The 9/11 anniversary has always been cause for reflection and remembrance, but the 20th anniversary of that terrible day happening within a few days of the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan gives us cause for a necessary, overdue, and in many ways difficult look in the mirror.

History has always been a harsh critic, especially when war is concerned, and given the amount of time, money, and treasured human lives lost in a 20 year war that never had a chance of accomplishing its declared goals, that criticism is certainly deserved. But when we look beyond the daily hot takes coming from those trying to score points and win elections, and get to the heart of the matter, we may just find our beloved freedoms among the casualties of this war.

The post-9/11 fear industry did much more than simply take us to war for profit. It is also responsible for The Patriot Act and the creation of The Department of Homeland Security – two actions deemed “necessary” at the time, but horribly misused since. This is the subject of a recent article by Max Burns of The Daily Beast, which he was kind enough to discuss on the show.



Max Burns: “[T]his intelligence gathering behemoth we’ve created that sucks up almost a trillion dollars over the just the past few years couldn’t even predict the fall of Afghanistan where the majority of our overseas intelligence operations are based. This was as useless going in as it is coming out. I mean, at no point have these intelligence agencies demonstrated that the incredibly powerful tools that they’ve been given to dig into Americans’ private lives – without court orders in many cases – have provided even one piece of useful intelligence. But they certainly have weakened our expectation of privacy and our expectation of personal freedom.”

This diminished expectation of freedom, Rick observes, can be seen in the behavior of those who grew up in a post-9/11 world and have only ever known a government that has never needed to place tracking devices in vaccines, as so many right-wing conspiracy theorists suggest, because that same government has been tracking the phones in their pockets for decades.

Rick: “I grew up in an era where, you know, you expected to have a little bit of privacy, at least in your papers and in your mind, in your own home. You had some bit of privacy. We’re in this moment now where my kids don’t expect to ever have a moment – a moment of thought – that someone isn’t having access to and that – that’s frightening. I mean, the world they’re growing up in, what we’ve done is frightening.”

The coming debates and political posturing about who did what and who voted how and who is to blame for it all – these things are to be expected. And those who made it all happen will avoid accountability, and in most cases be rewarded with board memberships and corporate wealth and political donations from multiple defense contractors and Silicon Valley tech companies that enjoy massive federal funding.

As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”

 


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The phrase “politics is theater” is pretty common, especially these days. Our elected leaders spend much more time throwing one-liners back and forth than they do governing, or doing anything that might help working families. And while there is blame to go around for this anti-American behavior, there is no greater perpetrator of criminal hyperbole than the American Right and their corporate puppet masters.

In fact, due to all the curiously well-funded right wing nutters out there, “politics is theater” no longer applies. It’s just too soft a way to describe the nonsense. To characterize it properly, we have to remove the metaphors from the stage, and take them to the pro wrestling arena.

Rick: “[Y]ou gotta look at the the showmanship and go ‘You know – good job. You’ve spent years honing your craft. Now, this isn’t about governing. This isn’t about making lives better. This isn’t about doing any of the things we talk about that need to get done. This isn’t about getting stuff done. This is about […] scoring points.'”

The WWGOP could run a master class in distraction, and while the left has its share of conflict entrepreneurs as well, none are as skilled at deflecting attention from inaction as the modern GOP. Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage would be proud.

But the problem is, while all of us are watching the show, Americans are dying in massive numbers from a preventable disease, wages have never been lower, and rich people are openly mocking their employees by thanking them for paying for the space rockets workers never wanted and will never ride in.

It’s enough to make people angry for the right reasons, and this is why the rich work so hard to keep shoveling us the wrong ones.

Rick: “[B]ecause that’s basically what our political system has turned into – a Saturday Night Raw.”


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In previous generations, most working people could retire with dignity due to a trio benefits that became known as “The Three Legged Stool.” These benefits are Social Security, decent wages that allowed people to save, and defined benefit pensions. Today, with wages stagnant for decades and pensions all but a memory, workers are left with very little as they reach retirement age, and are now working longer, often not retiring at all and dying with nothing to leave to the next generation.

Listen to Peter tell us one such story on our weekend call-in show on WBAI 99.5 FM in New York:

Peter: [M]y dad worked for the city of New York human resources administration as a carpenter for over 25 years and he would always walk up to people [at] construction sites in New York City and say, you know “Hey, are you guys in the union? You really need to get union jobs. You need to organize.” And I didn’t fully understand it until he died seven years ago and then my mom was living on his pension and in the last two years she was sick. She was bed bound and that pension – oh my gosh – that pension … saved us.

Rick: [W]hen my grandfather died – he died, I think 12 years before my grandmother passed and she she was able to get his his pension as well and that’s what – that was the difference between her being able to live in her home with dignity and eventually to the end of her life with dignity, because she had that that, that three-legged stool. She had a defined benefit pension from where she worked and from where my grandfather worked. She had social security, and they had saved some money for retirement as well. So they they led their golden years with dignity and respect.

Rick: The sad reality – the sad reality is that three-legged stool has been whacked down to almost a one-legged – just a stick – because they’re going after Social Security whatever chance they get, the ability of workers to save money is has gotten much harder because wages have been stagnant and declining for so many decades, and the defined benefit benefit pension [is] all but gone completely gone.

And the result is a working class that is approaching retirement age on a wobbly stool that will never be able to hold them up, and a working class that is far too often represented by politicians who want to take an axe to that last leg.


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When Timothy McVeigh was arrested in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, a copy of the racist novel The Turner Diaries was found among his things. The book spins a tale about a violent revolution and the overthrow of the US government, and the eventual mass murder and systemic execution of any and all non-white people. The book published in 1978, and has since become required reading for hate groups, and has also become the source of an uncountable number of violent acts.

Today, The Turner Diaries pales in comparison to right wing media, whether it’s the diet white nationalism of Fox News, or the full flavored hate of NewsMax, OAN, and their copycats.

It can be argued rather easily that today’s right wing hate machine is far more popular, and far more accessible than ever before. While copies of The Turner Diaries were carried under jackets and tucked away in backpacks, Tucker Carlson and his ilk are openly available in every living room in America, during prime time, no less. Attacking the military, railing against the existence of government, whitewashing a violent insurrection … all spewing the same lies,  and all on the same page. All hiding behind a free speech argument that none of them actually understand.

If we ignore the open incitement that has become the standard script for right wing outlets, then we risk the inevitable consequences. And when those consequences come, the most likely response will be to say the perpetrators are just patriotic Americans doing what patriotic Americans do. Or at least that’s how Tucker will spin it.

This is not a prediction we enjoy making. But the rage machine is making McVeighs every minute, and our tolerance for it is permission. Again, this is an “I told you so” that we hope to never deliver, as we want nothing more than to be wrong about this.

But we’re not.


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“With great power comes great responsibility.”

That’s what Uncle Ben said to young Peter Parker in the Spider-Man stories that we all love so much.

But in the real world, power doesn’t manifest in wall-crawling, super strength, the ability to fly, or shoot laser beams out of our eyes, etc. In the real world, power manifests as wealth, and in today’s America, we have a massive number of super-villains, but no heroes:

Rick: “We have this tool. We’ve got the power. We’ve got the power to do whatever we want. Collectively, we can solve any problem whatsoever, except we choose not to.”

He then brings Superman into the discussion, and compares our wealth class to him. It doesn’t go well:

Rick: “What if Superman – with all the power Superman has – decided that ‘You know what? I want to rob banks instead. I don’t want to use my powers for good. I don’t want to do the right thing. I just want to rob banks.’ That’s basically what our economy has turned into. You have a bunch of really wealthy people out there who think ‘The heck with you guys – More for me!'”

Superman would never buy a $500 million boat, but Jeff Bezos did, just as Lex Luthor would. And therein lies the problem.

To hear the full broadcast, click the player below:


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When we negotiate with power for better wages, we rarely fight for everyone. In fact, some of the first groups we negotiate out of the discussion are restaurant workers and tipped workers. Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage has been a fierce advocate for this particular group of workers, and she explains why in a recent interview on The Rick Smith Show:

Saru: “The wages in the restaurant industry were set at emancipation of slavery in 1865 when the restaurant industry wanted the ability to hire black people not pay them anything and and get free labor that lived on nothing but tips; and that is the origin of a sub-minimum wage for tipped workers which became law and has resulted in the wage in the restaurant industry being $2.13 an hour for tipped workers today, slightly higher in 40 states out of 50 [but] their wages are still five dollars or less. And it has been ridiculous for a long time. It took a pandemic for millions of workers to say enough is enough.”

Many GOP governors and state legislatures are beginning to pull unemployment benefits from workers in an attempt to force people back into these jobs. However, the plan isn’t working for one simple reason: The majority of these workers never made enough in wages to collect UI (enhanced or otherwise) in the first place. So for all the political posturing and worker shaming going on, none if it is likely to actually lead to these workers retuning to their poverty wage gigs.

Saru: “We just did a survey of 3,000 workers: 53% that are left say they’re leaving the industry;  76% say the top reason they’re leaving is low wages and tips; 78%, nearly 8 in 10, say the only thing that would make them stay in a restaurant or come back is a full livable wage with tips on top.”

We call them essential, and indeed they are. It’s time to pay them that way.

See Saru’s article “Restaurant Workers Say They Won’t Return to Work Without a Living Wage” in Truthout.org HERE.


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Things are getting scary out there. We have Trump claiming he’ll be reinstated in August, his former National Security Advisor calling for a Myanmar-style military coup over the Memorial Day weekend, and GOP legislatures all over the country doing everything in their power to make sure people of color or anyone else who might vote for a Democrat can’t get access to the polls.

Odd time to quote a Republican on the air, but that’s what Rick chose to do. He quoted something said by GOP congressman Pete Meijer over the Memorial Day weekend. Here’s why:

While it is encouraging to see some speak out, each time someone in the GOP does, that decency is immediately stamped out by the sheer tonnage of seditionist ideology all around it. Rep. Meijer will almost certainly be attacked, will need security for himself and his family, and he will certainly face a primary challenger from his right – one with the full support of an aging orange madman with delusions of dictatorship.

And in the end, the most likely scenario is that Meijer will be replaced, just as he replaced Justin Amash, who also committed the mortal sin of standing up to the lunatic right.

And the crazy train will just keep coming, chugging its way toward political violence, state-sponsored voter suppression, and minority rule by the wealthy few who hold the power to manipulate our government.

And America’s working families are standing on the tracks.


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The argument is simple: large segments of the US working population once belonged to unions. In those unions, we found power, but we also found community. And while a lot of attention has been paid to the power we lost as union membership declined, we have spent much less time talking about how we lost that sense of togetherness, that sense of solidarity that unions provided. And what has replaced that community, in many cases, has been a dangerous form of right-wing conspiracy worship in the form of militia membership, Qanon, and anti-government lunacy in a variety of forms.

Historian Kevin Gannon, who many remember from the Netflix documentary 13thjoined The Rick Smith Show to talk about how this happened, beginning with those who could have fought it, should have fought it, but mostly chose to sit it out, and how that choice was perceived:

Rick: “[Workers] want somebody who they perceive is going to fight for them, even if it’s the wrong fight.”

Rick: “If there’s a street fight, [the Democrats] will offer to hold your coat. Maybe. I want somebody who’s gonna ball up their digits and get in there and mix it up.”

Kevin: “The Democrats stopped fighting for them because the Democrats have stopped fighting for the working class … period.”

Kevin continued, turning to the subject of how the right co-opted those old coalitions and transformed them into a population that now votes for the very people who have been taking power away from working people for generations:

Kevin: “[The] working class […] is the most powerful multi-racial coalition in this country and when you have white workers who […] feel alienated and are committed to having somebody fight for them and then the right says “We’ll fight for you because you’re white,” well, you’re still fighting for me, so all the potential that is embedded in working-class politics and good progressive union-oriented working-class politics has been co-opted for the last several decades.”

Rick: “[T]his is where unions served a real purpose. It brought people together. It got people to join into a common interest and that common interest is better wages, hours, conditions, better opportunities for our families, better communities. That was the what drew us together and as Republican policy – and some Democratic policy […] Democrats were responsible for the destruction of unions too – destroyed the union’s ability to bring people together, those people sought other things out. And that’s how you end up with the Q-kooks and all these right-wing militia groups and all of this insanity that’s out there.”

While no one argues that this is the entire reason for the rise of the conspiracy culture we now live in, none can argue that this is not a significant factor in how we ended up where we are today. It’s an important discussion, and one that isn’t going away any time soon.

To hear the rest of Rick and Kevin’s conversation, the podcast is available below:


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On Wednesday morning, a murderer walked into a public transit rail yard in San Jose, California and murdered eight co-workers with a gun, then turned a gun on himself.

It’s an event that can happen anywhere, in almost any country on the planet, but it is also an event that happens so frequently in America that if we don’t find a way to do something about it, the mass shooting will soon be associated with the very fabric of American culture, right there next to baseball and apple pie.

Rick Smith spoke about this at length just a few hours after the shooting, echoing the words of California Governor Gavin Newsom:

“I was listening to Governor Newsom out in California talk about it. He goes ‘What the hell’s going on? What’s going on in this country? There’s a sense of numbness I imagine that some of us are feeling about this because there’s a sameness to it. Anywhere, USA.’ It just feels like this happens over and over and over again. Rinse and repeat rinse and repeat, and he says it begs the damn question, ‘What the hell is going on in this country? What’s going on in the United States?'”

“What’s wrong with us?”

That’s a question that can’t be answered in a 20-minute radio segment, but what we can do is help. We are encouraging our listeners, friends on social media, and union brothers and sisters to do what they can to support the grieving families of those ATU brothers we lost. It will only be a small comfort, but it will certainly be much more than what our political class is doing. Donations can be made to the ATU Disaster Relief Fund HERE.

To hear the rest of Rick’s commentary on the latest senseless act of gun violence, the podcast is available below:


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When Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene compared mask mandates to the Holocaust, everyone took notice. Most were stunned that she would ever think of making such a silly connection, but she did, and then she doubled down on it.

Brett Pransky, writer, professor, and Executive Producer of The Rick Smith Show took exception to the statement, calling it “frighteningly stupid” and then exposing the Congresswoman’s flawed logic by asking if other public health rules, like seatbelts and speed limits, for example, were also worthy of comparisons to the brutal slaying of six million people.

“It’s ridiculous to a degree I don’t even have the words to describe,” said Pransky. “[A]nd I’m an English professor, so that’s really saying something.”

Congresswoman Greene could not be reached for comment, mostly because we never attempted to reach her, nor do we ever intend to.


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