LA Progressive https://www.laprogressive.com Progressive Media Advocates Wed, 06 May 2015 02:00:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 What the PUC Is Going on Here? https://www.laprogressive.com/ref-rodriguez/ https://www.laprogressive.com/ref-rodriguez/#respond Wed, 06 May 2015 02:00:26 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112425 Ref RodriguezHans Johnson and Hector Huezo: Rodriguez’ name and PUC financial management practices have come under scrutiny by the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees local charter schools.

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Ref Rodriguez

Ref Rodriguez

Following the money in local politics is an important way of seeing which people, companies, and organized interests are investing in particular candidates. Closely examining contribution reports often provides insights into who may want to pull the strings of officials who make policy and spending decisions or influence those seeking to win an elected position in which they will make such decisions.

So it’s surprising to look at a contribution report that indicates a campaign may be playing the game of donor influence in reverse. In the contest for L.A. school board, in District 5, charter-school treasurer Ref Rodriguez is challenging former teacher and board member Bennett Kayser for the seat Kayser holds representing Eagle Rock, Highland Park, and several Eastside neighborhoods.

Rodriguez’ campaign disclosure filings with the City of Los Angeles show that several staffers of his charter school, Partnerships to Uplift Communities (PUC), gave small donations in December 2014, before a filing deadline at the end of the year. What is odd and striking about several of the donations is that they come from PUC staffers who first made a very small donation early in the month and then, in the last 3 days of the year, suddenly ponied up the largest donation allowed by campaign ethics laws. Six donated the maximum $1,100. One paid $850.

Did candidate Rodriguez, who serves as treasurer of PUC, exert any influence over who and how much employees of his charter school donated? Or did anyone else at PUC have a hand in this pattern of 7 donations that looks very unusual on its face?

It’s common for workers to give money to a boss who is running for office. Year-end contributions from PUC staffers to Rodriguez are not surprising as gestures of good will.

What is highly irregular about this pattern of donations to Rodriguez, however, is the job category of the PUC employees and the timing of their donations.

A janitor, a tutor, a parent organizer, two maintenance workers, a kitchen manager, and an office manager would not raise eyebrows for donating $25, $50, or even $100 to a candidate, as these seven PUC workers did within days of each other in mid-December 2014.

Rodriguez’ name and PUC financial management practices have come under scrutiny by the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees local charter schools.

But for those same workers then to shell out amounts of $1,075, $1,000, $975, and $800 almost immediately thereafter, and so uniformly, during the holiday season, at a time when the costs of gifts or family travel often hit middle-class families in the wallet, is certainly an unusual pattern.

What makes the pattern even more unusual is the fact that Rodriguez’ name and PUC financial management practices have come under scrutiny by the inspector general of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which oversees local charter schools.

An audit of PUC finances and procedures released last week by the district found “numerous fiscal oversight deficiencies” and “budgetary problems” at PUC. The problems were serious enough to risk “creating an environment where the potential for errors, improprieties, or other undesirable outcomes occurring is increased.” The audit determined that PUC was “not in compliance” with “its charter agreement.”

A separate audit involving PUC made headlines in the L.A. Times this past weekend, finding an “apparent conflict of interest” in how the charter-school group awarded a contract for millions of dollars in food service. For the past 5 years, according to the Times, a director at PUC benefited from a deal between PUC and Better 4 You Meals, a company described in PUC’s own documents as “one hundred percent owned” by her.

A little digging by The Times shows that the food-service company made the maximum contributions to Rodriguez’ primary and runoff campaigns, totaling $2,200. The Times report also notes that Rodriguez sits on PUC’s board of directors and “works part-time as its treasurer.”

Is the pattern of unusual end-of-year donations by PUC employees tied to financial “improprieties” at PUC? Were these end-of-year windfalls for Rodriguez’ campaign the earnest and very generous donations of loyal underlings touched by the holiday spirit and digging very deep, all at the same time? Or might PUC have used the names of its employees to mask company resources, or those of other large donors to Rodriguez, to bolster his contribution totals in the end-of-year 2014 report?

Rodriguez is competing in a May 19 runoff. Several of his supporters hope to secure a pro-charter-school majority on L.A.’s school board. When it comes to the unusual pattern of donations to Rodriguez’ campaign, local voters may not get any answers before the election. But in the interest of public integrity, at least the questions should be on the record.

Hans Johnson and Hector Huezo

 

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What About Fast-Tracking a Living Wage? https://www.laprogressive.com/time-for-living-wage/ https://www.laprogressive.com/time-for-living-wage/#respond Wed, 06 May 2015 01:26:33 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112419 Time for Living WageRosemary Jenkins: If we are ever to break the cycle of impoverished, unsafe, poorly educated, underemployed neighborhoods (about which so many of the better-off bitterly complain—particularly regarding “the tax burden”), we must act now.

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I just went through the excruciating experience of purchasing a new, old car (pre-owned). Since I always talk about the environment, I thought it was about time that I buy an energy-efficient car—hence a hybrid.

What I learned from the salespeople during the process, however, was discouraging and made me rethink a lot of things. A typical commission for an associate selling the “middle class” car is between $100 and $200. For each, selling only one car per week is unacceptable to the dealer regardless of the prevailing economic circumstances depressing sales.

If they want to keep their jobs, these agents are expected to sell about 10 cars a month. At even $200 per car, that is only $2000—well below minimum wage for a 40-hour week.

The alternative is to accept the minimum wage of a little better than $9 an hour (with the occasional bonus)—a result not even close to a living wage. Keep in mind, they don’t get a commission on top of the $9—it’s one or the other. It is rare to sell enough cars to make a living on commission alone.

Yes, this class of worker has long been maligned—earning (though perhaps undeservedly) a bad reputation. Maybe their woe-is-me stories are true, after all—being constantly under pressure to sell a car (with all the added bells and whistles). Even the unionization of dealer mechanics is a myth. Both categories of workers are barely eking out a living. The unions are a thing of the past.

For these workers and all the rest of non-salaried employees, the struggle goes on.

Last week, as part of the Raise the Wage Campaign here in Los Angeles, 15 low income-earning women fasted for 15 days asking—even demanding—a 15 dollar an hour minimum wage which equates to a living wage (here-and-now but insufficient for the future).

Drivers at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports continue to negotiate, demonstrate, and strike against recalcitrant drayage firms which still refuse to commit to a contract acceptable to both sides. The ask is to “re-hire” misclassified workers as employees with all rights and privileges that that status includes and then pay them what they deserve.

This week, constituencies have been speaking before City Council and County Supervisorial committees on this very urgent subject. There are exigent circumstances—now more than ever– that require paying our workers a wage that is commensurate with the current cost of living.

For me, $15 an hour (that which has already been granted to employees of our major hotels) must be authorized now—not years from now when the cost of living will make $15 worth far less. And any raise must be indexed after the date of implementation of new wage laws so that workers can keep up and not fall hopelessly behind all over again.

If we are ever to break the cycle of impoverished, unsafe, poorly educated, underemployed neighborhoods (about which so many of the better-off bitterly complain—particularly regarding “the tax burden”), we must act now.

If we are ever to break the cycle of impoverished, unsafe, poorly educated, underemployed neighborhoods (about which so many of the better-off bitterly complain—particularly regarding “the tax burden”), we must act now. It is the moral and ethical thing to do but it is also the most pragmatic path to take.

Small businesses often complain about the millstone of rising wages. Owners speak about their rags-to-riches start (and want our sympathy) and how from one store, they now have 10 and cannot possibly make ends meet if wages are raised as so many of us are asking.

Well, I have three answers for them:

  • Moo Cluck Moo in Michigan opened its doors paying $15 an hour and within months was so successful, it was in a position to open a second restaurant. This is only one example of the multitude of small businesses across the country that are following a competitive, successful formula which, at the same time, pays a living wage for their loyal employees. Remember, loyal, happy workers reduce costly turnover and increase the viability and profitability of a business.
  • No one should even consider opening a business if the owner cannot take proper care of its employees. Such an imperative should be considered an essential, necessary part of doing business. Hence, instead of owning 10 stores, the proprietor can open 9 and pay their workers what is their due!
  • Picture dominoes “falling” upward. The one at the end which is lying flat on its back is the bottom-income earner. As that tile rises, so do all the others. It’s not trickle down but trickle up. It stands to reason, then, that when people earn more, they spend more. The economy expands for all.

Being paid well helps workers regain the dignity and respect they have lost for too long over the years. Being paid well promotes the ability of these workers to become genuine stakeholders in the communities in which they live. Such workers, as a consequence, can imbue a sense of pride in their families, friends, and neighbors. The lure of crime dissipates while an attraction toward becoming positive, constructive contributors to society is engendered.

When that happens, we all win.

As Ted Kennedy repeatedly proclaimed, “The cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dreams shall never die!” We must take up that battle-cry and bring a living wage to every worker. No one who works a 40-hour week should have to scrape by and choose among food for their children, keeping the electricity on, and paying the rent.

Gwendolyn Brooks put it so well when she said what we must heed:

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,
Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong
Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

rosemary-jenkins-175x227These words cannot be empty entreaties. We simply can no longer tolerate such feelings of hopelessness, futility, and pain faced by far too many among us. We, as a Society, must never turn a blind eye on this crisis. We are better than that!

Rosemary Jenkins

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Liberals to Pope Francis: Amen! https://www.laprogressive.com/liberal-pope-francis/ https://www.laprogressive.com/liberal-pope-francis/#respond Wed, 06 May 2015 01:01:41 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112417 Pope Francis Visits AmericaBrent Budowsky: American liberalism is at the peak of its power during presidential elections, and nothing better dramatizes the resurgent liberal answer to the conservative challenge than the words and teachings of Pope Francis, the most admired public figure in America and throughout the world.

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Liberal Pope FrancisALast week Francis called for equal pay for women and said the lack of equal pay is scandalous. When Hillary Clinton saluted the pope’s call by saying “Amen!” she was speaking for women everywhere.

Last week, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences hosted a summit of religious, scientific and economic leaders that concluded with a powerful declaration that human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, one that will bring devastating ravages to the earth that is humanity’s moral duty to prevent.

The magnificent vision of this summit will almost certainly be followed by a historically transcendent papal encyclical on protecting the earth that the pope will issue before he addresses the United Nations and a joint session of Congress in September, as the presidential campaign shifts into high gear.

When Francis addresses Congress, he will be greeted by thunderous applause and standing ovations from members of Congress, led by liberals, which will echo across the nation and around the world.

It is impossible to overstate the spiritual, moral and political lift the teachings and good works of Francis are giving to progressives and liberals who champion many of his causes, as he champions many of ours.

When Francis condemns “trickle-down economics,” champions a financial system that is more just, calls for incomes that are more equal and prays for wealth that is more fairly shared, he repeats the teachings of Jesus and warms the hearts of liberals who battle for these causes across the borders of nations and generations of time.

When Francis calls for helping the poor and feeding the hungry, he gives voice to a decency and faith as old as the Sermon on the Mount and as new as those legislative battles seen on the floor of Congress; he lifts the spirit and strength of liberals as John Kennedy did when he said that “here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

When Francis calls for humane and decent treatment of immigrants, he champions a cause dear to liberals who honor the spirit of America that is embodied by Lady Liberty, whose sight Francis will behold when he visits New York this fall.

When Francis calls for humane and decent treatment of immigrants, he champions a cause dear to liberals who honor the spirit of America that is embodied by Lady Liberty, whose sight Francis will behold when he visits New York this fall.

When Francis praises the talks that aim to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons through diplomacy rather than war, when he calls for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, he brings to mind the liberal Democrat who remains the most popular president in more than five decades, who said we should never negotiate out of fear but that we should never fear to negotiate.

Conservatives will respond to this column by stating — and on this they will be right — that the pope also champions values dear to them, such as the right to life over the right to choice.

I do not suggest here that Francis takes the side of any liberal or any Democrat in any election. But I do suggest, and the facts do prove, that on almost all of the great issues that will define the elections in 2016 — finance, economics, equal pay, the environment, immigration, poverty and a preference for diplomacy over war when possible — it is unmistakably liberals who most often champion the causes that Francis challenges us to confront.

Brent BudowskyIn the sweeping vision of his uplifting faith, Francis follows in the footsteps of popes who came before him and calls for a renaissance of the spirit that is common to the great religions of the world and, as his towering popularity suggests, embodies the aspirations of voters that transcend the petty politics that demean our national discourse today.

It is time for a renaissance of the liberal spirit, a reawakening of the liberal movement and a revival of liberal leadership for the nation that gave the world presidents named Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Clinton.

Brent Budowsky
The Hill

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Protecting Bystanders’ Videos of Police Encounters https://www.laprogressive.com/videotaping-police-encounters/ https://www.laprogressive.com/videotaping-police-encounters/#respond Tue, 05 May 2015 22:20:56 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112391 Videotaping Police EncountersHector Villagra: With Mobile Justice CA, people can document police activity and directly place a check on police power: users are encouraged to submit a detailed incident report of a law enforcement interaction they saw or experienced, whether or not they recorded it.

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Videotaping Police EncountersIn the unrelenting stream of videos showing violent police encounters with citizens, none has carried more sheer power to stun the public than the shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Officer Michael Slager initially said Scott wrestled with him and tried to take his Taser. But the video told a disturbingly different story as it captured Slager firing eight times at a fleeing Scott, hitting him five times in the back. Slager was promptly charged with murder once the bystander video surfaced.

Recordings of police encounters have demonstrated their impact since home video caught Los Angeles Police officers beating Rodney King in March 1991. When George Holliday, who videotaped the King beating, offered the footage to the LAPD, an officer expressed no interest. If only that sergeant had known. Holliday then took his video to a television station.

Videos capturing the chokehold death of Eric Garner at the hands of a New York Police officer and the roadside beating of Marlene Pinnock by a California Highway Patrol officer are only some of the more recent examples of video that has proved critical in allowing the public to judge for itself whether police acted properly.

Though so many adults now have smartphones with video cameras, people exercise the right to record the police far less than they could or should. Some people don’t know the right exists. Others are intimidated by officers who mistakenly believe that recording a police encounter is unlawful. These officers may threaten to arrest them. The bystander who recorded the Scott shooting was so fearful of possible police retaliation that he considered erasing his video. Still others fear recording an encounter won’t make a difference because they assume police officers will confiscate their phone and delete the video.

The ACLU of California has moved to ease those concerns with the launch of Mobile Justice CA, a free smartphone application allowing people to record video that is sent straight to local ACLU offices. This transmission is key because it prevents anyone from grabbing the phone and deleting the only copy of the video. The app, available on Apple and Android phones, also enables the Android phone screen to lock as soon as the video stops recording to protect that footage if the phone is confiscated.

The app enables a user to receive notifications if someone nearby is using it to record. It also sends such notifications to others when someone is recording with the app, bringing more witnesses to the scene. Last, the app contains Know Your Rights information, educating individuals about their rights, including the right to record the police. We hope that these functions, individually and collectively, provide reassurance against officers who seek to intimidate or discourage people from exercising their rights.

With Mobile Justice CA, people can document police activity and directly place a check on police power: users are encouraged to submit a detailed incident report of a law enforcement interaction they saw or experienced, whether or not they recorded it.

The app provides a needed tool for accountability. Often incidents of serious misconduct go unreported because people don’t feel that they will be believed in the game of “he said, she said” that often results. Worse yet, other incidents go without remedy because the only person who can contradict the officer’s version is dead. A federal judge has described such encounters as the game of “we said, he’s dead.” With Mobile Justice CA, the technology empowers the people to document police activity and directly place a check on police power: users are encouraged to submit a detailed incident report of a law enforcement interaction they saw or experienced, whether or not they recorded it.

Video technology may also serve as a practical deterrent. In a recent study, police officers wearing body cameras, for example, were shown to be more than 50 percent less likely to use force. This makes sense. People behave better when they know they are being watched. By multiplying the number of cameras that can be trained on police, the app promises to deter bad behavior and improve police interactions with the public.

The courts have decided for decades that the right to gather information that can be made publicly available about government officials serves a key purpose of the First Amendment. Such activity promotes the free discussion of government affairs. This right is particularly critical when applied to the conduct of law enforcement officers and their extraordinary powers to detain, search, arrest or use force – powers that may be misused to deprive people of their rights, liberties or their very lives. Public scrutiny of the police guards against the abuse of power and the miscarriage of justice. The people’s well-established First Amendment right to record police conduct is a cornerstone of that scrutiny.

Though the national debate around police abuse has naturally focused attention on the app’s value as a check on law enforcement abuse – whether by police officers, sheriff’s deputies, border patrol, or other officers – we know the app can be used more broadly to record or document other abuses.

hector villagraThe ACLU of California was able to develop the app thanks to the generosity of Susan Adelman and Claudio Llanos.

The ACLU of California is a collaboration of the three ACLU affiliates in the state—the ACLU of Northern California, the ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

Hector Villagra
ACLU of Southern California

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Sorry Kids: We Were Too Stupid to Deal with Global Warming https://www.laprogressive.com/ignoring-global-warming/ https://www.laprogressive.com/ignoring-global-warming/#respond Tue, 05 May 2015 21:18:08 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112346 Ignoring Global WarmingWalter Moss: There is little chance that any Republican nominee will put dealing with climate change at the center of his/her agenda, but we progressives should insure that at least the Democratic nominee does.

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Ignoring Global WarmingHitler’s troops spreading like a plague across Europe. A Cuban Missile Crisis that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear war. These were real crises. Today we face another: Global Warming. But you would hardly know it judging by the ho-hum response of most of us humans. We are more concerned with our own personal problems, Facebook pages, cute cat pictures on YouTube, or latest media attention-grabber. We are like the proverbial frog in the pot of water: as long as the warming around us occurs gradually we’ll do nothing until it’s too late.

In 1940, as Hitler’s troops advanced, a young John Kennedy wrote Why England Slept to help explain why England was not more alarmed as Hitler rearmed Germany and prepared for war. Today a similar book might be written entitled Why We Slept While Our Planet Warmed.

A number of quotes from writer Kurt Vonnegut come to mind:

“Is there nothing about the United States of my youth, aside from youth itself, that I miss sorely now? There is one thing I miss so much that I can hardly stand it, which is freedom from the certain knowledge that human beings will very soon have made this moist, blue-green planet uninhabitable by human beings.”

“Common man has at long last got himself so far out of gear with nature and his environment that he is beginning to see the shape of extinction, whether he recognizes it as such or not.”

“We probably could have saved ourselves, but we were too damned lazy to try very hard, and too damned cheap.”

Relevant to this crisis, I just finished reading T. C. Boyle’s A Friend of the Earth (2000). Chronologically this novel sits almost squarely in the middle of Boyle’s two dozen books of fiction, the first in 1979 and the last (The Harder They Come) this year. As many readers of this blog probably know, Boyle is a Californian (on the faculty of USC since 1978), and most of his Friend novel is set in his state, bouncing back and forth from the years 2025 and 2026 to the 1980s and 1990s. In 2025-2026 his California and much of the rest of the world is an ecological nightmare. He writes:

Global warming. I remember the time when people debated not only the fact of it but the consequence. It did not sound so bad, on the face of it, to someone from Winnipeg, Grand Forks or Sakhalin Island. The greenhouse effect, they called it. And what are greenhouses but pleasant, warm, nurturing places, where you can grow sago palms and hydroponic tomatoes during the deep-freeze of the winter? But that’s not how it is at all. No, it’s like leaving your car in the parking lot in the sun all day with the windows rolled up and then climbing in and discovering they’ve been sealed shut—and the doors too. . . . That’s how it is, and that’s why for the next six months it’s going to get so hot the Pulchris River will evaporate and rise back up into the sky like a ghost in a long trailing shroud and all this muck will be baked to the texture of concrete. Global warming. It’s a fact.

Many animal species also no longer exist: “Alaskan snow crab (now extinct, like everything else that swims or crawls in the sea, except maybe zebra mussels) . . . . The cheetahs, the cape buffalo, rhinos and elephants are gone.” Deforestation, bad weather, and human carelessness have destroyed many of the world’s trees: “Ceylon [Sri Lanka], last I heard, was 100 percent deforested.”

On the cover of my hardcover edition just under the title A Friend of the Earth in small print is “fiction?” We are still ten years away from 2025, and yet too much of the novel no longer seems like fiction. Although global warming is not the sole cause of every climate phenomenon mentioned below, it is at least part of each of them and part of our overall pattern of environmental neglect. Just a few sources from this past month:

The Nation, April 16, “Is California’s Drought Part of a Global Water Crisis?”

The unfolding catastrophe of California’s now four year-old drought and the depletion of its aquifers is not just a crisis for the state and the region surrounding it; it’s part of a global pattern of groundwater loss that NASA has been tracking for years. . . . As climate change persists and the planet’s arid and semi-arid regions become even drier, we can expect this global phenomenon to become even more acute, with a whole host of perilous consequences: violent conflict, seismic activity, stream depletion, sinking land surfaces, and the monopolization of water by those with financial means. 

The New York Times, May 3, “The End of California?”

Looking to the future, there is also the grim prospect that this dry spell is only the start of a “megadrought,” made worse by climate change. California has only about one year of water supply left in its reservoirs. What if the endless days without rain become endless years?

The New York Times, April 27, “New Study Links Weather Extremes to Global Warming”

The Washington Post, April 30, “The 10 most polluted cities in the U.S.” The top five are all in California.

“Many cities, especially in the West, had record numbers of days with high short-term particle pollution,” Janice Nolen, the {American Lung] association’s vice president for national policy and advocacy, told the Palm Springs Desert Sun. California, in particular, scored low on air quality due in part to the drought, which causes warmer weather that results in increased levels of ozone or smog.

“Heat is one of the ingredients that is key to making ozone,” Nolen told CBS.

“As we are seeing temperatures increase across the nation, it means that we have a harder time cleaning up ozone,” she added.

“Overall, we have made great improvements but we do know we are still facing challenges, especially challenges created by climate change and some of the impacts warmer climates have on creating more ozone and particle pollution.” Nolen said.

The New York Times, April 30, “Study Finds Global Warming as Threat to 1 in 6 Species”

In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, Mark Urban, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut, also found that as the planet warms in the future, species will disappear at an accelerating rate.

“We have the choice,” he said in an interview. “The world can decide where on that curve they want the future Earth to be.”

As dire as Dr. Urban’s conclusions are, other experts said the real toll may turn out to be even worse. The number of extinctions “may well be two to three times higher,” said John J. Wiens, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona.

The most popular book written on global warming and climate change that has appeared during the past year is Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. She recognizes the crisis we face. “We know that if we continue on our current path of allowing emissions to rise year after year, climate change will change everything about our world. Major cities will very likely drown, ancient cultures will be swallowed by the seas, and there is a very high chance that our children will spend a great deal of their lives fleeing and recovering from vicious storms and extreme droughts.” She quotes a 2012 World Bank report, “We’re on track for a 4°C warmer world [by this century’s end] marked by extreme heat waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”

Klein believes that “climate change has never received the crisis treatment from our leaders,” and “we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe—and would benefit the vast majority— are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets.” One thinks of the power of the billionaire oil tycoons the Koch brothers, about whom Senator Bernie Sanders states: “the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires are calling the shots and are pulling the strings of the Republican Party.”

Klein also asks, “Why isn’t climate change at the center of the progressive agenda, the burning basis for demanding a robust and reinvented commons, rather than an often forgotten footnote?” And she proposes that progressives “articulate not just an alternative set of policy proposals but an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis—embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.” She suggests that environmentalists join with social justice activists and other progressives to create a mass movement, one based not just on limited political goals but on a compelling moral vision.

Writing of past progressive causes like the abolition of slavery, Klein writes that “the same understanding about the need to assert the intrinsic value of life is at the heart of all major progressive victories, from universal suffrage to universal health care.” Progressive reformers “dreamed in public, showed humanity a better version of itself, modeled different values in their own behavior, and in the process liberated the political imagination and rapidly altered the sense of what was possible. They were also unafraid of the language of morality—to give the pragmatic cost/benefit arguments a rest and speak of right and wrong, of love and indignation.”

“We will not win the battle for a stable climate,” Klein adds, “by trying to beat the bean counters at their own game—arguing, for instance, that it is more cost-effective to invest in emission reduction now than disaster response later. We will win by asserting that such calculations are morally monstrous, since they imply that there is an acceptable price for allowing entire countries to disappear, for leaving untold millions to die on parched land, for depriving today’s children of their right to live in a world teeming with the wonders and beauties of creation.”

walter-mossIn a post earlier this year, “Senator Inhofe and the Global Warming Deniers,” I mentioned the popularity of global-warming denial among Republicans. A Pew Research Center survey in late 2014 indicated that only 9 percent of tea party Republicans believed that human-caused global warming was occurring—contrasted with some 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists who hold this belief.

The already-begun campaigning for the U.S. 2016 presidential election offers us progressives a wonderful opportunity to refocus the spotlight where Klein believes it belongs—on climate change. The entrance into the race for the Democratic nomination by Sen. Bernie Sanders is an especially welcome occurrence. For as he has said, “not to discuss climate change when the scientific community tells of that we have a short window in which to address it; not to discuss these and other issues would, I think, be horrendous for this country. Absolutely horrendous.” And Sanders’ position on a whole host of other issues qualifies him as spokesperson for a mass-movement progressive coalition.

walter mossThere is little chance that any Republican nominee will put dealing with climate change at the center of his/her agenda, but we progressives should insure that at least the Democratic nominee does. If Sanders entrance into the race does nothing else, it should force Hilary Clinton or whoever gains the nomination to make dealing with global warming a top priority. If we progressives insist that any presidential candidate we support does that—really does that in deeds and not just words—then perhaps we will not have to say to our children and grandchildren, “Sorry Kids: We Were Too Selfish and/or Stupid to Deal with Global Warming.”

Walter Moss

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Walmart’s ‘Plumbing Problem’ https://www.laprogressive.com/walmart-plumbing-problem/ https://www.laprogressive.com/walmart-plumbing-problem/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 15:13:00 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112339 Walmart Plumbing ProblemBobbi Murray: The employees of two of the shut-down stores — in Pico Rivera and Tulsa — have been active in organizing efforts by OUR Walmart to improve working conditions.

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René Bobadilla had just started lunch on April 13 when he got a call from Walmart’s government relations office.

“I almost choked,” he says.

Bobadilla is the city manager of Pico Rivera and the government relations rep had just informed him that the local Walmart Supercenter was shutting down within hours and possibly for six months — due to a plumbing issue.

That meant 530 workers cut at Pico Rivera’s second-largest employer and a severe budget hit to the San Gabriel Valley city of 63,000. Sales tax from the Supercenter accounts for some 10 percent of city revenues — an estimated $1.4 million a year.

The nature of the problem is a mystery.

“They haven’t told us specifically — is it their main, do they have water coming out of their drain? I don’t know,” Bobadilla says.

The Pico Rivera store is one of five Walmart stores around the country suddenly closed due to vaguely defined plumbing problems. The others are in Midland, TX — where more than 400 employees got the news on a Tuesday afternoon that they no longer had a job on Wednesday — along with Livingston TX, Brandon FL and Tulsa, OK.

The United Food and Commercial Workers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board asking that the 2,200 layoffs at the five stores be rehired. As it is, if and when the stores re-open, workers must re-apply for their former positions, with no guarantees of a job.

The employees of two of the shut-down stores — in Pico Rivera and Tulsa — have been active in organizing efforts by OUR Walmart to improve working conditions.

The employees of two of the shut-down stores — in Pico Rivera and Tulsa — have been active in organizing efforts by OUR Walmart to improve working conditions. (The OUR Walmart workers are not organizing for union recognition.) Key to their organizing is opposition to retaliation in the form of reduced hours, firings and demotions when workers speak out.

Our attempts to reach Walmart for comment were unsuccessful.

Evelin Cruz was a department manager for 11 years at the Pico Rivera store. She began organizing in 2011. Associates at the store went on strike in 2012 to bring attention to split-shift scheduling, part-time work and benefits issues, and conducted “countless actions and delegations,” she says.

“The organizing efforts at the stores are “important not only for Walmart but for all retailers,” Cruz says. “Nobody has the guts to stand up to them.”

Cruz describes pop-up picket lines during last November’s Black Friday sale to inform shoppers of Walmart’s labor practices. “If looks could kill, the management team would have killed all of us,” she says.

She was fired, she says, when her employer accused her of purposefully withholding information about a chemical involved in a shipment of photo supplies. She has been unemployed since November, 2014.

Walmart has characterized the recent store closings as a way to better serve customers when the plumbing problems are repaired.

“That is a way to do it — you make it a business decision,” says labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein, who wrote a landmark book on Walmart business practices.

Labor law says a company can’t retaliate against a concerted organizing activity. “This is a way to mask what you are doing. “Walmart has kept stores open in the face of local storms and bad weather, he says. “When they want to do it it’s ‘All hands on deck!’”

Lichtenstein notes that Walmart has more than 4,000 stores. Shutting down five is not a big deal. “They’re always opening 100 and shutting down 100.”

bobbi murrayIf they want to quell employee rights organizing at the more active Walmart stores, it may not hurt the corporation to close three that are not involved in workers rights organizing. Those stores may even be losing money, Lichtenstein notes.

Lichtenstein says Walmart recognizes these organizing campaigns “as a proto-union. They are willing to spend a lot of money to stop it.”

Bobbi Murray

Repubished with permission from Capital & Main.

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Bernie Sanders’s Socialism as American as Apple Pie https://www.laprogressive.com/bernie-sanders-socialist/ https://www.laprogressive.com/bernie-sanders-socialist/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 14:48:16 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112335 Bernie Sanders SocialistPeter Dreier: Long deployed by the right as an epithet, his form of left-wing populism is as American as apple pie.

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Now that Bernie Sanders has entered the contest for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, Americans are going to hear a lot about socialism, because the 73-year-old U.S. senator from Vermont describes himself as a “democratic socialist.”

“Ever since I was a kid I never liked to see people without money or connections get put down or pushed around,” Sanders explained in making his announcement. “When I came to Congress I tried to be a voice for people who did not have a voice—the elderly, the children, the sick, and the poor. And that is what I will be doing as a candidate for president.”

We can expect the right-wing echo chamber—including Fox News hosts, Tea Party politicians, and Rush Limbaugh—to attack Sanders for espousing an ideology that they’ll likely describe as foreign, European, and un-American.

But Sanders’s views are in sync with a longstanding American socialist tradition. Throughout our history, some of the nation’s most influential activists and thinkers, such as Jane Addams, John Dewey, Helen Keller, W.E.B. DuBois, Albert Einstein, Walter Reuther, Martin Luther King, and Gloria Steinem, embraced socialism.

Of course, America’s right-wingers say there’s already a socialist in the White House.

Of course, America’s right-wingers say there’s already a socialist in the White House. For the past seven years, Barack Obama’s opponents—the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the right-wing blogosphere, and conservative media gurus like Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh—labeled anything Obama proposed, including his modest health-care reforms and his efforts to restore regulations on Wall Street, as “socialism.”

In March 2009, two months after Obama took office, the ultra-conservativeNational Review put a picture of the new president on its cover over the headline, “Our Socialist Future.” In 2010, Newt Gingrich authored To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine. Stanley Kurtz, a regular contributor to conservative publications and frequent guest on Fox News, published Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism.  These are only a few of the many right-wingers fulminating against Obama’s alleged socialist views.

Obama joked about this in his recent speech at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner.  “I like Bernie. Bernie’s an interesting guy,” said Obama, referring to Sanders. “Apparently, some folks want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House. We could get a third Obama term after all.”

President Franklin Roosevelt faced similar allegations. His conservative enemies, including some members of Congress, consistently called him a socialist. In a speech defending his New Deal goals, FDR said: “A few timid people, who fear progress, will try to give you new and strange names for what we are doing. Sometimes they will call it ‘Fascism,’ sometimes ‘Communism,’ sometimes ‘Regimentation,’ sometimes ‘Socialism’. But, in so doing, they are trying to make very complex and theoretical something that is really very simple and very practical.”

When big business and conservatives attacked FDR as a radical, FDR boasted: “They are unanimous in their hate for me. And I welcome their hatred.”

Labeling someone a “socialist” has long been conservatives’ convenient way of attacking anyone who espouses even liberal views. In Sanders’s case, however, the label fits. He is a socialist. But don’t expect him to call for government ownership of banks and drug companies. His views fall squarely within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, similar to those of his Senate colleagues Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Barbara Boxer of California and the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota.

In fact, times have changed. Most Americans, even if they’re not socialists themselves, don’t have the same knee-jerk, vitriolic hostility to the idea that was widespread during the hysteria of the Cold War.

A Pew Research Center survey  recently found that while only 31 percent of Americans had a positive reaction to the word “socialism,” barely 50 percent of Americans had a positive view of capitalism, and 40 percent had a negative response. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.

The Pew poll found that young Americans are about equally divided in their attitudes toward socialism and capitalism. Among 18-to-29 year olds, 49 percent had a positive view of socialism, while 47 percent had a positive view of capitalism. Similarly, only 43 percent had a negative view of socialism, compared with 47 percent who had a negative view of capitalism.

“Many young people associate capitalism with inequality, big corporations, and poverty,” Joseph Schwartz, a Temple University political scientist, told me in an interview.

“During the Cold War, socialism was identified with Communism, which meant totalitarianism and dictatorship. It wasn’t a very positive image,” said Schwartz. “But things have changed since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. If people now in their 20s and 30s have any image of socialism at all, it is probably northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia. They know that northern Europe has less poverty, more equality, and more social mobility. And they know that Canada, which has a strong socialist party [called the New Democratic Party], is a more equal and humane society than the United States.”

Dick Flacks, a sociologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, thinks that right-wing attacks on Obama may have backfired, especially among the Millennial generation, which gave Obama 66 percent of its vote in 2008, and 60 percent four years later.

“Young people generally like Obama, even if they are somewhat disappointed in what he’s been able to accomplish in the face of such strong Republican opposition in Congress,” said Flacks. “So when Republicans and conservative radio talk show jocks attack Obama as a socialist, many young people react by saying, ‘Well, then maybe socialism can’t be that bad,’ and it makes them at least skeptical of those who demonize the word socialism.”

Still, such lukewarm feelings toward capitalism haven’t led to a groundswell of socialist activism. Few Americans consider themselves socialists. But a majority share Sanders’s outrage about the growing concentration of wealth and income, excessive executive compensation and corporate profits side-by-side with the epidemic of layoffs and foreclosures, and the undue political influence of billionaires like the Koch brothers, the Walton family, and Rupert Murdoch.

The Pew Research Center pollsters found that most Americans (77 percent)—including a majority (53 percent) of Republicans—agreed that “there is too much power in the hands of a few rich people and corporations.” (Not surprisingly, 83 percent of 18-to-29 year olds shared that view.) Pew also discovered that 61 percent of Americans believed that “the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.” A significant majority (57 percent) thought that wealthy people don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

IN LIGHT OF THOSE VIEWS, Sanders believes he can tap into Americans’ growing frustrations with our political and economic troubles and offer bold ideas to address our declining standard of living and the role of big money in politics.

He made a calculated decision to run in the Democratic primaries rather than as an independent third party candidate. He does not want to be seen as another Ralph Nader, whose third party campaign in 2000 took crucial votes away from Democratic nominee Al Gore and helped elect George W. Bush. By running in the Democratic primaries, Sanders will be able to debate Hillary Clinton on national television and gain wide exposure for his populist views about the undue political influence of what he calls America’s corporate “plutocracy.”

Sanders hopes to appeal to liberal Democrats who are dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street, her reluctance to support strong government regulations to protect consumers, workers, and the environmental from irresponsible corporations, higher taxes on the super-rich, and her support for U.S. military adventures overseas.

The Vermont senator pledged to run a positive campaign. The former mayor of Burlington (1981 to 1989), who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1990 and the Senate in 2006, said that he has never run a negative ad in any of his campaigns.

As an organized political force, America’s socialist movement won’t be much help.

Sanders won’t have anything close to Clinton’s war chest to pay for TV ads, consultants, and campaign staff. The major liberal constituency groups—labor unions, environmental groups, and organizations promoting the rights of women and LGBT people—are unlikely to pour big bucks into his campaign.As an organized political force, America’s socialist movement won’t be much help. Democratic Socialists of America, the nation’s largest socialist organization, has only 6,500 dues-paying members.

But within a day after Sanders announced his candidacy, more than 100,000 people signed up as supporters on Sanders’s website; 35,000 made contributions, and the candidate raised $1.5 million. That’s more than Senators Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul raised in their campaigns first 24 hours.

SANDERS KNOWS that his candidacy is a long shot. But his campaign will certainly help inject his progressive ideas into the public debate, influence public opinion and media coverage, and push Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, to the left. In this, Sanders is part of America’s long-standing radical tradition.  Since the early 1900s, few American socialists have been elected to office, but their ideas—and the movements they’ve helped organize—have been influential nevertheless.

When the Socialist Party was formed in 1901, many Americans were outraged by the widening gap between rich and poor, and the behavior of corporate robber barons who were exploiting workers, gouging consumers, and corrupting politics with their money. Workers were organizing unions. Farmers joined forces in the Populist movement to leash the power of banks, railroads and utility companies. Progressive reformers fought for child labor laws, against slum housing and in favor of women’s suffrage.

Socialists played influential roles in all these Progressive Era movements and gained many new converts. Among them were labor leader Eugene V. Debs, philosopher and educator John Dewey, Francis Bellamy (the Protestant minister from Boston who wrote the “Pledge of Allegiance” in 1892), settlement house founder and peace activist Jane Addams, novelist Jack London, sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, poet Katherine Lee Bates (who penned “America the Beautiful”), journalist Walter Lippmann, public health pioneer Alice Hamilton, working women’s rights activist Florence Kelley, crusading attorney Clarence Darrow, feminist writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman,  Margaret Sanger (founder of Planned Parenthood), and “Big Bill” Haywood (leader of the miners’ union). Helen Keller (1880-1968) is best known for overcoming her blindness, but she was also a lifelong radicaL. She connected the mistreatment of the blind to the oppression of workers, women, and other groups, leading her to embrace socialism, feminism, and pacifism.

Other prominent socialists included muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens (who exposed municipal corruption in his articles in McClure’s magazine, collected in The Shame of the Cities), writer Upton Sinclair (whose 1906 novelThe Jungle, about the harsh conditions among Chicago’s meatpacking workers, led to the enactment of the first consumer protection law, the Meat Inspection Act), and Lewis Hine, whose photographs exposed the brutal conditions faced by child laborers to an outraged public. Two socialist newspapers—the Appeal to Reason (based in Kansas) and the Jewish Daily Forward (based in New York)—each reached at least a quarter of a million readers around the country. New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, and other cities had their own weekly socialist papers.

In 1912, Debs, the Socialists’ presidential candidate, won more than 900,000 votes, 6 percent of the total. He would have garnered more, but two other candidates—Democrat Woodrow Wilson and Progressive Party candidate (and former president) Theodore Roosevelt—stole some of the Socialists’ thunder, diverting the votes of workers, women, and consumers with promises of such progressive reforms as women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and workers’ right to organize unions.

That year, Milwaukee voters elected Socialist Victor Berger to Congress; two years later, he was joined by another Socialist, Meyer London of New York. Berger sponsored bills providing the abolition of child labor, self-government for the District of Columbia, a system of public works for relief of the unemployed, and federal ownership of the railroads, the withdrawal  of federal troops from the Mexican border, and women’s suffrage. Berger also sponsored the first bill to create “old age pensions.” To promote the Socialists’ campaign for direct election of U.S. Senators (who were then chosen by state legislators), Berger called for the abolition of the upper chamber, which he and others labeled the “millionaires’ club.”

At the Socialist Party’s high point in 1912, about 1,200 party members held public office in 340 cities, including 79 mayors in cities such as Milwaukee, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Reading, and Schenectady. In office, they pushed for public ownership of utilities and transportation facilities; the expansion of parks, libraries, playgrounds, and other services; a living wage for workers, and a friendlier attitude toward unions, especially in time of strikes.

Milwaukee was the center of American socialism in the early 1900s. Dominated by the brewery industry, the city was home to many Polish, German, and other immigrant workers who made up the movement’s rank and file. In 1910 Milwaukee voters elected Emil Seidel, a former patternmaker, as their mayor, gave Socialists a majority of the seats on the city council and the county board, and selected Socialists for the school board and as city treasurer, city attorney, comptroller, and two civil judgeships.

In office, the Socialists expanded Milwaukee’s parks and library system and improved the public schools.

In office, the Socialists expanded Milwaukee’s parks and library system and improved the public schools. They granted municipal employees an eight-hour day. They adopted tough factory and building regulations. They reined in police brutality against striking workers and improved working conditions for rank-and-file cops. They improved the harbor, built municipal housing, and sponsored public markets. The Socialists had their own local newspaper and sponsored carnivals, picnics, singing societies, and even Sunday schools. Under pressure from city officials, the local railway and electricity companies—which operated with municipal licenses—reduced their rates.

Grateful for these programs, Milwaukee voters kept Socialists in office. They elected Daniel Hoan as mayor from 1916 to 1940, under whom Milwaukee was so frequently cited for its clean, efficient management practices that they boastfully called themselves “sewer socialists.” Milwaukee voters elected another Socialist, Frank Zeidler, as their mayor in 1948, and, remarkably, he remained in office for 12 years at the height of the Cold War.

In 1932, in the depths of the Depression, Norman Thomas, a Protestant minister, ran for president on a Socialist Party platform that called for old-age pensions, public works projects, a more progressive income tax, unemployment insurance, relief for farmers, subsidized housing for working families, a shorter workweek, and the nationalization of banks and basic industries. Thomas figured that in such desperate times, his message would appeal to voters. But many voters who may have agreed with Thomas’s views did not want to “waste” their vote on a Socialist who had no chance to win and who might even take enough votes away from the Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to keep Republican Herbert Hoover in office. Thomas had little regard for FDR, whom he considered a wealthy dilettante and a lackluster governor of New York. He believed FDR’s 1932 platform offered few specifics except vague promises of a “New Deal.”

Thomas did not expect to win, but he was disappointed that while FDR garnered 22.8 million votes (57 percent), he had to settle for 884,781 (2 percent). When friends expressed delight that FDR was carrying out some of the Socialist platform, Thomas responded that it was being carried out “on a stretcher.” He viewed the New Deal as patching, rather than fixing, a broken system.

Following the success of his popular muckraking book, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair moved to California and ran on the Socialist Party ticket for the House of Representatives (1920),  the Senate (1922), and for governor (1926 and 1930), winning few votes. In 1934, Sinclair figured he might have more influence running for office as a Democrat. He wrote a 64-page pamphlet outlining his economic plan—I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty—and entered the California Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Much to Sinclair’s surprise, his pamphlet became a bestseller across California. His campaign turned into a popular grassroots movement. Thousands of people volunteered for his campaign, organizing End Poverty in California (EPIC) clubs across the state. The campaign’s weekly newspaper, theEPIC News, reached a circulation of nearly one million by primary day in August 1934. The campaign allowed Sinclair to present his socialist ideas as commonsense solutions to California’s harsh economic conditions.

Sinclair shocked California’s political establishment (and himself) by winning the Democratic primary. Fearing a Sinclair victory, California’s powerful business groups joined forces and mobilized an expensive and effective dirty-tricks campaign against him. On election day, Sinclair got 37 percent of the vote—twice the total for any Democrat in the state’s history. Sinclair’s ideas pushed the New Deal to the left. After the Democrats won a landslide midterm election in Congress that year, FDR launched the so-called Second New Deal, including Social Security, major public works programs, and the National Labor Relations Act, which gave workers the right to unionize.

DURING THE RED SCARE of the 1950s, American socialism fell on hard times.  Few Americans distinguished between the European social welfare systems and the communism of the Soviet Union or China. Across the nation, universities, labor unions, public schools, movie studios, and other major institutions purged themselves of their left-wingers.

peter-dreierBut some socialists keep alive their radical critique of American militarism, big business, and racial injustice. In a 1961 article for Mademoiselle magazine titled “Who Are the Student Boat-Rockers?”, Tom Hayden, a leader of the burgeoning student New Left, listed the three people over 30 whom young radicals most admired. All were socialists —  Norman Thomas (a principled anti-war radical and labor ally who headed the Socialist Party), C. Wright Mills (the maverick Columbia University sociologist whose many books,  includingThe Power Elite and The Causes of World War Three,  exposed America’s power structure and warned about the dangers of the Cold War arms race), and Michael Harrington (whose book, The Other America, inspired President Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson to wage a war on poverty).

As the civil rights movement gained momentum, Southern racists and right-wing groups like the John Birch Society insisted that the movement was led by Communists, in whose ranks they included Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.  On that count, they were wrong; King was no Communist. But he was a socialist.  Growing up in a solidly middle-class family in Atlanta, King saw the widespread human suffering caused by the Depression, particularly in the black community. In 1950, while in graduate school, he wrote an essay describing the “anti-capitalistic feelings” he experienced as a result of seeing unemployed people standing in breadlines. In 1964, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, King observed that the United States could learn much from Scandinavian “democratic socialism.” He began talking openly about the need to confront “class issues,” which he described as “the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.”

“There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism,” King told his staff in 1966.

Since then, only a handful of elected officials and prominent public figures have identified themselves as socialists, but their radical views continue to influence public opinion.

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

A few years ago, when a small group of New York radicals took over Zuccotti Park and the Occupy Wall Street movement quickly spread to cities and small town around the country, Frank Luntz, an influential GOP pollster, spoke at a Republican Governors Association meeting.  He warned: “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death. They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

Luntz  offered tips for fighting back and framing the issues that the Occupiers have raised. For example, he urged Republican politicians to avoid using the word “capitalism.”

peter dreier“I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’” Luntz said. “The public still prefers capitalism to socialism, but they think capitalism is immoral. And if we’re seen as defenders of ‘Wall Street, we’ve got a problem.”

On that point, at least, Bernie Sanders and Frank Luntz agree.

Peter Dreier

Republished from The American Prospect with the author’s permission.

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After Baltimore: Soul Searching in Another America https://www.laprogressive.com/obama-and-baltimore/ https://www.laprogressive.com/obama-and-baltimore/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 20:19:18 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112326 Obama and BaltimoreRJ Eskow: Police officers in urban America, like correctional officers, are themselves often struggling to escape economic hardship.

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When asked about Baltimore last week, President Obama said this:

“… if we think that we’re just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise (in our inner cities), without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities … then we’re not gonna solve this problem.”

He added:

“We can’t just leave this to the police. I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching. I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching. But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching.”

Soul Searching

The president is right. But how, exactly, does a nation go about searching its soul in times like these?

Perhaps it begins by reflecting on his own brilliant words from the 2004 Democratic Convention – the words that set him on the path to the White House. “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America,” Barack Obama said that night, “there’s the United States of America.”

That summer evening seems so long ago now.

On an aspirational level, the president may have been right. But on the streets where human beings eat and breathe and live and die, another reality prevails. When young black males are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white males, then at least in one sense they are living in a very different country from that of their white counterparts.

When we ask America to search its soul, which America are we talking about?

Personal and State Violence

Violence, like the nation itself, takes different forms. The events in Baltimore were manifestations of personal violence, amplified by crowd behavior. They were triggered by state violence, represented by the unrestrained excesses of police officers. That form of violence seems to have been especially severe in Baltimore. (The Baltimore Sun ran an excellent investigation into police abuses last year.)

Police/community conflict may be exacerbated by the influence of the for-profit prison movement, which the Washington Post recently called “the biggest lobby nobody’s talking about.” The beds in for-profit prisons must be filled, sometimes by contract with the state.

And filled they are. By the age of 28, according to a detailed study of young Baltimore residents, 49 percent of African-American males have been convicted of a crime – and have a much harder time finding work than their white peers.

Nowadays the police aren’t just “keeping the peace” in America’s inner cities; whether by design or not, they’re also recruiting clientele for the prison industry.

The Thin Blue-Collar Line

It would be a mistake to assume that the problem begins and ends with police aggression. There are class issues at work here too. We often forget that the thin blue line is a blue-collar line. Police officers of all races come from yet another of our many Americas: that nation of working-class people who have been struggling to make ends meet on a daily basis, even as their prospects for the future have dimmed.

As employment and wage growth lagged for the middle class, the police/prison economy became one of the few expanding avenues for employment. It’s no wonder that correctional employees rallied against prison closings last year in upstate New York. (My home town, Utica N.Y., lost many of its jobs and nearly half its population after the boom years of the 20th century, and many of its jobs to offshoring; today Mid-State Correctional Facility is one of the few major employers in the area.)

Police officers in urban America, like correctional officers, are themselves often struggling to escape economic hardship.  

Police officers in urban America, like correctional officers, are themselves often struggling to escape economic hardship. Once hired, they are assigned to departments that are too often over-militarized and disconnected from the communities they are supposed to serve. In many cases that’s given rise to a “dysfunctional police culture” that promotes an ethic of “officer survival” rather than a higher sense of purpose, idealism and service.

If too many police officers focus on self-preservation over duty, that reflects the failure of our society to inspire them with a sense of mission. But their mission becomes harder to define when the communities they serve are experiencing a deeper form of violence on an everyday basis: a structural violence that dooms them to repeating cycles of poverty, inequality, poor health, disability and an early death.

No Escape

That kind of violence is beyond the reach of any weapon. But structural violence is real – and it kills. Some basic statistics: The life expectancy of a baby born in Baltimore’s poorest neighborhood is nearly 20 years shorter than that of a baby born in its wealthiest areas. Disability and infant mortality statistics are grim. Fifteen Baltimore neighborhoods have lower life expectancies than North Korea.

North Korea.

One in every four Baltimore residents lives below the poverty line. In recent weeks even water, one of life’s most basic elements, has been denied to its inner-city residents. City officials sent shutoff notices to as many as 25,000 residents last month, some for amounts as low as $250 (and without any reported action against the large businesses who have failed to pay their Baltimore water bills). This was done even as Baltimore County was raising its water rates by 15 percent last month.

Denying water to city residents poses a threat to public health. It is also, according to the United Nations, a violation of “the most basic human rights of residents.” (That observation was made when Detroit began shutting off water to low-income residents, a process which is scheduled to resume this month.)

Structural violence is the deepest and deadliest form of violence in our country, and it is a byproduct of inequality. Until it is addressed, simmering tensions may continue to erupt into open conflicts like Baltimore’s – or worse.

The wealthiest among us seem to understand this. As economist Robert Johnson told usrecently – and said to a “packed session” last year at the gathering of the financial elite in Davos – some of them are already planning their escapes. As Johnson said at Davos: “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway.”

But most Americans – whether white or black, young or old, gay or straight – don’t have that luxury. For us, for better or worse, there is no escape from our shared future. In that sense, at least, the president was right in 2004: there is only one America.

Invisible Struggle

You won’t see structural violence on the television news, because it isn’t the stuff of headlines. Johan Galtung, the Norwegian sociologist and mathematician who invented the field of conflict resolution, explained why in a 1969 paper:

“Personal violence represents change and dynamism – not only ripples on waves, but waves on otherwise tranquil waters. Structural violence is silent, it does not show – it is essentially static, it is the tranquil waters.”

When he spoke of Baltimore the other day, President Obama predicted that “we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.”

rj eskowHe is almost certainly right. But the president did not offer a clear vision for ending the structural failures that have generated this cycle of conflict. That vision is urgently needed. The time for soul searching is now.

The curfew has been lifted in Baltimore. But the poverty remains, and so does the death and injury it brings. The waters are tranquil tonight. But across the many Americas, our common future is hidden in shadows.

RJ Eskow

Republished with permission from Campaign for America’s Future

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Vladimir Putin: Ideologue, Idealist, or Opportunist? https://www.laprogressive.com/president-vladimir-putin/ https://www.laprogressive.com/president-vladimir-putin/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 19:49:51 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112319 President Vladimir PutinView image | gettyimages.com oes President Putin have any deeply held values or is he just a political opportunist willing to sacrifice any principles to political expediency? This is a question often asked about politicians—and not just in Russia. But it is a simplistic one. Most politicians have at least a modicum of principles and […]

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Does President Putin have any deeply held values or is he just a political opportunist willing to sacrifice any principles to political expediency? This is a question often asked about politicians—and not just in Russia. But it is a simplistic one. Most politicians have at least a modicum of principles and are also somewhat opportunistic. Putin is no exception.

Let’s first look at the principles and values side of the mix. One of the best books on Putin, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin (expanded ed., 2015), by Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy states: “The first key to Vladimir Putin’s personality is his view of himself as a man of the state, his identity as a statist. . . . The ideas he expresses about the state, as well as the society subordinated to it, belong to a clearly identifiable and long-established body of Russian conservative political thought.” The authors also write: “Russian history, the Russian language, and religion—are also themes that Putin repeatedly embraced in the 2000s,” and they are “core elements in Russian conservative political thought in both the 1990s and the 2000s.” And they cite a more detailed 2012 examination of Putin’s “liberal-conservativism” philosophy by Canadian professor Paul Robinson, who contends that “this ideology” has significant roots stretching back to individuals like Tsar Nicholas II’s prime minister (1906-1911) Peter Stolypin.

Like many conservatives, Putin often speaks of values. In his first major political manifesto in late December 1999, just before assuming the presidency, he wrote that he was “against the restoration of an official state ideology in Russia in any form. There should be no forced civil accord in a democratic Russia. Social accord can only be voluntary. That is why it is so important to achieve social accord on such basic issues as the aims, values and orientations of development.” He also spoke of “the traditional values of Russians.” As Hill and Gaddy note, he claimed that “the Russian state lost its status when its people were divided, when Russians lost sight of the common values that united them and distinguished them from all others.” These values included “patriotism, collectivism, solidarity, derzhavnost’— the belief that Russia is destined always to be a great power (derzhava) exerting its influence abroad—”and statism, the belief that “the individual and society are, and must be, subordinate to the state and its interests.”

There is little evidence to support the charge that he really doesn’t believe any of the rhetoric he spouts about values. 

Putin’s annual presidential addresses to the Federal Assembly often mention values. He has delivered these speeches since 2000, except for the four years beginning in 2008 when Dmitry Medvedev served as president and Putin as prime minister. In his year 2000 address he said, “We have had and continue to have common values. Values which join us and allow us to call ourselves a single people.”

In the three addresses he has given since resuming the presidency we see many more mentions of values. In 2012, he stated “We must wholeheartedly support the institutions that are the carriers of traditional values.” He expressed understanding for why Russians in the post-Soviet period “discarded all ideological slogans of the previous era” and instead stressed private gain and interests more. But like many nineteenth-century Russian conservatives who thought the West overstressed private gain and material interests, he warned that “working for one’s own interests has its limits,” and stated that “it is in civil responsibility and patriotism” that should unite Russians. He suggested that in rejecting Soviet collectivism and earlier Russian communalism in favor of Western individualism, “spiritual values” that support “mutual assistance” had been lost.

In his December 2013 address he declared that 2014 was to “be a year of enlightenment” and spoke of “the all-encompassing, unifying role of Russian culture, history and language for our multi-ethnic population.” He went on to say that Russian schools need “to help our nation’s citizens form their identity, absorbing the nation’s values, history and traditions.” He also asserted that “today, many nations are revising their moral values and ethical norms,” destroying “traditional values,” accepting “without question the equality of good and evil.”

Shortly after this speech, American conservative Pat Buchanan wrote “Is Putin One of Us?” and suggested that in “his stance as a defender of traditional values” Putin is very much in tune with U. S. conservatives.  Buchanan added, “Peoples all over the world, claims Putin, are supporting Russia’s ‘defense of traditional values’ against a ‘so-called tolerance’ that is ‘genderless and infertile.’ . . . Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind.” More recently, columnist William Pfaff has written that “the resemblance of President Putin’s ambitions for his Russia to those of the neoconservatives in the contemporary United States bear a striking formal resemblance.”

In his December 2014 address Putin said that his government’s “priorities are healthy families and a healthy nation, the traditional values which we inherited from our forefathers, combined with a focus on the future, stability as a vital condition of development and progress, respect for other nations and states, and the guaranteed security of Russia and the protection of its legitimate interests.” And he once again referred to values when he added, “Conscientious work, private property, the freedom of enterprise—these are the same kind of fundamental conservative values as patriotism, and respect for the history, traditions, and culture of one’s country.”

In remarks occasioned by Easter 2015, Putin praised the Russian Orthodox Church for reviving “traditional moral values” and encouraging patriotism and “ethnic and religious harmony.”

In mid-April 2015 the ISEPR Foundation, an organization “close to the Kremlin,” held a forum in Kaliningrad to discuss “Russia and the West: the dialog on values in the civilization field.” According to the invitation I received, the forum was to contain three sections:

  • History and retrospective vision. The origins and essence of Western conservatism”;
  • Current trends. The support for traditional values in the West and in Russia”; and
  • Perspective vision. Traditions and future image.”

In the third section topics to be addressed included “Western civilization in context of traditional values crisis,” and “Russia as an emerging source of values system: analysis, evaluation and perspectives.” As is clear, the forum agenda certainly suggests that the foundation wishes foreign conservatives to consider the possibility—as Buchanan does—that their views on values have more in common with those of Putin than with those Buchanan brands as militant secularists, whether living in the United States or elsewhere. (See here for a brief report on the forum.)

Thus far we have seen that Putin does hold some basic conservative beliefs and is willing to use various means to trumpet them. There is little evidence to support the charge that he really doesn’t believe any of the rhetoric he spouts about values. But he is also opportunistic enough to stress and exploit the universal appeal of his conservative principles. And here we return to the other part of his political makeup—opportunism, defined as “the taking of opportunities as and when they arise, regardless of planning or principle.” His opportunism in regard to domestic and foreign policies does not imply that he has no principles or values, simply that he does not worry much about them in pursuing his goals. But his conservative Russian nationalism remains intact.

Again our approach fits in with the viewpoint of Hill and Gaddy. They write not only that “Putin was and remains a restorationist, a conservative reformer. He was not, and is not, a revolutionary,” but also that “Putin is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. In setting up his system of governance, he did not follow any specific model that can be captured by a description in the abstract. . . . It is not an intentionally designed, well-formulated system. Rather, it is piecemeal and ad hoc. . . . It has evolved to fit the circumstances.” Putin has “not tried to twist some fixed orthodoxy of ideas or ideology to pursue his goals.”

walter-mossRegarding Putin’s foreign policy, the authors believe that Putin thinks the United States and NATO are hostile to him and trying to undermine his influence both domestically and in border countries such as Georgia and Ukraine. Possible NATO expansion to these two countries, following the earlier expansion into the former Soviet territories of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, has been one of his main fears. To fight back against such a threat he has been prepared to use all the weapons at his disposal including extensive propaganda. What Hill and Gaddy say above about his system of governance also applies to his foreign policy: “it is piecemeal and ad hoc. . . . It has evolved to fit the circumstances.” But it also has a single goal—to strengthen Russia’s power and status, especially in the territories that were once part of the USSR.

A recent special issue of Johnson’s Russia List, one of the Internet’s most valuable blogs dealing with things Russian, devoted 38 articles to the topic of Russian disinformation, which included propaganda and the “information wars” going on between Russia and Western media. Putin’s emphasis on conservative values is one of the tools in this propaganda war. Typical of the articles was one that asked, “Is America losing the Information War?” It declared that Western media, including Radio Free Europe and Voice of America, need to emphasize more that the United States and other Western democracies are attempting to create “a truly just society in which all people are treated fairly without regard to the color of their skin, or cultural background, their religious beliefs or gender preferences,” and that “when people honestly see things differently, they can express their views openly, even offensively, without fear of arrest or censure.”

In a previous essay I agreed with President Obama’s contention in The Audacity of Hope, “that Democrats are wrong to run away from a debate about values” and that the question of values should be at “the heart of our politics, the cornerstone of any meaningful debate about . . . policies.” Furthermore, I argued that “the Right’s attacks during the [U.S.] culture wars have demonstrated more moral flaws than have the responses of the Left.” Similarly, I think that the values espoused by Putin are inferior to Western liberal values such as the importance of human rights, including for gays and for dissenters, and tolerance. Especially unsound is Putin’s statist position that (as Hill and Gaddy express it) “the individual and society are, and must be, subordinate to the state and its interests.” Without attempting to impose liberal Western values on other peoples and recognizing that different countries have varying traditions and needs, Western progressives should welcome any values debate with those defending those of Mr. Putin. Such a debate might also help both sides clarify their values and the extent to which they are living up to them or just proclaiming them mainly for opportunistic purposes.

walter mossAlthough Putin is not an ideologue but more of an opportunist, he still possesses some values. To what extent are Western leaders different? And, as I have explored previously, which values are most worthwhile in the political arena? Should Russian and Western political values differ or was Mikhail Gorbachev more correct when in 1988 he stressed, “politics, too, should be guided by the primacy of universal human values”?

Walter Moss

Republished from History News Network with the author’s permission.

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It’s Simple. It’s Rovian. And It’s Back https://www.laprogressive.com/karl-rove/ https://www.laprogressive.com/karl-rove/#respond Mon, 04 May 2015 19:34:22 +0000 https://www.laprogressive.com/?p=112316 Karl RoveLarry Wines: Expect the coming week to bring more unchallenged repetitions by GOP operatives of the latest Rovian assertion - totally devoid of details - that America "can't afford another four years of these failed liberal economic programs policies."

This is a post from LA Progressive Read the original post: It’s Simple. It’s Rovian. And It’s Back

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Karl RoveYou don’t see him. But Karl Rove is back.

“We can’t afford another four years of these failed liberal economic programs.” – quote from columnist and conservative commentator S.E. Cupp on CNN Sunday morning.

Cupp was repeating (without attributing) the gaggle of GOP pundits, operatives, candidates, and lackeys who launched the phrase late last week.

As usual, the media was in a headlong rush to disseminate, unchallenged, the latest Republican sound byte, without noting for viewers that the same quote suddenly came from multiple, prominent GOPers.

Meanwhile, on “Meet the Press,” Chuck Todd was busily tearing into Baltimore’s Democratic mayor trying, repeatedly, to get her to admit some kind of failure. While that stood out as attack dog journalism, it wasn’t unfair. It just looked unfair because the media gives so many free rides to others. Like Marco Rubio and John Boehner and Ted Cruz and John Kasich and Jeb Bush and S.E. Cupp, all asserting without citing a source or specifics that “We can’t afford another four years of these failed liberal economic programs.” Some said “policies” instead of “programs.”

Two things here.

First, WHAT “failed liberal economic programs/policies”? The only thing that’s failed is the congress that won’t approve ANY economic programs.

Of course, Congress rushes to approve free rides and bailouts for the rich, to eliminate inheritance taxes on unearned gifts over $5 million, to tax wage earners at a higher rate than people who use money to make money, and all while failing to raise the minimum wage.

Congress even instituted an unprecedented guarantee to the banksters that gives them a get-out-jail-free card and frees them to gamble all they want with the economy. Now, the arrogant money manipulators can spin the roulette wheel using other people’s money, and do it with no consequences. If they win, they keep all the loot – for themselves. If they lose, congress fixed it so that you and I must bail them out (again). It’s now guaranteed. Because they’re not just too big to fail. They’re too rich to fail.

So much for having the money to rebuild or replace collapsing bridges, or to reinvigorate the space program and convert defense jobs to building spacecraft to explore the solar system. So much for revitalizing public housing for poor people in cities, where gentrification is moving the affluent into renovated high-rises and upping real estate values that price longtime residents out of their rented dwellings. So much for fixing what’s wrong with the schools after they’ve sustained themselves on starvation diets all this century. So much for a big WPA-style infrastructure/public works program to re-employ the still unemployed and underemployed who lost their futures and never recovered after the Bushies’ parting gift of wrecking the economy. Because now it isn’t just sacred austerity. Now the money will all go to cover gambling losses of the uber-rich.

And that long list of needed things we never got, and can’t afford? Those all sound a lot like “liberal economic programs.” But “failed”? The failure is, congress never enacted any of them.

We said we would look at two things. Here’s the other one.

Karl Rove. As “Bush’s brain,” and throughout his big-buck career as a GOP strategist, the man has never been more than a one-trick pony. His tactic – and it’s what we are seeing yet again – is quite simple:

  • Identify your candidate’s, or your party’s, worst vulnerability.
  • Launch a preemptive strike on your opponent, claiming that very weakness is what’s wrong with candidate or party.
  • Along the way, make the opposition into “the OTHER,” a pariah whose very ideas are heresy, too dangerous to allow anyone to hear them, too onerous to allow them to be shared, and get the self-righteous ignorance working for you.

It’s so simplistic that it sounds ridiculous. Except it always works. It always robs the one who is getting attacked, denying them the chance to mount a good defense or even a detailed, factual counterattack to show that it’s really the attacker’s – i.e., Rove’s guy’s weakness. Why?

Because either:

  • the media will, dependably, dismisses the defender’s attempted comeback as, “Oh, so he’s just gonna say, ‘So’s your old man,’ huh?” and it gets no examination, and no traction. Or,
  • the victim becomes an ant under a magnifying glass, baking in the sun, and appears to fail to respond. Think of John Kerry in ’04, when he was “swift boated,” robbing him of his military record while G.W. Bush got a free ride and no scrutiny of his avoidance of Vietnam.

If you doubt that it’s so simple, just watch. You’ll see it over and over with these Republicans. Whether or not Rove is there, the tactic is there, because it worked, and they all learned it from him.

Meanwhile,

Even though we haven’t seen any liberal economic policies or programs, because of an intransigent, obstructionist, constipated congress that doesn’t even fiddle while Rome burns because they can’t tune the strings.

Besides, they don’t have time to do more than “borrow” each other’s sound byte; don’t dare hit them with “gotcha” questions that will bring a Palinesque counterattack while they’re chasing Koch brothers money.

They’re the Real America. They’re morally superior. They’re entitled. They’re the ones who ask the questions and make simplistic accusations. And crazy accusations.

And it’s all based on that Rovian model. Who cares how much it costs taxpayers for them to do it? It works. So we’ll keep spending more money than has ever been spent on any investigation in our history, with the sequel to the sequel to the sequel, Benghazi Four. More money than was spent investigating Watergate, or Pearl Harbor, or the Warren Commission’s investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy, or the causes of Vietnam, or the Pentagon Papers, or Three Mile Island, or the Challenger explosion, or the Oklahoma City bombing, or Waco, or all the school shootings combined, or 9-11, or the piratical plundering of Wall Street and economic collapse caused by that sacking of Rome.

larry-wines-informalBecause that’s the single-paragraph handbook that comes with Rove’s Rule: transference and obfuscation, which you keep rolling into distraction, and you spend all the available public money doing it so there’s nothing left for “them” to spend on anything you don’t like. Or on investigating YOU.

Larry Wines

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