Appalling, yes, but that’s no reason for us progressives to feel disheartened, moaning the sad, old refrain, “Gloom, despair, and agony on me.” The fact is that even as Washington and the mass media have been caught up in the alternating swirls and doldrums of Trumpian furies, our grassroots forces are more energized than ever, and on the move. They’re focused not just on one blustering bully, but on exposing and defeating the plutocratic, autocratic, corporate system that’s been devouring our families and democratic ideals.
So, when yet another Trump stunt outrages you, just remember Voltaire, the 18th century French philosopher, who said he had made only one prayer in his life seeking Godly favor: “Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.”
We’ve certainly had that prayer answered for us.
In these sultry, dog days of August, the Lowdown presents a summer picnic of political snacks, meaty developments, both sweet and sour sides, and–of course–some mixed nuts.
A GLIMMER OF INTEGRITY
On July 4, Justin Amash, the GOP House member from Grand Rapids, Michigan, announced: “I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party.” Having actually read Robert Mueller’s report on Trump’s obstruction of justice, Amash called for an impeachment process to consider Trump’s conduct and dishonesty. “I don’t think you can just let that stuff go,” he said. “People need to stand up for what’s right, stand up for what they believe in.”
You might think that big-time sporting events are just games–establishment-funded spectacles to divert the masses from the real issues. But NOT this year’s Women’s World Cup. The World Cup victory by our US soccer team in France last month was a heart-pumping joy to behold, a genuine triumph not only of athletic prowess, but also a victory for women’s equality, social justice, gay rights, freedom of speech, team spirit–and democratic rebelliousness. Even though the president lashed out at team leader Megan Rapinoe with a petulant tweet, even while the team was battling for an American win, she and the team deflected his pettiness like the weak shot it was.
Not only did the squad of 23 skunk Trump on the international stage, but it also unified toward a bigger goal than an athletic championship: equality. The players had audaciously filed a federal lawsuit in March against their sport’s governing body, the US Soccer Federation, for its blatant gender discrimination in pay, medical treatment, and workplace conditions. (When it comes to the World Cup, the men’s 2018 prize money was $400 million, the 2019 women’s $30 million, and the men may get more for losing than the women for winning–even though the women’s team has a far better record and brings in comparable revenue.)
Thus, on July 7, when the US team scored its seventh victory in a row to win the world championship, the women were thrilled to hear the crowd let them know that they’d won a political victory as well. At game’s end, a small, insistent sound rose from one section of the stadium, quickly spreading around the field until it grew into a deafening roar. It was not the usual chant of “USA! USA!” Instead, the crowd, 50,000 strong, saluted the team for its stand on principle, booming again and again: “Equal Pay! Equal Pay.”
Building the team
Where did the phenomenally talented players of the US soccer team come from? From hometowns across the nation, of course, but, more fundamentally, they emerged directly from a momentous structural change in US public policy: Title IX, the 1972 education law mandating that federally funded schools and universities provide opportunities, facilities, coaching, and funding for girls and women to play organized sports. Right-wing politicos and the male US sports establishment fought it furiously at the time, but proponents fought just as tenaciously, pushing its implementation throughout the country. And–voila!–50 years later, here stand the world champion women as undeniable proof of the policy’s success … and as a testament to the importance of focusing progressive political efforts on bold structural changes to improve the system for all.
👉 DO SOMETHING: For sporting thrills closer to home–and to stand for equal pay for female athletes–check out women’s soccer games near you. (The National Women’s Soccer League plays through October.)
As Jesse Jackson has preached and practiced for years, “The agitator is the center post in the washing machine that gets the dirt out.”
He would like Diane Wilson, a third-generation shrimper on the Texas Gulf Coast who has been an environmental justice agitator for more than three decades. She has sued, filed endless complaints, organized, rallied crowds, gone on three hunger strikes, written about, testified against, and generally been in the face of a massive and repeat water polluter named Formosa Plastics, established by billionaire Y.C. Wang, who was the second richest man in Taiwan when he died in 2008.
In one stunning act of public protest against Formosa in 1994, Wilson even tried sinking her own shrimp boat in her home fishing waters of Lavaca Bay, which the conglomerate has been contaminating for years with plastic pellets discharged from its mammoth factory (ironically named the Point Comfort Plant), which produces polyethylene, low density polyethylene, polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Despite a quarter century of damage to wildlife and water quality violations, Formosa had been assessed only $122,000 in fines by industry-controlled state regulators and done nothing to change its poisoning-for-profit business model. Wilson says, “I had begun to accept that … you’re going to fight and scream and make things public, and you’re never going to get justice for it.” But perseverance matters.
Then in 2017, lawyers for Texas Rural Legal Aid sued Formosa in federal court on behalf of the feisty shrimper. They were armed with voluminous evidence collected by volunteers from a local environmental group documenting the corporation’s three decades of illegal discharges. This June, US District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled that the corporate behemoth was “a serial offender” of water protection laws, declaring its violations to be “enormous.” He chastised state regulators for being unwilling to bring the violator into compliance, and he’s now considering punishment severe enough to halt its arrogant disregard for the public interest: fines of as much as $162 million, the maximum penalty under the Clean Water Act. After Hoyt’s verdict, Wilson said, “This was the first time I ever felt justice.”
Of course, there are appeals and all sorts of legal squirming still to come from Formosa, but no longer will it be invulnerable to the rule of law, community rights … and the power of agitation. Indeed, Diane Wilson’s stand in Texas will benefit environmental justice forces in Louisiana that are presently battling Formosa’s attempt to build a similar, $9.4 billion plastics factory on the banks of the Mississippi River, forcing its pollution onto a low-income, mostly black community living there.
Mounting protest against this petrochemical plant shows again that agitation can extend outward from one place to shake up the whole world.
👉 DO SOMETHING: Stand with the folks in St. James Parish, Louisiana, battling to stop the proposed Formosa Plastics plant. That stretch of the lower Mississippi River is already known as “Death Alley” from years of chemical pollution. Learn how you can help at enddeathalley.org/stop-formosa.
You know things are seriously messed up when bad economic news is good political news. Consider, for one big example, the unrelenting spread and deepening of inequality among the American people. While establishment politicos, media outlets, and economists hail today’s longest-on-record economic expansion as “a boom,” they usually avoid the key question: A boom for whom?
Yes, household wealth has zoomed by 80% since 2009, but more than a third of the gain ($16 trillion) has been gobbled up by the richest 1% of us, while the bottom half of our households has been left to divide mere scraps–divvying up a grand total of 2% of the nation’s increased wealth. Astonishingly, as Bernie Sanders and others have pointed out, the three richest people in America–Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett–now hold more of our nation’s wealth (a combined total of $248 billion) than the combined wealth ($245 billion) of the 160 million people who make up the bottom half of our population.
This widening divide is not the result of any natural economic order, but of deliberate power plays by corporate chieftains and their political enablers. Remember 2017’s Christmastime trillion-dollar tax-cut giveaway by Trump & Co.? Workers’ wages, they promised, would soar, and corporate investments in job-creating factories, and products would surge! But, no surprise, an in-depth analysis in May by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service found (just as progressives had predicted) that none of that happened. Instead, those tax cuts were just another scam to shove more income and wealth into the coffers of corporate elites at the expense of workaday people and America’s overall economic health.
Do the economic riggers think that workaday people can’t see them? That we can’t see that the moneyed powers are grabbing the goldmine and giving us the shaft? Perhaps the plutocrats are banking on mass blind ignorance, fear mongering, and voter suppression to continue their politically protected thievery. But that’s why elections matter.
It’s not up to Trump to lose the 2020 elections (though he’s doing his part). It’s up to grassroots progressive forces to rally the American majority which is being shafted and to recruit and back candidates who offer the unifying vision, political integrity, and fundamental populist change that will inspire victory. The good news is that such campaigns are already underway at every level of politics–not only in some of the presidential runs, but also in crucially important state legislative and local races.
LET THERE BE LIGHT
Trump and his cabinet of Sleepy, Sleazy, Goofy, and Acting Secretary Daffy have been vehement, almost comic, climate-change deniers, not merely mocking reality, but frantically trying to suppress any science that confirms the galloping crisis. But the Trumpeteers’ dimness can’t hide the increasing weather extremes that people are now experiencing, so there’s a new political openness among former skeptics to discuss urgent climate action–even in the so-called Trump Country of rural America.
Matt Russell–a fifth-generation farmer in Lacona, Iowa, and director of the non-profit group Interfaith Power & Light–is convinced that the awareness and anxiety about climate change is far greater among farmers than conventional wisdom recognizes. Iowa State University researchers were told by Trump’s head-in-the-sand Ag Department in 2017 that they could not even include a climate change question in a survey of farmers. But in the many private conversations he’s had in the farm community, Russell has seen attitudes quietly shift. Although pressure for social conformity still represses political change, most farmers no longer deny the obvious: “They just know they can’t talk about it publicly,” he says.
So, as recently reported by Mother Jones magazine, Russell and his IPL group are reaching out to farmers with faith-based workshops, providing a “safe space” to start opening up about their fears. The immediate goal is to build a team of 100 farmers to carry the message to others, not only to speak out about the problem, but also to teach how sustainable agriculture can be a major climate solution.
It seems to be working. As one influential farmer and prominent Republican activist conceded, “We thought we were doing really good until we started getting four inches of rain in an hour.” Another recent GOP recruit (who’s even a member of Trump’s ag advisory committee) says the rising political openness is liberating: “I’m just glad that we at least have to talk about it now.”
👉 DO SOMETHING: Interfaith Power & Light mobilizes people of faith to take action on climate change. Find out more at interfaithpowerandlight.org.
‘Round and ’round goes Washington’s revolving door, spinning out corruption, cynicism … and now … John Boehner. During his time as GOP speaker of the House, he was an intransigent, almost vicious, opponent of any move to loosen the all-out federal ban on marijuana. “I am unalterably opposed [to legalization],” he once barked. But now, just four years after leaving Congress, Boehner has morphed into Mr. Mellow, becoming a vocal proponent of total legalization of demon weed. Did he see the light? Or did he light up? What moved him so far, so quickly?
Cash, of course. Boehner was a notorious corporate whore in Congress, and he’s been a high-dollar corporate lobbyist since leaving. Last year, he was given a seat on the board and 625,000 shares in marijuana investment giant, Acreage Holdings, in exchange for becoming its corporate shill and chief lobbying strategist. His assignment: Get Congress to legalize cannabis. If that happens, Acreage Holdings will go from giant to behemoth–and Boehner’s personal take is calculated to be as high as $20 million.
In Washington’s corporate lobbying game, it’s not the ethical principle that counts, but the financial principal.
CIVIL RIGHTS ICONS
MLK, Cesar Chavez … and Ted Cruz. Say what?
Yes, it’s true–the messianic Texas senator sees himself as a martyr for the cause of liberty. But rather than standing bravely like King and Chavez for human rights, Ted is a courageous champion of unfettered campaign spending. He’s now suing the Federal Elections Commission with a convoluted claim that he is owed a $10,000 reimbursement for a loan he made to his own re-election campaign–even though he’s already reached the legal limit for using money from campaign donors to repay personal loans.
Cruz’s legal squad howled that this limit (a federal law) violates the liberty of candidates to exercise their free-speech rights. Incredibly, his lawyers actually claimed that Cruz was standing on the “principle” that money has an inviolable Constitutional right to “speak” in our elections. FEC lawyers pointed out that the senator could have avoided this silly confrontation simply by using another of his political funds to repay himself, but in a crass play to wrap Ted’s sleaziness in a cloak of civil-rights heroism, Cruz’s lawyers piously countered: “Yes, and Rosa Parks could have sat at the back of the bus.”
👉 DO SOMETHING: Unlimited spending on political campaigns by wealthy people and corporations corrupts our politics and laws—so help call out the corruption! Every Thursday, the folks at Represent Us organize grassroots calling/texting events, intelligently targeted based on the needs of the anti-corruption movement. All are welcome. Find out more at represent.us.