Discounting Lives to Maximize Profits

by WALTER BRASCH

Imitating Sgt. Schultz of “Hogan’s Heroes,” Walmart executives claimed they knew nothing-NOTHING-about working conditions in a garment factory in Bangladesh where 112 workers died and more than 150 were injured in a fire.

Tazreen Fashions made Walmart’s Faded Glory brand clothes, as well as clothes for Sears and other dozens of other major retailers. Walmart officials told the news media they had previously terminated Tazreen as a direct supplier because of concerns about fire hazards, but that another supplier had subcontracted the work to Tazreen. Walmart refused to identify the supplier. In an official statement, Walmart said that the fire was “extremely troubling to us, and we will continue to work with the apparel industry to improve fire safety education and training in Bangladesh.”

News reports indicate that survivors said fire extinguishers didn’t work, exit doors were locked, and there were no emergency exits. The AP reports that most fire extinguishers were not used, the workers having no knowledge of how to use them. According to the AP, most of the workers, about 70 percent of them women, were from the poorest sections of Bangladesh. More than 700 workers have died since 2005 from fires in the Bangladesh’s growing clothing manufacturing industry, according to the International Labor reporting Forum.

As with the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York in 1911, where 146 women, most of them recent Jewish and Italian immigrants working in sweatshop conditions, the workers at Tazreen were burned alive trying to get through the doors that never opened, died from smoke inhalation, or jumped to their deaths. Many of the dead in both fires were buried in unmarked graves, their bodies unrecognizable. The Triangle fire eventually led to improved safety conditions and the rise of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to protect workers from management callousness.

Walmart has a fierce anti-union policy for its own stores and employees, but doesn’t say much about working conditions in companies that supply merchandise, nor does it actively oppose unions in other companies overseas. There is no organized representation for most of the workers in Bangladesh sweatshops. Most workers earn $8.50 to $12.50 for a 48 hour work week, with mandatory overtime that can push them to as many as 80 hours. They receive two or three days off in a month. If Americans wonder why their clothes may not be as good as American-made clothes produced in union shops, the answer could be that the workers in Bangladesh may be mentally and physically fatigued, and that multinational corporations pressure suppliers to cut costs on material and labor. Bangladesh, now competing with China, shipped about $18 billion worth of merchandise to American and European corporations last year.

About 40 percent of all merchandise sold by Walmart is produced by contracts with manufacturers (most overseas), where low wages, excessive work hours, and poor working conditions are accepted practice. Walmart doesn’t make public the names of the companies which produce those “low prices” merchandise. However, it is known that it has contracts with several Bangladesh companies, as well as more than 20,000 Chinese manufacturers.

With revenue of more than $447 billion a year and about a 25 percent profit, Walmart is the largest public company in income in the world. But with its “low prices” slogan comes significant risk.

Walmart and other corporations have pushed American suppliers to outsource their own merchandise to overseas suppliers. More than 3.3 million American jobs will have been outsourced by 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, Goldman Sachs projects that as many as seven million jobs will have been lost by 2014. Most are in clothing and computer/electronics manufacturing, and in service centers where American customers call “help” lines and often get a heavily-accented representative who says his name is “Sam.” What most politicians, business people, and the public don’t understand is there is a direct correlation between the number of jobs outsourced and high unemployment in the U.S.

Walmart, which originally established a “Buy American” slogan before strutting its “lower prices” philosophy, now claims that over half its merchandise is made in America. This may or may not be accurate-Walmart doesn’t give specifics. But, if accurate, most of that is from its expanded grocery stores. Clothing, electronics, household goods, and thousands of other products are still made overseas-usually in conditions that are, at best, sweatshops; at worst, death traps. Every Congressional bill to ban the import of products produced in sweatshop conditions has been smothered in the committee process.

It’s possible that Walmart executives and upper management of the 2.2 million employee corporation that has eyes in almost every spot of the world did not know about working conditions in Tazreen-or any of the other sweatshops in Asia. It’s also possible they did know, but did a PR shuffle to explain their indifference. It really doesn’t matter.  

The sweatshops allow the corporations to sell the cheap merchandise that results in higher return on investment for American corporations that rely upon American consumers who want cheap merchandise, and don’t seem to care where it comes from or how it’s produced.

But, even those Americans who do care, and would pay higher prices for merchandise produced by workers in unionized American manufacturing plants, usually don’t have a choice. It’s hard to find “Made in America” labels on clothes and numerous other products sold by major retailers that have largely ignored sweatshop conditions in order to maximize profit.

[Walter Brasch’s latest book is Before the First Snow, which looks at working conditions. Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

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Obama Fills Three Federal Bench Vacancies

President Obama named three Pennsylvania Judges to the federal bench yesterday. All will serve, if confirmed by the senate, on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  Two are from Philadelphia and the third from Berks County.  The White House provided these brief bios:

Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro:  Nominee for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Judge Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro currently serves as a Judge on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, where she has presided over both civil and criminal matters.  Prior to joining the bench in 1991, Judge Quiñones worked as a Staff Attorney for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs from 1979 to 1991 and as an Attorney Advisor for the United States Department of Health and Human Services from 1977 to 1979.  She began her legal career as a Staff Attorney for Community Legal Services, Inc. in Philadelphia from 1975 to 1977.  Judge Quiñones received her J.D. in 1975 from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law and her B.B.A. cum laude in 1972 from the University of Puerto Rico.

Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo:  Nominee for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo has served as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania since 2006, where he has presided over a variety of criminal and civil matters.  Prior to taking the bench, Judge Restrepo was a named partner at the law firm of Krasner & Restrepo from 1993 to 2006.  Previously, he served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1990 to 1993 and as an Assistant Defender with the Defender Association of Philadelphia from 1987 to 1990.  Judge Restrepo began his legal career as a law clerk at the National Prison Project.  He received his J.D. in 1986 from Tulane Law School and his B.A. in 1981 from the University of Pennsylvania.

Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl:  Nominee for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

Judge Jeffrey L. Schmehl has served as President Judge of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas since 2008, having joined the court as a judge in 1998.  Previously, Judge Schmehl was a partner at the law firm of Rhoda, Stoudt & Bradley from 1988 to 1997 and an associate at the same firm from 1986 to 1987.  For much of that time, Judge Schmehl also served as the Berks County Solicitor.  From 1981 to 1986, he was a sole practitioner in West Reading, Pennsylvania.  Judge Schmehl also served as an Assistant District Attorney in Berks County from 1981 until 1986 and as an Assistant Public Defender in the same jurisdiction from 1980 until 1981.  He received his J.D. in 1980 from the University of Toledo School of Law and his B.A. in 1977 from Dickinson College.

Being from Berks County I know Judge Schmehl.  He seems like a good guy even though he’s a registered Republican.  I know this because he told me so after I criticized the Berks County Democrats for supporting his bid for retention several years ago.  In Pennsylvania Judicial and school board candidates can cross file and run for office in both major parties.  Jeffrey Schmehl did this when he ran for Common Pleas Court and won on the Democratic side.  Thus he was the Democratic candidate even though he was actually a Republican.  Such are the quirks of politics in Pennsylvania.  I’m curious though why a Democratic President nominated him to the federal bench.

As President Judge he has done a good job, I think he’s a good guy.  I’m just wondering why Democrats keep supporting him.

News & Notes November 28, 2012

Rick Santorum doesn’t only hate gays and Muslims.  Now he’s against disabled people.  Gee, since I’m gay and disabled I suppose I’m really screwed in his eyes.  Ask me if I care what he thinks.

Don’t mess with Matt Damon:

National security expert and author Thomas Ricks turned Fox News’ propaganda against them in an interview this Monday when they insisted on bringing up the non issue of Benghazi.  Fox has been hyping the incident for political hay for weeks and attacking the integrity of UN Ambassador Susan Rice.  After Ricks called Fox a wing of the Republican Party they terminated the interview and then tried to claim he apologized for his remark.  He didn’t.

Benghazi was an unfortunate incident in which locals rioted over a movie trailer released on YouTube..  An affiliated organization of Al Qaeda (not to be confused with Al Qaeda) saw an opportunity and acted on it killing four Americans.  Republican Senators have accused Rice of not divulging national security secrets, something patently absurd.

We know Karl Rove stole Ohio in the 2004 election for George W. Bush, that’s fact.  He tried again this month but was thwarted by Anonymous.  This explains his strange behavior on election night when he told Fox News to delay calling Ohio for Obama.  He was expecting the altered results to come in for Romney.

If you lose your home to foreclosure beginning January 1st you will be liable for additional taxes.  A mortgage modification in which your principal is reduced will also trigger higher taxes as that will be considered taxable income.  This needs to be changed during the lame duck session.  Banksters got away with murder and collected their full performance bonuses at a 15% tax rate but if your home value crashes you get screwed.

Each Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers $420,000 in benefits to its underpaid workers.  Low prices aren’t always what they seem.  If we’re going to have a conversation about entitlements let’s begin with corporate welfare.

Who, exactly, is pushing cuts to government programs while protecting their own corporate welfare?  CEO’s.  Our national priorities are all screwed up.

Americans For Prosperity, the Koch brothers primary front group, is airing commercials calling for the retention of Big Oil’s tax breaks.  Thus far they’ve spent $3 million including here in New Mexico targeting Sen. Tom Udall.

The AFL-CIO has a web page up attacking the austerity efforts in Washington.  It is called Myths and Facts.

Hanger Declares For Governor

John Hanger formally declared his candidacy for Governor yesterday.  The former DEP Secretary under Ed Rendell, he is the first of many Democrats ready and willing to challenge Gov. Gasbag.  One issue the two men have in common is support for natural gas drilling.  Hanger, however, believes in regulation and the taxation on the extraction of the people’s assets.

In the final year of Gov. Rendell’s Administration the DEP budget was slashed by about 27%.  This was at the same time as an explosion in the state’s hydrofracturing operations.  DEP has always served corporate interests over the people and nothing Mr. Hanger did as Department of Environmental Protection changed that reality.

He has argued for a middle road in the fracking controversy.  The reality is that as much as we fear what fracking will do to Penn’s Woods it is here to stay simply because there’s too much money in it.  Our primary focus must be on strict regulation, harsh fines for pollution and a healthy extraction tax to repay Pennsylvanians for the loss of our natural resources.  Hanger seems to support those aims.

Dishonest Republicans Look to Gut Social Security and Medicare

Senate Republicans and Tea Party House members held the nation hostage on a debt ceiling bill.  They demanded severe cuts to social programs and refused to raise taxes on the rich in order to continue paying for the out of control spending they did while in the White House.  $15 trillion of debt was run up by Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and then George W. Bush and then Republicans in Congress who voted for all that debt refused to pay it when the debt ceiling was reached.  Their failed economic policies and refusals to regulate business resulted in a global financial meltdown which has crashed the economies of countries such as Ireland, Greece and Spain.  

Now they enjoy casting the specter of Greece before us and use it to fear monger over the deficit.  A deficit they created.  The difference between America and Greece is that we can afford to pay our debt.  Greece cannot.  It isn’t comparing apples and apples.

The agreement to extend the debt ceiling was reached by setting a fiscal armageddon date:  January 1, 2013 when across the board cuts would usher in an era of austerity.  Austerity has yet to work anywhere and actually depresses economies.  Republicans are ready and willing to throw our recovering economy back into depression in order to gut entitlement programs.  They see this as their opportunity to finally gut your Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  These are programs which are the most successful in our history.  Republicans however, are hell bent, as they’ve been for decades, to end them.

Heaven help us have successful programs for the poor, elderly, disabled and orphans.  Before Social Security half of all senior citizens lived in poverty.  That has been the real success of the program.  Our elderly, disabled citizens and orphans have been able to live with some self sufficiency and dignity due to SS.  It adds not one red cent to the deficit and should have nothing to do with deficit reduction negotiations.  The only reason it is is because Republicans see an opportunity to gut and/or end the program.

We can actually expand Social Security benefits and extend its solvency for 75 years by lifting the income cap upon which payroll taxes are collected.  People who earn millions and billions per year pay FICA taxes on only the first $110,000 of that income.  Therefore you pay a higher tax rate than they do.

Republicans ran this year on the issue of Medicare by scaring senior citizens that they’d protect it against President Obama’s cuts.  While ballots continue being counted from the election Senate Republicans such as Lindsey Graham are already using extortion to gut Medicare and Social Security.  They also used the threat of Democratic cutting in 2010 then voted in the House to replace it with a privatized voucher system.

40% of senior citizens, according to exit polls, voted for the Romney/Ryan ticket dedicated to gutting both Social Security and Medicare.  They did so because the GOP lied about the issue.  This is no excuse for not being an informed voter.  There is no defense against willful brainwashing.  Still, with the electoral college not yet even meeting to be on television demanding cuts to entitlement programs is shameful.

Grover Norquist’s anti-American anti-tax pledge is shameful because it forces Senators and Congress members to violate their oaths of office.  It forces them to put partisan ideology ahead of the country.  John McCain’s “Country First” slogan was a fraud.  Any candidate who signs the Norquist tax pledge is unfit to serve.

Medicare is in financial trouble long term because our private health care system s broken.  Medicare isn’t the problem:  private health insurance is driving costs upwards.  A single payer Medicare for All system fixes everything.  Both programs need expansion, not gutting.

This entire “fiscal cliff” discussion is a failure.  The deficit isn’t the problem, a lack of jobs is what is issue #1.  Putting people back to work will eliminate the deficit by raising income tax collections.  The deficit was caused by three main factors, all Republican failures:  the Bush tax cuts for the rich, two wars which weren’t paid for and the economic collapse.  We can fix things by allowing the tax cuts to expire, ending the wars and following proven economic recovery models.  There is no need to gut entitlement programs.

They aren’t “entitlement” programs anyway.  You’ve paid into both for as long as you’ve worked.  You’re invested in Social Security and Medicare, you’ve worked for them.  The rich aren’t entitled to tax cuts or wars for which the poor fight and die.  They aren’t entitled to an unregulated, chaotic, boom and bust capitalistic economy.  Now those ARE entitlements.

Republicans cannot be trusted with your financial security.  If you voted Republican then perhaps you deserve to lose your Social Security and Medicare.  Even extreme Tea Party members won’t give up their benefits.  I’ve been at their events with a small BBQ grill and signs saying I’d burn their Medicare and Social Security cards and none of them would do so.  Let’s take their benefits away since they’re hell bent on destroying the programs.  One solution is obvious:  if you’re a registered Republican you don’t get Social Security or Medicare.

Scenic Drive: Abiquiu, Heron Lake and Cumbres Pass

Last week I took a scenic drive into northern New Mexico through O’Keeffe Country where famous artist Georgia O’Keeffe painted her mountain The Pedernal and other famous works, past lake Abiquiu to Tierra Altierra and Heron Lake.  Coming back from the lake which is home to salmon, ospreys and eagles, the Brazos Cliffs loom over the Brazos River as it comes down from nearby Colorado.  From there I drove north into the village of Chama and on into Colorado where I crossed the Cumbres Pass at 10,230 feet.  Route 17 curved towards the east to Altonita and I saw some gorgeous mountain scenery while negotiating a few snow covered sections going down mountain.  From Altonita, Colorado I went due south, and I do mean due south as US 285 went a good 40 miles with no turns or curves.  I saw antelope on the Taos Plateau but no elk.  A few pictures:

The Pedernal:

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The Brazos Cliffs:

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Heron Lake:

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Cumbres Pass:

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Christmas in Santa Fe

Santa came to Santa Fe Friday riding on the back of a vintage 1934 fire engine.  He entered the Plaza and took to his temporary house there to listen to youngsters recite their wish lists.  The Santa Fe Brass serenaded the crowd with Christmas songs as people milled about awaiting the official lighting ceremony.

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My first trip to The City Different was Christmas week 2006.  This time I’m witnessing the beginning of the city’s famous holiday extravaganza.  Santa Fe is famous for its Christmas tourism and downtown comes alive with farolitos (we call them luminaries) all along the adobe rooftops.  A large ice sculpture will appear in the Plaza as the holiday gets closer and the weather colder.

The weather has been nice since I arrived with afternoon highs between 55 and 60 degrees.  Combined with their 300 days of sunshine a year this has meant the odd sensation of listening to Christmas music on the radio while driving in short sleeves with a window down.

The cathedral of St. Francis of Assissi, the patron saint of Santa Fe for whom the city was named, sits a block off the Plaza and its bells ring out calling its faithful to mass.  Down the street is the Chapel of Loretto where a mysterious carpenter showed up one day and constructed a magical circular staircase with no center support.

Area Girl Scouts opened Friday’s festivities and others of their organization sold hot chocolate and hot cider.  The Santa Fe Brass, a five member ensemble, played Christmas music until the official lighting ceremony.  I wasn’t able to wait for that as I had reservations for dinner with friends from our Democratic Talk Radio Facebook page.  Here are my pictures and video, enjoy the music.

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Click “there’s more” for the rest of the pictures and video.

Flutist:

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The palace of the Governors is the oldest continuously used government building in the country:

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News & Notes November 26, 2012

I have another week yet of vacation here in The Land of Enchantment and The City Different.  Loving every minute of it.  I hear it’s getting cold back home.

What would you do with Powerball’s $425 million?

Congratulations to Sari Stevens, Executive Director of Planned Parenthood.  PoliticsPA named her one of the state’s top political operatives this morning.  PAC Board member Mary Isenhour also made the list.

The artificial “fiscal cliff” was created by Republicans who held the country hostage last year in return for approving paying the debt they created.  Now the rich are holding programs critical to everyone else hostage to their massive tax cuts.  Meanwhile the deficit is being reduced faster than at any time since WW II.

ALEC is at it again, this time attempting to hijack global warming initiatives on the state level.  This after Superstorm sandy gave the east coast a wake up call.  So far damages from the storm are estimated at about $150 billion.  How many more such disasters are we to shoulder before we realize the cost of doing nothing is higher than the economic cost of acting now?  Explain to those who died in the storm that jobs were more important.  A lot of good those jobs are for them now that they’re dead.

Black Friday saw protests against Wal-Mart across the nation.  Yesterday 112 workers at a Wal-Mart supplier in Bangladesh died in a fire reminiscent of the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire.

The election debacle of 2010, when Pennsylvania Democrats refused to vote, is still haunting us.  Because the GOP gained complete control in Harrisburg that year they gerrymandered Congressional districts (with help from incumbent Democrats in Congress).  Now, even though more Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic Congressional candidates this month Republicans hold 13 of 18 seats.

Special elections need to be scheduled to fill two State House seats.  Matt Smith was elected to the Senate and Eugene DePasquale to Auditor General.

Occupy held a Hurricane Sandy cleanup in New Jersey Saturday.

Truckin’ to Treason: The Hot Air of Secession

by WALTER BRASCH

A white Ford F-250 pick-up rumbled through town, a Confederate rebel flag on a pole behind the cab; on the rear bumper were a pro-life and three Anti-Obama stickers, two of which could not be revealed in a family newspaper.

It wasn’t a lone wolf protest; several cars, trucks, and homes in the area sport similar flags and messages. During the summer, when a 4-wheel Jamboree and a Monster Truck rally are held at the local fairgrounds, attracting thousands from a multi-state area, many trucks fly rebel flags, insignia, and political statements. During the annual eight-day fair at the end of September, vendors sell all kinds of items with the Confederate battle flag, most of them made overseas.

The rebels say they are fierce independents. But, being a “rebel” doesn’t mean you can complain about paying taxes, while also denying climate change and evolution. Nevertheless, those flying rebel flags, although they may be disenchanted and alienated from the mainstream, are still part of traditional mainstream America.

They may claim they oppose “Government” (also known as “gummint”) intruding upon their lives, but think it’s perfectly acceptable for government to make rules about the people’s sexual practices and to invade women’s bodies.

They also believe government has the duty to create laws to require national identification for every citizen and establish restrictive measures that weaken the rights of all people to vote, especially those who aren’t White establishment Republicans. When the U.S. invaded Iraq for reasons that were questionable at best, chest-thumping jingoistic “rebels” were the strongest supporters of military action. But, they remained largely silent when liberals and social activists spoke out about soldiers not being given adequate body armor, and military hospitals not giving the wounded adequate treatment. They have also remained largely silent about the one-fourth of America’s homeless who were combat veterans.

These pretend-rebels gave standing ovations to the PATRIOT Act that established numerous ways the government could violate citizen rights granted by the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 14th Amendments. When the federal courts ruled parts of the Act to be unconstitutional, the “patriotic rebels” complained about activist judges.

They listen to conservative talk radio and Fox News, all of which bash the mainstream media, but don’t recognize that the very sources they turn to for information are also mainstream media, owned by establishment multi-millionaires.

They willingly agree with Mitt Romney, even in defeat, that 47 percent of Americans are takers who “want stuff,” but don’t recognize that one of the biggest takers who wanted more “stuff” was Romney himself, who ran a venture capital company that existed to take over other companies. Even fellow Republicans during the primaries called Romney not a venture capitalist but a vulture capitalist.

In a local newspaper, which daily opens a full page, sometimes two full pages, to dozens of one or two paragraphs of grammatically-scurrilous rants from local citizens, are variations of President Obama being a Kenyan-born Muslim who is leading America into Communism and self-destruction, their thoughts mimicking the screed of conservative talk show hosts, pundits, and bloviators.

But the rebel who drove the white F-250 doesn’t live in the Deep South; this is in the rural red center of blue-state Pennsylvania, home of the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg, the turning point of the Civil War.

The Civil War-known as the War Between the States among Confederate sympathizers-is still being fought. Almost 25,000 Pennsylvanians have now signed petitions to have the Keystone State secede from the union.

More than 700,000 citizens upset about the re-election of President Obama in the past two weeks have signed petitions calling for their states to secede. The states with most of the signatures are Red States, paralleling the former Confederacy, which receive far more in federal dollars than their citizens pay. They are also the states where numerous polls reveal at least one-fourth of all citizens don’t believe in the separation of church and state. Maybe the U.S. can convince Iran and Saudi Arabia, theocratic dictatorships, to annex those states.

However, Texas, with more than 120,000 signatures, leads all lists of petitions. It would be tempting to send the Lone Star State back to Mexico. They get Texas, and the U.S. gets Acapulco, Cancun, and Mazatlan. In 2009, running for re-election, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, trying to burnish his ultra-conservative credentials, had even suggested that not only did he align himself with right-wing extremists but that Texas could become so mad at the federal government they might consider seceding. But now, he says he disagrees with the citizens who ignorantly claim the 10th Amendment gives them right to secede.

Perhaps it’s because Gov. Perry realizes that the only way a state can secede from the union, according to the Constitution, is not by having a majority of citizens petition the White House or even having an election, but only by an armed insurrection, something that didn’t work in 1861-and won’t work today.

Nevertheless, there is one possibility for those who so willingly signed secession petitions, mouthing off before they understood the penalties for treason.

For more than four decades, these conservative pretend-rebels told everyone who disagreed with them and protested American policy that they were un-American and unChristian. Not knowing even the basics of the Constitution or political philosophy, the conservative “rebels” called protestors for social justice pinkos, Commies, and traitors. They drilled into the public discourse the mantra of “America-love it or leave it.” By their own actions the past two weeks, it may now be time for a few hundred thousand to pack their bags and take their own advice.

[Walter Brasch proudly calls himself a social activist who, although he often disagrees with government actions, believes in the right of the state to exist and to protect its citizens from all forms of terrorism and stupidity, both foreign and domestic. His current book, which looks at the American Revolution and the Revolution of the 1960s, is Before the First Snow, available at amazon.com and www.greeleyandstone.com]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

University Governance Doesn’t Represent the People

by Walter Brasch

           About 800,000 Pennsylvanians are members of labor unions, and the state has a long history of union rights and activism, but neither of the two largest university systems has a labor representative on its governing board.

           The only labor representative on the Board of Governors of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) in its 29 year history was Julius Uehlein, who served 1988-1995 while Pennsylvania AFL-CIO president. The appointment was made by Gov. Robert P. Casey, a pro-worker Democrat. The SSHE, a state-owned system, has 120,000 students enrolled in 14 universities.

           Only three persons have ever represented labor on Penn State’s Board of Trustees. Gov. Milton Schapp, a Democrat, appointed Harry Boyer, the state AFL-CIO president, in 1976. When Boyer retired in 1982, he also left as a trustee. Richard Trumka, a Penn State alumnus and Villanova law school graduate, now the national AFL-CIO president, served as a trustee, 1983-1995, while president of the United Mine Workers. He was first appointed by Gov. Dick Thornburgh, a Republican, reappointed by Gov. Casey, and not reappointed when Tom Ridge, a Republican, became governor. Penn State, a state-related university which received about $272 million in state funding for the current fiscal year, has 96,000 students on its 24 campuses.

           The 32-member Penn State Board of Trustees is divided into five groups: ex-officio members who are in the Governor’s administration (6), Governor appointments (6), members elected by the Alumni Association (8), Business and Industry members (6), and elected members from Agriculture (6). The Agriculture representation dates to 1862 when Penn State (at that time known as Farmer’s High School) was one of the first two land grant institutions; the land grant institutions were created to provide advanced education in agriculture and the sciences. About half of its members are corporate CEOs. Except for one student representative, most of the rest are lawyers or senior corporate or public agency executives.

            SSHE’s 20-member Board of Governors has three student representatives, who are appointed by the Board after being nominated by the presidents of the 14 universities; thus, the students usually have views similar to what the administration sees as acceptable. Most student representatives have tended to follow a “cower and comply” role. Membership also includes four legislators, selected from each political caucus (Democrat and Republican caucuses in the House and Senate), and the secretary of the Department of Education); the rest are appointed by the Governor, with the approval of the state senate. Gov. Tom Corbett and his designated representative, Jennifer Branstetter, a public relations executive, serve on both Penn State and SSHE boards. Most of the other members are lawyers or senior business executives. One of them, Kenneth Jarin, who served as chair for six years and is currently a member, is a lawyer who represents management in labor issues.

           The lack of at least one representative of labor on the SSHE Board of Governors is because of “a lack of sensitivity to the labor point of view,” says Dr. Stephen Hicks, president of the 6,400 member Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty (APSCUF).

           “It remains a curiosity why the people’s universities don’t represent the people,” says Irwin Aronson, general counsel for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. Aronson is a Penn State alumnus and graduate of the Penn State’s Dickinson Law School.

           “Because of the number of union members in Pennsylvania, and the need to have working people’s issues and perspectives represented on the board,” Dr. Paul Clark, chair of Penn State’s Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations, says “We always thought it made a lot of sense for that constituency [working class] to be represented on the trustees.”

           About three-fourths the 6,400 full- and part-time faculty and coaches, and about two-thirds of the staff at the SSHE universities are members of unions. About 3,000 Penn State staff (mostly those working in maintenance, physical plant, dormitories, and the cafeteria) are members of the Teamsters; about 1,300 registered nurses, including those of the Hershey Medical Center, are members of the Service Employees International Union. However, there is no faculty union at Penn State. Part of the problem, says Dr. Clark, is that faculty in the large business and agriculture colleges, plus those in engineering and science, tend not to have strong union loyalties; those in the liberal arts tend to have more acceptance of the value of unions.

           Dr. Hicks has tried to get the SSHE Board to include a faculty member. However, he says, when a Board has most of its members “who have run a business and made money, you get a certain viewpoint.” Under the “business plan,” it is more economically feasible to bring in as much raw product (often called freshmen) as possible, and for the university to produce finished units (often called graduates.) More units and fewer staff and faculty result in higher return on investment. Having unionized staff and faculty-or unionized graduate and teaching assistants, as exist at some out-of-state universities-apparently is believed to be a deterrent to a business model.

           It is that reason that probably results in most public and quasi-public Pennsylvania universities having strong business schools but few labor studies classes. At Penn State, about 90 percent of students in the Labor Studies and Employment Relations Department plan to enter the corporate world in human relations. Of the 14 SSHE universities, only one, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, has a labor studies program that has a focus upon the working class.

           During the recently-concluded presidential race, Mitt Romney (a multimillionaire venture capitalist) and Barack Obama (a Constitutional lawyer and community organizer) incessantly drummed out a theme of how much they would do for the middle-class. Perhaps it’s time that both Penn State and the State System of Higher Education realize they need to include more diverse governing boards, starting with permanent representatives from the labor movement.

           [Walter Brasch is a syndicated social issues columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com, www.greeleyandstone.com, and bookstores.]