Saturday, May 28, 2016

I wish I hadn’t read Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal

I wish I hadn’t read Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal (an indictment of the Democratic party for abandoning its working class base) when I was trying to reconcile myself to Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

When this race began, I assumed that Clinton would be the nominee and although there is much in her background (her vote for the Iraq war, her generally hawkish policy positions, her cozy relationship with Wall Street) that concerns me, I more or less convinced myself that she was the best we could do. And after all, she would be our first woman president—and that counted for a lot with me. I would have preferred Elizabeth Warren, but that is clearly not going to happen in 2016.

When Bernie Sanders first declared his candidacy, I thought he would be gone after New Hampshire. I sure hadn’t expected that he would run such a strong campaign and that so many young people would be ready for his message. For a brief period, I thought perhaps another world is possible. That didn’t last long. Hillary has all but clinched the nomination and now I once again am trying to make my peace with Hillary as the presumptive nominee. But my briefly held hope that Bernie could win has made it harder to reconcile myself to Hillary.

Frank’s book didn’t help. First, it reminded me of all I disliked about Bill Clinton: his crime bill that contributed to the tragedy of mass incarceration; his welfare reform bill, which has resulted in extreme poverty: his financial deregulation that contribute to the economic meltdown of 2008: and NAFTA which contributed to de-industrialization and loss of jobs. Granted, these were Bill Clinton’s policies, but Hillary is on record as supporting them. And yes she has moved away from her enthusiastic support for “free trade” and both Clintons have acknowledged that much in the 1994 crime bill was a “mistake.”

Of course, it wasn’t just the Clintons who supported the crime bill. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ must-read article in the Atlantic “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” demonstrates the extent to which the crime bill was supported by liberal Democrats, including some of my heroes such as Ann Richardson and Mario Cuomo. From Coates’ article:

In Texas, the Democratic governor, Ann Richards, had come to power in 1991 advocating rehabilitation, but she ended up following the national trend, curtailing the latitude of judges and the parole board in favor of fixed sentencing, which gave power to prosecutors. In 1993, Texas rejected a bid to infuse its schools with $750 million—but approved $1 billion to build more prisons. By the end of her term, Richards had presided over “one of the biggest public works projects in Texas history,” according to Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire. In New York, another liberal governor, Mario Cuomo, found himself facing an exploding prison population. After voters rejected funding for more prisons, Cuomo pulled the money from the Urban Development Corporation, an agency that was supposed to build public housing for the poor. It did—in prison. Under the avowedly liberal Cuomo, New York added more prison beds than under all his predecessors combined.

Given the Democratic Party’s complicity with mass incarceration, it’s probably not all that surprising that so many young people are ready for a Democratic Socialist—and that includes young people of color. According to the New York Times, a poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California showed Clinton and Sanders splitting the nonwhite vote in California. If Bernie Sanders manages to turn all this into a genuinely progressive movement within the Democratic party (my preference) or a progressive movement independent of the Democratic Party, a candidate with Sanders’ platform just might win 2020 or 2024.

To return to Listen Liberal: Frank’s analysis of the current state of the Democratic Party is compelling, but his conclusions are disappointing:

The Democrats have no interest in reforming themselves in a more egalitarian way. There is little the rest of us can do, given the current legal arrangements of this country, to build a vital third party movement or to revive organized labor, the one social movement that is committed by its nature to pushing back against the inequality trend.

Frank thinks all that can be done at this point is to expose the hypocrisy of the Democratic Party--the extent to which the policies supported by Democratic leaders have worked against the interests of the working people they supposedly represent. Frank probably wrote Listen Liberal before the Sanders’ insurgency and that might explain his tepid conclusion. But something is happening out there…

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Happy Retirement, Kathy!!

At this stage in life, one goes to a lot of retirement parties. The happiest are when the retiree has had a satisfying career, when her job was her passion and, most important, when she is really ready to let go and enter a new stage of life.

It helps to be relatively young and the retiree can look forward to time to pursue new interests or longstanding interests she never really had the time to explore.

It also helps to have a loving partner and a rich family and friendship network. My dear friend Kathy Black had all these ingredients in place and I was very happy I could share this moment with her and hear tributes from people in her life— some of whom I had never met and whose perspective on Kathy’s contributions was new to me.

As I survey the retirement landscape I’m familiar with, my advice is don’t wait too long. At this stage in life time is the most precious commodity!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Katha Pollitt on "Why Bernie Didn’t Get My Vote"

I almost always agree with Katha Pollitt; she’s the main reason I still subscribe to The Nation, but I part company with her in her recent Nation article, Why Bernie Didn’t Get My Vote. She argues:

The problem is less that Bernie focuses on class and economic inequality than that he doesn’t seem to understand that the economy, like society generally, is structured by gender and race.
Yes, Sanders could have done a better job explaining the impact of his proposals on women and people of color and demonstrating that he does indeed understand how the economy is “structured by gender and race.” But Sanders has made the critically important issue of economic inequality a front-burner issue.

When I taught Women’s Studies at Community College of Philadelphia, I always stressed the interconnections of race, class and gender, and always tried to bring an intersectional analysis to whatever issue my students and I were grappling with.

However, there is something to be said for the argument made by some veterans of the civil rights movement and the second wave feminist movement, that sometimes it’s critically important to focus on gender or on race. From Lillian Ciarrochi one of the veteran NOW members I interviewed for my book, Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as former Philadelphia NOW President Lillian Ciarrochi stated, “the focus was laser-like on gender.” Ciarrochi was making the argument made by many in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s: it was necessary to focus on civil rights for African-Americans and not get distracted by other issues. Ciarrochi now sees the feminist movement as at different stage: “Now I think the other issues are all intertwined. We’ve always known that but we had to focus [on sexism] in that way, in the early 1970s. If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten as much done. It’s the same with Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.”
Fortunately, NOW has moved on to prioritize the struggle for racial justice as well as for gender justice.

Would Sanders have been as successful getting Americans (whose leaders have generally shied away from issues of class) to take income inequality seriously if his stump speech had given equal time to issues of race/gender? Sander has been far more successful than most of us would ever have imagined in rehabilitating the term "socialism" and forcing Clinton to move left on economic justice.

I wish Sanders would pay more attention to the way (as Pollitt puts it) the economy is structured by race and class. However, I see Sanders as far more capable of incorporating a focus on race/gender into his economic analysis than I see Clinton as likely to advance policies that would seriously address income inequality.

But she is the presumptive nominee and now our task is to make sure she doesn’t pivot to the right in a foolhardy search for the votes of disenchanted Republicans.

Friday, May 6, 2016

My garden is an overgrown, disease-ridden mess!

I am looking forward to next week when this spell of gloomy, rainy weather should be over and I can finally get some control over my garden.

Thanks to the rain, weeds have reached gigantic proportions and the garden thugs—wisteria, bittersweet, and wild multiflora rose--are strangling my shrubs. I can take care of these problems when I can get out there and do some major cutting back.

However, I am at loss as to how to control the pachysandra mosaic virus. I went to Primex Garden Center and was advised to cut it back and, as pachysandra needs acid soil, to fertilize with hollytone.

The situatin just got worse. I went back to Primex and someone said that I needed a stronger acidifier than hollytone and recommended a bag of soil acidifier—-mainly sulfur. So far not much has changed. I continue cutting back, focusing on the most diseased plants.

There is some good news. It’s been a great year for tree peonies:

Each year there are always some plants which perform far better than expectations and those like my crabapple trees which for some unknown reason decide not to bloom. Gardening is full of surprises!