Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Social Justice: Coming To A Military Near You

Let's review where things currently stand on repealing the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
  • Nearly 8 in 10 Americans favor repealing DADT.
  • Service members, by a large majority, say repealing DADT would cause no problems.
  • Military leadership says, essentially, "Please repeal DADT. It's the right thing to do, and it won't hurt the military."
  • It's obviously the right thing to do, morally speaking. Duh.
  • President Obama wants to repeal DADT.
  • The House of Representatives just approved a repeal of DADT by a vote of 250-175.
So what could stop such an enormous mandate for change?

Just one member of a legislative body that was created to be an American House of Lords, where today you need an overwhelming 60 out of 100 votes to do anything important. Just one Senator of a party that continually vilifies minority groups of all stripes and colors. Just one erratic hothead Senator who thinks he looks tough and masculine by being anti-gay.

That is unless Democrats in the Senate can roust up 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. And from the sound of it, they think they can. Senators Snowe, Collins, and Brown are the Republicans who now seem likely to vote for repeal. Sen. Joe Manchin (West Virginia) is the only Democrat likely to vote against. 59 Democrats plus + 3 Republican crossovers - 1 Democratic crossover = 61 votes (if everything holds). Lisa Murkowski and Richard Lugar (and probably others) sound like they'll support repeal once it's clear 60 votes have been reached. Very brave. You see, they want to be on the right side of history without actually having to do the right thing.

So as with so many other issues, a nearly unanimous Democratic Party supports a modest step toward justice, and a nearly unanimous Republican Party stands opposed, clinging to a morally indefensible argument.

I didn't used to get so angry about the ultra-predictable anti-human divide-and-rule money-grubbing positions of the GOP. But seeing the country have to drag its feet on civil rights all because of the antique sexual hang-ups and insecurities of the old men in the Party of Wealth in the House of Lords? It's almost more than I can stand. But I take some comfort in knowing that the country is changing rapidly beneath their very feet.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What Are You Up To On Friday Night?

Me? I've got Senator Bernie Sanders' filibuster of the Obama-GOP tax cut plan cranked up while I eat a peanut butter and blueberry preserve sandwich. This is an old fashioned filibuster, meaning he's actually they're talking for hours and hours. He started at 10:25am, has not taken a break, and has only had water since then. This is a "Mr. Smith Goes To Washington" moment. This is what it looks like when a filibuster is used for good. Give Bernie a listen. He speaks goodness.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama's Preemptive Surrender on Tax Cuts for the Wealthy

I don't think I've ever been too angry to blog. When President Obama took office and filled his White House economic team with the same guys who brought us financial deregulation and the Great Recession, I typed away. When Obama's Justice Department refused to even investigate Bush and Cheney for their self-confessed war crimes of torturing prisoners, I blogged on. When Obama refused to campaign for a public option in the health care legislation, when he doubled down on the war in Afghanistan, when he didn't lift a finger for the Employee Free Choice Act, when he continued the NAFTA-style trade policies he campaigned against, it was all blog, blog, yap, yap on my end.

But watching Obama's preemptive surrender to Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy made me afraid I'd break the keyboard. What makes this sellout different than the rest is that it's not just bad policy, it's bad politics.

So, Republicans said they would block everything that came up in the Senate unless the rich got their tax cuts extended. Oooh, I'm really scared. How easy it would have been to expose them for what they're doing--essentially holding the American people hostage until we pay ransom money to the rich. Congressional Democrats started on that line of attack. They put forward bills that would extend tax cuts for the middle class but let those for the rich expire. Meanwhile, in typical fashion, Obama did not lift a finger to influence the fight going on in Congress. Before that fight even got started, we were hearing in the news media almost daily that a deal was going to be struck to extend the tax cuts.

What should have happened: With the Republicans demanding money for their wealthy clients while holding a gun to the head of the middle class and Democrats standing strong in Congress, the news media should have been full for days and days of discussion on the differences between the Democratic and Republican positions. There is probably no better issue out there to expose the GOP for what they are--shills for big money. Republicans had staked everything on an indefensible position ("We will kill all of you unless you throw more cash to the rich!"). With pressure, which requires the White House weighing in and prolonged national media attention, eventually enough Senate Republicans would have peeled away for Democrats to pass the middle class tax cuts only, and we would have won. Heck it wasn't long ago that even John Boehner was saying that he would vote for the middle class tax cuts if the Democrats did not also offer them for the wealthy. In the worst case scenario, the deadlock would have remained into January and all of the tax cuts would have expired. And voila! Democrats would have an unbeatable political issue going into 2012: "Republicans voted to raise everybody's taxes. Their only care in the world was serving the rich."

What actually happened: Instead, Obama broadcasted such weakness and willingness to "negotiate" so far in advance on this issue that Republicans were emboldened. So much so that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell was comfortable scribbling his ransom note. So Obama and the Republicans agreed to a deal--a two-year extension of all of the Bush tax cuts (and additional cuts to the estate tax beyond even those of the Bush years...huh?!) in exchange for extending long-term unemployment benefits for one year and a one-year payroll tax reduction that would cut the amount contributed to Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent. Doesn't sound like much of a deal to me.

A glimmer of hope: Somebody forgot to tell Congressional Democrats that it was time to cave. There are now petitions going around progressive websites trying to rally Democratic opposition to the Obama-GOP deal. So far, it's working. There are reports of "triple-digit" Democratic opposition in the House and several Senate Dems have spoken out strongly against the deal. Bernie Sanders even promises to filibuster the deal as it stands.

What happens next depends on how much Democratic opposition there is to Obama's deal with the hostage-takers. If the deal ends up passing with a unified block of Republicans and a few crossover Dems to get the majority, there will be new calls to challenge the president in the Democratic primary. And rightly so.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Here Come the 'Boss Hogg' Republicans

I think we can reasonably expect that Boss Hogg himself will receive a committee chairmanship in the new Republican-led House of Representatives.
Think about it. Jefferson Davis (J.D.) "Boss" Hogg merged political, corporate, and judicial power in a way that even today's Republicans would have to admire. He was the perpetual commissioner of Hazzard County and the owner of virtually all property and business in the county. But because no amount of money and power was enough, he continually engaged in criminal schemes to rob and defraud the public.

The GOP's "Boss Hogg" Committee Chairs

Now consider a few likely Republican committee chairs in the new House of Representatives, whose political operations and policy positions are indistinguishable from the PR operations of the industries they will oversee.

Rep. Joe Barton (Texas), "the quintessential oil congressman," will probably chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Barton infamously apologized to the CEO of BP during the Gulf oil spill crisis, calling the compensation account BP was setting up for the economic victims of the spill the result of "a shakedown" by the government. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Barton has been the top House recipient of campaign cash from the oil industry, including $22,800 from poor old BP.
--Please let me know if Barton does a single thing while chairman that does not absolutely delight oil companies.

Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon (California), will probably chair the House Armed Services Committee. It's no coincidence that the cash flowing his way from military contractors skyrocketed to $400,000 over the last election cycle (compared to $86,000 for the previous cycle). It's not that his re-election campaign was a nail biter. It's just that Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and others want more funding for weapons programs America doesn't need. They've made a big bet that "Buck" is their man. Although, "bet" would imply that the outcome is in some doubt, so "solid investment" or "bribe" would probably be more accurate.
--Please let me know if McKeon does a single thing while chairman that does not give weapons manufacturers a warm fuzzy.

Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings (Washington), will probably chair the House Natural Resources Committee. Hastings' committee will oversee mining safety, national forests, endangered species, and fisheries, among other things. It should be no surprise that his top PAC contributor was a timber company. While BP's oil well was pumping into the Gulf, Hastings was busy opposing stricter safety standards for off-shore drilling operations. And--what do you know?--he collected $70,000 from the oil and gas industry for the recent election cycle (compared to $10,000 for the last cycle).
--Please let me know if Hastings does a single thing while chairman that does not make extraction industry CEOs want to dance a little jig.

Boss Hogg For President 2012!

As I was writing this, I came across Jonathan Chait's posts at The New Republic about Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's potential run for president in 2012. Chait, in what he concedes is "a fairly juvenile shtick," has been referring to Barbour as "Boss Hogg" in his articles for some time now.

Haley Barbour really is like a fictional character come to life. He's the governor of what was once the most anti-civil rights state in the country (which we won't hold against him personally, but he has been involved in conservative politics since the '60s, and I'm just sayin'). He's the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, where he oversees a large campaign war chest and can make contacts in crucial Republican primary states. He's the former chairman of the Republican National Committee and a former tobacco industry lobbyist, which I'm sure has nothing to do with why he vetoed a broadly supported cigarette tax in Mississippi, where the cigarette taxes are the third lowest in the country and grocery taxes are the highest.

But it's the personal touches that put Haley Barbour over the top. According to a Newsweek profile:
"The Republican governor of Mississippi keeps a large portrait of the University Greys, the Confederate rifle company that suffered 100 percent casualties at Gettysburg, on a wall not far from a Stars and Bars Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis. Then there's the man himself. Rather than walking across the street from his office to the state capitol, he rides a hundred or so yards in the back seat of a large SUV, air conditioning on full blast."
Wow. We'll see how far glorifying the slavocracy gets his presidential campaign.

You couldn't make this stuff up. The "Boss Hogg" Republicans everyone: corporate power and government power become one unified force, and we're supposed to feel nostalgic for the Confederacy.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Democrats Lost, And What It Means

After this election, the predictable knee-jerk reaction from the media is going to be that President Obama and the Democrats "overreached" and they now need to scale back their agenda and "compromise" with Republicans. In fact, we're already hearing that. Obama himself used the word "overreach" in his post-election press conference, bowing to the conventional wisdom of the Beltway pundit class.

This is like a bad movie you've seen 10 times, and it's completely wrong. "Move to the center," what Democrats are being told by the GOP and the media, is a recipe for more of what lost in 2010. So let's talk about what really led to the loss before we decide how Democrats should react.

A Whirlwind Recap of 2009

Obama came into office with sky high approval in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. He immediately started working on a stimulus package that prevented the recession from being an actual repeat of the Great Depression and began the long, slow recovery. Republican obstructionism as well as the general do-nothing attitude in Washington when it comes to the plight of the middle class prevented more dramatic measures that could have spurred a much faster recovery from even being considered, such as direct job creation for the unemployed.

Fast forward to August 2009. The economy remains anemic. Democratic health care legislation that would guarantee health coverage for virtually every American while also reducing the deficit is bogged down while Democrats seek Republican support in Congress (which they didn't need). The health insurance industry and the Republican media machine stokes a number of "grassroots" anti-health care rallies. This culminates in a rash of disruptions at town hall meetings during the Congressional recess, where angry audience members shout down bewildered Democratic legislators. Also in August, conservative groups begin bringing assault rifles and other guns to anti-Obama protests, including to one rally outside a convention center where the president is speaking.

Ceding Anger To The GOP

All of this had the effect of redirecting populist economic anger away from the real source of middle class hardship--unregulated corporations and, by extension, Republicans--and toward the very institutions that could improve the picture for the middle class--a bold progressive agenda to rein in corporations for the public good. Republicans casts themselves as the party of the people's resistance against "the powers that be," which necessarily involved redefining those powers not as Wall Street banks and industry lobbyists but as the "socialist forces" taking over government.

This is just the latest iteration of what has been the conservative strategy since time immemorial. Each generation of super rich have to answer the questions at the heart of that strategy: How do you steal people's life chances and get them to thank you for it? How do you get the people to hand ever more power and privilege to the already powerful and privileged?

When this strategy is successful, as it was in these elections, it produces results that make you scratch your head. Consider this exit polling paradox. The economy was the top issue for voters. And when asked, "Who's to blame for the economy?" a plurality said bankers (34%), followed by Bush (29%), and Obama (24%). Of those who blamed bankers, Republicans held an 11 point advantage.

That may be the single best illustration of what went wrong for Democrats. It's not that people blamed Obama for much of anything; they just didn't think of Obama and Democrats as fighting anybody else who was to blame. Democrats were clobbered by default.

What The Electorate Looked Like

Even if you ignore the 'ceding anger' argument entirely, this second reason alone would be enough to explain the Republican tidal wave of 2010. I'm talking about who came out to vote and what the electorate looked like compared to 2008. Some of the most telling numbers:
"Voters under 30 dropped from 18 percent [in 2008] to 11 percent [in 2010]; African-Americans from 13 percent to 10 percent, and Hispanics from 9 percent to 8 percent. Meanwhile, voters over 65, the one age category carried by John McCain, increased from 16 percent of the electorate to 23 percent."
In short, the electorate was older, whiter, and more conservative this year. The electorate was less representative of what America actually looks like than it was in 2008. This is very normal for a midterm election. It's true that reporting, "This was all really normal!" doesn't sell newspapers or advertising time. But normal it was. Anyone telling you that this election represents a major shift in American political thinking is either ignorant or dishonest, or both.

Enter Republican Party, Stage Right.

A Repudiation? Not The Kind Boehner Thinks.

In his victory speech, Rep. John Boehner, the next Speaker of the House, called the elections results "a repudiation" and a message to President Obama to "change course." I think Boehner may be right, just not in the way he intends. If anything, this election should be seen as a repudiation of a Democratic strategy that seeks to move slowly and conciliate corporate power and the right wing. If anything, it's a repudiation of the Obama administration's instincts favoring political negotiation over political conflict. Those instincts lead to a bogged down legislative process and then legislation that is so compromised it's difficult to hold up (or explain) as a victory for ordinary Americans.

It's time for President Obama to pick a fight with the right. It's time to take off the gloves. Obama must reclaim his position as the representative of an American public fed up with a corporate elite that is selling the middle class down the river. He should hammer home that message every chance he gets. Then watch as progressive rallies and protests begin to overshadow the Tea Party gun rallies. And when the 2012 electorate comes out to vote, in record-breaking numbers and with diversity that mirrors America itself, it's going to be a Republican nightmare that dwarfs 2008.

Check back later for, What Happens Next: Looking Ahead To 2012.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Midterm Results, Part 2: Silver Lining Edition

Let's start with a couple of good news items today:

First, the Denver Post has called the Colorado Senate race for Democrat Michael Bennet. When I went to bed last night, this one was still in doubt. But as more votes came in from Denver and Boulder, Bennet moved up. A recount would be required if he ends up ahead by less than .5%, but his current lead is .9%. And most of the votes still to be counted are in the Democratic stronghold of Boulder County, where Bennet is winning 67% of the vote. So the Denver Post thinks this was is in the bag, but other media outlets are waiting to call it. This one feels especially good because I happened to see Glenn Beck ranting about this race last night, predicting the Democrats' demise and saying Colorado was turning back to its red roots after voting for Obama in 2008. Also, establishing Democratic strongholds in the mountain west states extends the playing field for future Democratic presidential candidates beyond just the coasts and the upper Midwest--the combination that dealt Kerry a losing hand in 2004.

In the Washington Senate race, Democrat Patty Murray holds a 1 point lead (14,000 votes) with 62% of votes reported. There are a lot of votes all across the state still to be counted. But Seattle's King County, where Murray has run up an 88,000 vote margin so far, has only reported 55% of its votes. I think it's safe to feel pretty confident about this one, but no one is going to call the race at this point.

Likely New Senate Breakdown: 53 Democrats, 47 Republicans. These numbers are almost certainly good enough to prevent ConservaDems like Lieberman and Nelson from switching parties and tipping Senate control to the Republicans or at least threatening to do so in order to water down progressive legislation.

Some Election "Firsts" From 2010
It's interesting to me that three of these "firsts" are Republicans. Granted, Republicans in general are not very concerned with equality issues. But the country itself continues to shift, albeit with fits and starts, in the direction of civil rights and social equality. The fact that Republicans and conservatives are part of that shift demonstrates how powerful it is. As always, progressives and left activists lead the way, but the country as a whole eventually comes around.

Check back a little later for my postmortem: Why Democrats Lost and What Happens Next. (Spoiler alert: It's not as bad as you think, and there's stuff to look forward to.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Midterm Election Results - Live Updates

I plan to post thoughts periodically through the night as the election results roll in. Here are some initial thoughts:

8:09pm: Are Republicans going to win the House? Almost certainly. The question is only how big the majority will be. Are Republicans going to win the Senate? Probably not, but there's a fair possibility. What does all this mean in the grand scheme of things? Not as much as you think. The president's party almost always loses seats in his first midterm. But in the last century, the three presidents who actually lost Congress in their first midterm--Truman, Eisenhower, and Clinton--went on to win re-election.

In the short term, the Republican wave in this election will mean that no significant progressive legislation will be passed in the remainder of Obama's first term. In the long run, it remains to be seen what this means for the political trajectory of America. I believe that Republicans winning this election means Obama is even more likely to be re-elected in 2012. But as always, the general media narrative that develops after this election will play a major role. And here's one issue that has been pretty much ignored in major media: The American public still likes Democrats more than Republicans. That's worth pondering.

The irony is that Republicans are still going to win big tonight. But it's important to understand why. First, the economy makes this an anti-incumbent year, not an anti-Democratic year. Second, the Tea Party, the flood of corporate money into right-wing attack ads, and the first African-American in the White House have mobilized Republican base voters into a turnout frenzy. Nothing even close can be said for Democratic base voters. It's hard to make the case to all those first-time 2008 Obama voters to come out again in what seems to them like an off year. Midterm turnout is always a problem for Democrats. But fast-forward to 2012 and the intense interest in a presidential election cycle, and I think the big, slow progressive majority will probably rise again.

Is all of that going to be part of the narrative after tonight? Probably not. "America Repudiates Democratic Agenda" will be a more exciting headline to go with. We'll see.

9:10pm: Some results worth noting:
- Christine "I'm not a witch" McDonnell is defeated in Delaware, as expected. Her implosion during the campaign made it a lot harder for Republicans to capture the Senate.
- Right-winger Rubio wins the Senate seat in Florida. As noted in comments, Crist or Meek should have dropped out some time back and endorsed the other.
- Democrat Joe Machin wins the Senate seat in West Virginia. This is one that Republicans needed to pick off if this wave were going to be a real tsunami. I'm not sure if it's impossible yet for the Repubs to take the Senate, but this makes it that much harder.

9:18pm: Democrat Alan Grayson is defeated in FL-08. Not unexpected, but it still sucks. Grayson was in a swing district, but in Congress he was bold and progressive. He spoke truth to power during the health care debate, and that embarrassed national Republicans. He became a prime target for the right wing, as I noted back in May when I overheard GOP congressmen talking on a plane. His only hope for victory became a big turnout, and that just wasn't going to happen tonight.

10:10pm: Big-picture update: The GOP will absolutely take the House, as is now being reported by various networks. However, Joe Manchin's win in West Virginia makes it virtually impossible for the GOP to take the Senate. We should now be pulling for a big enough Democratic margin in the Senate that we don't have to worry about ConservaDems crossing over to caucus with the Senate GOP and flipping the majority.

10:23pm: Place to hold out hope: In the Pennsylvania Senate race, Democrat Joe Sestak is up 52% to 48% with 79% of the vote reporting. Good news. And looking at the county-by-county results, there lots of votes still to be counted in the Philadelphia area, which is more good news. It will feel really good if we can keep this seat Blue. (I should point out that Sestak has been an underdog in recent polling.)

10:50pm: I keep hitting refresh on those results from the Pennsylvania Senate race. With 89% of precincts reporting, Republican Pat Toomey leads by about 1,000 votes. But in Philadelphia County, where Democrat Joe Sestak currently leads, 340,168 to 65,861 votes, there are still 5% of precincts that have not reported. So many, many more votes will come for Sestake from Philly, but will they be enough to overtake the rural counties which are still trickling in more votes for Toomey? Right now, I feel optimistic. Refresh, refresh, refresh.

11:04pm: Polls just closed on the west coast. No major results in yet.

11:18pm: In California, looks like Democrats win Governor (Jerry Brown) and Senate (Barbara Boxer) pretty easily. Here's to hoping Prop 19--which would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana--pulls through. This could be the beginning of the end of the "war on drugs," which is used to as a pretext to criminalize a large portion of the working class and militarize a large portion of Latin America.

11:37pm: Not looking good in the Pennsylvania and Illinois Senate races. The Dem candidates (Sestak and Giannoulias) are down by hefty margins and there aren't a lot of votes left in their strongholds (Philadelphia and Chicago). Both of these Dems were underdogs, but the early returns looked like possible upsets in the works.

12:05am: News outlets beginning to report that Democrats will keep control of the Senate.

12:36am: Some of the races I said looked bad earlier are now being officially called for Republicans, including Pennsylvania Senate, Illinois Senate. In governor's races, Republicans will have Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida--three big swing states.

-- Remaining potential Senate wins for Dems include Nevada (Reid) and Colorado (Bennet)--both of which are too close to call right now. Also, Patty Murray leads a close one in Washington right now with 60% of precincts reporting. No results from Alaska yet, where' it's conceivable that Democrat Scott McAdams could pull an upset in that three-way race.

12:41am: Nevada is called as a victory for Harry Reid! Democrats keep another Senate seat. At least on the Senate side, things are not nearly as bad as they might have been. Remember not long ago, even Barbara Boxer in California looked like she was in danger. Fingers crossed for Colorado and Washington...and Alaska just because I'm greedy.

1:15am: Well, Prop 19 went down in California. Let the pointless arrests continue!

1:59am: MSNBC just reported that there may have been a vote counting error in Colorado, where Republican Ken Buck leads Democrat Michael Bennet with about 60% of precincts in. Apparently, votes from a heavily Democratic county may have been filed under the wrong names--Buck getting Bennet's vote and Bennet getting Buck's votes. I'm looking at the county results on, and it looks to me like most of the votes still out are in heavily Democratic areas around Denver.

Calling it a night. I'll be back tomorrow with more to say. But for now, I think we have most of the big answers we were looking for, although the Senate races in Colorado and Washington are still question marks. The big picture is that we're going to have a heavily Republican House and a lightly Democratic Senate working with (or against) the Obama administration. I think major legislation--whether conservative or progressive--is unlikely to come out of Congress in this situation. House GOP leadership will feel pressure to compromise with Obama to show that they're not just obstructionists, but the Tea Partiers among them will oppose any compromise or negotiation with Obama. More thoughts tomorrow.

Things to feel bad about: obviously the size of the Republican gains in the House (60-something seats?); the loss of progressive champion Sen. Russ Feingold in Wisconsin; Republican governor victories in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and probably Florida.

Things to feel good about: Democratic Senate wins in West Virginia and Nevada that assured the Senate stays Blue; down-to-the-wire Senate races in Colorado and Washington; a few governors wins that had been in some doubt, including California and probably Illinois; victory for House Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Grijalva in Arizona.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Near Tie In Jimmy John's Union Election

After the votes were counted in Friday's union election at 10 Minneapolis Jimmy John's franchise locations, the tally was 85 workers for the union, 87 against, and two unknown contested ballots. Even if both contested ballots had gone for the union, under the National Labor Relations Act, a tie goes to the employer. (Surprise.)

This means that the franchise company, MikLin Enterprises, is not legally bound to recognize and negotiate with the union. It does not mean that there is no union or that workers cannot act in solidarity and fight for decent wages and better working conditions.

Although the vote results are disappointing, this organizing campaign is pretty impressive when put in perspective. Across 10 store locations, roughly half of all the workers voted to join the Industrial Workers of the World. 85 people wanted to be officially recognized as Wobblies. And remember this vote comes after all the usual (and effective) pre-vote tactics from the bosses--bribes, coercion, threats of firing, forced anti-union lecture sessions. In fact, the union is charging MikLin Enterprises with 22 violations of the National Labor Relations Act. So the fight goes on.

Some more perspective: MikLin, like virtually any corporation facing workers who are organizing for their own good, hired a third-party anti-union "consulting" firm called Labor Relations, Inc. Among the services provided by Labor Relations, Inc. are captive audience meetings, where the firm details the horrors of unionization to the workers, who are required to attend these meetings. It's estimated that MikLin paid $84,500 to fight off the union drive. In other words, it cost them almost $1,000 for each "no" vote they got. It would be interesting to that compared with an estimate of the union's expenses. Perhaps $5 per yes vote?

I will be watching to see what the union does next. They've gotten national attention. They've built a group of supporters around the country. And they've inspired other fast-food and low-wage workers. I think we'll be hearing more from the Jimmy John's workers.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Workers Vote On First Fast-Food Union

Today about 200 workers at ten Minneapolis-area Jimmy John's sandwich shops will vote on joining the Industrial Workers of the World and creating the first fast-food union in the United States. The workers have been meeting for over a year to talk about a Jimmy John's Workers Union. They are fighting for a raise above minimum wage, sick days, consistent scheduling and minimum shift lengths, regularly scheduled breaks, no-nonsense workers compensation for job-related injuries, an end to sexual harassment at work, and basic fairness on the job. The owners, Mike and Rob Mulligan of Miklin Enterprises, have so far refused to meet with workers' negotiating committees.
There are plenty of reasons why fast-food has been totally non-union up until now. High employee turnover make it difficult organize before workers move on. Part-time schedules mean that workers are often busy with other jobs as well. And perhaps most of all, the low-wage fast-food industry has union busting down to a science. All of this has made traditional unions wary of organizing drives at fast-food chains. It looks like a big investment with little chance of success.

And that's where the Wobblies come in. The IWW was formed over a century ago as a union for all working people. The union grew in the early 1900s by organizing where other unions would not: migrant workers, unskilled immigrants, nonwhites, and women. Industries that were ignored by other unions became hotbeds of Wobbly activism. The IWW was far, far ahead of its time. For example, Wobblies were winning free speech fights with civil disobedience across the American West 56 years before the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley. Wobblies were organizing interracial unions in the Deep South 50 years before the Civil Rights Act.

So back to fast-food. The progressive movement and the middle class need a powerful labor movement as their foundation. A powerful labor movement will require unions in what are currently low-wage service sector jobs. These are the jobs that are increasing as a proportion of the overall economy, as heavily unionized manufacturing jobs continue to go overseas. Either we make the jobs of the new economy good ones, or we watch more and more Americans slip into poverty. Or as Jimmy John's Worker and IWW member Ayo Collins says,
"Service industry jobs are the future and our future needs to have quality jobs for working families with living wages, affordable healthcare, paid time off, consistent hours, and basic respect. It's time for change in America, we hope this will be a turning point for all workers."
So at a time when most progressive activists are focused on the upcoming midterm elections, let's not overlook what's happening in Minneapolis. And let's hope the Wobblies once again lead the way.

(This article was cross-posted at Daily Kos.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Democrats Start Speaking My Language

As we pull into the home stretch of the midterm campaigns, it's refreshing to hear the Democrats finally gaining their voice. Because let's be honest, their previous argument ("Things are bad, but they would have been much worse under Republicans."), though true, was pretty lame. That was never going to energize the base, bring the winning 2008 coalition back together, and drive voters to the polls.

Enter the new strategy: Cast the Republicans as puppets of megacorporations. What makes this an easy sell to voters is that everyone basically already knows it. We just don't talk about it much in campaigns.

For most of last week the message coming from Obama and national Democrats was about the huge amounts of corporate money being funneled into Republican attack ads and races. To sharpen it a little more, they pointed out that a lot of the campaign money being spent by the Chamber of Commerce, the premier lobbying group for big business, is coming directly from foreign corporations. Bangalore, Hyderabad, Frankfurt, Zurich. In a political system where corporate money knows no borders (but of course people still do), these are now centers of Republican power. The Chamber's response to all of this being exposed (essentially a shrug of the shoulders) makes it clear they think the bad PR is a small price to pay. It's well worth it if it means bringing even more money to bear upon smashing the progressive movement in America.

There's little the American people can do other than expose what's happening, make a lot of noise about it, and organize against it. And that's what Democrats from the president on down and progressives have been doing. I was happy to see last week throw their weight behind this. (Check out their satirical RepubliCorp, the result of the complete merger of the Republican Party and Multinational Corporations.) It's true there's little else we can do other than agitate, educate, and organize against the corporate tidal wave sweeping these elections, but that's all we'd need to do, if we did it right.

I'm glad to see Democrats following this line of attack. Make this election--and every election--a choice between Republicans, transnational corporations, and the rich vs. Democrats, workers, and the middle class. (Virtually all of the contradictions to that dichotomy would be cases where Democratic elites join Republican elites and big money against the peoples' interests. So for now, yes, the Democratic party is too "conservative" to make this "choice" 100% accurate. Still, it's pretty good.) The problem is, you can't simply pull this out every October of an even-numbered year to fire up your base for get-out-the-vote efforts. Democrats shouldn't just campaign like this; they should govern like this. This should be the basic organizing principle and the foundation of the Democratic coalition. One party offers more power for the powerful, excuses for why corporations should run roughshod over the Earth, and the other party offers a real chance at democracy, peace, and a sustainable future. This should not be merely campaign rhetoric. It should be part of our national subconscious.

That's all for now. I plan to write a couple more posts on the upcoming midterms, so stay tuned.

Monday, October 4, 2010

One Nation Fed Up With Corporate Power

I spent Saturday down on the National Mall at the One Nation Working Together rally. It was a beautiful Fall day, and it was refreshing to see a whole host of progressive organizations marching together for jobs, justice, and education. I spent most of my time walking around observing the crowd, reading signs, and carrying my own sign.

Two Observations

1. I am always pleasantly surprised at how progressive marches, rallies, and protests have the feeling of celebrations. Every big march I've been to has felt like a street festival. There are virtually always drums and dancing. This was the case even back in March when we were protesting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where the health insurance industry's biggest lobbyist group was meeting to plot strategy to block reform. Activism and joy mixed together. What does this say about the Left? Of course I have not been to many right-wing rallies, but I don't think they have this kind of thing going on. Is there dancing in the Tea Party, at an anti-immigrant rally, or a gun rights rally? I don't think I've ever seen this difference between Left and Right discussed.

2. The crowd at the One Nation rally was as ethnically diverse as America itself. Latino, Asian-American, White, African-American, Buddhist, secular, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. Not just individuals, but organizations were there representing each of these groups. This is what you get when your movement is based on the common good instead of on the wishes of only the most powerful ethnic group or of only the wealthy. It stands in stark contrast to the snow white Glenn Beck rally back in August and the right wing in general.

Proposing A Theme For The Progressive Movement

Here's me holding my homemade sign the day of the rally. (Face hidden so I won't be fired from my job.)
"Democracy vs. Corporations: Which side are YOU on?"
I chose this sign because I believe all the various progressive constituencies (labor, environmental groups, peace groups, civil rights organizations, etc.) need a unifying theme. Well, how about this? On virtually every pressing social issue we face, corporate power stands in the way of progress.

Big corporations keep wages low and working conditions poor.
Big corporations fund fake science to create public doubt about climate change.
Big corporations lobby for ever-increasing defense budgets and new imperial adventures.
Big corporations stoke racist feeling to keep the public divided and powerless.

In short, big corporations thwart true democracy by empowering the few over the many. Therefore, all progressive individuals and organizations should act as one anti-corporate power, pro-democracy force. That should be the underlying struggle that unites all of the Left's various causes.

More Cell Phone Pictures I Took

From the World War II memorial looking west toward the Lincoln Memorial:

On the south side of the reflecting pool. We were near groups from the NAACP and the UAW.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If Billionaires Really Want To End Poverty

I recently came across It's an effort by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to have the wealthiest Americans commit to giving more than half of their wealth to charity. There are currently about 40 billionaires who have made the pledge by posting an open letter on the website. I've been pleasantly surprised by some of the letters. Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser's letter stands out:

"I suppose I arrived at my charitable commitment largely through guilt. I recognized early on, that my good fortune was not due to superior personal character or initiative so much as it was to dumb luck. I was blessed to be born in an advanced society with caring parents. So, I had the advantage of both genetics (winning the "ovarian lottery") and upbringing. As I looked around at those who did not have these advantages, it became clear to me that I had a moral obligation to direct my resources to help right that balance..."

"As I addressed my charitable purposes, all of this seemed pretty clear: I was only peripherally responsible for my own good fortune; I was morally duty bound to help those left behind by the accident of birth; America's root principle was equal opportunity but we were far from achieving it..."

"I am entranced by Warren's and Bill's visionary appeal to those who have accumulated unconscionable resources, to dedicate at least half of them back to purposes more useful than dynastic perpetuation."

This is not exactly the "by my bootstraps" mantra that you hear from a lot of the American Right. In fact, I think I know conservatives who would cringe at reading this letter. It's strange how people who view themselves as upper middle class or perhaps soon-to-be rich are often more interested in justifying extreme inequality (blaming the poor for being poor) than are the super rich.

Kaiser's letter and others discuss focusing their philanthropy on the causes of poverty and not just the symptoms. What they mean is breaking the cycle of poverty for families and providing equal opportunity for those dealt a losing hand at birth. That really is good work. And its obvious from their letters that many of these billionaires are good people with good hearts. But aren't these "causes" of poverty actually symptoms of a deeper sickness?

The sickness I'm thinking of is the very social and economic system that makes billionaires possible. You cannot have a tiny billionaire class without a big, poor working class. There can be no "unconscionable wealth" without unconscionable poverty somewhere else.

What I would like to see from The Giving Pledge is a promise from America's billionaires to fund efforts for systemic change in a progressive and democratic direction: a more progressive tax system, a national living wage law, a maximum wage law for CEOs, an Economic Bill of Rights for all Americans, greater taxes on inherited wealth, public financing of elections, an end to "corporate personhood," enforcement of workers' rights to organize, a constitutional amendment for full employment. These are just a few ideas to start with, and they could supplement, not replace, the philanthropic causes and charities already supported in The Pledge. Think of them as gifts that keep on giving. The point is, we could end poverty in America. We know how to do it. We could build a country where no one is poor, but it would probably mean that no one is a billionaire either.