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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Trump as the Great White Hope

2016electionNew Orleans   Welcome to the season of political pundit gymnastics as conservative observers try to see how in the world to plot a potential path to victory in the Electoral College for Donald Trump. Spoiler alert: it starts and ends with white people. Lots of them!

One of the Wall Street Journal columnists tried to see if there was a way based on their most recent poll. They compared how Mitt Romney had done against President Obama in 2012 among white voters to how Hillary Clinton shaped up among the same divisions of the electorate against Trump. Interestingly, if Trump’s best shot is as the “great white hope,” he’s actually one-point down from Romney’s performance, and, just a reminder, Romney lost pretty badly.

It stacked up as Romney over Obama with all whites at +17 and Trump over Clinton with all whites at +16. Romney did better than Trump in this kind of hypothetical contest in every area except among “white men with no college” where Trump doubled up, scoring +48 over Clinton where Romney had been +24 over Obama in that group, usually classified as the white working class. Clinton was only up over the Obama 2012 performance with white women with college where Clinton was up 7% and Romney had beaten Obama by +2.

Their view was that unless Trump got his act together among white college women he was a gone pecan, cher, because he could not carry the suburbs in places like Pennsylvania and Colorado without them. Wow! If that’s his Achilles heel, he’s been tripping all over it for months and months. He can fire his campaign manager now and do so over and over again, and that’s not going to help him here. Clinton has already eroded the margins among white women with no college and white men with college compared to the Romney-Trump race. That actually seems like an area where she may still be able to pick up support, unless there is a sea change in the way Trump messages his attack dog, motor mouth campaign style.

They also believe that for Trump to win, third parties have to suck significant votes way from Clinton by taking advantage of the alienation and dissatisfaction remaining from Sanders core supporters. When conservatives have to pin their hopes on the Green Party, we’re just about Disneyland now. Who is Jill Stein? But, a real, alternative party that would be a different thing or a Sanders breakaway new party effort, which he clearly is unwilling to lead, now that would be a different thing. Call me, maybe.

Finally, even the Wall Street Journal labels Trump’s boasting that he could win New York and California as a “fantasy,” just about views New Jersey the same way. They plot one path with him winning Florida and Ohio, but still needing to take a Pennsylvania or a Minnesota or Colorado. The other way they think is even harder.

Florida becomes a lynchpin in beating Trump. He’s just about dead with Latinos. He has already wrong footed the Orlando tragedy badly. It’s not hard to see why some polls are now giving Clinton a double-digit advantage with Trump’s unfavorable at 70%. Somehow Cleveland beat Golden State, so anything is possible, but Trump is stumbling badly out of the gate at this point. You have to say, sorry, to the conservatives. Trump is no LeBron.

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Beat Goes On But Ecuadorian Economy Reeling

DSCN1351Quito    I had not visited Ecuador for three years. I sat for hours in the sparkling new airport that opened after my last visit or more specifically in the Airport Center across the street from the actual ticket counters, security, gates and airplanes. If modern airports have become shopping malls serviced by airplanes and runways, Quito has essentially built a mall across the walkway from their airport. There’s a patio. There are plenty of chairs and free Wi-Fi. There are many worse places in the wide world to spent hours waiting for a plane.

Walking through the main streets of the city near our hotel not far from the major park and Botanical Garden, everything seemed clean and well-ordered. The coffee shops were active and on the streets people bustled along in well-turned sport coats or high heels and big leather purses. Talking to friends, colleagues, and organizers we had worked with us on campaigns either in the United States or Ecuador or both, a more unsettling picture emerges.

This is not Venezuela where food riots have become almost daily occurrences and political and social unrest is intense, but nonetheless Ecuador at all levels is feeling the pain. One former political activist we knew well from our work on field operations in the last presidential campaign in Ecuador in describing the impact of the falling price of oil, remarked that 60% of the national budget was derived from oil revenues and even as the price moves towards the $50 per barrel that is essentially breakeven in the United States, Ecuador needs the price to hit $60 to $70 because of the extra cost of bringing their crude to the market. An organizer I had worked with at Casa de Maryland, back home now and working at a governmental ministry, told us that this year the budget of her department had been cut from $20 million to $6 million. Needless to say, the impact was devastating and the layoffs severe. She was surprised to still have a job!

Many don’t! An activist we knew, was now living at home. Her brother had lost his job with the state, and her sister in another job had her hours cut in half. An old friend, comrade and former organizer who had worked with us in Florida on our Walmart campaigns a decade ago, told me when he responded to my email and arranged to meet us for breakfast at the hotel that he would do his best to make it because “he was so busy.” When we met, I asked him what kind of jobs he was handling now that were keeping him so busy. “None,” came the surprising answer from my well-connected friend. He was hustling just to keep above water. A job in another country had mysteriously fallen through a week before. When I asked after his father, an elegant and sophisticated gentlemen, whom I admired and knew well and would have thought traveled smoothly in the upper class of the country, I learned he was also now unemployed and in danger of losing his home.

I worried that our members, many of whom depended on the “bono” or basic, cash welfare assistance that President Correa had raised unilaterally in the previous political campaign, might have seen that cutback. The answer from everyone we talked to was, “Not yet,” which was hardly reassuring. Higher oil prices had led to more robust economic projects, expanded public programs and public employment, and increased debt for Ecuador, both externally and internally. Like any bubble of sorts, the country, like Venezuela and smaller states like Louisiana, was caught still standing when the music stopped and everyone raised for a chair.

After the encouraging gains in many Andean countries where recent economic growth in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia had lifted education, citizen wealth, health, and living standards, one gets the sense that this is unraveling in a case study of what globalization gives, it then takes away. We met with two young doctors. They were originally from Honduras, but had trained for seven years in the vaunted Cuban healthcare system. They wanted to practice in rural areas where the need was greatest, but Honduras had no government program to support their work, so then ended up in Ecuador about 4 hours by bus from Quito. I asked them to rank the healthcare systems they knew and how the economic situation was impacting healthcare. Not surprisingly, they said of the three, Cuba was first, Honduras last, and Ecuador in-between. As for the economy, they were still getting paid, so at least that was something they said, but they could already see shortages starting to show up in medicine supplies.

Being forced to root for the price of a barrel of oil to go up just about says it all about the unsustainable economy we have built in the world.

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Celebrating ACORN’s 46th Birthday

DSCN1298Quito    At the annual Americas’ meeting of many of ACORN’s organizers in Quito, after a lengthy conversation about implementing our plans for an internet radio station to kick off in mid-August with shows from all of the offices interspersed with music replayed from our existing stations, a cake came out and by popular request we did our best trying to sing a recent organizing song along the lines of Drake’s “Hot Line Bling.” The meeting had been good, spirits were high, plans were in place, but at the same time the discussions had been serious and sober, and we were humble to the task.

The challenge for senior staff, including myself, can be the wide view from the front windshield of opportunity, compared to the vast and expansive accomplishments in the rear view mirror. ACORN Canada has become a powerhouse with huge victories and campaigns protecting and advancing the interests of tenants and consumers. Work in France, the United Kingdom, and India is encouraging and exciting, and opportunities seem to increasingly abound for ACORN in Europe, if we can get our arms around them. We may have our first meeting ever of all of our organizers in Africa this fall, which would allow us to potentially turn a corner there for the future. Consolidating and tightening our program in Latin America may allow us to finally solidify the work and victories there over the last dozen years. Reports are starting to emerge that auger for real impact and deep alliances around rural electric cooperatives in the southern United States and accountability for charity care in nonprofit hospitals, lending and financial discrimination in the United Kingdom, and threats to remittances globally. Partnerships with colleges and universities are extending the organization’s reach and resources. Plans for upgrading training tools with better technology and investment could be significant. It was exciting to sit around this table!

At the same time it was a small table, compared to the giant halls where ACORN annual organizers’ meetings were held in the past. 150,000 members globally is not the same as almost a half-million concentrated in one country, like the United States. Frequently, we’re involved in throwback situations to the early and mid-1970s where we’re trying to put twenty pounds to work into a one-pound bag and a stuff a thousand people into a clown car.

But, the key is to keep moving and moving forward, which is part of what emerges at every birthday celebration. The alternatives are devastating, embracing the next day, and the opportunities of life and work are everything.

At 46 years the main celebration is the excitement that the organization and the work continues, and is important and winning. It’s a milestone, but just another day. Next year on the 47th anniversary, we will be at the biennial convention of ACORN Canada in Ottawa.

There’s a lot to be done. Time to think about where we will be when we gather for the 50th!

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