Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hillary 2008?

There's a lot of talk about '08, but many things could happen before then. Everyone seems to think Hillary Clinton has already clinched the nomination, just as Howard Dean had done a few years ago (remember?). But one loss, one unfortunate war whoop, and Howard was gone (only to rise from the ashes to do a great job for Democrats in 06).

I don't think I'll be voting for Hillary in the primary, though. First of all, I don't much like the fact that she's regarded as the inevitable choice. Also, I have liked John Edwards a lot since very early in the '04 campaign. If you'd seen him speak before he became Kerry's much-toned-down no. 2, you might too.

Hillary is very determined. I like that. I very much doubt she'll let grass grow under her feet while accusations against her go unanswered. Considering Kerry's wasted candidacy, that's the thing I like best about her. She won't give the Swift Boat Vets (or whoever) a free ride if she wins.

Still, her PR guy, Mark Penn, is not my favorite person in the world. He's the worldwide CEO of Burston-Marsteller, which represented clients like Union Carbide (after the 84 disaster in Bhopal), and the Argentine military junta.

B-M's website, under "Labor Relations," used to state "Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns," until The American Prospect went and quoted it.

Back in 2003, two large unions, UNITE (which later merged with the hotel and restaurant union, HERE) and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country's largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company (it posted $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year). Its longtime CEO, Richard Farmer, was a mega-fundraising "Pioneer" for George W. Bush. Cintas was sued for overcharging consumers and denying workers overtime pay--it settled both cases out of court--and was ordered by a California superior court to give employees $1.4 million for not paying them a living wage. It has also maintained unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree dryer) and, according to union officials, has used any means necessary to block the organizing drive. According to worker complaints documented by the unions, management fired employees on false grounds, vowed to close plants and screened antiunion videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to "kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots," according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M's Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas's shrewd response to labor: "the right to say yes, the freedom to say no," which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at USC Law School last year, he outlined Cintas's strategy, calling for an "aggressive defense against union tactics." Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE, "It's the Burson influence that's made Cintas much, much slicker than they were." The unions have won two NLRB rulings against Cintas, but for four years the company has continued to resist the organizing campaign. Penn disclaimed any responsibility for B-M's activities before his arrival at the firm, and he told The Nation he has "never personally participated in any antiunion activity," even though B-M's antilabor arm is still operating under his tenure. (Penn added a personal note: "My father was for many years a union organizer in the poultry workers union.")

"The right to say yes, the freedom to say no." Sounds great, doesn't it? Still, to me it's very rough to imagine a prospective union holding more sway over working Americans than the person or company that signs their paychecks.

There's a lot more in the article if you choose to tackle the whole thing. And there are other corporate advisers besides Mr. Penn. Now, can you win an election without dealing with companies who've engaged in blatant anti-union activity? Can Mr. Penn possibly blunt the incredible hatred the right seems to have for Hillary? And if so, at what cost?

Hillary was instrumental in persuading President Bill Clinton to veto the bankruptcy bill that precludes catastrophic medical emergency from having your bills haunt you (to the early grave the emergency may not have provided you). However, she voted for something very similar in 01, and was absent for the vote on the bill GW Bush signed into law.

While I'd probably vote for her against a Republican, I don't really trust her. Obama hung around New Jersey with faux Democrat Cory Booker, and lost my vote right then and there. I'm left with Edwards, who I like a lot, and maybe Bill Richardson.

Who does the enlightened teacher vote for in this primary?
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