Thursday, January 19, 2006

'05 NYC Transit Strike:
Why Our Leaders Don't Lead

It's mid-January 2006 and the New York City transit strike appears to be a fading memory...or so it would seem. This short-lived contretemps was about much more than a bunch of subway and bus drivers who decided to have a little fun at our expense. The whole sordid mess has to be put into context.

The bad blood started flowing in early 2004. Governor Pataki pocket vetoed the bill to enact a pension agreement between the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Transit Workers Union (TWU). Before adjourning in 2003, both houses passed the law unanimously. The Democrat-led Assembly voted 148-0 and the Republican-controlled Senate voted 62-0. The governor cited vague technical problems with the bill as an excuse to bury it.

In 2005, the Legislature passed 46 bills increasing pensions for various state employee groups. Another bill, boosting pensions for TWU members, was adopted by a combined vote of 198-1. Despite this overwhelming support by the Legislature, Pataki vetoed the bill citing the same spooky excuses from the previous year. There's reason to believe the negotiations between the state and the TWU were race-tinged. The teachers, fire fighters and police unions had little conflict in settling contracts with the state. Their memberships happen to be predominately white. However, the TWU membership consists mostly of people of color. It's very difficult to believe the governor vetoed the bills for some legalistic or altruistic reason. If this were so, why didn't he state his reasons more clearly?

Just before the contract deadline, the MTA, led by billionaire real estate magnate, Peter Kalikow, attempted to Bogart the proceedings. At the last minute, he demanded pension givebacks to go along with severely restrained wage and benefit increases. Roger Toussaint, president of TWU Local 100, felt he was pressured to strike because the state bargained in bad faith. Despite the heated atmosphere, the parties understood the gravity of the matter before them. The stakes were much too high. And failure wasn't a reasonable option. All they needed was a little help.

When there's money in the bank, agreements are easy to complete. The MTA had a projected billion dollar surplus. Therefore, it came down to how the funds were going to be allocated. When there's no money in the bank, both sides expect to engage in political warfare. But, this wasn't the case in this instance. The negotiators simply needed a little shove to settle minor differences and save face. Sadly, the catalyst needed to seal the deal never materialized, sealing the fate of Gotham commuters. The media blamed the strike on Roger Toussaint and the TWU. The evidence places the blame elsewhere. The NY transit strike was a classic failure of executive leadership. In other words, responsibility for the colossal collapse belongs to the governor and mayor.

Part of an executive's duties is to seal deals. It was sufficient for the governor to give the MTA and TWU enough time to hash out the major details. But when it was obvious the two sides needed a boost to finish the agreement, it was the duty of the governor to finish the deal. Instead of participating in the talks on the eve of the deadline, Pataki was in New Hampshire schmoozing with Republican VIPs. He was vetting potential donors to his improbable campaign for the White House in 2008. This meeting was considered more important than saving the Big Apple from a crippling strike. And this pretender governor wants to be president? This joke isn't very funny.

Mayor Bloomberg is as guilty as Pataki. It's his job to protect the citizens of this city from disasters, both natural and man-made. New York is the financial center of the world. A strike here effects the commercial interests of the entire planet. Since the mayor had no direct control over the talks, it was his duty to assist the governor in sealing the deal. It was his responsibility to convince the principles of the critical nature of their decisions. He should've been there to outline the heavy consequences: If a strike ensued, everyone would lose. Instead, he refused to commit the full authority of his office because he had no personal dog in the fight. When a billionaire buys an office, he's under no political obligation to anyone. Bloomberg had no dog in the MTA/WTU fight because he owed neither side politically for his position. Therefore, he felt above and beyond the fray. Bloomberg runs the mayor's office like a private executive rather than a public servant. Compared to Bloomberg, there were much better mayors in medieval Europe.

Of course, this wasn't the first time the mayor failed to deliver for the city of New York. The Big Apple was competing for the Olympics. Initially, everyone was enthusiastic. Then, interest waned. Finally, Paris got the Games. The train yards, south of Jacob Javits Convention Center, were selected for a new stadium. An entire community was to be built around it. Early interest grew, then slowly faded away. Two years ago, plans for a new World Trade Center were ready for development. Strong interest gradually slowed, then disappeared. Blueprints for a new Nets stadium in downtown Brooklyn were met with excitement. What happened to these brilliant plans? No one seems to know. The mayor's prissy attitude prevented these projects from coming to life because he refused to get personally involved. When the going gets tough, this mayor gets lost.

Our impostor president, George W. Bush, fits neatly into the phony dilettante category. Someone has to answer the question: If George Bush was a poor student, rare reader, seldom traveler and loser businessman, then why is this man America's chief executive? Bush isn't in the White House due to his political skills or the will of the electorate. He's allowed to play in the Oval Office because Big Money, Supreme Court partisans and name recognition said so.

These three examples clearly illustrate the woeful state of executive leadership in America. Money has corrupted our politics to such an extent it would be fair to say our democracy is dead. We're being led by incompetent leaders who bear no consequences for their inept leadership. If our ship of state continues in this ruinous direction, it won't be long before we tumble into the abyss of expired empires. When millionaire and billionaire popinjays run the nation, the ash heap of history can't be far away.

Franklin L. Johnson

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dr. Martin Luther King
And His Sacred Agenda Of Love

On this day, we celebrate the 77th birthday of an authentic American hero, Dr. Martin Luther King. Today, it's never been more important to remember what he stood for and why he was so savagely slain. As all great leaders, Dr. King arose during an age of dynamic political, social and economic change. World War II effectively ended centuries of royal rule and set the stage for the advancement of true democracy. Everyone sensed real change was in the air.

The Ruling Class attempted to reestablish control during the 1950's. They offered the stolid, Stepford family life style. This boredom was shunted aside for the exciting early stages of the 1960's revolution. The irresistible forces of mass information, mass communication and mass transportation were evident. And the Baby Boomers supplied the energy for this most creative period in US history. The social consciousness revolution was about to explode.

After World War II, America generated half of the global economic output. Despite the incredible growth in US wealth, vast pockets of poverty and despair still festered across our nation. No group (save the indigenous peoples), suffered more from a lack of access and opportunity than African Americans. Dr. King shouldered the burden of articulating the problems; suggesting the remedies and moving Americans toward the solutions. The historic civil rights movement survived and thrived due to the strong economy. When resources are abundant, the majority embraces generosity for the sake of genuine progress.

As our nation grew, so did the vision of Dr. King. He began to realize African Americans weren't the only ones left out of the prosperity parade. There was also a poverty parade which included indigenous peoples, blacks, Latinos, women, gays, the physically challenged and many other outcasts. He understood our nation had to make a critical choice. We either corrected the glaring disparities confronting us or we'd soon perish from the hypocrisy. No nation, divided against itself, can survive indefinitely.

When Martin Luther King argued for more resources for the poor, he was politely tolerated by the Ruling Class. However, he was quickly condemned when he connected wasteful war spending with resource shortages at home. Marching for the right to sit and be served at a lunch counter was acceptable. But, marching to shift federal budgetary priorities was considered a grave heresy. Just like Jesus, Dr. King was murdered by the money changers.

Dr. King was killed because he advocated a common sense approach to solving our social problems. He realized the Ruling Class used war as an excuse to under-fund human development programs. Also, he saw this war paradigm was used by other nations. This ruse artificially prevented the rise of global peace and democracy. From this perspective, he expanded his vision from civil rights for a few to human rights for everyone. His approach to human development would finally admit the obvious: peace is cheaper and more useful than war. From the Ruling Class perspective, Dr. King was simply a clear and convincing threat to their command and control.

There is war in the world because it guarantees profits for the Ruling Class. In fact, it benefits no one else. The trillions squandered on the cold war could've resolved most social problems several times over. Instead, the Ruling Class stole the money and bequeathed to our children: mountains of nuclear waste, useless war toys, rampant deficits, crumbling infrastructure, a polluted environment, bad schools, poor health care, robber banks, criminal corporations and a dead democracy. The global peace movement keeps on screaming: Why, oh why, can't we do better?

If Dr. King were alive today, he would be driven to the brink of despair by our impostor president and his insane war policies. Despite his overwhelming sadness, he would rise up and say: "Haven't we learned anything?" He would be confounded to discover Bush uses religion not to spread peace, but to provoke war. Nevertheless, he would strive to lead the American people to the Promised Land. Again, he would advise us to seek peace through the renunciation of all forms of violence. Repeatedly, he would tell us to reject the evil deeds of George Bush and his whitened sepulcher chorus. And he would encourage us to love one another and help the poor in New Orleans.

In his book The Republic, Plato asked the question: "Who should lead the polis (city-state)?" He answered: It should be the philosophers because they are the only ones who don't have a direct stake in its success. Therefore, they can't be swayed in their decisions by selfish motives. Dr. King had a degree in philosophy from Boston college. If he'd lived, there's little doubt this humble man would've used his skills to end the scourge of war for the sake of lasting peace.

In these troubled times, we don't need another hero. We don't need another tyrant. We certainly don't need another impostor president. What we need is another prince of peace with a sacred agenda of love. What America really needs is another champion like Dr. Martin Luther King. My friend, are you that person?

Franklin L. Johnson