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Sun Nov 23, 2014 at 09:38 AM PST

Warren or Sanders?

by laborlou

I won’t be complaining about Barack Obama over the next two years.

Or spending a lot of time on what he should or shouldn’t do.

I’m certainly happy about his executive action on immigration. But I’m sure that very soon he’ll do something I won’t like. Maybe I’ll just keep that to myself.

I will ruminate from time to time about the choices progressive democrats have going forward, including who we’ll support for president.

And I’ll tell you one thing I know: it’s going to be a woman.

Democrats will not throw Hillary overboard for a male candidate. So it’s either going to be Clinton or Elizabeth Warren.

Forget Bernie Sanders.

He’s great but ask Vermont progressives off the record if the left wing of the democratic party should encourage him to run. You’ll get a very mixed response. Then think about the risk of challenging Hillary Clinton from the left with someone who won’t be nominated.

With Warren as a serious contender in the primaries, however, progressive democrats will be forced to face the possibility of a likely Clinton white house over a less likely – but much more exhilarating – prospect that our first woman president will be brilliant and  truly progressive.

I don’t want Sanders splitting off support from Warren.

So let’s clear the field for the two-woman race for the future of our party and country.

And, if you must know, right now I’m going with the Massachusetts Senator.


Fri Oct 03, 2014 at 07:06 AM PDT

Obama's Final Two Years

by laborlou

Remember how it felt with two years left in the Bush Administration?

Pummeled by six years of Bush / Chaney / Rumsfeld, we knew a month before the 2006 election that the electorate was shifting our way and that Congress would flip to the Democrats. Speaker Pelosi and then the Presidency!

But the elation passed with Barack Obama’s shaky start and the loss of the House in 2010. Lots of discussion on who to blame: an inept president, a malicious opposition, an omnipotent elite?

Relieved and reprieved when we won in ’12, we didn’t have to tolerate a Romney White House. But a Republican Senate now seems likely.

Let’s face it, with two years left in the Obama Administration, spirits aren’t high.

How do we reconcile the past six years?

It’s complicated and confusing:

Lots of frustration, disappointment and doubt mixed with important progress on – among other things – health care, climate change and gay rights.

I want to believe that Barack Obama’s election and re-election point to a fundamental shift in American values and that the “Obama era” will be considered “transformative.” His adversaries blamed for being mean, extreme and obstructive.  A political realignment which enables meaningful change.

Hard to imagine under current circumstances.

Great if we could hold the Senate but – if not – brace yourself for the mischief of a Republican Congress and their devious plan to win the White House in ’16.

Then get ready boys and girls. Our best hope may be the next President Clinton.


Sun Jun 01, 2014 at 12:32 PM PDT

Unions, Climate Change and Keystone

by laborlou

Critics of the EPA’s proposed rules to curb carbon emissions are quick to cite opposition by some key unions.

While pushback by Mine Workers, IBEW, Boilermakers and others will be used by coal industry advocates to fight Obama’s climate change agenda, union influence on the policy won’t amount to much.

The administration will have its hands full with republicans and coal-state democrats but this hugely important environmental battle will not hinge on organized labor.

Let’s hope the president wins this one without giving up too much.

One consequence of the political fight, I suspect, will be to bring out Obama’s tendency to balance the scale.

Don’t be surprised, therefore, during the EPA’s carbon emission brawl, if the administration releases its decision to greenlight the keystone pipeline, assuring environmentalists that its impact on climate change is marginal.

Building Trades unions have already thrown their weight behind this large construction project, giving Obama cover to position it as a high wage job creator which fosters “energy independence.”


Sun May 25, 2014 at 11:37 AM PDT

Blaming Obama

by laborlou

In a recent critique of Barack Obama, Jeffery St. Claire derides the president for “piously” lecturing African-Americans on the “state of their lives.”

According to St. Claire - editor of the Left Wing Counterpunch - Obama is a “master of casual condescension.  His true gift as an orator” he writes, “is in making you feel as if your misfortunes in life – losing your job, being evicted from your house, going bankrupt – are the products of your own lack of initiative or some moral failing.”

Have you heard that from Obama?  St. Claire doesn’t just accuse the president of failing but of outright betrayal:

The returns are in on the Obama economy.  He saved Wall Street, bailed out the banks, declined to prosecute felonious executives and redistributed billions upward into the off-shore accounts of the mega rich.  Pretty much everyone else got the shaft.  But no community has fared worse under Obama than urban blacks.
I’m offended and disgusted by this view and prefer to see Obama’s lack of success as a result of a malicious, fanatical and racist opposition determined to destroy his presidency.

We’ll be arguing about this, I suspect, long after Barack Obama leaves office.  Was he inept, unprincipled, a tool of the elites or a leader with tremendous integrity who faced the most vicious attacks in modern political history?

I want to believe that the Obama presidency - despite its deficiencies – will be recognized as transformational.  I realize many or most progressives are cynical about this, but it’s possible that this president’s conduct in office has and will realign the electorate for generations.

At a recent fundraiser, Barack Obama - with characteristic cool and understatement - called out his “ideologically rigid” rivals:

… committed to an economic theory that says if folks at the top do very well then everybody else is somehow going to do well; who deny the science of climate change; who don’t think making investments in early childhood education makes sense; who have repeatedly blocked raising a minimum wage so if you work full-time in this country you’re not living in poverty; who scoff at the notion that we might have a problem with women not getting paid for doing the same work that men are doing; [and have] refused to budge on bipartisan legislation to fix our immigration system, despite the fact that every economist who’s looked at it says it’s going to improve our economy, cut our deficits, help spawn entrepreneurship, and alleviate great pain from millions of families all across the country.
We can criticize his temperament and tone, acknowledge his miscalculations and mistakes, but still believe that Barack Obama’s civility, intelligence and sense of direction are a huge national asset.

And that critiques like Jeffrey St. Claire’s are just zany and out-of-touch.


Sun Apr 20, 2014 at 12:29 PM PDT

You're Fired! - Just Cause for All

by laborlou

“You’re Fired!”

The Boss has spoken and, for most American workers, that’s the end of the story.  Proving race-based discrimination – or other forms of bias depending on what state you’re in – could get your job back but that’s not easy and takes a long time.

Without an individual contract, civil service or union protection you’re what’s called an “At Will” employee.  And it’s not your will which determines your fate, it’s the employers’.

In fact, the United States is alone among “advanced” nations which allow the boss to dismiss workers for any reason at all.  The best-known remedy to unilateral employer power is “Just Cause” provisions in union contracts, enforced through the grievance procedure.

Now, a Boston-based union organizer has a plan to expand Just Cause protection to nonunion American workers.

A state-by-state campaign to provide workers the right to a fair hearing when they’re fired would, according to Rand Wilson, do much more than reform employment law.  “It would be a first step,” he says, “on the road to winning full collective bargaining rights.”

A Just Cause movement would:

Shift power away from employers and put workers in a stronger position to fight for better pay and benefits

Expand the role of unions in nonunion workplaces

Give workers more confidence to form unions

Finally, says Wilson, a founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice and currently on staff at SEIU Local 888, “even if campaigns for just cause do not succeed, millions of nonunion workers will learn about the concept, especially if campaigns are based on ballot referendums, and the increased security it could bring to their lives.”

Many good ideas and grand concepts have been developed over the past several decades by activists and strategists, dedicated to “revitalizing” the Labor Movement.

Here’s another one to think about.


Fri Mar 07, 2014 at 08:34 PM PST

Begging the Bosses

by laborlou

In promoting his plan to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, President Obama hits the right notes:

* Working full-time shouldn’t mean living in poverty
* A higher minimum wage pumps money into the economy, stimulates consumption and lifts the overall standard of living
* For companies, paying employees more is the right thing to do

This is a good campaign for the nation’s wage-earners and democrats running for congress.

But I’m irritated by the supplicating tone and the wistful hope that tweaking the conscience of the employer-class will persuade them to share the wealth.

Missing entirely is the issue of worker power.

A principle reason wages rose in the U.S. in the first half of the 20th Century is that organized workers forced employers to do it.

The working class wasn’t pleading for justice; it was demanding it.

Can staggering income inequality in today’s mostly nonunion economy be reduced by begging the bosses for a few more crumbs from the table?


Sun Nov 03, 2013 at 10:40 AM PST

The 2012 Election Anniversary

by laborlou

Sure we hoped for more from Barack Obama’s re-election, especially after all the talk about republicans learning their lesson.

Our main goal, of course, was to keep Romney out of the white house.  We felt relief – even euphoria – but soon recognized that the second term would echo the first.

To console ourselves, we cling to the belief that the next three years won’t be as bad as Bill Clinton’s re-election followed by impeachment.  But who knows?  Our opponents will do anything to undermine the Obama presidency.

We lose interest in the specifics:

The Shutdown, the Obamacare rollout and the NSA.  We get tired of all the political noise from the “commentariat.”

Yet despite misgivings and disappointments, we stay loyal to Barack Obama.

Even wonder about what his administration could have accomplished had the republicans not been utterly determined to disparage and destroy him.

So we read novels, keep up with Breaking Bad (I still haven’t gotten to it yet), get our work done, concentrate on family and friends.

And start ruminating about the 2014 and 2016 cycles.


Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:29 AM PDT

Comparing Obama to Carter

by laborlou

The Obamacare rollout fiasco, NSA spying on our allies’ leaders, and the nearly-bungled Syria showdown have many democrats shaking our heads.

We know this president has an unyielding and strident opposition, but these are mostly unforced errors.

Is there something about this white house and administration which doesn’t have the chops to perform at the highest level?  Are we talking incompetence?

For those of us who lived through it, I hate to bring this up.  But does this remind you of the “Carter” years?

“Seventy six” was the first presidential I worked on.  Though I was living in Vermont, I spent a month in New York City volunteering for the Georgia Governor.  Elated when we took out Gerry Ford, we then suffered under the inarticulate and ineffectual Jimmy Carter.

No, Barack Obama is no Jimmy Carter.

We love and respect President Obama; but his administration continues to fumble around and hand its opponents opportunities to score points against us.

We can’t always rely on republican high-jinks.  We gathered steam during the shutdown and want big gains in 2014.  This president and white house must show that democrats can do more than prevent extremists from taking over the country.


Sun Oct 13, 2013 at 10:12 AM PDT

Trust Reid

by laborlou

Brace for a compromise to the shutdown / debt ceiling “crisis” which could give away more than progressive democrats would like.

But trust senate majority leader Harry Reid on this one.  Reid may be inarticulate but he’s a tough inside fighter.  The former boxer knows that democrats are well ahead on points and that it’s a good time to end the match and take the decision.

Republican antics have caused a dynamic shift in voter attitudes, putting the house back in play in next year’s midterm and giving democrats an edge in key senate races.

Expect Reid to hammer out a deal with minority leader Mitch McConnell which speaker John Boehner will send to the floor for a vote.

And give Barack Obama credit for being resolute; resisting his tendency to flinch and buckle.

So with the republicans looking unsteady and unstable, we’re in very good shape to kick their ass in 2014.


I was expecting this court to overturn DOMA but I had a secret wish that at least one of the four conservative Catholics would join the majority.

Roberts or Alito - both born in the 1950s - would certainly have had contact with non-heterosexual peers; Scalia could have construed DOMA as an intrusion on states rights; and Thomas - and I know this is a stretch - could have applied his own experience with inter-racial marriage (state bans were struck down by the Warren Court in 1967) to this form of discrimination.

We got two Catholics: Sotomayor the liberal and Kennedy the moderate. But I wanted a true crossover; someone to send  a message to religious Americans with conservative values that marriage equality affirms the institution, keeps it sacred.

Sure, I’ll take 5-4.   But, in this case, it makes it very clear that the court’s right wing is more orthodox than principled.


Sat Jun 22, 2013 at 09:10 AM PDT

Legalize Pot? - I'm Not So Sure

by laborlou

I stopped smoking pot years ago because it was raising my blood pressure, making me paranoid and holding me back.

This is not meant to criticize my peers who still enjoy getting high; or those who use “medicinal” marijuana.

In fact, I have some very positive associations to my years as a pot head, particularly when its use had a counter-cultural dimension and helped shape my identity as a “dissident.”

I will spare the “Hunter Thomsomesque” anecdotes here except to confide that getting stoned in high school and college stimulated my imagination, curiosity, adventurousness and sense of possibility.  Then there was that whole generational solidarity thing.  That was cool.

But this piece is not to reminiscence about those days but to confess my ambivalence over what’s become an irreversible trend toward marijuana legalization.

Not that I don’t think pot should be de-criminalized; I’m just not sure making it more commercially available is a good idea.

Now, I do enjoy the carnival atmosphere of medical marijuana sales on Beach Front Walk in Venice, California where cute young men and women lure customers into the shop for their prescription and medication; advising all that "the doctor is in.”  Our version of Amsterdam.

With the passage of  Measure D in Los Angeles, however, the dispensary system will be subject to tighter control.  Likewise, Colorado will figure out its method of distribution (no need for a doctor’s note there).

I have two worries:

First, that state governments will get hooked on pot as a revenue source.  Money from state-run lotteries and tax receipts from privately operated casino gambling already has the government as bookie, feeding the public’s addiction.

States will next figure out how to get their take in the marijuana business.  Why tax the rich when you can get your cut in arranging pot deals?

Second, I'm concerned about kids and pot.  When mine were teenagers, they were vaporizing as well as smoking.  I turned down all requests to join them.   I wasn’t an overbearing parent (they’re now in their twenties) but didn’t want either of them to pick up the habit.

Then again, what could I say? At their age, I was sitting with a joint on my porch in Dummerston, Vermont looking for shooting stars and thinking about whatever.


Sat Jun 01, 2013 at 02:13 PM PDT


by laborlou

News that MSNBC talk shows – Maddow, Matthews, Hayes and the others – took a ratings dive recently underscores my own frustration and “issues fatigue.”

We watch MSNBC to share feelings of triumph and possibility and as a buffer for our outrage.  Six months after the 2012 election, with the political process slogging along, our attention drifts.

How worked up can we get about the “Obama scandals” at the IRS and Justice Department?  Must we really suffer through another discussion about historical and inevitable second-term missteps and whether this president has been “weakened?”

I’ll admit to paying less attention lately to the big stuff as well: immigration, Guantanamo, sequester and drones.  I’m even dragging my feet on more esoteric material which usually holds my interest: the five appointments to the National Labor Relations Board that Senate Republicans appear certain to block.

I’m not just less inclined to tune in MSNBC but find myself switching stations on my car radio from NPR news to a ball game or to classical music.  Or, instead of clicking through for detailed analysis when scanning my regular sites – Salon, Daily Beast, American Prospect – I’ll pick up a dusty old hardcover from my bookcase.

I go through these withdrawal periods from time to time.  Particularly when the political situation is most bleak: after Bush beat Kerry ten years ago and after the Republicans took back the House in 2010.

Uncharacteristic and alarming, however, is that I’m feeling especially moody about politics during a period when Democrats allegedly have the power to govern.

Political appointees in this administration have overreached and their actions have been “uncovered” by a dogged press and a voracious opposition.  Now we have to watch as this familiar pattern plays out.

The audience gets restless as it becomes more apparent that Barack Obama’s good intentions and conciliatory nature can’t end the lockdown of the American political system.

And – unfortunately for our friends at MSNBC – we start flipping channels.

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