Claire, Jobs, and Immigration


Immigration is a wedge issue that could break up the Republican Party between the plutocrats who reap staggeringly huge profits by replacing American workers with those making much less, and the American workers (many of whom happen to have voted the Republicans into office only to find themselves betrayed and see their jobs disappear). It could have much the same effect on the Democrats, who already lost many of their numbers when they started favoring the bosses over the union rank and file, at which point we began to see the Reagan Democrats defect.

This country has two political parties, and they are NOT the Republicans and Democrats. They are the Plutocrats, the top one tenth of one percent, those whose annual income is over three million dollars a year (supported by their toadies, sycophants, and suckups), and on the other side Those of Us Who Have to Work for a Living, the 90% of us who make eighty thousand dollars a year or less. The top 0.1% just make it look like there are other parties by getting us to fight over issues like whether two gay guys ought to be able to get married and have abortions.

Immigration and jobs are just two sides of the same issue. The more immigration, the more people there will be fighting over available jobs (ever fewer as companies keep on downsizing) and the lower wages will be (and the lower benefits will be, the lower safety standards will be, the quicker unions will die, and the easier it is to discriminate against Blacks by firing them and replacing them with folks who are, um, less Black). And, on the other hand, the less immigration we have, the better the wages the employers will have to pay, the better benefits they will have to offer, the more they will have to give in to unions, and the harder it will be to discriminate racially. That’s called capitalism. The more competition, the better capitalism works, including for workers.

So the Republican Party has had outright warfare between the fatcats at the top, represented by BushCo who wanted to open the borders, and their working class rightwingers who see themselves laid off and replaced, losing their homes, their medical care, their kids’ educations… And the Democrats are not far behind, with the DLC Dems trying to open follow the Republican lead in opening the borders, while their union members see all the factory jobs gone and their hopes for computer jobs destroyed by the flood of guestworkers.

In all this, there is the sickening realization that illegal immigration, guestworkers, and offshoring are all the same thing, just slightly different ways for the rich to make themselves obscenely rich by destroying the lives of those in the middle and working classes.

And even more sickening is the spectacle of watching the Plutocrats find ways to con the gullible into going along with it. To con the Right, they use distraction: “Don’t look at what we are doing to your jobs, watch us send your kids off to die”. And to con the stupid and gullible of the Left they play the race card: “You must be a racist if you don’t support turning factories into sweatshops and construction jobs into deathtraps!”.

Into this mess and imminent tragedy, it is enlightening to see how any politician will try to skirt the issues and avoid the obvious pitfalls…

On immigration, Claire says,

… people who break the law should be held accountable. … Claire does not believe we need any new guest worker programs undermining American workers. While building a fence along the border in some of our most porous areas is an appropriate first step, rampant illegal immigration will not be resolved until this Administration stops taking care of special interests who care more about access to cheap-labor than they do about securing our borders.

Personally, I am encouraged she is coming down on the side of the 90% rather than being one of the sycophants and suckups who support the 0.1% at the top and then try to find feeble excuses for being suckups.

On jobs, Claire isn’t bad, but could do much better:

Reduce Government Waste and Spending

Uh, this doesn’t create jobs, it gets rid of some, even if it is a good thing…

Block the Outsourcing of Missouri Jobs. … by cracking down on corporate loopholes, which reward companies that ship American jobs overseas

Good. Most folks don’t realize that our laws encourage and reward offshoring with massive tax breaks. But will she really resist the temptations to be bought off?

Promote Educational and Job Training Opportunities for All Missourians.

Uh, sorry, but kids are abandoning math, science, computers, and engineering because they see their parents getting laid off for years at a time from great jobs with no future job in sight except “Welcome to WalMart”. There is no reason to train anyone here for jobs that are no longer being offered to Americans. This is just a pork-barrel handout to universities. Bring back the jobs and then we will fill the colleges to train for them. Or better yet, tell the damn corporations to go back to training like they used to instead of demanding workers train themselves at their own expense. (I used to be a corporate trainer.)

Support Fair Trade Policies

Everybody says that. I’m waiting to see results.

Raise the Minimum Wage

Yea, yeah, but $6.50 is still a pittance when the CEOs are getting $40,000,000 a year and $400,000,000 golden parachutes. Just a tiny bandaid on a gaping wound.

Support Renewable Energy and Alternative Fuels

OK, this could be a WPA program that really accomplishes something.

Support Small Businesses

OK, but just supporting the SBA is a token, not an answer. We need a whole lot more.

So, all in all, her heart’s in the right place, but she needs to go a lot further. We need to cut down on illegal immigration by going after those who hire them. Just one day in jail for each illegal worker (and it would be the CEO, not the flunky hiring manager) and the problem would disappear.

And we need to get rid of guestworkers. The companies claim they are hiring them because they are the “best and the brightest” who supposedly have skills that are beyond us. If that is true them pay them at the 95% level instead of the 17% pay level.

And other countries have tariffs to discourage offshoring, and so should we.

These are not rocket science. The issue is whose side are you on, that of the top 0.1% or the 90%.

Claire’s growing on me…


I decided Claire might be better than just the “lesser evil” (despite her pathetic acceptance of the Republican framing on foreign policy) when I started reading her agriculture policy. I grew up in a small town with friends and relatives who were farmers, and learned some of the problems of trying to save a small farm in a world of factory farms and near-monopoly distributorships. I suspect few local progressives have spent more than a few minutes on a working farm, and very few understand how farm policy might impact their own lives. I will be clear: Food grown sustainably on a small farm sustains life, while food grown on a factory farm will (in my humble opinion) lead to malnutrition and degenerative diseases. So I want to see small farms thrive against their big money competitors. And they (and we) need politicians who will take the side of the small farmers over the plutocrats.

And Claire is ready to come out against factory farms:

Claire will fight to end taxpayer subsidies to CAFOs

Umm…ohhh, “Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operations”…(wish she had said that…)

And she is against NAIS:

Claire is opposed to NAIS at both the federal and state level and believes no public money should go towards funding the program.

Um, NAIS means animal identification tags, where even the smallest operations (even hobbyists) would have to spend much money for even a few chickens, but huge operations can get away with minimal expense, once again giving huge factory farms an unfair advantage over small farms, enforced by government decree.

And more…

Claire will fight for stricter enforcement of existing antitrust laws, reform captive supply contracts, including a ban on packer ownership of livestock and call for increased transparency and accountability in agriculture contracts. Claire also supports USDA finally instituting Country-of-Origin Labeling as called for under the 2002 Farm Bill.

And still more…

She supports strengthening agriculture co-ops, promoting more direct-to-marketing opportunities for farmers (such as farmers markets or school cafeteria programs) and expanding conservation programs.

This is good stuff. The Problem?

I see rather little to complain about in her agricultural policy. The only real problems I see here are stylistic. Claire needs to learn how to bring the Democratic political base on the Left together with the (growingly disaffected) Republican political base on the Right. Here is an excellent area to do it. All the aging Hippies on the Left who want to get back to the land, who want slow food rather than fast food, who are looking away from uncontrolled growth toward sustainability, are right there beside rightwing Fundamentalist Christians who are seeing the same problems and looking for the same solutions. This is an ideal area for Claire to bring the Left and Right together, to secure her base and to peel away the Republican base, and get them to combine against the Corporazis who control the Republican Party and much of the Democratic Party.

So why the hell didn’t she get someone to spend a couple more sentences to spell out all that alphabet-soup jargon so the folks in the suburbs and cities could understand what the issues are all abouit, instead of just speaking insider language to just the farmers?

So Claire gets a double where she could have hit a home run. But it sure beats striking out.

Claire’s next biggest mistake: The War


When Claire met with the Progressives about foreign policy, the Instead of War crowd showed up in force to hear her out. I’d say they were unimpressed. Afterwards, the buzz on their email list split evenly between those who thought her views on foreign policy in general and Iraq in specific were unacceptable, and those who thought she should be supported as “the lesser evil”. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Claire has been saying about the war, “If you find yourself in a hole, then stop digging.” Well, she forgot that if you find your opponent in a hole, you should not jump in there beside him. The Neo-Liberal (“neo” meaning NOT), DLC, machine Democrats have continued to buy into the Republican framing that Democratic policy has to be more hawkish than the Republicans in order to avoid being portrayed as weak on national security. And so we had Kerry (and Jean) (and for months Claire) giving us the old, tired notion that Democrats would do the same as Republicans on the war, but we would send even more of our kids over there to kill and to die, and somehow it would all work out all better if a Democrat did it than if a Republican did.

But reality intervened. This time it is not just poor Blacks being sent to die, but working class Republicans are seeing their own kids (who mistakenly thought the National Guard was still a safe alternative to fighting) come home dead or maimed, and for no good reason. And even the Republican base wants us out of there. And the DLC Dems, the Kerrys, and the Clintons–and Claire–are left looking like they got played for fools by the Republicans…again. And now Jim Baker, the Bush family retainer, is going to come up with new ideas (meaning he will plagiarize Murtha and claim Murtha’s plans as his own) and Bush & Co will climb out of that hole by stepping on the heads of Dems like Kerry and Claire, who will need to find their own way out of the pit. That’s what happens when Democrats accept Republican framing instead of making their own.

Claire’s first mistake was to fail to mend fences, first with the Holden crowd, and second with her Progressive activist base. Her second mistake was to pay too much attention to the “New Democrat”, Neo-Liberal crowd’s views on wars and foreign policy instead of listening to her constituents, both her own base, and the base on the other side.

A shame, since when I read her entire platform as a whole instead of just her inadequate foreign policy, she does seem like she has been listening…

Claire’s “biggest mistake”?


Quite a few Progressives started changing strategy this year. The strategy of working for the “lesser evil” (as Kerry seemed to become after he tried to run to the right of George Bush on Iraq) seemed to be a complete loser for the Left. No matter how many hours of time we gave, we could not overcome the truth that Harry Truman (whose Senate seat Claire McCaskill and Jim Talent are running for) had spoken so long ago, “Given a choice between a fake Republican and a real Republican the American people will choose the real Republican every time”. It’s time for us to stop pretending that the “lesser evil” strategy can even get the lesser evil elected (much less influence them afterwards), when the voters will always vote for someone — anyone — with strong convictions over anyone trying to “run to the middle”.

And so many of us in all those Progressive issue-oriented groups (but why promote issues when you have nobody on your side in power to listen to you?) decided to try a different strategy: In the voting booth we would vote for the lesser evil if they are the only one with a serious chance, but every day until then, go find a Greater Good and work on their campaign. And when we didn’t hear back from Claire, that’s what many of us did. Turns out there are lots of “greater good” candidates out there whose campaigns we can work on without the slightest hesitation.

After months of doing just that myself I was frankly surprised to hear that Claire was meeting with groups of Progressives to have a dialogue. I thought she had totally written us off. So I went to her breakfast meeting on Iraq and foreign policy. Before I went, I had another look at her website to see if she had ever put anything there on any issue other than stem cell. I was amazed to see she had position papers on a whole range of issues. So I read every single one. And I was frankly amazed to see that in quite a few areas Claire seems to “get it”, she seems to realize that she seriously needed to address the issues that people feel are coming to a crisis point and she needed to stop trying to run to that nonexistent middle. (More details on her issues papers in a future blog entry… )

The world has changed in the last few decades, and the old, worn-out category of Left vs Right with some vast middle in between
no longer applies
to reality (just as the idea of a vast middle class in this country is about to fade into oblivion too). And when politicians now try to “run to the middle” they are lying to themselves and to us. What they are really doing is simply running to the corporate cash and trying to say as little about any issues as possible in order to disguise the fact that they are about to sell out the voters on all sides to the highest corporate bidder.

So after looking at her website and reading her issue papers, I was surprised that Claire almost seemed to have listened to the question I had asked her months earlier, whether she could take up all those issues where she could get support from both Liberals and Conservatives, both concerned about the selling out of our country to the corporations by both Republicans and Democrats in power in Washington. (OK, so I’m being too full of myself to actually think I could have changed her direction, but maybe I gave her an extra nudge?… )

So I came to the meeting with more hope than I expected to have. Others came and saw little hope. They looked at her Kerry-cum-Bush-style position on Iraq and her unfair and unbalanced position on Israel and saw no changes, while I saw what she said about family farms versus the agricultural combines, small-business based alternative energy sources versus factory-farmed ones, saw my own concerns about guestworker programs and illegal immigration dealt with (attacking the sweatshop owners rather than the workers), and I saw much progress and the hope for even more progress in her views in the future.

To me she seems to be in transition from a lesser evil DLC Dem to a potentially greater good Progressive. Of course, her opposition is suggesting her conversion to pushing for the needs of the people rather than the greed of the corporations came only after she failed in her efforts to get all that corporate cash which instead went to Jim Talent…but I am willing to accept conversion experiences from whatever source — as long as they stick.

After the meeting broke up, I managed to catch up to Claire as she was walking to her car, and asked her my question,

Why did it take you so long to come speak to us? Back in April we could have filled up Central Reform Congregation with 600 long-term activists eager to hear you. You would not have gotten all of them, but it you had reached out to us you could have had hundreds of experienced people ready to spend the greater part of a year dialing the phones and pounding the pavements for you, and maybe bringing hundreds of their friends to help, while by waiting until now all you can get is a few more votes on election day. Why couldn’t you make time for us six or eight months ago?

And her reply was,

That was the biggest mistake our our campaign.

And she is right. She is running neck and neck and the other side has a way of mysteriously getting enough votes to win at the last moment. It is amazing that she can be this close with such a monetary disparity in contributions, especially the disparity in corporate contributions. But money itself does not win elections. It has to get translated into human labor, either paid or volunteer. With hundreds (perhaps even a couple thousand) more experienced volunteers, she could have put it away, like Jeff Smith did. All it would have taken is to have given us an evening or so of her time. And said to us some of the things she is finally saying in her position papers.

She then said,

If I don’t win, I’ve been told the big money people will write off Missouri as a hopeless cause and won’t send any more money here in the future.

She acted as if that were the biggest threat we could hear. But I didn’t hear it that way. When Claire took so long to speak to us, the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of activists found their way to other campaigns, and we now have a large number of Progressive candidates (many of them women) who are likely to win their races instead of simply being a hopeless noble cause. And they will have won without all that “Big Money”, without owing their success to “Big Business”, to the “Special Interests”. Some of them may themselves not be quite aware of it, but they will owe their success to “netroots”, the use of the Internet by activists to connect with each other and leverage their power for political change. Many of our candidates who will win on November 7 will have gotten help from those who started getting together through or by meeting on Yahoo Groups such as Change for Missouri or Progressive Dems of St. Louis or Instead of War. Whether the big money comes or whether it doesn’t, there will be more and more people realizing that people who give their time are worth more than people who merely give their money.

And in five, ten, twenty years, we will have a wave of experienced legislators ready to play in the big leagues. I hope Claire can be one of them, and I hope she realized in time the need to correct the DLC Dem mistake of ignoring the base and running to the big money.

Where’s Claire?


(This posting is months later than it should have been. I made a mistake by waiting so long. But I may not be the only to have made the mistake of waiting too long.)

It is early in the year. For several months, members of our various Progressive groups here in St. Louis have been going to Claire McCaskill’s campaign office wanting to volunteer to work on her campaign…but first needing to find out where she stands on Progressive issues, the War, jobs, healthcare, freedom from being spied on… And each time, we have been told that there are no answers about where she stands on any issue except stem cell.

Now several groups start getting together to plan a large gathering. We can fill up Central Reform Congregation’s large room with 500-600 long time political activists ready to work long hours pounding the pavement and dialing the phones for Claire, and bring more of our friends to help…if only she will meet with us and let us know that she will be there for us, that she is listening to us, that she feels our issues and concerns.

But no Claire…her schedulers tell us that she just can’t fit us in. How disconcerting that just a few weeks later, she can find time in her busy schedule to meet with a mere handful of Washington University Campus Democrats to ask for their support and help. Well, I’ve been going to Campus Democrats meetings for years since finding they had excellent leadership, and discovering that they managed to put on some of the best candidate debates of the 2004 3rd District congressional campaign. And so I managed to alert the League of Pissed Off Voters (here a sort of grad student version of Campus Dems), and we come out to finally give some Progressives a chance to see Claire in person.

I can see why Claire went there, Campus Dems is an easy crowd where most any Democrat will be given support and it is unlikely anyone will ask embarassing questions about the differences between Progressives and Neo-Liberals, of the differences between corporate DLC Dems and the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”. Well, since there are nearly as many LPOVs as undergrads, we get in a few decent questions and hear that Claire still wants to “keep the military option open”, wants civil unions but not gay marriage, sees single payer as good but not yet realistic…

And I manage to get in my question:

Claire, for years the Republicans have won elections by running to their base while the Dems have lost the Presidency, both Houses of Congress, most governorships and many state houses by running away from their base and to the middle. Now, because of Republican bungling, you have an unparalleled opportunity to both keep your own base and put wedges into the Republican base. In areas like the War, oursourcing jobs, medical care and Medicaid, the Patriot Act and internal spying, Community-Supported Agriculture helping both small farmers and suburban consumers, the FCC and media monolopies, and any number of other areas, both the Left and Right are finding areas of agreement, and are coming together to work against corporate interests and for small businesses and small farmers, and for those who have to work for a living.

Claire, you have had a reputation as a fighter, a bulldog, and you can win if you stop trying to say as little as possible on the issues, if you stop trying to run toward the vanishing middle. But to do it you have to have the courage to fight the hardest fight a politician needs to fight: Claire, can you fight against your consultants and handlers, and fight to start speaking out forthrightly on those issues where you can find support from both sides, even when your handlers tell you to be quiet?

And Claire responded:

Every day, I fight that fight every day.

But did she win that fight? I kept looking on her website every day to see if she started speaking out on any issue except stem cell..and didn’t see any change. Then I looked weekly, then monthly… Then, like many of my fellow Progressives, I looked for a candidate to help whose Progressive credentials were clear and unquestioned (and we are blessed with many of them this season). Many of us pretty much gave up on Claire, assuming she would never hear us, never reach out to us. We figured that like Kerry, like Jeanne Carnahan, and so many other Democrats, Claire must have decided to run again toward that vanishing middle.