Bernie’s Brother is EVERYWHERE in England

Larry Sanders. Source:

Larry Sanders. Source:

London   If anyone thinks that they can escape the US-election battles on the 24-hour news circuit, don’t come to England!

Eating lunch with a seasoned political operator often in and out of Labor governments and the institutions that surround them, he asked about the Clinton-Sanders campaign, but even before we got our orders out, he told a funny story about winning a bet with his partner. He had told her that Bernie Sanders’ brother had been leading the news on all media ever since New Hampshire, and he had just about had enough of it. She looked at him with bemused disbelief, and, voila, he turned on the radio, and there was Bernie’s brother bringing a bit of the Bronx to the BBC!

I laughed as well, asking naively if Bernie’s brother lived in England, and nodding and laughing along as he told the story. Less than an hour later, I picked up a free copy of the Evening Standard on the tube in London, and darned if there wasn’t an interview with the Bernie brother smack dab in the middle of the paper.

In the USA we are used to brothers running towards the political flame like moths. We had Roger Clinton and his show during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and of course Jimmy Carter’s brother couldn’t stay out of the news either, and too often it looked like hands were stretched out wide and trouble was a coming. The Bush sons and then brothers populated another world. Certainly stories of Jeb trying to “represent” while the old man was President have been widely reported in various wheeler-dealer moves at the time.

But, a candidate’s brother? Usually, the handlers keep them under wraps for as long as possible. Don’t they?

Larry Sanders, yes, that’s the Bernie brother’s name, just like the old HBO comedy show some years back, either didn’t get the memo or hadn’t hear of this internet thing or the globalization of the news cycle which can take a quote and twist it across mountains and oceans. Or, the Bernie brother has a bit of Trump in him and just lets it sail.

I saw what my friend meant quickly. The interview was “we,”“we, “we,” on one position after another. For example, the newish and controversial leader of the Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn is also old, white, and progressive. Bernie brother assures us that, “There are comparisons with Corbyn and if Bernard wins we will have a special relationship with him.” We? He takes credit for Bernie’s political views. “I used to babysit him and talk about the political books I was reading, so it’s my fault.” Ol’ Larry takes slaps at Hillary for supporting the Iraq war and welfare cutbacks. He claims Bernie didn’t want to run, but did so by default when Senator Elizabeth Warren wouldn’t make the jump.

War, peace, the Clintons, youth, and Bernie’s personal life are all fair game for Brother Sanders in his 15-seconds of fame in Oxford where he was a social worker and former city councilor. He says he’ll vote in the US elections for the first time since 1968. And until then, for better or for worse he’ll give his opinions about his brother and his political positions in England anytime someone sticks a microphone anywhere near his face on this side of the Atlantic.

Encounter Knowledge

passportWashington   Hopping on a plane to Dulles and then over the water to London for various meetings with ACORN United Kingdom organizers and others, you find yourself dragging over to the airport and running through the pros and cons in your mind.

Believe me they may be almost giving away gas at the pump in the United States, but flying is still very pricey. The exotic and romantic nature of travel on planes has changed over my years of travel in remarkable ways. Planes are now buses with wings that assemble and take off from shopping malls. You still had best bring your snacks with you, but you don’t have to wave a plane down by the side of the road and usually the bathrooms work better than the grey-dogs and mega-buses do, but otherwise it’s what and what.

Going from country to country there are unfathomable barriers. Subcontracted, on-line application procedures for visas are different country to country, for example easy to Kenya, impossible to India. This trip was supposed to be a cheap stop in London for business in route to my annual trip to India where we had exciting opportunities in Bengaluru with partners to fashion video recruitment tools and were working to identify organizing opportunities with prospective French trade union federations, but instead after two mysterious and inexplicable visa application rejections from India, that part of the trip was scuttled forcing the by station stop to swallow the cost of the fare.

I read a piece recently that argued that tech might increasingly replace travel. In the age of the internet, the meetings via conference call, video presentations, and other devices which put you “in the room” almost, many businesses are asking why take the time, trouble, and expense to carry the same weight.

God knows it’s tempting, but is it really the same? Is the same information and exchange really available in such meetings or through endless research on websites and YouTube? The author introduced a counterpoint. He argued that there might be such a thing as “encounter” knowledge. Intelligence only gained by being on the ground, seeing with your own eyes, experiencing the random events, and visiting with the people in unscripted and natural settings.

Helping make an organizing plan for a union of domestic workers in Morocco, I felt crippled by not being able to be on the ground where I could test theory to reality. Sitting in a worker center in Los Angeles, I could see from there to the future in a way that wouldn’t have been available from armchair or screen.

It’s a relief to be allowed to believe that dragging my wagon on and off a plane, moving from couch to subway to meeting to train to meeting to plane is not just old school, but continues to be a way to gain deeper and superior knowledge, not just a force of habit.

The Dilution of Class Privilege on Mardi Gras

s.mgpastpresent.2New Orleans    Mardi Gras season is rough for year round residents. It’s not the going to parades but navigating the parade routes so that regular work and life maintains its semi-normal routine. It’s also stomaching the symbols.

Mardi Gras marks the beginning of Lent on the Christian calendar with Easter forty days away. Historically, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a guilty pleasure rife with class and racial entitlement. And, like so many rock-ribbed Southern traditions, the traditions of the upper class continue unabated. The daily newspapers continue to parade front page pictures on the Sunday before Mardi Gras of an elderly white man anointed as the King of the Rex parade, the premier old line outfit, and a young, white woman debutante as the Queen of Rex. This year’s queen looked twelve in her picture. She is no doubt an accomplished young woman who is now attending Yale and speaks Mandarin, but has never gone to school and hardly ever lived in New Orleans, as distant from her disloyal subjects as the planet Mars. The uptown island of wealth and privilege in New Orleans continues to float aimlessly in a sea that is 60% African-American and one of the most crime ridden and poorest cities in the United States. There’s something distinctly unappealing about watching self-proclaimed royalty throwing trinkets to the out stretched arms of the masses, but maybe that’s just me, because it is certainly deeply rooted in the New Orleans culture.

There’s pushback though. The Endymion parade celebrated its 50th Mardi Gras and along with other so-called super-krewes have left Rex in the dirt as the most popular parades. Endymion was a middle and working class parade interloper now claiming thousands of members, open to pretty much anyone willing to come up with a couple of grand. Not for everyone certainly, but compared to the high society swells, a democratic revolution. Such parades chose their royalty from the ranks of local and other celebrities focusing on the crowds and popularity, maybe even the fun of it all, rather than the pomp and prestige.

The post-Katrina surge of the young and the hips detached from any tradition, but looking for a good time, has also leavened some of the more troubling pieces of the Mardi Gras tradition and added a somewhat more democratic tinge to the experience. The African-American Indian “tribes” and costumes were neighborhood based and outside of the main culture, and now newcomers have brought some of the same topsy-turvy to tradition. There are walking parades, makeshift floats or none at all, and costumes of all description often to musical accompaniment. There are parades for dogs and neighborhood parades of floats the size of a shoebox. Some are bawdy and racy, while others are political and satirical. Many are unannounced without routes or routines and therefore all of the more exciting. When you hear the music, you can run to your front stoop and with some joy and surprise catch a glimpse of the passing parade.

Gradually the people are stealing up on the big whoops and making Mardi Gras their own as the natives and the newcomers make it more fun and celebratory, rather than a painful parody of the city’s racial and class divide.

Stupid to Slam Young Women

tumblr_nuivyqRpOD1uvablzo1_1280New Orleans    When real people get involved, predictions become worthless.

Take the Super Bowl as a good example. Many would have thought you had to be a sentimentalist or a hometown fan to really and truly believe that Denver with an injured, semi-geriatric quarterback and a team hardly able to score a touchdown in the red zone could beat the exuberant, almost undefeated Carolina Panthers led by an MVP QB who was larger at 6’5” 245 pounds than any player on the Green Bay team that won the first Super Bowl 50 years ago. The Manning family goes back to Drew, Mississippi and my mother’s roots and the Manning boys were raised in New Orleans, and I lived long stretches around Colorado, mainly on the western slope where my brother was also born, and in Denver for months at a time, summer after summer, so I was more Bronco than Panther and a sucker for a storybook finish, even as I understood that the Panthers and their star might be the future and a thorn in the side of the beloved New Orleans Saints.

In Iowa only 14% of the voters between 17 and 29 years old caucused for Hillary Clinton, while 84% went for Bernie Sanders. Like it or not, sports and politics fans, that means something. For all of the deserved criticism of football these days, there is never any confusion about winning and losing and whether the problems are on the field and not the stands. It’s the team, not the fans who shoulder the weight.

Like it or not, the same is true in politics. When asked many, many months ago by a reporter from The Nation to offer an opinion on how progressives saw Hillary Clinton, I felt lucky when the article didn’t mention my expressed concern on her candidacy: why weren’t women united and rallying as the bedrock of her base? Now more than six months later, the problems, if anything, are even worse and more worrisome.

An iron rule of organization is never blame the members. The same holds true in politics.What could anyone have been thinking to now encourage other women, almost surrogates to the campaign, to blame women, especially young women, for not supporting Clinton and instead being more excited about Sanders campaign? Is scolding and shaming supposed to change voters’ preferences and somehow mysteriously and miraculously move them to greater participation and devotion to Hillary? Hardly!

And, Gloria Steinem, longtime feminist speaker, writer, and activist, what the heck? For her to say on HBO that young women were essentially moving to Sanders not with their heads but their hormones because “that’s where the young boys are,” was belittling and, frankly, sexist. In the firestorm she has now ignited with this stupid and insulting comment, she has hurt not only Clinton, but women and the cause. In a retreat release, she now claims she misspoke and didn’t mean it and does believe that young women care about politics and more are feminists than ever before. Yeah, right, but for one minute does anyone believe that this was a slip of her tongue and that Gloria Steinem of all people didn’t perfectly plan that remark if the opportunity presented? Steinem is a lifetime veteran of the public forum and the fierce behind-the-scenes battles dating back to the National Student Association CIA Cold War days and certainly the constant debates of the feminist movement through the decades. She knew what she wanted to say, she said it to stir the waters and try to put a finger in the dike of young women’s slipping support for Clinton, and she said it as a decree from the pinnacle of the women’s movement that she firmly occupies and protects.

If Clinton and her team want to win, they can’t blame the voters. She has to convince and inspire them, not shame and scold. She has to be the vessel of hope for change and the future, not the finger waving teacher, coach, or parent, saying “get real,” settle for less, and be happy with what you have. Clinton has dreams, but she – and her team – have to make the dreams about others, not themselves, if they want to convince voters.

You win on the field based on how you and your team play, not by badmouthing the fans. Same for voters.

Two New Strikes Against the Video-Scammers – Is This Tactic Finally Out?

planned_parenthood_capitol_ap_imgNew Orleans    The anti-abortion fakers with the front organization, Center for Medical Progress, have been the right wing and Republicans’ cat’s paw for months now in their relentless attack on Planned Parenthood. Without a doubt they have cost the organization time and money, and curtailed desperately needed services in one community after another, because of their scurrilous sneak attacks and unsubstantiated allegations that Planned Parenthood was selling fetuses.

Politically, the organization has built up sturdy bulwarks against these smears. The Department of Health and Human Services has forcibly engaged a number of the states who tried to arbitrarily defund the organization. The threats to shut down the government were met with a more serious promise from President Obama to veto any conditions, and deals were made, House Speakers were switched out, and supporters held firm.

More recently the legal front has turned a trickle against these folks into a tidal wave. A female Republican prosecutor for Harris County, Texas, where Houston is located, agreed with the Lieutenant-Governor to investigate Planned Parenthood’s operations, but a funny thing happened after the grand jury “followed the evidence where it took them,” and instead issued indictments against principals with the California-based video-scammers for falsifying government documents and the like. We could hear the hot air escaping from Congressional balloons all over the country.

The beef on misusing government property rested on creating fake drivers’ licenses like they were teen drinkers or something. Their defense had been unusual. They claimed they were journalists and this was the way investigative reporters operate. Needless to say, such a defense was met with guffaws at best.

More seriously a federal judge in California has now issued an injunction that these folks cannot release anymore of the videos they took of Planned Parenthood in this manner. Furthermore the judge indicated that he had based his order on the fact that he had watched hundreds of hours of their videotape and could find no evidence that anyone “admitted to engaging in, agreed to engage in, or expressed interest in engaging in potentially illegal sale of fetal tissue for profit.”

Bam! You can hear misogynists, Presidential candidates, evangelicals, and other self-proclaimed moralists’ jaws flapping wide open when they hear that. Talk about much ado about nothing! They don’t have squat on Planned Parenthood!

After all of the James O’Keefe mess where his editing was malicious and his feet made of clay in recent years it seemed like this gotcha video tactic, begun in the assault against ACORN and continued against various progressive institutions from NPR to NEA and programs, might have finally played out. Now with the latest humiliation in the mayhem caused by the video-scammers and Planned Parenthood, can anyone ever believe any of this balderdash again? Has this tactic finally worn out its unwelcome role in the American political scene?

Let’s hope we don’t need a third strike to finally rule this out and say, lesson learned.

The Wall Street Journal Thinks Hillary is Too Close to Wall Street!

Wall-Street--Lower-Manhattan-53049New Orleans   Did the sun just rise in the west? Is down up and up now down? Did hell just freeze over? What’s up with the world?

Why do I wonder?

Simply put when the rightwing editorial page of the Rupert Murdock owned Wall Street Journal makes the case that Hillary Clinton is too close to Wall Street something is definitely topsy-turvy in the world as we know it. This is a classic case of the exception proving the rule. Normally, the editorial page of the Journal is the national equivalent of the society page in your local daily paper: a must miss feature! They run a hater nation page there with a heavy-handed Republican bias, and if their editorials are just snide and snippy, instead of hurtful and malicious, it counts as a good day.

All this is very worrisome, because if the Wall Street Journal thinks that Hillary Clinton is too close to Wall Street, where they butter their bread, then what are the rest of us to think? One can try to pry facts off of someone’s shoes, but it’s hard to get something that seems like gospel out of your head.

The Journal used the recent New Hampshire debate before the upcoming primary as the platform for their question about the $675,000 Mrs. Clinton had received from the financial giant Goldman Sachs.

“Host (CNN) Anderson Cooper asked her whether she really had to be paid $675,000 for giving three speeches. ‘Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered,’ said Mrs. Clinton – to much audience laughter. She then tried the argument that every Secretary of State does it, and then settled on the unbelievable claim that at the time she took the money she didn’t know she would be running for President again. Mr. Cooper was so startled he asked her to repeat the point.”

Ouch! The Journal then piles on by following that very expensive blow with some cheaper shots, claiming that Clinton’s deal reflected the working détente between Democrats and Wall Street where the big Demo-dogs take their money, then mega-mouth attacks on them in public, while letting them get away with, well, everything let’s hope, but murder, in private. The Journal wants to believe that has to do with Wall Street trying to muscle out competition from elsewhere, but the rest of us worry, especially in light of the riches and ruin of recent years, that it is really about having them march in the constant favor parade whose big and small floats pave the way to even more of their riches at the expense of the rest of us.

The kicker comes at the end as they wrote,

“When asked on CNN if she regretted her income windfall from Goldman, Mrs. Clinton replied, ‘No, I don’t, because, you know, I don’t feel that I paid any price for it and I am very clear about what I will do and they’re on notice.’ Mrs. Clinton is the one on notice that there is a political price to be paid for it…And because everyone knows why Goldman paid her $675,000.”

This isn’t a shouting match about emails that amount to making a mountain out of a molehill, but something a lot more serious, and these answers really aren’t enough to make any of us comfortable, even the Wall Street Journal.