family anywhere they wanted to go or anything they wanted to do – and the go-to guy, whether you were right or wrong.

A man who taught modesty, courage and work ethic, not by lecturing, but by example.

A man who taught maturity, honesty, loyalty and perseverance, not by preaching, but by example.

A man who endured poor health as a child, poor hearing as an adolescent and adult, and poor cardio health as a middle aged man, but you would have never have heard it from him or thought it if you watched him work.

A man who ignored his handicaps and accomplished more with his keen mind, his strong hands and powerful arms and back, than most of us ever do in our lives, even with all of our good health and longer lives. He built his family a house with his own hands. I wouldn’t know where to start.

Happy birthday Dad, and happy father’s day on Sunday.

We all love him and miss him. Love was another thing he taught by example and didn’t need words to express. Another thing you would never have heard him verbally express, but you knew it was there and he felt it.

Lawrence Lessig – Super Pac to End Super Pac Power


Excerpts from:  http://www.latimes.com/nation/politics/politicsnow/la-pn-harvard-professor-super-pac-big-money-politics-20140523-story.html


Harvard professor’s ‘super PAC’ aims
to end power of ‘super PACs’

By: Maeve Reston


May 25, 2014


“Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig is leading a
crusade to … to create a “super PAC” that would end the power of
super PACs by drawing enough Americans into the system to limit the influence
of big money in politics…”


 “ …. the
current political system is “legally corrupt”–with members of Congress spending
much of their time dialing for dollars, as outside groups flood each election
cycle with hundreds of millions of dollars through super PACs and other
devices, with little disclosure of their donors.”


Memorial Day – just a 3 day weekend


Memorial Day – just a 3 day weekend

Ted Folkert

May 26, 2014

Memorial Day is the day we think about those close to us who are no longer around. Of course as we age the number gets larger and the fragility of our own mortality becomes more apparent. Then it becomes more personal, more real. Even then, those we think of and remember are few in comparison to the number of those who had great meaning in our lives that we didn’t ever know – those who we should remember on Memorial Day – those who made the ultimate sacrifice – those who lost their lives in wars for independence, freedom, territorial pursuits, political retaliation, exhibitions of power, favors for our corporations operating in other countries, the making of warrior legacies for career politicians, and all of the other reasons that we put our kids in harm’s way after protecting them from harm throughout their growing-up years. These are of course the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

They talk about the “unknown soldiers.” That term is untrue and unfair. Soldiers were all known. They were known by their loved ones – their spouses, their children, their parents, their friends – they were known by their comrades – they are not “unknown.” No, they are just invisible, like the character in Ralph Ellison’s book. “The Invisible Man.” We see them but we can’t see them. We hear them but we can’t hear them. They are invisible. We see and hear their loved ones but they are invisible too.

Here are some numbers to think about:

Revolutionary War            25,000

War of 1812                       15,000

American Civil War         625,000

Mexican-American War   13,000

World War I                     116,000

World War II                    405,000

Korean War                        36,000

Vietnam War                     58,000

War on Terror                        7,000

Total                                 1,300,000 deaths, unnecessary deaths, lives destroyed.

Then we can add to the list probably 10 seriously physically injured for every death – 13,000,000. Then we can add to the list probably 10 seriously mentally injured for every death – 13,000,000. Then we can add to the list probably 10 family members affected for each of the above – spouses, children, other relatives whose lives were either damaged or destroyed 13,000,000. Now the number is up to 40,000,000 and that certainly isn’t all. How many are, or will be, affected by the civilizations, cities, towns, railroads, airports, ships, planes, other military equipment and above all, the resources, consumed and destroyed by all of these fruitless events.

Well, of course the thoughts now have become so large that we couldn’t possibly get our minds wrapped around it all.

If you want to get the feeling of it drive by the national cemetery in Los Angeles today, or any other day, and glance at all of the white crosses – acres and acres of them – and this is just one national cemetery. If you want to get the feeling of it stop by any VA hospital and glance around at the injured warriors – some old, some young. If you want to get the feel of it just drive around downtown Los Angeles or Venice Beach or any other major American city and look around. You will see it. You will see the results of the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

And in order to thank all of these fallen heroes, we throw them a bone, we send them some paltry sum of money, we ignore their families, we ignore their physical and mental damage which makes gainful employment difficult or impossible, we delay medical treatment – in other words we shirk our responsibilities as fellow Americans, as fellow human beings. We just go on with our lives and ignore the “unknown soldiers”, the “invisible” warriors, and the “invisible” people directly and adversely affected by the wars started by the rich and powerful and fought by the poor and powerless.

Think about it!

Think about it today – Memorial Day.


War on Workers – Lee Fang



Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now

War on Workers


Look Who the Folks Who Took Down ACORN Are Targeting Now

by Lee Fang


“Right-wing operatives with links to
big retailers are going after worker centers like the Restaurant Opportunities
Center.”



“In a presentation at the Drake Hotel in Chicago
last October, Joseph Kefauver addressed a conference of executives from
companies like Nike, Macy’s and Crate & Barrel, among other leading brands.
Kefauver, a key player in the rising cottage industry of lobbyists and
consultants hired by the retail sector, warned his audience that a new movement
was taking hold, one that could leverage the “exponential growth of grassroots
networks” to force change at corporations beyond the reach of traditional labor
unions. These activists, Kefauver explained in his PowerPoint presentation,
could create pressure in the media, throughout a supply chain, and even in the
policy and political arena, making them a threat to business’s bottom line unlike
any other. In addition, he noted ominously, these new groups are spreading
beyond the big cities and blue states and have established a “left-of-center
beachhead in traditionally conservative areas.”’


“The conference attendees were then asked to
consider the pushback. “How aggressive can we be?” one slide read. “How do we
challenge the social justice narrative?” queried another.”


“Kefauver is a former executive for public affairs
at Walmart and a former political action committee staffer for Darden Restaurants,
the parent company of chain eateries like Olive Garden and Red Lobster. As a
full-time consultant at firms that serve the restaurant and retail industry, he
is part of a phalanx of lobbyists and political operatives with a small but
focused goal: to destroy what has become known as the “worker center” movement.”


“Kefauver’s alarm at the rise of worker centers,
which he has repeated in talks with the US Chamber of Commerce and other
business trade groups, isn’t simply bluster. Just as conservatives aimed their
fire—to devastating effect—at organized labor and low-wage advocacy groups like
ACORN in the past decade, right-wing lobbyists and the businesses that pay them
are going after worker centers today because they recognize their potency. With
unions in decline—a fact celebrated in one recent ad targeting worker
centers—the “alt-labor” movement has helped jump-start a nationwide effort to
reshape working conditions for millions of Americans in low-wage jobs. The
question is: Can worker centers escape the fate of other, similarly situated
groups targeted by corporate smear campaigns?”


* * *


“Though many worker centers began as localized
efforts to combat poverty, the movement has rapidly spread and matured. These
groups still help low-wage workers find legal representation and understand
their rights at work. But many now coordinate their organizing with other
community groups or labor unions across multiple regions. As Kefauver’s
presentation suggested, worker centers are indeed organizing along corporate supply
chains to achieve their demands. And in many cases, it’s working.”


“Arise Chicago, a faith-based nonprofit that founded
a worker center in 2002, has helped win new safety agreements for hotel
workers; negotiate a new city ordinance to crack down on wage theft; and
mobilize Walmart employees for an unprecedented set of strikes aimed at hiking
pay and benefits. In Florida, the pioneering farmworker group the Coalition of
Immokalee Workers (CIW) has successfully pressed for a wide-ranging labor
agreement with major food companies to curb abusive working conditions. The
Restaurant Opportunities Center, which began as a New York–based group that
organized a small number of waiters and waitresses, is now a federation that
spans the largest restaurant markets in the country and has come to represent
an alternative for consumers seeking information about the industry.”


“With this success has come a new, all-out assault
by business. Many observers point to a full-page ad in The Wall Street
Journal
last July sponsored by Rick Berman, a longtime lobbyist for the
restaurant and agricultural industry, as the first major shot across the bow.
As The New York Times reported, Berman has since launched his own
website filled with negative information about worker centers and has appeared
regularly in the media to criticize the movement, particularly the Restaurant
Opportunities Center.”


“I think that businesses are going after worker
centers because they view them as much more effective than they used to be,”
says Janice Fine, an associate professor of labor studies and employment
relations at Rutgers University. Calling the increasing attacks on worker
centers a “backhanded compliment,” Fine notes that the centers are “no longer
looked at as local organizations.”’


“Some of the pushback has been overt. A Google
search for “OUR Walmart” produces as its first result a web page sponsored by
the retail behemoth, claiming that the group exists solely to benefit the
interests of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, one of its financial
backers. Fox News and conservative talk radio have taken to reporting on
worker-center-led demonstrations. Asked to describe a wave of fast-food
strikes, Mallory Factor, speaking on Fox & Friends, suggested that
the demonstrators were all paid to be there, calling them a “rent-a-mob, purely
rent-a-mob.”’


“Some of the attacks, though, are less transparent.
This past November, about a month after Kefauver’s presentation in Chicago, a
group called Worker Center Watch launched a series of YouTube videos aimed at
discrediting the Black Friday protests staged by worker centers against big-box
retailers. One video depicted the activists as “professional protesters” who
“haven’t bothered to get jobs themselves.” Another video from the group alleges
that the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC), OUR Walmart and other worker
centers are nothing more than union front groups designed to “make more money
for greedy union bosses.” The video closes with an appeal not to be “fooled” by
worker centers.”


“A week later, Worker Center Watch posted the
transcript of an audio recording from a private worker-center meeting in New
York that had been obtained by Breitbart News, the right-wing website founded
by the late Andrew Breitbart. The headline blared about the offensive “Santa’s
slaves” comments made by the organizers, though the actual recording was rather
innocuous.”


“When contacted by The Nation, Worker
Center Watch refused to reveal its backers. However, records obtained for this
article show that Kefauver’s public relations firm, Parquet Public Affairs,
registered the website for Worker Center Watch. After I inquired about the
registration, the website hosting the record was concealed with a proxy.”


“Kefauver would not respond to multiple requests for
comment on what he does or who is paying him. But he was listed as a
“consultant” to the National Restaurant Association—the largest lobbying group
for the restaurant industry and the driving force against raising the minimum
wage—on a schedule posted by restaurant industry lobbyists for a meeting in San
Antonio several months ago.”

Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now


Obama’s Pundit Problem – Eric Alterman


Excerpts from: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem


Obama’s
Pundit Problem


Critics like Maureen Dowd of the Times live in an
Oz-like dream world.


Eric Alterman


May 7, 2014   |
  


It’s hard
to say that Maureen Dowd’s column is an embarrassment to political punditry
given the state of the profession, but it is rapidly becoming one to the
still-great newspaper that carries it, The New York Times.


To take
just one example, on April 30 Dowd penned a juvenile and intellectually
incoherent column
, obnoxiously headlined Is
Barry Whiffing? In it, she eschewed any form of evidence or common sense
to give voice to the now-platitudinous Beltway belief that Obama should just
fix everything already.
This view has come to be known as the “Green Lantern
theory” of presidential power, after the comic book superhero; according to
this theory, the reason Obama has not been more successful is that he has
failed to bring Congress to heel the way superior leaders like Lyndon Johnson
and Ronald Reagan did during their presidencies, through sheer force of will. ……………………………………………………….


There is
certainly no place like the one these pundits imagine Obama to be living in—one
in which the likes of Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Mitch McConnell, Ted
Cruz and Eric Cantor can be forced to behave responsibly by presidential fiat.
But Dowd, like so much of the punditocracy, writes as if she lives in just such
an Oz-like dream world. Here she is, for instance, discussing Republican
recalcitrance, which, naturally, she blames on Obama (as if those flying
monkeys were Dorothy’s fault): “It is his job to get them to behave. The job of
the former community organizer and self-styled uniter is to somehow get this
dunderheaded Congress, which is mind-bendingly awful, to do the stuff he wants
them to do. It’s called leadership.”


Actually,
it’s called fantasy, but this view has become so common in the mainstream media
that the White House Correspondents’ Association should probably have given out
an award for it last week at its nauseating “nerd prom.” (Call it “The
Broder.”) That this fantasy has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked—most
recently by Norm Ornstein in The National Journal, who noted that “LBJ
and Reagan had willing partners from the opposite party; Obama has had
none”
—has made no impression on the pundit corps, whose prejudices Dowd distills
in her columns.


In that
same column, Dowd, addressing the president, writes, “It doesn’t feel like
leadership. It doesn’t feel like you’re in command of your world,” and
instructs Obama on the dos and don’ts of proper presidential etiquette, based
apparently on her memorization of a pile of old Aaron Sorkin scripts:


“ …………………………………………………………………………………………


To help
her overcome her scary vibes, Dowd turns to the ultimate pundit cliché, the
baseball metaphor. Telling the president to “stop whiffing,” she writes: “An
American president should never say… ‘You hit singles; you hit doubles. Every
once in a while, we may be able to hit a home run’…. What happened to crushing
it and swinging for the fences? Where have you gone, Babe Ruth?” (If Dowd’s
editors did not apparently hate her guts, one of them might have let her know
that the Bambino “whiffed” fully 1,330 times during his career, or nearly twice
for every home run he hit.)


Moving
along the sports spectrum, Dowd instructs Obama to “take a lesson from Adam
Silver, a nerdy technocrat who, in his first big encounter with a crazed
tyrant, managed to make the job of N.B.A. commissioner seem much more powerful
than that of president of the United States.” (Note the use of the journalistic
weasel word “seem” here, used almost always when no evidence is present to back
up a journalistic complaint.) Does Dowd believe that a president somehow has
the power to fine Bashar al-Assad and/or Vladimir Putin $2.5 million and ban
them from their respective positions for life?


By way of
fair-minded expert sources, Dowd consults that disinterested observer, Mike
Murphy, while failing to note that his résumé includes stints as a campaign
strategist and media consultant for both John McCain and Mitt Romney. Murphy
helpfully explains that being president is “not like the campaign because you
have ‘bigger problems than a will.i.am song can fix.’” Next comes the surest
sign one can find that Dowd was facing a deadline without knowing how to fill
her 800-word quota: a shout-out to her buddy, New Republic literary
editor Leon Wieseltier
, who was making, by my count (according to the columns
available on NYTimes.com), his thirty-third appearance as the equivalent of a
Team Maureen relief pitcher.


What does
the great man
(whom David Brooks also saw fit to quote in his own column a few
days later) advise? Apparently, the “oppressed and threatened swaths of the
world are jittery and despairing ‘because the United States seems no longer
reliable in emergencies….’” (Note again the weasel word “seems.”) Nowhere,
alas, does Dowd appear to have inquired how Wieseltier sourced his scoop
regarding the feelings of the world’s “oppressed and threatened swaths,” nor
what these otherwise voiceless billions would like Obama to do to end the
violence in, say, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine or the US House of Representatives.


There’s no place like Washington…


 Read the article: http://www.thenation.com/article/179733/obamas-pundit-problem


AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento – Los Angeles Times

I remember the original AT&T, before they were split up and them reunited in more recent years. They were more civic and employee minded when I worked for them in the ’60s. They paid my college tuition while I worked for them (it was much cheaper then). This is a different AT&T, fallen victim to the corporate and self interest disease that our other behemoths are afflicted with. (My comments, not L.A. Times)

AT&T wields enormous power in Sacramento

No other single corporation has spent more trying to influence legislators in recent years. It dispenses millions in political donations and has an army of lobbyists. Bills it opposes are usually defeated.

By Shane Goldmacher and Anthony York, Los Angeles Times

April 22, 2012

SACRAMENTO — As the sun set behind Monterey Bay on a cool night last year, dozens of the state’s top lawmakers and lobbyists ambled onto the 17th fairway at Pebble Beach for a round of glow-in-the-dark golf.

With luminescent balls soaring into the sky, the annual fundraiser known as the Speaker’s Cup was in full swing.

Lawmakers, labor-union champions and lobbyists gather each year at the storied course to schmooze, show their skill on the links and rejuvenate at a 22,000-square-foot spa. The affair, which typically raises more than $1 million for California Democrats, has been sponsored for more than a decade by telecommunications giant AT&T.

At the 2010 event, AT&T’s president and the state Assembly speaker toured Pebble Beach together in a golf cart, shaking hands with every lawmaker, lobbyist and other VIP in attendance.

The Speaker’s Cup is the centerpiece of a corporate lobbying strategy so comprehensive and successful that it has rewritten the special-interest playbook in Sacramento. When it comes to state government, AT&T spends more money, in more places, than any other company.

It forges relationships on the putting green, in luxury suites and in Capitol hallways. It gives officials free tickets to Lady Gaga concerts. It takes lawmakers on trips around the globe and all-expenses-paid retreats in wine country. It dispenses millions in political donations and employs an army of lobbyists. It has spent more than $14,000 a day on political advocacy since 2005, when it merged with SBC into its current form.

A handful of labor unions and trade groups have spent more on a combination of lobbying and direct political giving, but state records show that in the last seven years, no single corporation has spent as much trying to influence lawmakers as AT&T. At the same time, a tide of consumer protections has ebbed and the company has been unshackled from the watchful eye of state regulators.

Efforts to force phone companies to be more transparent about fees on cellphone bills died; so did an attempt to end monthly charges to unlist a phone number. The charge for that kind of privacy rose sixfold in a three-year period, and those fees generate $50 million annually for AT&T, according to a 2009 legislative analysis.

State controls on land-line pricing were eliminated. And in 2010, legislation to make it easier for consumers to stop receiving the phone book — another revenue source — was defeated after fierce opposition from AT&T. The bill received just 12 votes in the 40-member state Senate, the scarcest support for any measure that reached the Senate floor that year. This year, AT&T is part of a coalition of telecom and high-tech companies seeking to strip state regulators of authority over some basic telephone services.

The company, whose annual report pegged its revenue last year at $34 billion, does suffer the occasional setback. For example, the state Senate in 2009 refused to confirm a regulator for the telecommunications industry who had AT&T’s strong backing. But defeats are rare.

AT&T has “shown the ability to exercise political power on an unprecedented scale,” said Regina Costa, a researcher for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer group.

At the state’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, Denise Mann handles telecommunications issues.

“Every day I look at a case and I think, well, if they [AT&T] don’t care, we have a good chance,” she said. But if AT&T’s corporate offices do care, she added, “all we can do is appeal to conscience, reason and the public interest.”

Ken McNeely, president of AT&T California, said his company is active in Sacramento because of its large presence in the state.

“We have about 40,000 employees, we have about 50,000 or so retirees, millions of customers, millions of shareholders in the state,” he said. “It’s important for us to participate, and participate actively, in the public policy arena.”

Many of the company’s victories have come at the California Public Utilities Commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor that oversees the telecommunications industry. Its members have waved through mergers, limited regulations on cellular service and helped AT&T rebuild itself into a telecom behemoth almost 30 years after it was split apart in the wake of a federal antitrust case.

The rest of AT&T’s wins come at the state Capitol, where the company focuses most of its lobbying efforts. There, lawmakers have passed bills that have translated into millions of dollars for the firm’s bottom line and stopped dozens of measures that AT&T has opposed.

The core of the firm’s strategy has long been the two-day Speaker’s Cup, the jewel of the legislative fundraising circuit. There is an annual golf outing in Del Mar for the Capitol’s minority Republicans, but it raises a fraction of what Democrats get at Pebble Beach.

Tickets for the Speaker’s Cup, to be held May 5-6 this year, average more than $12,000 per person. Some legislators donate to the cause from their campaign funds; otherwise they pay nothing for a weekend that, in addition to world-class golf, features free-flowing wine and four-star cuisine. Body wraps and hot-stone massages are de rigueur.

AT&T spent more than $225,000 on last year’s event. The goody bags contained a new iPad with a thank-you note signed jointly by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and AT&T’s chief of government relations.

In addition to the Pebble Beach festivities, AT&T has given hundreds of tickets — for concerts, the World Series, even Disney on Ice — to lawmakers and their staffs over the years. A phone call to one of the company’s lobbyists is typically all it takes to have a ticket or two waiting at the box office.

Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), chairman of the lower house’s telecom committee that hears all AT&T-related bills, went to the 2011 NBA All-Star game courtesy of AT&T. In 2009, his predecessor, Sylmar Democrat Felipe Fuentes, attended a Lakers playoff game. Perez, then expected to be the next speaker of the Assembly, was treated to Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals.

Perez said that he didn’t remember AT&T paying his way to the game, which the Lakers won in overtime, and that the company has received no favorable treatment in the Legislature. He dismissed the notion that the Speaker’s Cup, a gift or a campaign check would influence policy decisions.

“I know people love to try to create that impression … but the reality is, that’s not the way things happen. People give money because of whatever reasons motivate them, and we evaluate legislation regardless,” he said. “I know that that’s a hard concept for some people…. I cannot think of anything they’ve asked me to do.”

They don’t necessarily have to ask, said Derek Cressman, Western states director for Common Cause, a watchdog group. There may not always be a direct quid pro quo, he said; influence is often more subtle.

“What these things do is create a sense of gratitude and indebtedness,” he said. “It’s basic human nature: If someone does something nice for you, you want to do something nice for them.”

AT&T’s lobbying shop is among the most robust in the Capitol. The company employs three full-time advocates and keeps on retainer seven blue-chip firms that can deploy dozens more. Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis) saw the company’s muscle at a hearing of the Senate telecom committee last year.

The veteran legislator was pushing for a law to stop fraudulent charges from being added to customers’ wireless bills by phone companies, a practice known as “cramming.” She wanted to require carriers to report the number and nature of cramming complaints and to empower regulators to quash unwanted charges. Wolk said her measure was needed after efforts to curb the practice were watered down by the state utilities commission.

She said her bill was poised for passage after she had spent days hammering out changes negotiated with Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), the committee chairman. Then Bill Devine showed up.

Sporting round glasses and loose-fitting suits, Devine is AT&T’s chief operative, a fixture in the Capitol and at fundraisers. He strolls the halls greeting lawmakers like friends, addressing them by first name rather than by title and greeting many with a hug.

In the committee room, Devine took a front-row seat reserved for legislators and staff as Wolk approached the podium to present her bill. When she had finished, he followed with his own vision of what the measure should be. Wolk was visibly upset.

“It’s highly irregular to have a lobbyist come up and make a proposal … without having shared it with me … or the chair,” she said later.

But as others on the committee voiced support for AT&T’s position, Wolk grudgingly agreed to postpone the vote. A week later, the bill died.

“In the olden days, people have told me … chairs would have thrown the lobbyist out of the room and scolded him for his disrespect of the author and the process,” Wolk said after the hearing.

The senator describes AT&T’s lobbying style as more aggressive than that of other Capitol interests. She said its lobbyists “flooded” her office before the bill was heard, asking that she drop it. Later they asked her to delay it. When she persisted, they asked her to water it down. Wolk said the lobbying effort was unusually intense for what she deemed relatively minor legislation.

“I can’t even imagine what it would be like if I had a really dramatic bill,” she said.

Devine declined to comment.

From 1999, when the state began keeping electronic records of lobbying activity, through the end of 2011, AT&T spent more money trying to influence public officials than any other single corporation. In those 13 years, according to records from the California secretary of state, AT&T and its affiliates spent more than $47 million on lobbying — more than twice the figure for the next biggest corporate spender, Edison International, which shelled out about $21.9 million.

In addition, AT&T hands out, on average, more than $1 million in political contributions each year. Every current member of the Legislature has received at least $1,000; chairmen of the committees that oversee the telecommunications industry get far more.

Padilla has chaired the telecommunications panel since late 2008, collecting $41,200 from AT&T and its employee political action committee — more than the company has given since then to any other lawmaker except the leaders in each house. In the Assembly, Steve Bradford has received $23,500 from AT&T since becoming telecom chairman in 2010.

In the 2003 recall campaign against Gray Davis, AT&T spent $425,000 trying to save his governorship. As soon as he was gone, AT&T sent checks to the man who replaced him. The first arrived in Schwarzenegger’s campaign account four days after he was sworn in.

In total, his political treasuries received $490,000 from the telecom company and its affiliates during his tenure.

By January 2006, Schwarzenegger had installed Susan Kennedy, a business-friendly Democrat who helped AT&T while she was a regulator on the Public Utilities Commission, as his chief of staff. At the time, AT&T was preparing its most important legislati
ve move in years: pushing to undo decades of cable franchising and gain access to California’s cable market.

Fabian Nuñez, a Los Angeles Democrat who was then Assembly speaker, introduced legislation on phone companies’ behalf to do just that. AT&T spent more than $23 million that year on lobbying and advertising in favor of the bill, which Schwarzenegger signed into law that September. Today, AT&T’s federal filings show billions in revenue from its cable business, the largest piece of which is in California.

Kennedy, Nuñez and other key players in that legislative effort now have financial ties to AT&T. Nuñez is a partner at Mercury Public Affairs, a public relations firm that lists AT&T as a client. Martha Escutia, a Whittier Democrat who headed the Senate utilities committee when the cable bill passed, now lobbies the Public Utilities Commission on AT&T’s behalf. Kennedy has been hired by a law firm that lobbies the federal government for the company.

Nuñez declined to comment on whether he works on AT&T business. A Mercury spokeswoman noted that AT&T was a client before Nuñez joined the firm. Escutia declined to comment, as did Kennedy.

Six months after signing the cable bill, Schwarzenegger was feted at a Texas fundraiser by AT&T brass, including McNeely. The governor also attended a celebration for After-School All Stars, a charity he founded in the early 1990s. The cause for the festivities: a $500,000 donation from AT&T.

Charitable giving has long been entwined with AT&T’s political strategy. The firm has given $145,000 to two charter schools in Oakland founded by Gov. Jerry Brown, $50,000 of that since Brown was elected governor. It gives to a range of other groups, and many AT&T representatives serve on their boards. The organizations often back the company’s priorities.

In June, California’s utilities commission held a hearing on the proposed AT&T merger with T-Mobile. Several community groups praised AT&T’s contributions to them as the chief reason to support the potential new mega-firm. When AT&T was lobbying for the cable bill, groups including local Boys and Girls clubs and the NAACP — whose president was then being paid $12,000 a month by AT&T as an advisor — signed on as supporters.

And when Kennedy’s replacement on the utilities commission faced a confirmation fight in the state Senate, letters of support arrived from charitable groups that had received AT&T money that year. Among them were United Way branches in the Bay Area, Fresno, Merced, San Joaquin, Butte and Glenn counties that, according to federal tax records, received a combined $589,464.

McNeely, calling his company a “good corporate citizen,” denied any link between the company’s giving and its political agenda.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “AT&T has placed a significant corporate value in giving back to communities for more than a century. We have been active participants in the communities in which we live and work for over 100 years and we’ll continue to do that for the next 100.”

anthony.york@latimes.com

 

Reading, no batteries required by Patt Morrison

When asked why I still like reading books my answer has always been: “I just feel better turning the pages”.
Now Patt Morrison defines the real reason and makes it seems so obvious.

Reading, no batteries required

 A genuine book has a soul of its own. It is tactile, beautiful, accessible. It tells a story; it is itself a story.

Tenderly, the lover caressed his beloved. So pale, so
smooth. He tilted his head forward, the better to inhale that scent —
rich and enticing. Fingertip to spine, feeling every contour, he pressed
his face closer — and turned a page.

I don’t know what you were thinking about, but I was talking about a book. A real book.

The
Kindle and its ilk are just gizmos with pixilated screens. Hit the off
button and its borrowed character vanishes. A genuine book has a soul of
its own. It is tactile, beautiful, accessible. Not only do its contents
tell us stories, it in itself is a story. That rare copy of Sir Isaac
Newton’s “Principia” — did his own august eyes behold it? And that first
edition of “Pride and Prejudice” — whose ladylike hands held it, turned
its pages by candlelight? The old copy of “The Cat in the Hat” is
beloved not only for the tale it tells but for the crayoned
personalization added by each generation of a family’s children.

Do you mock books as old school? Wise up. Remember the
8-track tape that was supposed to be the dernier cri? Vanished into the
recycling bin of history. The DVD gets supplanted by Blu-ray, which will
soon be made obsolete by something else.

Yet paper and parchment
are still around, still legible, still “working” multiple centuries
later. You don’t need to wait for the page to load. All the technology
it needs to work is the human eye. No password, no batteries required. A
book doesn’t stop working when it’s dropped. You can read it on the
tarmac even after the command to turn off all electronics. It isn’t
ruined when it gets wet (the salvage operation after the 1986 Central
Library fire proved that, and how many books have I dropped in the
bathwater and dried them out?). The only grave threat to a book is a
flame, accidental or deliberate. Books are immensely, symbolically,
mystically powerful; the fact that fearful humans ritually burn them,
the way they once burned witches, attests to it. No book, someone said,
has the power of a burned book.

I owe to books so much of what is
rich and delicious in my life. Landlocked as I was growing up in a small
town, the book was a door. To open a book was to open a door to —
anyplace. It was a time machine crafted of paper, a 300-page passport
into Dickens’ Victorian London, where children were swept into
pickpocket gangs or beaten and half-starved in factories; into the
silent desert tombs of Howard Carter’s expedition to find Tutankhamen;
into the thick of the Civil War at Antietam with Clara Barton; or off on a comet with Jules Verne‘s imagination as my guide.

I
journeyed to places, imaginary and real, that I could never have seen
or known — except for this pound or so of paper and ink in my hand. I
had never been aboard a yacht, but I knew it down to the capstan. I had
never climbed Mt. Everest, but George Leigh Mallory took me there. These
were my friends and my teachers, as real as any kids in the playground,
as any teachers at the chalkboard.

Our town librarian let me
cruise the grown-up shelves, “overserved” me by letting me borrow more
than the usual weekly allotment, and always had suggestions ready when I
came back for more.

We had no bookstore and, to paraphrase Scout
in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” nothing much in the way of money to spend,
anyway. My parents had acquired for me a set of brilliantly illustrated
children’s encyclopedias by driving 11 miles out of town to the big
supermarket. There, for every $25 you spent on groceries, a dollar
bought you another volume of the encyclopedia. A couple of times a year,
a book fair came to town and set up shop in the school gym, and my
parents managed to let me buy two books. I think I’ve taken less time to
choose a car than I took to walk slowly through those rows of tables to
make my pick.

One of those book-fair books quite literally
changed my life — a young people’s biography of Nellie Bly. She was the
19th century woman who, despite being banned from voting, managed to
become a reporter, exposing political corruption and writing dispatches
from around the world. That, I decided, was exactly what I wanted to be.
(The illustration of her doing all this in a fetching hat didn’t dent
the appeal either.) Stashed away somewhere, I still have that book.

We
are so accustomed to books that we have stopped thinking of how
astonishing they are. Stop and think of that. Here is what a book can
do. Using symbols, patterns of lines and curves of ink arranged on a
rectangle of processed wood pulp, people you have never known, people
who have been dead for half a millennium, can talk to you across the
centuries. Their words, their thoughts, make them live again. From their
graves, they can make us laugh, make us angry, make us weep, make us
understand them.

I was just reading a book called “Immortality:
the Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization.” We can ease
up on that right now. We already have a kind of immortality. It’s called
a book.

patt.morrison@latimes.com

Sisters of mercy, devotion — and dismay by Steve Lopez

These self-appointed, so-called, emissaries of God aren’t happy unless they are discriminating against women and children. They are so busy expressing their male dominance of all things important, that they don’t have the desire or time to weed their own garden of perverts and pedophiles. (My words, not Steve Lopez)

Sisters of mercy, devotion — and dismay

Nuns feel shaken and insulted after the Vatican rapped them hard on the knuckles for not toeing the line.

By Steve Lopez, Los Angeles Times

April 21, 2012, 8:05 p.m.

In Philadelphia last week, a child sexual abuse trial involving Catholic clergy led to a bombshell — a bishop from West Virginia was accused of abuse.

In Kansas City, a Catholic bishop goes on trial in September, accused of failing to report suspected child abuse.

Last year church officials paid $144 million to settle abuse allegations and cover legal bills, and although many of the cases went back decades, church auditors have warned of “growing complacency” about protecting children today.

So who’s in trouble with the Vatican?

Nuns.

You know, the thousands of women who took vows of poverty to work with the poor, the sick and disabled.

Why?

They’re just not toeing the line, says the Holy See. Instead of frittering away so much time on “issues of social justice,” they should be speaking out against contraception and homosexuality. They should also muzzle themselves on the ordination of women and other “radical feminist themes.”

When I first heard about this “doctrinal assessment” of the nuns, I thought it might be someone’s idea of satire. You know, a parody of the out-of-touch Vatican patriarchy.

But holy jumping Jehoshaphat, they’re dead serious, which would be funny except for the effect it’s having on American nuns. The ones I spoke to were shaken. They felt insulted and demoralized, too, even though the Vatican briefly acknowledged their good works before rapping them hard on the knuckles with a ruler.

“This is the same church that ignored people who were being pedophiles,” said Sister Jo’Ann De Quattro, who, as a Los Angeles nun for more than 50 years, has worked as a teacher and advocate for peace and justice. Cracking down on nuns, said De Quattro, was a convenient way of shifting the focus away from the church’s ongoing abuse scandal. “We really know why they’re focusing on the women. It’s all about control. It’s all about exercising authority.”

Some of the nuns I spoke to were reluctant to let me use their names until the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, to which 80% of the nation’s nuns belong, can recover from the shock enough to deliver a formal response to the rebuke from Rome. One such nun, who has dedicated her life to the homeless, told me more investigations of nuns and their organizations are underway, and sisters fear that speaking up could jeopardize support or funding for their missions.

“Some of this stuff leaves me speechless and cold,” she said, suggesting that church leaders are fiddling while Rome burns, so to speak. “The world is in such desperate need of leadership, and they’re talking about all this stuff that’s truly small when we need big leaders, big thinkers and big hearts.”

Sister Simone Campbell, whose Encino-based order is called Sisters of Social Service, took the Vatican’s assessment personally. She is executive director of Network, which lobbies on Capitol Hill for economic and social justice, and the agency was singled out by Rome as part of the problem. No specific criticism is made clear in the turgid report, which reads like a medieval manuscript found in a cave. But there is a suggestion that they haven’t spoken out on “the right to life from conception to natural death,” among other things, and examples of nuns who “disagree with or challenge positions taken by the Bishops, who are the Church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.”

I had to cross myself when I read “morals.”

“It’s clearly payback for healthcare,” said Sister Campbell, “because I wrote the letter that the nuns signed that [President] Obama said was the tipping point for getting healthcare reform, and the bishops had opposed it.”

Campbell, an attorney who ran the Community Law Center in California earlier in her career, insisted that the healthcare reform bill offered no federal funding of abortion. But U.S. bishops still had concerns and gave thumbs down to so-called Obamacare, which could be torpedoed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Campbell’s organization has characterized the healthcare reform bill as pro-life, in part because it would offer medical care to many of the nation’s nearly 50 million uninsured people.

I spent my formative years in Catholic school, so I’m not all that comfortable posing tough questions to nuns. But I did ask several of the sisters why they’d expect the church to do anything other than crush anyone in the church who would even think of questioning the patriarchy on anything.

“We’re in the Easter season, when we remember with great joy Jesus’ resurrection,” said Sister France White of Pasadena, a nun for half a century. “But we also know his crucifixion was caused by his being prophetic, as the religious are called to be in the church….The church also teaches freedom of conscience….Certainly I consider what the church teaches, but when experience and prayer have told me different….I can’t deny that.”

“My conscience is supreme, not what somebody tells me,” said De Quattro.

Sister Campbell said this is all about a “clash of cultures” within the church. The male leaders live in a monarchy, while for decades, good sisters have lived in the real wor
ld, pursuing democratic principles in their service to the poor and their exploration of the new.

“Where was Jesus?” she asked. “Jesus was with the poor, with the marginalized, with the outcasts.”

“God did not make mistakes,” said France White, who told me she believes people ought to be able to express their love for each other regardless of sexual orientation. As for birth control, she opined that “the methods the church says are acceptable don’t work.”

Boy, she’s out there now, but White’s conscience is free. She suggested the pope and his minions could have saved a lot of time and trouble if, before investigating and trying to control so many devoted, hard-working nuns, they had asked themselves:

“What would Jesus do?”

steve.lopez@latimes.com

 

Impeach the Supreme Court Justices by David R. Dow

“A decision striking down the health care
law would be a statement that the only people entitled to health care
are the people who can afford it.”

“If the legislature acts to protect the poor and less powerful, its actions must be respected by the judicial branch.”

Impeach the Supreme Court Justices If They Overturn Health-Care Law

By David R. Dow

April 3, 2012

The Roberts Court’s rulings appear to be a concerted effort to send us back to the Gilded Age. If they dump the Affordable Care Act, writes David Dow, we should dump them.

You think the idea is laughable? Thomas Jefferson disagreed with you.

Jefferson believed Supreme Court justices who undermine the principles of the Constitution ought to be impeached, and that wasn’t just idle talk. During his presidency, Jefferson led the effort to oust Justice Samuel Chase, arguing that Chase was improperly seizing power. The Senate acquitted Chase in 1805, and no Justice has been impeached since, but as the Supreme Court threatens to nullify the health-care law, Jefferson’s idea is worth revisiting.

The problem with the current court is not merely that there is a good chance it will strike down a clearly constitutional law. The problem is that this decision would be the latest salvo in what seems to be a sustained effort on the part of the Roberts Court to return the country to the Gilded Age.

During that period—which ran from the years after of the Civil War to the start of the 20th century—wealth became highly concentrated and corporations came to dominate American business.

At the close of the Gilded Age, the U.S. infant mortality rate was around 10 percent—a number you find today in impoverished Central African nations. In some cities, it exceeded 30 percent. Women could not vote, and their lives were controlled by men. Blacks lived apart from whites and constituted an economic, social, and political underclass. Corporations exerted an unchecked and deleterious influence on the lives of workers.

All these ills were ultimately addressed by the federal government, but the strongest and most sustained resistance to fixing them came from the court. One exception was the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who argued that where economic regulations are at stake, judges must respect legislative decisions aimed at protecting society’s most vulnerable members. Our Constitution, Holmes famously wrote, does not enact social Darwinism. If the legislature acts to protect the poor and less powerful, its actions must be respected by the judicial branch.

That idea doesn’t appear to hold much water with the current court. Justice Clarence Thomas, in particular, has a well-known affinity for the values of the Gilded Age. But he has quietly gone from being an outlier to being only one of five consistently regressive votes.

The pattern began with the court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, a case involving a rarely used, late-term abortion procedure. In holding that the government can prohibit abortion even where a woman’s life or health is at risk, the court overturned a decision that was not yet 10 years old.

To justify the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy—an ostensibly staunch believer in individual liberty—explained that some women who might otherwise undergo it would come to regret their decision. Ah, fickle women! Since Roe v. Wade the abortion debate has  always involved male-dominated legislatures enacting laws telling women what they can and cannot do. The Roberts Court, it seems, is similarly not averse to helping protect women from themselves.

A decision striking down the health care law would be a statement that the only people entitled to health care are the people who can afford it.

Also in 2007, the court ruled that a Seattle school district’s plan to achieve racial balance in its public schools was unconstitutional. Reasonable people can of course disagree about whether using race to arrive at a diverse student body is good policy or bad. But there is an unquestionable moral distinction between using race to encourage racial integration versus using race to keep the blacks away.

The latter is, of course, what the court allowed in 1896, when it upheld the so-called “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson. Justice Harlan famously dissented in Plessy, insisting that the Constitution is colorblind. In a perverse rhetorical move, Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court in the Seattle case, suggested that Harlan’s phrase applies equally where the government is trying to promote the blending of the races rather than maintaining their separation.

And then came Citizens United, in which the court struck down a popularly supported, bipartisan effort to place limits on the ability of the wealthy to dominate political discourse. Income inequality is a fact of life in a capitalist system. But when it comes to choosing our elected representatives, the people are supposed to stand on equal footing. Your right to control your destiny by electing people who share your visions and values is not supposed to depend on the fatness of your wallet. But now, thanks to five justices, it does. In ruling that corporations have a First Amendment right that precludes Congress from regulating how much money they can spend to support political candidates or causes, the court propped up a regime where the voices of the wealthy drown out all the rest.

Each of these cases was decided by a 5-4 vote, along predictable and ideological lines. Each overturned comparatively recent precedent. Each paid obeisance to a 19th-century norm. And while any individual ruling can always be justified or explained away, a larger truth emerges ineluctably from the whole. A decision overturning the Affordable Care Act will fit snugly into this narrative.

The vacuity of the arguments against the health-care law has been well covered (see especially Akhil Amar’s analysis in Slate). I will add only two points.

First, Congress’s authority in passing the law rests on an elementary syllogism: You don’t have to drive, but if you do, th
e government can make you buy insurance. The logical structure at work here is that if you are going to do something (drive, for example), the government can make you purchase a commercial product (insurance, for example), so long as it has a good reason for doing so (making sure you can pay for any damage you do). That logic is obviously satisfied in the health-care context. You are going to use medical care, so the government can make you buy insurance in order to make sure you can pay for it. Liberty, like every other human and constitutional right, is not absolute. Under some circumstances, it can be regulated.

Which leads to the second point: critics of the health-care law say the only reason the rest of us have to pay for medical services used by people who have no money is that laws require hospitals to treat people who come in for emergencies regardless of their ability to pay. In other words, the critics say, the only reason there is a social cost—the only reason the syllogism works—is because of the underlying laws requiring hospitals to treat the poor.

Unlike silly examples involving broccoli and cell phones, that so-called “bootstrap” argument is sound. But here the critics drop their ideological mask as surely as the court dropped it in the Gonzales ruling. Their argument can be restated thusly: if you repeal laws requiring hospitals to treat the poor, you eliminate the constitutional basis for mandatory insurance coverage.

You don’t have to pull the analytical thread of that reasoning very hard to see that it boils down to an argument for allowing the poor to die. And if the Supreme Court strikes down the health-care law, that is exactly the ideology it will have to embrace. It will be saying that Congress cannot guarantee medical coverage for the poor and then implement a system to pay for it. In other words, the only people entitled to health care are the people who can afford it.

The last time the court went down this path, saner heads prevailed. Oliver Wendell Holmes’s view was historically and constitutionally correct, and the court finally acknowledged this in a pivotal 1937 case, West Coast Hotel v. Parish. In West Coast Hotel, the court ruled that the Constitution safeguards not just individual liberty but community interests as well; and in matters of economics, it is the legislature’s job to strike the appropriate balance between those two. If the Roberts Court overturns the Affordable Care Act, it will be mimicking the discredited court of 1935.

We can argue about whether President Jefferson was right to try to impeach Justice Chase. But there’s no question that he was right to say that impeachment is an option for justices who undermine constitutional values. There are other options, as well. We might amend the Constitution to establish judicial term limits. Or we might increase the number of justices to dilute the influence of its current members (though FDR could tell you how that turned out). In the end, however, it is the duty of the people to protect the Constitution from the court. Social progress cannot be held hostage by five unelected men.

David R. Dow is the Cullen Professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the Rorschach Visiting Professor of History at Rice. His most recent book is a memoir, The Autobiography of an Execution.

 

The War on the Poor by Ed Schultz

If you haven’t taken Ed Schultz on MSNBC you have missed one of our most vocal and “take no prisoners” broadcasters and spokespersons for the common good.

 “Eric Cantor is complaining about poor Americans who don’t pay income tax. But he leaves out all the tax that they do pay.”

 “The Ryan budget is the virtual battlefield map in the Republican war on the poor.”

 “There is no lobby for the poor in this country. The only thing that they can rely on is a little bit of government assistance to keep their dignity and their opportunities alive.”

 The War on the Poor: The Potential Impact of the Proposed Budget Cuts by Republicans

By Ed Schultz – Host, MSNBC’s ‘The Ed Show’ 

Posted: 04/20/2012

The Republicans are waging war on the poor in America. And just like the war on women, they want to pretend it doesn`t exist.

But it’s real. And millions of the most vulnerable Americans are being targeted.

Eric Cantor is complaining about poor Americans who don’t pay income tax. But he leaves out all the tax that they do pay. The working poor have payroll taxes. Some pay about seven percent of their wages to Social Security and Medicare taxes. In every state except Vermont, the poor pay a higher percentage on state and local taxes. There are other taxes like sales taxes, property taxes and gas tax. But Eric Cantor still says taxes should go up on these Americans opposed to the super rich.

This war is not new. It has been going on for years. But it really stands out this week. In a span of a few days, Republicans chose to protect the rich by voting down the Buffett Rule in the Senate. Now, they are attacking the most vulnerable. It`s no surprise the Republicans have chosen this man as their standard bearer.

Romney tried to say he misspoke when he made that comment in February. But his policies prove, well, he was telling the truth. His economic plans puts money in the back pockets of the wealthiest Americans while raising taxes on people making less than $30,000 a year. Romney says he’s 100 percent supportive of Congress and Paul Ryan`s budget plan.

The Ryan budget is the virtual battlefield map in the Republican war on the poor. Ryan`s plan is Robin Hood in reverse. It takes $5.3 trillion from programs benefiting low income people. It gives a $4.3 trillion tax cut to the wealthiest in this country.

Here are some of the cuts Republicans want to make so millionaires can get their money back — $770 billion to Medicaid, $205 billion to Medicare, $1.6 trillion to the health care law, and nearly $2 trillion to other mandatory cuts.

This includes programs like welfare, federal pensions and food stamps. That’s right. Gather that.

The Republicans are trying to make big cuts to the federal food stamp program. According to the Associated Press, the cuts would force 3 million people off food stamps next year.

These cuts are so unbelievably cruel, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is speaking out against them. In a statement, the bishops urge Congress to resist the proposed cuts in hunger and nutrition programs at home and abroad.

Well, House Speaker John Boehner was quick to brush off their concerns. Here is his response when asked if he understands the bishop`s moral argument.

You see, Boehner says that we have to cut these programs in order to save them. The architect, Paul Ryan, also dismissed the bishops today.

Not only is Ryan cold-blooded when it comes to the poor. He`s wrong when it comes to the bishops.

The spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told Talking Points Memo, “Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their follow bishops to represent all of the United States bishops on key issues on the national level. The letters on the federal budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.”

Republicans always try to link themselves with religion. They position themselves as the party of moral righteousness. But the only Republican religion, let`s face, is the almighty dollar.

It`s been five years since the federal minimum wage was raised. It was 10 years before that. Take a look at this chart.

If you work a minimum wage job, this is the how many hours in a week it takes for you to work to earn rent for a two bedroom apartment. In Texas, it’s 88 hours. In Florida, it’s 97 hours. In Virginia, it’s 112 hours, on and on.

There is no lobby for the poor in this country. The only thing that they can rely on is a little bit of government assistance to keep their dignity and their opportunities alive.

Republicans want to take all of this away. Democrats need to advocate harder on behalf of the poor. President Obama gave it a shot in Ohio
on Wednesday.

It’s a start but it’s not enough. There needs to be an advocate for the working poor in this country, like Ted Kennedy. The only way you can fight an attack like the Republican war on the poor is to attack back. Ted Kennedy knew how to do that. He hit back hard for the vulnerable in this country.

It`s time for the Democrats to step up and protect the poor from the assault of the Republicans.

Let me know what you think — tweet me at @edshow and catch me on MSNBC at 8 p.m. ET tonight.

 

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both. Louis Brandeis