An occasional message from Peter Dreier

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
An occasional message from Peter Dreier  
  • "New York Times Deserves a Pulitzer Prize for Reporting on Bangladesh Sweatshops"  -- If journalism's role is to not only report the facts but also to expose wrongdoing - and thus shape public opinion, business practices, and public policy - then the New York Times deserves kudos, and a Pulitzer Prize, for its excellence and persistence in documenting the recent Bangladesh factory disasters and explaining the emergence of Bangladesh's new sweatshop economy as a major source of the clothing that American and European consumers buy every day. In an article for Huffington Post, Richard Appelbaum and I praise the reporting of  Jim Yardley (the Times' South Asia bureau chief, based in New Delhi), Julfikar Ali Manik (the chief reporter for the Daily Star, Bangladesh's largest circulating English daily newspaper, who has freelanced for the Times since 2005) and Steve Greenhouse (the paper's labor reporter, based in New York). Their stories not only look at the human toll (including the deaths of more than 1200 workers in the past year), but also the ethical and economic questions about the complicity of well-known American clothing brands like Wal-Mart and Disney in knowingly putting the lives of Bangladeshi workers at risk. Several human rights and labor activists told us that the Times’ stories put enormous pressure on these global companies to change their practices.
  • "If Frances Kelsey Could Protect America from the Pharmaceutical Industry in 1962, Congress Can Today--  Frances who?  In this article for Truth-out, Donald Cohen and I tell the story of FDA scientist Frances Kelsey, who 50 years ago single-handedly protected Americans from a dangerous drug, thalidomide. When you hear corporate lobbyists and conservative pundits and politicians warning about "big government," think about the thousands of people like Dr. Kelsey working today in government offices and labs around the country, quietly protecting Americans from products that could kill or injure them if their manufacturers were allowed to make and market them. They work for the FDA, OSHA, the FAA, the EPA, the CDC, the National Transportation Safety Administration, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and other federal agencies. Every day, they save lives. 
  • Protesters Arrested After Attempt to Storm Justice Department --  The Washington Post last week put this story -- about the arrest of homeowners, community, and union activists protesting the federal government's failure to hold Wall Street accountable for the epidemic of foreclosures and "underwater" mortgages -- on its "crime" page. But the REAL criminals are not the protestors, but the bankers. Let's see some big bank CEOs arrested for engaging in predatory lending, crashing our economy, and giving themselves huge raises. Fortunately, the Campaign for a Fair Settlement -- a coalition of community organizing groups, unions, and faith groups -- has been waging a grassroots effort to get Wall Street banks to pay for the damage they caused and to enact laws that will prevent another wave of predatory lending that crashed the economy. The campaign's two major themes are:  "End Too Big To Fail" and "Start Prosecuting Criminal Bankers." As I reported a few weeks ago in "Housing Activists Convince Obama to Dump Demarco," they've already won a significant victory.  Groups such as National People's Action, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and others are part of this growing movement. The problem is documented in a great new report, "Wasted Wealth: How the Wall Street Crash Continues to Stall Economic Recovery and Deepen Racial Inequality."  
  • "Garcetti Wins LA Mayor's Race."   -- Linked here is Randy Shaw's interesting analysis of  Eric Garcetti's  54%-46% victory over Wendy Greuel after an exhausting and expensive two-year campaign to replace Antonio Villaraigosa. More than a decade ago, Eric (a Rhodes Scholar) and I co-taught a Politics 101 course at Occidental College. He was a remarkable teacher and I could see many of those qualities during his campaign. But this was not a very uplifting election. It was filled with negative campaigning, in part to differentiate Eric and Wendy, who, in the broad spectrum of US politics, are both liberal Democrats. Eric had a numbe of major union endorsements, but Wendy had the support of the LA County Federation of Labor, the Chamber of Commerce and the landlord lobby.  Voters could be given for asking, like the old union song, "which side are you on?"  Despite LA's many problems -- jobs, poverty, housing, the environment, schools, etc. -- the media and the candidates focused primarily on whether the city's employees and their union were bankrupting the city budget , a classic case of blaming the victim.  The fact that this was happening in liberal, pro-union Los Angeles is a sign of the terrible times. It is part of the broader political climate in America blaming public sector unions -- rather than Wall Street and business -- for the fiscal crisis. Maria Elena Durazo, head of the LA County Federation of Labor, discussed this in her insightful op-ed, "The Real Money Problem in LA," in the LA Times a week before the election. Garcetti, who is only 42, has the potential to be a great mayor if he views himself as an ally of the city's labor, community organizing, environmental, and other progessive forces and seeks to create a "growth with justice" agenda that redefines a "healthy business climate" as one in which prosperity is widely shared, including jobs that pay a living wage. That means challenging the perogatives of developers and business groups. Will he? One interesting factoid: Many news reports have noted that Garcetti (offspring of a Mexican-Italian father and Jewish mother) will be LA's first Jewish mayor, but J.J. Goldberg of the Jewish Forward points out that LA has actually already had two Jewish mayors in the mid- and late-1800s. Another interesting ethnic factoid: After Garcetti is sworn in on July 1, and until NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office next January 1, America's three biggest cities (NY, LA, Chicago, where Rahm Emanuel is mayor) will have Jewish mayors.
  • "Immigrant Workers Give New Direction to Los Angeles Unions" -- LA union leader Maria Elena Durazo has been the national labor movement's strongest voice for immigration reform. She recognized, before most other union leaders, that if labor is going to revitalize its movement, immigrant workers will be a key component. Durazo typically talks about "immigrant workers," not "undocumented immigrants." This recent NY Times article by Jennifer Medina both profiles Durazo and describes the close ties between the movement for immigration reform and the movement for workers' rights. The crusade for immigration reform has been among the most exciting movements in recent years, galvanizing many high school and college students, including the "Dreamers" who want to be able to attend college like their generational counterparts. It appears that an immigration reform bill may be possible in the coming months, even if some of the compromises needed to get it passed may not please progressives.
  • Sheila Kuehl for LA County Supervisor.  There is no better progressive politician in America than Sheila Kuehl. She is brilliant, funny, dogged, and principled.  Before entering politics, she was a prominent and effective activist for women's rights, LBGT rights, and workers' rights. As president of California's State Senate, she proved to be an incredibly effective coalition-builder and legislator. Years before Obamacare, she managed to get a single-payer health care bill through the legislature, only to have it vetoed by the governor. Now she's running for one of five seats on the LA County Board of Supervisors, the biggest county in the nation with a budget bigger than some states, but which -- as a result of lousy media coverage -- is little-understood by local residents. The election is in 2014 but it isn't too early to endorse her and donate to her campaign -- both of which I've done. Read more about Sheila's remarkable life (she was a well-known TV actress, and then a crusading public interest lawyer) on her personal website and learn more about her campaign for Supervisor on her campaign website.  Former Obama Labor Secterary Hilda Solis is likely to run for another Supervisor seat next year. If Sheila and Hilda win, joining incumbent Mark Ridley-Thomas, they will form a progressive majority on the board that could be transformational.
  • "Go Public" - A Positive Documentary Film about Public Schools!! - Two years ago, at its national conference, the PTA screened the documentary film, "Waiting for Superman." This is an anti-teacher (and teachers union) film funded by billionaires like Bill Gates who favor high-stakes testing, vouchers, private charter schools, and weak teachers unions. Education historian Diane Ravitch skewered the film in this review several years ago. Not suprisingly, the Gates Foundation has been a big funder of the PTA.  If the PTA wants to show a film that celebrates teachers and public schools, it should show the new documentary film, "Go Public," produced by my friends Jim and Dawn O'Keefe, two award-winning documentary filmmakers.  Unlike "Waiting for Superman,"  "Go Public" doesn't have an ax to grind. It follows 50 people in one urban school district (Pasadena) during the course of one entire day, from sun-up to sundown. These include several students, teachers, and parents, a janitor, a principal, a school board member, and the superintendent. It reveals the small miracles that happen every day in our public schools, even in a school district beset by drastic budget cutbacks and a student population comprised primarily of low-income students, many of them from immigrant families. The film was made on a shoe-string budget but reflects the remarkable professionalism of the O'Keefes, whose kids all went through Pasadena's public schools. They even trained high school students to help with the camera work, using 50 separate film crews, many of them headed by professional filmmakers. This is an uplifting film that just had its premiere. I encourage every to see it, buy it, use it to challenge the current attacks on public education by the small network of corporate school "reformers" that Diane Ravitch calls the "billionaires boys club"
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren's First Bill Is About Student Debt --  Sen. Elizabeth Warren has a great, simple idea, and she's made it her first bill: Give students the same loan rates that the big banks get. Students should get as good a deal as the banks. They're the ones that are going to be responsible for rebuilding this country, and they shouldn't be saddled with crippling debt before they even get a chance to start doing that. Please join with Daily Kos and Campaign for America's Future by signing the petition urging your senators to cosponsor the Bank On Student Loan Fairness Act.  The outrageous level of studentt debt should be one of the key galvanizing issues among this generation.
  • "For Tea Party Groups, Shades of 2010" --  According to this NY Times story (5/21), "Leaders of the Tea Party movement hope outrage over the I.R.S. inquiry will rekindle grass-roots activism that in many places went dormant after big Republican electoral defeats of November 2012." In truth, the Tea Party was never a "movement." It was a business, orchestrated from the top down by billionaire funders (like the Koch brothers) and high-powered GOP political operatives (like Dick Armey), without whom the local rallies and national conventions (where pols like Sarah Pallin got paid big bucks to speak) never would have happened.  GOP operatives made lots of money running campaigns for Tea Party-backed candidates. These are some of the findings of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservativism, a fascinating 2012 book by political scientists Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson. They also discovered that the size of Tea Party support among American voters was exaggerated and that most of its activists had longstanding ties to the Republican Party. Now the same right-wing GOP pols are trying to rekindle the Tea Party to attack Obama and prepare for the 2014 mid-term elections. But the media shouldn't make the same mistake they made in 2010 of describing this as a "grassroots movement." It is a political investment by the right wing of corporate America.
  • "The Real Story of Baseball's Integration That You Won't See in 42" - The film "42" is doing very well at the box office. It is a great film that really captures the abuse and humiliation that Jackie Robinson had to endure during his first year (1947) in major league baseball when he broke its color line. It reveals the dignity with which Robinson dealt with that abuse on and off the field. But as I wrote in this article for The Atlantic, the film entirely ignores that movement for baseball integration that began more than a decade earlier, led by the black newspapers and the Left, including the Communist Party. That movement laid the groundwork and opened the door for Robinson (and Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey). My article describes that movement and brings the story of baseball's integration up to date.
The opinions expressed are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Occidental College or its employees. Occidental College is not responsible for the content of this communication.