BTS 9/19/2005: Wal-Mart Documentary and Hearing; Katrina - Incompetence or Class War?; Germany Losing Its Own Election

Listen: Robert Greenwald / Fred Azcarate - Brad Delong - Norman Birnbaum

Our focus tonight is on what could perhaps be called the paranoid class consciousness of ruling circles these days from Wal-Mart to Katrina to the stalemated elections in Germany.

We begin with Wal-Mart, a leader in promoting attacks on workers, women and communities, lowering living standards while asking the state to pick up the costs. Fred Azcarate , Executive Director of Jobs with Justice and Robert Greenwald, producer of the new documentary “Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price” join us to preview the film and the upcoming national workers rights board hearing on Wal-Mart in Saint Louis.

Continuing in the class war vein, we look at what Hurricane Katrina has laid bare in US Politics: the response has been naked, brutal, singularly incompetent, and matching current Enron-type business practices – what we can only call short-termist. While the Democrats and the rest of the world are stunned by the sheer incompetence of the response, is their something more deliberate? The botched bureaucratic response by the Government through FEMA also reflects an attempt to regain control after people were forced to take their own measures to survive. How to explain FEMA’s preventing supplies from getting through and the quick military response to people getting what they need in crisis? Early on the word ‘insurgents’ was used to describe people in the streets of New Orleans. Did the government worry more that uncontrolled poor and black people in New Orleans represents a potential or actual insurrection? Does Barbara Bush’s remarks in this context reveal a paranoid mindset that the ruling circles see themselves as besieged by ‘lower classes’ who must be controlled and kept down? Does the Bush administration reflect a paranoid class consciousness? We put these questions to Berkeley Economics Professor Brad DeLong who has written of the Bush Administration incompetence in the Financial Times.

And finally on tonight’s BTS we look at the election held in Germany yesterday. The headline in Der Spiegel suggests that Germany lost its own election. Neither party can claim a true majority and Norman Birnbaum sees it as Sturm und Drang or turbulence and passion. The supposedly consensual and orderly Germans are fighting each other after the election resulted in a numerical stalemate: The seventy six percent of the citizenry who voted disregarded journalists, pollsters, professors and business elites, who instructed them to abandon the welfare state and return to subordination to the US. Fifty one percent of the electorate voted for the opposite.
The complicated result reveals a deeper truth, as applicable in Germany as the US, Britain, France and elsewhere. Most of the news stories call the election a defeat for all the candidates, one could say the result is good. Working people in Germany weren’t seduced into voting for their own demise by supporting the CDU but didn’t have enough self interest to vote for the SPD.

Read More for info on tonight's guests.

1. Wal-Mart

This weekend Jobs with Justice is holding its national convention in Saint Louis, and the National Workers Rights Board (disclosure) will hold a hearing on Wal-mart that promises to be highly attended and explosive. Wal-mart has led the attack against workers and their families, setting trends in union-busting, gender discrimination, withholding healthcare and disregard for the communities where they place their stores. They have a huge PR operation, but face more and more demands from all quarters for accountability. Fred Azcarate, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice joins us with Robert Greenwald, producer of the new documentary on Wal-Mart, to up the ante on the corporate giant’s impact on living standards.

WAL-MART: The High Cost of Low Price takes the viewer on a deeply personal journey into the everyday lives of families struggling to fight goliath. From a family business owner in the Midwest to a preacher in California, from workers in Florida to a poet in Mexico, dozens of film crews on three continents bring the intensely personal stories of an assault on families and American values.

2. Katrina

Brad DeLong has published an indictment of the Bush administration response to Katrina in the Financial Times. He is professor of economics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also Co-Editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and a Visiting Scholar at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

He served in the U.S. government as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy from 1993 to 1995. He writes widely and is currently working on The Economic History of the Twentieth Century: Slouching Towards Utopia? You can check out his writings at

3. German Election

Norman Birnbaum is Professor Emeritus at Georgetown University Law Center. Professor Birnbaum was a founding editor of New Left Review, was on the editorial board of Partisan Review — and is on the board of The Nation. He is also author of several books, the most recent of which is After Progress: American Social Reform And European Socialism In The Twentieth Century (2001). Currently, he is working on a cultural-political memoir From The Bronx To Oxford And Not Quite Back.