Friday, June 23, 2017

Bernie Won The Wisconsin Primary, 567,936 to 432,767. Trump Won Wisconsin Too... With Just 531,129 Votes


I spent about an hour or so, spread over a couple of phone calls, with Jon Ossoff right after he declared. I was impressed with his energy and verve, his dedication to oppose Trump and the House Republicans and his eagerness to do what’s necessary to win. He didn’t come across as a Bernie Sanders or a Pramila Jayapal or Elizabeth Warren but he did come across as kind of progressive. Blue America endorsed him, I contributed some money to his campaign and we started raising money for him.

It didn’t take long before I started regretting it. It wasn’t even that he started inching inextricably towards the center really fast, as much as something else I smelled. The DCCC moved in immediately and took over with their crooked money-sucking consultants. Everything I started seeing coming out of the Ossoff campaign started looking bad to me-- the multiple e-mails with no content everyday was an immediate give-away. When I complained, they took me off their mailing list. Every time I asked Jon substantive policy questions for follow-up posts, he wouldn’t respond. By the time he said he opposed single payer, I realized I’d been had by another establishment suck-up. But I generally held my tongue and hoped he’d win just for the message it would send to Republicans wavering in their support for the Ryan-Trump agenda. That was fucked up of me. Because there was another message an Ossoff victory would have sent, one the media would have crowed about endlessly-- how the Democratic Party can only win with centrist candidates who don’t have campaigns based on strong values. Maybe Ossoff can now go off and join Jason Kander in whatever he’s doing to push backward centrism on unsuspecting Democrats.

Right after the votes were countered and people started asking themselves what happened down in Georgia, Matthew Yglesias took the opportunity to propose that this might be a good time for the Democrats to stop trying to expand their Big Tent to accommodate every Republican who isn’t a neo-Nazi and instead come up with a coherent and substantive agenda. Imagine that!
Ossoff falling short-- while coming closer than Rob Quist-- and Jeremy Corbyn’s surprisingly strong showing in the recent UK election suggest a possible synthesis of these views.

Corbyn’s electoral map, in the end, turns out to look a lot like Hillary Clinton’s. He did well in the most diverse and most educated parts of the United Kingdom and worst among older voters. Whites with college degrees, in short, weren’t secretly dreaming of socialism. At the same time, running on a bold progressive policy agenda didn’t stop him from picking up support in exactly the kind of upscale precincts that the Democratic establishment has been trying to target. And it did succeed in doing what post-Obama Democrats have failed to do-- engage young voters and encourage them to come to the polls.

But perhaps most of all, running on a bold policy agenda helped focus voters’ minds on policy rather than on the (extremely long) list of controversial Corbyn statements and associations from past years. Pundits had long expected Corbyn to get crushed at the polls, and had Theresa May succeeded in running an election focused on the Falklands War, the Irish Republican Army, and unilateral nuclear disarmament, she would have won. But instead, the UK ended up with a campaign about promises to nationalize utilities, eliminate university tuition, and raise taxes.

Ossoff’s effort to stay bland and inoffensive let hazy personal and culture war issues dominate the campaign-- and even in a relatively weak Trump district, that was still a winning formula for Republicans.

A chief of staff on Capitol Hill observed to me Tuesday morning that absolutely every faction in the Democratic Party-- from Third Way to the Berniecrats-- thinks Democrats “need a positive economic vision,” and not just to talk about Trump. The DCCC’s analysts agree.

“But when the rubber hit the road,” the chief of staff said, “we didn't produce a positive alternative on health care.”

Not exactly because Democrats don’t have any ideas of how to make the American health care system better. But because in some respects they have too many ideas-- ranging from small tweaks to improve the functioning of the Affordable Care Act to the idea of radically transforming the entire health care system by having taxpayers foot the bill for everyone’s insurance. The easiest way to maintain party unity was to stick with what Democrats could agree on-- that financing an enormous tax cut for the rich with stark cuts to Medicaid and deregulation of the insurance industry was a terrible idea.

Still, it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

And that brings us right to the candidates who are very much not Jon Ossoff-- not children of privilege, not bland, not malleable, not puppets. Wednesday, Will Bunch asked if a mustachioed ironworker from Wisconsin save the Democratic Party from itself. “I used to think,” he wrote, “the pain of being a Philadelphia sports fan was something unique to Philly-- until I started mulling the current state of the national Democratic Party. I mean, the Phillies have only been in rebuilding mode since 2013 or so. What can you say about a political party that’s been trying to retool, in one form or another, since 1981…if not longer? In fact, I’m starting to get confused between the agonizing rebuild of my beloved Phillies (feel free to substitute the Eagles/76ers/Flyers/Union) and the muddled state of a political party that-- for all its myriad flaws-- is the last remaining bulwark against totala-Trumpism. Why didn’t they call up Scott Kingery to run in South Carolina-05? When will Jon Ossoff learn to hit the curve ball? Why did they just reward Nancy Pelosi with a long-term contract?”
The glass is not empty for the Democrats. Their candidates in the four special elections over-performed the party’s expected norm by about 8 percentage points, and a similar showing in 2018 would-- according to the pundits-- probably be good enough to re-take the House. Districts that aren’t blood red but reddish purple-- like the seats held by GOPers Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick and Ryan Costello in the Philadelphia suburbs-- would be prime candidates for flippage 17 months from now. But the glass isn’t even really half-full… maybe closer to 40 percent full, at best. After all, partisans have been shouting from the mountaintop that Trump is an epically bad president of historical proportions-- either inept or a proto-dictator or both--and that the GOP on Capitol Hill will kill you with climate change if losing your health insurance doesn’t strike you dead first. Shouldn’t that produce a political tidal wave? So where is it?

…[T]here’s a lot of talk today that the Democrats can’t win if all the party stands for is being against Trump. That’s true-- but it’s even worse than that. In Georgia-06, the Dems didn’t even try to do much with the president’s rising disapproval numbers.

Jon Ossoff was a very sincere candidate, and he seems like a nice young man. Running for office in today’s climate is a brave thing. But I listened to an interview that he did with NPR on Tuesday morning, and by the end I practically wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was the some of the most insipid, focus-group-tested-and-consultant-approved meaningless happy talk I’ve ever heard from a Democrat, which is saying a lot. He wanted to bring tech jobs to Atlanta, and cut wasteful spending. Health care needs to be-- somehow-- “affordable.” Ossoff and the Democrats couldn’t have run a more effective “show about nothing” if Seinfeld’s Larry David had been their show-runner. No wonder voters curbed their enthusiasm.

The Democrats won’t truly emerge from rebuilding mode until they have the courage to stand for something. One role model-- sort of-- for this emerged from across the pond, in the UK’s recent national election. True, Labour’s fiery leader Jeremy Corbyn-- somewhere to the right of Che Guevara (barely) and to the left of Bernie Sanders-- didn’t win, but no one expected him and his party to do nearly as well as they did, and, given the shaky status of Tory Theresa May’s government, Corbyn may yet become prime minister sooner rather than later. They achieved this by doing something that would terrify America’s Democrats. They published a manifesto of bold, uncompromising measures that the Labour Party stood for. The party called for eliminating university tuition, raising the minimum wage, boosting spending on infrastructure, and undoing school budget cuts. Britain’s political pundits pontificated that the platform spelled doom for the left-leaning party, but the document instead energized young voters, who turned in droves for Corbyn earlier this month. And I believe a similar-style Democratic Party manifesto here in the U.S. could have the same type of electrifying effect.

I don’t think Corbyn clone would do well here-- but America doesn’t need one. We have Randy Bryce. A longtime ironworker with a solid 6-2 frame, an Army vet, with Mexican and Polish ancestry (with a mustache that looks like what you’d see if you stumbled into the wrong 1970s movie house, if you know what I mean), Bryce sent shockwaves this week by announcing his plan to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose congressional district in southern Wisconsin is not nearly as solid red as one might expect. In comparison to many mealy-mouthed Democrats, listen to what Bryce-- @IronStache on his Twitter feed that is exploding with new members-- told the Payday Report:
“Being an ironworker, I have seen some things that, unless I have seen them with my own eyes and been part of it, I would say you can’t do that-- that’s impossible,” says Bryce. “You know, you are gonna walk up on a two and half inch piece of metal, you are gonna be up three hundred feet in the air and walk across and carry something to get to a place to wield– that’s impossible…When ironworkers hear somebody say, ‘We can’t, it means ‘I won’t.’”

“Let’s trade places,” Bryce quips. “Paul Ryan can come work the iron and I’ll go to D.C.”
Now, watch his ad (and compare it to Ossoff’s spot). This is truly one of the best political commercials that I’ve ever seen-- and it casts Bryce as someone who will fight for health care and the rights of workers:

Goal Thermometer Look, I know what people will say-- that Bryce’s challenge is a political death trap, a suicide rap. If the polls show an even remotely close race, the powerful House speaker Ryan will call in every chit with every hedge-fund guru and insurance company CEO that he knows, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save his job. (And, yes, Bryce has run for office before, and lost… but not with a killer ad like this). Maybe that’s not the point. The spirit of what this man called @IronStache is doing here-- taking a stand on the high ledge of politics, with no fear-- is that spirit that the Democratic Party will need in all 435 House districts and a 33 Senate races if Trumpism is to be stopped now rather than later. There’s a reason that voters in suburban Georgia fell for something-- and it’s because the Democratic Party didn’t stand for anything.

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Schumer Prepares To Throw Away A Chance To Beat Dean Heller in Nevada With Another Garbage Blue Dog


The biggest electoral battle progressives have coming up is to help the Democrats win back the House, something that would likely stymie Trump’s toxic and destructive agenda. Sometimes the DCCC makes that next to impossible, recruiting “ex”-Republican conservatives-- like Brad Ashford-- and their newest kick: anti-Choice Democrats or worthless slugs who fit some identity politics formula. But there is no other ballgame right now-- it’s the House or bust. That’s why primaries are so, so crucial-- keeping the DCCC slugs recruited by anti-progressive fanatics Cheri Bustos and Denny Heck-- away from nominations and encouraging and supporting grassroots, values-driven progressive candidates like these men and women.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Senate is out of bounds for 2018. The Democrats blew their shot for the Senate by following Schumer and Tester’s diktat that only corruptible conservatives like Patrick Murphy (FL), Ted Strickland (OH), Katie McGinty (PA), Evan Bayh (IN), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) and Patty Judge (IA) could win. They all lost. And those were contestable states. In 2018, fate has dealt the Democrats a bad table-- almost no winnable Senate races. No matter how unpopular Trump and McConnell are nationally, Roger Wicker, John Barrasso and Deb Fischer aren’t losing their seats in Mississippi, Wyoming and Nebraska. Instead, 11 Democrats have to defend seats in swing states or even red states-- Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Bill Nelson (FL), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sherrod Brown (OH), Tim Kaine (VA), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Bob Casey (PA).

But Trump and McConnell (and Ryan and the GOP) are proving to be even more unpopular than anyone expected. Their overreach is breathtaking and the chances that all these Democrats can hold on is looking possible-- even utterly worthless slugs like Heitkamp and Manchin in die-hard Trump bastions. Yesterday the DSCC sent out an e-mail, “DSCC Targets Three Senate Republicans with Health-Care Ads.” The letter boasts that “voters in the home states of Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Dean Heller (NV), and Ted Cruz (TX) will be seeing updated versions of our hard-hitting “The Price” ad-- asking what their senator’s health care plan will truly cost their constituents. It’s a weak and ineffective ad but the point is that the DSCC has identified 3 states they need to win if they are too have any chance to win back the Senate: Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

Arizona has no definitive Democratic candidate yet although there’s a strong buzz that the state House’s Assistant Minority Leader, Randall Friese, will run. (Other potential candidates include far right-wing Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema and almost-as-bad loser Ann Kirkpatrick. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former conservative Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, is also talking about running. If Sinema or Kirkpatrick is the nominee, any chance of the Democrats winning back the Senate ends immediately.

In Texas, the most difficult stretch by far, the Democrats have as good as candidate as they’re going to find-- cerebral, principled and charismatic El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, a great contrast to Ted Cruz.

Today, though, let’s take a look at Nevada, the most likely Democratic pickup. Hillary beat Trump in Nevada 539,260 (47.9%) to 512,058 (45.5%) and on the same day, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto defeated the far better-known Joe Heck 521,994 (47.1%) to 495,079 (44.7%). The state has been trending blue and the GOP incumbent, Dean Heller, is not especially popular. A just-released PPP survey of the state’s voters shows 50% disapprove of Trump’s performance with only 44% approving. Worse yet for the GOP, Heller’s disapproval is 44% with a 31% approval. A full 25% of Nevada voters don’t know enough about him to even have an opinion. If the election were held today, though, he would lose to a generic Democrat, 46% to 39%.

TrumpCare is very unpopular and 45% of voters say that if Heller votes for it-- which is likely-- they will be “less likely” to vote for him in 2018. Only 27% of voters say they will be “more likely” to vote for him. Even among Trump voters only 61% support the direction Congress is going in in regard to healthcare-- and only a third of independents approve of TrumpCare, the swing voters who decide Nevada elections. When it comes to ending Medicaid expansion and cutting Medicaid, 59% of Nevada voters voters said they have very serious concerns-- and that includes 52% of independents and even 27% of Trump voters. It’s even worse for Republicans when voters are reminded that TrumpCare ends the guarantee of some basic services-- known as the essential health benefits-- 62% of voters have very serious concerns, including 51% of independents and 34% of Trump voters. Higher costs under TrumpCare concern 67% of voters, including 54% of independents, though just 41% of Trump voters. And not many people are happy that all these higher costs and worse service is all to lower taxes for the rich. That one concerns 62% of voters, including 57% of independents and 32% of Trumpists.

But it’s not a slam dunk. It looked like Nevada Democrats were coalescing around popular Congressman Ruben Kihuen as their nominee but now, somehow, the DSCC appears to be pushing another garbage candidate, Jacky Rosen, whose only shot of winning is if she’s swept along in an anti-Trump tsunami. To call her utterly worthless demeans the meaning of “utterly worthless.” No guts, no values, nothing whatsoever to offer anyone, Rosen is a careerist hack who joined the Blue Dogs and has run up one of the worst voting records of any Democrat in Congress. According to ProgressivePunch, her overall rating is a solid “F” and her crucial vote score is an abysmal 35.0. There are only 3 freshmen Democrats with worse scores, more Blue Dog garbage hacks Tom O’Halleran (AZ), Stephanie Murphy (FL) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ). Rosen doesn’t even deserve to be reelected to her House seat, let alone to be promoted to a Senate seat.

Politico reported that Rosen plans to announce her candidacy in “a couple of weeks.” 

The recruitment of Rosen has the strong imprint of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who was entrusted by the party establishment to identify the strongest candidate to challenge Heller. Reid settled on Rosen, figuring that she’s a fresh face with little political baggage and would be the most formidable opponent, according to a person familiar with the matter.

After Reid settled on Rosen, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “closed the deal” and talked to Rosen four or five times to convince her to run, that person said. Schumer's office declined to comment.
Jackie Rosen is the whole toilet-full of crap candidates rolled into one-- all the losers who Schumer and the DSCC foisted on the Democrats last time, from Patrick Murphy to Patty Judge and Ann Kirkpatrick, candidates Schumer insisted on-- fought against progressives to get the nominations for--and then abandoned in the face of a voting population that immediately rejected each one of them. Schumer can’t learn from his mistakes; his ego is way too big and his mind in too brittle.

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The Philando Castile Case: Trevor Noah Calls Out The NRA


-by Noah

For those who don’t remember, Philando Castile was a Missouri-born American citizen who was shot at, 7 times, while sitting in his car, by St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez back on July 6, 2016.

Castile had been stopped by the police in a traffic stop as local police were looking for a pair of robbery suspects. Castile was cooperating with the police and he was merely returning home from having dinner and doing some grocery shopping.

The crime reached national notoriety, not because it was unusual, but because its immediate aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by the victim’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who had been riding with Castile and her daughter. On the Facebook clip, you can clearly hear Ms. Reynolds interacting with the police.

7 times. Clearly, officer Yanez was not merely attempting to disable or stop an assailant. Castile was not running away. He was not running towards police, weapon in hand, even though police had been told by Castile that he had a legally permitted firearm. Castile was shot in the process of handing over his wallet. He had already handed Yanez his proof of insurance and was making what he was doing very clear.

Diamond’s Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter was sitting in the backseat as Yanez pumped 5 bullets (2 missed) into his victim from point blank range, shooting through the driver’s side window. 2 bullets pierced Castile’s heart. Both Reynolds and the girl were miraculously not physically hurt; emotionally and mentally will be another story altogether.

The police car dashcam recorder shows that Yanez spoke to Castile for approximately 40 seconds before he started shooting. 7 times. Point blank. You can see it all as part of the video at the end of this post.

After the shooting, Yanez was unable to say that he had definitely seen a gun in Castile’s hand. However, almost a year later, during the trial, he emphatically said he had. When paramedics arrived, they found the gun still in Castile’s pocket. Yanez and his partner, Joseph Kauser hadn’t even bothered to take the pistol out and place it on the floor or on the seat of the car to make their story look good, as might happen in a TV crime drama.

7 times. Point blank. 2 in the heart. Yanez was acquitted of all charges (only 2nd Degree Manslaughter and 2 counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm) last week. To the city’s credit, he was fired the same day.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah has addressed this tragic story, along with similar tragic stories numerous times. This story, as Mr. Noah points out, has something different about it: Philando Castile was not just deferential to the police. He was legally licensed to carry a firearm. He did everything he was supposed to do. He had a gun that the NRA says so vociferously that he has a right to bear. He threatened nobody, and, he got killed by the police in cold blood. Did the NRA wail about jackbooted cops attacking a legally armed citizen? Nope. A few days ago, Trevor Noah asked why. His 2:20 discussion, which I’ve placed at the beginning of this post, is must see TV. This is the kind of thing that makes The Daily Show special.

Trevor Noah followed up the next day. Please see below. Mr. Noah’s words are even more poignant, more moving. The laws, the lawyers, the courts, the jury; they all failed Philando Castile, and every one of us. It would be easy to make a cheap joke and say that Minnesota acted like Alabama, but, it’s much more tragic than that.

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L.A. Doesn't Allow Slavery-- Indentured Servants, Though... An Entirely Different Matter


I woke up this morning and my e-mail box was filled with messages about this report, Rigged by Brett Murphy for USA Today. I had missed it when it ran a few days ago but. My correspondents were insistent it is a must-read. And it is. It’s worth reading in full— though probably not on a full stomach. Murphy started off with the story of an immigrant trucker, Samuel Talavera Jr., virtually a modern day American slave. Or does being paid make you not a slave… even if the pay is 67 cents a week? One driver told Murphy that “We are not human. We are machines for making money for these people.” Talavera’s truck, which he was leasing-to-buy from the company he worked for, broke down in October, 2013.

When Talavera could not afford repairs, the company fired him and seized the truck-- along with $78,000 he had paid towards owning it.

Talavera was a modern-day indentured servant. And there are hundreds, likely thousands more, still on the road, hauling containers for trucking companies that move goods for America’s most beloved retailers, from Costco to Target to Home Depot.

These port truckers-- many of them poor immigrants who speak little English-- are responsible for moving almost half of the nation’s container imports out of Los Angeles’ ports. They don't deliver goods to stores. Instead they drive them short distances to warehouses and rail yards, one small step on their journey to a store near you.

A yearlong investigation by the USA Today Network found that port trucking companies in southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.

If a driver quit, the company seized his truck and kept everything he had paid towards owning it.

If drivers missed payments, or if they got sick or became too exhausted to go on, their companies fired them and kept everything. Then they turned around and leased the trucks to someone else.

Drivers who manage to hang on to their jobs sometimes end up owing money to their employers— essentially working for free. Reporters identified seven different companies that have told their employees they owe money at week’s end.

The USA Today Network pieced together accounts from more than 300 drivers, listened to hundreds of hours of sworn labor dispute testimony and reviewed contracts that have never been seen by the public.

Using the contracts, submitted as evidence in labor complaints, and shipping manifests, reporters matched the trucking companies with the most labor violations to dozens of retail brands, including Target, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, J.Crew, UPS, Goodyear, Costco, Ralph Lauren and more.

Among the findings:
Trucking companies force drivers to work against their will-- up to 20 hours a day-- by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they paid toward buying them. Bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.
To keep drivers working, managers at a few companies have physically barred them from going home. More than once, Marvin Figueroa returned from a full day’s work to find the gate to the parking lot locked and a manager ordering drivers back to work. “That was how they forced me to continue working,” he testified in a 2015 labor case. Truckers at two other companies have made similar claims.
Employers charge not just for truck leases but for a host of other expenses, including hundreds of dollars a month for insurance and diesel fuel. Some charge truckers a parking fee to use the company lot. One company, Fargo Trucking, charged $2 per week for the office toilet paper and other supplies.
Drivers at many companies say they had no choice but to break federal safety laws that limit truckers to 11 hours on the road each day. Drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation testified that their managers dispatched truckers up to 20 hours a day, then wouldn’t pay them until drivers falsified inspection reports that track hours. Hundreds of California port truckers have gotten into accidents, leading to more than 20 fatalities from 2013 to 2015, according to the USA Today Network's analysis of federal crash and port trade data.
Many drivers thought they were paying into their truck like a mortgage. Instead, when they lost their job, they discovered they also lost their truck, along with everything they’d paid toward it. Eddy Gonzalez took seven days off to care for his dying mother and then bury her. When he came back, his company fired him and kept the truck. For two years, Ho Lee was charged more than $1,600 a month for a truck lease. When he got ill and missed a week of work, he lost the truck and everything he’d paid.
Retailers could refuse to allow companies with labor violations to truck their goods. Instead they’ve let shipping and logistics contractors hire the lowest bidder, while lobbying on behalf of trucking companies in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Walmart, Target and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies have paid lobbyists up to $12.6 million to fight bills that would have held companies liable or given drivers a minimum wage and other protections that most U.S. workers already enjoy.
This isn’t a case of a few bad trucking companies accused of mistreating a handful of workers.

Since 2010, at least 1,150 port truck drivers have filed claims in civil court or with the California Department of Industrial Relations’ enforcement arm, known as the labor commission.

Judges have sided with drivers in more than 97% of the cases heard, ruling time after time that port truckers in California can’t legally be classified as independent contractors. Instead, they are employees who, by law, must be paid minimum wage and can’t be charged for the equipment they use at work.

The rulings stop there. They do not address specific allegations of abuse by drivers, including whether trucking companies physically barred them from leaving work or ordered them to work past federal fatigue limits.

But allegations like those have been made in sworn testimony in hundreds of the cases, virtually all of which ended with trucking companies ordered to repay drivers for truck expenses and lost wages. The USA Today Network found that at least 140 trucking companies have been accused by at least one driver of shorting them of fair pay or using threats to squeeze them to work longer hours.

Prominent civil rights leader Julian Bond once called California port truckers the new black tenant farmers of the post-Civil War South. Sharecroppers from that era rented farmland to make their living and regularly fell into debt to their landlords. Widespread predatory practices made it nearly impossible for the farmers to climb out.

Through lease contracts, California’s port truckers face the same kinds of challenges in ways that experts say rarely happen in the U.S. today.

“I don’t know of anything even remotely like this,” said Stanford Law School Professor William Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and one of the nation’s top labor experts.

“You’re working to get yourself out of the debt. You just don’t see anything like that.”

…Some company owners said their lease-to-own programs were a favor to truckers who might otherwise have been out of work. And there are drivers who make it through the contract to own their trucks, something that’s grown more common with time and a rebounding economy. Drivers who can't make a living aren't working hard enough, many company executives say.

“Our owner very generously went out and purchased a fleet of clean trucks,” said Marc Koenig, a vice president at Performance Team, which has lost cases to 21 drivers at the California labor commission. “That’s what really frustrated our owner. He really reached out and helped these guys.”

…California’s port truckers make it possible for the Walmarts and Amazons of the world to function. Even so, most of the two dozen retail companies contacted by the USA Today Network declined to comment, some saying they had never heard of the rash of labor violations at their primary ports of entry.

Only Goodyear said it took immediate action. Spokesperson Keith Price said in a statement that the tire giant dropped Pacific 9 in 2015, “within two weeks” of California labor commission decisions in favor of dozens of drivers.

The few others that issued statements said it was not their responsibility to police the shipping industry. Retailers don't directly hire the truckers who move their goods at the pier. They generally hire large shipping or logistics firms that line up trucking companies through a maze of subcontractors.

…For decades, short-haul truckers at the nation’s ports relied on cheap clunkers to move goods to nearby warehouses and rail yards.

With little up-front investment, drivers-- most of them independent contractors who owned their own trucks-- could make a decent living squeezing the last miles from dilapidated big rigs that weren’t suited for the open road.

In October 2008, that changed dramatically in southern California, home of the nation’s busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach. State officials, fed up with deadly diesel fumes from 16,000 outdated trucks, ordered the entire fleet replaced with new, cleaner rigs.

Suddenly, this obscure but critical collection of trucking companies faced a $2.5 billion crossroads unlike anything experienced at other U.S. ports.

Instead of digging into their own pockets to undo the environmental mess they helped create, the companies found a way to push the cost onto individual drivers, who are paid by the number and kinds of containers they move, not by the hour.

There are 800 companies regularly operating at the LA ports. Almost all of them turned to some form of a lease-to-own model, some without thinking through the consequences, said industry consultant and lobbyist Alex Cherin.

“Flying by the seat of their pants and making it up as they went along,” he said of the scramble to find trucks for drivers. “Ultimately what they were trying to do was survive in a business with very thin margins.”

Truckers at dozens of companies describe the same basic scene. They were handed a lease-to-own contract by their employer and given a choice: Sign immediately or be fired. Many drivers who spoke little English said managers gave them no time to seek legal advice or even an interpreter to read the contract.

It was "take it or leave it," according to Fidel Vasquez, a driver for Total Transportation who said he couldn’t read the contract because it was in English.

Jose Juan Rodriguez owned his own truck and drove primarily for Morgan Southern, where two dozen drivers have filed claims for back pay at the California labor commission and civil court. Like many drivers, Rodriguez said he didn’t understand what he was signing, but felt he had no choice.

His wife has stage three breast cancer and his adult son has severe brain damage requiring frequent doctor visits.

“Where do I sign?” Rodriguez recalled asking right away. “The only thing I had to worry about is work, because I have a family.”

The contracts work like sub-leases. Knowing drivers could not qualify for their own loans or leases, trucking companies arranged to finance their fleets. Then they had drivers sign up for individual trucks.

Drivers gave their old trucks-- many of which they owned outright-- to their company as a down payment. And just like that they were up to $100,000 in debt to their own employer. The same guys would have had a tough time qualifying for a Hyundai days earlier.

As far back as August 2008, a trucking finance firm warned Port of Long Beach board members that 40% of drivers were likely to default on truck leases. But no one stopped the deals, which place almost all of the financial risk onto the workers.

Drivers' names were not on the truck titles. And many contracts effectively barred drivers from using their truck to work for other companies.

The companies also retained the power to decide how much work to give their drivers. They decide who gets the easiest and most lucrative routes-- and who gets to work at all.

That leaves drivers in constant fear of upsetting managers, who can fire them for any reason, or simply stop sending them business, a process some call “starving” them out of the truck.

On a five-year lease, drivers could pay in for four years and 11 months. If they got sick, fell behind on the lease or were fired in the last month, they could lose everything--as if they had never paid a dime.

“The truck was never his,” one California labor commission hearing officer noted in a March, 2014 ruling. “And he has nothing to show for all the time and money he spent.”

…Drivers who signed up for leases watched their take-home pay plummet and often had no choice but to work longer hours.

After emigrating from Nicaragua in 1992, Samuel Talavera Jr. drove a truck at the Los Angeles harbor and made an honest living. Since 9/11, all truckers working at ports of entry must be legal residents.

Talavera bought his wife, Reyna, a house and took his daughters to Disneyland.

But everything changed in late 2010, when he went into the QTS warehouse and his boss told him he needed to trade in his truck and sign a lease-purchase contract.

For the next four years, he worked mind-numbing hours to pay the bills.

To save commuting time, he slept in his truck at work. To avoid bathroom breaks, he kept an empty two-liter bottle by his side. He became a ghost to his family.

Still, he had to drain his savings to survive.

A stack of weekly paychecks he keeps in a drawer at home shows his worst weeks. He grossed $1,970 on June 3, 2011, but it all went back to QTS. After the lease and other truck expenses, he took home $33.

On February 10, 2012, he took home $112 after expenses.

The next week, he made 67 cents.

Reyna got two office cleaning jobs and a third taking care of the elderly to try to make ends meet. Even so, when her father died, she couldn’t afford to fly home for the funeral.

Talavera was working so much, she said. “We didn’t understand why there was hardly any money left over.”

Through interviews and court records, reporters catalogued more than 120 drivers who say they regularly worked past exhaustion, 12 to 20 hours straight behind the wheel.

Federal law prohibits commercial truckers from driving more than 11 hours at a time, and they can’t work at all after 14 hours, until they have had 10 hours of rest. Government studies show that for every hour past 11 that someone drives, the chances of crashing increase exponentially.

Many drivers feel they have no choice but to take that risk.

On bad weeks-- when Flores hits traffic or gets assigned a low-paying delivery-- he says he takes home $300 or less for 100 hours of work. That translates into $3 an hour, less than a third of what he could make washing dishes at California’s minimum wage.

Drivers could quit and find new work. But many, like Flores, say they’ve stayed on hoping things would improve. Then they realized if they quit, they would lose thousands paid toward their truck. “They’re captive,” Teamsters’ international vice president Fred Potter said.

Truck payments can cut so deep into wages that drivers actually owe their employer come Friday.

“Working for free,” one driver called it in a court statement.

Paychecks read instead like weekly invoices: Faustino Denova, negative $9.64. Germen Merino, negative $92.50. Jose Covarrubias, negative $280.

For some truckers, the debt stacked up week after week, until they borrowed against their house or from friends, used their savings to pay it off or until their company fired them.

“The company didn't care whether I took a gallon of milk to my home or not,” one driver testified in a civil court case. “The company would take everything.”

Enough weeks like that put truckers into a hole they can’t escape.

Like many drivers, Talavera and his wife fell behind on their mortgage, and then stopped paying it altogether. They filed for bankruptcy to save their home.

In ways that happen in virtually no other workplace in America, port trucking companies in Southern California wield enormous power over their workers.

Through interviews and a review of sworn statements, the USA Today Network identified more than 100 drivers who reported threats and retaliation. Managers punish drivers most often for turning down the lowest-paying routes, missing work or refusing to work past federal hour limits.

At least 24 companies have fired drivers outright under those circumstances, according to interviews and a review of court, NLRB and California labor commission records. In each case, the driver lost his truck and what he’d paid into it.

Arcadio Amaya said he refused to work 15 hours straight one night at Pacgran Inc. and was fired the next day. He lost $26,400 he had paid toward a truck.

Armando Logamo, a former driver at RPM Harbor Services, said he saw other drivers bribing dispatchers for better-paying assignments, so he told his supervisor. The next week, Logamo was fired. He lost the truck, along with all the payments he had put into it.

“They fired me because I was one of the ones that was speaking up,” he said. “It was pretty devastating because I was with them for two plus years.”

Eddy Gonzalez once missed a day when he was called to court to testify as a witness. As punishment, he said his boss at Seacon Logix didn't let him work the next day.

Then, a few months later, he missed a week to bury his dead mother. When Gonzalez came back, he said, his boss cleaned out his truck and fired him on the spot while he pleaded to keep his job.

“He just took the keys and left,” Gonzalez testified in court.
On Monday, Nanette Barragan, a freshman congresswoman whose district isn’t far from L.A.’s port was with the Teamsters to stand with them in solidarity on this issue. This morning she told me that her cousin is a truck driver. “I know first hand how hard our truck drivers work to make ends meet. Some of them don't even make minimum wage; this is unjust. I stand with our working families who deserve a fair and just wage."

Kia Hamadanchy is running for the Orange County congressional seat held by absentee congresswoman and Trump/Ryan rubberstamp Mimi Walters. Moments ago told us that "What's happening to these truckers is absolutely unconscionable and should have no place in any industry in this country. Companies shouldn't be allowed to trap their workers in these kinds of arrangements and situations like these are a big part of why I'm running for Congress and what I'd fight for once I get there." And the other excellent progressive running for the CA-45 seat is Katie Porter, who had the same reaction as Kia. She told us that "This is another example of how crushing, exploitive debt reveberates through people's lives and makes it almost impossible for many families to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You should be able to work in this country to get yourself out of debt, but our financial and legal system has created an almost permanent class of debtors. Its why in Congress, I'll work to end credit checks for hiring and end employment discrimination based off consumer financial history."

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If Pelosi Goes Who Would You Like To See As Leader, Crowley, Hoyer Or Wasserman Schultz?


The Dream Team-- for the GOP at least

I gradually stopped being a fan of Nancy Pelosi’s. I went from an admirer to a detractor primarily because of how she ran the DCCC-- an utter catastrophe for Democrats-- and because she imperiously declared an impeachment investigation of Bush was “off the table” after the Democrats won back the House. But my anger towards her has built slowly as the DCCC leaders she appointed went from bad to worse-- and lost more and more House seats. But, I’m not foolish enough to get onboard the train that is most eager to displace her-- the New Dem/Blue Dog choo choo-- i.e., the Republican wing of the Democratic Party-- salivating at any prospect of kicking her and her progressive core values to the curb. She may be terrible, but everyone lined up to replace her is much, much, much worse. How many times do I have to say “much” to get the point across? K Street wants their man Steny Hoyer. Wall Street wants their man Joe Crowley. Those are the two most likely successors and Wall Street would as happily settle for Hoyer as K Street would for Crowley. Is there no one else? Not really… unless you want to rev up that ole Wasserman Schultz machine again-- a hopefully no one wants that, not even the members she’s still been funneling the dirty money to that she takes from all the wrong sources.

Late Wednesday afternoon two consecutive Politico pieces, one by John Bresnahan at 4pm and then another by Gabe Debenedetti at 5:30, raised the spectre of a revolt against Pelosi’s leadership over Ossoff’s loss. Before we get into them, I just want to remind everyone when House Dems whined and fulminated last year about how the caucus wanted to take control of the DCCC from Pelosi she granted them two concessions. First was that the DCCC chair would be elected not appointed. And second that 5 DCCC regional vice chairs would be elected by members.

So here’s what happened. Pelosi nominated the hapless and worthless failure who had been trained by the vile Steve Israel and had already proven himself absolutely incompetent and a detriment to Democrats ever winning anything. No one ran against him and he was unanimously reelected. I don’t think any of the DCCC regional vice chair seats were contested and the 5 members were elected: Joe Kennedy (Northeast), Don McEachin (South), Betty McCollum (Midwest), Jared Polis (Central), Ted Lieu (West Coast). From what I can tell the only one taking the job seriously is, predictably, Ted Lieu. I spoke with one of the other Vice Chairs and he confided in me that he doesn’t know why he ran and doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. I tried going over some of the live races in his area and he was unaware of any of them. When I call a candidate in California, even really long-shot candidates in non-targeted districts, they tell me they’ve already had conversations with Ted Lieu or with his chief of staff. When I call candidates in crucial states like Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York they mostly say they never heard of a DCCC Regional Vice Chair. “What do they do?” Good question. But "nothing"-- other than in Ted's case-- would be a likely answer.

If the fish rots from the head, in the case of the House Democratic Caucus, the rot has spread really deeply… really, really deeply. The leadership is sclerotic; so is much of the membership. “There's a lot of grumbling by rank-and-file members, but no leadership change is imminent, wrote Bresnahan. “There is no challenge to Pelosi’s leadership, and none is going to happen at this point, said numerous Democrats. But it’s clear frustration is growing with the longtime Democratic leader following the extensive losses Democrats have suffered over the past half-decade. And the fact that Republicans spent millions of dollars on TV ads tying Democratic hopeful Jon Ossoff to Pelosi-- and the brand of progressive policies she represents-- shows that she will once again be an issue for Democratic challengers in the very districts that the party needs to win to make her speaker again.” Bresnahan, of course, doesn’t put who the members he quotes into any kind of real context. For example, his first quote is from ultra-conservative/ultra-corrupt Texas Blue Dog, Fielmon Vela, who has an ugly “F” rating from ProgressivePunch and who votes against progressive legislation more frequently than he supports anything worthwhile. The only Texans with (marginally) worse voting records are fellow Blue Dogs Vicente González and Henry Cuellar-- and in the current session Vela’s record is worse than González’s. He generally votes for whatever he’s paid to vote for and he doesn’t belong in Congress (or the Democratic Party) but here’s what he told Politico: “I think you’d have to be an idiot to think we could win the House with Pelosi at the top… Nancy Pelosi is not the only reason that Ossoff lost. But she certainly is one of the reasons.” (It’s unimaginable to someone like Vela that Ossoff could have lost because he failed to embrace a progressive narrative once he had sucked millions and millions or dollars from the grassroots vaguely pretending to be progressive when he launched his campaign.) Bresnahan found other garbage-crats to give him quotes too, like Long Island Wall Street shill, New Dem Kathleen Rice.
“There comes a time when every leader has to say, ‘For the good of the order and for the betterment of the party, it’s time for me to step aside.’ And I wish that that would happen right now,” Rice said in an interview. “This is not a personal thing. I want to get back in the majority.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who challenged Pelosi for minority leader in November, wouldn’t comment directly whether she should step down, saying only, “My position hasn’t changed.”

“I think it’s very concerning that that tactic still has some punch,” Ryan said. “Again, it’s part of the broader national brand that average people don’t feel connected to the Democratic Party. Walk up the street and ask 10 people what the Democrats stand for, you’ll get 10 different answers. That’s no way to build a national party.”
There was even a little anti-Pelosi cabal that Rice put together with fellow conservaDem Seth Moulton (D-MA) on Thursday. Louisiana New Dem Cedric Richmond, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, was one of the dozen attendees. Progressives aren't breaking from Pelosi... it's really just the very corrupted Republican wing of the party. Debendetti started by quoting a spokesperson for MoveOn: “There are definitely some real lessons to be taken from this: Democrats are going to have to do better and improve on things a lot in order to take advantage of the opportunity presented by 2018. It doesn't matter how much money you have if it's not clear to people what you stand for, and if what you stand for isn't change.”
But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee doesn’t believe it erred in the Georgia race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Karen Handell, or in its spending decisions in the surprisingly competitive South Carolina special election that also took place Tuesday. After all, each of those districts-- like those in Kansas and Montana special elections earlier this year-- swung aggressively toward Democrats, and the group has been testing messages and tactics for 2018 within those races.

In a memo to staff and lawmakers on Wednesday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Lujan even declared for the first time that the House is in play.

But the morning was otherwise marked by finger-pointing reflecting some of the biggest divisions in the party-- including some that have been festering since the 2016 presidential primary. To many progressives, Ossoff’s loss was a symptom of the party’s insistence on running moderate candidates who try to appeal too much to Republicans who dislike Trump.

"So far this cycle, we've seen an underfunded, authentic candidate with a message lose and we've seen a well-funded candidate with D.C. talking points lose. Now it's time to focus on putting real resources behind candidates who can inspire progressives and give folks a clear vision for the future," said longtime Democratic strategist Rebecca Katz, referring respectively to Rob Quist in Montana and Ossoff. "Democrats have to stop focusing all our energy on winning over Romney voters and start figuring out how to bring more progressive independents into the fold.”

Ossoff’s closing message in a district that routinely goes for GOP candidates by at least 20 points was largely about fiscal responsibility, rather than opposition to Trump or the offer of a broad economic plan. That kind of message is anathema to many liberal lawmakers and strategists.

“We need a bolder economic platform, our party needs to be for good jobs and better wages, [and] we have to have some bold economic ideas that are going to convince people that we get it,” said Rep. Ro Khanna of California. “There’s still a ways to go. The challenge is not simply a messaging issue or a branding issue, the challenge is a vision issue.”
Any wonder Ro Khanna is the very first member of Congress from anywhere in the country to endorse Randy Bryce for Congress? "We need leaders connected to the community who can speak with authenticity about the need for universal healthcare, better wages, and good jobs," said Ro. "Randy has a bold vision that is rooted in his life experience. It's heartening to see people like Randy step up to serve. That is what our founders envisioned."

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

How The Democrats' Worst Enemy Is... The DCCC


Lottery winner Gilbert Cisneros

Yesterday’s Democratic operative quote of the day was "We no longer have a party caucus capable of riding this wave. We have 80-year-old leaders and 90-year-old ranking members. This isn't a party. It's a giant assisted living center. Complete with field trips, gym, dining room and attendants." I would just add that the younger leaders-in-waiting are even worse-- much worse than the ones on their way out. The shady Wall Street hustler who Pelosi and Hoyer have picked to take over leadership of the House Democrats once they’re finally gone— Caucus Chair Joe Crowley— told Fox’s Chad Program that though the Dems didn’t win GA-06, “2018 will be a different story.” Pelosi’s utterly worthless, zero value-add DCCC chairman, Ben Ray Luján, petrified the grassroots money he’s been wasting might dry up after the loss in GA-06, sent DCCC staffers a memo for them to leak asserting that polling shows the Democrats can win back the House in 2018 by taking seats from vulnerable GOP incumbents-- pointing specifically to Brian Mast (FL-18), Darrell Issa (CA-49), Rodney Frelinghuysen (NJ-11), David Valadao (CA-21), Jeff Denham (CA-10),Kevin Yoder (KS-03) and Martha McSally (AZ-02). The clueless and ineffective chairman wrote that his pathetic committee has “a unique opportunity to flip control of the House of Representatives in 2018. This is about much more than one race: the national environment, unprecedented grassroots energy and impressive Democratic candidates stepping up to run deep into the battlefield leave no doubt that Democrats can take back the House next fall.” He added that the DCCC is out recruiting, something that should scare the crap out of all Democrats since all the DCCC looks for are uninspiring wealthy self-funders, Republican-lite misanthropes and identity politics garbage. Without a trace of irony, he wrote that the reactionaries who head the recruitment committee-- Blue Dog Cheri Bustos (a Rahm thing) and wealthy New Dem Denny Heck-- are looking for “top-tier candidates to fill the remaining holes in our map… We have our work cut out for us. Taking back the majority will not be easy. Despite the grassroots energy and the winds at our backs, we have a number of real structural disadvantages in these districts.” He should get a giant mirror for himself and his grotesquely corrupt staff if he wants to examine those real structural disadvantages.

Or maybe he could hire someone like the NY Times’ Nate Cohn to look into what ails-- and has been ailing for over a decade-- the DCCC, making it dysfunctional and an assert for Republican control. In a column after the Ossoff debacle, Cohn noted that the Democratic candidates outperformed but still lost in red open seats in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina. Wutgout mentioning DCCC ineptness and lousy recruitment, Cohn wrote that “this contradiction is the heart of the challenge the party faces in 2018. Democrats will probably benefit from an extremely favorable political environment, as they do today. But the problem is that they’re fighting an uphill battle, even if the wind is strongly at their backs. The 2018 midterm elections will be decided in Republican-leaning terrain. Even a wave the size of the electoral tsunamis that swept Republicans out of power in 2006 and back into it 2010 would not guarantee the Democrats a House majority in 2018.”
Democrats did better in these special elections than would have been expected, based on previous election results and even supposing that the national political environment was as hostile for Republicans as it was in 2006. That’s even true in Georgia’s Sixth, where Mitt Romney and the outgoing representative (Tom Price) won by 23 points, even though President Trump won by just 1.5 points.

Democratic strength is not surprising, since all of the ingredients for a strong Democratic performance are in place. The president’s party just about always loses seats in the midterm elections, and it generally gets clobbered when the president’s approval rating is beneath 50 percent, much less beneath 40.

But alone, a strong national political environment doesn’t guarantee Democratic control of the House.

The Democrats just don’t have many top-tier opportunities to win Republican-held seats. This year, just 11 Republicans represent seats with a Democratic tilt in recent presidential elections. Back in 2010, the Republicans had 73 such opportunities.

The election in 2006 is a particularly relevant example, because Democrats had a somewhat similar, if better, set of opportunities. Those chances yielded 31 seats, just a few more than the 24 seats they need in 2018. But Democrats also had some good luck in 2006 that will be hard to duplicate: There were a half dozen safely Republican districts where the incumbent succumbed to scandal or indictment, including Tom DeLay, a House majority leader.

The Republicans have a real shot to retain control of the House in a political climate that would doom them under typical circumstances. There are a lot of reasons for this structural G.O.P. advantage, like partisan gerrymandering, the inefficient distribution of Democrats in heavily Democratic cities, and the benefit of incumbency.

To retake the House, Democrats will ultimately need to carry seats with a clear Republican tradition. This year’s special elections, including Jon Ossoff’s loss to Karen Handel in Georgia, are a reminder that it will indeed be difficult for Democrats to win in Republican-leaning districts, just as it was for the Democrats in 2006 or for Republicans on Democratic-leaning turf in 2010.

Recruitment and messaging are key. The Democrats are looking at candidates who are duplicates of the vile recruiters (think New Dem Heck and Blue Dog Bustos)… and worse. Worse? Oh yeah. Let’s look at CA-39 for a moment, powerful entrenched incumbent Ed Royce’s seat, predominantly in Orange County but with a chunk of L.A. County and a sliver of San Bernardino County. The DCCC has, for years, studiously avoided targeting Royce. Then Hillary beat Trump there 51.5% to 42.9%, her biggest win among the GOP-held Orange County districts the DCCC says they hope to win in 2018. Whites are a minority in this district and the DCCC should have been building a multi cycle campaign to win it back for years; but they’re way too lame, incompetent and unaccountable to have done any such thing. The district stretches from deep blue Hacienda Heights into La Brea Heights, La Habra, Rowland Heights, Brea, up to Walnut, Diamond Bar and Chino Hills and then south to Buena Park, Fullerton, Placenta, and Yorba Linda.

How excited is the DCCC about winning CA-39 and ousting Royce? They’re already written it off. The powers that be in DC have decided to sell the nomination to someone they know will have no chance to win, a very wealthy-- but otherwise useless-- lottery winner named Gil Cisneros. Cisneros doesn’t live in the district and his preparation for announcing his campaign is trying to lose a couple of chins plus meeting with corrupt lobbyists at a resort outside of DC this weekend instead of meeting folks in the district the DCCC is selling him. (The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s Bold PAC, run by Tony Cárdenas is brokering the deal and hosting the weekend event at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort in Cambridge, Maryland. Besides all the corrupt lobbyists, attendees include Tom Perez, Steny Hoyer, Ben Ray Lujan, Cárdenas, and reactionary Blue Dogs Jim Costa (CA), Vicente Gonzalez (TX), Stephanie Murphy (FL), Tom O’Halleran (AZ) and Lou Correa (CA). Among the lobbyists will be representatives of AT&T, the Pedestal Group, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, Microsoft, Charter Communications, Amgen, Concast, Pepsi, Pfizer, Sempra Energy, Primerica, Loews, Biogen, T-Mobile, Safeway, Johnson & Johnson, Astra Zenica, Sprint, PayPal, and dozens more.

So far Man-Khanh Tran and Philip Janowicz have declared for the seat and rumors are circulating that progressive attorney Sam Jammal will also run. But what I’m being told is that the DCCC is going along with Bold PAC to give the nomination to Cisneros in return for lots and lots and lots of that lottery money and then just give ups on the seat entirely. Works for Royce too, doesn’t it? I wish I could say this is a unique situation but this is the kind of crap the DCCC has been pulling for years and continues right now. I don’t see it ever changing without a major upheaval in the House Democratic Caucus. Last year when the rank and file threatened Pelosi if she didn’t let them elect the DCCC chair, she agreed and then no one even ran against incompetent loser Lujan. And people wonder why Democrats can’t beat Trump and the Republicans! Expect no changes until the sclerotic House leadership changes-- and that ain't changin' unless 2018 is another series of GA-06's and more cycles like 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

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Latest Mumia Abu-Jamal Book Asks A Provocative Question: Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?


-by Denise Sullivan

Following the shocking back-to-back police murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castille outside St. Paul in July of 2016, author and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal responded with what seemed to be an uncharacteristic loss for words when he ended a short lament titled "Killed By Cops Who Were 'Just Doing Their Jobs'" with this refrain:

And another one gone…and another…and another.

A few days later, in a piece called "What Happens To A Dream Deferred," he invoked the Langston Hughes poem in reference to Sterling, Castile, and a massacre in Dallas in which five police officers and others were injured.

A new stage has been reached in America's longest war with itself.

Capsulizing the history of white slave patrols, their relationship to today's police departments and a justice system that preserves immunity for officers who kill, Abu-Jamal goes on to suggest how and why we've arrived at such a horrific place in American history.

Oppression can drive people mad. It can turn calm brains into minds consumed by anger, rage, and resentment.

One year later, in the wake of recent worldwide terrorist events, mass shootings from coast to coast, and an entirely not unexpected not guilty verdict for Jeronimo Yanez, the cop who killed Castile, it is safe to say the tyranny of our brand of liberty has brought us to yet another new stage in the long war with ourselves. In his broadcasts, Abu-Jamal quotes Alexis de Tocqueville and Mao Tse-tung as he reckons with the civil war now in progress. In another titled, The Second Death of Philando, he concludes, "The jury believed once again, that a black life had no intrinsic value and that it could be treated like trash, burned up and discarded, like an old pair of shoes."

In his latest collection of essays, Have Black Lives Ever Mattered? published this month by City Lights, Abu-Jamal offers no easy answers except for what's undeniable: "Well, they certainly seem important enough to suppress and steal." Over the course of the book, he shines his light on a fraction of the Black lives sacrificed since 1998-- the cases that made it into the public eye-- while underscoring the fact: Living while Black in the US is in itself a traumatic experience.

Between waging his own daily struggle to maintain his health despite being denied care on the inside, and working continually to overturn his own wrongful conviction for allegedly killing a police officer in 1981, Abu-Jamal writes, and writes, and writes: Over the course of nine books including the previous City Lights collection, Writing on the Wall, countless essays and radio broadcasts, all created in prison over 30 years, (much of that time on Death Row), Abu-Jamal has rung the warning bells, raised and lowered the flags for freedom, and sounded its sirens with his words, in his efforts to defer the American emergency in progress. Stating in plain language what may seem obvious is an art, the job of a prophetic voice, and Abu-Jamal owns his. The view from the inside allows for his precision and laser-focus, to see and say things the likes of which we who are free to travel the world and the Internet cannot. And yet, his status or lack of it as a prison inmate has left his input marginalized and at times dismissed by society at large. Perhaps the sheer volume of work at this point is what daunts otherwise intelligent people to shun him, or maybe it's just that old white supremacy doing its number again...

There remains an inexplicable resistance within the so-called progressive left to regard Abu-Jamal as a poet and a writer of substance, much less a prophet or defining voice of the voiceless. Those who seem to have the time for revered prison writings from Jean Genet, George Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, just haven't gotten around to vigorous discussion of Abu-Jamal's vast catalog of material. Though his supporters may rest assured that long after we're all gone, these writings will stand as testimonies to a very strange time in American history and scholars of the future will likely shake their heads in disbelief at why more attention was not paid to his prophetic wisdom and why we did not heed its call. Therein these compositions are answers and valuable tools for the recovery of America's lost soul.

In a 2002 piece titled, "The Other Central Park Rapes," concerning the five young men wrongfully accused and incarcerated for crimes they did not commit in 1989, Abu-Jamal calls out Donald J. Trump, citing the vicious full page ads he took out proclaiming the men should've received the death penalty (the young men were later found innocent after serving from 6-13 years of their 5-15 year sentences). Of that miscarriage of justice, Abu-Jamal asserts that this was no isolated incident: That five Black men should be victimized by the justice and prison systems, scarred for life by its business as usual, is quite simply more evidence of Black lives cast aside. In this same piece he asserts Black, Brown, and Latino lives "don't matter."

A 1998 essay, "We Are Blind To Everything But Color," considers how people are treated in court: "…how they are charged and how they are sentenced are direct reflections of what race and ethnicity they are and how such traits are regarded by white America." He outlines an experimental exercise among law students in which whites imagined turning Black and agreed it was "a disability," worthy of millions in damage awards. "Why damages, unless color does matter?" he asks.

Of the 41 shots that killed Amadou Diallo, in 1999, Abu-Jamal noted the "predictable acquittal of his killers, four white cops," in 2002 and called for the formation of a movement to stop the violence. Some 12 years later, following the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, that movement launched, though Black Lives Matter does not claim inspiration from Abu-Jamal nor does he seek their endorsement, though anyone with eyes and ears can see he was the forerunner in regard to resisting police terror and naming white supremacy as a source of law enforcement's ills.

Read one by one like a daily reader, the essays, like the radio commentaries, are dense enough to reflect on for hours. Read all in one sitting, the evidence for bias presented by Abu-Jamal could potentially penetrate a racist mind and change it for the better, though sensitive liberals may find themselves sick with grief following the undeniable catalog of suffering here, some of it committed by our own hands (let this serve as your trigger warning). His critique of politicians is not reserved for the right: He notes the Clintons role in what he calls the mass incarceration boom as well as Obama's legacy of mass surveillance and systemic repression: "He left the horrors of mass incarceration fundamentally unchanged and in the hands of an ultra-right wing populist, endorsed by a known domestic terrorist group, the Ku Klux Klan."

As we prepare for the long hot summer of American contradiction and its high holiday, the Fourth of July, Mumia asks us to consider what he and abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked: What does such an observance mean to a slave? As long as we remain a nation with the highest prison population in the world, with over two million serving time, we are not only a prison nation, but none of us are free. Time and again, the wrong people are warehoused when the real killers of American freedoms have yet to be tried, convicted, and locked away. "Until then," Abu-Jamal writes,"The Fourth is just another day."

The State of Pennsylvania has remained invested in keeping Abu-Jamal behind bars, despite a pile of evidence in favor of his innocence. In the eyes of a racist and fearful America this makes perfect sense, though in a more perfect union, where the deck isn't stacked and there is such a thing as a justice for all, Abu-Jamal's lifetime of incarceration would be the crime. Until that time, his writings provide companionship in the bleak hours of an American narrative that affirms, again and again although it's a lie, that some lives are expendable.

Denise Sullivan is the author of Keep On Pushing: Black Power Music From Blues to Hip Hop and an occasional contributor to DWT on arts, culture, and gentrification issues.

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