Salon : Glenn Beck, economic terrorist
[T]his week Beck is going after a former SEIU leader named Stephen Lerner, who presented an idea for direct action against banks to the LeftForum2011 conference last weekend. Tuesday Henry Blodget gave Beck’s anti-Lerner jihad serious, worried attention in Business Insider — Blodget quotes Lerner advocating “destabilizing the country,” but in fact those words don’t appear in Lerner’s talk, though Blodget put them in quotes as if they did. I wound up following the links and reading what Lerner actually said. There’s going to be a debate about Lerner’s ideas, and there should be; some of them are excellent, some of them aren’t so great. But his overall point is valid: Generations of protest, strikes and other kinds of nonviolent civil disobedience won us the economic and civil rights protections we think of as basic American values. (For that matter, the Boston Tea Party so revered by the right involved civil disobedience and property destruction.) We’re not going to restore those rights without some of the same tactics.
By way of background, I noticed that Lerner once worked at the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, and I’ve been reading a lot about the ILGWU lately as I try to understand why the world is paying so much attention to the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire coming up Friday. For the record, I think the attention is a great thing; I am just trying to make sense of it, and I’ll be writing more about it in a longer piece Friday. My short conclusion is the obvious one: The Wisconsin ferment showed that a lot of Americans are very worried about the power of the uber-rich over the economy. Clearly, the Triangle fire tragedy is seizing attention because it’s a vivid, heartbreaking example of what happens when you have unbridled capitalism, no unions and a state dedicated to protecting the prerogatives of business owners, not the larger society. It’s also getting attention because, in the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s heroic labor secretary Frances Perkins, the day of the awful fire was “the day the New Deal began.” New Deal architects and New York powerhouses Al Smith and Robert Wagner led the remarkable four-year investigation into the fire, which resulted in an astonishing barrage of pro-labor legislation, creating new health and safety codes as well as restricting child labor and shortening the work week for women (to 54 hours).
This is an interesting take on Beck’s latest freak out. I wonder why Joan Walsh is the only link this, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire and the ILGWU?
Using the leverage of students, homeowners, unions and governments to force banks to help those hurt by the fiscal crisis they caused — now that the banks have been bailed out — is a creative idea. Trying to “bring down the stock market” and create “a new financial crisis, for the banks, not for us,” as Lerner advocates, seems risky and destructive. The destabilization Lerner sketches could have all kind of unintended political and economic consequences that hurt the people he cares about. And politically, it’s a dead end: I don’t think even people victimized by this economy are going to thrill to the rhetoric of destabilization and crisis; they want the economy to work more equitably, for all of us.
But the idea of civil disobedience to protest the banks’ indifference to struggling homeowners, or the government’s indifference to the economy’s casualties, shouldn’t scare anyone — except its targets. It’s perfectly American. We need to remember that the changes wrought by the civil rights movement, that are today hailed by Beck and even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, involved nonviolent civil disobedience. If the left-baiting of people like Beck deprives us of the tactics that won so many rights over the years, we’re in big trouble. Beck lies so much it’s not worth trying to correct him, but I did note that in his frothing about the Wisconsin union movement, he tried to argue that his alleged hero, Martin Luther King Jr., opposed collective bargaining for public employees. In fact, King died visiting Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers, the beginning of what could have been a new alliance between civil rights and labor rights that might have prevented the cultural meltdown that left the two movements alienated and at odds after King’s death. King would likely give Stephen Lerner a respectful hearing if he were here today.
Henry Blodget, meanwhile, has a lot of gall to tsk-tsk over Lerner’s ideas. The former stock analyst charged with securities fraud is himself a perfect symbol of corrupt Wall Street self-dealing. (He settled and was permanently barred from the securities industry and also paid a multimillion-dollar fine.) Hilariously, at the end of Blodget’s alarmist piece, there’s a link to a “related” Business Insider article: “15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth And Inequality In America,” which warns that we’re living in a new “Gilded Age” — which is, of course, what spawned the Progressive-era activism that included the Triangle Shirt Co. unionization drive, and the post-fire roster of reform.
Good to know the only people buying into this conspiracy theory are frauds. Explains alot.