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Head Of The Federal Reserve, Janet Yellin, Takes On Income Inequality

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Diagnosis unmatched by prescription

Janet Yellin, who chairs the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, delivered an unusual and important speech two days ago about the growing gap between the richest Americans and everyone else.

Speaking at a conference at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Yellin  offered “Perspectives on Inequality and Opportunity from the Survey of Consumer Finances.”  She said,

It is no secret that the past few decades of widening inequality can be summed up as significant income and wealth gains for those at the very top and stagnant living standards for the majority. I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.

It’s fair to assume that was a rhetorical question and the answer is, no, the widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of the population is a threat to democracy and the economic futures of most people.

While the trend of wage stagnation for working Americans goes back to the 1970s, Yellin focused on the most recent period of economic history, 1989 to 2013.  This is useful because it includes the recent economic meltdown as well as the so-called “recovery.”

Yellin illustrated her talk with an obligatory set of graphs (she’s an economist after all), including this one depicting changes in net worth (i.e. wealth) for the wealthiest 5% of Americans, the next 45%, and the bottom half of the population.

yellen20141017a3As the chart makes obvious, the wealthiest 5% of Americans saw their share of the nation’s wealth climb from about 55% to about 65%, while the next 45% saw its share go from from 45% to 35% and the share held by bottom 50% approaching zero percent.

It’s good to know the nation’s top economist is alarmed.

The second half of Yellin’s speech concerned what she called “four building blocks of opportunity,” access to early education, access to higher education, ownership of private businesses, and inheritance.  The first three could be useful ways for individuals and families to do better in a time of widening inequality, but do not affect tax policy, deindustrialization, political and business attacks on organized labor, and the growth of the finance sector’s share of the economy, i.e. the factors driving the equality gap to historic highs.

For a more incisive analysis of what went wrong, I recommend the latest issue of Dollars and Sense, especially an article by Gerald Friedman on “What Happened to Wages?”  He writes,

From the dawn of American industrialization in the 19th century until the 1970s, wages rose with labor productivity, allowing working people to share in the gains produced by capitalist society.  Since then, the United States has entered a new era, in which stagnant wages have allowed capitalists to capture a growing share of the fruits of rising productivity.

I recommend examining Friedman’s charts alongside Yellin’s.  And try to follow Yellin’s fourth piece of advice:  inherit a fortune.

Originally posted on InZane Times 

Democracy Movement Takes a Message to Senator Ayotte (InZane Times)

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NASHUA, NH — The “Democracy for All Amendment” failed on a procedural vote today in the US Senate, but not before a dozen New Hampshire activists made one more attempt to get Senator Kelly Ayotte to support overturning the US SupremeP9110119Court’s “Citizens United” decision.

“Corporations are not people.  They should not control our political process,” Representative Sylvia Gale of Nashua said to the group assembled at City Hall Plaza at 9 am this morning.

The group was small, but they are part of a large movement of people concerned that “corporate people” and the wealthiest Americans have the legal ability to drown out competing voices in the political process.

“I don’t have a lot of money and I want my voice to be heard,” explained Fred Robinson, who drove to Nashua from Goffstown to participate.   

“Democracy should work for people,” offered Dr. Thabile Mnisi-Misibi, an ANC member visiting from South Africa.

The contingent of 13 people walked with signs and chants througP9110155h the downtown district to the Senator’s office.  There, they delivered a petition with 12,000 New Hampshire names calling on Senator Ayotte to support the constitutional change.   

“This is an issue for all of New Hampshire, and Senator Ayotte needs to get involved,” said Dan Weeks of the Coalition for Open Democracy, the group which led the organizing of today’s action.

Weeks handed the petitions and supporting material to Simon Thomson, an aide to Senator Ayotte, who met the group on the sidewalk outside her office.

Dan Weeks presenting petitions to Simon Thomson.

A similar action took place last week at Senator Ayotte’s Portsmouth office.

Ayotte voted Monday for a motion that allowed consideration of the amendment to go forward, but today joined her GOP colleagues voting against ending debate, thereby blocking the measure from an up or down vote on its merits.   New Hampshire’s other Senator, Jeanne Shaheen, was a co-sponsor of the amendment proposal.

The notion that the Supreme Court believes corporations are people, that money is speech, and that therefore corporations can spend without limits to affect election campaigns has provoked a reaction expressed through petitions, resolutions, and proposals for constitutional change.  SJ Resolution 19, the proposal defeated today in the P9110141US Senate, is just one of a couple dozen advanced by members of Congress in response to Citizens United.  Some groups, such as Move To Amend, have made it clear they think it doesn’t go far enough to reverse corporate constitutional rights.  But it was the only proposal likely to get considered in the foreseeable future, so many groups calling for constitutional change were on board. 

Writing in his blog at The Nation earlier this week, John Nichols said:

The amendment that is being considered is a consequential, if relatively constrained, proposal, which focuses on core money in political concerns but which does not go as far as many Americans would like when it comes to establishing that money is not speech, corporations are not people and elections should not be up for sale to the highest bidder.

Yet it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the debate that will unfold this week. The debate signals that a grassroots movement has established the rational response to a political crisis created by US Supreme Court rulings (including, but certainly not exclusively, the Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions) that have opened the floodgates for domination of political debates by billionaire campaign donors and corporate cash.

No one expected the amendment to get the two-thirds vote it would need to pass or get a vote at all in John Boehner’s House of Representatives.   But the fact that any vote took place is evidence of a significant expression oP9110133f public sentiment that the“Citizens United” decision did serious damage to fundamental issues.  The questions now are whether the movement will grow or fizzle, and whether the pro-amendment groups will intensify their demands for more aggressive language or head down the familiar road of further compromise.  A decision to water down the language in hopes of gaining votes at this point would be a huge mistake.

“Constitutional amendments become viable when support for them grows so overwhelming that traditional partisan and ideological boundaries are broken,” wrote Nichols, who will speak at an AFSC dinner in Concord on September 27.  “When this happens, the divide becomes less a matter of Republican versus Democrat or left versus right and more a matter of a broken present versus a functional future.”

In The Steps Of “Granny D” (via InZane Times)

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A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.P8230046 (2)

Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform.  She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000. 

The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.

Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year.  The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in P8230054January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July. 

Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest.  Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince.  But perhaps that wasn’t the point. P8230045

There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change.  Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples.  Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power. 

When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit.  When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a P8230063Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion. 

Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset.  Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for theNH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school.  At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement.  Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained.  Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism.  “The systemP8230109excludes so many of our people,” he says. 

To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech.  And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.

From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.

Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people.  There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s.  The crowd had grown to about P823011760 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).  

When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common.  Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion.  He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking. 

“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.

“That’s the only thing we were to do. We weren’t to organize or to get people out in P8230104the streets.  We weren’t about ordinary citizens trying to lead.  We weren’t practiced in that kind of politics.”

“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued.  “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue.  Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own.  It will only happen if we force them.”

Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision.

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InZane Times: Bring Back Our Boss (Artie T Demoulas)

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p7300456I have to cheer when workers take collective action to defend dignified working conditions.  So I was happy to stop by the picket line outside the Demoulas Market Basket Supermarket in Concord for a chat with some of the workers this afternoon.

Three workers were out on the road, waving signs and collecting honks from motorists.   Others were by the doorways, hanging out with fellow workers who were on the job.  Workers are even making picket signs inside the store. They don’t have a union and the workers I talked to don’t want one.  This is the strangest strike I’ve ever observed.

Strangest of all:  their demand is to win reinstatement of the company’s paternalistic CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, who workers say has treated them well.

The chain’s 71 stores have been open since the labor conflict erupted two weeks ago.  The issue is a conflict within the Demoulas family, which has been squabbling for years.  When Arthur T. was deposed by the company’s board, workers revolted, from management to entry-level.  The stores are open but the shelves are getting bare, especially since the regional distribution center is mostly shut down.

The Boston Globe has provided a useful chronology.

Austin, who was waving a sign on Fort Eddy Road in Concord this afternoon, said the struggle has “a lotof union aspects,” but said the workers have no interest in forming an actual union.  Apparently they believe their interests are being adequately represented by others who are at the negotiating table with the Demoulas family and the Board of Directors.

p7300461I told him my own activist career started, in a sense, as a participant in supermarket picket lines during the United Farm Workers boycotts of the 1970s.  He has heard of Cesar Chavez and says the Demoulas workers have had supportive visits from union reps.

Demoulas workers say that under Arthur T. they have been treated well, prices have been kept lower than in other chains, and customers have been happy.  Their fear is that the Board will discard profit-sharing and other policies that make Demoulas a good place to work.

Brianna, who has been working as a cashier for a year, has been happy with her wages and says there’s been no talk of unionizing.  She just wants everything to go back to the way it was.

What I wonder is whether workers who have gotten a taste of their power will go back to what she called “normal.”  “Normal” has a way of changing.

Bernie Sanders: Progressives are the Majority (InZane Times)

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“The views that most of us hold are not minority views”

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It was a sunny Saturday afternoon in Warner, New Hampshire, and Bernie Sanders didn’t need much time to warm up the sympathetic crowd outside Bookends.

“I think that old fashioned politics, I think the politics of big money dominating what goes on in Washington, the old status quo is not good enough,” began the Vermont Senator.  “In my view, and I say this very seriously, we need a political revolution in this country.”  The audience of perhaps one hundred people applauded enthusiastically.

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Image by Arnie Alpert

Senator Sanders would sign copies of his book, The Speech, afterwards, but this is no more a standard book tour than are the recent appearances of Hillary Clinton.  Bernie, as he is commonly known, is considering a run for President, and this was his second campaign-style trip to the state that hold the nation’s first primary election.

Sanders’ speech, like one he delivered at the NH Institute of Politics a couple months ago, ran through a menu of issues he referred to as the “progressive agenda.”  The growth of economic inequality and its pernicious effects, the threat of global warning, the need to end wasteful military spending, the need for universal health care, and the importance of free, public education each received a couple paragraphs of stump speech, as did the importance of political reforms to take the government back from the 1 percent and the corporations they own.

“Last year alone the Koch brothers saw a $12 billion increase in their wealth struggling under the despotic Obama administration,” he said with more than a touch of sarcasm.  Going on about the Kochs, he said, “When you have an extreme

ideology and you are prepared to spend as much as it takes you can buy the political system. And that is what this disastrous Supreme Court decision in Citizens United has enabled them to do.”

“Here’s what I think,” Sanders continued in his characteristic conversational style.  “Number One we have to overturn Citizens United,” the Supreme Court decision that

Image by Arnie Alpert

Image by Arnie Alpert

solidified Court precedents behind the notions of corporate personhood and protection for corporate rights to spend money to influence elections.

“Second issue, equally important, we need to move toward public funding of American elections,” Sanders said.

A week before the NH Rebellion’s next gathering, in which hundreds of local residents are expected to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle to protest the corrupting influence of big money on our political system, Sanders’ comments were affirmed by the audience.

“We are part of the vast majority.”

As a positive example, Sanders described how efforts to cut Medicare benefits and weaken or privatize Social Security have been rebuffed by organized citizens, despite the propaganda of the deficit hawks.  “The reason we have a deficit today is two huge wars were not paid for and tax breaks for the rich,” he said, again getting approval from the audience.

The job of progressives, according to Bernie Sanders, is to educate people about what is really going on in the economic and political systems.  And that means going outside of our comfort zones to talk to people with whom we don’t always agree.  The right-wing specializes in division, he said.  Progressive need to bring people together.

“One point I want to reiterate today — the views that most of us hold are not minority views,” Sanders said.  “They are not strange views. Our views are what the vast majority of the American people believe in. It is the Koch brothers and right-wing Republicans who have the fringe ideology.”

“Our job politically is to rally the American people around an agenda which speaks to the needs of the vast majority. And we are part of the vast majority.”

A veteran of who knows how many dozen town hall meetings in Vermont, Bernie Sanders is clearly comfortable with the type of give and take that can animate a New Hampshire Primary campaign.  Of course, he would have to join the Democratic Party in order to compete in that arena.   But he’s already been to Iowa once, and when he left Warner yesterday he was headed for a fundraising dinner for the Hillsborough County Democrats

 

InZane Times: “On the Centennial of Joe Hill’s Trial”

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I can’t say I ever dreamed about Joe Hill, the legendary songwriter and Industrial Workers of the World member. But on the hundredth anniversary of the verdict in a Salt Lake City court that would put him before a firing squad sixteen months later, he is once again in my waking thoughts.

It was probably Joan Baez singing about Joe Hill that first drew my attention to him. (No, I wasn’t at Woodstock, but I saw the film and listened to the record album.)

“The copper bosses killed you, Joe,

They shot you Joe,” says I.

“Takes more than guns to kill a man,” said Joe,

“I didn’t die.”

My sister brought home a 1968 Phil Ochs album, “Tape from California,” with his ballad about Joe Hill’s life. Like Joe Hill did so many times, Ochs put new words to a familiar tune, in this case the English folk song, “John Hardy,” which had also been used by Woody Guthrie for his “Ballad of Tom Joad.”

Ochs described Joe’s arrival in New York as an immigrant from Sweden, how he took up with the IWW “cause the union was the only friend he had,” and how he began writing songs to raise the spirits of union members.

Now, the strikes were bloody and the strikes

Were black as hard as they were long

In the dark of night Joe would stay awake and write

In the morning he would raise them with a song

The IWW – known as “The Wobblies” for reasons that remain a bit obscure – had a revolutionary vision of a single union that would unite workers across lines of race and national origin, across lines of gender, across industries, and even across borders to take away power from the capitalist class and put it in the hands of workers. As the final phrase of “Solidarity Forever,” a labor anthem written by an IWW member puts it, “We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old when the union makes us strong.”

The Wobblies believed in direct action, especially strikes, as the primary means for achieving power in the workplace and in the larger society. Their “anarcho-syndicalist” approach contrasted with the socialists who put up candidates for election.   But the radical movements of the early twentieth century found much in common. Eugene Victor Debs, for instance, was present at the IWW’s founding convention in 1905.

Joe played the fiddle and other instruments, but is not remembered as a musician. He was, however, a decent cartoonist and a brilliant lyricist, who took popular tunes and substituted new words.

Phil Ochs sang:

He wrote his words to the tunes of the day

To be passed along the union vine

And the strikes were led and the songs were spread

And Joe Hill was always on the line

The late folksinger and song-writer Utah Phillips used to say the IWW songwriters  used hymns because they had pretty tunes and wrote new words “so they’d make sense.” In that vein “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” becomes “Dump the Bosses Off your Backs.” The Doxology becomes,

Praise boss when morning work bells chime,

Praise him for bits of overtime,

Praise him whose wars we love to fight,

Praise him fat leech and parasite.

Joe Hill’s most famous song, “The Preacher and the Slave,” is a send-up of a hymn often sung by Salvation Army bands on street corners. During the free speech fights, when IWW members who were barred from using the same street corners to proselytize for the “One Big Union” took to the streets in acts of mass civil disobedience, Joe converted “In the Sweet By and By,” to “You’ll get pie in the sky when you die (that’s a lie).”

It was Joe Hill, who “more than any other one writer, had made the IWW a singing movement,” according to Joyce Kornbluh, editor of Rebel Voices: an IWW Anthology. His songs, and others, were printed in The Little Red Songbook, new editions of which the IWW would put out from time to time. The publication’s was designed so workers could easily fit it in their pockets and take it out on picket lines or in jail cells. (I’m proud to say I have a song in the 38th edition, on sale from the IWW.)

“A pamphlet, no matter how good, is never read more than once, but a song is learned by heart and repeated over and over,” Joe wrote in a letter from his prison cell. “I maintain that if a person can put a few cold, common sense facts into a song, and dress them … up in a cloak of humor to take the dryness off them he will succeed in reaching a great number of workers who are too unintelligent or too indifferent to read a pamphlet or an editorial in economic science.”

In addition to “The Preacher and the Slave,” Joe Hill is remembered for “There is Power in a Union,” “Casey Jones: Union Scab,” and “The Rebel Girl,” a song inspired by Concord native Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Joe Hill on Trial for Murder

When John Morrison, a Salt Lake City shopkeeper, and his son Arling were killed at their store on January 10, 1914, Joe Hill was living and working nearby. A victim of a never-explained gunshot wound received the same night, Hill was arrested and charged with the crime.

“In reality, there was virtually no evidence to suggest that the police had the right man,” writes William Adler, in an excellent biography, The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacy of Joe Hill, American Labor Icon.“The state’s case was entirely circumstantial and leaned heavily on the theory that the younger

Morrison, in the moment before he had died, had fired the shot that had torn Hill’s chest. But the prosecutor could not prove that Morrison’ gun had been fired, let alone that Hill had been at the store. Nor could the state show a motive, or produce the murder weapons, or elicit testimony that positively identified the defendant. In short, the state failed to meet Utah’s statutory standard for a cased based on circumstantial evidence; that the chain of proof ‘be complete and unbroken and established beyond a reasonable doubt.’”

Hill insisted he had been with a woman that night and would not divulge her identity out of a sense of honor. Whether he had a naïve faith that the American system of justice really did put the burden of proof on the prosecution, or whether in some sense he desired martyrdom, he failed to mount an effective defense. “Like many Wobblies,” Adler writes, “Joe Hill was principled to the point of recklessness.”

Adler holds that Joe Hill chose “apparently came to believe, consciously or unconsciously, that he could better serve the union by dying. And later, once it was clear that he would not be getting a new trial, he perhaps came to see his death as necessary, or at the very least as valuable propaganda for advancing the cause of industrial unionism. The cause needed a martyr, someone to incite his fellow workers, to inspire them not to mourn but to organize, and he cast himself in that swaggering role.”

Adler says “The irony of Hill having taken on the role of good soldier in the class war was as inescapable as the penitentiary. For he was on trial for his life for a crime that had nothing to do with politics. Yet his prosecution, baseless as it was, in the end was about nothing but politics: about a partial judge … abetting an ambitious prosecutor to make the case that State of Utah v. Joseph Hillstrom was as much a class action against the IWW as it was a murder trial.”

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, “Utah was the first state to resume executions after capital punishment was reinstated in the United States in 1976, when Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad on January 17, 1977.” It is also the only state that has used a firing squad in recent times.

Many more rebels have been jailed on trumped up charges since Joe Hill’s day. And as has become terribly clear, plenty of people have been sentenced to death for crimes they did not commit. Since 1973, 140 people have been exonerated and freed from death row. How many innocent people are still under sentence of death is impossible to know, but a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences estimates it could be more than 4% of the death row population.

As for Joe Hill, “Death imbued his life with meaning,” Adler concluded. “What, after all, attests more powerfully to a righteous cause than the willingness to die for it?”

On June 27, 1914 Joe Hill was found guilty of the murder of John Morrison. He was killed by a firing squad on November 15, 1915.

Phil Ochs:

Yes, they lined Joe Hill up against the wall
Blindfold over his eyes
It’s the life of a rebel that he chose to live
It’s the death of a rebel that he died.

Ochs may have gotten a few facts wrong, but hey, it’s a folksong, and it worked for me.

The song Joan Baez sang at Woodstock is from a poem written by Alfred Hayes in 1934.  The labor icon appears in a dream.

“Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me

“Joe Hill ain’t never died,

Where workingmen are out on strike,

Joe Hill is at their side.”

Yours for the O.B.U.

“Aggressive Progressives” Meet in Henniker (Via Arnie Alpert’s InZane Times)

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Written by Arnie Alpert on InZane Times.

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Atlant Schmidt and Cathy Goldwater at Bird-dogging workshop

The third annual New Hampshire Progressive Summit brought 150 activists to New England College yesterday for a conference devoted to practical political skills and information in a wide range of P6070068topics.  Renewable energy, youth organizing, preserving Social Security and Medicare, poverty, GMOs, use of social media, and more kept the crowd moving for the day.  There was even time for debate over the Northern Pass powerline project, an issue about which there is not unity in the New Hampshire Left.  

The Summit included 19 workshops and another 6 “mini-workshops,” plus sessions for elected officials and candidates.  I was able to catch ones on LGBT issues (with Mo Baxley and Jamie Capach) and on the perils of privatization (with Diana Lacey and Janice Kelble) plus 20-minute “mini workshops” on the American Legislative Exchange Council (with Caitlin Rollo and Rep. Marcia Moody) and reducing gun violence (with Janet Groat of Moms Demand Action).  The presenters all were masters of their subjects and led effective discussions.

I also sat in on a presentation about the NH Rebellion, a growing project to put P6070028pressure on candidates to end the “system of corruption” caused by the flood of cash in the political system. The rebels are planning to join four July 4 parades and assemble hundreds of people to walk from Hampton Beach to New Castle on July 5, all in the spirit of Doris “Granny D” Haddock.  Their supporters at the Summit included several old friends from Occupy NH. 

With Olivia Zink and Addy Simwerayi, I led a session on P6070057“bird-dogging” skills, i.e. how to let candidates know what is on our minds and find out what is on theirs. These sessions are always lively, fun, and hopefully useful.  We had a great assortment of activists concerned about trans rights, climate, GMOs, money and politics, and other issues, all eager to hone their skills.  With the 2014 election campaign heating up and the campaign for the 2016 NH Presidential Primary already underway there is plenty of bird-dogging to be done. 

In fact, the lobby outside the main meeting room was filled with tables from Democratic Party groups, including “Ready for Hillary.” 

What it means to be an “aggressive progressive” was the theme of Richard Kirsch’s keynote.  The speech ran through dozens of popular progressive concepts like aP6070009 higher minimum wage, defeat of “right to work,” the use of the tax code by the 1% to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else, the need for paid sick leave, and the importance of not only preserving but expanding Social Security.  “We all do better when we all do better,” he said.  

Punctuated with applause, Kirsch’s remarks were deliberately formulaic, and in fact, he said they were drawn from the key message points of “An America that Works for All of Us,” a glossy brochure included in everyone’s conference packet (and available online).  From the speaker’s perspective “repeating, repeating, repeating and telling the same story,” what he calls the “progressive narrative,”  is the P6070080key to political success.

Coming out of movements based on direct action, I’m not totally sold on this “narrative” concept.  I think we create the “narrative” by our actions as much as by our words, but I agree it’s important to communicate effectively and have always believed that the “progressive agenda” – good schools, fair taxes, protection of civil rights and liberties, decent wages for workers, etc. — ought to be popular with the majority of Americans.  But let’s give attention to actions beyond voting and appeals to those who get elected.  I hope there’s still room for direct action on the progressive agenda.  

May 1 – A Day for Labor to Join the Anti-Death Penalty Movement

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Albert Parsons and August Spies were hung in 1887. Joe Hill was shot by a firing squad in 1915. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were electrocuted in 1927. Their methods of execution were different, but their “crimes” were common: they were put to death because of their staunch advocacy for the rights of working people to decent wages and working conditions.

The application of the death penalty has always been political – from the Salem Witch trials to New Hampshire’s Attorney General using a death penalty prosecution in her election campaign to yesterday’s verdict by an Egyptian judge that condemned 683 people to death.  (See statement from Amnesty International.)

With International Workers Day, a day that began in honor of Albert Parsons and August Spies, four days away, this is as good a time as any to recall why the cause of labor should be tied to the movement for an end to the death penalty.

Parsons and Spies were leaders of the International WorkingHaymarketRiot-Harpers.jpg People’s Association in Chicago, which was fighting for the eight-hour day. They had already been singled out for condemnation by city leaders, Parsons even threatened with lynching by Chicago businessmen, when they led the planning of a peaceful rally at Haymarket Square on May 1, 1886.

Three days later Parson, Spies, and Sam Fielden, also a member of the Working People’s Association, spoke at another rally, peaceful as well until it was rushed by club-wielding police and then shattered by an explosion.

Eleven people, including seven police officers, died. No one knew who had brought or thrown the bomb, but Spies and Parsons – who was with his wife and two children at a nearby saloon when the bomb went off – were immediately blamed.

In the words of Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais, authors of Labor’s Untold Story, “the nation’s press was a unit in declaring that it made no difference whether Parson, Spies, or Fielden had or had not thrown the bomb. They should be hanged for their political views, for their words and general activities and if more trouble makers were given to the hangman so much the better.” The Chicago Tribune, for example, said the labor leaders should be “held, tried and hanged for murder.”

And that’s exactly what happened, despite the lack of any evidence tying them to the bombing or the deaths of the police officers. “The trial was conducted with all the sensation histrionics, all the stage properties which so often transform American legal proceedings into lurid public spectacles,” according to Boyer and Morais, who added, “the verdict was almost a formality.”

This May Day, let’s remember Albert Parsons and August Spies and pledge to end the government’s option to execute those it decides are its enemies.

[Thanks to Wikipedia.org for graphics.]

The last words of Albert Spies

The First In The Nation (#FITN) Campaign Is Underway (InZane Times)

Image by Arnie Alpert
Image by Arnie Alpert

Image by Arnie Alpert

Senators from opposite ends of the political spectrum took to lecterns on opposite ends of Manchester yesterday to test the waters for potential presidential runs.  At the NH Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders engaged in spirited  back-and-forth with 200 progressive activists on topics including campaign finance, excessive military spending, and the need for a “political revolution.”  Meanwhile, the Americans for the Prosperous Foundation and Citizens United hosted a parade of right-wing Senators and others trying out their stuff before an audience of several hundred conservatives at the Executive Court. 2014 04 12 freedom summit 005

Outside the conservative event, progressive activists – mistakenly identified with the Democratic Party by the Concord Monitor – held signs lambasting proposals to weaken retirement security.

It was perhaps the first in what will soon be a typical day on the trail to the 2016 New Hampshire Presidential Primary.

The conservative event was tickets-only, but I got my request in early enough to get a seat and hear speeches from leaders of Citizens United and Americans for the Prosperous, followed by NH Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Mike Lee, Do2014 04 12 freedom summit 008cropnald Trump, and a couple of local pols.  While Trump was entertaining, audience response to Senatorial speeches about low taxes and the evils of Obamacare drew tepid responses.  The speakers were ushered to the stage from behind a curtain, gave their prepared speeches, and disappeared again behind the curtain without taking any audience questions or comments.

Senator Kelly Ayotte, who seems to be on lots of lists of potential VPs, quoted former Governor Meldrim Thomson, equated freedom with low taxes, and equated the Affordable Care Act with freedom’s opposite.  Applause were somewhere south of excited. Senator Lee was teacherly and likewise failed to excite the crowd.

Trump was different.  Speaking without notes – and criticizing politicians who  depend on speech-writers and tele-prompters – Trump wandered from point to2014 04 12 freedom summit 028point, some of which departed from standard AFP scripts.  For example, he defended Social Security and Medicare in an apparent dig at proposals coming from Congressman Paul Ryan.  He said we need “to come up with a humane solution” to the country’s immigration system, but then drew applause for ridiculing Jeb Bush’s recent “act of love” statement and said he could build a physical barrier that would keep immigrants out.  Trump said we had spent $2 trillion on the Iraq war, “for what?,” but then implied maybe it would have been worth it if we had taken2014 04 12 freedom summit 020 over the country’s oil.

With no candidate Q&A, the event was rather boring.  My colleague Addy and I left during the introduction of Congressman Louie Gohmert and headed across town.

Senator Sanders had already finished his speech and was talking about Harry Truman when we arrived at the Institute of Politics.  The mood felt different, and it wasn’t just that we were in politically comfortable surroundings.  The seats were all filled, except for ones emptied by people standing in line to get their turns at microphones on the left and right sides of the stage.  Sanders handled questions comfortably, clearly at home in a town hall meeting environment.  Decrying “a Congress largely dependent on corporate2014 04 12 bernie sanders nhiop 011money,” Sanders called for development of a grassroots movement to demand change and then hold politicians accountable.

Sanders, a socialist who ran as an Independent and caucuses with the Democrats, is giving active consideration to a presidential run without saying whether he would run as an Independent or take the fight inside the Democratic Party.  “Somebody has got to be talking about these issues,” he told a group of labor activists who met with him in a small conference room after the main event.

We could have returned to the Freedom Summit and perhaps would have been able to hear Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but I had had enough for one day.  I would have liked to hear Senator Paul criticize corporate welfare at a Koch-fueled forum.  But I’m pretty sure all these wannabe Presidents will be back, as will the progressive protests, grassroots activists, and the reporters who love to take it all in.

Canterbury Residents Push For Medicaid Expansion In Town Meeting (InZane Times)

Rep. Lorrie Carey (image by Arnie Alpert)

Twenty Canterbury residents exchanged perspectives with their three State Representatives at the town’s Meeting House Saturday morning.  Long-time Representative Priscilla Lockwood, and first-termers Howard Moffett and Lorrie Carey fielded questions on topics including unsatisfactory road conditions, tar sands, burdens on municipal government, building codes, GMOs, and the influence of corporations on elections and policy-making.

Responding to a question for Doris Hampton, who organized the session, Rep. Moffett gave a passionate call for the state to expand Medicaid.  “The House is going to support Medicaid expansion as often as it’s given the opportunity to do so,” he said, but explained that the resistance is coming from Republican Senators.

“It’s partisan,” agreed Rep. Lockwood, who made sure to say she was one of six Republican Representatives who voted for it.

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Rep. Howard Moffett

“What i have seen coming out of Republican Senators just doesn’t hold water,” Rep. Moffett said.  Medicaid expansion would bring two and half billion dollars – money we’ve already paid in federal taxes – back to the state “to create jobs and provide health insurance,” he observed.

“It feels like a war on the poor,”  Rep. Moffett said.  No one in the room seemed to disagree.  Rep. Carey threw in an anecdote about a landscaper badly injured on a job across the street from Concord Hospital who was afraid to seek medical attention for fear of getting a bill he’d be unable to pay.

“We can’t let any member of our population think they need to bleed to death because can’t afford care,” she said.

Rep. Moffett hopes pressure can be exerted on Republican Senators – only two are needed to join the unified Democrats and create a majority – in order for the Medicaid proposal to pass.

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Rep. Lorrie Carey

Rep. Carey is a member of the State-Federal Relations and Veterans Affairs Committee, which tends to get responsibility for non-binding resolutions that if adopted express the sense of the legislators on a wide range of topics.  Last year the House adopted a resolution calling for a Constitutional Amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and declare that constitutional rights are intended for natural persons, not corporations.  The Senate refused to take it up, but the issue has re-surfaced this year, with two resolutions in Rep. Carey’s committee calling for a Constitutional Convention to be convened on this matter.

“Is there a lot of money being pumped in by the corporations?” she asked.  “The answer is yes,” she responded to her own question.

Despite what the Representatives indicated was strong support for something to be done, none of them felt that passing resolutions makes any difference.  “Resolutions in the end are meaningless,” Rep. Carey said.

The presence of two town Selectmen guaranteed that state-municipal relations was on the agenda.  The Selectmen, Tyson Miller and Bob Steenson, worry the legislature could adopt bills intended to increase transparency but which would have the effect of impairing the ability of volunteer town officers to manage local affairs.  They also were eager for funds for road improvement.  The three State Representatives were supportive of proposals to raise taxes on gasoline, with Rep. Carey pointing out that it hasn’t been hiked since 1991. 

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Rep. Priscilla Lockwood

The Representatives said they read all their email, but that messages which appear to be form letters crafted by advocacy groups tend to be ignored.  So write your legislators, use your own words, and make sure you let them know you’re a constituent.

Rep. Lockwood, a legislative veteran who has also served on the Select Board, said she plans to step down after the current term.

This story was cross posted with permission from InZane Times.

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