President Obama, Debate Senator Warren on the Trans Pacific Partnership

11 May

In the debate over the Trans Pacific Partnership, we are witnessing something uncommon: progressives are putting a Democratic president on the defensive.

This is only a good thing.

The Republican base does this to their elected officials constantly.  Their base is so feared that respectable politicians even kowtow to bonkers right-wing conspiracy theories.  Democratic politicians rarely show any deference to the base and certainly don’t show much fear of that base.

"The President said what?!"

“The President said what?!”

That’s what we are witnessing with President Obama’s public tussle with Senator Elizabeth Warren.  He is fearing a coherent and informed critique from the left.

This is only a good thing.

Issues of trade and finance are seemingly impossible for progressives to get any traction on, no matter who is elected president.  Whichever party is in power, you can bet money that someone from Goldman Sachs will be heading up Treasury.  And when it comes to “free trade” agreements that end up hurting American and foreign workers while making global corporations richer and richer — well, it was Bill Clinton who got us NAFTA and it’s President Obama who is pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The President’s call to fast track the TPP is supported wholeheartedly by right-wing Republicans, while his own party has slowly woken up to forcefully opposing the deal. Enter Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who heave been the most visible opponents of the TPP.

President Obama has seemed particularly rankled by the Senator from Massachusetts. After giving a pro-TPP speech at Nike the President said in an interview with Yahoo news that Senator Warren is “absolutely wrong” when she says the pact would be another bonanza for Wall Street.

(And, by the way, exactly how tone deaf are the president’s advisers on this issue — Nike, seriously? The corporation synonymous with global sweatshops–that’s where you go to hail the newest free trade pact?  If a Democrat ever disagrees that our side tends to dump on its base while the other coddles theirs — remind them of this: The President gave a speech. At Nike.)

Senator Warren shot back this morning in The Washington Post:

THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?

SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.

PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?

WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.

If only there were some way to get Senator Warren’s ideas and President Obama’s exposed to the whole country so we all can decide who to believe.

Well, this past Saturday, consumer advocate and erstwhile presidential candidate Ralph Nader presented a modest proposal for via The New York Times:

[T]he president ought to debate Ms. Warren in person, much as Al Gore, then vice president, did with Ross Perot over Nafta in 1993. “A president can get away with his soliloquies when he stays on his throne,” Mr. Nader said by telephone. But if he is going to go after critics, he said, “then I think he is obligated to engage in a public debate that will inform the American people.”

That sounds like a fine idea.  Mr. President, I voted for you twice and support this administration on many fronts, but on this we disagree.  Do your base a favor and – instead of taking pot shots at us and the handful of leaders willing to represent our views — go toe to toe with Senator Warren, on national television.  Hell, I’d even settle for the Clinton route and send Uncle Joe out to debate the Senator.  It’s all good.  Nothing to fear about an honest debate, no?

Let’s woman up and take Senator Warren’s ideas seriously.  Debate her.

This would only be a good thing.

Wrong About Everything #53 – Fishing Opener

11 May

Yes, I am very inconsistent about promoting the podcast on this blog. Sue me.  The new episode, is however up. 

  In Minnesota news, we cover the Governor’s Fishing Opener, where Governor Dayton, Senator Bakk and Speaker Daudt competed for walleye, or something.  In unrelated new, “Grumpy Old Men & Their Well-Groomed Nephew” will be in theaters soon. We ask, should State Representative Ron Erhardt get how own podcast?  We thank Senator Paul Gazelka for joining the national outpouring of support for gy-hating bakers, talk MNSure & the Senate’s weird No Eye Contact rule. In national news, we ask why President Obama is trying to keep Texas in the union and how Hillary cornered Republicans on immigration. Oh, also awe have an update on Tom Brady’s Balls. Brian’s McDaniel and i were joined by panda-hating liberal Carin Mrotz and GOP lobbyist Jeremy Esetenson sat in for Mike Franklin, who is on assignment.

“Some Democrats” Suck – Or Maybe Not

9 May

This week Hillary Clinton took a surprisingly bold stance on immigration, one that goes further than President Obama and that both reporters and partisans have acknowledged put Republicans in a box.

Sorry Marco, you can't backtrack your way back to supporting immigration reform.

“Sorry Marco, you can’t backtrack your way back to supporting immigration reform”

How do we know it put Republicans in a box?  Because the response from the other side has been, for the most part, crickets.

This morning The Hill covered the issue, also acknowledging the corner into which Clinton had painted Republicans, but with a caveat:

Hillary Clinton has thrilled immigration activists with her embrace of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

It’s also thrilled Democrats, who think Clinton has taken a smart political step to solidifying support among Hispanics for their party in next year’s presidential election.
They argue the GOP’s restrained response to Clinton shows Republicans are worried about the issue, particularly given the nation’s rising Hispanic population.

“It’s definitely a very aggressive approach in attempting to court the Hispanic vote,” said Mercedes Viana Schlapp, who served as a Spanish-language spokesperson for President George W. Bush.

In part because they have backed immigration reform in the past, Republicans hope former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) could make inroads with Hispanics. But even some GOP critics of Clinton such as Schlapp acknowledge that Clinton may have made the party’s task more difficult.

So what’s The Hill‘s caveat? “Some Democrats privately fear Clinton may have promised too much,” they tell us.  Now we’re used to DC reporters allowing politicos to comment anonymously.  But, guess what? — they don’t even have anonymous sources for this one.

Go read the whole article.  They state as fact that “some democrats privately fear” but don’t even bother to tell us who these people might be or where this might have been heard.  Maybe some are saying it — they just don’t give us any actual evidence this is the case.

Earlier today, I committed a Twitter sin — I forwarded the above article before reading it, reacting to the headline, which used that “Democrats privately fearing” line that no one said.  My take: “Screw those Democrats.”

But it turns out The Hill may be making those Democrats up.

Now, if they looked hard enough I imagine the journal could dig up a weak-kneed Democrat to say something along those lines.  Or maybe, just maybe, this actually just was the correct political move for Clinton and for the Democratic Party.  Maybe that’s why the Republicans the story did quote pretty much said so.

The reality is that the politics of immigration have changed dramatically in the past few election cycles.  For many Latino voters–even those who do not list immigration reform as their top issue–nonetheless see the issue as a litmus test for the question “Does this politician like us?” Pollster Latino Decisions calls immigration a “gateway issue” for Latino voters.

And with Latinos in 2016 poised to be an even greater share of the electorate that in the past two cycles voted upwards of 70% for Obama — Republicans are right to be quaking in their boots.

Maybe The Hill couldn’t find a Democrat to actually say those words to them is a sign that the mainstream of the Democratic Party is finally getting that.

This Latino can dream. 

When did gay-hating bakers become a thing?

7 May

Minnesota State Senator Paul Gazelka joins the national outpouring of concern for the fate of poor, gay-hating bakers. 

 

How much is that cake in the window?

 When did gay-hating bakers become the Rosa Parks of curmudgeons clinging to the past? Was there a memo that went out? Did a convention of bakers pass a resolution or something? Do gay-hating bakers have conventions?  Clearly they have a PR firm, because Holy Jeebus are they getting their story out there. Whoever your agent is, gay-hating bakers, hats off to her. She is working her ass off.

Baking cakes never seemed to me the butchest of professions, but ok.

Oh, and for the record – I don’t want any of your hatecake. 

The Insanity of the “Wage Market”, or Income Inequality at the Capitol

4 May The rich get richer while progressives debate the floor.

This is a great story about the insane juxtapositions of our time.  While DC lawmakers now talk about income inequality as a national problem, they work in a Capitol building where those who serve them food work for poverty wages:

Income inequality is more than a political sound bite to workers in the Capitol. It’s their life.

Many of the Capitol’s food servers, who make the meals, bus the tables and run the cash registers in the restaurants and carryouts that serve lawmakers, earn less than $11 an hour. Some make nothing at all when Congress is in recess.

Members of the House and Senate collect their $174,000 annual salaries whether Congress is making laws, taking a break or causing a partial government shutdown.

“This is the most important building in the world,” said Sontia Bailey, who works the cash register and stocks the shelves at the “Refectory” takeout on the Capitol’s Senate side. “You’d think our wages would be better.”

You’d think.

These jobs were privatized sometime ago.  It is a quote from the subcontractor who employs these workers that I found instructive:

In a statement, the contractor said it “takes pride in paying above-market competitive wages.” 

Here’s the thing: the contractor is not that wrong.  The market on wages is so skewed that an employer who pays people wages that keep them in poverty can actually claim to be keeping pace “with the market” or be “above-market” and think they are sounding reasonable.

I am constantly reminded of the disconnect between lawmakers and people who work in the “real world.”  Back when the minimum wage was being debated in Minnesota, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate were heard saying “Ten dollars seems high to me.”  Too high for what?

When I hear things like that, I am filled with questions.  Do you know anyone who works for that amount of money?  When is the last time you worked for minimum wage?  Can you at least do the math on how much that is a year before dismissing the amount so easily? Do you even understand that when we are debating the minimum wage, we are literally talking about the floor, about the bare minimum we as a society think a person should make while working?  Is it your core belief that someone working full-time should live below the poverty level?

We hear similar reactions not just from lawmakers but others reacting to fast food workers’ demand of “15 and a union.”  “Fifteen for flipping burgers?!?”  I’ve heard both friends and family say things like that.  I have the same questions for these folks.  Do the math.  The demand for 15 is actually not that aspirational.

The rich get richer while progressives debate the floor.

The rich get richer while progressives debate the floor.

I was thinking about this recently and thought, what if we quantified all of the things that US workers used to be able to take for granted and put them out as our demand for workers.  “I’d like to be able to own my home. I’d like to be able to send my kids to college and not have them saddled with debt afterwards. I’d like to be able to retire and be ok.”  I think if unions and other advocates actually listed the things workers used to take for granted not that long ago and called them demands — many policymakers and certainly the media would react with a “well who the hell do you think you are?”

And it’s not that the country isn’t as wealthy as it was back when this kind of quality of life as assumed.  In fact, as a whole the country is much richer.  It’s just that income is going overwhelmingly to the top income tiers while the rest are being left behind.  Things have become so skewed that the progressive movement is subsumed with debating the floor on wages while making demands that do not even come close to what we used to assume.

Just who the hell do we think we are, indeed.

“Trying to Concentrate in a Digital Age”

30 Apr

That is how MPR has titled a conversation I was a part of with Kerri Miller and Matthew Crawford, author of The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction.

You can listen to the entire conversation hereCrawford The World Beyond Your Head.

Crawford is the author of Shop Class as Soul Craft, where he argues for a return to valuing work in trades where skills are developed.  Crawford is himself a motorcycle mechanic and a philosopher, and he sees those two worlds as bound together.  This first book “grows out of an attempt to understand the greater sense of agency and competence I have always felt doing manual work, compared to other jobs that were officially recognized ass ‘knowledge work.” Perhaps more surprisingly, I often find manual work more engaging intellectually.”

In the new book, Crawford takes this thinking a step further, arguing that to become fully realized individuals in today’s world we must (a) engage in the world with an understanding that we become complete individuals through our interactions with others.  In order to do this we must (b) rid ourselves of Enlightenment notions of the individual as a rational actor who independently decides what is best for herself in the world. And (c) one path toward achieving this true individuality is through learning skilled crafts, as one becomes skilled only in relationship to other practitioners and the community of knowledge they create with each other.

That is how I would distill this admittedly quite dense book.  I found the thread of political philosophy particularly engaging.  Crawford essentially argues that the rugged individual that has stood for the American “character,” was born of an Age of Enlightenment where the philosopher juxtaposed the rights of the individual to the rule of the despot.  In that context, the rational individual who can decide for himself what is right was a radical and necessary concept.  What the advance of capitalism has created, however, is the ironic situation where we define “freedom” as the absence of any regulation — which in turn has created a world where large corporations increasingly take up all of our attention.  He gives the example of an airport.  The bins TSA provides to place your belongings through the scanner now have ads at the bottom of them. There is sound all around you at all times.  Ads in every space that can take one — except if you happen to be in the Admirals Club.  There, the room is quiet.  Silence has become a commodity available to the privileged.

We see the way corporations have taken control of our attention in sometimes creepy ways.  I have had the experience of shopping on Overstock.com for a briefcase and then, for weeks after, visiting other websites an ad would pop up for that very same bag I had browsed (and, ironically, by this point had actually bought).  Crawford’s point is that what looks like freedom today — the multiplicity of options available to us at all times — is actually the opposite of that.  Corporate gather enormous amounts of data about our habits and likes and then take every opportunity they can — the ad you see between games of Words with Friends or Trivia Crack — to cater to those desires.

While the philosophical argument I found both intriguing and empowering, I found the argument about skill-building craftsmanship as the path to individuality less comfortable. I do agree that learning to make things with our own hands — cooking, mechanics, gardening, etc — is something we have lost and that there is an inherent value to regaining it.  And I love the idea that the individuality one creates while becoming an expert in something is an individuality that is built in conversation with others and by working together.

Crawford’s argument, however, depends on a definition of the present where the author finds virtually nothing redeeming, including and especially technology.  He is dismissive of the capacity we have today to build knowledge in cyberspaces through crowd sourcing:

Now we are fascinated with ‘the wisdom of the crowds’ and ‘the hive mind.’ We are told that there is a superior global intelligentsia rising in the Web itself.  This collective mind is more meta, more synoptic and synthetic than any one of us, and aren’t these the defining features of intelligence?  Of course all of this crowd-loving lines up pretty well with silicon Valley’s distaste for the concept of intellectual property, and with the fact that is a lot more money to be made a an aggregator of content than as a producer of it.

In being dismissive of the concept of crowd sourcing, Crawford confuses, or over-simplifies, issues.  Aggregation is not the only thing the web is used for–yes, there is that.  But think of the crowd sourcing project that is the “It Gets Better Project,” where thousands and thousands of people have told their stories about living past childhood rejection and onto fuller lives.  The project was born out of the crisis of LGBT youth suicide, and that bank of stories has literally saved lives, as testimonies bear.  Occupy Wall Street, in a few short weeks, changed the national and international conversation about income inequality.  For decades in the United States wealth has steadily moved from the middle class to the wealthy, but that fact was hidden in our culture by a myth of mobility (“The American Dream”) and a rejection of any description of greed as “class warfare.”  Occupy changed that conversation, it seems permanently.  The occupations in town squares have long gone by, but years later even conservative candidates –those who would defend the deregulated markets that have created obscene wealth for the very few–are taking on income inequality as an issue to talk to voters about.  I believe that the tools we have available to us today, particularly social media, allowed Occupy to fundamentally transform our cultural conversation, in a matter of weeks, not years.  Yes, that gadget in my hand feeds me all those Overstock.com ads – but it also helps me organize to a scale that was not possible before. (I wrote some about decentralized or “leaderless” organizing in “#Pointergate and the People of the Internet”).

In short, I do not think that Crawford’s call for a reevaluation of our concept of the individual — his push for understanding individuality as coming from our lives as social beings — depends on such a uniformly negative portrayal of the present. In fact, if we are able to harness both the power of the present and the tools we have now  and also learn from.

***

This obviously isn’t a complete review of the book, just some thoughts I had that we weren’t able to fully discuss on the show.  Give it a listen if you’re interested in more and definitely give the book a try if this write-up is at all compelling.

I read The World Beyond Your Head while sitting by myself in a small hermitage in the middle of the woods.  The setting went well with the author’s argument for where we can focus on something other than the constant messages corporations are throwing in our direction.  I’d recommend a similar setting if you’re going to take on this book.

I also just have to say what a great experience it was to be asked to discuss this book on MPR.  Kerri Miller has had me on her Friday Roundtable several times, and I have noticed and been grateful for the fact that the show’s invitations have never pigeon-holed me as a labor guy, a Latino, or anything really.  I left the world of academia — where I used to read books like this all the time — in order to work in organizing and feel more connected to the world as it is and work side by side those seeking to change it for the better.   It was a treat to bring to a conversation about political philosophy that experience I now have.

 

Nice Puff Piece

17 Apr

That’s what the first commenter wrote on the profile of me written by Beth Hawkins at Minnpost.  I know, never read the comments. At any rate, the piece, “How Javier Morillo, a former academic, became to the most talked-about political operative in the Twin Cities,” is out there.  It’s weird to read so much about me.  The reaction has been positive, though I can’t help but focus on a few details that are not quite right.  I also can’t help but focus on the fact that, holy god, they used not just the worst picture I’ve ever seen of myself but almost the worst picture I’ve ever seen of anybody.  Oh well.  Go read it if you want.

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