New Orleans   Ok, this is the Trump Era, so why would anybody care about the Oscars, now or ever? It’s a high-priced fashion show and a self-congratulatory industry back pat. Viewership has been going down steadily. The industry seems to be searching hardest for the pulse of viewers globally, especially in China, and, as some critics have noted, has lost its way in telling the great American story, although they certainly have a lot of company in that chorus.

Nonetheless, it’s like candy, no matter how bad for you, it’s hard to resist the significant cultural role the industry occupies and its impact on all of us. And, even juicier, we have a super flub this time for the hardcore, all-the-way-to-the-end viewers, where they were rewarded with another example of the chaos of our times, when for the first time in 89 years, the wrong winner was named for best picture. There’s a circular firing squad of blame and shame now, which is a delightful spectacle in itself, if for nothing else than a pleasant Trump diversion, about how Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could have gotten the wrong card, and how Dunaway then, in the-show-must-go-on play announced that “La La Land” was the winner, rather than “Moonlight,” which turned out have actually won.

After two years of agitation on the theme of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy of Motion Pictures was already on their heels for white-listing so many movies and actors in the awards, so both supporting awards were won by African-Americans this year, including the first Muslim to ever win an award it seems. “Moonlight,” which is one of the few movies I have seen recently, was a hard, but beautiful, look at low income families in a Miami project dealing with drugs, poverty, and the long list of issues faced by all, including in this case sexual identity and bullying. In a white male dominated industry this was a pushback moment, which matters, regardless of the mix-up, though it is unlikely to represent a game changer. The industry studies the numbers, and 25% of tickets are bought by African-Americans in the USA, but that has not been enough to tilt the representation, either on employment or thematically, of African-Americans in the industry to date.

My first impulse was to think that Faye Dunaway in a classic Daniel Kahneman moment right out of Thinking, Fast and Slow, might have been so conditioned to believe that “La La Land” would win that her expectations and assumptions tricked her brain into believing she was reading “La La Land,” even when “Moonlight” was the winner. The story now spinning is that the envelope said, Emma Stone, Best Actress, “La La Land,” but Stone says she doesn’t want to get into any controversy, but she has her hot hands all over the envelope that said that. The bean counters claim there are always two envelopes, so it’s possible that was the problem, though I’ll enjoy my own theory for a bit with all apologies to Faye Dunaway, that sometimes, as the President is now teaching us, people see what they want to see, no matter what the facts and reality hold.

Any way you slice it, it’s #OscarsSoWhack!


Please enjoy John Mellencamp’s Grandview. Thanks to KABF.


Work Requirements without Job and Wage Guarantees and Protections are Recipes for Exploitation

online system for workforce requirements in Louisiana

New Orleans   The dishonesty of public policies meant to be both punitive and exploitive, while masked in the language of fiscal accountability or even worse an aberration of American so-called values, never ceases to boil my blood. There’s never been a better example than proposals on work requirements for the poor.  The true purposes of such requirements has never been more transparent than now, when we are statistically at a time of almost full-employment.  The only thing being disguised is the urgency behind the proposal for some politicians so that they can try to cover their tracks as they force mass deportations of immigrants, many of whom are doing jobs unwanted by others, and where employers will be crying for replacements and state coercion to fill the work orders.

After decades of fighting Nixon, Reagan, Bush and the Republican hordes on work requirements for welfare, we got them in spades from Clinton’s so-called welfare reform. Work requirements for food stamps, a program as much an US agricultural support program for farmers as a social welfare component of the safety net for poor workers without families or children, came in as well and were relieved during the Great Recession of 2008, but have been restored by some states now that employment has returned and job calls are going wanting. Some governors and legislators in states like Arkansas and Louisiana among others are calling for work requirements for single lower income individuals who are on Medicaid thanks to the expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act.

What a farce!  Politicians without a clue about how to create jobs or training programs requiring work when so many people are doing multiple jobs to just survive. The jobs clearly do not exist, yet they are still promoting work requirements because some well-heeled small business donor, who has them on speed dial, is complaining that no one wants to work for the minimum wage on offer and frozen for almost a decade. Meanwhile President Trump shouted that the Republicans are now the party of the working class, and, perhaps no better, The New York Times tried valiantly to introduce the new working class to its readers with rose colored glasses telling the story of nine of them where four of the nine were enjoying the benefits of a union, despite the fact that hardly one in ten now can claim such an advantage in their workplaces.

If they are going to continue to punish the poor by imposing work requirements for nonexistent jobs, there should be hard and fast conditions to such mandates:

  • Substitute placement in public service or volunteer positions while receiving benefits similar to the food stamp requirement should be allowed.
  • Guarantees of adequate and available training for jobs.
  • Guarantees of living wages rather than minimum wages, inadequate to support decent food and housing.
  • Guarantees of public protection against wage theft and exploitation on the job by employers determined to exploit the weakened rights of the worker with the loss of food, health, and welfare benefits.

If work requirement promoters are unwilling to attach the necessary guarantees and protections, then not only is this vicious scam exposed as nothing more than punitive and exploitive, then, fair enough, such work requirements must be barred.


Trump Militarization of Domestic Policies Is Getting Scarier

London   It is getting harder and harder to deny that there is a very scary, highly uncomfortable pattern emerging around Trump’s domestic policies, and it involves a steady effort to federally militarize policy and policing. These are not tendencies, but firmly expressed proposals. Coupled with his increasing attacks on the institution and independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the court system, this adds up to something dangerous, even if I hesitate to call its name.

First, of course, we have the Trump immigration and deportation policies. The familiar outlines are well-known in all of their horror, but critical to these efforts, particularly in the light of the unwillingness of not only sanctuary cities, particularly in heavily populated immigrant areas, and already strapped local police forces unable to stretch themselves even thinner on unfunded federal mandates, is his proposal to hire an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement agents to speed up captures and deportations.

A second proposal surfaced in a press briefing that Trump’s press secretary held last week about the loosening standards, as the White House sees it, of drug enforcement. Sean Spicer was careful to say that Trump supports the continued use of medical marijuana for the relief of patients in pain, but that there needed to be a crackdown on federal marijuana laws being ignored in many urban jurisdictions. He indicated that they were likely to propose beefing up the federally controlled police force to do this by many thousands of officers, presumably referring to the agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

And, then there’s the blatant attacks and bullying of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he is excoriating as a threat to the American people, rather than a critical protector of our safety. Some of this seems triggered by reports that Press Secretary Spicer had leaned on the FBI to deny a story in the Times that he asked them to refute a story about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives before the election. They were scuffling to deny that one of their top dogs had been the source of the anonymous leak, and the Trump team wanted them to go public with their obsequiousness, which they refused. Trump has also been unhappy that the FBI is continuing to investigate the Russian-Trump campaign ties. This is a Steve Bannon-Brietbart.com playbook exercise of attack and disruption meant to realign and control the department.

Fortunately, Congress hasn’t approved the appropriations for either of these expanded police forces for Trump policies, but the lack of independence of the transactional Republican Congress gives me pause that they will slam the brakes down as hard as needed.

Add two new federal police force expansions and one effort to take control over the formally independent federal police force, and what do you get? It’s not jack boots and Stormtroopers, but it is also nothing good for democracy and the American people.


Resisting Deportations

Edinburgh   In the new orders being rolled out by the Trump Administration targeting immigrants and possibly Muslims and others, many have pointed out that we are now going to be creating secret communities of immigrants unprotected by usual law and order, victimized by employers and wage theft, susceptible to human trafficking, and devolving into slums. Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola Law School, and longtime friend and comrade recently provided eleven ways that people are resisting deportations around the country, and I thought it worth sharing, so here they are.

Here are eleven recent examples of how people are directly resisting.

One. Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation. Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas. People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.

Two. People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks. People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.

Three. Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting. Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Four. Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.

Five. Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary. Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.

Six. Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions. Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.

Seven. Divesting from stocks of private prisons. Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly. Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.

Eight. Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent. Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations. Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help. Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful. Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims. Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.

Nine. Restaurants declaring themselves safe space sanctuaries for undocumented and LGBTQ workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25 percent of workers in restaurants are Latino.

Ten. Sit-ins at elected and appointed officials at government buildings. Bodegas have gone on strike.

Eleven. Social self-defense. Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting. This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.


Fighting to Save Political Parties Out of Sorts with the Base

Edinburgh  Eating curry last night with leaders and organizers of ACORN in Scotland, once the usual questions about Trump were quickly exhausted, one veteran activist asked what Senator Bernie Sanders, last year’s surprisingly successful Presidential candidate, was up to and whether he was gaining ground and credibility in the current chaos. It was a good question, and my answer was that the best I knew his people where focused more on positioning in the Democratic Party than the larger issues. I told the ridiculous story of some moderate Democrats trying to convince Sanders to call off the dogs and make sure that town hall protestors only attacked Republicans, as if Sanders was pulling any strings at all in the activist moment. I found that notion among conservative Democrats as bizarre as the Republican conservative claim that poor old George Soros is paying demonstrators these days to voice their outrage.

Turns out I was either lucky or timely in my observation. Almost as soon as I logged on to the news I stumbled into a story reporting that Sanders’ operatives had been scoring some significant wins in Democratic inner party elections.

In California, supporters of the 2016 presidential contender, Barry Sanders, packed the obscure party meetings that chose delegates to the state Democratic convention, with Sanders backers grabbing more than half the slots available. They swept to power in Washington State at the Democratic state central committee, ousting a party chairman and installing one of their own in his place. Sanders acolytes have seized control of state parties in Hawaii and Nebraska and won posts throughout the party structure from coast to coast.

Presumably the agenda is to move the party in a more solidly progressive direction.

Observers in several papers noted that as miserable as the 2018 midterm elections look for the Democratic Party’s shot at control of the Senate, there’s an arguable path to pick up 24 seats in the House by targeting districts either won by Hillary Clinton by stout margins or where the demographics are heavily weighted with educated white and general Hispanic voters. Polls indicate that Trump’s slide steep has accelerated in both camps. There are fewer districts that Sanders won last year though, so that crossover is uncertain.

Others might argue that you have to be careful what you wish for though without a deeper strategy to engage the base. The Labour Party’s predicament in the United Kingdom is a case study here. Having moved in a more progressive direction as the left took control of internal elections without a program effectively responding to the working class base, right leaning pro-Brexit forces are cleaning their clock. By-elections in hard core Labour districts that they have held for more than 30 years are being watched closely to see if the party can even survive.

Sanders in some ways is well-positioned internally since Clinton is not part of the picture and a more moderate Democratic Party leader has not emerged.

Is it a winning strategy? That’s another question for sure. No lucky guesses will count on that one.


Could the US Labor Movement Lose 3 to 5 Million Members Under Trump?

Sheffield   Visiting with a British union organizer in touch with colleagues in the United States, I was shocked, though perhaps I should not have been, when he told me he had been hearing of worst-case scenario meetings of labor strategists meeting after the election estimating that the American labor movement could lose 3 to 5 million members based on policies and initiatives that might be unstoppable at every level under a Trump Administration. Needless to say, such a mammoth disgorging of union membership would be crippling, not just for existing unions, but for the entire array of progressive forces throughout the country.

In the last 35 years, union membership density in the US has already fallen from slightly over 20% of the organized workforce to barely 11%. There are somewhere around 14.5 million members of unions, so a loss of even 3 million would deplete membership by more than 20%. A loss of 5 million would rip away over one-third of US union membership. The private sector membership of unions is now less than 7%, and even without Trump, organizing strategists for 20 years have warned that without major restructuring of organizing programs and significant organizing initiatives and policy shifts, labor was on a path to only 5% density or one in twenty American workers enjoying union membership. The current jet fueled conservative assault is likely against the more than 35% public sector membership that remains in unions.

We already can see the attack unfolding on several fronts. Republican-controlled legislatures and statehouses have already eviscerated union security provisions in Kentucky and Missouri is likely to fall with the house already having acted and the senate approving after current contracts expire with the governor’s signature seemingly inevitable. Other states are on the list. A bill was offered in Congress and then withdrawn, but certainly close at hand. The other major front already manifesting itself is more broadly aimed at public sector workers. Memorandum attacking paid union leave time in the federal sector for grievance handling and contract enforcement is already proceeding. The defeat in Wisconsin, which had been the birthplace of public unionization, provides a road map for other states to follow, but as we have seen elsewhere home health care and home daycare membership won by executive orders can easily be withdrawn.

Antonio Scalia’s death provided temporary relief when the Supreme Court split on the issue of withdrawing union security provisions for public workers in California and one or two Trump nominees, barring another miracle, means that even in staunch labor redoubts public union membership at the city, county, state, and educational level could be devastating, as we have seen in Wisconsin. Powerhouses of progressive labor like the teachers, service employees, government workers, and even industrial and private sector unions like the communication workers, auto workers, and teamsters which also represent significant bargaining units of public workers would all be hit hard.

Some unions are reportedly taking steps to prepare for these losses, both in their organizing and servicing programs, but lessons from not only Wisconsin but also from the British labor movement where union security was lost under Prime Minister Thatcher, indicate the losses under any reckoning will be severe. Never make the mistake in believing this will be a crisis only for American workers and their organizations. Conservatives know well what progressives should never forget, crippling institutional labor will have a seismic impact on all progressive organizations and capacity.

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