Learning in the Streets

Building strength in numbers. Developing grassroots leaders. Raising independent money. Mapping power relationships.

These are some of the key ingredients that go into building powerful community organizations that can win transformative change – which is why they’re core elements of the Alliance’s flagship Four-Day Organizer Training.

Our training team has been leading the Four-Day program annually for over a decade to build the organizing, strategic planning, and media skills of Alliance affiliate organizers and grassroots leaders.

This summer, there was so much demand that we had to multiply our Four-Day training schedule. We trained a cohort of 21 organizers at our West Coast Four-Day in Seattle in June (hosted by Washington Community Action Network). We ran an East Coast Four-Day for 25 organizers in Albany at the end of July (hosted by Citizen Action of New York – see photos).

And we just wrapped up a special Four-Day intensive for staff from our newest affiliate, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United, in New York City.

The Native Organizers Alliance (a project of AJS) also led a tailored Four-Day Native Organizing Training for 28 Native organizers working in Indian Country in June, along with a Native youth training in Montana in July and a condensed organizing workshop for the American Indian Center of Chicago in August.

What makes the Alliance’s training program stand out?

  • We learn by doing. While we hit the books (learning about the history and theory of community organizing), we also hit the streets. That’s how organizers from Washington to Maine and New Orleans to Vermont ended up shoulder to shoulder on a field canvass in Albany a few weeks ago, mobilizing residents of a working class neighborhood to urge their state senator to support a $15 minimum wage for all workers in New York. That’s what we call learning in the streets.
  • We lead with race. Where concerns about “divisiveness” sometimes lead groups to avoid talking openly about race, we teach organizers how to put race up front and centralize a racial justice analysis in their work – including internal training on the levels of racism, integrating racial justice analysis into picking issues and developing campaign strategies, investing in leadership development in communities of color, and leading with race in the media.
  • We’re serious about numbers. From the 80/20 rule for home visits to the 50/50 rule for counting turnout to the rule of 3 contacts for increasing engagement, we know building strength in numbers requires learning the science of effective organizing, setting measurable goals, and then holding ourselves and our teams accountable for outcomes.
  • We build strong ties.Our intense trainings build new relationships among staff and leaders across organizations to strengthen our team going forward. When you find participants staying up until two in the morning sharing organizing stories (like they did in Albany), you know you’re building strong ties.

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With summer winding down, it’s back to school time and that may mean time to hit the books for many… but here at the Alliance, our training team is busy planning the next round of learning in the streets.

Racial Segregation: Righting the Wrong and Making Restitution

At a time in history when crime continues to decline, same-sex marriage is legal, and innovation is powering advances in technology and bioengineering – one issue fails to progress: racial justice.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans continues to be more than twice that of whites. Public schools are more segregated now than they were in the 1950s and young black males are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white equivalents.

Widespread media coverage and outcry at the murders inside the African-American church in Charleston, and protests sparked by the killings of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown, transform the statistics into real faces.

Yet outside the political sphere, there is a continued lack of recognition and acknowledgement in the U.S. that institutionalized racism and white privilege are pervasive.

Derald Wing Sue – professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, internationally acknowledged expert on multiculturalism and diversity, and author of Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence – said he asks his students:

“How many of you socialize with people who are racially, culturally different than yourself? How many of you go into communities of color to celebrate the community events, to attend Asian Baptist churches, the black churches, how many of you do that? How many of you live in an integrated neighborhood?”

The reality here is that residential racial segregation is condoning a system of institutionalized racism where specific demographics are bearing the inevitable, negative consequences of policies set by those in power. Ultimately, race – a social construct – becomes a crucial factor in the outcome of violence whether that violence be physical, economic, political, or legal.

In the Architecture of Segregation Paul Jargowsky describes the rapid re-concentration of poverty since 2000. The concentrated poverty is racial in nature and the result of measured policy choice. Exclusionary zoning has developed with the movement and investment toward suburban neighborhoods. The wealthier suburbs reject affordable housing, keeping poor and low-income individuals in the city or fading suburbs.

Ruth Peterson, retired professor of Sociology at Ohio State University and former director of the Criminal Justice Research Center, and Lauren Krivo, professor of Sociology and affiliated professor in Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, introduce the concept of racial-spatial divide in their work Divergent Social Worlds: Neighborhood Crime and the Racial-Spatial Divide. In an extensive study accumulating crime and related data for 9,593 neighborhoods in 91 cities in the year 2000, the authors verify a connection between race, place, and crime, and prove that residential segregation is the principle reason why social worlds of people are so opposing. In short, the disadvantaged are isolated from the advantaged, and it runs across racial lines.

What the Architecture of Segregation Report and racial-spatial divide illustrate are two neighborhood studies showcasing structural housing policies – which stem from racial segregation – making particular groups more susceptible to cases of violence. Exclusionary zoning and private discrimination create the concentration of urban poverty, which inevitably means education disadvantages, labor disadvantages, increased welfare dependency, social disorder, and a loss of commercial business.

And it is an argument made again and again as young men like Michael Brown are killed on the streets, igniting a demand for change, but progress is still invisible and emotions raw a year later.

In a powerful reflection on race, John Metta, an African American who spoke to an all white audience at the Bethel Congregational United Church of Christ in White Salmon, Wash. said: “… People are dying not because individuals are racist, but because individuals are helping support a racist system by wanting to protect their own non-racist self beliefs.”

In the realm of racial justice, personal choice significantly reflects public policy and vice versa. Evident, are not only structural housing policies gone wrong, but also an inability to call them out.

If we commit an active effort in putting ourselves in unfamiliar situations, events, and discussions where authentic relationships and conversations can be cultivated, we can convert an increased understanding of institutionalized racism into righting the wrong and making restitution. We like to consider ourselves nondiscriminatory, multicultural, bias-free, and nonracist – yet this has yet to be transcended to a point where we are open to living side by side with each other.

It is time to demand that our political dogmas reflect the inclusive, nondiscriminatory attributes we claim to have. But first, we must represent those qualities outright.

Andrea Rocha is senior at the University of Washington and an intern at the Alliance for a Just Society. 

Daley Weekly: Crazy Daze of Summer

President Stuff, Democrat

It is beginning to look like Joe Biden may be headed into the fray. The trends have to be tempting.  Many hope that Hillary will be the first woman President – she clearly has the values, experience, and ability to serve with distinction.  But she’s not lighting up the place, she’s dogged by the email glitch, and lacks her husband’s flair for this stuff.  Biden and Senator Elizabeth Warren made juicy rumors over the weekend, via a two-hour meeting at the VP’s residence in D.C.

Bernie Sanders is doing really well. He actually has the corner on an understanding of the deepening inequality and corporate corruption that are savaging the national economy. Great crowds and exciting articulation. But there are questions about his ultimate electability when they start painting that name Socialist on him.

Martin O’Malley is not gaining any traction and candidates Chafee and what’s-his-name from Virginia are just hoping for the others to evaporate so that attention might turn to them. Run across any campaign workers for any of these folks lately?

So it’s got to be real tempting for Biden. Bloggers report he is talking with donors and sizing things up. My guess was expressed a couple of issues back when I heard that his dying son Beau had urged him to run. Pretty tough stuff for an emotional guy like Biden to resist.

And the R’s? This is Crazzazie

My friend Margarida has improved my vocabulary by exposing me to the critical literature about the Zombie Apocalypse and by describing the fringes as crazzazie and wackadoodle. I am reaching into this lexicon because I am at a loss for more traditional words to describe the Republican campaigns for the American Presidency.

I look at the R’s and roll my eyes. For their sake and for the sake of the Nation I don’t want them to nominate Trump. Even the R’s deserve better than this racist, sexist gasbag. But their candidates are so weak – none of them seem have an original thought. Their whole approach has been defined by Trump and they are stumped – they are captives of a bankrupt ideology and when Trump out-demagogues them, they are like deer in the headlights.

It is my deeply held predisposition that if the R’s nominate Trump they will prove beyond all possible debate that they haven’t got the guile God gave a Grape-Nut flake. But if the R’s are determined to nominate him, let’s get it on. The last century taught us how to look at racists with funny hair – we will not do it again.

Nice to See Paul

Sitting in my little corner of Serafina, a favorite restaurant in Seattle, I saw a man pass on the way out who I remembered with affection. Paul Kraabel was a Republican legislator when I first got into the political world of Washington state. I was sent to see him for some reason and, though my normal old leftish Democrat self, I was greeted with respect and he listened.

Tonight, his friends were helping him navigate his way out, he used a cane – but I caught him on the sidewalk and he knew who I was we were able to share a couple of recollections.

Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s I knew many Republicans like Paul who were open to talking, and solving problems, and being decent to others.

Oh how I miss them when I watch folks like Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, who act as though they came from the Seraphim, armed with the voice of God and equipped with the instrument of prejudice and the malice of the fanatic.

Oak Flat

Remember our depressing report a few weeks back about how the Senatorial aristocrats slipped a little provision into the Defense Reauthorization that gave over a sacred Apache place to mining? The billion tons of copper that apparently have deposited themselves under Arizona’s Oak Flat proved an irresistible attraction – Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake slipped a little provision into the Defense Authorization bill and handed it over to foreign mining interests.

Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva (D), has introduced a bill to reverse this and to return the land to public ownership where it can be protected for the Apache. If you want to read more, start with H.R.  2811. You can help reverse this tragedy by writing your Congress people and asking them to help pass this bill.

Drug Costs

I cannot bear to have you miss the news about how your fellow Americans feel about the cost of prescription drugs.  Recent polling shows that this issue just jumped ahead of concerns about the Affordable Care Act.  Eighty-three percent favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and seventy- three percent believe that drug companies make too much profit. 

This news comes as reports filter out of negotiations over the Transpacific Partnership trade pact suggesting that the insistence of U. S. bargaining team on protections for the big drug companies is a main issue stymieing progress in the negotiations. We can only hope that our crack negotiating team loses this one.

El Niño

Looks like a hot, wet wind may be about to blow in from the sea. Meteorologists are predicting that the El Niño effect will be the warmest in decades, maybe a record. The California drought will become the California monsoon.

Marriage

Iowa Representative Steve King (R), the leader of the Congressional Xenophobia Caucus, apparently believes that the Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage enables American’s to marry inanimate objects. Some wedded folks long ago realized that a court decision on this was unnecessary – their spouses already are inanimate objects.

ACA and Declines in the Uninsured

According to the latest Gallup Poll on the subject the rates of the uninsured continue to drop post-ACA.  The national uninsured rate fell from 17.3 percent in 2013 to 11.7 percent 2015. A bunch of states did even better than this, particularly those that both expanded Medicaid and instituted exchanges.

Latina Income Inequality

This should come as a surprise to few, but the wage gap for Hispanic women is way wider than it is for all women.  Researchers with the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy, have done the math so those like me, who struggle with numbers, just have to glance across a series of simple charts to get the idea.

The gap between all women and men is bad enough – women get 78% of what the men get for the same work. Only in nursing and home health care are Hispanic women equally discriminated against when compared to all women – both get 75 percent of what men get.  But in retail and public service jobs pay for all women runs at 88 percent of the pay for men, while Hispanic women get only 50 percent. Other job categories do not show such extreme differences, but are troubling.

Amigas, something is up here and it is not good. ¿Is anyone else wondering what the figures might be for Somali or Samoan women, por ejemplo?

Sen͂or Presidente, tiar abaje este mura

Oozing xenophobia and narcissism from every pore, Donald Trump has oiled his way into an apparent lead in the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary among Republicans.

Just to seal the deal, details of his plan for immigration reform have been announced. First, every undocumented immigrant gets sent home – deported at a cost of some $400 to $600 billion. A 2,000-mile long fence will be erected along the entire U.S./ Mexico border – built at the expense of the Mexican government. Then there is the proposal to amend the Constitution in order to remove the provision that makes all babies born on U.S. soil citizens automatically.

Anyone else feel a tremor of slavery revulsion when they hear the proposal to change the citizenship of babies born here? Is it possible that the 14th Amendment had to do with making former slaves and their children into citizens? Now the immigration loonies are talking about these children as “anchor babies” – children born here in order to anchor the prospects for future citizenship for their parents.

Not only is there no legal connection to citizenship for their parents, but they also are talking about folks like Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio whose citizenship is established by their birth.  Wow.

While we are in the process of un-anchoring the babies, we are also going to round up and deport all the 11 million-plus undocumented in the country. I don’t know how to be constrained about this stuff. This idea has eerie historical echoes. One has to hear the thud of the jackboots reverberating in the night streets.

And the great fence? Great fence projects have a way of turning into real big failures. I do not know if this edifice to idiocy will be visible from the moon, but one can see the Great Wall of China from there. The Mongols took over China, wall or not. Remember the Berlin Wall? How did that go? There recurs in my sleep a dream (or perhaps a nightmare) in which the ghost of Ronald Regan, a supporter of immigration reform, stands in Nogales or Mexicali, and says: “Mr. President, tear down this wall.”

Medicaid Politics

Asa Hutchinson, Governor of Arkansas, wants to change the wildly successful decision of his state to expand Medicaid. His state has seen the most dramatic decline on rates of the uninsured of any state in the nation. Not satisfied with success, Hutchinson has decided to try to get the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to permit Arkansas to imitate the successful negotiations of other wackadoodle governors and make the program worse by privatizing stuff and making the poor pay more.

Dear Governor Hutchinson:  The thing is working. Just walk away.

Apparently Pennsylvania’s John Kasich has been banned by the Koch boys from their events because of his support for expanding Medicaid.

Scott Walker and the ACA

Whenever I hear the anti-Affordable Care Act crowd explain its alternative, to “Obamacare,” I remember the presentation that my friend David West once made to a legislative committee. He was describing a plan offered by an insurance company that had a surgery benefit – but not anesthesia. David suggested that perhaps they might at least offer a bullet to bite and a bottle of bourbon.

Desperate to put a little passion into his campaign as poll numbers fall, Scott Walker has decided to lay out some specifics about what he would offer for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Turns out to be the usual tax cut gibberish that will force the needy back into the ranks of the uninsured. But there are specifics.

Perhaps the worst of the specifics is the idea that anyone could buy any health insurance product from any state. This passes and the insurance gang will soon be regulated by the domestic equivalent of the Cayman Island—i.e., no standards at all.

Conflict of Interest

So there is a big debate going on in D.C. over whether or not investment counselors should be required to act in the interest of the investors they counsel. Apparently some Republicans in Congress believe that steering you to waste a lot of time in a thinly veiled pyramid scheme is the sort of advice that your investment counselor should be able to give without concern or penalty.

Musical Chairs

Former Ohio Congressman Louis Stokes died last week. Stokes did many really fine things, but what I, the hopeless wonk, remember the most was the Heckler Report. Margaret Heckler was the Secretary of the then Department of Health Education and Welfare in 1984 and she directed an analysis of health disparities based on race. This was the first big national analysis of this important issue and it outlined patterns that persist into today.

Louis Stokes was the behind-the-scenes inspiration that caused this report to be written. Maybe we have not gotten much done as a response?  Maybe, with the news of Stokes’ death, how important it is to keep working on this issue?

Schedule

You are going to have to wait a couple of more weeks for the return of the Congress.  Summers can be so relaxing.

Voting Rights Restored

John Mahan never worried about voting, it didn’t seem important. He was young and he figured he had many years ahead of him to vote for politicians, and laws didn’t really seem to personally affect him anyway.

Then, in 1986, the young Virginia man was arrested and convicted of a felony. Mahan was finally released from prison in his 40s. And although he had regained his freedom, he had lost his right to vote.

“I never voted before I went to prison, I never thought it was important,” said Mahan, who lives in Martinsville, on the southern edge of Virginia. “I figured whoever got elected would just do whatever they wanted.”

Virginia has historically been among a dozen or so states with impossibly steep hurdles for restoring access to voting rights. The most difficult for many is the requirement to pay off all court costs, fines, and fees before the right to vote is restored.

Now that’s changing. In June, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that formerly incarcerated people no longer have to pay off their court costs, fines, or any restitution before their rights are restored. They’re still responsible for those debts – but they will be able to vote while paying them off.

Eliminating the requirement of paying court fines and fees is a critical step in restoring those rights, said Mahan.

In Martinsville, where he lives, the economy still struggles. Textile and furniture industries with familiar names like Fieldcrest, Stanley, and Bassett, once paid workers good wages – until the work moved overseas. Now jobs are few, and they pay less.

Finding a job and saving enough to pay fees – which often come burdened with interest – can take years.

Unfortunately many states still withhold voting rights from formerly incarcerated people who have court-related debts.

Virginia is one of two states that grant the authority of restoring voting rights only to the governor. For decades, going to prison in Virginia meant being banned from voting until the governor restored those rights – a long and arduous process that took years to complete.

But since January 2014, Virginia has restored civil rights for more than 8,250 people. In his first 18 months in office, McAuliffe restored voting rights for more people than any previous governor during a full four-year term. Nearly 75 percent of those with restored rights have registered to vote.

At a time when some states are digging deep for new rules to disenfranchise voters, especially Black, Latino and Native people, McAuliffe’s actions stand out.

Last year, McAuliffe reduced the intimidating13-page application form requesting restoration of rights for serious offenders down to just one page.

Nearly six million Americans are unable to vote because of a past criminal conviction, according to the Brennan Center. Nationwide, 13 percent of all African-American men have lost their right to vote – seven times the national average.

To outsiders, the turn-about in Virginia may seem sudden. Yet organizers and activists in Virginia know it has been a 15-year effort, hard fought in every community, with many disappointments along the way.

Virginia Organizing, a leading group in the effort, plans to keep working toward a complete turnaround of the old laws. The goal: voting rights restored automatically upon completion of sentencing requirements. It will require a state constitutional amendment.

“That’s my dream,” said Mahan, “For a person to have their voting rights restored automatically, as soon as they are released from probation. It just makes sense.”

After leaving prison a few years ago, Mahan became active in his community – and he wanted to vote. The application process at the time was the oppressive 13-page version. It required reference letters from friends, and many months to process. It required him to pay off his legal fines before he could even begin applying.

“It was discouraging, it was too much for a person to go through, so I put it aside,” he said. Mahan eventually filled out the pages of forms and references and had his civil rights – including the right to vote – restored. It took nine months for the paperwork to be processed.

He voted for the first time at age 52, and next he’s looking forward to voting in a presidential election for the first time.

“I talk to everyone I meet about getting their voting rights restored, people at the grocery store, people at church. If we don’t vote, we don’t have a voice,” he said.

“When I go talk to the Martinsville City Council, or the Henry County Board of Supervisors, they know I vote. They know I encourage others to vote, and I think they have a tendency to listen a little closer to what I have to say,” he said.

These days, he wouldn’t think of missing an opportunity to vote.

“Every time there is an election, John Mahan will be there,” he said.

Prison Reform, a Step Toward Racial Equality and Respect

Last month, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit a federal prison as he begins pushing congress to reform the nation’s criminal justice system.

Obama is urging meaningful sentencing reform, steps to reduce repeat offenders, and reform for the juvenile justice system to improve public safety, reduce runaway incarceration costs and make the criminal justice system fairer – and for good reason. The U.S. criminal justice system is in desperate need of reform.

To start, the system is riddled with racial bias and inequity. In 2011, the New York City Police Department made more stops of young black men than there are young black men in the city. Nearly one in three black men are imprisoned in their lifetime, while only one in 17 white men are imprisoned. When sentenced, black men are sent to prison for periods that are up to about 20 percent longer than white male defendants with similar crimes.

Sixty percent of incarcerated persons are black or Hispanic, even though they compromise only 28.6 percent of the population combined. While African Americans make up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, 40 percent of prisoners are black. According to Politifact, an organization that investigates and evaluates public political statements, the United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid – a reality that should quickly put the issue into perspective.

In addition, over the last four decades, the number of incarcerated persons increased 500 percent, and now includes about 2.2 million adults in local jails, state prisons, and federal prisons. The number of women in prison increased 832 percent between 1997 and 2007 while the male population grew by 416 percent during the same 30-year period. Black women are more than six times as likely as white women to be incarcerated during their lifetimes.

Despite crime rates steadily declining during the last 25 years, incarceration rates have risen steeply. While increasing police force sizes can be an effective crime reduction strategy, studies suggest long prison sentences have little effect on crime rates. What this tells us? The resources spent confining people to boxes, for years and years, proliferates a system not even proven to work.

Policy decisions such as mandatory sentencing, long sentences for violent and repeated offenses, and intensified criminalization of drug-related activity, have also added to the explosion of state and federal prison populations. While the portion of persons in state prisons convicted of violent crimes makes up more than half that population, at the federal level violent crime accounts for only 7 percent of the federal prison population. More than 1/3 of the federal prison population is black, and more than 1/3 is Hispanic, yet those figures pale in comparison to the demographics of state prisons, where there are more than 5.5 times as many black inmates as there are white inmates.

Further, state spending on correction has outpaced spending on most other government functions, and in most states it is the third largest expenditure category behind education and healthcare.

At these costs, we might expect prisoners’ most basic economic rights to be respected. But that’s not what we find. Nearly half of the U.S. prison population works, but “the median wage [earned by inmates] in state and federal prisons is 20 and 31 cents respectively.” Because incarcerated persons do not qualify as “employees” under the law, they do not have labor rights.

Many see this as an extension of 19th century slavery due to its historical legacy. The comparison is not far from the truth. In three states – Texas, Georgia and Arkansas – inmates work for free.

So where does this put us and what should reform look like?

In light of these numbers we must not only recognize the inadequate state of our criminal justice system, but also demand a response to change it.

Meaningful reform must:

  1. Target racial bias by fighting institutional and structural inequities
  2. Reduce prison populations in a responsible manner (for example through rehabilitation and reintegration of incarcerated persons)
  3. Provide measures to enforce inmates’ human rights.

Likewise, the president and congress should urge states to follow suit.

#BlackLivesMatter. #UnitedWeFight.

Saturday, a group of ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ activists protested at a Seattle public event to celebrate decades of Social Security and Medicare. Our affiliate organization, Washington Community Action Network! was a cosponsor of the event. The event featured U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders was unable to speak to the crowd because of the protest.

The issues of Social Security, Medicare and racist police violence are issues that are very important to us, our organizations and our grassroots members. It should be noted that other speakers earlier in the event spoke about the urgency and importance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement on the eve of the one year anniversary of the killing of ‪#‎MikeBrown‬ in‪#‎Ferguson‬, MO.

We understand why some rally participants were frustrated not to hear Sen. Sanders as planned, but we are very disturbed that some in the crowd demanded that protestors be arrested and heckled during the short moment of silence for Mike Brown.

As long as the killing of black people remains a crisis in this country activists will demand that #BlackLivesMatter be front and center on the national agenda. And it should be. But we also believe that there are other important and pressing issues facing working people and communities of color. We think there is room for conversations on all these issues and more in Congress, along the Presidential campaign trail, in statehouses and in the public debate.

The candidates will all have to improve their response to the crisis of police violence and mass incarceration, and all of us will have to learn to work together, broaden our understanding of issues — even those that don’t directly effect us — and deepen our sense of solidarity. Sometimes that means making room for issues that aren’t our personal priority. Sometimes that means being uncomfortable.

That’s why it is so appropriate that organizers in Ferguson this weekend are using the slogan ‪#‎UnitedWeFight‬. It will take a united fight to change police practices in this country, as well as to expand Medicaid, defend Social Security and Medicare and win a better world for all.

Daley Weekly: The Debate That Wasn’t

“Yes, it’s me and I’m late again!”

I know, I know, late again. Lots of travel and meetings and I got behind. But I have finally made my way into the Athenian Grill over near the Seattle Center to have a post-Republican debate supper. A chance to write out a thought, perhaps of a confessorial nature.

The Daley Weekly will be moving to Seattle for a few months to help fill an administrative lacunae. The quality of the Weekly, already debilitated by the deepest personal insecurity, youthless indiscretion, and the unchallenged predations of age, inevitably will suffer. I will do my best, but I will not be in all the right D.C. meetings for a while, yet will continue to produce a column nonetheless.

Please whisper absolvo te.

Economics

Job numbers are out. Some 215,000 new jobs and an unemployment rate holding at 5.3 percent. Not much excitement over a basically flat economy. The need to pump a little infrastructure in here could not be more obvious.

The Debate

Well, what did you think of the Republican debate?

The commentators are all agog over the entertainment value of the two Republican debates, but I have to admit that I was bored. No new ideas, no big wins – even though there clearly were some big losses.

Take-aways?

This was supposed to be the Trump Debate. Because of Trump’s style, one candidate’s camp suggested that preparing for this was like getting ready for a car race when everyone knows that one of the drivers is drunk. Apparently they sobered Trump up for this. Donald Trump, proved himself a completely empty shirt – zero content, absolute zero.

Even his entertainment value was subdued as he apparently decided to compete for Mr. Congeniality. So if not Trump, who?

A few of the debaters clearly are heading to the showers.

Rand Paul looked like he would rather be in Mesoamerica doing cataract surgery. And, God knows, wouldn’t everyone be better off if he were?

Let’s offer Ben Carson a University President’s job or something – he seems like a nice person struggling not to be – we can help bring him back to the world of the living.

The Ted Cruz used car salesman imitation has grown a little thin, but he stuck right to it.

Jeb Bush clearly has decided to place himself on the bubble – seems to be struggling with inner conflicts between Augustinian and Liberation Theology.

Otherwise, hard to tell. Rubio went for Young Mr. Sincerity and did OK. The governors and former governors seemed to hold up the best.

The early runner up debate may have given Carly Fiorina a chance to move into the center stage.

Overall, I think the R’s are in deep trouble.

Infrastructure

Senate Majority Leader McConnell did not get his three-year Highway Trust Fund bill passed in time to stare down the House and force them to accede. In the end, they passed the normal, temporary phony money fix-me-later-fix – on into December.

Here’s the problem. The House Majority, and apparently some Democrats in the Senate, want to do a bigger six-year deal that raises infrastructure funding via some horrifying ideas about international tax reform. The corporate tax avoiders, who pay little or nothing for the benefits of government, may be about to have their way with us yet again.

We all need to use the August recess to contact our Senators and to tell them that letting corporations who have held profits overseas and untaxed, should not be honored for this avoidance by letting them bring those profits back for a dime on the dollar.

Everyone also needs to keep putting in a word for improvements to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit.

Detention

We teased ourselves last week in order to frame a plea that the family detention centers for refugee mothers and children be closed. No sooner had we written about the failure of family detention than a federal judge in California issued an injunction directing the release of prisoners being held in these inhumane institutions.

Immigration

Just before Summer Break, the Senatorial trio of Vitter, McCain, and Flake marched out a bill designed to force cities to turn their police departments into border patrol agencies or lose federal money. Given cover by the Trump demagoguery and the murder committed by a hardened and often-deported undocumented felon, the House passed its version last week. Hard to tell whether or not either of these bills can get the 60 votes needed to proceed in the Senate, but the President has issued a veto warning.

To muddy things up a bit, California Senators Feinstein and Boxer announced the intention to craft a proposal that would require police departments to detain undocumented immigrants who are accused of crimes. Just what the details are remains unclear. Nevertheless, if they do this, it will break the solid front that the D’s need to protect against a veto override.

Medicare and Medicaid Turn 50

Just in time for the celebration comes the seminal analysis – Medicare has reduced hospitalization, death rates, and the cost of health care. The results are called “jaw dropping”. The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and is based on an examination of the medical records of 68 million Americans over age 65. Why the right keeps attacking this program rather than propping it up or, rather, making it universally available, is a mystery that may never be solved.

As Alliance Executive Director LeeAnn Hall explains in her recent Huffington Post column, “Medicaid is much more than the country’s top health insurer. It’s also a key battleground for the future of our country.”

Infinite Gibberish

Bob Newhart once based a routine on the thesis that if we equip an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters, eventually they will write the great books. As I inspect the now sixteen Republican candidates, I have begun to suspect that this is a null hypothesis.

Newhart is checking the infinite monkey results: “twzzz.lkrrrnttttyyy.” No, nothing there. “abababhabqb.” Hmm? Hey Jim, I think we’ve got something here! “To be or not to be, that is thegamaiqillpicffffc.”

I recall this whenever I see Republicans campaigning for President by trying to tap into economic populism. They start with appropriately grandiloquent anger about the moral depravity of income inequality and indignation about what the hucksters did to the personal economies of a whole generation. But when it comes to solutions, it turns into gibberish.

Here’s Sen. Ted Cruz: “The rich and powerful, those who walk the corridors of power, are getting fat and happy under the Obama economic agenda. (Sic) The top 1 percent, the millionaires and billionaires who the president loves to demagogue, they earn a higher share of our national income than any time since 1928.”

OK Mr. Occupy! But the remedy? On Cruz’s website you will see that his agenda is to repeal Obamacare, make it easier for corporations to pollute, shut down the Federal Government, and destroy the Medicare prescription drug program. thegamaiqillpicffffc.

Rand Paul worries over income inequality and recommends a flat tax system and repeal of taxes on capital gains – ideas that dramatically increase inequality.

How about Rick Perry trying to channel Elizabeth Warren?

“The American people see a rigged game,” he declares. “where insiders get rich, and the middle class pays the tab. There is something wrong when the Dow is near record highs, and businesses on Main Street can’t even get a loan. Since when did capitalism involve the elimination of risk for the biggest banks while regulations strangle our community banks?”

To his credit, Perry almost endorsed laws to wall off banking from speculative investment, but not quite. He then immediately came out for a tax cut for corporations and refused to support the idea that the big banks should be broken into smaller pieces.

To regulate vigorously or not to regulate vigorously that is thegamaiqillpicffffc.

We need a strong, effective central government to keep the avaricious from totally ripping us off. But these crypto-populists are merely being demagogic about the problem while spouting gibberish about the solution.

The Economic Consequences of the Austerity

A frustrated John Maynard Keynes left the Paris Peace Talks that followed WWI and wrote a book called The Economic Consequences of the Peace. My only partially read version of this slim volume sits on the shelf between Hesse’s Siddhartha and the Italian version of Machiavelli’s The Prince which I continue to think I am going to translate into English, if only I can find the time.

Written in 1919, Keynes’ book shows how the punitive Versailles Treaty is about to ruin the European economy, which it did.

Maybe, as a sign of solidarity with the Greeks, we could get folks to go on Amazon and mail copies of this to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor who led the Europeans to impose a punitive debt settlement on the Greeks – debt they will never be able to repay because they have deliberately been denied any resources to stimulate their economy.

Whenever your maternal uncle suggests over his gin that the only way out of the Greek crisis is for the Greeks to abandon the young and old to penury and to force their economy into prolonged depression, you might pull out Keynes and begin reading passages aloud.

The People v. Austerity

We have our own example of politicians blundering into the austerity disaster. In spite of ample evidence that austerity ideology does not work, they persist in inflicting this superstition on their citizens. An analysis titled States That Cut Taxes Do So At Their Peril shows how state economies fare when the plan for everything is to cut taxes.

Here’s the conclusion: “The states have no good reasons to believe that tax cuts will bring the desired manna. Yet they continue to erode their tax bases in the name of business growth during an era in which few states can afford to cut critical services ranging from education to infrastructure repair. Some ideas live on and on, no matter how much evidence accumulates against them. States that follow them do so at their own peril.”

TPP

Late reports suggest that the countries negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty have not yet agreed on a deal. Let’s hope that one of the things hanging this up is other countries objecting to the pharmaceutical policies being pushed by the U.S. negotiators on behalf of the drug industry.

Those who have the queasy feeling that my harping on the impact this Treaty could have on your drug budget, might want to check out the blog in the Huffington Post authored by AARP and an executive from the generics industry. It condemns the leaked provisions of the U. S. position limiting the availability of less expensive generic medicines. The treaty may force countries to permit patents to be extended for a dozen years on drugs that might otherwise go generic more quickly.

This is only the latest wrinkle in the PhRMA driven treaty process that might eliminate any chance we have of negotiating better drug prices here in the U. S.

Criminalization

Lots of talk in the blogs and pronouncements from the likes of Speaker John Boehner and President Obama suggest that there might be some progress ahead on the over-incarceration of people of color. You can get armed with some facts via the Alliance for a Just Society website. As this debate plays out it might be good for all of us to school ourselves with some timely information on this issue from the Brennan Center for Justice: Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities In Jails.

Now that you are well informed gentle advocate, here will be your mission – you must help our politicians understand that they cannot solve this problem without digging right into the issue of race. And they cannot solve this problem through the usual compromise with the right wing where there is always some vicious, racist price for progress.

Voting Rights 50 Years Later

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, there were the optimistic few who envisioned the right to vote as a major step in the work to end racism. But decades later we still have states that are still debating whether to fly the flag of a war lost 150 years ago over their state capitol.

“I can’t help wondering how jurisdictions that still wrap themselves in the rebel flag can be counted on to safeguard fair voting rights,” says LeeAnn Hall in another fine article.

Planned Parenthood

The Senate defeated, on a procedural vote, the effort to un-fund Planned Parenthood. The impetus for this latest attack on PP comes after anti-choice guerrillas taped folks in clinics discussing what to do with aborted tissue. Pretty grisly, and apparently highly edited. Reminds me of the attack on ACORN.

The Muddle East

Well, we meddled our way into an interesting new dynamic in the land of perpetual conflict. We talked the Turks into the fray and they promptly attacked the Kurds. Three months ago we loved the Kurds – the most effective military force against ISIS. How this new Turkish strategy works has been explained to me only by those who seem desperately bewildered, as am I. How does attacking Kurds help destroy ISIS? I am sure there is some real politic calculation about needing the Turks more than the Kurds, but it is immoral, duplicitous, and a mistake. Crusader-conquering Saladin was a Kurd.

Schedule

The Congress has, mercifully, departed the Capital for the remainder of August. However, they are heading your way now and available for questioning concerning whatever might be on your mind.

Bill Daley, National Legislative Director
bill@allianceforajustsociety.org

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Bill Daley
http://allianceforajustsociety.nationbuilder.com/