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Biden Latest President To Tout the Vietnam War As Proud History

LA PROGRESSIVE, Norman Solomon, September 20, 2023

You might think that—after killing such a vast number of people in a war of aggression based on continuous deceptions—some humility and even penance would be in order.

When Joe Biden flew out of Hanoi last week, he was leaving a country where U.S. warfare caused roughly 3.8 million Vietnamese deaths. But, like every other president since the Vietnam War, he gave no sign of remorse. In fact, Biden led up to his visit by presiding over a White House ceremony that glorified the war as a noble effort.

Presenting the Medal of Honor to former Army pilot Larry L. Taylor for bravery during combat, Biden praised the veteran with effusive accolades for risking his life in Vietnam to rescue fellow soldiers from “the enemy.” But that heroism was 55 years ago. Why present the medal on national television just days before traveling to Vietnam?

The timing reaffirmed the shameless pride in the U.S. war on Vietnam that one president after another has tried to render as history. You might think that—after killing such a vast number of people in a war of aggression based on continuous deceptions—some humility and even penance would be in order.

But no. As George Orwell put it, “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” And a government that intends to continue its might-makes-right use of military power needs leaders who do their best to distort history with foggy rhetoric and purposeful omissions. Lies and evasions about past wars are prefigurative for future wars.

And so, at a press conference in Hanoi, the closest Biden came to acknowledging the slaughter and devastation inflicted on Vietnam by the U.S. military was this sentence: “I’m incredibly proud of how our nations and our people have built trust and understanding over the decades and worked to repair the painful legacy the war left on both our nations.”

In the process, Biden was pretending an equivalency of suffering and culpability for both countries—a popular pretense for commanders in chief ever since the first new one after the Vietnam War ended.

Two months into his presidency in early 1977, Jimmy Carter was asked at a news conference if he felt “any moral obligation to help rebuild that country.” Carter replied firmly: “Well, the destruction was mutual. You know, we went to Vietnam without any desire to capture territory or to impose American will on other people. We went there to defend the freedom of the South Vietnamese. And I don’t feel that we ought to apologize or to castigate ourselves or to assume the status of culpability.”


Mayor Adams and Gov. Hochul call the migrant influx ‘unprecedented’ – historians disagree

The Gothamist, Ramsey Khalifeh, September 19, 2023

Both Mayor Eric Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul have described the influx of migrants and asylum seekers into New York City as unprecedented.

“We are facing an unprecedented state of emergency. The immigration system in this nation is broken. It has been broken for decades. Today, New York City has been left to pick up the pieces,” Adams said last month.

Hochul, also speaking in August, said the “unprecedented migrant crisis” required a “historic humanitarian response.”

But is the more than 100,000 migrants who have entered the city’s care since last year actually unprecedented?

Interviews with scholars and a Gothamist review of immigration data dating from the 19th century to the present shows that the number of migrants entering the city is not unusual.

Ellis Island processed 100,000 immigrants in just a single month in April 1907, when much of the legal framework around modern immigration did not exist.

ust a year before – in April 1906 – nearly 45,000 migrants passed through Ellis Island in one week.

Back then, neighborhoods like the Lower East Side were overburdened by an influx of migrants due to a lack of space, with more than 700 people per acre, according to the Library of Congress. Today, census data shows the neighborhood has about 136 people per acre.

Between 1996 and 2001, an average of 111,828 immigrants settled in New York per year, according to Department of Homeland Security statistics.

In 2011, around 95,000 migrants entered New York City, according to a report by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.

Alan Kraut, a historian with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, said the political fight surrounding the current influx of migrants is different from generations past. Some of the migrants have arrived at the Port Authority aboard buses from the southern border sent by Republican governors – pawns in a larger debate about immigration policies.

Read More: The Gothamist

Big Agriculture Doesn’t Want a Fair Farm Bill

THE PROGRESSIVE, Rebecca Wolf, September 18, 2023 

They’ve turned the food system into a cash cow for the powerful few by undermining small farmers and encouraging operators to “get big or get out.”

The United States’ food system is facing a crisis eerily similar to what we experienced almost 100 years ago: A corporate-dominated marketplace, strangled by an elite few, that holds farmers and consumers hostage to greed.

At the time, lawmakers responded by creating the first Farm Bill, establishing federal policies to level the playing field. This fall, Congress has an opportunity to tackle these issues anew as it negotiates the 19th Farm Bill.

Since the last Farm Bill in 2018, the cost to feed a family of four on a thrifty food plan has increased 51 percent while top meat and poultry companies have raked in skyrocketing profits. This is not inevitable—and it is not a mistake. 

Big Agriculture has turned the food system into a cash cow for the powerful few by undermining small farmers and encouraging operators to “get big or get out.” The Farm Bill, which began as seminal New Deal social safety net legislation, has become corporate welfare, plain and simple.

If bad policy decisions got us into this mess, good policies will get us out. America’s farmers, consumers and the environment need a fair Farm Bill for all.

A fair Farm Bill stops mega-mergers. Decades of lax antitrust enforcement has created a food system defined by consolidation. In 2022, the largest four companies in each sector controlled more than 85 percent of the market for beef, 70 percent for pork, 69 percent for groceries, and 54 percent for poultry. Just three dairy cooperatives account for 83 percent of all milk sales. This level of control gives companies the power to decide the standards, prices and values under which our food is produced. 

Thankfully, there is substantial political pushback; in a rare display of bipartisanship, support for reining in Big Ag’s power has united the Biden Administration and Congressmembers on both sides of the aisle.

A fair Farm Bill gives sustainable, humane farmers a fair shot by halting new and expanding factory farms. Factory farms are the instrument of Big Ag’s control; a single operation can displace dozens of smaller farms. There are at least 1,157 more large factory farms today than when the last Farm Bill was passed just five years ago (and this is likely an underestimate). In Iowa, home to more than double the number of large factory farms of the next highest state, nearly 90 percent of the state’s hog farms shuttered in the thirty-five years prior to the 2018 Farm Bill due to being unable to compete.

A fair Farm Bill cuts the flow of taxpayer dollars toward Big Ag lobbying. Checkoff programs wherein farmers pay into a fund designed to market their agricultural products have funneled billions into bolstering the biggest players. The majority of the roughly $4 billion paid into the Dairy Checkoff program from 2005 to 2018 promoted export policies that benefited enormous producers but sent milk prices plummeting in volatile international markets. Since 2000, the average U.S. dairy farm has managed to turn a profit just twice.


It’s taking NYC over a year to fix up vacant public housing units, report shows

The Gothamist, David Brand, September 18, 2023

New York City’s public housing agency is taking over a year to repair and rent empty apartments despite a sharp rise in homelessness across the city, according to an annual report card released by the Mayor’s Office Friday.

The average timeline for repairing a vacant New York City Housing Authority unit rose to 370 days last fiscal year, up from around 161 days the prior fiscal year and a nearly five-fold increase from the roughly 77 days it took to make fixes in the 2019 fiscal year, the latest Mayor’s Management Report shows.

The annual performance review of each agency shows a bleak outlook for NYCHA as it contends with aging infrastructure and decades of disinvestment. The agency said it had 8,074 vacant units at the end of the recent fiscal year on June 30. Around 900 units were matched with applicants set to move in, but roughly 4,200 were undergoing repairs and not yet available. The agency is holding nearly 3,000 units off the market, with some used as offices, according to the report.

NYCHA blamed the lag time on more intensive needs “due to the aging conditions in NYCHA buildings.”

The units typically require new cabinets, doors and plumbing fixes, along with lead and asbestos testing, spokesperson Michael Horgan said.

“NYCHA is a critical affordable housing resource, and our goal is to complete apartment turnovers as quickly as possible, while ensuring that New Yorkers are being placed in safe homes that have been remediated of specific hazards,” he said.


Multi-Millionaire CEO 0nclass Warfare

MSNBC, James Downie, MSNBC Opinion Editor, September 16, 2023

The wealthy’s arrogance is wholly unearned.

Tim Gurner wants you to be miserable. Yes, you.

Speaking at the Australian Financial Review’s “property summit,” the property developer and CEO — net worth $584 million — complained that the country’s 3.7% unemployment rate was, in fact, a problem. “We need to see unemployment rise. Unemployment has to jump 40, 50%,” said Gurner, because “arrogant” workers aren’t productive enough for his liking. “We need to see pain in the economy. We need to remind people that they work for the employer, not the other way around.”

For these words, we should thank Gurner. Not because his theory — that low unemployment and the shift to work from home have hurt productivity — is accurate. Australia’s recent dip in productivity started in mid-2022, well after workers were initially sent home and unemployment recovered from its initial pandemic-induced increase. (Gurner admitted his remarks “were wrong” in a subsequent apology.) No, we should thank him for saying the quiet part out loud, baldly stating what the uber-wealthy think of you and me.

As Georgetown University’s Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò wrote, “I can rarely do better at explaining the connection between capital and social-political domination than just pointing at what the guys with the capital do and say.” Though Gurner’s words have gotten unusual exposure on social media, others of his means have expressed similar distaste for the 99%. “The 1% work harder,” said billionaire Sam Zell. “The 1% are much bigger factors in all forms of our society.” According to the Pew Research Center, a majority of the wealthiest Americans believe the “poor have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”

This condescension has consequences not just for employees, but also for consumers. It was no coincidence that as inflation spiked last year, corporations posted record profits. The work of economist Isabella Weber and others has shown that many corporations with market power didn’t raise prices because of supply chain issues or upward pressure on wages but simply because they could. “We have more room to take the price as we need to,” Chipotle’s CEO told investors in late 2021. A Kroger executive bragged that “a little bit of inflation is always good for our business.” Your checkbook is merely another thing to exploit as much as possible in the quest for endless growth to satisfy shareholders. As for the free market? “Competition is for losers,” Peter Thiel is fond of saying.

The wealthy’s arrogance is wholly unearned. In the U.S. from 1978 to 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute, economic productivity grew more than 60%. Yet the typical worker’s wages — which in previous decades had roughly tracked productivity — grew just 18%. The wages of the top 1% of earners, however, grew 385%. CEO pay grew by more than 1,000%. In some sectors, the disparity is even starker: Union workers at the Big Three American automakers are preparing to strike this week, in part because wages for workers on auto production lines have dropped 30% since 2003. Meanwhile, in just the last four years, pay for the three companies’ CEOs grew more than 40%, with each taking home $21 million to $29 million in 2022 alone.

And yet, when politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or other, more moderate voices, like former President Barack Obama, point out these truths, they are accused of stoking “class warfare.”

But the rich have been conducting class warfare for decades. Since the 1970s, the wealthy, particularly in the U.S., have been remarkably successful in supporting politicians and policies that widened income gaps. As inequality rose, many governments hollowed out safety nets — except, of course, when banks needed to be bailed out.

Read More: MSNBC

Top Dems Press Supreme Court To Block Billionaire Tax

THE LEVER, Julia Rock, September 16, 2023

Obama’s former acting Solicitor General and a senator-turned-lobbyist are helping a dark money group pressure the high court.

The former Supreme Court lawyer for the Obama administration and a Democratic senator-turned-lobbyist are pressuring justices to block Congress from ever instituting a wealth tax on the superrich, according to court filings reviewed by The Lever.

Former Obama acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal recently submitted an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case Moore v. United States on behalf of the group Saving America’s Family Enterprises (SAFE). That anonymously funded group — whose board includes corporate lobbyists — has spearheaded campaigns against Democrats’ efforts to tax the inheritances and wealth of millionaires and billionaires. 

Now the group is aiming to use the seemingly obscure corporate taxation case to elicit a broad ruling that outlaws all wealth taxes. 

Katyal is an MSNBC mainstay who came to prominence as a liberal defender of Republican President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, all of whom will now rule on the case. In recent years, Katyal has helped Nestlé defend itself in a child slavery case before the Supreme Court and representedJohnson & Johnson in its bid to use bankruptcy to block lawsuits from cancer victims.

Listed on the Katyal-authored amicus brief alongside SAFE is the group’s senior adviser, former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D), who also lobbies for ExxonMobilNorfolk Southern, and Boeing — corporations whose top executives could have a financial interest in the outcome of the case. Breaux also lobbies for billionaire financial magnate and Democratic megadonor James Simons.

SAFE is organized as a so-called social welfare nonprofit, which allows it to hide the identity of its donors and avoid taxes while spending money to influence policy decisions.

In response to recent ethics scandals at the Supreme Court, 34 Democratic senators have signed onto legislation that would require organizations filing amicus briefs to disclose their donors. But because that bill is stalled, SAFE can pressure the Supreme Court to block a wealth tax while refusing to disclose its benefactors.

SAFE did not respond to a Lever request for a list of its donors.

Katyal v. Billionaire Tax

Democratic lawmakers and the Biden administration have touted a wealth tax as a way to tackle record levels of inequality and fund programs that slash poverty and expand access to healthcare and education.


LABOR Auto Workers Strike Plants at All Three of the Big 3

LABOR NOTES, Luis Feliz Leon, Jane Slaughter, September 15, 2023 

“For the last 40 years, the billionaire class has been taking everything and leaving everybody else to fight for the scraps,” UAW President Fain said. “We are not the problem. Corporate greed is the problem.”

Tick, tock. At midnight the clock ran out, and auto workers massed on picket lines.

The first-ever simultaneous strike at the Big 3 automakers—General Motors, Ford, Stellantis—started September 15 with 13,000 workers walking out of three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri. There are 146,000 Auto Workers (UAW) members at the Big 3.

The UAW is calling its strategy the “stand-up strike,” a nod to the Flint sit-down strike of 1936-1937 that helped establish the union.

The shot across the bow came two hours shy of midnight via a very short Facebook Live video where UAW President Shawn Fain shared the strike targets: Stellantis’s Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio; GM’s Wentzville Assembly Center, near St. Louis; and the final assembly and paint departments at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, west of Detroit. These plants make highly profitable full-sized SUVS and trucks, including the Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Colorado, and Ford Bronco.

Fain laid out the union’s escalation strategy on Wednesday. The union will target a few plants at first, letting the Big 3 know the union is willing to inflict financial pain.

The idea is to keep the companies guessing. If they don’t move on the union’s demands, more pain will be applied—but the companies won’t be able to predict where.

“An all-out strike is still a possibility,” Fain said.


Some members who’d been expecting an all-out strike right away were disappointed. On Thursday, some at Toledo Assembly wore black in mourning. But as the deadline approached, regional director Dave Green was seen in town and people’s spirits were buoyed as it became apparent that their plant would be one of the strike sites.

A few hours before the deadline, Chris Falzone, working the evening shift at the Toledo Assembly plant, reported the scene inside. “Corporate management is walking the floor, along with all the first- and second-shift management, in case of a strike,” he said. “What I’m hearing from paint shop is that they are emptying the paint department in Gladiator and Wrangler side in case of a strike.” He was walking the floor distributing leaflets about what happens if they continue to operate under an expired contract at midnight.

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Meanwhile day-shift workers like Auston Gore, a 12-year veteran on the assembly line and a strike captain, were waiting at home. “We’re all waiting on pins and needles,” Gore said. “Normally, I’d be going to bed right now. But I’m staying up late.”

Workers at Toledo Assembly have been pinning their hopes on being selected to strike, because they expect that management will resort to a campaign of terror against the workers who stay on the shop floor.

“The company puts up a facade that they care about their employees, telling us that we are one big family,” said Gore. “Meanwhile, they’re going to have their supervisors walking around dinging us for the tiniest stuff if we are working under an expired contract. We feel like unprotected prey.”


Ex-Buildings boss schemed to empty fire victim shelter to get a luxury condo, Manhattan DA says

The Gothamist, David Brand, September 15, 2023

As New York City stared down an unprecedented rise in homelessness last year, its buildings commissioner was allegedly scheming with a deep-pocketed developer to clear fire victims from a Rockaway Park emergency shelter in exchange for a discounted luxury condo nearby, Manhattan prosecutors charged Wednesday.

Eric Ulrich, the former commissioner of the Department of Buildings, faces 16 counts of bribery and conspiracy stemming from an array of alleged pay-to-play schemes benefiting associates with business before the city.

In indictments unsealed on Wednesday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg accused Ulrich, a Republican former councilmember whom Mayor Eric Adams appointed to lead the city’s buildings department, of trading favors like rezoning approvals and expedited permits in Queens for a luxury apartment discount, Mets season tickets and a tailored suit, among other expensive gifts.

Amid the influence-peddling allegations, one indictment accuses Ulrich of attempting to orchestrate the eviction of men and women from 52 single-room occupancy apartments on Beach 116th Street, while simultaneously negotiating with developer Mark Caller for a steep discount on a condo across the street, court records show. Ulrich also allegedly helped Caller win approval for a rezoning on the block. The failed removal effort took place shortly before Adams appointed Ulrich, a political ally and adviser with no management or buildings experience, to lead the Department of Buildings.

The unsealed indictment details pieces of an ongoing conversation between Ulrich and Caller as they attempted to oust the residents in the early spring of 2022.

Both Caller and Ulrich maintain they did nothing wrong.

Ulrich neither responded to a voicemail nor answered the intercom when Gothamist buzzed his unit on Thursday. A neighbor exiting the condo complex said he had not seen Ulrich for around two weeks.

The two Rockaway Park buildings face each other in a stark “Tale of Two Cities” contrast. On one side of the street, the weathered four-story residence features shared bathrooms and microwaves located in the hallways. The luxury condo complex across the way — where Ulrich allegedly leased a condo for half the going rate with an option to count the rent toward a discounted down payment — rises eight stories and features patios, a penthouse and a ground-floor gym.

While residents pay up to $1.5 million for condos in the building known as One Sixteen, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development rents rooms across the street to house people displaced by fires, floods and vacate orders issued by the DOB — the agency Ulrich once led.

Jaime Valle, 77, said he moved into a unit in the building two weeks ago after the DOB ordered him out of an illegally converted basement apartment that he rented in Kensington. Valle said the Red Cross put up in a hotel for a few weeks before HPD transferred him to the Rockaway Park building.

Read More: The Gothamist

City Council approves 5-year permit for MSG, shortest extension in venue’s history

The Gothamist, Stephen Nessen, September 14, 2023

The City Council approved a five-year extension to Madison Square Garden’s permit on Thursday, which allows the venue to operate above Penn Station.

It’s shortest license ever given to the venue — and is a signal that lawmakers are questioning whether it should remain atop the country’s busiest transit hub. The renewal comes as the MTA is moving ahead with plans to redesign Penn Station.

“We’re setting a clock that will help bring all the stakeholders to the table to fix Penn Station now,” Councilmember Erik Bottcher said at Thursday’s Council vote.

The Department of City Planning had recommended a 10-year permit extension for the Garden — but the City Council’s zoning committee last month cut its length in half. The committee also slashed a recommendation to mandate public space upgrades to the neighborhood around the venue.

The Council’s vote on Thursday calls on MSG to come up with a “traffic management plan” that helps reduce truck traffic in the neighborhood.

“The five-year ‘clean’ permit is still too generous a deal for MSG and its owner, James Dolan,” said Rachael Fauss, senior policy analyst with the nonprofit good government group Reinvent Albany. “The Council’s weak agreement fails to require MSG to cooperate with the MTA’s reasonable requests for space for Penn Station upgrades, leaving transit riders in the lurch.”

Read More: The Gothamist


New York Daily News, Chris Sommerfeldt, September 14, 2023

Reps. Malliotakis, Torres introduce bipartisan bill blocking Mayor Adams’ Medicare Advantage switch for NYC retirees.

New York City retirees protest outside City Hall Friday, March 31, 2023 in Manhattan, New York in response to his signing a Medicare Advantage Plan contract for retired city employees.

A bipartisan legislative push is afoot on Capitol Hill to prohibit all U.S. employers from forcing their retired workers into Medicare Advantage coverage — a proposal that could spell trouble for Mayor Adams, who’s trying to mandate the privatized health insurance program for New York City’s 250,000 municipal retirees.

The anti-Advantage effort is expected to formally get underway Thursday, when Reps. Nicole Malliotakis and Ritchie Torres, both of whom represent parts of New York City, plan to co-introduce a bill that would amend U.S. social security law so that it’d become illegal for “public and private employers” to “involuntarily” shift Medicare-aged retirees into Advantage plans.

Under the legislation, a copy of which was exclusively shared with the Daily News ahead of its introduction, the only way an employer could legally force a senior into an Advantage plan is if it secures consent from the person to do so.

Malliotakis, a Republican who represents Staten Island and parts of southern Brooklyn, said the bill is directly aimed at blocking a long-running bid by Adams to switch the city’s municipal retirees into an Advantage plan on the auspice that it’d save the city money on health care costs.