hardline political news and analysis

Month: June, 2013

Supremes Speak: You Can’t Harass Love

Today’s dual 5-4 decisions on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 are welcome decisions with major political implications, especially for House Republicans.

The Court spoke decisively, if not overwhelmingly.  As is sometimes the case with legislators (who, like justices, read the political winds when making decisions), some are willing cast the politically sensitive vote when needed to reach the majority, and some will be happy that others took the risk.

One cannot help but speculate that Chief Justice Roberts (his reputation with the hard Right permanently impugned by his vote upholding the Affordable Care Act) and Associate Justice Kennedy decided to be the fifth vote on one decision each, but not the sixth on two.  Kennedy had the easier decision since DOMA was so ludicrously stupid and insulting, especially for a conservative who believes that traditional issues like marriage law to the states.  Roberts got to hide behind the issue of legal standing in writing the Prop 8 decision rather than passing on the merits of marriage equality, but the outcome is pretty much the same.

Despite the close votes, the message from the Court seems pretty clear: “Get this issue as far away from me as you can.”  States will do what states will do, and obviously, the federal government can’t sanction discrimination against a marriage lawfully recognized by a state.  The only drama now will be how fast states move to remove barriers to marriage equality, but given the decisions by various courts and the pace of change in public opinion, the number of states protecting marriage equality is likely to increase above 12 (plus D.C.) swiftly.

The implications for House Republicans may be more serious; today was a very bad day for them, and particularly for their Leadership which unilaterally decided to waste nearly $2.5 MILLION dollars on a top-flight conservative attorney to defend DOMA after the Obama Administration abandoned the law.  As noted in my blog on DOMA earlier this year, the House Republican Leadership hired Paul Clement , a former Solicitor General, to argue in favor of DOMA discrimination over the repeated objections of Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoyer.  As Clement lost case after case in the courts, six in all, Speaker Boehner and his leadership kept upping the payments, all without a vote of either the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), on which Pelosi and Hoyer serve, or the House at large.  So at a time when Americans are facing cutbacks on everything from education to nutrition to services for the elderly, House Republican leaders have a lots of ‘spalining to do about splurging $2.3 million on a tawdry quest to sanctify discrimination against millions of their fellow Americans.  Good luck with that!

But they have a bigger problem. 

Today’s decisions may effectively end the debates in the judicial system, but they are sure to fire up the conservative, holy-roller base which strikes dread into almost every Republican House Member in their neatly gerrymandered district.  Most House Republicans understandably live in terror of an even more conservative candidate filing against them in a primary.  That hard Right base, as certain as the sun will rise tomorrow, is going to demand legislative maneuvers to try to undo the Court’s rulings, something that even conservative legislators know is a fool’s errand and probably would like to avoid.  The same mindless strategists who have insisted on voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act three dozen times despite the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the health law will surely be knocking on Speaker Boehner’s door very soon now, demanding that some ill-conceived, gay bashing bill be scheduled for a floor vote.  Republicans who beg off re-litigating DOMA or Prop 8 on the House floor might as well start planning their primary races for 2014.

 A small number of Republicans (not many, it should be noted) have recently embraced marriage equality – most famously in the Senate where they do not live in gerrymandered House districts that favor the hard line Right alternative in primaries.  Sen. Kirk represents a blue state and among Republicans, has a record of relative moderation.  Sen. Portman switched his views on marriage after announcing he has a gay son; not a sound basis for setting national policy, but good enough.  Sen. Murkowski – let’s just guess she couldn’t help sticking a finger in Sarah Palin’s eye. 

 Now, House Republicans need to choose between admitting defeat and acquiescing in marriage equality, or toadying up to their anti-gay primary voters and risk enhancing their already woeful image as intolerant ideologues.

   One last thought.  The history of Proposition 8 is a sterling example of the unintended consequences of political reform.   Innovations like the referendum, initiative (essentially what Prop 8 was), and recall were devised by Progressive Era reformers to circumvent the corrupt, money-influenced state legislatures and allow a state’s voters to take governance into their own hands. Years ago, I wrote about the dangerous morphing of these innovations into instruments that allow well-funded special interests to write self-serving and unsound laws with far less effort or expense than persuading a state legislature to do so.  In the case of Prop 8, the madness went even further, allowing a state’s voters to amend the Constitution, thereby ensuring that the Legislature would have extreme difficulty undoing a provision that might well do severe damage to the state and its residents.  For decades, Californians have had to endure fiscal crises because of Prop 13 and other special interest driven initiatives that crippled the state.  Nor is the damage done only by conservatives.  There were many occasions where liberal groups wrote complex initiatives that could never have made it out of a legislative subcommittee.  With special interest funding and clever, thematic titles that mask the details of the proposition, voters can get swept up into the frenzy and approve unbalanced and unfair laws and amendments.  But that is the subject for another column.


The Gang That Couldn’t Plow Straight

Back on May 29, I published a blog on the upcoming fight on the farm bill, and noted,

  • A substantial responsibility …  falls to the House Speaker, John A. Boehner (R-OH).  … Boehner will have to exercise leadership to bring a House companion bill to the floor, pass it, and go to conference. 

Well, the party of personal responsibility just fell short, again, in the area of legislative responsibility.   Today’s 195-234 defeat of the House bill was not surprising given the inability of the Republican leadership to discipline its forces and avert fatal amendments that (a) would pass the House, (b) alienate crucial Democratic votes, (c) fail to assuage Tea Party members who still hate the cost of the farm subsidies, and (d) stand no chance in any event of getting enacted into law.

What was a bit surprising was Majority Leader Cantor’s silly accusation that the blame fell on Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for …. what?  Not lining up her troops in support of an anti-nutrition amendment that Democrats had made clear they could not support?   As I recall, Pelosi demonstrated considerable skills six years ago in securing passage of a farm bill that met with considerable resistance from portions of her Caucus who, nevertheless, trusted her leadership and recognized the need to pass enactable legislation.   Although she was able to secure the votes of just 19 Republicans – a veritable tidal wave of support compared to the general Republican refusal to support legislation during her speakership – Pelosi had to pull out all the stops to persuade a recalcitrant Democratic Caucus to pass the bill. 

Once again, it appears, Cantor decided to become the spoiler in a key test for the Republican leadership, and the Speaker in particular.  Unlike Pelosi, Boehner lacks credibility with the ideological core of his party, notwithstanding his career-long opposition to numerous farm bills.  Whereas Pelosi was reliably able to go to her liberal wing and persuade them of the need to legislate even if that meant a less-than-ideal product, Boehner lacks the credibility with his hard-liners to make that case, and Cantor is almost always happy to rev up the die-hard nihilists.

The farm bill may re-sprout and find its way back to the House floor, but today’s humiliation suggests a final product likely faces a potholed path to the Oval Office.  Even more problematical, the farm failure could presage real problems for the immigration bill.  As noted in my earlier blog, Boehner is ambivalent about the need to flex muscle to get tough legislation through.  “I don’t need to be out there beating the drum every day,” he said.  “It doesn’t need the heavy hand of the speaker all over everything.”

Wrong.  Boehner will have to work closely not only with Democrats but with his nay-sayer Conference to fashion a workable immigration bill.  And he is going to have to instruct his Rules Committee to deny the irreconcilable Right the ability to  offer poison pill  amendments designed to drive away the Democratic votes he will need to pass it, since he evidently will have trouble lining up sufficient Republicans. 

Similarly, when the House gets down to what might be its only must-pass bill later this year, the extension of the debt ceiling, the Speaker is again going to have to dissuade his Conference from tossing out ideological and unenactable amendments.   This isn’t 2011: if Republicans provoke a debt ceiling confrontation over demands for massive, offsetting spending cuts, the business community is going to come unglued, and rightly so.  With over $2 trillion in domestic discretionary cuts on the books, the deficit dropping, and little prospect for a deficit Grand Bargain incorporating tax and entitlement reform, Wall Street and Main Street are going to be apoplectic about another manufactured debt ceiling crisis.

Sounds like the Speaker might want to invest in a drum set.

PRISM Politics: The Dog That Didn’t Bark

The only genuine surprise surrounding the disclosure of the U.S. government’s PRISM intelligence gathering and data mining is the generally ambivalent response: in the Holmesian canon, the proverbial “dog that didn’t bark.” Indeed, the less-than-shocked reaction represents one of the rare bipartisan events  in a long time, made all the more intriguing by the Republican proclivity to find “scandal” in the most innocuous of circumstances.

Thank goodness Edward Snowden outed himself as the culpable party so that a  subject for political condemnation was available!  Speaker John Boehner, evidently not one to wait for such niceties as a trial or conviction (let alone an indictment!), proclaimed the 29-year old leaker a “traitor” and various other fulminators unloaded on Snowden as well.

Civil libertarians and the press, who understandably are rare cheerleaders for secretive actions by government, are vigorously objecting to the PRISM program.  The ACLU has filed suit.  The New York Times has labeled the collection of metadata “A Threat to Democracy.”

And yet 56% of Americans surveyed by the Washington Post-Pew poll found the intelligence gathering by NSA “acceptable,” and congressional reaction has been notably quiet as well, even from most liberal champions.

 While no one should be indifferent to the potential abuse of data collection, and strong independent and congressional oversight is absolutely required, the ambivalent response from politicians and the public is understandable. 

 Is anybody genuinely surprised to learn that the government is scrutinizing email traffic and online activity?  Hello! This is 2013.  If you haven’t had “the talk” with your kids or friends about “not doing anything online that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times,” you are seriously delinquent.  Safeway knows when you last bought Cheerios.  Most people know much of their online life is vulnerable both to government and the private sector, and also know there are extremely bad actors out there fully committed to inflicting horrific acts.

Data mining is not exactly a classified activity.  Facebook, Google, Yahoo and others didn’t become multi-billion dollar powerhouses by letting kids send messages around the world for free.  Every major retailer, and lots of minor ones, political campaigns, polling organizations and others have been refining the art of probing peoples’ opinions, interests, behaviors and communications for years.  So, most people may not like it and hit that “unsubscribe” button as fast as they can, but they are about as shocked to discover government tracking of emails as Captain Renault was to discover gambling at Rick’s. 

Most Members of Congress certainly weren’t caught completely flatfooted, though treat assurances from intelligence agencies of thorough Hill  briefings with a grain of salt.  The Huffington Post reported that Administration officials had held “22 briefings for members of Congress,” but that doesn’t means that all (or even most) Members were briefed even once.  Some Members were doubtless briefed several times, while most not at all.  Given the difficulty of controlling Hill leaks, most legislators accept that a limited number of the leaders they select are fully informed of the details whose disclosure could jeopardize national security.

Many of those critiquing the intelligence efforts don’t know what they don’t know, always a dangerous positions to be in when questioning national security policy.  As is evident when public hearings move into closed sessions, a great deal about these intelligence gathering efforts is simply too classified to be discussed in public even generally. Some critics have asked that we only be informed of the methods of information gathering, or the kind of targets: doing so would be disastrous to essential intelligence operations.

While there are plenty of questions to ask (and they will all be asked multiple times), it appears that government snoopers were complying with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which establishes the parameters for such interceptions.  That compliance includes seeking and receiving approval from a panel of special judges who are charged with ensuring that caution is exercised in the government’s poking around.  Compliance with FISA is hardly a guarantee that no laws were violated or that damage isn’t done to personal privacy by government investigators, and that is why ongoing oversight, even in in executive session, is essential.  

Most people appreciate the catastrophic possibilities of failing to employ state-of-the-art reconnaissance to identify and apprehend (or whatever) would-be perpetrators of evil.  When the trade-off is between a dirty bomb exploding in Times Square and intruding into repeated email traffic to suspect individuals overseas, those charged with defending national security and the Constitution are going to use the powers they have been given under the law, because they will be held accountable if they don’t and catastrophe ensues.  The stakes are too high.  Critics like Maureen Dowd fulminate about “indiscriminate surveillance sweeps” and ascribe congressional acquiescence to “a craven fear of being seen as soft on terrorists,” but they bear no responsibility to keep anyone safe and aren’t held accountable when a perpetrator slips through the law enforcement screen with horrific consequences.

The personalities in this circumstance do not generate the typical anger at officialdom and sympathy for the leaker.  President Obama’s popularity has been unaffected by the weeks of scandalmongering, and I would bet one reason is that people generally like him.  They may not like his policies or his ideology, but with the exception of the birther/closet Muslim/socialist outliers, most Americans like Obama personally, and they likely find it difficult to envision him as the evil architect of 1984-type invasions of privacy.  Certainly his background as a constitutional law professor probably provides some measure of comfort as compared to Richard Nixon or Dick Cheney, whose credentials on respecting the Constitution were somewhat weaker. 

It is difficult to work up a huge amount of sympathy for Mr. Snowden, ensconced in Hong Kong (that bastion of civil liberties) who seems hopelessly naïve, egotistical and irresponsible.  “The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything,” Snowden reportedly told The Guardian. “I can get your emails, passwords, phone records [even] credit cards. I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.” Which is undoubtedly why he is hiding out a stone’s throw from the Peoples Republic of China, whose respect for online privacy is considerably less honored than its policy of non-extradition.

For those who grew up in the Vietnam era and hailed the exposure of the Pentagon Papers, it might seem natural to side with Snowden (and the New York Times, for that matter), but the actions are very different.  The Pentagon Papers revealed the systematic lying by the U.S. government on key information used to justify and plan the War in Vietnam.  Snowden acquired and released information concerning how the government gathered and analyzed information, exposing in the process potentially critical sources and methods that put our intelligence gathering and military personnel at risk.  Granted, those who enabled Mr. Snowden in his actions, like Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, assert that “not a single revelation that we’ve provided to the world that even remotely jeopardizes national security.”  With all due respect to Mr. Greenwald, who I have no doubt is fully briefed on the most clandestine of our national security activities and threats, how much does he really know about what intelligence “jeopardizes national security?”

Interestingly, I have discovered no sympathy for Snowden’s actions among liberals who might be expected to recoil from government snooping.  As with SEAL assassinations, imprisonment of terrorist suspects, drone attacks and a host of other actions many found untenable under pre-9/11 circumstances, traditional intolerance has loosened because of the genuine danger we daily confront.  And invariably, no sooner do critics (sometimes with just cause, as in the case of torture) condemn some aspect of our homeland defense efforts than incidents like the Boston bombing provide a stark reminder that the dangers are not imagined, and that even with sophisticated surveillance, bad actors can slip through the security screen.  Just this week, NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander, who also leads the U.S. Cyber Command, told a Senate hearing that interception of phone conversations had foiled “dozens of attacks.”  I have little doubt his statement is accurate.

Does the level of danger require a relaxation of some traditional principles concerning privacy? I am afraid, yes.  The fact that the government is far from alone is utilizing technology to monitor our calls, emails, networking, shopping, and web surfing makes it clear that technology and terrorism together have changed the nature and stakes of the game.  We need to be diligent about civil liberties, but we cannot be ambivalent about civil security.  And that’s why the dog didn’t bark on the PRISM disclosures.

House Republicans: Living in Spin

A largely overlooked decision last March by House Speaker John Boehner provided incontrovertible proof – if anyone needed it – that Republicans are more interested in creating chaos and controversy than addressing (or even acknowledging) substantive issues.

Beset by worries about the unresolved budget conference, a looming confrontation with President Obama over the debt ceiling, booming entitlement spending, continued need for job creation, deteriorating infrastructure, an inequitable and capricious tax system, arbitrary cuts in critical areas like education, health and law enforcement due to sequestration, Boehner decided the time was right for a major new leadership hire: a top investigator to coordinate the investigations into the “scandals” afflicting the Obama Administration.

Leave aside the likelihood that when all is said and done, none of the so-called “scandals” will amount to more than bad judgment, and likely not even that.  But one would think, what with Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa and numerous other Republicans convening hearings like the Energizer bunny, that Republican sleuths were well deployed already to ferret out the misbehaviors of the Obama Administration, and at considerable cost to taxpayers.  There has even been talk of creating a Select Committee to inflate the severity of the improprieties under scrutiny. 

Boehner has decided that the Republican Leadership should staff and coordinate the investigatory offensive, and has hired Rob Borden to serve as the director of oversight for himself and Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  And from where did Boehner pluck the newly minted “director of oversight”? From none other than … Oversight Chairman Issa’s own staff! 

The implications of this cannibalizing of the Republican investigatory hierarchy are pretty clear.  First, Boehner and Cantor don’t trust Issa to conduct the hearings in a strategically sound way.  Clearly, the Republican leadership believes the often-inflammatory Issa needs adult supervision. Not trusting your chief inquisitor to behave responsibly is a less-than-optimum situation as you head into a summer of salacious scandal mongering.  Yes, you will hear about the need to coordinate the five or so committees engaged in the investigations food fight, but speaking from experience, that is what staff director and chairmen meetings are supposed to resolve. 

Second, elevating Borden and the primacy of the oversight function within the Leadership offices makes it abundantly clear that the legislative agenda for this Congress is pretty well cooked in the Speaker’s mind.  Boehner will have to do something in the House should the Senate pass an immigration bill, but he must be careful not to agree to a final bill more tolerant of undocumented workers that a majority of the Republican Caucus (not to mention GOP grassroots) will accept.  The chances of Boehner agreeing to pass a conference bill (or other vehicle negotiated with the Senate and White House) that relies primarily on a large Democratic vote in the House would seem to be slim.  Such collaborationist behavior earlier in 2013 put his speakership very much at risk.

Lastly, it is interesting that the hiring of Borden was ascribed not just to Boehner but to Cantor as well.  Clearly aware of his tenuous hold on the big office, Boehner is being careful to include the often devious Cantor as a partner in the oversight of the oversight process.  The Speaker certainly doesn’t need Cantor second-guessing every strategic decision as the wily Majority Leader has done throughout the Boehner speakership, especially on issues of deficit reduction.

On urgent issues like tax reform, sequestration, debt ceiling, budget deal, education reform that were supposed to constitute the agenda for the 113th Congress, the signs aren’t looking very positive.  Had Boehner hired a strategist for working out deals with Sen. Harry Reid, Democratic Leader Pelosi and President Obama, he could have sent a signal of interest in serious legislating.  But as with so many issues, Boehner and Republicans feel no pressure to compromise or even move forward with serious proposals because they know the Republican media machine and grassroots are invigorated by any sign of government ineptitude, even if it is self-inflicted by Republicans.  Witness the willingness of Republicans to take down modest gun reform in the Senate, which confirmed that “government can’t do anything, even when 90% of the country wants it done.”  Failure is success for anti-government zealots.

Interestingly, Republicans focused on Borden’s purported thoroughness, fairness and calm, professional traits he doubtless finely honed while working for the scandal-obsessed Issa.  Perhaps tongue-in-cheek, the National Journal reported that Borden will “keep a close eye on making sure … oversight responsibilities, while front and center, don’t eclipse the agenda.”  That chore won’t consume much of Borden’s time since the Republicans have no agenda beyond repeatedly passing politically inspired message bills (37 votes to repeal Obamacare so far) that expire well before they reach the Rotunda.   Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi accurately summed up the priorities Borden will have to protect by noting, “Nothing is their agenda. Never is their timetable.”

One prediction that is beyond challenge: were the Boehner-Borden-Cantor team perceived by their Republican colleagues as tamping down inquiries in order to pursue legislative goals, the leaders would face even more Member heat than they have felt already this Congress.  In a Republican Conference that many conservatives already see as “adrift” and “fractured,” according to the Washington Post (6/4/13), and with Conference confidence in the Boehner speakership depending on the management of scandal summer, the last thing Republicans want to appear as is engaged in substantive legislating or negotiations with their mortal adversaries, regardless of the cost to the country.  



A Great Patersonian: Lautenberg’s Century

U.S. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg’s 89 years spanned a century of change and challenge for his country and his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey, both of which he admirably served.  He died on June 3, four days short of the centennial of an extraordinary event in the city’s history – the Pageant of the Paterson silk strike held at Madison Square Garden. 

The Paterson in which Lautenberg was born was still a manufacturing center of national significance.  Alexander Hamilton founded the city in the early 1790s as the first planned industrial city in the largely agrarian United States.  He (and George Washington) were attracted by the massive Great Falls of the Passaic River, a 77 foot maelstrom through which churned the second highest volume of water of any waterfall in the eastern United States (after Niagara).   Eager to develop domestic manufacturing in the largely agrarian country, Hamilton enlisted Pierre L’Enfant (planner of Washington, D.C.) to design the city, including a complex water raceway scheme to power the mills and looms whose industrial output would free Americans from dependence on costly British imports.

By the early 20th century, Paterson was an industrial powerhouse, producing Colt pistols, early submarines, aircraft engines and locomotives, but mainly famous as the “Lyons of America” for its voluminous silk production.   The workers in the Paterson mills were an eclectic mixture of first and second-generation immigrants (as were most of the owners), and they prided themselves on the skill they brought to the manufacturing process.  In fact, by 1913, over three-quarters of Paterson’s population were either first or second-generation immigrants, heavily Jews and Italians. 

As with most manufacturing, improved technology began to undermine the craft trades, and increasingly, women and children were hired to work in the mills.  One observer described “tired, pallid, and languid-looking children … puny, stunted bod[ies]” laboring long hours “in a room filled with clouds of steam, … barefooted in pools of water twisting coils of wet hemp.”  Many of the workers developed debilitating occupational diseases, primarily silicosis, from inhaling dust and fibers. One of the workers who became ill and died at an young age was Frank Lautenberg’s father, and the senator told me (and many others) that he blamed the atrocious working conditions for his father’s death.  The experience of his father’s death, and the hazardous working conditions in the Paterson mills, played a major role in the senator’s long legislative focus on industrial pollution and respiratory disease.

I occasionally spoke with Lautenberg during the decades we both worked on Capitol Hill, and Paterson was always a subject of the conversation.  For reasons that are difficult to explain, those raised in this gritty city – regardless of their circumstances – often share an indelible sentiment for their home town that mystifies outsiders.  As a young physician, my father, also a Paterson native, treated the senior Lautenberg as well as young Frank, which the senator remembered well.  My last conversation with him was a couple of years ago when we both attended the dedication ceremony for the Paterson Great Falls National Park, the creation of which was a major objective for Lautenberg over the past decade.

As we remember Frank Lautenberg, it is also timely to recall that one hundred years ago this very week, Paterson’s silk workers and owners were locked in the fourth month of a bitter labor dispute.  The mill owners had demanded that some workers double the number of looms they tended from two to four, and the simmering resentment exploded.  On February 25, 1913, the silk weavers went on strike, joined by the dyers and other silk workers.

Strike leaders invited the legendary Industrial Workers of the World, the fabled “Wobblies,” to come to Paterson. Largely active in Western mines and timber mills, and with a rumored penchant for violence, the radical Wobblies had had played a key role in the successful conclusion of the “Bread and Roses” textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts only the year before. Its colorful leadership, including “Big Bill” Haywood, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Carlo Tresca, advocated the unification of all workers regardless of skill, ethnicity, race or religion – a far cry from the conservative, craft exclusivity practiced by many of the nation’s early unions.

The IWW’s strike tactics were notable on a number of counts, not the least being the successful coordination of different nationalities that previously had been unable to collaborate.  Labor historians note such developments as evidence of the emergence of a sense of class consciousness that superseded the affiliations determined by ethnicity and religion on which early fraternal organizations were based.  Women, under the leadership of the charismatic 23-year old Flynn, played a major role in the strike, a highly unusual development in the male-dominated world of early trades unionism.

The strike culminated in the massive rally of 15,000 at Madison Square Garden on June 7th, 1913.  The Pageant of the Paterson Strike, produced by the radical labor propagandist John Reed, was intended to raise money and sympathy for the strikers, 1,200 of whom participated in the melodramatic representation of the strike. While it won the support of Greenwich Village radicals and other labor sympathizers, the Pageant ended up losing money; within a few weeks, the strike itself collapsed as well, ending the IWW’s effort to extend its organizing activity into the factory towns of the industrial East.  

The N.Y. Tribune described the Pageant as possessing “a startling touch of ultra modernity—or rather of futurism,” and so it did.  Many of the key issues in the strike resonate through our current political and policy discourse: the reliance on low-income immigrant labor; the proper role of labor unions in a changing economy; the need to restore domestic manufacturing capacity in a rapidly changing, globalized economy. But the experience of the Pageant and the Paterson strike also demonstrate the enormous difficulty unions face in countering inexorable economic forces that are grinding out changes in traditional manufacturing and employment at the expense of America’s workers.

Paterson was never the same after the strike and its Pageant.  Although the silk industry expanded in the very short-term, manufacturing, commercial activity and eventually most of the middle class fled the city leaving a shell of Hamilton’s bold vision for a planned manufacturing center.   While the city continues its decades-long struggle at revival, centering its effort around a newly created national park at the Great Falls, the long spiral downward sends a warning signal to America about the need for innovative manufacturing, labor and trade strategies to avoid the fate of Paterson and its silk workers.

The best tribute to the memory of Frank Lautenberg would be for Patersonians to unite around efforts to plan and build a vibrant Great Falls National Park, one that tells the story of both the ecological and historical heritage of the area.  Those planning efforts are currently underway with the National Park Service and local residents.  Frank Lautenberg understood the uniqueness and significance of the Great Falls district, and he returned there frequently for lunch at the nearby Libby’s Lunch on McBride Avenue, always ordering a hot dog with mustard, onions and special sauce.  Sounds like a good idea. 

Thanks, senator.