Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Matt Loeb of IATSE takes a more aggressive role

IATSE President Loeb has been shaking things up inside the entertainment industry's largest union. He's willing to thrust it into high-profile skirmishes on behalf of the nearly 120,000 behind-the-scenes workers who are its members.

“I want the IA to have the highest profile it can have and be as strong as it can be,” says union President Matt Loeb. “Having a solid membership that understands why the union is there and what it does for them is key.” (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times / June 21, 2011)
“I want the IA to have the highest profile it can have and be as strong as it can be,” says union President Matt Loeb. “Having a solid membership that understands why the union is there and what it does for them is key.” (Bob Chamberlin, Los Angeles Times / June 21, 2011)

By Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times

When rock star Bono and members of his band U2 recently showed up at the Burton Cummings Theatre in Winnipeg, Canada, they were greeted not with cheers but jeers from more than 80 members of one of Hollywood's most powerful unions.

Their beef: U2's decision to hire a nonunion crew to film a documentary of the show that the band had come to finish shooting. "This is nothing short of union-busting," declared Matt Loeb, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

Taking on the world's most famous rock group was just the latest example of Loeb's willingness to thrust the typically low-key union into high-profile skirmishes on behalf of the nearly 120,000 stage hands, camera operators, grips, costume designers and others who work behind the scenes on scores of movies and TV shows.

The IA, as it is known, in November waged its first high-profile strike in Los Angeles in nearly two decades, in a highly publicized showdown with the producers of the hit reality TV show "The Biggest Loser."

Unlike other Hollywood unions such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America, the IA has traditionally avoided public confrontations with employers. It was an approach espoused by the union's longtime former leader Tom Short, who placed a premium on maintaining smooth relations with the studios and keeping labor peace — even if it meant occasionally calling out other guild leaders for their tactics or militant rhetoric.

But since taking over from Short nearly three years ago, Loeb has put the IA on a more aggressive course, shaking things up inside the entertainment industry's largest union. In one of his first interviews as president, Loeb spoke to The Times about the recent strike, as well as a controversial and ambitious plan to extend union contracts to visual-effects workers and his efforts to create a more open culture inside a labor organization that dates to 1886.

"I want the IA to have the highest profile it can have and be as strong as it can be," he said. "Having a solid membership that understands why the union is there and what it does for them is key."

Loeb, 46, grew up in Cleveland and got his start in the entertainment industry in 1988 in New York, where he worked for a local painters union, cleaning up sets and handling timecards. He soon became the de facto shop steward and quickly rose through the ranks of the IA, heading its East Council and the union's first movie and TV division. When Short abruptly resigned in July 2008 after 14 years on the job, the IA's executive board tapped Loeb to succeed him.

Tom Short and Matt Loeb
Loeb is reluctant to draw comparisons with his predecessor, saying he prefers to focus on the future. But his style is clearly different from that of Short, who was credited for unifying a formerly fractious collection of local unions and increasing the IA's ranks while also clashing with dissidents who chafed at his mercurial management style.

"I want to be approachable," Loeb said. "I want people to feel like they can bring a good idea or a bad idea or disagree with me. I believe if I'm not getting input, I've lost something and I don't have the tools that I need to lead."

Short could not be reached for comment.

As part of Loeb's outreach, the IA has hired a research firm to survey the views of union members on the union's health and pension plans and will hold a series of "town meetings" in the next year to discuss the state of the healthcare industry and what changes they would like to see.

It's part of an effort to rally the dozens of local guilds that fall under the IA's umbrella to be more involved in negotiations to replace the current contract, which expires in July 2012.

"He wants to hear directly what members have to say, and that's new,'' said Steven Poster, president of the International Cinematographers Guild, which is part of the IA.

Loeb also has been trying to improve relations with other unions, especially the Teamsters, which represents location managers and casting directors. The two unions have a long history of friction, clashing over turf. Last year, Loeb reached out to Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa, son of the late Teamsters boss.

"I said we ought to be helping each other and building strength by standing together," Loeb said. Hoffa agreed and the two men signed a so-called mutual assistance pact to work together.

Loeb said that at a time when many unions are losing membership, one of his chief priorities is to expand the IA's base. That's one reason the IA threw its resources behind the two-week strike against the NBC series "The Biggest Loser," which allowed 50 crew members to count their hours toward their health insurance benefits. "I was trying to make the point that reality TV wasn't going to be ignored by us," Loeb said of the strike. "It bolstered the notion that there are things worth fighting for and that we would pull the trigger."

More daunting is a campaign the IA has launched to bring union contracts to visual-effects artists. Historically, makeup artists and other special-effects craftspeople were covered under union contracts. But most computer graphics artists today work as freelancers and don't have health insurance benefits and other union protections. "They are the only trade that works on a movie that is not represented," Loeb said. "That's astounding to me."

The union has dedicated a full-time organizer to meet with workers, but Loeb acknowledges the effort has met with some resistance on the part of employers, especially in California, where many companies are struggling to compete with low-cost labor and tax incentives offered by foreign rivals.

Dan Schmit, owner of L.A. effects house Engine Room, said he sympathized with the goal of unionizing workers at major studios but said it would hurt small boutique firms like his that rely mainly on independent contractors. "My hands would be tied in terms of my ability to negotiate for bids," said Schmit, who already offers health benefits to most of his 10 employees.

Still, Loeb also stresses common ground with employers in such areas as fighting piracy. The IA has a full-time lobbyist in Washington dedicated to supporting anti-piracy legislation, and Loeb has frequently spoken out against the damage piracy inflicts on residuals.

"The idea is to keep the industry healthy and keep our people working," Loeb said. "That's my job, that's the CEOs' job. It's not necessarily a contradictory relationship."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Tribune's Creditors Make Final Bankruptcy Pitch

Sam Zell, chairman and CEO, Tribune Company, speaks at the 2009 Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills,California in this April 27, 2009 file photograph.
Credit: Reuters/Fred Prouser/Files

By Tom Hals

Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:12pm EDT

WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Two years after real-estate mogul Sam Zell's brief control of Tribune Co ended in bankruptcy, warring creditors made their final pitches on Monday for the best way to get the owner of the Los Angeles Times out of Chapter 11.

Essentially, the bankruptcy judge is being asked to decide whether it would be better to settle disputes over who is at fault for the bankruptcy that wiped out billions of dollars of investments, or whether it would be better to sue to try to get those billions back.

The owner of the Chicago Tribune and numerous television stations has been stuck in bankruptcy since December 2008, one of the longest and most contentious cases of recent years, because it cannot reach a deal to end its Chapter 11.

The company collapsed less than a year after Zell took control through a leveraged buyout that left the company with $13 billion in debt, which he has since described as the "deal from hell."

The company, the lenders who funded Zell's deal and the committee of unsecured creditors used closing arguments to ask the judge to impose a settlement on noteholders that could cost those investors more than $1 billion in losses.

"A consensual resolution would be optimal," said James Conlan, who represents Tribune. Absent that, the company's proposal "is the next best choice to provide a path to exit bankruptcy, and a fair one."

Tribune and its allies propose providing at least $480 million for noteholders, who had their $2 billion investment wiped out by the Chapter 11. In return, noteholders would lose the right to sue the lenders and company.

The lenders, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co and hedge funds including Angelo Gordon & Co that now hold the buyout loans, would end up controlling Tribune. They estimate they would be getting a company worth 70 percent of the $8.7 billion they are owed.

Backers of Tribune's plan hammered away at the reasonableness of the proposed settlement, which they said was supported by a report by a court-appointed examiner who investigated legal claims stemming from the bankruptcy.

The examiner found the second part of Zell's two-step buyout was likely to have been a fraudulent transfer, meaning some of the lenders might not be able to collect what Tribune owed them because the loans led to the bankruptcy.

However, the examiner said the first part of the Zell deal was less vulnerable to legal attack.

After running through a list of defenses against the potential lawsuits noteholders might bring, Tribune lawyer James Bendernagel summed up the chances of the noteholders knocking out all the buyout loans.

"I submit those are pretty long odds," he said.


Noteholders led by the Aurelius Capital Management LP hedge fund have rejected the proposed settlement because it undervalues their legal claims. They want Delaware bankruptcy judge Kevin Carey to approve their plan to pursue lenders in the courts, which they said could lead to a full recovery for noteholders, with interest.

The noteholders estimate they could get up to $3 billion by litigating against the lenders who funded the leveraged buyout. Under that scenario, lenders would get less than 40 percent of what they are owed.

"The settlement is very very small in relation to the fruits of pursuing litigation," said David Zensky, who represents the noteholders.

Noteholders used their closing arguments to revisit what they called "fraudulently inflated" projections on which the buyout was based. The noteholder's attorney zeroed in on the rapid decline of Tribune's publishing business just as the Zell deal was coming together.

"What the evidence does show your honor," said noteholder attorney Abid Qureshi, "is that the LBO was doomed from the outset."

Carey has not said when he plans to rule.

The case is In re Tribune Co, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 08-13141.

(Reporting by Tom Hals, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

Judge Rules that Reposting an Entire Article Without Permission Is ‘Fair Use’

By Ujala Sehgal

A federal judge ruled in favor of a defendant who reposted an entire article in a copyright case on Monday, Wired reports. The lawsuit was brought by Righthaven, a Las Vegas-based “copyright litigation factory,” according to Wired, that has sued more than 200 websites, bloggers, and commenters for copyright infringement.

This particular lawsuit targeted Wayne Hoehn, who posted an entire editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal and its headline, “Public Employee Pensions: We Can’t Afford Them” on a website medjacksports.com. Hoehn was not an employee of the site.

The “fair use” doctrine can be used as a copyright infringement defense in a situation where a defendant has used a copyrighted work without permission. In short, it provides a defense where the work has been used for limited, noncommecial purposes, including commentary, criticism, news reporting, research, and scholarship. Whether or not “fair use” applies is based on a balancing test. Let’s (roughly) go over the elements as applied to this case.

For one, the doctrine looks at the effect of the reproduction on the monetary value of the original piece. While Righthaven argued that Hoehn’s reposting had cost the article’s original website some eyeballs, the judge found that no evidence was presented that “the market for the work was harmed.”

Second, the doctrine considers whether the reproduction itself is intended to make money off of using the original work. In this case, the judge found that Hahn’s use was “noncommercial,” and just for the purposes of “online discussion.”

Third, the doctrine looks at the original work itself. Intriguingly, here the judge took into account the fact that only five of the editorial’s 19 paragraphs were “purely creative opinions” of the author. That was “not enough to consider the work a purely ‘creative work’ in the realm of fictional stories, song lyrics, or Barbie dolls,” the judge wrote.

Finally, the doctrine considers the sheer amount of the original work taken. In this case, clearly the entire article was reposted. But set against the other factors, it was not enough.

It’s worth pointing out that the judge also held that Righthaven did not have legal standing to bring the case at all, because Righthaven did not itself own the copyright of the Las Vegas Review-Journal article. But we think the “fair-use” analysis is the more interesting discussion in this case.

David Kravets commented in an article for Wired:

It’s not often that republishing an entire work without permission is deemed fair use. Fair use is an infringement defense when the defendant reproduced a copyrighted work for purposes such as criticism, commentary, teaching and research. The defense is analyzed on a case-by-case basis.

Monday’s ruling dismissed a lawsuit brought by Righthaven, a Las Vegas-based copyright litigation factory jointly owned with newspaper publisher Stephens Media. The venture’s litigation tactics and ethics are being questioned by several judges and attorneys, a factor that also weighed in on U.S. District Judge Philip Pro’s decision Monday.

Righthaven has sued more than 200 websites, bloggers and commenters for copyright infringement. More than 100 have settled out of court.

The lawsuit decided Monday targeted Wayne Hoehn, a Vietnam veteran who posted all 19 paragraphs of November editorial from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which is owned by Stephens Media. Hoehn posted the article, and its headline, “Public Employee Pensions: We Can’t Afford Them” on medjacksports.com to prompt discussion about the financial affairs of the nation’s states. Hoehn was a user of the site, not an employee.

Righthaven sought up to $150,000, the maximum in damages allowed under the Copyright Act. Righthaven argued that the November posting reduced the number of eyeballs that would have visited the Review-Journal site to read the editorial.

“Righthaven did not present any evidence that the market for the work was harmed by Hoehn’s noncommercial use for the 40 days it appeared on the website. Accordingly, there is no genuine issue of material fact that Hoehn’s use of the work was fair and summary judgment is appropriate,” Judge Pro ruled.

Marc Randazza, one of Hoehn’s attorneys, said he would petition the judge for legal fees and costs.

The judge also said he took into consideration that only five of the editorial’s paragraphs were “purely creative opinions” of the author.

“While the work does have some creative or editorial elements, these elements are not enough to consider the work a purely ‘creative work’ in the realm of fictional stories, song lyrics, or Barbie dolls,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the work is not within ‘the core of intended copyright protection.’”

Judge Pro, in his fair-use analysis, also found that the posting was for noncommercial purposes, and was part of an “online discussion.”

That said, Pro did not need to decide the fair-use question.

That’s because he also found that Righthaven did not have legal standing to bring the lawsuit, a hot-button topic in the Righthaven litigation.

Pro’s decision came a week after a different Las Vegas federal judge threatened to sanction Righthaven, calling its litigation efforts “disingenuous, if not outright deceitful” when it came to standing. Standing is a legal concept that has enabled Righthaven to bring lawsuits on behalf of the copyrights owned by Stephens Media.

That blistering decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt, the chief judge in Nevada, places into doubt Righthaven’s year-old business model, which is also under a Colorado federal judge’s microscope.

Hunt gave Righthaven two weeks to explain why he should not sanction it for trying to “manufacture standing.” Judge Hunt suggested Righthaven never had standing in any of its cases because Righthaven and Stephens Media had agreed to share the proceeds of any damages awards or settlements, yet Stephens Media kept ownership of the copyright.

Righthaven must own the copyright to sue on its behalf, Hunt ruled in a decision echoed by Judge Pro on Monday.

What’s more, in each of the 200-plus cases Righthaven brought on behalf of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles, Righthaven never disclosed, as required, that Stephens Media had a “pecuniary interest” in the outcome, Hunt wrote.

Many bloggers who settled are mulling their legal options.

Netroots Nation Reportback: Labor in the House!

Organizing 2.0

Rob Callaghan, Ethan Rips and Harry Waisbren
the winners of Org 2.0's Netroots Nation attendance raffle

It was another great Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis, and like many of you, I’m still digesting. As someone a little bit responsible for sending folks there (three folks won a free registration at our last big event!) it’s important to do a little public evaluation.

1. Netroots Nation is a labor event, full stop. If twelve of the top eighteen sponsors were corporations, it would be a corporate event. But it was labor: AFL-CIO, Working America, Change to Win, SEIU, UFT, NEA, UFCW, even the firefighters, who did seem a little bit like fish out of water*.

So on behalf of the netroots, THANK YOU.

2. Netroots Nation is home to a lot of self-organized liberals and Democrats who often represent a kind of loyal opposition to whatever “the” Democrats are up to in DC. It makes sense that Labor, that poor bride who keeps getting stranded at the altar while her groom is off having sex with corporations in the dressing room, should make common cause with us. But we can still ask: just how serious is labor about dating the netroots, as opposed to purchasing some seasonal influence? I want unions to love us for our free-wheeling exuberance, critical thinking and free-agent empowerment. Not just for political influence that on rare occasions result in some electoral or electoral victory.

3. At the labor strategy session, I heard it explained that some years ago, unions invested big in organizing – but were unable to staunch the loss of members, especially in the private sector. So they went big on political spending, going all out for Democratic victories in hopes of passing EFCA.

Or at least getting a little bit of love now and then. Right now is an interesting moment: labor is organizing, but not focused on new member organizing. Labor is doing politics, but not necessarily in close cooperation with the official Democrats. Is this a fully articulated strategy we can learn from and follow, or evidence that labor strategists are figuring things out as we go along? (It can’t be just Stephen Lerner talking openly about labor strategy these days, right?)

4. This goes hand in hand with the excellent session about Wisconsin. One of AFSCME’s senior political strategists said something like “as a result of Wisconsin, we really understand the importance of new media. And over the next year, you’ll see that manifested in how we do things.” What I should have asked as a follow up question is “What kind of changes will we be seeing? What new combination of job descriptions, training, new hires, shifting budgets and consultant contracts can we look forward to?”

5. Labor had many tables/booths in display. I visited all of them and found no job descriptions related to online organizing or new media campaigning. That said, I know from UnionJobs.com that many unions ARE trying to fill those jobs. Next year, let’s make sure that the booths of unions that are hiring staff have some information about their job openings. It’s the perfect captive audience for recruitment.

6. Where is the labor netroots? Union members who blog, as opposed to a) bloggers who enjoy labor support, and b) staff at unions who blog? Some members of teachers unions who blog were in attendance and on (really good) panels but overall there were not many rank and file members who blog or use social media at the conference. I imagine that lack of funds to attend the conference might be the reason why. NN does a great job of offering scholarships but it would be a good idea for more of the unions that send staff to NN to also send their union members who blog.

7. Netroots Nation staff did what they could to promote attendance among Minneapolis and Minnesota union locals. That said, I spoke to a handful of union members in attendance who came because they asked/demanded to go, but who never saw anything from their International about Netroots Nation. Part of me wonders if a $10k sponsorship and the expense of staffing a booth in the exhibition hall wouldn’t have been better served by sending an additional 10-15 union members to attend the training sessions (organized by Democracy for America) and schmoozing with union staff from across the country.

The next conference will be held in Providence, RI, easy traveling distance from New York, Boston and Philadelphia, all big union cities. So will we see a dozen locals send two people each from those areas? And staff from 5-6 state labor federations? And Labor Councils? Maybe consultants from the strategic media firms that (sometimes) pretend to be experts in online communications? Let’s not leave that up to the powers that be.

If you think your union should be doing better at online organizing, consider using this as your check list for promoting more, and more effective labor participation at Netroots Nation:

■Request that your local’s magazine/newspaper/website features a story about unions at Netroots Nation.

■If your International was a sponsor in 2011, remind them to put something in about the upcoming conference in Providence next spring.

■Sign up now, pay the super-inexpensive $195 early bird registration fee. If your union won’t pay your way, file for the vacation days now – and signal your boss about the importance of Netroots Nation.

■Ask your union to purchase a block of tickets now, even before it’s clear who would actually go.

■Let’s ask Netroots Nation to post data about how many trade unionists attended, and make it a goal to exceed that number in 2012.

■Start thinking now about sessions that appeal to a labor audience in particular. Not just on the issues, but training relevant to your own work as a trade unionist. Why not sessions on new member organizing, blogging for union staff/members, or setting the labor agenda from below?

Got any other bright ideas? Let’s hear ‘em. If you hear of any posts about labor at Netroots Nation – please let me know or link below.

Netroots Nation amplifies progressive voices by providing an online and in-person campus for exchanging ideas and learning how to be more effective in using technology to influence the public debate. Within that campus, we strengthen community, inspire action and serve as an incubator for progressive ideas that challenge the status quo and ultimately affect change in the public sphere.

See 2011 Netroots Highlights

Netroots Nation 2012: Providence, Rhode Island!

Thursday, June 7, 2012 9:00 AM - Sunday, June 10, 2012 3:00 PM

Rhode Island Convention Center
One Sabin Street
Providence, Rhode Island 02903

Register Now!!

Email: registration@netrootsnation.org

Snail Mail: Netroots Nation
60 29th Street #664
San Francisco, CA 94110

About Organizing 2.0

Organizing 2.0 is a collective of communicators and online organizers working for unions and social justice activists. We run events, trainings, consult and promote uncommon interactions within and between our communities. We cross boundaries between labor, progressives, nonprofits, tech firms, faith communities and techies of all stripes.

Organizing 2.0 is also a volunteer run event offering training in online organizing, digital strategy and use of online tools held annually at the CUNY Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies in New York City.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The 3 Wings of the Republican Party: The Crazies, the Corporatists ... and Democrats

Here is why we lost the House in 2010; why the widespread disaffection with the Democrats.

This article also explains why we got saddled in 2010 with a mutated strand of new GOP governors in many states, who are now unleashing their wrecking balls on people's rights.

I don't think I've yet come across an article that is as important to digest every sentence as this one.

Read it. Absorb it. Let it galvanize you to action.

For as long as we allow duplicity to control the levers of our party, we will be constantly forced down into submission, infighting and weakening our strength, which is in our numbers.

The 3 Wings of the Republican Party: The Crazies, the Corporatists ... and Democrats

By Drew Westen
June 20, 2011

Democrats must endorse progressive principles again and hammer home the distinction between the party that cares about everyday Americans, not just the wealthy.

The first wing, the psychiatric wing, is defined by severe psychological and intellectual impairments, exemplified by the inability to read a birth certificate.

Sarah Palin's recent foray into American history, replete with her description of Paul Revere as the man who rang alarms, bells, and buzzers to signal his support for the Second Amendment years before there was either a United States or a Bill of Rights, provides an example of the kind of "gaffe" that is, in fact, psychologically meaningful.

This level of intellectual dysfunction, equally common in the pronouncements of Michelle Bachmann, once disqualified a candidate for high office. That was until the "lamestream media" decided to turn elections into reality shows, where the only real criterion is celebrity (defined as the state of being or becoming famous), and where commentators may poke occasional fun but no longer communicate to the public the seriousness of intellectual deficits in someone running for high office who would actually have to make decisions in which "facts" occasionally matter. (The dangerousness of that level of media indifference to reality should have been a lesson of George W. Bush's tenure in office, but things have sadly only gotten worse since then.)

This is the wing of the Republican Party that most endangers the party's chances to turn a dismal economy into an electoral victory in 2012, because it is so far to the right of mainstream America that you can see Russia from its porch (even if it locates that porch in Minnesota).

The problem for the Republicans is that this wing of the party constitutes such a large percentage of GOP primary voters that it is hard to imagine any nominee emerging from the primaries without having had to produce so many general election campaign ads for the Democrats that President Obama may well defy political gravity and get re-elected no matter how high the unemployment rate drifts.

The second wing is the corporate wing, also known as the wing-tip wing.

Once the home of moderate Republicans such as Bob Dole, this wing used to be slightly to the right of the American center. Its advocates held beliefs now seen as "quaint" by modern-day wing-tips (e.g., that humans evolved the same way other animals did, that a fertilized egg does not hold property rights any more than an omelet does, and that cutting the jobs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, police, and firefighters does not reduce unemployment).

Today's wing-tips, in contrast, are defined by three articles of faith.

The first is that whatever ails you (whether budget deficits, unemployment, or kidney failure), the solution is tax cuts for the rich.

The second is the belief (this one true) that whatever ails them can be fixed within any two-year election cycle by an infusion of venture capital from the Chamber of Commerce, Wall Street, Big Oil, the Pharmaceutical lobby, or whosever interests could be served or threatened by some piece of legislation.

These venture firms now require a controlling interest of 51 percent of an elected official (whether Republican or Democrat), but the futures market for political votes seems to be the only market that is working efficiently in America today. (Word has it that Larry Summers considers the deregulation of the commodities market for politicians one of his signal achievements, although to give credit where credit is due, he had an assist from the Roberts Court in its Citizens United ruling, which held that money need no longer be exchanged under the table, and reaffirmed that money is speech, making political payoffs a high form of rhetoric.)

The third belief that defines the wing-tips is that deficits present a grave threat to our way of life -- except when Republicans are in power, at which point deficits are deficit-neutral.

This deep and abiding concern with deficits (under Democratic administrations) stands in sharp contrast to their relative indifference to unemployment, which they consider a luxury good consumed by people with too much time on their hands (after all, they're unemployed), whose "whining" is really annoying to lawmakers, lobbyists, and Washington pundits who want to get on with the real business of cutting budgets, and who have more important things to worry about than people who, for God's sake, can't even keep a job now, can they.

These are the Paul Ryan and John Boehner Republicans, whose virtue is that they seem genuinely to believe what they are paid to say. Some of them, like Ryan, can even do so with earnest looks on their faces (something Boehner has not mastered, even while smearing his mascara). This is an impressive feat, given that what they have been saying lately is that they would happily throw their own grandmothers under the bus, although they know this will never come to pass because they don't believe in public transportation (hence the absence of buses, ergo the safety of grandmothers).

The Wing of Icarus

And that brings us to the third wing of the Republican Party, the Democrats.

Their standard-bearer, President Obama, has proven himself perhaps the strongest potential challenger to Mitt Romney for the Republican nomination if he decides to join the debates, having established his conservative bona fides on a wide range of social and economic issues:

Deporting more immigrants and breaking up more families than George W. Bush (or to put it in more business-friendly language, increasing U.S. "exports" of poorly documented human capital).

Coming out in support of expanded off-shoring drilling just before the BP catastrophe in the Gulf; repeatedly touting production of a mythical substance (seen only, legend has it, by industry executives) as "clean coal" (widely believed to be found in the Fountain of Youth); and calling for the building of more nuclear plants, which the Japanese have shown to be a safe complement to offshore drilling (perhaps with the hope that water contaminated with radioactive materials discharged into the ocean might prove useful as a dispersant for oil).

Extending the "Hyde Amendment" to allow GOP lawmakers to exclude abortion coverage from even private health insurance.

Cutting 120 billion in taxes for the rich while proposing billions in cuts to "entitlements," such as home heating subsidies to people who are poor or elderly.

Making sure the nation's largest banks remained solvent so they could continue to foreclose on the homes of millions of Americans, whose tax dollars supported the multi-million-dollar bonuses of the executives who continue to refuse to renegotiate their mortgages.

Saying virtually nothing as Republican governors and state legislators around the country attack organized labor (e.g., remaining almost entirely mum on the Wisconsin law stripping workers of the right to negotiate their contracts).

But that's just the president. We can't blame the party whose name he never utters for the actions or inactions of its titular leader, who prefers to remain "post-partisan."

So with nearly 15 million Americans unemployed and millions more working two and three jobs just to get by to feed their family, how are the Democrats saying they're going to solve the problems of ordinary people?

Consider the following five-point statement of conservative economic principles from ABC's This Week a couple of Sundays ago, which concisely describes what conservatives believe the Obama administration should do to solve our nation's economic ills, and how the Democrats responded to it:

Our effort now ... should be to get the private sector, to help them stand up and lead the recovery. The government is not the central driver of recovery. Now, we must live within our means. We've got to rely on government policies that are trying to leverage the private sector and give incentives to the private sector to be doing the growth. And ... so ... these tax cuts ... will continue over the rest of this year. Put in place this regulatory review in which all of the major agencies are going to go through, find any outmoded regulations, ones that are excessively costly for their benefits, find ways to streamline. The free-trade agreements, trying to increase exports, which are rising at 15 percent annual rates.

So there you have all the elements of the ineffectual conservative Republican response to a severe recession bordering on a Depression:

- Let the private sector lead and the government step out of the way;

- Cut the budget, exercise austerity, and "live within our means;"

- Use tax cuts as the primary stimulus to get the economy moving again (because they worked so well under the Bush administration);

- Eliminate excessive regulations on businesses, because we all know that excessive regulations are what threw us into the Great Recession and are what are hindering the business community's ability to create economic growth;

- And implement free-trade agreements so the sticky fingers of the invisible hand of capitalism can work its wonders across international borders, just as it has done for the millions of Americans who once had manufacturing jobs, but just don't understand the fine points of the theory of comparative advantage in economics (by which countries with the "comparative advantage" of having the 2/3 of the world's workers who are willing to work for less than $2/day get jobs as factories in the U.S. shut their doors).

Surely this was an easy target for a Democratic counter-attack. After all, this is Hoover economics, all of which has been thoroughly discredited, if not by the Great Depression, more recently by the Bush administration and the Great Recession that capped off that glorious eight-year period of economic growth during which we managed to double the national debt and crash the economy at the same time.

So what was the Democrats' response?

Actually, that was the Democrats' response. This statement of conservative economic principles was actually from the Chairman of the president's Council of Economic Advisors, Austan Goolsby.

To his credit, Goolsby, one of the smartest, clearest-headed, plainest-speaking progressive economists around, looked very uncomfortable having to recite Hoover's plan for economic recovery (actually, Hoover was substantially more proactive and progressive in his vision as the economy sank into the abyss), and he announced his decision to resign the next day, I suspect out of a sense of futility and disgust that there's not much he can do with both of Uncle Sam's hands tied behind his back.

Who Misplaced the Democratic Party?

So how did we get to this point, where Democrats in Washington are looking increasingly difficult for the average American to distinguish from Republicans, as the two parties focus with equal fervor on how to find $50-60 billion in budget cuts after passing twice that amount in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and then wring their hands that the deficit is out of control ("there's gambling in this establishment!")?

At first it looked as if the Democrats were graciously going to accept Paul Ryan's gift (Medicare cuts that poll about as well as Wall Street bankers, particularly with a voting public of which 40 percent are age 55 and older, who punished the Democrats in large numbers in 2010 for helping finance health care reform with promises of cutting hundreds of billions of cuts in Medicare "waste." Ryan and his party's insistence on a draconian form of "austerity" for older voters, the majority of whom live on less than $20,000 a year, would have placed the differences between the parties in stark relief -- and might well have won the Democrats back the House.

Now, however, for reasons that are impossible to fathom, Democrats are unilaterally disarming in advance of negotiations again, making clear that they plan to let the Republicans off the hook by "putting Medicare on the table," as if seniors will either understand or care which party seems to be selling them out more (or more efficiently) in what will become a he said-she said that is completely avoidable.

One could point to many factors that have led the Democrats to occupy the center-right wing of the GOP, but three are among the most important.

First, apologists for the president and the Democrats rightly claim that their might move the economy forward, so their only tools are ineffectual ones such as tax cuts and exhortations to the business community to invest.

But what this account leaves out is that this state of affairs is entirely of the Democrats' creation. Had the White House and the supermajorities the president started out with for two years simply done what the voters asked them to do -- and what the House actually did do with remarkable speed in 2009 -- the Democrats' hands would not be tied today.

Voters were terrified when the president took office, and they were looking for him to do something dramatic -- anything -- that might turn things around, just as voters had done with FDR 75 years earlier. The economy was hemorrhaging ¾ of a million jobs a month, the Dow had dropped by over half, and credit was impossible to obtain.

Had the White House not chosen to cut the stimulus package almost in half from the size suggested by virtually all competent economists and then larded it up with $300 billion in tax cuts they already knew were inert because they had been the staple of Bush economics for the last eight years, and had the president simply foreshadowed to the American people that it might take two or three more shocks from the paddles of deficit spending to get the blood circulating again in an economy whose heart had stopped, the president and his party might not have led the average American to conclude (with a little help from some unanswered creative story-telling from the other side) that the stimulus was a failure (instead of having to argue the counterfactual that had they not half-stimulated the economy with their half-stimulus we would likely have gone into a second Great Depression).

Second, by running scared and adopting Republican talking points on economics, Democrats have created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Listening to the same pollster-industrial complex that advised them in 2002 to support George W. Bush's trillion-dollar unfunded bloodbath in Iraq, Democrats have joined with Republicans in offering massive giveaways to millionaires and billionaires and then telling working and middle class Americans that the sky is falling and we (they) have to tighten our (their) belts. Democrats inside the tightened beltway (with the exception of a strong contingent in the House and a dozen or two Senators) appear to have become convinced by the new conventional wisdom in Washington, that Americans aren't really concerned as much about jobs as they are about the deficit.

If you stop and think about it for a moment, that notion is absurd on the face of it. Is it really possible that Americans who have lost their jobs or fear losing them are more worried about an abstraction -- the budget deficit in Washington -- than about the realities of their lives -- that they face a budget deficit around their own kitchen table at the end of every month when they're trying to pay their rent or make their mortgage payment on their rapidly depreciating home?

And as it turns out, this view is as mistaken empirically as it is intuitively.

Can a pollster who believes or wants to show that Americans are as or more concerned about the national debt than jobs or the economic insecurity they face every day write questions in such a way as to get what he or she is looking for?


Does this reflect what working and middle class Americans feel as they watch their economic security disappear?

Not in a million years.

Consider the following statement about budget deficits, which began a message that beat a tough deficit-focused, budget-cutting message taken straight from the mouth of John Boehner with a large national sample by over 30 points with the general electorate and by an even larger margin with swing voters:

"The best way to reduce the deficit is to put Americans back to work. There are 14 million Americans who've lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and they'd be happy to be paying taxes again instead of drawing unemployment insurance."

Put this way, there is nothing the other side can say that can beat this message. And that's on an issue -- budget deficits -- that's supposed to be the Achilles heel of Democrats and progressives.

What we have witnessed in the last several months is a phenomenon described in a classic book nearly 20 years ago by the political scientist John Zaller. What Zaller discovered is that public opinion tends to follow the lead of party leaders and pundits, as partisans turn to their own leaders and trusted sources for cues on what they should think and feel about the central questions of the day. Normally, when the two sides offer competing views, the 40-45 percent of voters on each side follow the lead of the "opinion leaders" on their side of the aisle.

But when leaders on one side are voicing a strong opinion -- in this case, the Republicans arguing that the sky is falling on the economy because of deficits, tax and spend liberalism, and over-regulation of business -- and the other side is either silent or echoing GOP talking points -- the average voter hears what sounds like a consensus and starts to mouth it.

Then pollsters start to pick up in their polls precisely the view they have been promulgating and elites have been putting into the minds and mouths of ordinary citizens, rendering elected officials all the more afraid of bucking what is now the conventional wisdom. And the result is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So now both the president and Congressional Democrats are making the same mistake Democrats chronically make: When the going gets rough, adopt GOP talking points.

Unfortunately, that's bad politics and bad policy. It's bad politics because no one is going to believe that a Democrat is as serious as a Republican about cutting spending, especially the kind of "discretionary spending" (a term that if Frank Luntz didn't make it up, he should have) that disproportionately hits working and middle class people and the most vulnerable. It's bad policy because, as Nobel-Prize-winning economist after economist has told us, GOP plans for "economic growth" will kill hundreds of thousands of jobs, and if you really want to restore "business confidence," the best place to start is by putting Americans back to work and restoring consumer confidence.

You can't create robust growth by frightening or impoverishing everyone but the upper 1 percent, who spend the smallest percent of their income, if you want to sustain demand.

Americans need a choice again between two parties, not between two strains of Hoover Republicanism. The more Democrats offer them the latter, the more they will both sink the economy and blur any distinctions left between the parties. Frankly, if the question is, "Who can do the better job slashing programs to finance tax breaks for the rich?" I would vote Republican. If you want trickle down, vote for people who really believe in it, not the ones who say they believe in it when they are too frightened to say what they really believe.

Three Wings, One Air Supply

That brings us to the third reason so many Democrats have created a third wing of the Republican Party: because they're competing for the same corporate money, which leads them to support the same policies.

The major difference between Republicans and Democrats is that virtually all of the Republicans are quite comfortable being bought because it fits their ideology, whereas most of the Democrats who are beholden to one industry or another are conflicted about it -- but not conflicted enough to pass a fair elections bill when they had the chance last year that might have taken away some of the advantages of incumbency but restored integrity to our electoral system.

From the standpoint of voters across the political spectrum, who overwhelmingly endorse statements such as,

"It's time we returned to government of, by, and for the people, not government of, bought, and paid for by big corporations," or (in reference to the tax cuts to the rich), "In tough times like these, rich people ought to be giving to charity, not getting it,"

They have no idea where to turn, because neither party seems to be standing up anymore for working and middle class Americans, let alone for least fortunate among us. What they hear from Democrats are talking points like the following from a Senate press release, which is indistinguishable from the disingenuous pabulum coming from the other side, and does little more than reinforce the conservative economic message:

"It's time for Republicans to join Democrats to cut spending in a smart, responsible way that reduces our deficit while creating American jobs, not destroying them."

In other words, let's cut our way to growth.

Somewhere Ronald Reagan is smiling.

The Democrats are at a crossroads. They can continue to populate the third wing of the Republican Party, fundamentally accepting the premises of Reagan's narrative about government the way Republicans from Eisenhower through Ford accepted the premises of Roosevelt's New Deal. If they choose that course, they will continue to marginalize, antagonize, and demoralize not only their base but the vast majority of swing voters, who don't give one whit about ideology but simply want someone to represent their interests and values -- most importantly, the idea that America ought to work again for people who work for a living.

Alternatively, they can return to progressive principles, starting by articulating for themselves as well as the American people what those principles are. (Personally, I have no idea what it means to be a Democrat anymore, other than to "talk about jobs," as if talking about them will somehow magically create them, while searching for compromises with Republicans at each successive "budget crisis" -- this time the debt ceiling -- that will endanger even more jobs).

If they choose to endorse progressive principles again, they will need to hammer home the distinction between the party that cares first and foremost about working and middle class Americans, those who want to join the ranks of the shrinking middle class, and the small businesses that create two-thirds of all new private sector jobs for working Americans; and the party that cares first and foremost about the rich and well-connected, the big corporations that ship American jobs overseas and rake in massive profits without sharing that prosperity with their workers, and CEOs, Wall Street bankers, and their bloated bonuses.

That would be a change we can believe in. But the Democrats would have to mean it this time.

Drew Westen, Ph.D. is a clinical, personality, and political psychologist and neuroscientist, and Professor in the Departments of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University.

Monday, June 20, 2011

AFTRA and SAG Convene Formal Discussions to Create One Union

Silver Spring, Maryland (June 19, 2011) ---- Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists convened this weekend for the first, formal face-to-face discussions between the AFTRA New Union Committee and the SAG Merger Task Force at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

The two groups, comprised of members including actors, performers, recording artists and broadcast professionals, met together as the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA Group for One Union (G1) to facilitate the creation of one successor union to represent all of the members of AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild.

The G1 established a series of work groups to discuss six key areas that rank-and-file members identified as important during the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA Presidents’ Forum for One Union nationwide Listening Tour.

The six workgroups are:

Governance and Structure

Finance and Dues

Collective Bargaining

Pension, Health and Retirement

Operations and Staff

Member Education and Outreach

The work groups will meet throughout 2011, formulate recommendations for how the successor union should address each area and bring those recommendations back to the G1 for approval. These recommendations will inform the G1’s work to create the Merger Agreement, National Constitution and uniform dues structure that each union’s National Board has required for review by January 2012.

In a joint statement, AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon and Screen Actors Guild President Ken Howard praised the unions’ inaugural meeting saying: “We applaud the members and staff of our two unions for their incredible solidarity and vision during this intense and substantive weekend. We know the members of the successor union will be well served by their diligent and hard work during the months to come.”

On Friday, June 17, AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka, joined by Department of Professional Employees President Paul Almeida, welcomed the members and staff of Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA. Trumka addressed the group and praised the unions’ leaderships for their commitment to solidarity and their work on the effort to unite AFTRA and SAG saying, “I encourage you to keep an open mind and base your decision not on any preconceived notions but on this measure alone: What is best for our members, our unions and our future. That’s the big picture we must all keep our eyes on. Whatever your decision the 12 million members of the AFL-CIO will support you.”

The weekend’s meetings were facilitated by Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations Professor Susan J. Schurman, and noted labor consultant Peter S. DiCicco. The next meeting of the full AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild Group for One Union is scheduled for August 27 – 28 in New York City.

More Ways Sam Zell Destroyed the Tribune Company

By John Hudson, The Atlantic Wire

In the latest blow to real estate tycoon Sam Zell's already tarnished legacy as a media mogul, New York Times media columnist David Carr reviews a new book about the banking deal that led to the bankruptcy of Zell's Tribune Company.

The book, The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, was written by former Los Angeles Times editor James O'Shea and skewers Zell and bankers at JPMorgan, Citibank and Bank of America for approving the Tribune Company's $8.3 billion acquisition of the Times-Mirror Company, which owned the Los Angeles Times.

What Mr. O’Shea focused on was how the bankers — who he said should have known the deal would render the company insolvent — seemed to be too busy counting their fees to care. Here’s a note he found buried deep in court records from Jieun Choi, an analyst at JPMorgan Chase & Company, that demonstrated a breathtaking level of cynicism and self-dealing:

“There is wide speculation that [Tribune] might have so much debt that all of its assets aren’t gonna cover the debt in case of (knock-knock) you know what,” she wrote to a colleague, in a not very veiled reference to bankruptcy. “Well that’s what we are saying, too. But we’re doing this ‘cause it’s enough to cover our bank debt. So, lesson learned from this deal: our (here I mean JPM’s) business strategy for TRB but probably not only limited to TRB is ‘hit and run.’ ”

The acquisition ended up saddling Tribune with $13 billion in debt, leading to a two-year bankruptcy that resulted in diminished budgets and a declining editorial product for both flagship newspapers.

It's somewhat fitting that Carr wrote the The New York Times's favorable review of the book, given his bombshell 4,000-word investigation of the Tribune in October of last year. Now the sins of Zell's over-reliance on fee-hungry bankers can be added to his other failures included in Carr's piece, which entail:

Hiring radio executives such as Randy Michaels "who knew very little of the newspaper business" to run his newspapers.

Allowing the office culture at the Tribune to devolve into a frat house-like environment. "Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune... executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company," wrote Carr. "Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk."

Screwing over his employees, who had an ownership stake in the company." More than the Tribune's creditors took a haircut," wrote Carr. "The shares that about 10,000 nonunion employees received in the ESOP [employee stock ownership plan] deal are now worthless as a result of the bankruptcy, although at the beginning of this year, the company replaced the ESOP plan with a cash incentive contribution. But if and when the Tribune exits bankruptcy, the value of the company will be worth substantially less than when Mr. Zell bought a controlling interest."

Hurting the papers' circulation: In the first half of 2010, The Tribune's circulation dropped 9.8 percent and the Los Angeles Times' dropped 14.7 percent.

Damaging his papers' editorial integrity. "While many media companies tried cost-cutting and new tactics in the last few years, Tribune was particularly aggressive in planning publicity stunts and in mixing advertising with editorial material," wrote Carr. That included putting advertisements on the front page of the paper that appeared to be articles.