The Nation

LA's Two May Day Marches

On May Day, hundreds of thousands of people demanding rights for undocumented immigrants marched down Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, the epicenter of this burgeoning national movement. The sky was clear and blue and the breeze was mercifully cool as it took more than two hours for all the marchers to make their way down the office-tower canyon of Wilshire Blvd. to the rally site, packing the six-lane street from curb to curb and making lots of cheerful noise. It was a hrilling afternoon; in many ways the most overwhelming demonstration I've ever seen.

The marchers, estimated by the police at 400,000 people, were almost all Mexican-American and mostly young. The advance guard consisted of a brigade of adolescent boys on short bicycles doing wheelies while they shouted the march slogan, "Si se puede!" ("Yes we can!"). Then came the seemingly endless throngs of kids, families, and groups, many carrying handmade signs: "We may be immigrants/But we are hard workers"; "You might hate us/But you need us"; "This land is your and/This land is my land"; a guy in a Dodger cap held a sign that said "Let our people stay!", and another young guy's sign said, "DeportArnold/Not my homies."

The key organizing groups carried huge banners: "Hotel Workers Rising", UNITE-HERE, plus the Garment Workers Center, the Instituto de Educacion Popular, the Day Laborer Project, Pacific Islanders for Immigrants' Rights, Columbianos por una Reforma Migratoria Justa, the Organization of Hot Dog Vendors in Solidarity, and the LA Taxi Workers Alliance, who rode in three yellow cabs. People for the American Way had a big banner and six people behind it, three of them talking on cell phones.

This was one of two competing immigration May Day protests held in Los Angeles, with different organizers and different politics. The monumental Wilshire Boulevard march had been called by labor unions, immigrant rights groups, the pro-immigrant Cardinal Roger Mahony, and the new Latino mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, as an alternative to another march held at noon downtown, the "Boycott" march, which called on immigrant Angelinos to boycott school and work to show what would happen to LA on a "day without immigrants" -- although more of the signs called it "Un Dia Sin Latinos," or the admirably bilingual "Primo de Mayo, A Day without a Mexican."  The "boycott" march, which demanded "nothing less than full amnesty" and "full rights for all immigrants," had virtually no institutional support, except for small left-wing groups like ANSWER-LA.

The unions, the immigrant rights organizations, the cardinal and the mayor opposed the boycott out of a concern that it would alienate mainstream voters and members of Congress. As an alternative they organized an after-school, after work, afternoon march, with much less radical demands than "full amnesty." This "We Are America" colaition instead calls for "legalizxation with a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants," plus "an effective visa program for future immigrants that protects their rights and includes a path to citizenship"--basically the McCain-Kennedy bill.

The all-important Spanish language radio DJs, who proved to be the secret force behind the massive March 25 demosntration that stunned Anglo LA with its size and intensity, are not supporting the boycotts.  Instead they joined the mayor and the cardinal in calling on kids to stay in school today and come to the afternoon march.

But the hundreds of thousands marching in LA today probably didn't care much about the different politics of the two marches, as Marc Cooper has argued.  And when the mayor and the cardinal tell kids not to boycott school for the day, many will find it hard to resist defying authority, especially for this cause.

The downtown march four hours earlier had an estimated 250,000 people.  As that march stepped off at noon, the side streets were full of vendors grilling sausages, peppers and onions. These marchers were also cheerful, peaceful, and mostly young--many very young, alongside their parents. The signs showed that marchers know about the key legislation, a lot more than the great majority of Anglos. "Alto a la HR 4437" was a popular sign, and many young women wore tank tops that said "Contra 4437" - referring to the bill passed recently by the House, officially "HR 4437," that would make undocumented aliens into felons.

When hundreds of thousands take to the streets on a day like today, weare witnessing the birth of a movement for social justice of historic proportions. What I remember best is a somber ten-year old girl who marched by with her Mexican-American family, carrying a sign that read "We Are Not Criminals." That summed it up for me.

The Pain Game

Apparently when Republicans were urging Americans to get tough on crime they were doing it to protect us from themselves. Just last week, Karl Rove went back to testify to the grand jury for the fifth time; we learned that the FBI is investigating the possible bribing by two defense contractor of Rep. Duke Cunningham and other unnamed lawmakers with free prostitutes, and then there was my old nemesis, Rush Limbaugh.

Like most bullies, Limbaugh, who still finds it funny to refer to Hurricane Katrina as Hurricane Katrina vanden Heuvel, is better at dishing out the pain than taking it. He was arrested on Friday and charged with prescription drug fraud, a felony, for buying 2,000 painkillers prescribed by four different doctors in a six-month period.

But oh what a difference an arrest makes.

In the past, Rush argued that drug users "ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up." Instead of going to jail, however, Limbaugh accepted a deal that requires him to pay a $30,000 fine and serve eighteen months of supervised probation to make certain he continues his treatment for drug addiction.

Some have expressed sympathy for Limbaugh, but before anyone writes a check to his defense fund think about the distraught person who draws the short straw and is stuck supervising the blowhard for 18 months. Talk about a job no American wants.

Walk-outs, Rallies and Other Strategies

In the hours before the kick-off the Day Without Immigrants activities,it feels like today's protests are going to be once again of historicproportions.

Here in Los Angeles, the probable epicenter among the 60 or cities inwhich events are planned, officials are expecting crowds that couldsurpass the half-millon who rocked the city on March 25. Several majorthoroughfares are scheduled to be shut down. Numerous employers arealso shuttering for the day.

As the case in other venues, there are mixed views here about whatstrategy should best be pursued. The local Catholic cardinal, theMayor, organized labor and the most prominent among immigrant advocategroups are supporting an after-work rally and march (a position thatoverlaps with mine). A coalition of smaller groups are advocating awalkout from jobs and schools and a noontime rally. Beneath thesurface of that disagreement is a mostly un-reported struggle forleadership over the mushrooming movement.

Most likely, however, these differences will be over-ridden by sheer,massive numbers. The media is not very likely to make much of adistinction between the two camps (nor will most of the participants).That's OK. And rather inevitable, given what I also think will be abreathtaking turnout both here and Los Angeles and nationwide.

This next wave of demonstrations--a movement way and I mean way beyondthe control of any single force--comes as new polls show continuingevolution of public opinion in favor of comprehensive immigrationreform. That shift raises the stakes of the May Day demos. My fingersare crossed that they will go off as peacefully and as effectively asthe big demos of the past weeks. Some wild cards are students who arelikely to ignore the calls of the Cardinal and of Mayor AntonioVillaraigosa to not blow off school. As a former young person myself, Ican readily attest to youthful impetuousness!

There's also a fringe of "revolutionary" sects who traditionallycelebrate May Day by trying to wrestle with the LAPD. These groupletshave attached themselves to today's events--but let's hope they don'twreck it for others (as masterful they are in the fine art ofwrecking).

There's no question in my mind that we are in the midst of an historic,new social movement. It's taken decades to build and reach criticalmass and it is still going to take years to mature and fully pay off.So far, the cool-headed long-term strategists have dominated. My wishis they continue in the leadership of the movement.

The political establishment is still, for the most part, clueless.Entrenched hypocrisy has so long been the official policy that fewpolitical leaders are fully prepared to deal with this emgergingreality. And not just the establishment, I might add. Much of theliberal and progressive left is having difficulty getting their armsaround all this. The ignorance and confusion, for example, surroundingthe notion of a guest worker program is simply stunning. A whole loadof lefties are stuck believing that this is a proposal for a newbracero program. Their ideological stiffness has blocked them fromdoing any real research on the matter and learning, it should bestressed, that liberals from Ted Kennendy to Raul Grijalva have beentoiling away to make these program proposals smart, comprehensive andguarantors of labor rights (Oh well, I'm not gonna go on about this. Ifyou haven't read enough of this elsewhere to understand what'shappening, I'm not about to convince you with one blog past). I willnote in passing that at this weekend's past state Democratic Partyconvention the issue of immigration never came up! During his numerousconvention appearances, the words immigration and immigrant didn'tcross the lips of Phil Angelides, the state treasurer and gubernatorialcandidate officially endorsed by the Party (his rival, Steve Westly,however, forthrightly endorsed legalization of the undocumented alreadyhere).

In short, if there are no severe disruptions or provocations, today'scoast-to-coast demonstrations should be more compelling, undeniableevidence of the integral role that "illegal aliens" play in our veryvibrant economy and societal fabric. With some luck they will help moveforward some concrete, achievable, practical and sensible measures thatwill help legalize those whom we allow to work for us but whom werefuse to recognize or acknowledge.

P.S. The always wonderful-to-read Gustavo Arellano weighs in with thismini-profile of self-proclaimed boycott leader Nativo Lopez. Required reading.

Crisis of the Republic Time

If you had any doubt that this is a time of constitutional crisis, read the important, frightening (and under-covered) story in Sunday's Boston Globe. It documents an accumulating pattern of Presidential abuse, overreach and lawlessness.

Using the insidious pretense of "unitary executive" power, this president has renounced two centuries of prior constitutional understanding of how US democracy and government work. He has violated the fundamental rights of his own citizens and brutalized the "checks and balances" at the heart of our Constitutional design.

Here's one way to "nationalize" the 2006 election: Demand that all candidates defend the constitution. If that's a difficult or radical proposal, we might as well return to the monarchical system we overthrew some time ago.

(I have little doubt that quite a few Republican representatives (and, shamefully, a few Democrats) might well prefer that system--judging from how they've capitulated to King George's shredding of the Bill of Rights and Constitution.)

Defending our country means defending our form of government, as well as our physical safety, and that means defending the constitution from the vicious attacks emanating from this White House.

Bracing for the Immigrant Boycott

Los Angeles is expected to be the epicenter of toay's nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" protests and rallies. Local officials have said they are bracing for a turnout perhaps larger than the mega-rally of March 25, which brought a half-million pro-immigrant demonstrators into downtown Los Angeles.

Similar demos and rallies are planned Monday for some sixty cities. And in many of them--as in Los Angeles--there's an active internal debate over which tactics should predominate. Organized labor, the Catholic church and some of the leading immigrant advocate groups in LA have argued to ignore and eschew calls for an economic boycott and a school walk-out, claiming they might be politically alienating at a time when public opinion is shifting in favor of immigrants. These groups have organized their own after-work rally to compete with the pro-boycott events scheduled for midday and organized by smaller groups.

The internal movement debate, however, seems likely to be blurred and overridden by sheer numbers. The call for a May 1 action seems to have struck a nerve and, according to various reports, there are many employers (including major meatpacking and poultry companies) who will be voluntarily closing their doors for the day.

Any way you cut it, we seem to be amid a rapidly building and historic social movement whose scope and contours seem impossible to anticipate. Keep tuned here from an on-the-scene report from colleague Jon Wiener.

"Galbraith for President"

Had it not been for the accident of his birth in Iona Station, Ontario, John Kenneth Galbraith, the greatest public intellectual of the second half of the American century, would surely have been considered presidential timber. As it was, the man whose Canadian birth barred him from seeking the nation's highest office had to settle for shaping every presidency since that of Franklin Roosevelt – either as a trusted counselor to the occupant of the Oval Office, a wise critic or, as was frequently the case, both.

One of the last veterans of the Roosevelt's epic first term – during which he worked with the Agricultural Adjustment Administration – he would go on to advise FDR's National Defense Advisory Committee and then to serve as an administrator of the Office of Price Administration, where the man who was as quick with a quip as he was with economic charts and tables noted that he ''reached the point that all price fixers reach -- my enemies outnumbered my friends."

It will be his epigrams, his one-liners and his sharp asides that many of his friends will miss most about Ken Galbraith, who has died at age 97. The genius of the economics professor so long associated with Harvard and with most of the good – or at least tolerable – presidencies of the 20th century, was that he was never so impressed by his immense knowledge or his powerful positions that he could not find a humorous, and sometimes cutting, phrase with which to note the obvious.

When he was one of President Kennedy's most trusted aides – and, ultimately, the ambassador to India – Galbraith was dispatched to Vietnam to survey the country to which Kennedy was being advised by others to dispatch military forces. Galbraith, who tried harder than just about anyone else to avert the turn toward quagmire, sent back a memo in which he reflected on the difficulty of distinguishing "friendly jungle" from "Vietcong jungle" and asked, "[Who] is the man in your administration who decides what countries are strategic? I would like to...ask him what is so important about this real estate in the Space Age."


As Galbraith biographer Richard Parker noted in his essential review of his subject's attempt to prevent Cold War hawks from convincing Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson from expanding U.S. military involvement in southeast Asia, it was in the fall of 1961 that, "Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith, then Ambassador to India, got wind of their plan--and rushed to block their efforts. He was not an expert on Vietnam, but India chaired the International Control Commission, which had been set up following French withdrawal from Indochina to oversee a shaky peace accord meant to stabilize the region, and so from State Department cables he knew about the Taylor mission--and thus had a clear sense of what was at stake. For Galbraith, a trusted adviser with unique back-channel access to the President, a potential US war in Vietnam represented more than a disastrous misadventure in foreign policy--it risked derailing the New Frontier's domestic plans for Keynesian-led full employment, and for massive new spending on education, the environment and what would become the War on Poverty. Worse, he feared, it might ultimately tear not only the Democratic Party but the nation apart--and usher in a new conservative era in American politics."

(Parker's recent biography, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics [Farrar, Straus & Giroux], is necessary reading, as are Galbraith's own books, particularly 1958's The Affluent Society, with its Keyneseian indictment of "private wealth and public squalor" in American life, and 1992's brilliant The Culture of Contentment, which offers what is still the best explanation of the contemporary crisis in its observation that, "The long years of high budget deficits when they were not needed made it seemingly impossible to initiate stimulating public expenditures when they were now needed. The celebrated tax reductions for the upper-income brackets and the accompanying economics in welfare distribution had substituted the discretionary spending of the rich for the wholely reliable spending of the poor.")

The wittiest and wisest of "the best and brightest," Galbraith broke early and publicly with President Johnson over what had become the Vietnam War and helped the influential liberal group he had co-founded decades earlier, Americans for Democratic Action, move toward an opposition stance that confirmed that even Cold War liberals recognized the madness of engaging in a long-term ground war in southeast Asia.

Galbraith would serve as a distinguished father figure for the anti-war movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, lending his towering presence to student protests and the campaigns of insurgent Democratic presidential candidates Eugene McCarthy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. Over the ensuing years, he would remain a steady critic of the imperial endeavors that would rob the U.S. treasury of the resources that could have built the great society.

Several years ago in a valedictory essay that drew together the vital themes of his long career as both an economist and as the Cassandra who warned of the overwhelming costs of misguided foreign policy , Galbraith observed, "We cherish theprogress in civilisation since biblical times and long before. But there isa needed and, indeed, accepted qualification. The US and Britain are in thebitter aftermath of a war in Iraq. We are accepting programmed death for theyoung and random slaughter for men and women of all ages. So it was in thefirst and second world wars, and is still so in Iraq. Civilised life, as itis called, is a great white tower celebrating human achievements, but at thetop there is permanently a large black cloud. Human progress dominated byunimaginable cruelty and death. Civilisation has made great strides over thecenturies in science, healthcare, the arts and most, if not all, economicwell-being. But it has also given a privileged position to the developmentof weapons and the threat and reality of war. Mass slaughter has become theultimate civilised achievement.

"The facts of war are inescapable - death andrandom cruelty, suspension of civilised values, a disordered aftermath," Galbraith continued. "Thusthe human condition and prospect as now supremely evident. The economic andsocial problems here described can, with thought and action, be addressed.So they have already been. War remains the decisive human failure."

The clarity of his vision led several generations of insurgent political strategiststo imagine a "Galbraith for President" candidacy, only to be jarred back toreality by the fact that, while Galbraith had been a U.S. citizensince the 1930s, the Constitutional bar on foreign-born candidatesdisqualified the most attractive contender from consideration. Few political realities frustrated Allard K . Lowenstein, the boldest advocate for a 1968 Democratic primary challenge to Johnson than the fact that Galbraith, his friend and frequent ally, could not be the candidate. George McGovern, who made no secret of his esteem for Galbraith, would have been delighted to make the former Roosevelt aide and Kennedy ambassador his vice presidential running mate in 1972 – a selection that surely could not have hurt, and might well have helped, the Democratic cause of that year. And how amusing it would have been in 1984 if the mentally agile 76-year-old Galbraith had been the Democratic nominee against his doddering 73-year-old contemporary, Ronald Reagan. As it was, he would be boomed by liberals now and again over the decades as a potential candidate for the Senate from his adopted home state of Massachusetts. But it was never to be, perhaps because Galbraith's healthy ego told him that he was best suited for the top job.

Galbraith professed to be amused by the "Galbraith for President" talk, as he was by Canadian suggestions that he might want to come back and serve as that country's prime minister. But he did, with tongue planted only slightly in cheek, imply an interest in presidential politics that was more than merely academic. When the 200th anniversary of the Constitution was celebrated in 1987, American Heritage magazine asked prominent Americans to suggest how they would amend the founding document. Galbraith's reply: "My answer is obvious: That clause that excludes Canadians and others of foreign birth from the Presidency and, possibly, from the Vice-Presidency as well. My whole life was altered, as also, quite clearly, was the history of the Republic. Henry Kissinger, I cannot doubt, vociferously agrees."

A quite serious law professor Jonathan Turley would suggest some years later that Galbraith provided the classic argument for elimination the Constitutional restriction that "denied the nation some of our best and brightest."

When Austrian-born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California in 2003, there was a flurry of talk about amending the Constitution in order to allow Americans who had been born beyond the nation's borders to be seek the presidency. It seemed at the time that the best argument for the measure was the fact that Galbraith, at 94, was still physically fit, intellectually exceptional and as committed as ever to the liberal ideals that had powered the most successful Democratic presidencies – a combination that made him far more qualified not only than the current occupant of the Oval Office but than most of the Democrats who aspired to it.

With Galbraith's passing, we are left with one less counter to his observation that, "Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable."Thankfully, we are left, as well, with John Kenneth Galbraith's wisest piece of political advice; his suggestion that: "In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong."

When Democrats nominate a presidential candidate who is as capable as Galbraith was of articulating that sentiment, the liberalism that our late economist so loved will indeed be resurgent.

John Kenneth Galbraith, 1908-2006

John Kenneth Galbraith died at the age of 97, shortly after 9:00 on Saturday night.

America has lost a great and iconoclastic economist, thinker, writer and political figure.

As William Greider wrote in The Nation last year, the striking quality about "Ken" Galbraith--the man and his work--" is how forcefully the books he wrote across nearly fifty years speak to our present circumstances."

Read Galbraith "to recognize the many important matters--society's condition, for instance--excluded from the brittle, math-obsessed economics that poses as hard science. Study Galbraith's critical voice in the serious public policy debates of his time to appreciate what is missing from today's politics and media. Listen to Galbraith address such taboo subjects as corporate power to understand what honest economists and politicians should be confronting now."

Galbraith, who never shied away from the (relentlessly demonized)term liberal, was also a man of wonderful and droll wit whose fluid prose and pithy notes delighted and inspired.

As Richard Parker's fine biography, John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics reminds us, Galbraith never lost his critical-minded, unconventional and truly liberal-minded temperament--a quality that ensures so many of his books (a staggering forty-eight) remain remarkably relevant to the present.

As we wrestle with his loss to our society and politics, let's celebrate how this great man (and at 6 foot seven he did seem great in so many ways) never ceased to act on behalf of the common good, common sense and powerless people.

Sweet Victory: Arkansas Gets a Raise, Who's Next?

Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen.

The evidence is mounting: there is perhaps no issue that transcends ideology like increasing the minimum wage. 86 percent of America supports boosting the federal minimum wage, deeply frustrated that the rate hasn't budged since 1997. Even in the so-called red states, the minimum wage movement is gaining serious traction.

On April 10th, in Arknasas, Republican Governor Mike Huckabee signed a massive $1.10 state minimum wage increase into law. Arkansas was desperately in need of a wage hike; it currently ranks at the bottom of the nation in median income. But the bill, which takes effect on October 1, will dramatically improve conditions for 127,000 Arkansans, whose wages had long languished at the pathetic federal standard of $5.15 per hour. And contrary to right-wing nonsense, the law won't just help teenagers working at burger joints; approximately 80% of those affected are over 20 years old.

Spearheading the bill was Give Arkansas a Raise Now (GARN)--a coalition including religious groups, community organizations, and state and local chapters of AFSCME, ACORN, AFL-CIO, and the NAACP. But the public was overwhelmingly supportive as well; in a state that went for Bush by 9 percentage points over Kerry, 87 percent favored a minimum wage increase.

"The victory in Arkansas, like the recent win in Michigan, demonstrates both the popularity of the minimum wage issue and the power of grassroots organizing," said Jen Kern of ACORN. "People understand this is a simple issue of fairness - a job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it - and elected officials are being forced to respond."

Arkansas is just the beginning. Ballot drives have kicked off in five other states that voted Bush in 2004--Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Ohio, and Arizona. And Albuquerque--which comprises 25% of New Mexico's population--http://today.reuters.com/investing/financeArticle.aspx?type=bondsNews&st... ">just passed a bill that would increase the city's minimum to $6.75 by next year and $7.50 by 2009. Albuquerque is only the fourth city in the US to do so.

"As grassroots momentum builds in the face of Congressional inaction, no state - no matter how "red" - is off the list," said Kern.

Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker, contributes to The Nation's new blog, The Notion, and co-writes Sweet Victories with Katrina vanden Heuvel.

March for Peace, Justice and Democracy

If you took part in Saturday's antiwar protests, click here to download a free poster/flyer, created for the occasion by the Public Works Project. It's distinguished, in large part, by the fact that it possesses actual artistic merit--at least in my humble opinion. Print the flyer, post it, pass it out, or email it around.

And if you couldn't be at any of the marches in person, here are a few ideas for some e-activism online.

Click here to tell your elected reps to oppose funding this illegal, unnecessary and, increasingly, unpopular war.

Add your name to a global antiwar petition demanding a cessation of the Iraq occupation and a pledge to combat preemptive US military actions in the future.

Throw your support to the National Campaign for a Peace Fund Tax.

You might also spread the word about the PWP, a fledging project with vast potential. Aiming to inject a healthy dose of art and political consciousness into the landscape of the American city, the Public Works Project--a project of The Nation Institute--is hoping to revive the concept of conscripting art to influence the citizenry on timely issues of the day. Check out its past projects and click here to help make more of them happen.