Tremendous turnout last night at the CORD (Community Organized for Responsible Development) convention. A real diverse group from across the city (although Yale administrators were noticably absent). And awesome energy. The co-chairs of each of the six issue committees, many of whom had no experience with community organizing as of this summer, each spoke powerfully to their issue and the larger struggle for a seat at the table with Yale – New Haven Hospital. The months of organizing – including 800 canvassing conversations – which went into building a platform as a community for a Community Benefits Agreement paid off powerfully last night, as it will continue to over the coming months. And the strength of that organizing was indicated as well by the presence of a majority of New Haven’s aldermen and state representatives, each of whom committed publically with hundreds of constituents bearing witness to stand with us in demanding that the Hospital’s growth take place with in a manner which grows opportunity and justice in the community as well. As Reverend Champagne preached last night, “We deserve jobs at that Hospital. And not only cleaning the floors, but sitting in offices as well.”

Bad idea:

The leadership of the Human Rights Campaign, at a meeting last weekend in Las Vegas, concluded that the group must bow to political reality and moderate its message and its goals. One official said the group would consider supporting President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security partly in exchange for the right of gay partners to receive benefits under the program.

Talk about forgoing the big tent. The Human Rights Campaign has always been too conservative for me. But this would be a new low. First, because contrary to the impression one might get from Queer Eye for the Staight Guy, scores of queer folks and their families also depend on social security to enable them to retire with dignity rather than into poverty, and they too deserve better than this privatization sham. Second, because now more than ever, as the economic justice movement struggles to better do justice to its queer constituents, standing on the wrong side of one of the major economic justice debates of the next four years can only narrow the movement. Third, because social security privatization is also incredibly unpopular with the American public, as it should be. So if, as the article suggests, the HRC’s new focus is on introducing gay America to everybody else, this seems like a particularly ill-chosen move to start with. (Spotted by Julie Saltman)

Speaking of Social Security, some one should ask David Brooks whether he’d be comefortable staking his national security on the stock market. Because if not, he’s in a strange position to be telling working class Americans to entrust their economic security to it. There’s a reason we call it “Social Security,” not “Social Program In Which If You Play Your Cards Right You Have A Decent Shot Ending Up Less Poor Than Without It.”

This is an election we should have won. This is an election we could have won if the candidate had been working as hard, and as smart, as everybody else that was trying to get him elected. We almost won it anyway. It could be that we did. But given Kerry’s unwillingness to wait as long as folks did in line to vote for him before saying, in the name of national unity, that their votes needn’t be counted, we may never know.

I think the most striking find in the exit polls was that significant majorities said they supported Kerry on Iraq but Bush on the war on terror. Funny thing is, main thing Bush has done in the name of stopping terror is ignore Osama bin Laden and create a terrorist playground in Iraq, while refusing necessary funding for homeland security. This says to me that Bush succeeded in making terrorism a question of character rather than of policy. Kerry was certainly savaged by the media in the same way Gore was, while Bush too often got a free pass. But Kerry failed for months to put out a coherent, comprehensible message on Iraq (as on too many other issues), and while voters rightly prefered an alleged flip-flopper to an obvious belly-flopper on the issue, I think he shot a lot of his credibility as a strong leader and he may have lost the rhetorical battle for Commander-in-Chief. His unwillingness to aggressively defend himself, especially from the vile Swift Boat Vet attacks, can’t have helped. What’s tragic, of course, is that Bush has flip-flopped far more, even on whether we can win the war on terror, and that the extent his policy has been consistent, it’s been stubbornly, suicidely dangerous. On this issue, as on every issue, some will argue that Kerry was just too left-wing, which is anything but the truth (same goes for Dukakis, Mondale, Gore). A candidate who consistently opposed the war and articulated a clear vision of what to do once we got there could have fared much better.

Then there’s the cluster of issues the media, in an outrageous surrender to the religious right, insist on calling “moral values” (as if healthcare access isn’t a moral value). Here Kerry got painted as a left-winger while abjectly failing to expose the radical right agenda of his opponent. Most voters are opposed to a constitutional ban on all abortion, but Kerry went three debates without mentioning that it’s in the GOP platform. That, and a ban on gay adoption, which is similarly unpopular. And while he started trying towards the end to adopt values language in expressing his position on these issues and on others, it was too little, too late. An individual may be entitled to privacy about his faith and his convictions, religious or otherwise but a Presidential candidate shouldn’t expect to get too far without speaking convincingly about his beliefs and his feelings (I’m hoping to get a chance to read George Lakoff’s new book on this – maybe Kerry should as well).

This election will provide further few to those who argue that Republicans are a cadre of libertarians and the poor are all social conservatives who get convinced by the GOP to ignore class. The first problem with this argument when folks like Michael Lind articulate it is that it ignores the social liberalism of many in the working class. There are others – like the economic breakdown of voting patterns in 2000, which would make David Brooks’ head explode because the fact is Gore got the bottom three sixths and Bush got the top. But few can argue that a not insignificant number of working class voters in this country consistently vote against their economic interests, and that at least in this election, they have enough votes to swing the result. Here too some will argue the Democrats just have to sell out gay folks and feminists to win back the Reagan Democrats. I think Thomas Frank is much closer to the truth: People organize for control over their lives and their environments through the means that appear possible, and the Democrats’ ongoing retreat from an economic agenda which articulates class inequality has left the Republicans’ politics of class aesthetics (stick it to the wealthy liberals by putting prayer back in schools) as an alternative. For all the flack he got over wording, Howard Dean was speaking to an essential truth when he recognized that working-class southern whites don’t have much to show for decades of voting Republican, and Kerry didn’t make the case nearly well enough. He also seems to have bought into Republicans’ claims that Democrats always spend the last few weeks beating old folks over the head with claims that they’ll privatize social security and forgotten that Republicans, in fact, will privatize social security if they can. So he let too many of them get pulled away to the GOP. Part of the irony of the debate over the tension between the left economic agenda and their social agenda, and whether being labelled with the latter stymies the former, is that as far as public opinion goes, I see much more reason for confidence that we’ll have gained tremendous ground on gay marriage in a generation than that we will have on economic justice. As far as policy goes, the next four years are a terrifying prospect for both, and for most things we value in this country.

Don’t mourn. Organize.

Reading between the lines: Over at The Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez is gleeful at the prospect of nasty weather depressing Democratic turnout. She quotes one of their readers:

Considering how unenthused Kerry-ites are for their candidate and how revved up Bush supporters are for theirs, I wonder how much the weather is going to play a factor next week.

And Lopez sees fit to add:

Michael Moore’s free Ramen Noodles to register wouldn’t be enough to get me out of bed if I were a lazy, hung over college student, that’s for sure.

This is coded language, and not very well coded either. The real reason better weather (read: a more representative sample of voters) is better for the Democrats is that our voters are the ones who have the most trouble getting to polls. Because they make less money and live in poorer neighborhoods, they’re likely to have fewer voting machines, longer lines, less access to transportation, and more difficulty getting time out of work, childcare, and such to go vote. But even the National Review knows it’s impolitic to actually root for monsoon weather to keep poor Black voters from the polls. So they take potshots at college students as proxies.

Quick take on tonight’s debate:

An underwhelming affair altogether. For a domestic policy debate, there were a fair number of non-domestic or non-policy questions. Kerry made the case for better homeland security well but didn’t go after Bush too strongly on creating a gigantic “tax gap” through tax cuts for the rich instead of paying for security for the rest of us. Reviving Bush’s quote about his lack of concern about bin Laden was a good move, and Bush’s description of the verbatim quote as an “exaggeration” was so obviously false even Fox News chose to air the original tape Kerry was quoting.

It was striking how eager Bush is to redirect all questions about the economy to the education issue, however dubious his record there. Funny how as a Republican he can get away with touting the spending increase as huge without drawing fire from the right and then turn around and charge those who push for more spending as tax-and-spend liberals. Kerry had a good line is saying the point wasn’t spending but rather results. But he seemed uncertain whether to tear into Bush on education, go back to the original question, or charge him with changing the topic – so he did a little bit of each. The politics are tricky, insofar as Bush is right that education’s key to improving living standards and growing the economy, and Kerry and most Americans agree. So making the case against Bush has to include his broken promises on education. But education doesn’t determine the health of the economy alone – taxes, trade, and the minimum wage are all crucial issues on which we deserve a real debate. Because as “compassionate” as re-training may sound, it offers more potential at the beginning of your career than towards the end. And because educated professionals are losing their jobs. And because we will never have an economy without a service sector or an industrial sector, and those jobs need to be dignified, living wage work. A minimum wage that’s half the poverty line if you’re supporting a kid is shameful. Also shameful is a government’s breach of faith with that parent and that child when it comes to funding education. By the way: Where was the right to organize in that debate? Why did unions only come up in terms of Kerry refusing to make promises to them?

On social issues, Bush was much more “wishy-washy” than Kerry, and more ambiguous than he should have gotten away with. Kerry’s failure to pin the Republican Platform’s call for a constitutional ban on abortion on Bush was a huge missed opportunity. His answer on abortion was better this time than the last debate though. On gay rights, Kerry’s saddled with his own bad policy of opposition to equal marraige rights, but at least managed to come down against the idea that gay folks just chose it. As for what they learned from their women, well, if the question had in fact been, as C-SPAN displayed it at first, “What have you learned about the women in your life?” it might have been more interesting.

Ralph Nader’s gotten a fair share of attention on this site, especially last spring around the time he announced his bid for President. My basic stance on this, set forth in this op-ed (and here here, here, and here), is that Nader’s run is misguided and attempts to appropriate him as a scapegoat for the recent failures of the Democratic party to energize voters are equally so. I would’ve liked to see Ralph Nader speak here last night, because he’s certainly, in my experience, a sharp and powerful speaker and more so because I’d like to see him defend his recent lurch to the right on immigration. But besides the scheduling conflict, I wasn’t going to donate money to his campaign to get in, a concern which I suspect kept many who otherwise would have attended (in his defense, Nader, unlike Bush, didn’t make anyone sign loyalty oaths to get in). According the YDN write-up, Nader said some things I agree with, like

“If you don’t make demands on [Kerry], he doesn’t get any better,” Nader said. “If he doesn’t get any better, he doesn’t get votes.”

Absolutely, the left needs to hold Kerry accountable as a candidate, and im yertzach HaShem as President, and to do so forcefully, stubbornly, and persuasively, something the left manifestly failed to do with Clinton, as Randy Shaw recounts from an environmentalist perspective in his Activist Handbook, and Thomas Geoghegan recounts from a labor perspective in Which Side Are You On. But my break with Nader comes when he conflates those who’ll vote for Kerry with those who idolize him, and those who see unseating Bush as a first priority with those who see it as the only goal:

“Universities are a den of ‘anybody but Bush, leave Kerry alone, make no demands on him,'” Nader said. “That’s a brain-closer. Give me anybody who says ‘anybody but Bush,’ and they’re incapable of talking about any other strategies, variables, nothing.”

Condescension and self-righteousness (among the qualities, like gigantic bank accounts, which Nader, Bush, and Kerry share in common) aside, this argument is effective as constructing and beating up a straw man (I know very, very few folks who really believe that getting rid of Bush would solve all our problems), and phenomenally ineffective at speaking to the concerns of the millions of Americans who’ve born the greatest portion of the burden of the Bush presidency, those faced with losing their jobs, losing their healthcare, or having the constitution desecrated to write them into second-class citizenship. For all Nader’s arguments about long-term benefits and short-term costs, he hasn’t done much of a job of garnering the support of those most likely to pay the costs for the benefits he talks so compellingly about. The truly outrage slap in the face of those who’ve judged themselves unable to take another four years of the same, though, is this:

It really is political bigotry when people say, ‘Do not run.’ When they’re saying, ‘Do not run,’ they’re saying, ‘Do not speak, do not petition, do not assemble.

This sound byte follows in the proud rhetorical tradition of George Bush’s use of the term “political hate speech” to refer to those of us who criticize his policy record. It’s equally disingenuous, and equally cheapens the real bigotry which continues to bedevil this country and the real people who make and express empirical views on the best course for progressive change for this country. The fact of the matter is that most of us who’ve said to Nader, “Do not run,” have also said, affirmatively, “Speak. Petition. Assemble.” We desperately need, before this election and after it, to demonstrate resounding consensus behind progressive change. What absolutely must challenge the Democrats from the left. But voting is more than a symbolic aesthetic act. It’s an exercise of power, a power most effectively used at this juncture to elect a candidate who would be drastically better for this country. And there are far more effective means to articulate strong progressive stances than rallying behind an electoral campaign whose couple-percentage vote draw will only provide talking points for those who deny the existence of a broad progressive constituency – a constituency which has largely turned on Nader not out of bigotry, but out of urgent insistence on immediate change in the direction of this nation.

More debate errata:

No surprise that Cheney’s relationship with the truth is about as close as his relationship with, say, Nelson Mandela. But while there’ve been plenty of more significant lies from him and his campaign, one is particularly easy to shoot down with one pic:

Speaking of which, it takes a special kind of chutzpah for someone on a ticket with George Bush to use the term AWOL to describe his opponent’s attendance Senate record rather than, say, his running mate’s attendance at one of those institutions which contextualize the expression AWOL (no, not Yale).

And speaking of strange imagery, who thought it would be a good idea to trot out Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) to announce that Cheney took Edwards behind a wood shed. Bizarre sexual imagery aside, is that really the Republican message to America? Now back to the bizarre sexual imagery…

Very good: “They value wealth. We value work.” I’ve always wished the Democrats would make more of the moral sinkhole behind having the government take a larger chunk of the money you make working than the money you make investing. That, and that they’d come up with better catch phrases. That one’s a keeper.

Two questions for Arnold Schwarzenegger:

When you said last night that critics of the Bush economy are “girly-men,” did that include all the millions unemployed, underemployed, uninsured, underinsured, or impoverished, or just the ones who are talking about it?

If America has an empidemic of girly men, could it be that the terrorists have a good reason for opposing the liberation of women hich you talked so enthusiastically about?

In a speech yesterday to the Urban League perhaps most notable for the cuts to shots of Al Sharpton trying to keep a straight face, Bush asked for the Black vote and listed questions the Black community should be asking. “Does blocking the faith-based initiative help neighborhoods where the only social service provider could be a church?” Nobody’s blocking them, we’re demanding they be held to the same regulatory standards as everyone else doing business with the government. “Does the status quo in education really, really help the children of this country?” No it doesn’t – so we need more funding, not less. “Does class warfare — has class warfare or higher taxes ever created decent jobs in the inner city?” Well, the question of who’s really perpetrating the class warfare aside, the fact that no Republican President in the past century has created as many jobs as any Democratic President might be more than a coincidence. One of these questions was whether we should be “making excuses” for drug-users. Maybe Bush could learn something from another Republican who’s recently concluded that it’s his party that should be asking itself some tough questions about drugs:

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) yesterday touted drug treatment as an alternative to prison for nonviolent offenders as he launched a panel designed to coordinate Maryland’s fight against substance abuse. “As regard to treatment, I believe in it,” Ehrlich said during a morning visit to a parole and probation office in Gaithersburg. “We know treatment works. The facts are treatment works.”

Ehrlich introduced Andrew L. Sonner, a retired judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals and former Montgomery County prosecutor, as chairman of his new Maryland State Drug and Alcohol Abuse Council. The panel is intended to oversee the efforts of county drug and alcohol abuse councils that were established by the General Assembly. The signature provision of the law seeks to divert nonviolent drug offenders into treatment rather than prison. The bill, which called for spending $3 million to set up treatment programs, passed in this year’s session with widespread bipartisan support. It is expected to save money on incarceration.

There’s much to dislike about the institution of tipping in this country. It transfers the responsibility for compensating employees from employers to customers, substantively removes wages from the realm of negotiation, pits employees against each other, encourages acceptance of demeaning and inappropriate behavior towards employees, and provides cover for employers to pay employees below minimum wage. That said, in a perverse variation of the collective action problem, an individual’s choice not to tip, or to tip conservatively, simply punishes the victims all over again without shifting the responsibility for compensation back to the employer. So what can we do? Well, we can start by supporting legal actions like these in Connecticut:

In the suit, filed three weeks ago in New Britain Superior Court, she charges the restaurant did not pay her or other wait staff the minimum wage for time spent performing non-service duties, thereby violating the state’s minimum wage act…”I think people aren’t aware of provisions of the law,” said Daniel S. Blinn, the attorney representing Galberth. “Restaurants have commonly taken advantage of staff by requiring them to do jobs that qualify for minimum wage and staff put up with it,” said Blinn, who has sent letters to dozens of waiters and waitresses in the state notifying them of the possible minimum wage violations. “Either they are afraid to challenge the employer or aren’t aware that they should be receiving minimum wages for the work.” Under the state act, restaurants are allowed to pay 29 percent less than the minimum wage to those who customarily receive gratuities…According to the law, employees such as waiters and waitresses are supposed to receive regular minimum hour wages of $7.10 when they perform duties outside of those associated with waiting on customers. When they do general tasks, such as setting up before a restaurant opens, cleaning after it closes, doing odd jobs such as washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms or mopping floors, the employer is to pay them minimum wage…

Complaints have begun piling up because of a flurry of publicity over some recent complaints against Brinker International, the parent company of such chains as Macaroni Grill, On the Border and Chili’s, and a separate class action suit against the Outback restaurants chain. “I filed after they called me a liar after I showed them how much of my time I was spending on the side work,” said Michael Peruta, a Rocky Hill resident who is part of a class action suit against Outback restaurants. Peruta said he spent more than half of his time as a waiter in the Newington store cleaning tables that were not in his assigned area, sweeping floors and stocking food, all tasks that he believes qualify for the minimum hourly wage.

…Websites on the issue have begun popping up, including one by Rocky Hill resident Rhonda Dupuis, who successfully sued Brinker while she was employed as a waitress by Chili’s. Dupuis documented her work activities from late 2002 to July 2003, records she says proved that she was not properly paid for side work she was forced to do at “tip credit” scale. The increase in complaints has prompted state Sen. Edith Prague to consider new legislation to try to stop violations and get a more active response from the state labor department. “I think it is outrageous that restaurants, especially these big chains, would do this,” said Prague, a Democrat from Columbia, who is meeting with Dupuis this week. “I would suggest legislation that makes it very clear that they can only use the `tip credit’ formula for waiting tables, and nothing else,” Prague said. “I think it’s a shame we have to do this at all, although I’m not surprised at anything anymore.

Steven Greenhouse reports on the success of HERE Local 226 in organizing a largely minority and immigrant culinary workforce and fighting in solidarity to seize middle class status:

In most other cities, these workers live near the poverty line. But thanks in large part to the Culinary, in Las Vegas these workers often own homes and have Rolls-Royce health coverage, a solid pension plan and three weeks of vacation a year. The Culinary’s extraordinary success at delivering for its 48,000 members beckons newcomers from far and wide. By many measures, the Culinary is the nation’s most successful union local; its membership has nearly tripled from 18,000 in the late 1980’s, even as the rest of the labor movement has shrunk. The Culinary is such a force that one in 10 people here is covered by its health plan, and more than 90 percent of the hotel workers on the Strip belong to the union. The union is also unusual because it is a rainbow coalition, 65 percent nonwhite and 70 percent female. It includes immigrants from Central America, refugees from the Balkan wars and blacks from the Deep South.

The Culinary’s success cannot be separated from the industry’s wealth. With the profits rolling in, the casinos have decided to be relatively magnanimous to their workers to ensure labor peace and a happy work force. “When you’re in the service business, the first contact our guests have is with the guest-room attendants or the food and beverage servers, and if that person’s unhappy, that comes across to the guests very quickly,” said J. Terrence Lanni, chairman of the MGM Mirage, which owns the MGM Grand, the world’s largest hotel, with 5,000 rooms and 8,200 employees. “These are people who are generally happy. Is it perfect? No. But it’s as good as I’ve seen anywhere.”

Under the Culinary’s master contract, waiters are guaranteed $10.14 an hour before tips, the highest rate in the nation. In Las Vegas, unionized hotel housekeepers generally earn $11.95 an hour, 50 percent more than in nonunion Reno. The Culinary contract guarantees workers 40 hours’ pay each week, meaning housekeepers earn at least $478 a week, while in other cities housekeepers often work 30 hours and earn just $240. The Culinary’s workers pay no premiums for health care, and they often pay just $10 for a dentist’s visit, while nonunion workers often pay upwards of $150. “Our wages are higher, the medical benefits are great, and we have a guaranteed 40-hour week,” said Marianne Singer, a waitress at the unionized MGM Grand. “Thanks to all that, I have a beautiful 2,000-square-foot home with a three-car garage.”

…”In Las Vegas, more so than any place in the country, the hospitality industry and the union have realized it is not mere rhetoric to say, ‘We’re all in this together,’ ” said John W. Wilhelm, president of the Culinary’s parent union, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union.

The article identifies some of the key strategies which will define twenty-first century unionism: Mobilizing resources for a tremendously threatening corporate campaign when necessary to pressure management, working cooperatively to marshall human and political resources when possible for goals shared with management, aggressively pursuing card-check neutrality, and most fundamentally, focusing on organizing and empowering formerly disenfranchised workers to achieve tangible results.

And in another article, Greenhouse profiles one of those workers:

Ms. Diaz arrived illegally, but she eventually obtained a green card and citizenship through her father, who had been granted amnesty. For years, he had worked at a carwash in Los Angeles. Today, her whole family – parents, two sisters and five brothers – lives in Los Angeles. Once in Las Vegas, Ms. Diaz took a series of nonunion housekeeping jobs that she did not love, at a Best Western hotel, at Binion’s Horseshoe Casino, and finally at the luxurious Venetian. “In the hotels, the hardest job is housekeeping,” Ms. Diaz said. “It’s really hard when you come, and you don’t know the language. You want to be somebody, but it’s very hard.”

Two years ago, Ms. Diaz learned from the wife of one of her husband’s co-workers that there were unionized restaurant openings at the Luxor. Weary of making hotel beds and cleaning bathrooms, she landed a job busing tables at La Salsa. It paid $9.24 an hour, plus about $4 an hour in tips. The health plan was so good that she paid no premiums and made only modest co-payments. But Ms. Diaz had greater ambitions. After she passed the Culinary Training Academy course, she was immediately promoted to waitress. Now she is responsible for a half-dozen tables in the ocher-colored restaurant, which has the music of a Mexican crooner piped in. She greets customers with her big smile and tentative English, often recommending her favorite dish, the fajita salad.

As her status at La Salsa has risen, so has her pay. Las Vegas’s unionized busboys and waiters make the same base salary – $10.14 an hour, the highest rate in the nation. (By comparison, most waiters in New York City make $3.30 an hour before tips.) But waiters make much more from tips than busboys, who must be content with the often-meager amounts that waiters share with them.

Part of my job at the Philadelphia Unemployment Project two summers ago was tracking several Philadelphia newspapers each day for coverage of the impact of debates over the welfare reauthorization bill on the lives on thousands of Philadelphians. The short summary of that research would be: there wasn’t any. This is probably when I developed my now deeply-ingrained dislike of the Philaelphia Inquirer, and also when I started joking that were the city of Philadelphia to explode, the paper’s banner headline would read “SUBURBAN FAMILIES FACE DELAYS GETTING TO WORK.” Unfortunately, that still seems to be the case. There was one exception yesterday, however: a good piece on the dangers posed by the PA Welfare Department’s proposed cuts in assistance for transportation, rightly titled, “Paths to better lives are at risk“:

Created during welfare reform in the late 1990s, the QuickSilver is among two dozen local transit services that may dwindle or disappear through widening holes in Pennsylvania’s safety net. Facing a budget crisis, the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare plans to cut 30 percent of funding for these routes under the department’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 – which could mean fewer buses or none at all on some local routes serving nearly 3,000 people a day. The department threatens to ax the program by mid-2005, if the funding problems remain. Working with SEPTA, seven agencies in Southeastern Pennsylvania provide transportation for poor workers isolated from suburban jobs. Some have grown weary of unpredictable state support for transit…”These are real people that really need this service,” said Tom Klevan, coordinator for Altoona’s transit provider.

As Congress remains focused on Iraq, welfare reform languishes with Head Start and transportation funding in a long line of issues overdue for legislative reauthorization. As a result, welfare grants to states remain stuck at 1996 levels. In a sign of the times, Andrew Bush, who presides over federal welfare aid for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is on assignment in Iraq, advising its new government how to build a welfare system.

More like this, please.