Hating Immigrants is the Wild Card in the Electoral Deck

immigration_2280507bNew Orleans   Wow! It must have suddenly become hate-on-an-immigrant day and Hallmark didn’t prepare any condolence cards for the rest of us. In one day the lives of immigrant millions of families were cast into limbo with the split, no-decision 4-4 polling of the Supreme Court and the 52-48 so-called Brexit vote for Great Britain to leave the European Union. President Obama called the Supreme Court split decision, “heartbreaking,” and said the upcoming election would determine “what kind of people we are.”

Meanwhile the United Kingdom showed what kind of people they were, and it was a bit brutish and left little doubt that immigration and the attendant freedom of mobility within the European Union was the wedge issue driving them out of the EU. As reported in the Times,

With net migration to Britain of 330,000 people in 2015, more than half of them from the European Union, Mr. Cameron had no effective response to how he could limit the influx. And there was no question that while the immigrants contributed more to the economy and to tax receipts than they cost, parts of Britain felt that its national identity was under assault and that the influx was putting substantial pressure on schools, health care and housing.

The campaign run by one of the loudest proponents of leaving, the U.K. Independence Party, flirted with xenophobia, nativism and what some of its critics considered racism. But the official, more mainstream Leave campaign also invoked immigration as an issue, and its slogan, “Take control,” resonated with voters who feel that the government is failing to regulate the inflow of people from Europe and beyond.

Prime Minister David Cameron will pay for the misjudgment and shortsightedness in calling the vote and the rejection at the polls with his job, offering his resignation after a couple of month’s transition to sort out the mess. There is pulling of hair and rending of clothes throughout Europe in trying to understand the “turning point,” the vote represents, but it is hard to see it as anything other than backwards. Scotland which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, is likely to press again for independence from the United Kingdom given this debacle.

Meanwhile in the United States the same mess is brewing. Trump of course said, “good for them,” joining the nativist on both sides of the Atlantic. Speaker Ryan who is becoming expert at the convoluted logic of politics claimed the no-decision was somehow a rejection by the Supreme Court of Obama’s executive authority around immigration, knowing that all of this awaits the appointment of a tie-breaking Justice in the hands of the next President. The Republicans once again proved how quickly tragedy can be converted into farce.

But what about the people, the immigrants themselves? The five million or more who were living on the bubble of this decision who were parents of citizens or children raised here, all of whom were hoping for some security and a path to the future? Advocates promised to mobilize, voter registration efforts were highlighted, but in the meantime, the “kind of people we are” will be the kind of people who break up families and deport record numbers of people from the United States, because our politics lacks both a heart and a backbone willing to make hard political decisions even when they are so clearly morally correct.

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Hillary Says, “If it’s Broke, I’ll Fix it”

51Wc+ZfNTSLNew Orleans    Hillary Clinton in a one-two punch has now laid out her prescription for the United States economy. She says it’s not about one-liners or fancy slogans, but her slogan seems to be: “If it’s broke, I’ll fix it.” She is positioning herself not exactly as the leader-of-the-free world but as the Maytag repairman, a modern day Rosie Riveter with a tool belt strapped around her waist.

She’s not making the mistake of over promising in her campaign pledges, and in fact it was hard to pick through the reports of her economic speech and find many promises at all.

Reportedly, she might try to get more people overtime, but that’s an Obama policy and DOL rule that is still being absorbed by workers and businesses. What would that be exactly? Something over $50,000 rather than the current mid-$40000 number? No revolution there. Another bone she threw out to workers is that she will do more to police and enforce wage and hour rules to curtail wage theft. Sounds good, but I’m pretty sure that would involve some serious beefing up of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division and its personnel, and given how badly this area has atrophied over the last 30 odd years, amen to that. I’m also pretty sure it would take a Congressional appropriation that would actually give the DOL money to finally do that job, and I’m not sure there are many Republican Congressman in the majority that are looking to muscle up on small and medium sized businesses.

She says she’ll renegotiate some of the trade pacts. As most of us know by now anything that has to do with trade negotiations takes forever, so she might be messing with that assignment deep into a second term, if she were able to win one. No holding our breath on that either.

She says there are fix-it-quick deals she can make that would perk up the economy with massive infrastructure investments. That’s a well-traveled road from the Obama Administration as well, and sounds good, but it’s hard to believe there’s a real deal there with Congress either, other than the usual, “when we say, infrastructure, they say, pork.” Oh, she also says she’ll get something going on immigration reform. I’m hearing Trump’s hateration as the soundtrack on this one which, win or lose, is likely to continue to make a lot of conservative Congressmen timid here on real reform, unless this is just a sop she’s throwing to Silicon Valley and its special pleading to bring in more foreign engineers to play with computers and code.

Ok, so this is thin soup so far. She’s saying she’s “feeling your pain” and grabbing her tool belt, but she’s still talking about fulfilling pretty small work orders. She adds, according to the New York Times, that’s not a problem though because, “… she will campaign and govern with a five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts, incorporating the full range of potential legislative and administrative tools available to the next president.”

Wow! I’d like to meet the person who takes either comfort or inspiration from a future “five-point plan, drawn up by subject-area experts.” There’s leading from behind, but I’m not sure that American workers and wannabe workers are ready to be happy with her being this far behind.

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Demanding Lead Testing in Schools and Real Response

leadinwaterNew Orleans   The water crisis in Flint, Michigan seemed like a wakeup for America and the world. Lead was in the water. People couldn’t drink it. The damage to children – and adults – was incalculable. Lead was found in other schools in the country when districts began testing, like Newark, New Jersey for example.

Local 100, United Labor Unions, represents school workers in Dallas and Houston, so of course we demanded they test the water for the sake of both the workers and children. These are huge school districts. The adverse impacts would be devastating. Despite Flint, Newark and other districts, we’re caught in a crisis of incrementalism. So far we have gotten the Houston district to test perhaps five schools build before a certain date. Hardly a comprehensive program. Dallas is dragging their feet even more, despite proven cases where our workers were employed in a records storage area that was an old auto facility and where lead and other heavy metals have been documented in abundance.

Some big districts have been more responsive. After a minimal test in Chicago schools showed some problems, the Chicago Public Schools hired four different contractors to test widely. According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune:

CPS said water has been tested at 265 of 324 schools that are more than 30 years old and have prekindergarten programs. Results have only been returned for 87 schools. Of those, the district said 26 schools had at least one fixture that spouted water with lead amounts in excess of 15 parts per billion. Test results have shown a wide variety of lead levels were detected in water across the city’s schools. Water from one sink at a Clearing neighborhood school for disabled children between the ages of 3 and 6 showed lead levels as high as 1,100 parts per billion — a water fountain at the building tested as high as 357 parts per billion, according to the district. Four drinking fountains and four sinks at Reilly Elementary on the Northwest Side showed high lead levels, including a water fountain on the school’s main floor that tested as high as 340 parts per billion.

Chicago is hardly the gold standard, but at least they are playing catchup. Talking to experts, the Madison, Wisconsin school district has reportedly replaced all of their lead pipes over the years in order to proactively deal with this issue in a comprehensive way.

Keep in mind that the EPA requires bottled water to not exceed 5 parts per billion and lead experts are clear that this 15 parts per billion is just plain pretend when it comes to prevent or the damage of exposure.

National expert, Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, was quoted clearly in the Tribune

“You cannot undo harm that’s been done in the past, that’s the nature of lead exposure. You can only prevent future exposure. So the sooner you get the bad news, that’s good news.” Edwards wasn’t surprised by the number of CPS buildings that have shown elevated levels of water-based lead so far. “Nothing would ever surprise me in terms of lead in school water, because (schools) have generally the oldest plumbing and the water sits around for long periods of time,” Edwards said. “That makes it more corrosive, it allows more lead particles to accumulate and in many cities the schools are the source of the worst lead in water for those reasons.”

Local 100 has also gathered soil samples from schools in Dallas and Houston and are waiting for the results. What good does it do any of us for school districts, city officials, sewer and water providers, and others to resist the testing to find out the “bad news” so we can began to protect people?

No one is pointing fingers but why the false security, the cover-ups, and obfuscation? It’s time to do the work and prevent more permanently damaging impacts for our children and workers in schools.

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Scientists Say Our Nuclear Power Plants May Be Fire Bombs Waiting to Explode

plant at Peach Bottom

plant at Peach Bottom

New Orleans  There’s a lot of talk about solar and other renewable energy sources, reduced electricity demand, and even some environmentalists saying that nuclear power might be the way to go to reduce the risk of climate change. You start to think to yourself, well, it’s been a long time since Three Mile Island, maybe I should take a look at this again and update my viewpoint. My stumbling block more recently was a visit in October of 2012 to Japan in the area devastated by the earthquake there in March 2011 and the continuing problems at the Fukushima plant. A more recent article in Science magazine on reports issued by scientists still unpacking the risks of a total meltdown at Fukushima and extended by other researchers to the ongoing latent dangers in US nuclear plants with the same characteristics, once again scared the stuffings out of me.

Pretty much the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in their report claim it was pure luck that saved Japan. Here’s why. Nuclear plants store spent fuel, which is highly radioactive obviously, in huge cooling ponds. In Japan, the earthquake and tsunami shut down the pumps that move coolant in the reactors and cool down the water in the spent fuel pools. Pumps go down, meltdown follows. But, as Science detailed, “the water was evaporating away because of the hot fuel,” meaning the risk of fire and conflagration was imminent, and only averted because, “Separating the well and the spent fuel pool is a gate through which fuel assemblies are transferred. The gate leaked, allowing water from the well to partly refill the pool.” That could have been the big one in Japan!

The study also points out that this potential problem should be a “wake-up call for the industry,” but if so they must be sending encrypted messages between each other, because this was the first warning I had seen. Unpublished modeling of a nuke plant in Peach Bottom, Pennsylvania in the southeast portion of that state not far from Washington and Philadelphia, indicated that a spent-fuel fire there would have “trillion-dollar consequences” according to a Princeton University nuclear security expert. Other Princeton researchers published a report saying that depending on when such a fire occurred at that plant and the prevailing winds during that season, the contamination could spread from Maine to North Carolina, and cause the evacuation of 43 million people. And, believe me on this, there are areas in Japan where people will never go home.

Should we worry about this? Well, yes, because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, often derided as an industry lapdog, concluded that these reports were essentially no “immediate” problem. The solution would be costly and involve a $4 billion conversion to concrete containers called “dry casks” which would reduce the chances of a spent fuel fire, and the NRC doesn’t want to saddle the nuclear energy gang with this price tag. But, “the benefits of expedited transfers to dry casks are five-fold greater than NRC has calculated, the academies found.”

What, me worry? Heck, yes!

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Clinton Wins, Sanders Sulks

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 10.05.44 AMNew Orleans   In the last major bout of voting, Hillary Clinton decisively sewed up the Democratic nomination for President to become the first woman nominee of a major party, and making history in the bargain, 95 years after women first won the vote. She prevailed in indisputable fashion, winning the California primary decisively at 56% with 94% of the vote tallied, as well as primaries in New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Furthermore for all of the carping, Clinton “succeeded in winning a majority of pledged delegates, a majority of the states that have held primaries, and the popular vote.” There will be a lot said, though I bet little in real terms that will be done, about the status of superdelegates in the future, but this was not a “rigged” victory. Clinton won fair and square and California was a stake through the heart of the Sanders campaign.

I interviewed Sanders organizer and longtime organizer and activist, Pat DeTemple, on Wade’s World last week about a paper he had been circulating around the Sanders camp that is part of the edition of Social Policy now at the presses. He had confidently predicted victory in California for Sanders, and was arguing that even so, it was time for Sanders to take the next step, organize an independent expenditure committee, start going after Trump, and make sure that Clinton, (gulp, sneeze, and cough) wins in November. Sanders winning North Dakota and Montana doesn’t do the job. California was his Battle on the Little Bighorn, and he was massacred. It’s time for him to shift to a new battlefield and leave this one. The nomination is Clinton’s.

Reportedly, President Obama called Sanders over the weekend. They are supposedly meeting on Thursday. It may be the White House, but it could be the woodshed. Obama is stepping up as the leader of his party to give Sanders a chance to exit on the lawn, arm in arm with the President, with a huge measure of the kind of grace that Obama can bring to such an event. The clock has wound down and the opportunity is now gone for a Sanders scowl and sulk. He’s had the opportunity to watch one Republican princeling after another walk the plank, so he knows the walk, and this is the best path for him – and the rest of us — to take.

Revolutions are about sacrifice, and they start with knowing that’s it’s not about you, but about the people. Senator Sanders fought the good fight and now there are other fights that wait for him, when he’s ready and willing, so he needs to help lead in that direction. In the meantime it’s worth remembering, that in this situation even the Beatles gave good advice, singing….

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
You tell me that it’s evolution
Well, you know We all want to change the world
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know that you can count me out

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We’d all love to see the plan
You ask me for a contribution
Well, you know
We’re all doing what we can
But if you want money
For people with minds that hate
All I can tell is brother you have to wait
You say you’ll change the constitution
Well, you know
We all want to change your head
You tell me it’s the institution
Well, you know
You better free you mind instead

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Muhammed Ali Was a Man of the People

w583h583_37461-african-american-involvement-in-the-vietnam-war-muhammad-aliNew Orleans    In the continuing conversation following the death of Muhammed Ali, a beloved champion of a controversial sport, and a controversial figure who pulled off the magic trick of being beloved and respected even by many who disagreed with his views on war, politics, and race, it is interesting to see how deep his footprints were among real people, not just celebrities. Part of Ali’s appeal was plain and simply that he genuinely seemed to love people, and despite being a “race” man, as many of our older members might have called him, he was a “little people” man, rather than someone who lost himself in the celebrity stratosphere. He never got what Steve McDonald, the first ACORN president, called, “the big head.”

It’s been interesting to collect some telling stories about close encounters with Ali that reveal all of this.

Mike Gallagher, an old friend and organizing comrade over many decades, was originally from the Wilkes-Barre area of Pennsylvania. He shared this story involving one of his brothers and his dear mother, now 96.

The sad news today about the passing of Muhammad Ali reminded me of a chance meeting between the Greatest and my tiny mother many years back:

After his championship heyday and before he finally quit the ring, Ali had a training camp up in the mountains in Pennsylvania not too far from where I grew up. Those of you who were in Fair Share will remember our hilarious friend and colleague Richard Montgomery, a sometime sparring partner who knew the facility well.

One day my mother and one of my younger brothers were out for a drive. They stopped for gas and soon after Muhammad Ali and his large entourage pulled in to the same station. As they were both filling up, they got to talking, one thing led to another and my mother and brother were invited up the mountain for lunch. There Ali fed them and kept them entertained for the rest of the afternoon with stories and jokes and they left star struck. My mother, who is now 96 and frail but lucid, said he was so charming, kind, funny and warm that the time just flew right by.
Tell me that isn’t a dear, dear story!

Here’s another one a bit more political. It’s a reminiscence from Beth Butler, a longtime ACORN community organizer in New Orleans involving Ali and Sherman Copelin, who had, with Donald Hubbard, been promoters of Ali’s bout against Leon Spinks in 1978 in the Superdome, and before that were cofounders of SOUL, the 9th ward political organization that played a huge role in African-American and all politics for decades.

Muhammad Ali and Sherman Copelin crashed an ACORN PAC (Political Action Committee) meeting in the early 80s, in the lower 9 [9th Ward]. Elizabeth Rogers got a jab in about how “he had done nothing for his people since he left Russia” He was pleased that she remembered, but Sherman thought that it was time to leave, and the group then proceeded to endorse the other candidate.

Elizabeth Rogers was an outlier even for an ACORN member back then. With her husband, they were back-to-the-thirties committed leftists, who were white, but lived in the largely African-American lower nine. Rogers held her tongue for no one, and also according to Butler told him to put away his “red handkerchief” because he had more important things to do than magic tricks for all “his people.” That Ali took that “punch with a smile,” also says something profound about the heart and soul of the man.

William C. Rhoden, a sports columnist for the New York Times, and a black man living still in Harlem, in a moving personal reflection about Ali never having sold out and having set a very high bar for not doing so, summed up the special nature of this man and what his life taught as well, saying,

“What I gleaned from Ali’s life, as I’ve lived mine, is that the goal is not to go through life undefeated. The quest is to exercise resilience and come back stronger.

Beloved by much of the world, Ali was nonetheless consistently, unapologetically black.

I loved that about him. Muhammad Ali was an ungentrified black man.”

And, a man of the people. All the people.

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