politics is to want something

onsdag, mars 16, 2005

Living Wage Campaign Launched

A local coalition of faith-based, political, labor and community organizations has launched a campaign to pass a living wage ordinance. Santa Barbara would become one of over 125 communities across the country to pass such a law. The ordinance would require both the city and major city contractors to pay a wage indexed to the cost of living.

We're gearing up to put pressure on our city council to do the right thing and pass the ordinance. For more information on the campaign, and the legal, economic and social issues involved, check out:

Watch this space for more updates and discussion.

the voice of santa barbara's taxpayers

As the local campaign for a living wage heats up, I thought I would share some of the perspectives of the opposition. Below is a missive from the President of the Santa Barbara Tax Payer’s Association, Joe Amendariz. Joe is also a member of the city council in nearby Carpinteria, California. He sent this out as part of his “taxpayer’s bulletin”. Some colleagues forwarded it to me. It’s quite a read.

Sun Tzu, the Chinese General who wrote a collection of essays known as: "The Art of War", said every battle is won before it is ever fought. Sun Tzu must have also been a prophet, because no better example of his thesis exists than with the upcoming "battle" over a co-called "living wage" in Santa Barbara.

The Santa Barbara City Council, which recently engineered a huge raise for themselves, with the help of the very same people/groups urging them to impose a living wage on local companies doing business with the City, have been check-mated by these clever and politically agile social/economic "activists", and they either already know it, or they are all walking around blind without a cane. I suspect it's the former.

Now, I seriously doubt the local proponents of a "living wage" have Read "The Art of War". Indeed, from some of their comments in the following NP story, it would seem the only book they have ever been exposed to is the "Communist Manifesto". Consider the following epiphany by one of the "living-wage" proponents: "Poverty wages hurt people," said Mr. Larimore-Hall, also a member of the Democratic Central Committee and PUEBLO. "If market forces dictate poverty wages then something needs to be done to intervene in the market. Market forces can do a lot of good things in a society but market forces don't care about the environment, people (sic) rights or a sustainable community."

Memo to: Mr. Larimore-Hall: Nobody, at least not anyone who is in the United States legally, is forced against their will to earn so-called "poverty wages".

Nah, Mr. Larimore-Hall just doesn't get it. Wages, whether they be "high", "low", "good" or "bad", aren't an amorphous phenomenon created by a cadre of greedy businessmen, sitting around a shiny black table, in a smoke filled room in Crawford Texas. Wages, like other "prices", are units of information. They [wages] allow Mr. Larimore's fickle market forces to accurately communicate to consumer(s) of labor, as well as to provider(s) of labor, what the real value of that labor currently is to the rational forces that comprise the market.

What determines the value of that labor? It's decided secretly by Richard Pearle, Dick Cheney and Halliburton; everybody knows that! Actually, its determined by a variety of things, such as: skills; education; experience; the demand for the product/service the labor helps bring to the market; the supply of labor needed to bring a product/service to the market; the demand for the product/service; the supply of the product/service; etc. Oh, I almost forgot; and the government regulations imposed by benevolent politicians who can't seem to grasp any of the above.

And this is where the Mr. Larimore-Hall's of the world come in. People like him are instrumental in helping shape political market forces. They do this by...how should I put it; by intervening in political campaigns that back the local politicians who understand none of what I have just explained here. And yet, it's also the case that these politicians are liberated from that truth because they simply couldn't care less. All they want is help getting elected. Once elected, they need intervention in the market forces that have, for some strange reason, determined that they are woefully underpaid for all that they do for the rest of us.

The even bigger tragedy, however, is when a few unwitting "Capitalists" ignore the warnings of those who seem to be able to predict these unfortunate outcomes in the first place.

(Memo to Mr. Amendariz: In fact, many, many people are forced against their will, by “market forces”, to earn objectively-defined “poverty wages”.)

look, mom, I made the paper!

Activists rally for 'living wage' in Santa Barbara




Nearly 100 people gathered on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday to launch their plan for a citywide "living wage" ordinance that would pay some 500 to 1,000 workers more money.

"It makes sense," Daraka Larimore-Hall, 29, said to the crowd. "It's fair. It's time to pay a living wage."

The proposal calls for companies that have contracts with the city for more than $10,000 to pay their employees $13.40 an hour and $15.40 without health insurance.

Nonprofit organizations would be exempt the first three years, though those where the executive director earns four times the amount of the lowest-paid employee would have to comply.

The issue incites passionate arguments on all sides. Activists have banded together to pressure the City Council to adopt the ordinance. Many of them backed and campaigned for the successful tripling of salaries for council members last year. For now, most of the council members are trying to distance themselves from the debate. They did not respond publicly to the request to put the issue on the agenda.

"In principle, I support a living wage, but the devil is so in the details, and I look forward to having the conversation," Councilwoman Iya Falcone said.

When Councilman Dan Secord saw the group of living wage advocates on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, he turned around and went the other direction.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum is hinting that she is more comfortable letting voters decide.

"I think it is going to need to go to voters, frankly," the mayor said. "I think the decision should be pending voter approval. This is a big issue."

Councilman Brian Barnwell cast his eyes downward and appeared to wrestle with the issue.

"It's really a pay raise," Mr. Barnwell said. "Let's not call it a living wage. Heck, in Santa Barbara, you can't live on $30 an hour, much less $15 an hour."

All of the council members immediately expressed concerns about how such an ordinance would affect nonprofit organizations.

"It's hard for these organizations to raise money," Councilman Roger Horton said. "It's not a simple topic. I just don't think a one-size-fits-all thing will work very well here; that is why I am cautious about it. The other thing I am concerned about is small business."

Only Councilman Das Williams attended the rally, saying he wanted the group to know it had some support at City Hall.

Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce have said that making them pay employees $13.40 an hour will just force them to increase the amount of their contracts with the city. Or in a worst-case scenario, they would have to lay off workers.

More than 10 organized groups are backing the living wage ordinance, including PUEBLO, the Santa Barbara County Action Network and the Democratic Central Committee. The group includes activists from the environmental, Latino, housing and faith-based groups who say low wages have a ripple effect.

"Many of our workers are forced to live outside the area and commute into the city, which causes air pollution and traffic congestion," said Pat Sandall, a board member for the local Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.

Based on Tuesday's turnout, Mr. Larimore-Hall said he expects the council to adopt the ordinance.

"I can't see how they can say no to us," said Mr. Larimore-Hall, a member of PUEBLO and the Democratic Central Committee. "I can't see how they can turn us away now."

torsdag, mars 10, 2005

Dave Matthews and Human Waste

The bus driver for the Dave Matthews Band, the second most overrated group in the world, has been convicted of dumping human waste (no doubt some of it belonging to Matthews) onto tourists boating on the Chicago River. I was hoping that this meant no more touring from this insufferably jangly papp-meister, but I hear that they have replaced the driver.

Here's the story from the wire:

ILLINOIS: BUS DRIVER ADMITS DUMPING WASTE A bus driver for the Dave Matthews Band pleaded guilty to dumping human waste from the bus onto a sightseeing boat last August as he crossed an open-grating bridge over the Chicago River. The driver, Stefan Wohl, 42, of Selma, Tex., was sentenced to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service and ordered to pay $10,000 to the Friends of the Chicago River, an environmental group. The state attorney general and the operator of Chicago's Little Lady tour boat have filed lawsuits against the band and Mr. Wohl, who is suspended without pay from his job. Gretchen Ruethling (NYT)

søndag, mars 06, 2005

Recommended Reading, Part One

A colleague in Sweden asked me to compile a list of “the ten most essential books on the American left (past and present)” for the magazine he edits. Shit. Below is a first attempt. Please weigh in. Keep in mind, these are books about the American Left. Next, I’ll work on an even more impossible list- the 10 essential Left books about America. These are in no particular order. This list is weak on Populism/Progressivism, Environmentalism and Feminism. Owing to my own biases and knowledge gaps, it centers around Social Democracy, labor and the civil rights struggle, though I’m happy to get some correctives from the “public” such as it is. Bring it on...

Making History
The American Left and the American Mind
By Richard Flacks

This book is both a history of the American left and an argument about political life itself. Flacks’ thesis is that people engage in politics because of a deep commitment to their own lives, not abstract notions of political truth. The Left’s overarching project, for Flacks, is to make it easier for people to have an impact on the forces which affect them- in essence, to “make history.” This reworking of the left’s role helps to explain it’s failed attempts at grand projects, as well as its often unsung success in democratizing and transforming social relations in America. This is a very good starting place.

The Next Left
By Michael Harrington

I struggled over which book by Harrington to include. I settled on this one because this is Harrington’s first attempt to sketch an outline of what an American left might look like- taking into account our peculiar political culture, electoral system, social movement history and distance from European notions of social democracy. His vision takes from both the old left and the new, but is built around a marriage of radical vision and pragmatic assessment of the possibilities of real politics. I’ve never encountered anything as insightful, grounded and powerful as Harrington in any other political tradition- liberal, social democratic or revolutionary. If you haven’t read anything by Harrington, you have no idea what you are talking about.

Eugene V. Debs: Citizen and Socialist
By Nick Salvatore

Eugene Victor Debs, railroad labor organizer and Socialist Party founder, was a distinctly American voice- for equality, for the dignity of working people, and against the pull of war and empire. This incredible book rescues Debs as a pivotal figure in American history, and speaks of a time when the prairie was radical and the nation was young.

If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left
By Maurice Isserman

The 1950’s is an often overlooked period in the history of the American Left. After the boom of the CIO organizing decade and before the explosion of the 1960’s, the 50’s was an important time of transition. Isserman here discusses the transition from a labor-oriented mass left to a more culturally rooted cosmopolitanism would shape the New Left radicals. Also of note is his treatment of the question of whether the American left will be structured around an independent, traditionally-formed political party or a more organic, coalitional model. Well-written and highly recommended.

Labor Will Rule
Sidney Hillman and the Rise of American Labor
By Steven Fraser


The Most Dangerous Man in Detroit
Walter Reuther and the Fate of American Labor
By Nelson Lichtenstein

The labor-liberal-civil rights alliance that formed in and around the Democratic Party from the ‘40’s to the ‘60’s was probably the closest the US has come to a popular social democratic movement. These two biographies of towering figures of labor do an excellent job of looking at the triumphs and missed opportunities of those important moments. It is often impossible to imagine that politics based on a democratic reordering of power in America was once so close to the mainstream. Why did it fail? Could it be replicated? Important questions as we look for a new strategy for regaining what has been lost since 1980.

I’ve Got the Light of Freedom
The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle
By Charles Payne

This book corrects many of the popular myths about the civil rights struggle in the South. Far from being built around a few charismatic men, in Mississippi, the movement was largely woman-led, remarkably grassroots, surprisingly militant and far more heroic than can be explained here. This was a fight against unimaginable cruelty and injustice. We are often taught about the freedom movement as if it was a spontaneous moment in which blacks had enough and whites suddenly woke up to the problem. On the contrary, this was a hard-fought and well organized movement of ordinary people seeking freedom and justice. What is also important about this book is that it roots its understanding of the freedom struggle in the notion that people must achieve their own liberation. While white people play an important role, it is that of helper, not leader.

I May Not Get There With You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr
By Michael Eric Dyson

As history, this is a deeply flawed book. However, as a window into the radicalism at the hart of MLK’s vision it is quite useful. The mainstreaming of King as a figure has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the nation has be forced to recognize that black people’s history matters, on the other, his legacy has been twisted into a sort of brown Santa Clause, delivering niceties to all the good little girls and boys. The fact that his demand that people be “judged by the content of their character” has been twisted by conservatives into a purported opposition to Affirmative Action is appalling. Even more appalling is that his opposition to the war in Vietnam, his support for labor and endorsement of social democracy has been flushed down the toilet. See my next post for more on this topic.

By Kirkpatric Sayle

Students For a Democratic Society was not just the largest progressive youth movement in American history, it was also emblematic of the key dilemmas of the left in the United States. Begun literally as the youth organization of the labor-social democratic tradition, it turned its critical gaze both on the old left and on an increasingly soulless American culture. SDS began by offering a radical, and distinctly American alternative to the prevailing orthodoxies of politics, based on a profoundly democratic critique of power. The fact that the organization ended in a war of posturing orthodoxies and inane, dangerous dogmatism is also instructive.

Personal Politics
The Roots of Women's Liberation in the Civil Rights Movement & the New Left
by Sara Evans

The women’s movement stands out as one of the major contributions of the US Left to progressive culture worldwide. Feminists throughout the world have been influenced by the analysis, tactics and organizing style of their American sisters. What is important to understand, however, is how much this movement grew out of struggles within other social movements. Evans’ book helps to contextualize feminism’s roots in the broader left, a lesson that both today’s feminist activists and their brothers should remember.

Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism
By bell hooks

More theory than history, hooks’ most incisive book complicates the issues of race and gender by asking why the women’s movement has been so dominated by white, middle class issues, language and analysis. It needn’t be so, claims hooks, who has devoted much of her intellectual life to discussing the interplay between gender, race, class and sexuality. You can’t understand the problems faced by the American left without understanding how our complex and overlapping power structures function.

frickin' sweet website


A website dedicated to New Deal Studies. Nice.

revisionism, republican style

"There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe
America must move toward a Democratic Socialism." - Martin Luther King, Jr, Conservative.

would have supported the privatization of Social Security. So says Fox news. Martin Luther King would have opposed Affirmative Action. So says Ward Connerly. Freedom is slavery. War is peace. Up is down. Like Stalin’s pre-fotoshop graphic artists who airbrushed Trotsky out of pictures, the conservative machine has been hard at work rewriting American history. In their version, nobody, ever, at any time was anything other than a conservative. And if they were, they were either a degenerate or a foreigner.

It never ceases to amaze me how much violence to facts and historical record conservatives will unleash in order to keep their ideological frame intact. Take the struggle over Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy as an example. In his day, King was an unabashed progressive, opposing the war in Vietnam, supporting labor struggles, and linking the fight for African American freedom to the need for a redistribution of wealth and power in general. For this, as well as his overall challenge to white power, he was red-baited, vilified and harassed. However, King spoke to something great and wonderful in the American spirit, and he is rightfully thought of with reverence and admiration. This cannot stand. There cannot be, in the mind of the right, a progressive American hero.

And so, his canonization had to be resisted. Rumors flew across the conservative community that King was a plagiarist, a philanderer, even a Communist. People often forget that it was a struggle to mark King’s birthday as a national holiday. In 1979, it was defeated in the House by five votes, one of them belonging to then Congressman Dick Cheney. It took a national boycott of Arizona to force that great state to honor the holiday. That was as late as 1992. Through it all, however, King has emerged as an all-but-untouchable folk hero, and the right had to change tactics. Instead of refuting his legacy, they began to distort it, twisting his words into conservative gobbledy-gook about self-reliance and individual effort. They embrace King, now, much to the chagrin of some die-hard conservatives who know and hate the real King. What emerges is a King devoid of radical critique or reformist zeal.

So, today they are going after Franklin Roosevelt, the Democrats’ Democrat. Literally rearranging his words so that it seems that even Roosevelt would support Bush’s plan to gut the New Deal. It’s the same old revisionism. Now that we have evidence that Lincoln was gay, expect Rush Limbaugh to argue that he was, in fact, a Democrat.