SAN FRANCISCO -- Watching the All-Reagan-All-the-Time television coverage last week might have created the impression that everyone in California was overwhelmed by sorrow over the death of the man who served two terms as the Golden State's governor before becoming the nation's fortieth President. But that was not exactly the case.
To be sure, there was mourning and, while much of it was carefully orchestrated by the Reagan family and their retainers, much of it was also sincere. But, for the most part, Californians did not seem to bemoan Ronald Reagan's passing with any more frenzy or fervor than did other Americans. And in some parts of the state, notably the Bay Area, a lot of people were looking back in anger.
Reagan was never so supremely popular in California as the revisionist histories would have him be. Elected governor in 1966 with 56.6 percent of the vote, Reagan was re-elected in 1970 with just 52.8 percent. The next time he faced the state's voters in a general election, as the Republican nominee for President in 1980, he fell to 52.7 percent. But, at least that year, he ran two percentage points better in California than he did nationally. By 1984, the last time California voters would have an opportunity to officially assess the man who was so closely associated with their state, Reagan ran a full percentage point behind his national showing--and in San Francisco, a remarkable 67.4 percent of voters cast their ballots for Reagan's Democratic challenger, Walter Mondale.
Somehow it seemed fitting that the week former President Ronald Reagan died, the United States was named as one of the world's most serious violators of worker's rights. The other countries included some of the world's most repressive governments--China, Burma, Belarus and Colombia. According to an annual survey by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the US, "far from being a shining beacon of labor practices," is a country in which "trade union rights violations continue unabated." The report cited the "fierce anti-trade union behaviour" of several American companies, including firings, layoffs and threats of closure after workers sought better pay and conditions. ICTFU also reported that 40 percent of America's public employees, or 6.9 million people, are denied collective bargaining rights.
The same week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced that it is considering a radical change in the law that could further inhibit workers from exercising their freedom of association. The Board--three of whose five members were appointed by Bush--announced that it will review a case that reconsiders the long-used practice of forming a union through voluntary recognition. (In this process, companies agree to recognize a union that has collected signature cards from a majority of workers indicating their desire to join, without forcing workers to go through potentially contentious elections.) According to a statement from the newly formed group American Rights at Work, the NLRB's move could further expose workers to potential intimidation and harassment by employers,a common practice during union organizing drives. "Workers who want a voice on the job need more protection, not less," said David Bonior, Chair of American Rights at Work.
The modern war on labor, ruthlessly waged today by the Bush Administration, was launched by Ronald Reagan. His firing of the air traffic controllers in 1981 set the tone for labor relations for years to come. And he appointed members of the National Labor Relations Board who were hostile to union organizing. As Harold Meyerson observed in the Washington Post, "Roughly a quarter of American workers belonged to unions when Reagan took office. When he broke the PATCO strike, it was an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got the message loud and clear--illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad."
Rest assured that the radical reworking of history that America witnessed in the hours after Ronald Reagan died Saturday at age 93 will be temporary. While the over-the-top media coverage and official commentary regarding the fortieth President's passing has made him out to be such a noble figure that otherwise rational people have been heard to suggest that Reagan was the greatest President of the twentieth century, it will not take long for a balancing to begin. In short order, the assessments of Reagan the man, and of his tenure in the Oval Office, will be tempered.
Then, conservatives and liberals will be free to consider ths ideologically-driven--and misguided--President's record with eyes wide open.
For now, however, realism is in short supply--much to the detriment of not just of the historical record but of Reagan's memory.
With the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq falling further in doubt, the Bush Administration has turned to the UN for help. However, Tuesday's Security Council resolution approving a new interim government does nothing to alter the fact that Iraq is still an occupied country. Indeed, the US government announced today that it is increasing the number of US soldiers stationed in Iraq from 140, 000 to 145, 000, despite earlier projections of a troop reduction.
As long as Iraq remains under occupation the violence will not end. With neither of this year's major-party presidential candidates offering a clear plan for the prompt return of US troops from Iraq, United for Peace and Justice has issued an urgent appeal to get our troops home. It aims to get tens of thousands of signatures on two letters, one to President Bush, the other to John Kerry, calling for an end to the occupation of Iraq. The campaign will culminate in a weekend of nationwide protests on June 26 and 27, jointly organized with Win Without War.
Click here to add your name to the letters--and be sure to pass this alert on to others.
There's a stealth issue in this presidential campaign that could go far in determining the election results. I'm talking about the rising gas, phone, electricity, milk and cable prices that are damaging millions of hard-working families struggling to live in George W. Bush's America. In addition to paying $2-plus per gallon prices at the pump, consumers are getting squeezed at the supermarket--shelling out as much as $4 per gallon for milk.
Other staples are going through the roof. Since 1996, cable rates have risen 56 percent, besting inflation by nearly a factor of three. Sen. John McCain recently pointed out that consumers are getting bilked: "When it comes to purchasing cable channels, consumers have all the choice of a Soviet election ballot. One option: Take it or leave it."
According to an exhaustive study by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Enron and other electricity giants manipulated California energy markets to boost wholesale electricity and natural gas prices to make a financial killing. In 2001, electricity prices soared in the western United States, as blackouts became routine and millions of consumers got gouged. Looking ahead and perhaps no farther than next week, phone rates may well rise now that a federal appellate court has scuttled regulations that had saved consumers $11 billion annually on their phone bills. Bush has refused to appeal the phone rate court ruling, a decision that will virtually guarantee higher phone bills for nearly 50 million customers.
Though theories of conspiracy crop up,
In fairness, one of them should be dissolved.
He died not in October but in June;
It should be clear that Rove was not involved.