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Native American Voting Rights

[ 30 ] October 5, 2013 |

In our national discussions on race, Native Americans are usually a footnote. We talk about them in the past but forget they are still around today and that they still face very real discrimination, both structural and societal. This includes access to voting. A group of Native Americans in Montana has filed a lawsuit to allow satellite voting on the reservations. Their claim last fall but is presently on appeal to the 9th Circuit. Some of them have to travel up to 100 miles to vote, a real hardship that means many simply can’t vote at all. There’s no good reason to not allow satellite voting except that Republicans don’t want Native Americans to vote.

From a strictly political perspective, this really matters in a western state that actually can and routinely does elect Democrats on the state level, even if a Democratic presidential candidate can’t come close there. Jon Tester has two terms in the Senate now in no small part because of Native American voting. Opposing satellite voting on the reservations is part of a larger Republican strategy to disfranchise as many Democratic voters as possible, especially people of color.

Of course, given the SCOTUS decision overturning the most important part of the Voting Rights Act, eventual victory in this case is probably doomed.

Grumble Grumble

[ 63 ] October 5, 2013 |

I understand that Michelle Nunn faces an uphill battle to win the Georgia Senate seat. But I’m absolutely not convinced that parroting right-wing lines about the national debt and the need to cut spending is going to help a Democrat win office anywhere. I know that she might have to make some compromises on the issues that matter to a conservative Georgia electorate–I wouldn’t expect her to take a strong statement on guns. I’d expect her to be pretty hawkish on foreign policy (which I expect anyway because of her father). I wouldn’t expect her to be a national leader of gay marriage (although I would expect at least neutrality). I wouldn’t even really resent her for being an ally of dirty energy. But how does the national debt play with the voters of Georgia? I’m skeptical it really matters to anyone but the 1% who are looking to concentrate resources in their pockets. Unfortunately, Democratic politicians tilting right seem to equate that with also supporting the extremely rich. This is DLC-style posturing at its worst. Makes the big funders happy though.

Who’s Next

[ 44 ] October 5, 2013 |

Is the Republican congressional delegation holding a drawing where the once a day winner has to say something so stupid and insensitive as to get national attention? Do the winners then get judged and the most offensive gets a committee chair? Yesterday’s lucky winner was Nebraska’s Lee Terry:

Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., was blunt when asked if he would continue collecting his paychecks during the shutdown.

“Dang straight,” he said.

Terry suggested it’s an irrelevant question because the situation would be resolved before long.

What about the other members who were donating or forgoing their pay?

“Whatever gets them good press,” Terry said. “That’s all that it’s going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

Fair enough. No regular government officials have kids in college or a house payment.

Since this kind of thing seems to be happening regularly once a day (Thursday was North Carolina’s Renee Elmers, Wednesday went to Randy Neugebauer of Texas), we might as well guess who it will be today.

So I’m going to go with, oh I don’t know, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma. No particular reason. Certainly has a name of choice.

Anyone else want to play? Winner gets a cookie of their own purchasing.

1798 in 2013

[ 43 ] October 4, 2013 |

I know this cartoon is supposed to represent congressional infighting in 1798. But I think it is also a pretty good facsimile of the Republican Caucus in 2013.

The Limitations of Presidential Politics for Progressives

[ 87 ] October 4, 2013 |

This essay on Obama campaign staffers finding his likely approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline deeply disturbing and conflicting is really interesting, not because of what the story says but because of the unsaid implications. Basically, Obama’s Organizing for Action group attempts to translate the energy from his campaign into lobbying for policy victories. That’s fine, I totally support it as an idea. But of course the reality is that the hope and change of the Obama campaign–even the second campaign–simply doesn’t translate for progressives who want to see their policies enacted. I don’t know if we will ever have a president who has the ability or the desire to implement the precise policies I want. That’s especially true of someone like Obama, who regardless of the insanity of the opposition is still a politician who trusts Arne Duncan and Ken Salazar and Larry Summers.

So it’s not at all surprising that the staffers would be torn between their love of the president and their realization that the pipeline is almost certainly going to be build. What is interesting about it is that progressives would actually believe supporting a president is the way to create change in American society. Of course, what actually makes change is pressuring politicians from both inside and outside the system to enact change. Supporting a president’s policy agenda only makes sense when it is also your own policy agenda.* Otherwise, you want to push the president. So even if it isn’t going to change the world to get arrested over protesting Keystone, it’s a significant step. More significant would be taking that energy in supporting Obama and joining organizations that would make him do the right thing on the issue. There are lots of environmental organizations that need fresh blood, particularly smart people with real political experiences**

This all relates to points I’ve been trying to emphasize now for 2 years. I became a hated person by some progressives during the election because I stated that voting for President Obama was a necessity and that playing around with third party candidates was a disastrous idea. What we have in 2013 is a generation(s?) of people who are so tied in with the national political game that they see the presidency as not only the site of change but as the place to make a moral stance. They define themselves politically through who they voted for in the last presidential election. They believed in Hope and Change in 2008 and are shocked to find out the system doesn’t work that way.

I on the other hand believe that presidential elections are vitally important because of court appointments and executive authority that matters on issue ranging from National Labor Relations Board appointments to public land policies. But ultimately, the presidential election is the site where you consolidate your gains or cut your losses from the last four years. If you’ve organized and pushed the Democratic Party to the left, you will see that through the presidential primary season. If you haven’t, you won’t. The place to make the moral stand is not the election–it’s all the rest of the time. The presidential election is where you make the moral compromise. The rest of the time you yell and scream and organize to drag the lame person you elected where you want them to go.

I feel that if more people understood this–and connected it concretely to how change has historically happened in the United States–that as a coalition of movements, we’d all be a lot better off.

* Admittedly, this is often a grey area with significant room for necessary compromises when it makes sense.

** They need idealistic hippies too, but they already have those.

Coalition Building

[ 20 ] October 4, 2013 |

I have a piece up at Labor Online about the difficulties of meaningful coalition building between the AFL-CIO and other progressive organizations. An excerpt:

But of course the American union movement is diverse and fractured. Some unions have embraced the relationships with the NAACP and Sierra Club. But others, particularly in the trades, are somewhere between wary and hostile. Laborers president Terry O’Sullivan has been particularly outspoken in his anger over the Sierra Club’s opposition to building the Keystone XL Pipeline. O’Sullivan has both accused environmentalists of betraying labor for opposing the pipeline and publicly castigated unions who do not have a direct stake in the pipeline to shut up about it. International Association of Fire Fighters president Harold Schaitberger warned about the federation becoming “the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.”

We might bemoan these attitudes but we also have to take them seriously. It’s worth thinking more deeply about the mechanics of what these alliances might look like. How should the federation respond when stopping a environmentally disastrous construction project will cost members jobs? Should unions without a stake in employment oppose another union who does have that stake? Does the fight for a sustainable climate take precedence over a few hundred or few thousand union jobs? These are really hard questions to answer.

In my own book-in-progress on timber worker unions and environmental issues in the Pacific Northwest forests, there is one potential lesson. In 1978, Redwood National Park was expanded, despite protests from the timber industry, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (who represented most of the timber workers in northern California), and the California state AFL-CIO. Yet in the final bill, the Sierra Club and organized labor worked together to create the Redwood Employee Protection Plan. REPP offered up to six years of direct government benefits for any worker who lost a job because of redwood forest protection. It served as a lifeline to workers in a dying industry. REPP had its problems, including discomfort with such generous provisions from the Carter Administration and outright hostility from Reagan. When it ended in 1984, most of the major players considered it a failure. I don’t have space to explore the details of the plan or its problems here. But I do think that both labor and environmentalists can look to REPP as at least one case where two potentially powerful movements allied (even if it was an alliance of begrudging convenience) to create an unprecedented federal program for American workers while also protecting an ecologically special place.

It’s All Pretty Much the Same

[ 28 ] October 4, 2013 |

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that Fox News hosts wouldn’t know the difference between Mexico and Nicaragua and probably assumes they all wear sombreros and take siestas.

Class Warfare

[ 27 ] October 3, 2013 |

The Republican Party’s primary mission is to punish the poor.

The Best Person in the World

[ 189 ] October 3, 2013 |

Sinead O’Connor

Cruz

[ 40 ] October 3, 2013 |

Sure, Republican senators may be badmouthing Ted Cruz and yelling at him in private. But until they start badmouthing him to reporters using their own names instead of anonymously, they are still scared of him and it doesn’t mean very much. Given how much he is hated by his colleagues, I suspect this is only a matter of time. But what do I know.

Why Cherrypicking Government Agencies to Reopen is Unacceptable

[ 31 ] October 3, 2013 |

Conservatives are lamely trying to put Democrats on the defensive by trying to force open popular parts of the government, like national parks. While I really want the national parks to be open (I’m going to be in Tucson next week for the first time in 7 years and if Saguaro National Park is closed, I’m going to loathe the modern conservative movement even more than I already do and who knew that was possible), it is a horrible precedent that makes opening the whole government all the more difficult. For instance, one agency the Republicans will never submit a bill to open early is the National Labor Relations Board (PDF here). Of its 1611 employees, 1600 are on furlough. The NLRB has 11 people working. Basically, the government shutdown does to the NLRB what conservatives have wanted to do to it forever. This is precisely why I was so angry at Democrats for being outmaneuvered on the sequester–of course conservatives are going to let this happen because it accomplishes their policy goals and good luck ever getting that funding back.

Harry Reid and President Obama seem willing to push back against this conservative gambit. But of course that doesn’t stop CNN from using it to slip into Both Sides Do It Syndrome. And of course this disease then infects other Beltway members.

In somewhat related news, Texas Rep. Randy Neubarger is today’s worst person in the world for picking on random National Park Service employees who have to keep people out of the World War II Memorial in order to make himself look tough.

Business Sads in Boston

[ 50 ] October 2, 2013 |

The Boston Globe is having a big sad because mayoral finalist and union member (Laborers Local 223) Marty Walsh votes in the state legislature closer to the AFL-CIO than Koch funded business interests. Oh noes, won’t somebody think about the business community?

A Walsh victory in Boston and a DeBlasio victory in New York would mean real progressives at the helm of two of America’s largest cities. Now if only we could only do something about Chicago…