Hillary Clinton's labor problem

Lest we forget, HRC is no liberal. In a better world, the electoral college would be dissolved, and the U.S. citizenry would split up the two-headed business party that currently runs our country (into a ditch) and multiple parties would bloom. Ha. Ha.

Until then, conservative DLC members like Ms. Clinton will run the Dems and more conservative faux-Christians like Rudy G will run the Repubs. Where is the party that represents me?


Hillary Clinton's labor problem | Salon.com :
There must be moments when the leaders of America's labor movement mutter the dark lament of the late Rodney Dangerfield, because so often they “get no respect” from the same Democratic politicians who depend on union endorsements and funding. This week they could certainly feel that way, after voicing their “concern” over the actions of a huge union-busting public relations company headed by Sen. Hillary Clinton's top political strategist, Mark Penn -- and getting no satisfactory response.

The prodigious Penn, a pollster and counselor to the Clintons since 1995, has risen to the commanding heights of the public relations and research business over the three decades since he entered politics. Having started in a tiny, two-man polling operation in a New York City mayoral campaign, he is now the CEO of Burson-Marsteller Inc., one of the planet's largest P.R. shops, with corporate clients ranging from Microsoft to Shell Oil and Pfizer. For progressive voters, those connections should raise questions about Penn's dominant role in the Clinton campaign, especially because he has reportedly boasted about the business benefits of his political power.

Smart, skillful and tenacious, Penn is also the ultimate expression of a long-standing trend among political consultants -- that is, claiming to serve the public interest during election years while selling their connections and knowledge to special interests every year. For him and many of his colleagues, the affluence that accrues to influence shapes their attitudes (and their advice to candidates). They tend to reject populism and almost any position that might lead to conflict with their corporate benefactors.
...Among the most controversial aspects of Penn's firm's business, from the liberal perspective at least, come under the category of “labor relations,” a traditional euphemism for suppressing workers and thwarting their right to organize. Before Penn scrubbed his firm's Web site, it advertised this specialty and noted the firm's capacity to confront “Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns whether they are in conjunction with organizing or contract negotiating.” Not the most graceful wording, but the idea is clear enough.

And in practice, as Berman reported, Burson executives have used these skills against two major unions seeking to organize workers at Cintas, the nationwide uniform-supply company, which may be the single most ambitious union drive in North America today.

So here was a conflict of interest that seemed both direct and salient. Sen. Clinton is a declared supporter of labor rights who often tells workers that she is on their side. Besides, she badly wants the support of the Teamsters and UNITE HERE, the unions seeking to organize the Cintas employees, not to mention all the other labor organizations that might help her win the nomination and the presidency. But on the issue of workers rights, her top advisor has been on the other side.

Proportional Responses

Ari Berman of the Nation has more details about Ms. Clinton's Karl Rove:

perhaps the most important figure in the campaign is [Hillary Clinton's] pollster and chief strategist, Mark Penn, a combative workaholic. Penn is not yet a household name, but perhaps he should be. Inside Hillaryland, he has elaborately managed the centrist image Hillary has cultivated in the Senate. The campaign is polling constantly, and Penn's interpretation of the numbers will in large part decide her political direction.

Yet Penn is no ordinary pollster. Beyond his connections to the Clintons, he not only polls for America's biggest companies but also runs one of the world's premier PR agencies. This creates a dilemma for Hillary: Penn represents many of the interests whose influence candidate Clinton--in an attempt to appeal to an increasingly populist Democratic electorate--has vowed to curtail. Is what's good for Penn and his business good for Hillary's political career? And furthermore, can she convincingly claim to fight for the average American with Penn guiding strategy in her corner?...
Penn, who had previously worked in the business world for companies like Texaco and Eli Lilly, brought his corporate ideology to the White House. After moving to Washington he aggressively expanded his polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland (PSB). It was said that Penn was the only person who could get Bill Clinton and Bill Gates on the same phone line. Penn's largest client was Microsoft, and he saw no contradiction between working for both the plaintiff and the defense in what was at the time the country's largest antitrust case. A variety of controversial clients enlisted PSB. The firm defended Procter and Gamble's Olestra from charges that it caused anal leakage, blamed Texaco's bankruptcy on greedy jurors and market-tested genetically modified foods for Monsanto. Penn invented the concept of “inoculation,” in which corporations are shielded from scandal through clever advertising and marketing. Selling an image, companies realized, was as important as winning a legislative favor.

Penn kept his foot in the political world through the Clintons. In 2000 he became the chief architect of Hillary's Senate victory in New York, persuading her, in a rerun of '96, to eschew big themes and relentlessly focus on poll-tested pothole politics, such as suburban transit lines and dairy farming upstate. Following that election, Penn became a very rich man--and an even more valued commodity in the business world (Hillary paid him $1 million for her re-election campaign in '06 and $277,000 in the first quarter of this year). The massive PR empire WPP Group acquired Penn's polling firm for an undisclosed sum in 2001 and four years later named him worldwide CEO of one of its most prized properties, the PR firm Burson-Marsteller (B-M). A key player in the decision to hire Penn was Howard Paster, President Clinton's chief lobbyist to Capitol Hill and a top executive in the WPP firmament. “Clients of stature come to Mark constantly for counsel,” says Paster, who informally advises Hillary, explaining the hire. The press release announcing Penn's promotion noted his work “developing and implementing deregulation informational programs for the electric utilities industry and in the financial services sector.” The release blithely ignored how utility deregulation contributed to the California electricity crisis manipulated by Enron and the blackout of 2003, which darkened much of the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Burson-Marsteller is hardly a natural fit for a prominent Democrat. The firm has represented everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of massive human rights violations in Nigeria. B-M pioneered the use of pseudo-grassroots front groups, known as “astroturfing,” to wage stealth corporate attacks against environmental and consumer organizations. It set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris to fight tobacco regulation in the early 1990s. Its current clients include major players in the finance, pharmaceutical and energy industries. In 2006, with Penn at the helm, the company gave 57 percent of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates.

A host of prominent Republicans fall under Penn's purview. B-M's Washington lobbying arm, BKSH & Associates, is run by Charlie Black, a leading GOP operative who maintains close ties to the White House, including Karl Rove, and was former partners with Lee Atwater, the political consultant who crafted the Willie Horton smear campaign used by George H.W. Bush against Michael Dukakis in 1988. Black regularly disparages the Clintons; he has called Hillary a “martyr figure” and said Bill “tearfully embraced...government preferences for [a] homosexual lifestyle.” In recent years Black's clients have included the likes of Iraq's Ahmad Chalabi, the darling of the neocon right in the run-up to the war; Lockheed Martin; and Occidental Petroleum. In the summer of 2005 he landed a contract with the Lincoln Group, the disgraced PR firm that covertly placed US military propaganda in Iraqi news outlets. The agreement, according to Intelligence Online, allowed the Lincoln Group to “tap into BKSH's extensive contacts in the Republican administration.” When asked by The New Yorker if there was too much cronyism in Iraq, Black responded, “I just wish I could find the cronies.”

Black is only one cannon in B-M's Republican arsenal. Its “grassroots” lobbying branch, Direct Impact--which specializes in corporate-funded astroturfing--is run by Dennis Whitfield, a former Reagan Cabinet official, and Dave DenHerder, the political director of the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign in Ohio. That's not all. B-M recently partnered with lobbyist Ed Gillespie, the former head of the Republican National Committee, in creating the new ad firm 360Advantage, which is run by two ad men for the Bush-Cheney campaigns and which includes a few prominent Democrats. Its first project was a campaign for the neoconservative Weekly Standard magazine against “liberal bias” in the media. There's more than a little irony that some Democrats would assist a conservative media machine that so regularly smears the Clintons. Yet the so-called “bipartisan” firm is hardly objective--of its thirteen principals, ten are Republicans.

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This page contains a single entry by swanksalot published on June 16, 2007 10:58 AM.

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