Guest: Labor journalist Steven Greenhouse; Also: House finally passes aid package for Ukraine; Prosecutors accuse Trump of 'election fraud' in NY criminal trial opening statement...
By Brad Friedman on 4/22/2024, 6:05pm PT  

Nothing but huge news --- all of several different sorts --- on today's BradCast. [Audio link to full show follows below this summary.]

FIRST UP: After months of stalling to the benefit of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and our wannabe dictator former President, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, to his credit, bucked the majority of his own caucus and reversed course last week on Ukraine. The full reason for his sudden about-face remains unclear --- and a majority of his own party still voted against aid to our besieged democratic allies in Europe --- but whatever the reason, it is very good news for both Ukraine and global democracy. The full Democratic caucus in the House backed Johnson's plan to adopt some $95 billion in military, humanitarian and economy aid to Ukraine, Israel (including more than $9 billion in assistance to residents of Gaza), Taiwan and other Indo-Pacific allies. Far-right House Republicans derided the legislation as "America Last" aid to foreign wars and have been threatening to invoke another motion to vacate the Speaker's chair. So far, however, they've failed to pull the trigger.

NEXT UP: The first criminal trial of a former (and perhaps future) U.S. President got underway for reals on Monday in New York, with opening statements presented by both sides in what Prosecutors are characterizing as a 2016 "election fraud" via hush-money case against Donald J. Trump. We step through the opening presentations of each side's case today. NY prosecutors detailed how they intend to demonstrate that Trump, in a panic following the release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, where he boasted about assaulting women, took measures just before the 2016 election to pay off women he was alleged to have had affairs with, including Playboy Model Karen McDougal and adult film star Stormy Daniels.

The schemes to silence the women, according to state prosecutor Matthew Colangelo, were carried out via an elaborate conspiracy between Trump, his then attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, and then publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker. The plot involved 34 allegedly falsified business transactions --- including checks signed by Trump while serving in the White House --- disguised as legal retainers to Cohen, rather than reimbursement money for hush-money payments. The Trump Organization couldn’t cut a check to Cohen with the memo "reimbursement for porn star payoff," so "they agreed to cook the books," said Colangelo, to make the payments appear to be for legal services.

The Enquirer produced what prosecutors described as "checkbook journalism" on Trump's behalf to "catch and kill" McDougal's story of a nearly year-long affair with Trump while his wife Melania was pregnant in 2006. And Cohen paid Daniels directly in exchange for signing a $130,000 non-disclosure agreement that prevented her from revealing her 2006 tryst with Trump while Melania was nursing their infant son. "He covered up that criminal conspiracy by lying in his New York business records over and over and over again," Colangelo told the jury, detailing what he characterized as "election fraud, pure and simple."

In Trump's defense, his attorney Todd Blanche made the case that none of the actions described by prosecutors are crimes. "I have a spoiler alert," he told the jury, "there’s nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It’s called democracy."

Prosecutors called Pecker as their first witness on Monday, but the court session was cut short on due to a dental emergency for one of the jurors and a planned early finish to the day due to the Jewish Passover holiday. Pecker is set to return to the stand for the prosecution on Tuesday.

FINALLY: The story that (understandably, given the above) is not getting nearly the attention it deserves today. On Friday, by an overwhelming 3 to 1 margin, workers at a Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee voted to unionize by joining the United Auto Workers. The landmark vote came after a full-court press against it the day before the unionization election was to begin last Wednesday, via an unprecedented joint statement by six Republican southern state Governors. TN's Gov. Bill Lee and the Governors of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas warned in the statement against workers voting to join the union, charging that it would result in jobs leaving the state.

Nonetheless, VW's workers overwhelmingly approved the historic resolution, in what UAW leader Shawn Fain described on Sunday to our guest today, veteran labor journalist and author STEVEN GREENHOUSE of The Guardian, as "the first domino to fall" in what Greenhouse describes as the UAW's "ambitious $40m campaign targeting 13 automakers, including VW, Mercedes, Tesla, BMW, Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai, with a total of 35 non-union plants across the US."

"It's a very big deal," Greenhouse tells me today. "It's a big deal because unions have had a very hard time organizing the South. Indeed, unions and union leaders are often told 'it's impossible to win the South, don't even bother.' Factory-workers are so worried that if they vote to unionize, the plant will close and move overseas. So this victory really bursts the citadel, breaks down the tradition of all these losses in the South. This finally shows you can win."

In fact, two previous efforts to unionize the same VW plant failed some 10 and 15 years ago. But now, post-pandemic and, most notably, with the rise and inspiration of the UAW's new, charismatic leader Fain, there is renewed action and optimism. "This gives a lot of momentum, a lot of energy and inspiration to autoworkers, and I think to the larger labor movement," says Greenhouse, the author of several books on the subject including his latest, Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present and Future of American Labor.

We discuss, among other things today: why this effort at VW succeeded where previous votes failed; how unprecedented the statement was from those six southern Governors (In Greenhouse's interview with Fain on Sunday, the labor leader called them "liars" and "puppets for corporate America" that "don't give a damn about working-class people...even though workers are the ones who elect them."); how the unionization in the auto industry may inspire similar efforts by workers in other industries for the first time in man years; whether the UAW will actually be able to unionize Tesla, as led by the very anti-union Elon Musk, as well as the other non-union plants being targeted by the UAW around the country, following their wildly successful strike against Detroit's Big Three automakers last year.

One of those targeted non-union plants belongs to Mercedes-Benz in Vance, Alabama where workers are scheduled to hold a unionization vote next month. If both VW and Mercedes are unionized, as Greenhouse reported a Georgetown labor historian observing last week, it would "be nothing less than an earthquake [and] the biggest breakthrough in private-sector organizing in decades."

As noted, some pretty huge news on today's program...


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