Wednesday, June 06, 2012 3:33 PM
There’s been a lot of talk
today about what Scott Walker’s victory means for progressives. There are a lot
of potential takeaways. The Citizens
United decision allowed Walker
outspend his opponent, mostly from out-of-state donors and independent
expenditures. Unlike the RNC, national Democrats (and the president) were conspicuously absent during the race, indicating that Obama may be unwilling
to take a stand on workers’ rights during an election year. Turnout
yesterday was unusually
high for Wisconsin,
which says a lot about how contentious the election really was. And other
Republican governors, who have watched the race closely, may now be planning
similar policies in their own states.
All that may spell big
trouble for workers across the country. But there’s another lesson we may be
forgetting: organized labor’s campaign against Walker was its largest and most significant
in decades, and Tuesday’s results are only a small part of that. Historically, elections have been a pretty minor part of most social movements—especially
labor. And activists in Wisconsin
know this history very well. When the state legislature cut
off citizen testimony on Walker’s
budget proposal early last year, their response was not a petition or an
official complaint, but an occupation. As Allison Kilkenny points
out in TheNation,
Alienation from the traditional leftist institutions was the cause of the
original occupation of Wisconsin's
state capitol, followed by a slew of occupations all across the country, and
the world. Burnt by the Republicans and abandoned by the Democrats, protesters
turned to nontraditional forms of protest, including camping in public spaces
and refusing to leave.
Until the recall campaign
officially began several months later, those nontraditional forms of protest
made up most of the progressive response to Walker. Citizens sent sarcastic
valentines to the governor’s office, closed
public schools, and revealed Walker’s
baser intentions in other creative
But by far the most significant action was the occupation of Wisconsin’s state
capitol, which connected the struggle both to Arab Spring demonstrations, and
later to the Occupy movement it helped inspire. There's also its
connection with labor history—it was hardly the first time citizens occupied
the capitol in Madison.
In 1936, more than a hundred WPA workers and their families camped
out at the state house to protest low wages and inconsistent pay. That
year, sit-down strikes (“occupations” in 2012-speak) erupted in dozens of
factories, plants, and workshops across the country. The next year, there were nearly
Then as now, a stalled recovery threatened a double-dip recession, and many
Americans wanted to see more action from a divided government in Washington. (This was
less than a year after the Supreme Court declared the National Recovery Administration unconstitutional.) Wisconsin even had a
leftwing governor from a radical third party, but like many people throughout
the country, the WPA workers still chose to work outside the system. Last year
we saw a similar (and somewhat smaller) wave of organizing and action in dozens
of cities, including Madison,
and it’s hard to know exactly where all of that will end up.
The recall in Wisconsin gives us some
idea of that, but not a complete picture. The Tea Party is still clearly an
important political force, and many ordinary people remain suspicious of the
intentions and tactics of organized labor. But the situation is far from black
and white. Last night’s numbers make it easy to claim a resounding defeat for
organized labor, but the last 16 months seem to show the opposite. It would be
a shame, for instance, if the recall vote overshadowed recent labor victories,
like when Ohioans voted overwhelmingly to restore
collective bargaining last November. And let’s not forget that Dems
took the Wisconsin senate yesterday in another recall, which may create
some hurdles for Walker’s
more conservative planks.
But even more than that, with
or without a successful recall, the fight in Wisconsin was a significant step forward for
organized labor. Unions have been steadily losing strength for decades, and its
mobilization in Wisconsin
was pretty unprecedented. Writes
For those who see democracy as a spectator sport with clearly defined
seasons that finish on Election Day, the Wisconsin
results are just depressing. But for those who recognize the distance Wisconsin… and other
states… have come since the Republicans won just about everything in 2010, the
recall story is instructive.
Walker’s February 2011 assault on union rights provoked some of the largest
mass demonstrations in modern labor history, protests that anticipated the
“Occupy” phenomenon with a three-week takeover of the state Capitol and
universal slogan “Blame Wall Street Not the Workers,” protests that both drew
inspiration from and served to inspire the global kicking up against austerity.
And that kicking up is far from over. As
Peter Dreier points out in Common Dreams,
Walker spent 88 percent of the money
in yesterday’s recall to get 53 percent of the vote. In 2010, when Walker faced the same
opponent for the same office, his campaign spending was a small
fraction of what it was this year. In Wisconsin, as in many other parts of the
world, austerity may require much more convincing than it did two years ago. In
spite of the recall results, Wisconsin
may represent less an end than a beginning.
Institute on Money in State Politics.
Image by WisPolitics.com,
licensed under Creative
Tuesday, August 16, 2011 4:34 PM
This article originally appeared at
Marin Independent Journal
The negative trends in the nation's capital are mostly due to extreme GOP ideologues in Congress. But they've been enabled by too many Democrats who keep giving ground while Republican leaders refuse to give an inch.
Many a political truth can be spoken in jest, and that was the case with a mock news item that appeared in The Onion last week.
“A day after signing legislation that raised the government debt ceiling and authorized steep budget cuts,” the satirical magazine reported, “President Obama thanked Democrats as well as Democrats for their willingness to make tough, but necessary, concessions during negotiations.”
The Onion went on: “Obama added that while it may look ugly at times, politics is about Democrats giving up what they want, as well as Democrats giving up what they want, until an agreement can ultimately be reached.”
Compromise is one thing, but capitulation is another — especially when core principles of decency and fairness are at stake.
We must stand our ground on behalf of seniors, children, the disabled and other vulnerable Americans. All the rhetoric about “shared sacrifice” rings hollow when the vast majority of us are being sacrificed to the financial benefit of big banks and large corporations.
There are plenty of sensible and effective ways to reduce the deficit—including a transaction tax on Wall Street, closure of tax loopholes for big companies, an end to the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy and a major reduction in the military budget.
Instead, the bipartisan dealmakers in Washington are slashing the safety net that's essential for vast numbers of Americans.
One of the most dangerous aspects of the recent budget deal is that it explicitly sets the stage for future actions to undermine Medicare. This scenario strikes at the heart of precious values. I'm committed to defending Social Security and Medicare on the campaign trail and as a member of Congress.
I fully agree with Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's explanation for why she voted against the new budget deal.
Woolsey pointed out that the deal “puts virtually the entire burden on working families and the middle class while asking nothing from billionaires, millionaires and companies that send jobs overseas.”
In Washington, job one should be creating jobs. And that won't happen by continuing to give tax cuts to the wealthy while imposing benefit cuts on the rest of us.
Corporations are sitting on huge quantities of cash. But rather than expanding the workforce, they're hoarding the money—and stretching workers in the name of “productivity”—while often posting record profits.
Three years ago I wrote a column opposing the Wall Street bank bailout then being debated in Congress. Unfortunately, my concerns were borne out by later events.
Banks took the bailout money and largely used it to buy other banks—instead of making loans to small businesses and helping homeowners keep their homes.
With the new budget deal, Congress again acted in the financial interests of the rich instead of the vast majority of us.
With chronic unemployment at historic highs and personal savings in the tank, fewer and fewer Americans have the buying power that can pull the economy out of its deep ravine.
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe in the vital lessons of the New Deal. Many millions of good jobs must be created—and that will require well-funded federal jobs programs on a large scale.
Trickle-down economics, relying on the tender mercies of powerful corporations, won't get it done.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011 12:09 PM
Andy Serwer has some bad news for Barack Obama supporters out there: The economy’s not going to heal enough in the next year for him to ride a wave of recovery back into the White House the way Ronald Reagan did in 1984. “Reagan won re-election in a landslide, telling voters that it was ‘morning in America,’” Sewer writes at The American Prospect. “Unfortunately for President Barack Obama, the American economy has been stuck at midnight for years.”
Many factors are at play here. The recession was worse than predicted, so the economic stimulus didn’t do enough, and now we have a Congress that is doing absolutely nothing about the jobs crisis in the country, but are instead bickering about things that for previous presidents went unquestioned. Serwer points out that many of the cuts in the debt ceiling deal will come down the road and will therefore not affect the Obama reelection campaign, but the deal, according to economist Chad Stone, “is a modest hit to GDP in an economy that’s already facing substantial headwinds,” and therefore is certainly not going to help matters.
Barring a surprise uptick in the economy in the final months leading up to the 2012 election, the outlook, in Serwer’s view, looks pretty grim for the Obama camp:
Even assuming Republican intransigence and obstruction have given Obama the most challenging political landscape ever for a Democratic president, what matters is whether voters feel like he did what he was elected to do: Bring the American economy back from the brink.
Though I, like many out there, am not so keen on many of the decisions Obama has made in office, I can’t imagine some of the alternatives. Honestly, Serwer’s bleak article scares the hell out of me.
Source: The American Prospect
Image by Mike Licht, licensed under Creative Commons
Monday, July 11, 2011 12:19 PM
Last week I wrote a post about what Alison Kilkenny at The Nation has called “the era of the one-sided compromise,” questioning whether the Republican party, both at the state and national levels, could actually compromise on a budget deal that included some sort of new tax revenue. My conclusion was no, they wouldn’t be able to. Which is exactly what played out over the weekend, as Jonathan Cohn writes at The New Republic:
As you have probably heard by now, House Speaker John Boehner on Saturday evening informed President Obama that he was no longer interested in pursuing a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. It was a major turning point in the debate. For the past week, Obama has made clear that he hoped to use ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling to put in place a massive, potentially historic deal to reorder the nation’s spending priorities – a deal that would reduce deficits by as much as $4 trillion cumulatively over the next decade.
This abandonment by Boehner has left Cohn, like so many of us, wondering, “Does anything matter to Republicans more than protecting tax cuts for the very wealthy?” Cohn points out that any “grand bargain” that could have been reached as a result of the current debate would “reflect Republican priorities far more than Democratic ones,” including cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In other words, the stuff that matters to one side would be represented far more than the stuff that matters to the other. Still, the Republicans can’t stomach the idea of the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest expiring next year.
Cohn sees Boehner’s willingness to negotiate as genuine and writes, “For what it's worth, I’ve actually gained some respect for Boehner…[he] was genuinely interested in negotiating a deal even if that meant agreeing to some compromises, albeit pretty modest ones from my perspective.” However, he acknowledges that Boehner’s not really in charge of the House Republican caucus. “The lunatics are,” he writes. “And it looks like they’ve won.”
And while the consensus seems to be shifting somewhat that the Republicans’ inability to touch their no-new-taxes sacred cow is actually the culprit for negotiations breaking down, Jonathan Chait recognizes a failure on the part of the media in reporting on this issue:
The other thing to add is that this demonstrates a fact that media centrists have failed to grasp for months: the impediment to a balanced (or even heavily rightward-tilting) deficit plan isn't "both parties." It's Republicans. Democrats may not like the idea of cutting entitlements, but their objections don't come close to matching the GOP's theological opposition to tax increases.
Source: The New Republic
Image by Enter The Story, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 07, 2011 9:29 AM
As we near the end of the first week of the Minnesota* government shutdown and talks on the national stage continue in a countdown to August 2, a trend—both local and national—is bubbling to the surface. While one party continues to give concession after concession, the other party clings to a single economic factor that is rarely, outside of the party, touted as the most important among a myriad of economic factors. Taxes. While Democrats have gone against the wishes of many of the party’s far-left constituents and agreed to cuts in the name of balancing budgets, the Republican party refuses to thwart the extremists among them to reach anything that might actually be called a compromise.
In a scathing article in the New York TimesDavid Brooks takes on a Republican party that he sees as abnormal in its inability to seize an opportunity to “take advantage of this amazing moment” where “it is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.”
He goes on:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative….
[T]o members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.
Writing for The Nation, Allison Kilkenny sees this as “the era of the one-sided compromise, where millionaires are taxed at rock bottom rates while the working poor have their pensions stolen from them.” “The national calls for ‘shared sacrifice’ during these times of austerity,” Kilkenny begins, “presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.” Yet, a somewhat insignificant tax increase among the wealthy (from 35 to 39 percent) is not, argues Kilkenny, in the same ballpark as “significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority.” Focusing on Governor Christie of New Jersey, Kilkenny writes of the “one-sided compromise”:
The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked—shocked!—that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back.
In another article, Kilkenny concludes, “it seems like state governments operate in one of two modes: paralysis or aggressive punishment of the poor.” Currently the Minnesota state government is operating within the former mode. Here, too, we find the one-sided compromise at play. As Doug Grow writes in MinnPost, “The depth of the problem Gov. Mark Dayton faces grows more evident each day: He cares about governing; the Republican majority he is trying to deal with cares only about winning.” (See “psychological protest” above.) In a side-by-side comparison of the Dayton and Republican-controlled legislature’s budgets from Minnesota Public Radio reporter Catherine Richert, we see mostly cuts and reductions in the “Common Ground” category, including the following: “Cut education department funding by 5%”; “Eliminate scholarships for high achieving, low-income students”; “Reduce grants for child protection and mental health services”; and “Cuts to job training funding.” (Emphasis added.) When we get to the Taxes row, the “Common Ground” column is left blank.
Despite the widely-reported notion that these government stalemates are a product of the people electing officials that fall into one of two camps—no-new-tax-Republicans or tax-and-spend-Democrats—it seems to me that that’s not the case at all. While Democratic leaders continue to disappoint the far-left among them (and not just on economic issues; see, too, the Afghan and Iraq wars, health care, Bradley Manning, et al.), Republican leaders refuse to put aside for a moment a few core beliefs in the interest of anything resembling an actual compromise. As Brooks writes, “The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary. This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.” But since they need to remain steadfast for the most die hard among them, they won’t even entertain that much. And still, some see the exact opposite. The St. Paul Pioneer Press, in the days leading up to the Minnesota government shut down, wrote,
Rather than work out differences and sign off on large portions of the budget on which agreement is within reach, Dayton has as of this writing refused to get deals done and preserve operations in those parts of government. This is not compromise. This is hostage taking.
I’m not sure how you debate, much less compromise, in such an atmosphere. But it seems that if most economists say a balanced budget must come from a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, including increased taxes, then a party that simply says “no” to one of those two is not compromising, while the party that agrees to at least some from both avenues is closer to achieving what that word—compromise—actually means.
Of course, the fact that I can only write about this in terms of two parties is probably really at the heart of all of our state and national problems.
*Utne Reader is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Source: The New York Times, The Nation, MinnPost, Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Image by GovernorDayton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 4:22 PM
How can you tell if people are Republicans or a Democrats? Just look at their faces. In a study published on the science journal PLOS One, participants were able to correctly identify the political leanings of both politicians and college seniors, just by looking at photos their faces. “Republicans were perceived as more powerful than Democrats,” according to the researchers. “Similarly,” the study found that when it comes to personalities, “as individual targets were perceived to be warmer, they were more likely to be perceived as Democrats.” The researchers concluded that people used stereotypes to identify Republicans and Democrats, and often, those stereotypes worked.
(Thanks, Barking Up the Wrong Tree.)
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 11:55 AM
With President Obama in office, some of the Bush era’s most vociferous antiwar organizations have become peculiarly complacent, Justin Raimondo observes in the American Conservative. Raimondo singles out MoveOn.org, Americans United for Change, and VoteVets, among others for not calling the planned escalation of U.S. presence in Afghanistan what it is: no different than the war policy of the Bush era.
“Like the neoconized Republican cadre that hooted down Ron Paul as he rose to challenge the Bush foreign policy during the GOP presidential primary debates, a similarly brainwashed Democratic base is now cheerleading their leader and shouting down dissenters even as this White House repeats—and enlarges—the mistakes of the previous occupant,” Raimondo writes.
Source: American Conservative
Wednesday, October 29, 2008 1:40 PM
There’s a steady feed of anxiety buzzing across the airwaves and blogosphere about Barack Obama falling short on Election Day.
First, there’s the infomercial gamble.
Then there’s the incessant stream of bad news about voter suppression. And the potential of a Florida redux.
And where to begin with the polls? Nate Silver’s soothing graphics and heady analysis can’t even stave the fear that the polls are way off. The New Republic and Washington Post have some scary bedtime reading on that front. But what about the impact of Obama’s perceived lead? Will it keep would-be Obama voters at home? Will it convince hard lefters to go Green Party? How anyone in a post-Bush v. Gore world could succumb to such a line seems inconceivable, but my colleagues Julie and Danielle kindled such irrational fears in me yesterday by reporting that Green Party nitwits at Minneapolis’ trendiest co-op are handing out fliers for Cynthia McKinney with the chant, “Obama’s up 14 points.”
As if this glut of fear weren’t enough, some folks are spinning some hypothetical nightmare scenarios with all the care of horror film scriptwriters.
Newseek’s Jonathan Alter was kind enough to spin this Halloween-esque yarn about “Why McCain Won”:
Obama shifted New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada from red to blue. But there was a reason Virginia hadn't gone Democratic since 1964. The transformation of the northern part of the state couldn't overcome a huge McCain margin among whites farther south. They weren't the racists of their parents' generation, but they weren't quite ready to vote for the unthinkable, either.
Obama had wired every college campus in the country, and he enjoyed great enthusiasm among politically engaged young people. But less-engaged students told reporters the day after the election that they had meant to vote for Obama but were "too busy." History held: young people once again voted in lower percentages than their elders. Waiting for them turned out to be like waiting for Godot.
And then there’s this personalized bit of horror that’s making the rounds from MoveOn.org. (I thank my big brother for sending it to me after I rattled on a little too long about recurring nightmares of McCain taking Pennsylvania.)
So what’s a nervous wreck to do, outside of hitting the bottle or the Xanax?
Normally, I wouldn’t turn to Larry David for advice about anxiety, but he does offer one option that, I suspect, many others are taking:
The one concession I’ve made to maintain some form of sanity is that I've taken to censoring my news, just like the old Soviet Union. The citizenry (me) only gets to read and listen to what I deem appropriate for its health and well-being.
Of course, there’s always yoga. The Huffington Post’s Tara Stiles has some election-timed tips in this video.
The Associated Press has a few suggestions as well:
Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising. You'll feel better while recognizing those things you can control, says Wilmette, Ill.-based psychologist Nancy Molitor.
Realize that no candidate is as good — or as bad — as you might imagine, Molitor says.
When all else fails, change the subject, says Lisa Miller, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College in New York. "Turn to those things which are more eternal and more important, such as nature and family," she says. "It's a great time to go into nature. Go camping."
Unfortunately, these tips seem about as realistically helpful as the fantastical prescriptions the Stranger came up with last month, such as Palium, which “[i]nduces a Valium-like calm with respect to all things Sarah Palin.”
In truth, the best plan is to either tune out until November 5th or white-knuckle it until the results are in (really in).
Thursday, September 04, 2008 10:47 AM
Sarah Palin delivered a rousing convention speech that will no doubt add to her likability quotient among the not-yet-saved. Plus, she’s really good with a sarcastic flourish. So what’s a jittery Democrat to do? Here are four strategies the Democrats should take away from last night:
1. Ignore the condescending impulse to go easy on a woman. Unleash Joe Biden on the self-proclaimed hockey-mom pitbull in the VP debates.
2. Repeat the following over and over: “Parents: If your daughter is raped, Sarah Palin wants to force her to give birth to her assailants’ child.” Another rendition goes like this: “Sarah Palin wants to force victims of incest to give birth to their sibling/child.”
3. Last night showed that the Republican strategy for dealing with the country’s woes is to rail against big government, blast taxes on the rich, and wave signs reading “Prosperity.” On the Palin front: Remind voters that her state’s economy runs on two things: federal funding largesse and record oil prices that are draining Americans wallets at the pump.
4. Remind voters what happened the last time they went for the likable, folksy option with a sarcastic jab behind every smirk, a wedge issue to dodge every policy discussion, and the right wing of the Republican party in pocket. George W. Bush may have been nixed from the Republican National Convention’s stage, but his spirit (and Rove’s) was alive and well in the presence of Sarah Palin.
Watch Palin's speech:
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention, click here.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008 11:40 AM
Thanks to the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson for putting all the oppressive Democratic hand-wringing in perspective this morning:
Since I landed here Saturday night, though, I haven't heard a lot of Democrats crowing about the terrible whuppin' they're about to administer. I've heard predictions of victory, yes, but also a lot of questions. Will Hillary Clinton's die-hard supporters refuse to lay down their arms, even if their champion begs them to? Will an unreconciled Bill Clinton steal the show? Will Obama's acceptance speech at Invesco Field be so stirring and poetic that the Republicans will slam him again for excessive eloquence?
In other words: Are Hillary Clinton's followers, many of whom care deeply about women's issues, ready to accept a Supreme Court majority that would do away with Roe v. Wade, which John McCain would surely deliver? Has Bill Clinton forgotten everything he ever learned about politics and forsaken his lifelong loyalty to the Democratic Party? Would Obama be wise to effectively renounce the use of his great oratorical gifts, which constitute one of his most powerful and effective weapons?
All these questions are just excuses to fret. Unlike Republicans, Democrats like to obsess about what could go wrong. It's kind of a partisan hobby.
The trick this election, Robinson says (paraphrasing Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell), is to "quit whining about it and just go out and win "
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008 5:23 PM
Watching the Democratic debate last night, the separation between church and state was not brought up once. Church and State magazine recently published 10 questions people should be asking the presidential candidates.
“Do you think houses of worship should be allowed to endorse political candidates and retain their tax-exempt status?”
“Do you think my pharmacist should be allowed to deny me doctor-prescribed medications based on his or her religious beliefs?”
Saturday, October 20, 2007 12:00 AM
Over the last six weeks, Beliefnet has been charting the godliness of presidential candidates on its new blog, "God-o-Meter.” The website constantly tracks each candidate’s use of "God-talk," and then scores them on a range from zero (secularist) to ten (theocrat). The website supplements the candidate rankings with a series of religion-based news posts and a graph of their ranking over time. The eight Democrats average an even six, while the nine Republicans check in at a shade above seven. –Eric Kelsey
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