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


Obama is Wrong about Social Movements and Activists

 “The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with young people in London. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table,” Mr. Obama said at a meeting with young people in London. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

New Orleans   President Obama is on his farewell tour. Speaking to a young, university audience in London while trying to drum up some support for Britain to stay in the European Union, he offered what has to be seen as totally gratuitous advice to them – and of course all of the rest of us – about what he sees as the proper, underline “proper,” role for social movements and activists. And, not surprisingly, he is totally wrong, but here was what he had to offer:

“The value of social movements and activism is to get you at the table, get you in the room, and then to start trying to figure out how is this problem going to be solved. You then have a responsibility to prepare an agenda that is achievable, that can institutionalize the changes you seek, and to engage the other side, and occasionally to take half a loaf that will advance the gains that you seek, understanding that there’s going to be more work to do, but this is what is achievable at this moment.”

In the New York Times story about his remarks, they predictably added that something that they felt, equally gratuitously, would help give an extra dose of credibility or street cred to the President of the United States, arguably – and temporarily – one of the powerful people in the world. They offered that,

Mr. Obama began his career as a community organizer working on local initiatives in poor neighborhoods in Chicago. Sometimes, he said, solving a problem means accepting a series of partial solutions.

Now, certainly if you are a big whoop, or the biggest whoop of them all you, want the rowdies out there to get the message that if you lean down from your perch and deign to listen to them for a hot minute, they are supposed to understand that they are supposed to behave, thank you, and then go and shut the heck up. But, as Obama surely must really know, regardless of the claptrap he’s selling right now, the role of social movements, and many activists, is exactly the opposite. The role of social movements in fact is to speak “truth to power,” not to make the deals and settle for the incremental changes, but to chant, “more, more, more,” keep the heat on that continues to create the pressure and push to create the space for the deal-makers to do their thing to get closer and closer to the mark, and not stop until the job is done.

Obama knows from his time in Chicago that an organization has to accept “half a loaf” frequently to deliver to its members. Good organizations get more, and weaker organizations get less, but it’s a social movement’s job to continue to raise the banner for truth, justice, and the whole loaf. There’s a different between seeking power and putting on the pressure. The Alinsky tradition, that Obama shared, was always uncomfortable with social movements because they were too easily appeased by applause, rather than being thankful that social movements enlarged the space to allow organizations to win even greater victories. Sadly, but once again not surprisingly, Obama knew this seven years ago when he challenged activists to push him – and the country – if they wanted more change, but now that he’s more worried about his past legacy, than his future accomplishments, he sitting too comfortably on the throne.

It’s worth respecting his position, but for the sake of all of us working for change, when it comes to social movements, we need to adamantly decline to follow his advice.


Unmask Race and President Obama is the Comeback Kid!

Senator Bernie Sanders watches as President Obama signs the Veterans' Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Senator Bernie Sanders watches as President Obama signs the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

New Orleans     Big, fat surprise in the land of hateration, President Obama’s popularity is shooting up, up, up. He’s now over 50% and rising. Articles in the papers are starting to wonder why he’s not getting more credit for the economic recovery in Rust Belt states like Michigan and Indiana, since nationally unemployment is down to 5% and in some places in the Midwest it’s in the 3s. What’s up?!?

Part of it is clearly the fact that many on the right, middle, and even the left, are looking at the candidates vying to take his place and saying, Holy Jesus, what has God wrought! Hillary Clinton is dying out there with progressives, the young, and many women, feminists included, are putting their hands over their faces to hide big, fat yawns. Bernie “Old as Dirt” Sanders has managed to have less negatives than Clinton, even wearing the red vest of socialism proudly under his suit jacket. In fact his numbers are higher than Hillary’s in one-on-one polls against Donald Trump, if the general election were tomorrow.

And, that brings us to the Republicans, mercy me! It’s not just that they all measure up like Lilliputians next to a giant, but they are scaring the dickens out of huge numbers of the American public. Perhaps most importantly when we look at the drivers behind the contradiction of this puppy love of a large segment of the white working class for a billionaire of all things, it’s not the just the easy answer of being left behind in the modern economy, but the anger is the old anger deeply embedded in race, pure and simple. The more this campaign drags on, the more the suspicion of the African-American electorate that a lot of the venom directed at the President is based on the fact that he’s black more than his policies is verified as hard cold reality.

Thanks to the schoolyard bullying and brawling of the Republican primary, even hardcore ideological opponents among the nation’s punditry are also having to admit that they have to give President his due. There can’t be any argument that he brought dignity to the office. Compared to the hip shooters vying for the job, being Cool Hand Luke now looks good to some of his opponents. They even concede he has good manners, a picture perfect family, and has presided over his two terms with hardly a wisp of scandal and nothing that would point in his direction.

Some of this may be the voters coming to grip with the “devil they know” being better than the devil they don’t know, but reading an unending piece in The Atlantic based on a series of interviews with President Obama about his driving philosophy, actions, and initiatives in foreign policy was a little bit like meeting Marshall Dillon and admiring his balance in working with nothing but trigger happy gunslingers. Obama didn’t call people out, but the reporter and the article made it pretty clear that without Obama’s restraint and courage if it had been left to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Samantha Power, and a litany of other advisers as well as what Obama called the dictates of the “Washington Playbook,” we would be stuck unendingly in the middle of the Syrian conflict with boots on the ground for years and years. Obama may not have deserved the Nobel Prize when he won it when he was still wet behind the ears in his first term, but in Syria, Iran, Cuba, and other areas, he has earned it now.

We all have just cause to complain about the lack of progress on many domestic issues in Obama’s first six years, save the “better than nothing” Affordable Care Act, but I would bet that his footprint on the world stage and White House lawn is going to be a tough act to follow for generations.


Obama’s Free Shot at the Supreme Court

Supreme_Court_Building_at_DuskLondon    The sudden death of arch conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia at 79 after 30 years on the Court is one of those rare events that has the potential to be a game changer and unsettle the already turbulent events of the election season. Taking to heart the Latin proverb “De mortuis nil nisi bonum,” roughly translated “of the dead, nothing unless good” or essentially, speak no evil of the dead, I would note that in his passing in the Big Bend country of Texas along the Rio Grande, we share in common a love for the rough, solitary beauty of that part of the country. And, so enough said on that score.

The frequency of tough 5-4 decisions on the United States Supreme Court found shifting power in the swing votes of first retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner and now Justice Anthony Kennedy with four somewhat dependable liberal votes and four often rigid conservative votes marshaled by Chief Justice Roberts but prodded and poked by Justice Scalia, means that President Obama has the opportunity to at least improve the odds by diluting the presumptive four conservative votes. As the partisan sides quickly harden around this opportunity with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell already asking the President to leave the appointment until a new President is elected, essentially punting until 2017, and Democrats begging for a chance to create a liberal majority, unquestionably the potential for a battle royal looms large. The Republican majority controlled Senate has to confirm or reject any possible nominee, and President Obama has correctly just as quickly indicated that he will fulfill his constitutional responsibility and nominate someone in due course. One analysis indicated that the average time from nomination to confirmation is over 100 days, so there’s more than enough time, though others indicate that it is often hard for a President to get this done in the last year of office even in the best of times, which is obviously not now.

What do I know, but it seems to me this is almost a free shot for the President if he is willing to be realistic, as Hillary Clinton would say, or modest, as progressives will think. Obama doesn’t have to nominate a liberal jurist for all of us and the country to come out ahead on this matter. Virtually, anyone, even a middle-of-the-roader, if one can be found acceptable to all sides, will give us better odds for a fairer vote on the Court than Justice Scalia.

Obama knows that clearly enough. The notion that California Attorney General Kamila Harris or Senator Cory Booker might be nominees is almost preposterous. Neither could be approved. If I were whispering in Obama’s ear I would say, nominate a moderate jurist who is African-American or perhaps even better Hispanic, that offers political risk to rabid opponents in the coming election, but who might be acceptable to Republicans based on reputation and body of work.

Obama doesn’t need to make a half-court shot here or something beyond the arc to put us ahead of where we are. He’s got a free throw if he can make it right from the line in the middle of the court, and we could still come up winners, as long as we remember where we have been more than where we might like to go.


We’re Going South Now but the Call to the Black Base Has to Become a Constant Chant

The ‘March for Black Lives’ passes by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

The ‘March for Black Lives’ passes by the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 Photograph: Brian Snyder/Reuters

New Orleans    Hillary Clinton established in the debate in Charleston now as the campaign prepares to go South, she is switching strategic gears to cloak her campaign in the power and potential of the black vote. Very interestingly, now that she is an embattled front-runner with Bernie Sanders hot on her heels, she is dropping the regal posture of pretending she’s above it all and should try to distance herself from President Obama and welding herself to him firmly. When the campaign goes South, black votes matter!

To hold onto this part of her path of power, Hillary Clinton is willing to abandon any position around the middle ground. According to the report,

Twice in the debate, Mrs. Clinton sought to evoke outrage about racial inequities. Saying one in three black men may “end up going to prison,” she added starkly, “I want people here to think what we would be doing if it was one out of three white men.” And, referring to the crisis in majority-black Flint, Mich., over lead in the water, Mrs. Clinton discerned a racial double standard: Had the water in “a rich suburb of Detroit” been contaminated, she said, “there would’ve been action.”

On the eve of Martin Luther King Day, why not, but I have to wonder if she realizes that the clarion call to the black base can’t just be a Democratic southern strategy anymore, but an everyday thing. Race is more central to the American debate about our present and future than perhaps at any time since the Civil Rights movement. Certainly, it was an issue – and an accomplishment – as Obama ran and won, but that was a measured and polite dialogue with history in which hate went to the ballot box in secret silence in many precincts around the country but was muted in public discourse. Since then the rabid hate and antipathy to the President and lack of respect for him and his office in many quarters has vacated any claim for a post-racial America. What was coded and covert from Bill Clinton’s ending of “welfare as we know it” in a message to white America and his attack on Sister Souljah, is now, thanks once again to people in motion and the churning of new forms of social protest, front and center.

A New York Times music critic rated Obama’s funeral oration for those killed in the South Carolina church and his singing of Amazing Grace as one of the top ten performances of 2015, while admitting that he would not have normally fit in a category looking at musical concerts. Hillary Clinton called being there in the church a chance to witness history in the making.

Race can’t be just a Southern campaign chorus for Clinton. Sanders can’t just bring on a couple of rappers or change a line or two in his set speech about economic justice to appeal to the base. The Republicans can’t be allowed to continue to campaign for white, right, and all right.

As Reverend King preached, there has to be a mountain top, and we have to judge candidates on whether or not they are willing and able to get us out of the ditch on race, and back on the climb to the mountaintop after President Obama steps down.


Counting the Votes on the TPP Trade Agreement with Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

New Orleans   Larry Cohen may have recently stepped down as President of the Communications Workers’ of America, but, if anything, he has stepped up his fight with the coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups opposing the passage in Congress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. In a visit to Wade’s World, he was furious with facts and figures and unwilling to give an inch to the Administration or the President on the weaknesses of the agreements so-called protections, and, he reminded us that he didn’t tell us anything he hadn’t told President Obama personally.

Cohen, who is also spending his alleged retirement, as a volunteer and stand-in for Democratic presidential candidate, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, indicated he was pleased to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, long an advocate of the treaty in her old job, announce her opposition recently in her quest for her new job. He was clear though that her support was just politics-as-usual unless she also stepped up to help persuade the twenty-eight Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted earlier for “fast track” status for the TPP to now vote to reject it. That was an easier fight and this one is harder since it is an up-or-down vote on the whole agreement. The Senate he believes is a lost cause and firmly behind the agreement. Cohen sees the House as the battleground.

Cohen in a rare look behind the curtains had detailed the TPP fast track lessons for progressives in a fascinating checklist on the votes in the current issue of the journal, Social Policy.  His key takeaway is where the broad community-labor coalition actually mobilized into action, it made a difference. Where the endorsements were not matched with the same fervor on the ground, it didn’t. His best examples of where it worked involve the Congressional Black Caucus and North Carolina. The President personally had lobbied the CBC arguing to them that they were his people and his base and they needed to stand with him on this. Instead they said, “Sorry,” this doesn’t work for our people and of the 43 members only 3 broke ranks, including surprisingly Congressman Meeks from Queens who common sense and Cohen indicate now faces electoral challenges in his district. In North Carolina working with Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday’s, the NAACP, labor, and many, many others three blue-dog Democrats had voted against fast track. Shocking on the other hand, as Cohen whipped the votes, was the loss of about the same number of votes in the blue-to-the-bone state of Oregon, where the US Senator and others have seemingly jumped into the shoes provided by Nike, headquartered in the state, and a huge supporter of the TPP.

Cohen fires off objections to the pact. He totally dismisses the labor protections for workers and wages in Vietnam and Malaysia. Talking about labor violations and the double-standards of the protections for multinationals, Cohen had a great one-liner: “Multinationals get reparations, we get reports.” Cohen is particularly offended by the fact the multinationals are using their special access to sue countries over trade restrictions to collect damages for what might have been future profits. He cites a verdict for Occidental Petroleum against Ecuador for $3 billion for denial of offshore drilling rights and another claim against Germany’s banning of nuclear power for $6 billion for that industry, meanwhile for violations for labor infractions in Honduras, which he also reported on for Social Policy, dust is collecting on a report that received no action.

For Cohen this is all part of a pattern of what he calls NAFTA, CAFTA, and now with TPP, SHAFTA. This fight is a long way from over, and he and many others will be counting the votes carefully when it comes before Congress early in 2016.