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Sandwiches Perhaps Improved by Ketchup

[ 203 ] March 16, 2017 |

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Of course Trump not only eats at McDonald’s, but prefers the Filet o Fish. This may actually be a greater crime than putting ketchup on steak. That is a righteously disgusting sandwich, a concoction evidently created to give Catholics something to eat on Fridays but never improved over its original invention in 1962, a true peak year of American cuisine. Of course, the Filet o Fish was invented in Cincinnati, home of America’s worst regional food tradition. Of course it was. Though I’m surprised St. Louis isn’t claiming it as its own.

Meanwhile, I have been spending the last few days in West Virginia exploring the menu of one of the nation’s regional fast food chains, Tudor’s Biscuit World. The sausage and egg biscuit is highly recommended. My heart may not appreciate it but the rest of me is happy.

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Labor, Environment, Neoliberalism

[ 1 ] March 16, 2017 |

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I did this podcast with the environmental historian Michael Egan last week on the relationship between environmentalism and neoliberalism. This is actual neoliberalism, not the current definition of “someone in the Democratic Party who does something I don’t like” so commonly used on the left. The whole last half is a discussion on the relationship between the labor and environmental movements. Check it out.

The Trump Budget

[ 127 ] March 16, 2017 |

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I interrupt my travels around Appalachia this week that have taken me away from both the blog and the 21st century for a brief post on the Trump budget. It’s as great a monstrosity as you would expect.

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would increase defense spending by $54 billion and then offset that by stripping money from more than 18 other agencies. Some would be hit particularly hard, with reductions of more than 20 percent at the Agriculture, Labor and State departments and of more than 30 percent at the Environmental Protection Agency.

It would also propose eliminating future federal support for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Within EPA alone, 50 programs and 3,200 positions would be eliminated.

The cuts could represent the widest swath of reductions in federal programs since the drawdown after World War II, probably leading to a sizable cutback in the federal non-military workforce, something White House officials said was one of their goals.

Parts of the budget proposal also appear to contradict Trump’s agenda. Trump has said he wants to eliminate all disease, but the budget chops funding for the National Institutes of Health by $5.8 billion, or close to 20 percent. He has said he wants to create a $1 trillion infrastructure program, but the proposal would eliminate a Transportation Department program that funds nearly $500 million in road projects. It does not include new funding amounts or a tax mechanism for Trump’s infrastructure program, postponing those decisions.

And the Trump administration proposed to eliminate a number of other programs, particularly those that serve low-income Americans and minorities, because it questioned their effectiveness. This included the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which disburses more than $3 billion annually to help heat homes in the winter. It also proposed abolishing the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides roughly $3 billion for targeted projects related to affordable housing, community development and homelessness programs, among other things.

The budget was stuffed with other cuts and reductions. It calls for privatizing the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control function, cutting all funding for long-distance Amtrak train services and eliminating EPA funding for the restoration of Chesapeake Bay. Job training programs would also be cut, pushing more responsibility for this onto the states and employers.

Many Republicans have criticized these programs in the past as wasteful and ineffective, but supporters have said the programs are vital for communities in need.

The proposed budget extensively targets Obama programs and investments focused on climate change, seeking to eliminate payments to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund — one key component of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate agreement — and to slash research funding for climate, ocean and earth science programs at agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. At the same time, clean-energy research, heavily privileged by the Obama administration, would suffer greatly under the budget with the elimination of the ­ARPA-E program (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) at the Energy Department and an unspecified cut to the agency’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

But here’s the thing: While some parts of this are uniquely Trump and will be definitely pushed back by fellow Republicans, such as the State Department cuts, the vast majority of this isn’t a Trump budget so much as a Republican budget. What Republicans will stand up for the NEA and NEH? Which Republicans will reinstate the Sea Grant for universities like URI? Which Republicans will fight for climate change research funding? Which Republicans will fight for the National Park Service? It’s possible that McConnell will step up for the Appalachian Regional Commission since it brings money to his state, but then again, Kentucky Republicans are so destroying their own state internally that maybe he won’t care.

We have to remember that the enemy is not Donald Trump. It’s the Republican Party.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 74

[ 9 ] March 12, 2017 |

This is the grave of Joseph Warren.

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Born in 1741 in Roxbury, Massachuestts, Warren grew up in the respectable class of his colony. His father was a reasonably well off farmer who died in 1755 after falling out of an apple tree. Warren still managed to attend Harvard, where he graduated in 1759. He became a doctor and joined the Masons. That lodge was a hotbed of protest activity toward the centralizing aims of London after the Seven Years War concluded. Getting to know men such as Paul Revere and John Hancock, Warren became a leader in the Patriot movement. He was a member of the Boston committee that issued a report on the Boston Massacre, damning the British for their actions. In 1773, he was appointed to the Boston Committee of Correspondence. He also drafted the Suffolk Resolves that the Continental Congress approved in protest to the Coercive Acts. It was Warren who sent Revere on his famous Midnight Ride that became central to the mythology of the Revolutionary War.

He instantly joined the fighting when it began on April 19, 1775, coordinating the Patriot attacks on British troops as they retreated from Concord. He was nearly killed there, as a musket ball knocked off his wig. He became a Major General on June 14, 1775. But at the Battle of Bunker Hill, he refused to command, volunteering as a private and allowing more experienced men to command. He was one of the last holdouts to hold that hill as the British commenced their third wave of the assault, finally taking it. In doing so, a British officer shot Warren in the head and killed him. There were some rumors that the British officers desecrated his body after the battle, but it’s hard to know. Warren became the first martyr of the Revolutionary War and his death was useful propaganda for the Patriots as they moved toward independence the following year.

Joseph Warren has been played several times in film and television. Wilfred Noy played him in a 1924 silent called Janice Meredith. In the 1957 adaptation of Johnny Tremain, Walter Coy played Warren. He’s been played in a whole bunch of seemingly minor productions in this century, including by Ryan Eggold in the History Channel production named Sons of Liberty and by Michael Anthony Coppola in some 2007 10 minute film called The Ride.

Joseph Warren was originally buried in the Granary Burying Ground off Boston Common but was moved twice. In 1825, he was reburied in St. Paul’s Church. Then, in 1855, he was supposedly buried again with his family at Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts, where he remains today. I say supposedly because his grandson died in 1856 and his name is carved on that old headstone placed against rock where the family is buried. Anyway, he seems to be there now.

Music Notes

[ 82 ] March 11, 2017 |

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On a recent trip to New Mexico, I saw a band called Lone Piñon play at the Historic San Ysidro Church in Corrales. This is a very interesting musical project. As you may know, over the past 20 years or so, there have been several projects that revive old, often nearly lost music. The Freighthoppers, reasonably popular in the late 90s and who I am very happy to have seen once, did it for Appalachian music of the 30s. Carolina Chocolate Drops received a lot of acclaim for doing the same for black Appalachian music. There are occasional Cajun revival bands and the like. What you don’t really see is much attention paid to the New Mexican musical tradition. Of course, New Mexican music has a tremendous amount in common with music from parts of Mexico the United States didn’t steal in a grotesquely unjust war to expand slavery. And because Mexican music hasn’t had the impact on American popular music and because it is sung in Spanish, it hasn’t received the attention of revivalists.

Lone Piñon is an attempt to change that. It plays New Mexican and Mexican music from the 1930s-1950s, learning field recordings of ancient tunes and adapting them to the present. What’s interesting about this band is that two of the three members are white kids other areas, including the singer who was trained in the Ozark tradition of Missouri. He’s fluent in Spanish but obviously has an accent. I wondered how people would respond to this; it’s not as if Hispano New Mexican culture is exactly all that open to outside appropriation. But certainly no one seemed to mind. They’ve been playing with a young fiddler of New Mexican heritage and see gave a really heartfelt little speech about how she loved this music but felt it was ossified and dead and now she didn’t feel this way anymore. And that summed up the tenor in the room. There were a lot of people, some Albuquerque area cultural aficionados and some people from the Hispano communities from around the area. Just a lot of love and joy. And they are a pretty great band. Very interesting stuff and a very rewarding show.

I then saw Tacocat play at the incomparable Meow Wolf in Santa Fe. This is the most unique concert venue I have ever seen. Basically, it’s a large building where they have a created a sort of Victorian house inside. They hire artists to design a different room. And to say the least, it’s a huge mind trip. Open the refrigerator in the kitchen and there’s a corridor leading to hidden rooms. Go into another room and see this weird light show that you can adjust by playing with video game knobs. Enter another have be bombarded with weird video installations. Enter the bedrooms and watch an alarm clock go on the fritz. Or go into the closet of another and find yet another hidden passageway. This is one heck of a unique place. It also fills an enormous gap in the New Mexico music scene. New Mexico is pretty terrible for music. Albuquerque is fine if you like metal. If you don’t, there’s not much. Bands just don’t play there, even though it has 500,000 people. Santa Fe is small and snooty. In the 7 years I lived there, the state simply lacked even a decent venue for an indie band. And then it built basically the best one ever. As for the music, Tacocat is a lot of fun live. Emily Nokes is a very good performative lead singer, not only with the voice, but with the dancing and the fashion and the posing. The band’s political yet fun lyrics about street harassment, mansplaining, menstruation, and other such topics work really, really well live. Also, evidently the shark costumes when Katy Perry performed in the Super Bowl were stolen from a Tacocat video. The opening bands were fine too. Daddy Issues is a fun straight ahead girl band of a genre I like. The Simple Pleasures are an 80s electropop band that brings in a lot of modern computer-based sound. Less my thing, but completely fine to see live.

In other news:

Someone is making art of some sort out of Phil Collins’ drums on “In the Air Tonight.” OK.

In the rush of year end lists, I missed The Village Voice putting together a Top 50 protest songs of 2016. We all need protest songs.

The people who run SXSW seem nice. Also, thanks for ruining Austin for 2 weeks with your festival of music executive jerkoffs walking around with their huge badges and making downtown a nightmare zone. And this was 10 years ago, god knows how bad it is now.

It was really hard for free jazz guys to get gigs, even at the peak of the music in the early 70s.

Album Reviews:

Darius Jones, Le Bébé de Brigitte (Lost in Translation)

This 2015 album is a tour de force from this amazing saxophonist. Released on AUM-Fidelity, a label that consistently releases outstanding material, this album squawks, it honks, and it even has its moments of funk. With Ches Smith on drums, Sean Conly on bass, and Matt Mitchell on piano, this is a great band. I’m a bit less a fan of Emilie Lesbros’ lyrics at times, not because she sings in French but because she sometimes just makes mouth noises that can get in the way of the rest of the music. Of course, what is free jazz but a bunch of people making creative noise and I confess I am less a fan of jazz vocals of all styles than some. She certainly has a heck of a range and I do enjoy her more conventional vocals here. The songs tend toward the ballad but with the great range that free jazz provides. Overall this is very much worth a listen.

A-

Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Epicenter

I saw this band play a year or so ago in New Haven and they were great. Both of their albums are outstanding as well. This is the latest, from 2015. With the wonderful Craig Taborn not only on piano but also Fender Rhodes, Tony Malaby and Chris Cheek on saxophone, the wonderful Gerald Cleaver on drums, and of course Lightcap on bass, this band really sizzles. And while jazz covers of rock songs can be cliched, “All Tomorrow’s Parties” is pretty great here.

A

Jesca Hoop, Memories Are Now

This confident album sounds a bit like a cross between Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom. She’s an interesting story, as she was the nanny of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan and they encouraged her to become a professional musician. It was certainly a worthwhile discovery. With songs about escaping Mormonism and the excesses of consumerism and a voice with a wide range that go from the flighty (thus, the Newsom comparison) to the intense, it’s a solid album.

B+

Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble, Sing Me Home

Several years ago, a friend gave me a copy of the early Yo Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble album Silk Road Journeys. I enjoyed it a good bit, a combination of traditional classical music from not only the western but the eastern traditions, a blending of some very different styles in a great band. But I hadn’t paid much attention to their follow up work until Sing Me Home came out last year. This is a sort of world tour of this band, taking their style and bringing in guests such as Bill Frisell, Toumani Diabate, and Rhiannon Giddens, among many others. It works pretty well (Frisell is of course recognizable after the 2nd note), but I don’t think I like this as well as I did the focus on Asia of the earlier album. This seeks to consider ideas of home around the world and as such, it switches styles pretty radically from song to song. None of it fails and the version of “St. James Infirmary” is quite striking. But as a concept, I found the constant genre swapping a little distracting. It’s certainly well worth a listen though as the music itself is impeccable.

B+

Erik Friedlander, Rings

Friedlander is part of the experimental jazz scene that revolved around the string quartets and other chamber music arrangements that John Zorn did a lot of 15 or so years ago. Along with people such as Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier, Friedlander turned his writing and playing heavily toward modern chamber music. Rings is a 2016 entry in his catalog. He plays with his frequent collaborator Satoshi Takeshi on percussion and Shoko Nagai on piano. The album is sort of a journey around the world to a small extent weaving in different styles, but it’s subtle. Friedlander also uses looping technology for the first time, again in a subtle way. Primarily this is a pretty interesting album of often lovely music, although I’d like to be grabbed by the throat by it a bit more.

B+

Chaya Czernowin, Maim
This Israeli composer has written a set of intense compositions. Written for a large orchestra, it provides 45 minutes of intricate soundscapes, full of oboes and other underutilized instruments. Seen as one of the most interesting and compelling composers working today, this is a pretty arresting recording.

A-

Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life

I seem to remember listening to Japandroids’ last album all the way back when it was released in 2012 and feeling indifferent about it. I’m not really sure why because Near to the Wild Heart of Life is a really solid rock and roll album. Short at 8 songs because they claim so many of the best rock albums have 8 songs, this is a tight rock band playing at a high level. As bands do these days, they wear their classic rock influences on their sleeves, which is fine. I’m not saying this is some sort of brilliant work, but it’s a good rock album and we all need good rock albums.

A-

A couple of older albums:

Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg

I had never actually listened to this before. I have had Histoire de Melody Nelson for years and always loved it. These of course go very well together, largely because Gainsbourg combined a great musical sense with being a creepy old man into much younger women. Birkin was 22 when this came out in 1969; Gainsbourg was 41. “Je T’aime Moi Non Plus” is one of the great sex songs of all time and the whole thing holds together wonderfully behind his great arrangements. I don’t per se find Birkin’s vocals all that remarkable, but they certainly work well enough.

A

Henry Mancini, A Warm Shade of Ivory

Mancini is one of those mid-century figures that I knew primarily from him showing up on Christmas albums that I think my parents were given by my grandfather. I always thought of him vaguely in the Sinatra vein of mid-century music. But now listening to Sinatra a lot more than I used to, I picked this 1969 album up on a lark, primarily because it starts with “In the Wee Small Hours.” But I sure enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Evidently, it’s much more focused on Mancini’s solos than most of his albums, but I can’t compare it as it’s the first album of his I have listened to. What I heard was a great set of romantic songs, lushly orchestrated and just highly enjoyable, particularly for moments where maybe I don’t want to think too much.

A-

As always, this is an open thread for all things music, or anything except politics.

Trust Us

[ 22 ] March 11, 2017 |

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It’s hardly a wonder that the victims of the Marine nude photo scandal aren’t coming forward. I mean, who could guess that a sexist, misogynist institution where men are encouraged to be ultra-violent would have a problem with sexual harassment and assault that upper brass doesn’t take seriously. The top Marine general is telling these women to “trust us” and come forward. But why on earth would they trust Marine brass? The whole culture encouraged this situation in the first place. Saying “just give us one more chance” is a classic domestic abuser move. It’s a disgrace. Wholesale changes need to take place in the armed forces. Of course, that’s hardly going to happen under President Pussy Grabber.

TrumpCare: Republican Class Warfare

[ 33 ] March 11, 2017 |

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Finally, someone is standing up for our wealthiest citizens and the lives of endless luxury they deserve.

Two of the biggest tax cuts in Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act would deliver roughly $157 billion over the coming decade to those with incomes of $1 million or more, according to a congressional analysis.

The assessment was made by the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan panel that provides research on tax issues.

It is not unusual for tax cuts to benefit mostly the wealthiest, but still save some money for a majority of Americans. But the benefits of these reductions would be aimed squarely at the top.

The provisions would repeal two tax increases on high earners enacted in 2010 to help pay for the Affordable Care Act: an increase in capital gains taxes and other investment-related income, and a surcharge on Medicare taxes.

People making $200,000 to $999,999 a year would also get sizable tax cuts. In total, the two provisions would cut taxes by about $274 billion during the coming decade, virtually all of it for people making at least $200,000, according to a separate assessment by the committee.

“Repeal-and-replace is a gigantic transfer of wealth from the lowest-income Americans to the highest-income Americas,” said Edward D. Kleinbard, a professor at the University of Southern California law school and former chief of staff for the Joint Committee on Taxation.

And by deserve, the rich have the right, nay, the duty, to drink champagne and brush their teeth with luxury toothpaste while watching the poor suffer and die. What a good time it will be!

Opting Out

[ 38 ] March 11, 2017 |

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Good news out of Minnesota, where the number of high school juniors opting out of the bogus standardized testing that has significantly hurt American education has jumped significantly.

In 2016, 2,227 high school juniors opted out of the MCA tests statewide. That’s just a drop in the bucket, compared to the 55,975 students who did take it. But it is more than three times the number of eleventh grade students–694–who opted out of the MCAs in 2015.

This is a startling jump, taking place in schools and cities as diverse as suburban St. Louis Park, rural Pine City and Minneapolis. (The examples below pertain only to the Math MCA tests for high school juniors.)

In 2016, ten Pine City juniors refused the MCA tests, while 102 students took the test; that’s a small but significant bump up from the three students who refused the tests in 2015. At St. Louis Park High School in 2016, 87 juniors sat for the MCA tests while 66 students opted out. But in 2015, just one student refused the MCAs.

An eye-popping 209 juniors at Minneapolis’s Henry High School opted out of the math MCAs in 2016. That’s a huge leap from 2015, when just eleven students refused the tests. Only seven percent of Henry’s 1,100 students identify as white and eighty-percent live in poverty, according to federal standards. This might help poke holes in the story that only “suburban moms” and white, wealthier kids are pushing the opt out movement. And, across town at Roosevelt High School, 66 juniors took the math MCAs in 2016 while 98 opted not to. Like Henry, Roosevelt is not a majority white school and almost seventy percent of its students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Over at South High School–Minneapolis’s largest and most diverse–so few students took the MCAs in 2016 that there are simply blank spaces on the Department of Education’s spreadsheet for the school. That’s because, when fewer than ten students take the tests, the data has to be blocked out for privacy reasons. In 2015, 306 students–or nearly ninety percent of eligible juniors–at South did not take the tests.

Let’s hope this movement for quality education instead of test prep continues and grows. Taking back our schools means actually learning and helping students’ minds and curiosity grow instead of sitting for bogus exams.

The Frozen Revolution

[ 42 ] March 10, 2017 |

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This year marks the centennial of the 1917 Mexican Constitution, which began as one of the most progressive documents in history but which has been so amended and its gains so reversed that even by the 1960s was increasingly seen as a failure. The 1971 film Mexico: The Frozen Revolution expressed this commonly held view during Mexico’s Dirty War with internal insurgents.

It hasn’t improved in the last half-century:

NAFTA has cast a dark shadow over the guarantees promised in 1917. Two million small farmers were driven off the land as subsidized U.S. corn flooded into Mexico. Foreign investment failed to generate sufficient jobs for those displaced, unemployment rose, and those jobs that were created paid poorly: real wages grew by just 2.3 percent between 1994 and 2012. It is small wonder that desperate farmers went north, with migration to the U.S. doubling after 1994.

Furthermore, whereas left-progressive governments across Latin America have managed to lessen poverty, Mexico has fallen behind, and at least 55 million of its citizens now living below the poverty line. The implementation of NAFTA and radical market reforms in Mexico since the 1980s categorically failed to reduce persistently high levels of inequality, which have largely stood still since before the 2008 financial crisis. Subsidized U.S. imports pushed up food prices, especially that of the national staple tortillas, and recent price hikes will exacerbate growing food poverty. So many Mexicans face hunger (at least 10 percent of the population suffers from inadequate food access and 8,500 die every year as a result of malnutrition), that in 2011 Articles 4 and 27 of the constitution were amended to guarantee the right to food, and in 2013 Peña Nieto was forced to launch a “National Crusade against Hunger.”

NAFTA has also gravely damaged Mexico’s sovereignty by increasing its economic dependency on the U.S. (80 percent of Mexico’s exports head for the U.S., whose share of Mexican imports is about 47 percent), by preventing the state from regulating private property in the spirit of the constitution, and by degrading the country’s environment.

However, far from learning lessons about the damage caused by undermining the promises of the constitution, Peña Nieto has intensified the assault on stage regulation. His education reform through amendments to Articles 3 and 73, setting the scene for de-unionization and privatization, responded to the demands of multilateral bodies, U.S. think tanks and the corporate Mexican education reform lobby. Resistance among teaching unions has disrupted education and provoked a disproportionately violent crackdown.

Peña Nieto has also continued Salinas’s assault on Mexico’s cherished resources. In 2013 he trashed the original intent of Article 27 through amendments to open the oil, gas and electricity-generation sectors to foreign investment. These reforms also had an anti-union logic, changing the legal status of the state oil monopoly PEMEX and electricity commission CFE and thereby curtailing labor inputs in how they are run. PEMEX and the CFE are now considered equal in status to private companies, meaning that their unions lose their special status, including the right to participate in decisions as members of administrative councils.

In September 2012, Congress enacted sweeping labor reforms to make it easier for employers to ignore worker rights – a move seen as a significant victory for Peña Nieto’s incoming administration, who had backed the reforms. Just as Peña Nieto has been quick to chip away at workers’ rights, he has been slow to comply with international standards on collective bargaining. It was not until October 2016 that the Senate approved an initiative to amend Articles 107 and 123 of the constitution to ease the grip of corrupt charro unions – labor associations obedient to the government and employers, and hence traditionally loyal to the PRI – long a core demand of the international labor movement.

Insatiable as ever, Peña Nieto has even overturned the greatest taboo in Mexican politics: re-election, spearheading modifications to 29 constitutional articles in 2013 to allow consecutive re-election for some political positions in the ultimate betrayal of the principle that sparked the Mexican revolution in 1910: “Sufragio effectivo, no reelección.” (For effective suffrage, no re-election). It is almost certainly only matter of time before this is extended to the presidency.

Mexico’s political class is so embalmed that I don’t even know if it matters that the nation’s famed prohibition on entrenched individuals matters that much. When the PRI lacks internal democracy and just handpicks leader after leader that offers nothing, it’s still pretty bad. Of course, someone from either inside or outside the PRI could consolidate power personally and that can lead to very bad things. Either way though, the promise of Mexico as a world leader has been long betrayed and becomes more so every day.

Sanctuary Cities

[ 6 ] March 10, 2017 |

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I suspect I will be writing a lot about immigration going forward. To build on this post and this post, let me point you to this excellent Lauren Carasik piece at Boston Review on all the good that sanctuary cities do.

Jurisdictions have good reasons to adopt sanctuary policies, some political and some pragmatic. Some municipalities do not want local law enforcement to be active participants in mass deportation and have rallied to the defense of their immigrant communities, in part because the failure of immigration reform has made it impossible for people to stay legally and they abhor the idea of tearing communities apart. Others believe immigration enforcement should be reserved for federal authorities. But the objections extend far beyond jurisdictional and political ones. The primary one is that effective policing is predicated on community trust. The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recognized this: “At all levels of government, it is important that laws, policies, and practices not hinder the ability of local law enforcement to build the strong relationships necessary to public safety and community well-being.” The report concludes that “whenever possible, state and local law enforcement should not be involved in immigration enforcement.”

This is particularly important to protect the vulnerable, such as victims of domestic and sexual violence or exploitation. For them, the fear that interaction with law enforcement could lead to deportation bolsters the power of abusers and serves to further isolate and silence them. Last month in Texas, a woman was detained by ICE—which was acting on a tip suspected to have come from her alleged abuser—in the courthouse just after obtaining a protective order against him. Although records later showed that the woman may have had her own criminal history, the message to other victims about the risks of seeking protection is chilling. Similarly, witnesses critical to prosecuting crimes or good Samaritans may be reluctant to come forward without assurances that they do not risk being reported to immigration authorities. Compounding the cost to community trust, using police departments’ resources to assist in federal immigration enforcement can drain local budgets. Facilitating deportation exacts significant social costs as well, by devastating families and losing immigrants’ contributions to community.

Of course, making of these things worse are part and parcel of Republican policy.

Labor’s Future

[ 55 ] March 10, 2017 |

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Rich Yeselson is always worth reading, agree with him or not. His long review essay of books by three former SEIU leaders, including former president Andy Stern and the activist Jane McAlevey, is quite good. Each of the three have different prognoses that represent their preexisting interests, which is not surprising. Stern, who may have started with his head on straight but was terrible in his last several years as SEIU president, is all into futurism and buddying up with corporate leaders, which is reflected in his love of Universal Basic Income, imposed from on high with no meaningful input from the unions that he now sees irrelevant. David Rolf is big on major wage campaigns such as the $15 campaign in Seattle, but he notes that these don’t actually help unions very much. He believes that unions should try anything, but try something. McAlevey disdains top-down campaigns and wants more organizing, which as Yeselson points out, has its own set of problems and which has been a call from labor reformers for a long time now, but often without much in the way of strategy behind it. There’s an emotional rallying cry against bureaucratic unionism involved in this line of thinking and it’s not one that I find particularly convincing, even though we do indeed a lot more organizing campaigns. As Yeselson also notes, some of each of these ideas is going to be necessary in the future.

What I think each of these writers misses, although I have not read the books, is that the ultimate problem of American unionism and thus the ultimate solution revolves around the position of the government. Unions have been strong in this nation when the government has allowed them to be strong. When the government has assisted employers in repressing them, through force or through law, nothing organized labor has done, whether top-down or bottom-up campaigns, has made much difference. It’s hard to read the history of American labor, for me anyway, without that as the central tenet. It’s uncomfortable for a lot of labor activists who have a lot of emotional baggage at stake in whatever their given critique is of the movement. Of course, none of this means we should sit back and wait for the government to someday be on our side again. Obviously, that means it would never happen. I agree by and large with the try anything strategy, even though I am extremely skeptical of UBI or for that matter anything Stern is involved with. Certainly McAlevey is right about the need for more organizing, but it’s not enough and it never has been.

All I can say is that movements of workers will never go away. Conditions and strategies change with the time and most certainly no one can argue that things will always get better, but at the core, we have to organize with the intent of moving politicians toward our side while also building worker power and capacity for organizing. Whatever that looks like on the ground, I am by and large for.

Minnesota’s Food Crimes

[ 127 ] March 10, 2017 |

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Minnesota has a lot to answer for on the culinary front. That includes from their members of Congress.

It’s that time when Al Franken makes jokes and eats casserole. Or, as he and his Minnesota colleagues call it, hotdish.

Rep. Collin C. Peterson won the seventh annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Competition with his dish that had bear in it.

It was called “Right to Bear Arms.”

“This bear was shot by Mike in my ag office,” Peterson said. But, ahe dded that it was shot in Wisconsin and cooked by the staffer, not him. Franken, the host of the event, was cracking up.

The senator humorously apologized for Peterson getting political and thanked the crowd for joining the event.

Hilarious. Oh Mike, you and your bear shooting. Of course this is just one of many, many culinary crimes from Minnesota. And to say the least, the fact that said hotdish contest gets a 1500 word or so write up in the Minneapolis newspaper is plenty telling.

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