Lessons from Greece, Spain, and Chicago for Progressives

VoteFraudNew Orleans        Recently Dan Cantor, the long-time head of the Working Families Party of New York and now director of their multi-state efforts to create a progressive alternative party, co-authored a piece that ran in the publication, In These Times, about lessons we could learn from the electoral victories of Syriza in Greece and the upsurge of support for Podemos as an alternative, progressive party in Spain.

The eight lessons were:

Lesson 1: Clearly identify the enemy.

Lesson 2: Against the oligarchs and the “totalitarianism of the market” which serves as a cover for their interests, we, the forces of democracy, have to fight back.

Lesson 3. Inequality is objectionable, but more fundamental is people being denied the things that they need.

Lesson 4. Draw a link between what working people need and what society as a whole needs.

Lesson 5. Have a program. Say what you will do—don’t get dragged into debates about how you will do it. 

Lesson 6. A program needs spokespeople, and it really helps when those spokespeople are or will be in government.

Lesson 7. Like Greeks, Americans think that their political system is broken—and they want an alternative.

Lesson 8. No mourning for golden days.

The easiest of the eight is probably not mourning for “golden days,” because goodness knows when that might have been, but let’s not get distracted.  These lessons are not just valuable as a guide for what the Working Families Party might envision, but generally inform how progressive politicians even within the Democratic Party like Senator Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts or New York City’s Mayor Bill DeBlasio might operate.  Reportedly, even presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, is in New Hampshire at least sounding like a progressive for a minute or two.

None of this is easy and Cantor points out how different the world is when he notes

“By way of comparison, the WFP in Connecticut and New York got about the same percentage of the vote in their 2014 legislative races that Podemos got in the European legislative elections that put them on the political map, but the U.S. system does not turn minor party votes into a percentage of a legislative body.”

Importantly, the Working Families Party is finally broadening its reach – and appeal – by abandoning its primary tactic of fusion and running on its own line, noting that the Connecticut branch of the WFP just elected their first state legislator anywhere on their own independent party line.

Talking recently to colleagues who were involved in the progressive challenge in Chicago to the newly re-elected Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, they also note that any realistic alternative challenge must find a way to weld together the black and brown voters and issues within the progressive forces, which failed to happen in Chicago.

The letter from the progressive wing of the US Senate including Warren, Minnesota’s Franken, Vermont’s Sanders, and several others to the FCC demanding the monopoly merger between Comcast and Times-Warner cable be rejected is another good example of the bounty of available planks we have for our program.

Ideas and initiatives abound.  We need more “grit” and get in the organizing now to make it happen.

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Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage (this is a Parody)

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Counting Calories

caloricountNew Orleans     The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, is finally laying out the rules required by the Affordable Care Act for various kinds of food delivery and preparation establishments to reveal the number of calories on various items. When it comes to restaurants, this is mainly for the big guys with twenty of more locations. It also includes things like movie theater popcorn which you already knew was bad for you and now you’ll know exactly how bad, and same-same for some alcohol products.

The National Restaurant Association claims they helped out in the process, so it wouldn’t be worst or, as some might have hoped, any better. Some grocery stores, like Krogers, are bent out of shape. Krogers claims the requirements may cost some jobs, though it is unclear how that might happen, and might raise grocery prices, though they didn’t say more. Their lobbying outfit claims this will cost the industry $1 billion bucks and hundreds of millions annually.

This is old news for some places. Starbucks and Panera chains have already begun posting, and frankly it is interesting reading. New York and Seattle have had these rules for several years.

I remember changing planes in New York’s Kennedy airport when these rules first took effect. I walked from outlet to outlet reading the numbers from item to item. A hamburger place along the lines of Five Guys that I had always liked, was a disaster with one item outstripping the next in a competitive contest of horror and gluttony. Walking back after looking at the pizza place, the Chinese place, the chicken place, and the Dunkin Donuts place, the unsurprising thing was how bad all of the choices were. All of these concessionaires may have owed their place in this space to the public authorities that manage New York’s airports, but it was all about what worked for the cash register, not the chest ticker in the customer. There were no healthy alternatives.

Stuck in the Houston airport for 3 hours the other day in route from Tulsa I ended up with a small bowl of chicken soup, but I would never pretend the calorie count was great. I was just hoping at least it was fresh. Disclosure without alternatives won’t lead to better health, just more depression about bad decisions on limited choices.

I’m all for the disclosures, but am skeptical of the health impact, since all of this nastiness in the food bins and over the counter will still drive our too limited choices. Affixing a calorie counter is not the same as former Mayor Bloomberg’s attempted ban of big gulp sodas. We can hope one path will lead to the other, but in the world of corporate controlled food and rapidly expanding and encroaching food deserts, it’s more likely to lead to bad comparisons around ridiculous choices for a long time until healthy alternatives drive the market and give us a way to eat better at affordable prices, buying both enjoyment and better health.

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