I Interview Bill Moyers — Turning the tables, I interviewed Bill Moyers for the cover story in the current (March) issue of The Progressive magazine. Bill talked about his upbringing, his religious values, his work with LBJ, and his views about contemporary journalism and politics. “I’m angry at what’s happening to our country,” he told me.
“LBJ’s Ambivalent Legacy” — This year, the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson’s friends and supporters are seeking to reshape his reputation, from warmonger to civil rights activist. But how should progressives assess LBJ’s presidency? In my article in Truthout, I argue that LBJ was both a man of his times and a politician who challenged the racial status quo. His political career reflected the major contradictions of post-World War II liberalism, which included government activism to challenge social injustice and Cold War imperialism and militarism. I also examine some lessons that progressives might learn from the LBJ experience.
“Paul Ryan is a Liar and a Charlatan, Not a Serious Policy Wonk” — When will the mainstream media stop taking Congressman Paul Ryan seriously as a “thinker” and “policy wonk”? When Mitt Romney introduced Ryan as his running mate who years ago, he described Ryan as an “intellectual leader of the Republican Party.” This hyperbole might be expected from the right-wing echo chamber, but the mainstream press quickly adopted the same perspective. In my Huffington Post article, I look at the media’s coverage of Ryan’s new 200-page report (released on Monday, 3/3) blasting federal anti-poverty programs, designed to justify his draconian cuts to programs that help the poor – as well as the give intellectual heft to Ryan’s presidential bid.
“If Paul Ryan is a ‘Moderate,’ I’m the Easter Bunny” — It is a sign of how far right the Republican Party has moved that in his New York Times column on Sunday, Ross Douthat described Rep. Paul Ryan as a “moderate.” That’s crazy. He’s an extremist. Here’s my next-day response, published in Huffington Post. I even get a little misty-eyed for that extinct species, the “liberal Republican,” whose bones you can find at the Museum of Natural History.
“Champion of Labor Sheila Kuehl’s Next Challenge: LA County Government” — The amazing Sheila Kuehl is running for the Board of Supervisors of LA County, which is larger than 42 states! As I note in my profile of Sheila for Huffington Post, she was a well-known child actress who, among other roles, played Zelda Gilroy in “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.” After finishing Harvard Law School and founding the California Women’s Law Center, she became the most outstanding legislator in California, as well as its first openly gay member. She has a remarkable record on labor, environmental, women’s rights, civil rights, and other issues. Sheila is running to fill the seat vacated by Zev Yaroslavsky, who will be termed out after 20 years serving the Third District, which stretches from the San Fernando Valley to Santa Monica, from Westlake Village to Hollywood. Her major opponent is Bobby Shriver, heir to the Kennedy fortune. The primary is on June 3. Go go to her campaign website to learn more.
“Occidental College Bans Investments in Assault Weapons Companies”— I’m proud that Occidental is the first college or university in the country to ban investments in gun manufacturers from its endowment portfolio, reported in this Los Angeles Times article. Thanks to my faculty colleagues for overwhelmingly supporting the anti-gun resolution last year and to the Oxy trustees for embracing it. Hopefully Oxy’s action will other colleges and universities to follow this example, galvanizing a movement on campuses around the country. Some cities and pension funds have already adopted a similar policy, as Donald Cohen and I discussed in this article,“Shut Down the Merchants of Death,” published in The Nation a year ago.
“Bernie Sanders: I Am Prepared to Run for President” — Bernie tells The Nation’s John Nichols that he’s considering a presidential campaign. I’d support a Sanders campaign IF he ran in the Democratic Party primaries and not as an independent candidate. I don’t think Bernie can win the Dem nomination, but a Sanders campaign could (1) draw a great deal of media attention, shift the agenda, and help raise public awareness about corporate power and widening inequality, (2) push Hillary to the left on key issues, and (3) help build a progressive infrastructure within the Democratic Party similar to how the DLC moved the party toward the corporate center (although this would have be a very explicit goal of the campaign, otherwise it won’t happen, similar to Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in 1984 and 1988). I would love to see Bernie in action during the primary season’s televised debates. I would NOT support Bernie running as an independent candidate, where he’d run the risk of being a spoiler in battleground states and handing the White House over to the Republicans. Jon Queally, editor of the CommonDreams website, asked a number of progressive activists and writers what they thought about a potential Sanders presidential run, which he summarized in this article.
“Pete Seeger Brought the World Closer Together” — My tribute to Pete, published in The Nation. Every day, every minute, someone in the world is singing a Pete Seeger song. To prepare for a talk about Pete, I was looking online for videos of him singing different songs. I found this video of Pete performing “Wimoweh” on the TV show “Playboy After Dark” in 1960. This was when Pete was still blacklisted from network TV, so it was bold of Hugh Hefner to bring Pete on his show. On the other hand, Pete must have felt incredibly uncomfortable performing in that plastic setting with Hefner’s friends and Playboy bunnies in the audience. There are a number of excellent books about Pete. The most recent is a collection of writings about Pete called The Pete Seeger Reader, edited by Ronald D. Cohen and James Capaldi, published last month by Oxford University Press.
“Richard Boone, Johnson Aide on Poverty, Dies at 86” — Dick Boone was a giant in the world of progressive policy, organizing, and philanthropy since the 1960s, but mostly behind-the-scenes. So he may be one of the most influential people you’ve never heard of. He was instrumental in the war-on-poverty programs, especially Head Start. He started the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities. As head of the Field Foundation, he funded some of the most innovative grassroots community organizing groups and mentored generations of activists and organizers. This NY Times obituary doesn’t really do him justice in terms of the incredible impact he had. But this essayby Gara LaMarche, written in 2009, provides a different perspective on Boone’s importance. And this wonderful 7-minute video, produced by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities, celebrates Boone’s life and legacy.
“Jay Leno Shows His Union Solidarity” — Kudos to Jay Leno for ending his 22-year tenure on The Tonight Show with a staunchly pro-union statement. As part of his tearful good-bye remarks at the end of his final show last month, Leno made a bold statement — “I’m also proud to say that this is a union show” — in solidarity with the unionized workers on the show. This was not the first time that he demonstrated his pro-labor sympathies, as I explained in my article in Huffington Post. “Are Unions Necessary?” — LA Times columnist Mike Hiltzik asks: “Are unions necessary?” He answers his own question: “Yes”. Likewise, check out Jeff Faux’s article,“America Without Unions” from Huffington Post.
“America the Beautiful Author is Rush Limbaugh’s Favorite Lesbian Socialist”— Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Allen West, and other right-wingers got all bent out of shape over Coca Cola’s Super Bowl commercial featuring a multicultural mosaic of people singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. They think the ad soiled their favorite patriotic anthem. What would they think if they knew that “America the Beautiful” was written by a lesbian who was also a Christian socialist and a fervent opponent of American imperialism? I discuss the backlash of the broadcasting bigots in my article for Talking Points Memo. The article also profiles the poet Katherine Lee Bates, who wrote “America the Beautiful” in 1893, was active in radical causes, and lived with her partner for 25 years in what was then called a “Boston Marriage.” I also link to Stephen Colbert’s hilarious lampoon of these reactionary patriots on The Colbert Report.
“Where Have All the Raises Gone?” — In an editorial last week, the New York Times documented the wage stagnation that the vast majority of workers—including workers with a college degree—have experienced over the past decade. Drawing upon research by the Economic Policy Institute (a fantastic think tank), the editorial explained that “from 1995 to 2000, wages grew for all educational groups, but since 2002 pay for the less educated has declined while pay for the college educated has largely stagnated.”
“Highest Minimum-Wage State Washington Beats U.S. Job Growth” — How many times do we have to tell you – a higher minimum wage is a job creator, not a job killer. According to Bloomberg News, hardly a bastion of left-wing analysis: “In the 15 years that followed, the state’s minimum wage climbed to $9.32 — the highest in the country. Meanwhile job growth continued at an average 0.8 percent annual pace, 0.3 percentage point above the national rate. Payrolls at Washington’s restaurants and bars, portrayed as particularly vulnerable to higher wage costs, expanded by 21 percent. Poverty has trailed the U.S. level for at least seven years.” More evidence that business lobby groups’ dire warnings about raising the minimum wage are just crying wolf!
“Bid to Hike L.A. Minimum Wage Gets Pair of Powerful Backers” — The LA labor movement, LAANE, and community allies have mounted a dynamic campaign to raise the minimum wage for LA hotel workers to $15/hour. A year ago, that might have seemed like an impossible dream, but it now has strong support from the Mayor and the City Council. This week, in a shocking announcement, two of LA’s leading business leaders — Eli Broad and Rick Caruso — said they supported the higher wage plan, sticking their thumb in the eye of the LA Chamber of Commerce. This LA Times article explains why.
“LA Labor Leaders Invite Pope Francis to Visit Their City” — The remarkable LA labor leader Maria Elena Durazo invited Pope Francis to visit LA and explore the efforts of unions and social justice groups to address the widening inequality and poverty. She included some key findings from a new report conducted by the Economic Roundtable revealing that LA is the poverty-wage capital of the world. These include: (1) 46% of all workers in LA, 811,000 workers, make less than $15 per hour; (2) More than half of those workers, 454,000, are full-time workers, and (3) The average pay for low-wage, full-time workers is $9.55 and it is yet lower for part-time, low wage workers
“NYCC, Reincarnated Acorn, Rises in de Blasio’s New York” — “But it turns out that ACORN’s exile was only temporary. The very same agitators are now whispering into the open ear of the new mayor, under the name New York Communities for Change.” Ross Barkan’s article in Politicker points out that ACORN, then NYCC, played an important role in laying the groundwork for Bill de Blasio’s successful progressive campaign for mayor as well as the progressive victories for Public Advocate and City Council. In “The de Blasio Victory: Jon Kest’s Legacy,” published in The Nation in December, John Atlas and I profiled the extraordinary AORN/NYCC organizer who led many of their most effective grassroots campaigns.
“15 Photos From the Massive Progressive Protest You Didn’t Hear About” — Last month between 80,000 and 100,000 people from 32 states turned out to protest four years of drastic state Republican initiatives in North Carolina. The “Moral March on Raleigh” marched from Shaw University to the state capitol to push back against the “immoral and unconstitutional policies” of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Since North Carolina Republicans took over both legislative chambers in 2010, legislators have eliminated a host of programs and raised taxes on the bottom 80 percent, repealed a tax credit for 900,000 working families, enforced voter suppression efforts, blocked Medicaid coverage, cut pre-Kindergarten funding, cut federal unemployment benefits, and gave itself the authority to intervene in abortion lawsuits. Activists have gathered at weekly protests, called ‘Moral Mondays,’ in North Carolina since 2013 as a way to give voice to individuals whose rights were under attack by the GOP-controlled legislature. The “Moral Monday” idea is now spreading to other states. It represents an exciting and vibrant new movement for economic and racial justice.
The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame — Occasionally I look at the comments that readers post on Amazon about my latest book. Most are very positive and a few are nasty. But I particularly like this one, which recommends reading my book while you’re in the dentist’s office: “I chose this book because I am interested in biographies of famous and influential Americans. The biographies are brief and well written. It’s a great book when you have just ten minutes before bed or in the dr. or dentist’s office or just about anytime.” The book makes a great gift for birthdays and graduation, by the way.
“With Sadness, I’m Getting Off the Hillel Bandwagon“ — Rabbi Bruce Warshal, long-time Hillel supporter, resigned from Hillel because of its close ties and funding from the conservative AIPAC Israel-can-do-no-wrong wing of the Jewish community. This is a very thoughtful essay about a tragic situation.“A Different Jewish Approach to Countering Israel Apartheid Claims” — I’m proud that Joshua Levine-Grater, the rabbi at my temple in Pasadena, has a long history of progressive activism on many issues, including Israel-Palestine relations, as a board member of Rabbis for Human Rights, which monitors Israeli human rights violations. So I take his ideas seriously, including this article on how to deal with accusations of Israel as an “apartheid” nation.
“Brothers Hypnotic” — “Brothers Hypnotic” is a fascinating documentary film about the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, an incredible band that brings their distinctive blend of jazz, hip-hop, and funk from the halls from Europe to the streets of New York City. The film, directed by my friend Reuben Atlas, has won awards from several film festivals, including SXSW, Urbanworld, and HotDocs. If you live in the New York area, you can see it at the Maysles Documentary Center (343 Lennox Avenue at the corner of Malcolm X Bvld) from Monday, March 24th through Sunday, March 30th at 7:30 pm. The Hypnotic Brass Ensemble is comprised of eight real brothers who were raised in Chicago by their father (a charismatic musician and activist) and three mothers on a strict diet of jazz, funk and Black Consciousness. The film depicts their upbringing, their music, their efforts to maintain their artistic and political integrity, and their works with artists like Mos Def, Blur and Prince. The film will be shown on PBS’ Independent Lens series next month but at different dates across the country. Check here for listings in your area and here for more information about the film.
“The Crusades of Cesar Chavez” — Miriam Pawel’s long-awaited biography of Cesar Chavez will be published in a few weeks. This will be the definitive study of this remarkable but flawed activist and public figure.
“Should University Presidents’ Salaries be Tied to Those of Their Lowest-paid Employees?”— This article from Inside Higher Education raises a good question. The same principle should apply to CEOs of private corporations. “Bill Maher’s Excellent Commentary on Income Inequality”— Maher proposes a maximum income. Sound too radical? Read what he said. In fact, when he served in Congress, Barney Frank once proposed legislation to do just that — the Protection Against Executive Compensation Abuse Act.
“The Tea Party Just Turned Five — And It’s Not Going Away” — Harvard University professor Theda Skocpol says that rumors of the tea party’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
“A Comprehensive Guide to the EPA’s New Pollution-Reducing Gasoline Rules” — On Monday, the EPA finalized major new regulations that will create a cleaner environment, improve public health and help flight climate change. This is exactly the kind of thing that no Republican president would ever do. It makes a difference who lives in the White House.
“College, The Great Unleveler” — Does college actually make inequality worse? Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell University, explains why in the New York Times.
“Bangladesh Factory Collapse: Big Brands Urged To Pay Into Help Fund” — Walmart still denies it has blood on its hands in the Bangladesh factory collapse last year that killed over 1,000 workers. Outrageous.
“The Shocking Numbers Behind Corporate Welfare“— David Cay Johnston’s expose of corporate welfare names names.
The Fight for the Four Freedoms — In his annual message to Congress on Jan. 6, 1941, FDR discussed the key themes of democracy: freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship God in one’s own way; freedom from want; and freedom from fear. Historian Harvey Kaye’s wonderful new book examines the significant accomplishments of the New Deal, reminds us about FDR’s four freedoms, and evaluates where we are today on those landmarks of progressive thought. Kaye notes that these ideals have been supplanted and even submerged over the last 30 years by private greed and massive economic inequality.
“America’s ‘Bloodless’ Civil War” — In his provocative essay for Truth-out, sociologist Herbert Gans characterizes the current state of American politics as a bloodless civil war. “Admittedly, our civil war is distinctive, perhaps even exceptional, for unlike most of those now taking place all over the world, it is fought not by soldiers and militants but by politicians,” writes Gans.
“NJ Failing to Keep Tabs on Contractors, Rutgers Study Finds“ — My friend Janice Fine, a Rutgers labor studies professor, just released this devastating report on New Jersey’s failure to oversee its private contractors, including those who work with disabled and other vulnerable people. It exposes the dangers of wholesale “privatization.”