Saturday, May 10, 2014

Someone Call Mary Landrieu; Obamacare Really Can Disrupt Lives!

The Baseline:

One of my favorite young friends is confronted with a life changing dilemma occasioned by Obamacare.  This young man is very fit, outgoing, pleasant, hard-working and ostensibly as healthy as an organic all-veggie salad without dressing.

He's my "go to" guy at work: dependable, willing, and good.  He lives in a sweet little efficiency apartment right off Napoleon, which he rents for a relative pittance because the landlady who owns the "Big House" likes him a lot.  And, ahem, I'll just bet she does. 

Several times a week he works out at a  "Cross-Fit" business on Tchoupitoulas Street, not far from my house.  Often enough, he'll fly by on his bicycle when I'm outside tending to the yard, yell out a greeting and wave.  Sometimes, when he's returning from a hard go at it, he'll stop to chat, shirtless, sweaty, and sated physically in the way only work, exercise, or sex can deliver.  Other times we'll cross paths on Magazine Street on our bikes as I'm headed to or from Breaux Mart and he's headed to or from home.  Yes, we both bike in defiance of irrational drivers on Magazine because we have that right; and, contrary to finger-waving scolds, the bordering, narrow, two-sided solidly parked  streets are just as dangerous.  Also, I'm old and careful; he is young and "bullet-proof."

Several weeks ago, my young friend met a girl at the "Cross-Fit" facility.  She is a former U.S. Olympic Team gymnast who has come back from significant career ending sports injuries, and continues to work out regularly. Oh, and yes, she is a knock out. And, of course, they've hit it off.

But the last time he saw her was the Monday after Jazz Fest. They did all day at Jazz Fest on the closing Sunday, then next morning coffee and beignets in the French Quarter, and said goodbye as she left on the drive to Atlanta in her already packed car.

Who Would've Thought It?

As it happens, the young lady works in marketing for a large pharmaceutical company. Because of the anticipated surge in drug sales resulting from the expanded insurance coverage engendered by Obamacare, she was offered a new position which pays lots more money.  But she now will have to live in Atlanta. 

So, there she goes.  In this terrible economy, who could  blame her? 

Maybe you saw this coming.  She wants my young friend and associate to relocate with her. He has asked me what I think.  Heaven only knows why.

Me And My Badass Advice:

I have turned-down an offer to relocate from New Orleans for a better job.  But I was older than my friend and well settled, married and with a family.

Except that he loves New Orleans like I do, along with the caveat that he originally hails from Wisconsin, he could be happy and easily make it anywhere.  So, what should I say? 

Not being very smart or particularly original, I resorted to referencing a fairly icky line from an equally icky song.  The only reason I'm conversant with the lyric at all is because I often listen to the Jimmy Buffet Pandora stream through my Bluetooth device at work. In that mix is included some pseudo-country sounding artists I can't even identify for this writing, and think not important enough to research. Anyway, here, more or less, is the line: "Don't be falling in love as she's walking away."

Obamacare Might Bank Shot Disrupt My Life.

The jury is still out.  But if I had to guess, the long distance relationship is going to be between me and my young friend, not him and his girl.  Probably it should be.

See, I told you Obamacare can disrupt lives.  Get Mary on the phone. Unlike the other tales, it's true. And she may actually want to hear about this one.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The More This Guy Talks, The More Labor Suffers

Catchy Tag Line

"Skilled labor isn't cheap; and cheap labor just isn't all that skilled."  That sounds right.  Or at least it sounds like it should be right.  But it's wrong on both counts.  That's why Business Manager Chet Held of New Orleans IBEW Local 130 is blowing his members' hard earned dues money when he buys time to say it on TV; and, even worse, actually doing great damage to their cause in the process.

Here's Why

All labor - even skilled labor - is too damn cheap; and some that's cheaper than union labor is pretty damned skilled. Those are just facts.  That's why Held's slick sounding pitch is so damned foul.

The Implicit Wrongheaded Strategy

Evidently some clueless but high dollar ad agency put precisely the wrong message in Held's mouth, which he is likewise too clueless to recognize.  But what he lacks in perspicacity and talent, he makes up for in ego.  He puts himself in these misguided ads, foolishly staring up at what can only be a teleprompter or read-out board of some kind because he apparently can't get his mind around even a stupid and shallow message without technical assistance.  It is a thinly disguised pitch to the world - especially prospective customers - to hire union electricians even though we are not cheap, we cost a good deal more than the other guys; but, hey, we're worth it. And basically the other guys suck. That is a rather tawdry and cheap argument that few if any potential customers will buy.  Worse, it dirties us by actually pitting worker against worker.  By definition, that is the opposite of what the union position should be.

The Actual Message We Should Be Advertising

We should be making the case that all labor, skilled and unskilled is underpaid.  Don't take my word for it.  This is daily corroborated by every serious analysis of the modern economy.  The most surprising recent work on best seller lists is a densely researched tome by French economist, Thomas Piketty, which argues that the developed world's capitalist societies are rapidly evolving into non-democratic Oligarchies.  The middle-class has already eroded more mortally than the Louisiana coastline, and we're living in an environment of perpetual economic and political hurricanes.  There is much for us as union members to do, but spending members' dues money on slick TV ads that wrongly argue our labor is not cheap, and that cheaper labor doesn't deserve better compensation, is a shameful disregard of our true practical and moral mission to improve the dignity and social standing of all working people.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

EWE ... ON THE RUN AGAIN ... Maybe

Some have speculated that the 86 year old former governor, former convict, Edwin Washington Edwards, may not be serious about his candidacy for the Louisiana 6th district Congressional seat.

They may be right.  Clearly it is more difficult to make the opposite case.

The thinking among the naysayers, more or less, is that EWE is simply exploiting the opportunity to enjoy the reflected glory of his celebrity and discover yet more ways to pick up a few coins here at the close of his career and life.

People who believe this also seem to resent the hell out of what they see as a sinister form of revenge seeking, as well as callous abuse of a political system they must otherwise consider somehow untarnished by ambition, ego, and lack of principle. 

Good luck on that latter score.

But could it be that EWE really is serious about winning?  I believe he is.  If you are one who does not, then I'm pretty sure I won't be able to convince you.  I recognize that were it not for my years and experience observing and participating in Louisiana politics, it would likely be hard to impossible to convince me.  But if you're curious at all to hear why guys like me believe as we do, and, yes, even want to believe, stick around, because here it comes.

This recitation is strictly from memory, so doubtless there will be a jot or dash out of place somewhere, for which I hope to be indulged.  But there should be nothing of substance or significance contrary to a faithful revisit of the historical record.  Should such occur, please know I expect nor desire any leniency, even though it will have been as unintentional as a sneeze.

Like It Or Not

Edwin Washington Edwards is the only person to have served four terms as governor of Louisiana.  That simple sounding statement is unexpectedly pregnant and richly layered with reasons why friends and foes alike acknowledge that for talent, competence, and accomplishment, EWE stands apart from the crowd of governors who have served since the days of Earl Long.  In fact there are several significant parallels and interesting echoes in the careers of both.

Perhaps most favorable comments and reflections on EWE since his announcement rightly cite his progressive record on race. EWE indeed deserves great credit, but it is only fair to note that by the early 70s it was hardly any surprise for a Democratic governor to be strong on that issue.  On the other hand, Earl Long was very brave on the race issue back in the 50s, when even the likes of Hale Boggs (supported by his campaign managing wife, Lindy) was signing the vile Dixiecrat "Southern Manifesto." And my uncle, Nick Lapara, a floor leader for Long in the House, was about to lose his seat for favoring the integration of the St. Thomas housing project here in his New Orleans district.

Likewise, Earl Long and EWE were both strongly progressive populists when it came to class.  But, since EWE signed the heinously anti-labor, so-called "Right-to-Work" law in 1976, you might think it a bit curious for me to mention it. I do so, however, because I was among those in the labor movement at the time who bought EWE's argument that a veto would have been overridden, and likely would have spurred LABI to then push for a constitutional amendment to more solidly enshrine the damn thing.  It remains a simple statute, which is far easier to eventually throw out.  So, EWE actually did labor a favor by signing it.

Looking back at Earl again, it turns out that he fought for and signed the repeal of Louisiana's original "Right-to-Work" law, which had been enacted under his predecessor, Robert Kennon.  And that same uncle of mine, Nick Lapara, was the floor leader in that fight as well.  His name is inscribed on a plaque memorializing that success that to this day hangs in the Southeast Louisiana Building Trades office here in New Orleans. Maybe you're starting to see why I have nothing but the utmost respect for the public service of all three of those guys. Yet there's so much more strictly concerning EWE.

Some Of The Trivial Things EWE Has Done

* Called a constitutional convention which rewrote and updated the previous unwieldy document.

* Oversaw to completion the much criticized, troubled and over budget Louisiana Superdome project.

* Saved the New Orleans Saints for New Orleans after the Meacom era.

* Rode to the rescue of a collapsing New Orleans World's Fair. Led to riverfront renaissance.

* Negotiated the 27% 8(G) Outer Continental Shelf oil drilling money for Louisiana. Dedicated all
    interest from fund for BESE education grants by constitutional amendment. Maybe a billion now.

The Terrible Crimes Of EWE

A big part of me is tempted to leave this blank, but since you've been interested or patient enough to read this far, I wouldn't want to disappoint you. 

Well, what we have in the official record are guilty verdicts on some number of counts in the teens for racketeering, extortion, mail fraud, blah, blah, blah, etc., you know the usual train of charges that follow one from the other. So, you might say, "Well, that sure sounds like serious stuff for a governor to be into."  And you would be right if any of it involved public money or official duties in any way.  But none of it did. 

That's right, none of it happened when EWE was in office. In my mind, it is kind of hard to torture a public corruption charge out of dealings which involve not one public official.  But then you have to remember the prosecution knew that bringing this to trial before a steadfastly EWE hating redneck kangaroo court in Baton Rouge pretty much assured the outcome.

So, the best - or, I suppose the worst - you can make of this business, even if you believe some of the bullshit - and I mean bullshit, but to that later - that was entered as sworn testimony, is an elaborate con that EWE ran, after he was out of office, on two of the sleaziest operators around, to wit: Eddie DeBartolo, the biggest scumbag west of the Rockies, and some guy named Graham, a for-profit prison business asshole.  To which I say, I would stand and cheer anyone who could shakedown pricks like that.

And so, one little blurb on the bullshit that the press and the rednecks were titillated by and gulped down like beer at a baseball game. I may be wrong on the identity, but I'm pretty sure it was the former owner of the Treasure Chest Casino, believe his name is Guidry, who testified that he dropped off $100K bags of dough in a dumpster which Edwards himself would later retrieve.  Sorry, folks, I know that sounds pretty lurid and fun to envision, but I also happen to know that you couldn't get EWE to climb in a dumpster with a gun to his head.  I also seem to  recall that whichever of the witnesses it was who gave this testimony was providing it so as to evade facing the music the Feds had in store for him otherwise.  In other words, they apparently had him by the balls, so he went wherever they led.

So, What Else Can I Tell You?

I also know a thing or two about how vindictive and wrong the Feds can be in these matters.  As it happens, I quite amazingly was swept-up in the first Federal prosecution of EWE in the 80s. 

Back then, I was the top elected officer of a local labor union.  When EWE was indicted by a genuine fool named John Voltz, one of my union members wound up in the jury pool.  Unsurprisingly, I was contacted by the EWE's legal team to get my opinion about the guy. First, Risley "Pappy" Triche called, then Camille Gravel.  They both asked standard issue questions about the guy's general personality, personal beliefs, and overall capacity to be fair. I told them I had no use for the guy, would not bet he could get 2 from 1+1, and definitely would not want him on the jury.  Soon, Louisiana AFL-CIO President Victor Bussie called to go over the same questions.  He got the same answers. Eventually EWE called. Same exchange, but in the end Edwin - he would not let me address him as Governor, insisted on Edwin - told me was going to allow the guy on the jury despite my counsel because he fit favorable demographic categories, i.e., race and union membership.

Well, wouldn't you just know it, some of you may remember, this is the same nut job who wound up clowning for the cameras, making thumbs down gestures and mouthing negative comments when the sequestered jury was being loaded in the van for transport from the courtroom to the hotel in the evenings.  Ultimately, EWE walked on the charges.  I think it was the only case Voltz ever lost as U.S. Atty. 

And he was furious.

Voltz immediately embarked on a witch hunt against me and my staff in a vain attempt to show jury tampering, so as to get the egg off of his face.  He had the nut job wired and sent him to us fishing.  Finally they thought they had scored something, and the FBI showed up at my house in the middle of the night to talk.  So, being clean as a whistle, I made a pot of coffee and entertained them for a couple of hours.  We had a good conversation and I could tell that, just as I figured, they didn't seem to have a damn thing on any of my staff either.  Turns out all three of us were being visited in the middle of that same night by FBI agents.  At the conclusion of these visits, we all received a summons to testify before the Grand Jury.

Next day, as I recounted the events of the previous night to my now deceased good friend and even better lawyer, Dennis Angelico, he nearly stroked out right then.  Just could not believe I had been so stupid as to talk to the FBI agents.  Of course he was right, but it all came out okay in the end.  After meeting with us, Dennis determined that apparently they had a tape of one of us they evidently thought to be incriminating.  So, that guy took the Fifth, while I and my other assistant testified.

That's when I realized EWE had been right all along when he said that "Voltz is a pin head."  First he tried to make a big deal of the fact that I had early on talked to EWE and his legal team about the nut job.  I indicated that it was my understanding such inquiries were pretty standard during jury selection.  Further, I told him my only surprise was that he hadn't bothered to call, that I would have given him the same insights I gave EWE.  I went on to aver that had he done his job, maybe none of us would be wrangling about all this nonsense right then.  He almost screwed himself into the floor spinning and sputtering; I'm not making this up.  Finally, he attempted to insinuate that I as a big, bad white union boss was probably prejudiced against my black union member, and might have tried to lean on him.  Well, that was when school let out.  When I got finished enlightening the pin head on my personal history as a citizen, a union leader, and civil rights advocate, several of the Grand Jury members were LAUGHING AT HIM.

The whole time this so-called investigation was going on, Voltz was orchestrating a media circus by planting bullshit with his house boy pimp reporter, Richard Angelico (coincidentally my lawyer's half-brother).  For obvious reasons, we weren't talking to the media. But they were having a real go at us anyway, even to the point of scrolling a partial transcript of one of the thought to be incriminating tapes on television. 

It was tough to watch and read and hear the nauseating nonsense, but I'm glad I was paying attention.  One evening as I was reading the transcript running on the screen, I suddenly realized the actual import of the seemingly ominous chopped and skippy and snippity segments of the recording.  I immediately called Dennis at home and told him my take on it, and he instantly agreed.

Next day, Dennis contacted Voltz to tell him we were confident that we knew what was being referenced in the tape, which they apparently were unable to transcribe fully or correctly.  I'm  pretty sure Dennis indicated that we would pay to have an independent lab or expert examine the tape, in an attempt to obtain the best possible interpretation.  And that my friends essentially ended the whole mess.  Suddenly, the media circus ceased.  Voltz made some sort of lame pronouncement about hoping that maybe some more information or evidence would turn up in the future blah, blah, blah and it all went away.  No indictments.  It had all been bullshit.

But don't think for a minute that the Feds like taking a licking.  Nope.  Took them a decade and a half, but, well, you know the rest of that saga.


The epilogue has yet to be written.

One last echo of Earl Long.  Earl ended his life and career running for Congress.  He had campaigned doggedly and captured the Democratic nomination for the seat in his district.  At that time, capturing the Democratic nomination was tantamount to being elected to office.  The general election would have been a formality.  But it was not to be.  Earl Long died before the final vote.  Fate had denied him what the voters would not.  To which I will add, God speed EWE.  Be well, and good luck.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Been a long time, I know. But for some ridiculous reason, maybe it's the Carnival Season,  I can't resist commenting on a recent news making and media celebrated item.

Here in New Orleans last week, the previous mayor was found guilty of a stupid number of stupidly petty, graft type offenses in Federal Court, and will likely be disappeared for a decade or more. Poor bastard.

He was plucked from the obscurity of being a cable TV, token African American, upper-level management toy, and thrust into political power by our local white aristocracy and their lapdog media.

He was anti-labor in every way, and hurt all working people as much as he could in the service of his makers. But soon enough, he got pretty flaky and out of control for being completely out of his element. In the end, his makers abandoned him and forswore any responsibility for his grotesque career.

I wish him no ill, for he is as much a victim of this perverse system as those he was persuaded to disadvantage in the service of his makers. Instead, I despise and recognize the real villains as the sell-out, false liberal, mouthy hip, punk narcissist swells who dominate the putative opposition to the power. Jokes and jokers all. Worse, false flag friends; sycophant servants of the enemy, and happy so to be.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Proof Is In The Putin

One way or the other, the dictator in Syria, Assad, soon will no longer be free to casually use chemical weapons upon innocent unarmed Syrians in order to maintain his gruesome grip on power. That is the primary pay-off  from President Obama's willingness to accept the cost of doing the right thing.  Another welcome development is that the punk, Putin, has been exposed as the cheap and cowardly little bully he has always been, just another chihuahua with pit-bull delusions. All of this thanks to President Obama.

Obama's decision to step-up to this challenge was easily the most courageous political and moral stand any president has taken since LBJ backed and signed the civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. And it has proven once again a learning experience for many citizens: in this unforgiving and selfish world, sometimes you do just take what you get, but you always only get what you take. If you want justice to prevail, expand, or even simply persist, you must be willing to fight for it.

That thought brings me to one last notable outcome of this class in political and state craftsmanship: Hillary magically reappeared from hiding just as soon as the game was being decided in Obama's favor. I despise political cowards, and so should you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Do The Right Thing

The other day, I read an interesting personal remembrance of Greg Peters by Mark Moseley on TheLensNOLA internet news site. It reminded me of several points I've been meaning to make regarding the nature of positive social change, and the necessary energy behind it.

The first is that it never happens as a result of parlor talk, debate, or argument among the elites alone. Mind you, there are always two types of elites: the dispossessed elites (DE) and the elites in possession (EP). Curiously enough, a common criticism the DE hurl at the EP is that they constantly screw things up and screw people around precisely because they see themselves as the elite among us, and are incapable of seeing their own failings and foibles. Meanwhile, the DE never confess themselves elites, but they are. Being dispossessed, they lack the standing and privilege which comes from the power the EP hold, jealously guard, and use to unfair advantage. The result: dissatisfaction and demands for various types of adjustments in the way our civil society operates.

The DE endlessly importune the EP to scale back their abuses and loosen their grip on power and privilege. The DE blog, they tweet, they write letters, make cartoons, skewer, ridicule, and propagandize their little asses off, but they rarely actually ever do anything. Typically, nothing or very little happens.

Still, on occasion the EP will placate and appease the DE with gestures they insincerely label "reforms."  This episodic parlor game charade almost always ends with the EP enjoying even more social power and leverage, only dressed up a bit differently. Meanwhile the DE wrongly and smugly imagine they have done something good. Nothing could be further from the truth because real social power is never surrendered through persuasion alone, but only when wrested away under some form of compulsion. Hence, the memorable LBJ telephone conversation quote to MLK as he was trying to line-up support for Civil Rights legislation, "Make me (meaning us) do this."

MLK delivered big time with significant, if peaceful, social unrest and the pounding thunder of moral compulsion. Great positive social change was achieved as the result of massive activism by legions of non-elites, not simply by way of  debate among elites and horse trading among politicians. So great in fact is the power of civil unrest and mass activism, that by 1968 MLK had converted his already hugely successful civil rights campaign into a full-fledged economic crusade on behalf of all poor people.  He was well on the way to restructuring the manner in which we conduct business with a blind eye towards worker abuse. Had he not been murdered, we surely would never have had to suffer the yawning inequity and inequality of economic conditions which now beset our country, indeed our world. One may be forgiven for thinking that that must have been going a bit too far. And today we are living with the pitiful proof economically that political assassination occurs even in a so-called free society because it works. More on those thoughts some other time, perhaps. All of the foregoing was intended to demonstrate what is required to effect positive change in a supposedly open and democratic society such as ours. What about other places?

Yes, of course, you've guessed it. I'm thinking of those dark, cramped and closed, prison camp style societies around the globe in which dictators use secret police, the military, or chemical weapons to oppress their own people, and maintain their bloody grip on power. And that's only when they're being well enough behaved to keep their evil ambitions at home. Sometimes these assholes are rash enough to heap their loving, tender mercies upon the whole damn neighborhood. Often, existential horrors such as these can only be resisted, restrained or stopped by greater force. It is always bloody, it is always ugly, it is always brutal, it is always messy, unfair, unjust, unspeakable, and unacceptable except in regard to all other alternatives.