Levees Not War
“The mission here is not accomplished.”

Labor Day Is for the Workers (the 99%)

09/1/14

Labor-day-1-AT-8-27“Labor Creates All Wealth”

“Our labor movement has no system to crush. It has nothing to overturn. It purposes to build up, to develop, to rejuvenate humanity.

“It stands for the right. It is the greatest protestant against wrong. It is the defender of the weak.

“Its members make the sacrifices and bear the brunt of battle to obtain more equitable and humane conditions in the everyday lives of all the people.”

Samuel Gompers, president, American Federation of Labor, “The Significance of Labor Day,” in The New York Times, Sept. 4, 1910

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We are delighted to see that, yes, there actually are still parades on Labor Day. New York City’s will be Saturday, Sept. 6. New Orleans, on the other hand, is in the throes of Southern Decadence—not quite the same, but, still, a celebration.

A special day to celebrate the worker was first proposed in 1882, and was made a national holiday by Congress in 1894. The first Monday of September was chosen as an appropriate midway point between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving; it would include elements of each holiday: patriotism and gratitude.

The first labor day celebration was proposed by Peter J. McGuire, a leading official of the American Federation of Labor and founder of the carpenters’ union, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. (Credit for the idea has also been given to another Maguire, one Matthew Maguire of the Knights of Labor.) In any case, a celebration of labor, including a picnic and speeches and a big parade, was organized for September 5, 1882. It was a great success, with some 10,000 workers parading on Broadway past City Hall and Union Square, carrying signs reading “Labor Creates All Wealth” and “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for Recreation.” (The eight-hour workday was not yet legally protected—and in too many cases it still isn’t.)

1st Labor Day parade NYC 1882

Oregon declared the first statewide holiday for Labor Day in 1887, followed by Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York. Thirty-two states had established the holiday by the time President Grover Cleveland signed a bill on June 28, 1894, making Labor Day a national holiday. Cleveland, a Democrat but no friend of labor, had just called out thousands of federal troops to suppress the turbulent Pullman railcar workers’ strike (1894) near Chicago that had paralyzed the nation’s rail system. [See “Behind the Pullman Strike” in Further Reading below.] Cleveland’s signature, however, did not placate labor, and he was not nominated for reelection in 1896 (the Democratic candidate would be William Jennings Bryan).

How Labor Unions Strengthened America

With all their faults, trade unions have done more for humanity than any other organization of men that ever existed. They have done more for decency, for honesty, for education, for the betterment of the race, for the developing of character in men, than any other association of men. —Clarence Darrow

In the national bestseller Who Stole the American Dream? (2013), Pulitzer Prize winner Hedrick Smith explains what labor unions did for the nation’s middle class before a systematic dismantling of the New Deal and Great Society safety net shredded Middle America:

. . . the anchor of middle class-power during the long postwar period and its most consistent and effective advocate was the American labor movement. Union power played a central role in creating the world’s largest middle class by pushing Corporate America to share the economic gains from rising industrial productivity and efficiency with average Americans. Shared labor-management power delivered shared prosperity.

Organized labor’s impact extended far beyond bread-and-butter gains for its own members. The trade union movement fought for and won the eight-hour day, the five-day week, child labor laws, and labor safety laws. Not only did unions bargain with America’s biggest corporations for a better middle-class standard of living, but the AFL-CIO, the labor federation, vigorously supported consumer activists, environmentalists, and the drive to strengthen regulatory agencies. It backed political candidates—mostly Democrats, but some moderate and liberal Republicans, too—who voted in Congress for a more level economic playing field. What’s more, by establishing a social contract and economic benchmarks that many non-union employers felt compelled to match, labor’s tough bargaining with big business gained higher pay levels and better benefits for non-union workers as well as union members.

WPAWith strong governmental support during the New Deal period, labor had become a force to be reckoned with during the era of middle-class prosperity. Trade union strength had tripled in size, reaching 35 percent of the private sector workforce by the mid-1950s. By the late 1970s, unionization of public as well as private sector employees had tapered off to 27 percent of the total workforce. But that was still an army of twenty-one million, by far the largest organized body of middle-class Americans. Every big industry—autos, steel, construction, food, trucking, textiles, garment making—had big, muscular unions pressing for a better standard of living for average Americans. (p. 38)

Legislative limitations and rollbacks of union power, beginning with the Taft-Hartley Act (1947) and the Landrum-Griffin Act (1959), shifted into higher gear during the Carter administration (1977–81)—more by Congress than by Jimmy Carter—and into overdrive under Ronald Reagan (1981–89), and continue in the Obama years through the blunt-instrument tactics of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and other Republican governors. Still, in 2011 the median yearly earnings of union members were $47,684, and of non-union members, $37,284.

“In the past 20 years,” reports Mother Jones, “the US economy has grown nearly 60 percent. This huge increase in productivity is partly due to automation, the internet, and other improvements in efficiency. But it’s also the result of Americans working harder—often without a big boost to their bottom lines. Oh, and meanwhile, corporate profits are up 20 percent. . . . Productivity has surged, but income and wages have stagnated for most Americans. If the median household income had kept pace with the economy since 1970, it would now be nearly $92,000, not $50,000.” (“Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil,” Mother Jones, July/August 2011.)

“$15 and a Union”

On a more positive note, a movement to raise the minimum wage, stymied by a paralyzed U.S. Congress, has sparked a push for wage hikes in cities and states around the nation. Seattle recently approved a $15 per hour minimum wage, and San Francisco and Chicago are considering a similar raise.

The CEOs of McDonald’s and Yum Brands, which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, and KFC, each earn more than $10 million a year—more than twice as much in a day as many of their employees earn in a year. 

FASTFOOD-master675Fast-food workers, who are often paid from about $7.35 to $8 or $9 per hour—work part-time, irregular hours, often with no benefits—have been campaigning in recent years for a $15 per hour minimum wage. One worker, a single mother in Charleston who earns $7.35 an hour after ten years as a McDonald’s cashier, told a New York Times reporter, “If we win $15, that would change my life. I get paid so little money that it’s hard to make ends meet, and I’ve had to move back in with my mother.” Mother Jones notes that one year’s earnings at the minimum wage amounts to only $15,080, while the income required for a single worker to have real economic security would be $30,000 per year.

In November 2012 in New York, 200 workers went on a one-day strike at 60 fast-food restaurants, and in May this year, restaurant workers walked off the job in 150 cities around the U.S. The movement’s motto has become “$15 and a union.” In July, 1,200 fast-food employees, with backing from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), gathered near Chicago for a two-day convention about raising low-wage workers’ pay and fighting income inequality. One of the speakers, the Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, told the audience:

“You have to stay in the $15 fight until it is a reality. When you raise people’s wages and it raises the standard of living and you increase purchasing power, you actually not only do the right thing morally, but you do the right thing economically, and the whole country is blessed.”

The New York Times explains that SEIU has been trying to unionize the fast food workers, and has “brought several cases before the National Labor Relations Board, asking its general counsel to declare McDonald’s a joint employer of the restaurants run by its franchisees. If the labor board agrees, that would open the door for the S.E.I.U. to try to unionize not just three or five McDonald’s at a time, but dozens and perhaps hundreds.”

In this midterm congressional election year we want to see Democrats standing with the low-wage workers. And, even more, we want to see them standing with the workers after the election.

“A wise and frugal government, which shall leave men free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned—this is the sum of good government.” —Thomas Jefferson

“Splendid as has been the progress in organization and federation within the recent past, yet there is much to do to convince the yet unorganized workers that their duty to themselves, their wives and children, their fellow-workers, their fellow-men is to organize and help in the great cause. We must win or regain the confidence of the indifferent, negligent, or ignorant non-unionists, to impress on his mind that he who will not stand with his brother for the right is equally responsible with the wrongdoer for any wrong done.” Samuel Gompers, “The Significance of Labor Day”

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Further Reading about Labor Day and the American Worker

History of Labor Day  (U.S. Department of Labor)

The Origins and Traditions of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

The Meaning of Labor Day  (What So Proudly We Hail)

Behind the Pullman Strike of 1894: The True Story of How One Man Shut Down American Commerce to Avoid Paying His Workers a Fair Wage  (Think Progress)

“Living Wage” Effort Eclipsed By Minimum-Pay Battles  (NPR)

Overworked America: 12 Charts That Will Make Your Blood Boil  (Mother Jones, July/August 2011)

The Truth About the 40-Hour Workweek: It’s Actually 47 Hours Long  (Think Progress)

Jefferson R. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class  (2010)

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (2001)

Steven Greenhouse, The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker  (2009)

Simon Head, The New Ruthless Economy: Work and Power in the Digital Age  (2005)

George Packer, The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America  (2013)

David K. Shipler, The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004)

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class (LNW, 10/6/11)

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OccupyChicago

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First Labor Day 1882 image from U.S. Department of Labor website; worker with Raise Up for $15 button by Nathan Weber for The New York Times. Bottom flag / 99% image from Occupy Chicago, 2011. • Thanks to Stephen in NYC for suggesting the quotations by Clarence Darrow and Thomas Jefferson.

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Remember August 29, 2005

08/29/14

aug28katrinaIf you don’t live in or around New Orleans you may have forgotten, but August 29 is the day Hurricane Katrina assaulted the Gulf Coast with Category 3 winds (up to 175 mph) and storm surge, killing 1,833 and costing some $108 billion in damages, the costliest tropical storm in U.S. history. It was not until the following day that we began to realize that although the eye of the storm had curved eastward and the city was spared the worst—“we dodged a bullet”—the city was flooding! In addition to coastal St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and other parishes, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded when Katrina’s massive storm surge burst through the city’s outflow canals to Lake Pontchartrain, the Mississippi River–Gulf Outlet (MR-GO), the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal, etc.—53 different levee breaches in all. (The surge was about 10 to 20 feet around New Orleans, and nearly 28 feet at nearby Pass Christian, Miss., exceeding the previous record set by Camille in 1969 by some 4 feet.)

The most dramatic and infamous of the flooded areas was the already poor Lower Ninth Ward. An animated graphic produced by The Times-Picayune shows the sequence of events, still horrifying to watch. It was a catastrophic failure of the mostly federally built storm protection system, and in the years since the scorned and humiliated the Army Corps of Engineers has worked overtime to rebuild and reinforce the area’s defenses against flooding. (The Corps’ funding and directives come—or don’t come—from Congress; this blog does not hold the Corps alone responsible for the failures.) For more about the flooding, and recommendations on reinforcement of the area’s flood defense system, see our interviews with Mark Schleifstein and Ivor Van Heerden.

See The Times-Picayune’s dramatic then-and-now photo essay and editorial “Nine Years Post Katrina: A Recovery Still in Progress.”

New Orleans: Proud to Rebuild Home

Much of the city has been rebuilt, and in some ways life in New Orleans is better than ever (see Magazine Street, for example). Other parts of town are still damaged, depressed. There are neighborhoods that will never be the same. Many people had to leave and will never return—they left to avoid the storm and could not have imagined they would not be able to return, or would not want to—but those who remain are bravely, determinedly rebuilding, and there are also thousands and thousands of new residents, many of them young, talented, imaginative and energetic. There is a relatively new and improved mayor, Mitch Landrieu, and the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010 the same weekend Landrieu was elected—a good warmup for Mardi Gras a week later. And then, lest anyone get too optimistic, a few months later, on Earth Day (April 22) 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform exploded nearby in the Gulf of Mexico and became the most destructive marine oil spill in history, devastating the state’s coastline, seafood industry, wiping out livelihoods beyond measure. The lawsuits go on . . .

8-29Much has improved since the storm, and much remains the same, or worse. The United States remains embroiled in Middle East wars, some of our own making (or making worse). The nation continues to spend far more on its military than on its crumbling infrastructure, and the Pentagon receives hundreds of billions per year that could instead go to a national healthcare system that covers everyone, to an improved educational system in which teachers are compensated as though their work is valuable, and so on. Scroll through this blog’s posts (samples below) and you’ll see that the issues are plenty, and the work goes on. Congress remains dysfunctional or, worse, actively hostile amid widespread unemployment, persistent and seemingly deliberate shredding of the middle class and its safety net (rolling back the New Deal and the Great Society), and ever-increasing corporate profits and tax evasion, and diminishing taxation of the super-wealthy. The earth’s environment is under increasing stress from carbon emissions (again, one party in Congress stubbornly denies that global warming / climate change even exist, or that humanity is responsible), so the warming and rising seas threaten not only coastal Louisiana but the entire globe, as New York and New Jersey learned from Superstorm Sandy in October 2012.

Well, on the bright side, there is plenty of work to be done: we shall not lack for causes to advocate for, write about, and urge elected officials and community and business leaders to assist with. Readers’ ideas are always welcome. E-mail us at leveesnotwar@mac.com.

As we have said many times, National Security Begins at Home. And, as we wrote on our About Us page years ago:

If New Orleans is not safe, no place in this country is safe. . . . Where will the federal government be when you’re down and out? Earthquakes, wildfires, tornadoes, collapsing bridges, hijacked planes . . . If the federal government neglects one city’s disaster, it can neglect them all. Without funding, without investment, things fall apart. The collapse of the physical infrastructure and the hospitals and schools and the justice system after the storm—what’s happening to New Orleans is happening to the entire country—except perhaps in luxury high-rises and gated communities. The Lower Ninth Ward is the national predicament carried to an extreme.

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In the next few days we’ll be posting about the upcoming annual Rising Tide conference to be held in New Orleans Saturday, Sept. 13. We’ll also be writing soon about a massive People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, Sept. 21. We’ll be at one but not the other—but both are important and we hope you can be there, too.

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Further Reading: Check Out These Important ‘Back Issues’

Levees Not War, a New York–based, New Orleans–dedicated blog, primarily covers the environment, infrastructure, and war and peace. Below are some selections that will appear in The Levees Not War Reader, forthcoming in 2015 from Mid-City Books. 

Hurricane Katrina / Environment

Is Katrina More Significant than September 11?  (9/11/10)

Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands  (7/25/13)

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)

When Harry Met a Cover-Up: Harry Shearer Talks About The Big Uneasy  (10/14/10)

Interview with Mark Schleifstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms

Interview with Ivor van Heerden, author of The Storm: What Went Wrong and Why During Hurricane Katrina

Interview with Christopher Cooper and Robert Block, authors of Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security

IEA Sees “Irreversible Climate Change in Five Years”  (1/21/12)

Wrath of God? : Global Warming and Extreme Weather  (5/24/11)

Infrastructure

Framing the Case for Infrastructure Investment, Taxing the Rich (2/7/12)

Infrastructure, Baby, Infrastructure! A Defense of Stimulus Investments  (4/9/10)

Republicans Secretly (Seriously) Like the Stimulus  (8/20/11)

Public Works in a Time of Job-Killing Scrooges  (3/3/11)

Barack, You’re Totally Our Infrastructure Hero! Obama, in Wisconsin, Calls for $60 Billion National Infrastructure Investment Bank  (2/14/08)

War and Peace

A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq  (8/10/14)

Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad  (6/17/14)

Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote “Hell No”  (9/4/13)

Here We Go Again [Syria]  (6/14/13)

As “End” of Iraq War Is Announced, U.S. Digs In, Warns Iran  (10/30/11)

As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?  (8/19/10)

“Kill the Bill” vs. “Stop the War”: A Tale of Two Protests  (4/11/10)

Deeper into Afghanistan: 360 Degrees of Damnation  (12/10/09)

Tax Day: How Much Have You Paid for the War?  (4/15/10)

Politics and Social Issues

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities  (10/17/13)

Marching on Washington [1963] for Economic and Social Justice  (8/29/13)

In Honor of Medgar Evers and Res Publica  (6/12/13)

Occupying Wall Street with Nurses, Teachers, Transit Workers, and the Rest of America’s Middle Class  (10/6/11)

“Arguing about How to Defuse a Huge Ticking Bomb”: Burn-it-Down Nihilism Spreads Among Tea-Infused House Republicans  (7/20/11)

Tyranny Disguised as Fiscal Discipline  (3/13/11)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America  (8/23/10)

Nagasaki, Not Forgotten [65th anniversary]  (8/9/10)

Are “Conservatives” Conservative? Are They Even American? (10/6/09)

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“8-29-2005 Remember” design courtesy of Mark Folse.

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Questions for Coastal Conservation Conversation Panel: Tonight, Aug. 20

08/20/14

RosieRiveterExperts to Discuss How to Pay for Massive Coastal Restoration Effort

We are raising our hands because we have a few questions for the distinguished panelists at the Coastal Conservation Conversation tonight, Aug. 20, at Loyola University in New Orleans (6:00–8:00 Central Standard Time, 7:00 Eastern). Click here for a campus map. Parking is available in the neighborhood and in the West Road parking garage.

The conversation will be live-streamed.

Click here to watch the talk.

Bob Marshall at The Lens reports that this morning, “the Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy released a report estimating that the state’s $50 billion Master Plan for the Coast will end up costing more than $100 billion over its 50-year time frame. It arrives at that figure by adjusting for inflation over 50 years and adding the $6.2 billion cost of the Urban Water Plan for New Orleans, which proposes innovative water management techniques within the city.”

The panelists discussing how the plan can be paid for will be Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network  •  Courtney Taylor, Environmental Defense Fund. The moderator will be John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.  

Marshall adds, “The Tulane institute says the doubling in projected cost shouldn’t deter coastal restoration, noting that it cost nearly $100 billion to rebuild the Gulf Coast after hurricanes Katrina and Rita. ‘Knowing what is at stake and coming to terms with the true costs of saving coastal Louisiana are prerequisites for a robust civic conversation about how best to finance it.’ ”

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Questions for the Panelists:

Ms. Anne Mueller, Development Director of The Lens, was kind enough to offer to forward questions to the panelists, so we came up with the following, in descending order of importance (though we think they’re all important). If you have questions, you can write to Anne at <amueller@TheLensNola.org> or via The Lens’s staff contact page.

The first thing we would say to the panelists is “Thank You for coming and sharing your expertise. We owe you, and we’re listening. And please come again!” 

(1)  In a time when federal funding is not likely from a U.S. Congress in which fiscal conservative / Tea Party representatives seem not to want to allocate any further funding for any purpose, but only to cut back, how can we approach members of Congress—what persuasive arguments can we make that this environmental issue is critical and needs federal assistance? (“National Security Begins at Home.”) Private contributions alone will not suffice.

(2)  Even if Louisiana were to be offered federal funding to help with coastal restoration (please!), what’s to stop Gov. Jindal from once again making a political show of refusing to accept federal monies? He has done this time and again, to the state’s detriment (and we’ve seen his actions against the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority–East lawsuit).

(3)  re: private sources of funding: How can environmental leaders / organizers (such as the panelists and their colleagues) and rank-and-file activists appeal to CEOs and other business executives (esp. of oil and gas / energy companies) to please help contribute funding to coastal restoration? Can they help pay for advertising / public service announcements, for example? We “little people” are already doing about all we can think to do. What does it take to get them to help more? (Our friend Mark Davis will say we need to show them what we’re doing, that it’s important to us, etc. True, but what else?)

(4)  How can the good people of Louisiana, who are not known for environmental activism, get our friends, neighbors, fellow citizens to care and speak up about Louisiana’s coastal predicament? (Public service announcements on TV and radio by Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, for example, might help, right?)

(5)  For The Lens and organizers: Were representatives from the staffs of Gov. Jindal and senators Landrieu and Vitter and Congressman Scalise invited to this event? If not, why not? All possible high elected officials should be invited, or at least notified—Mayor Landrieu’s office, too. (We admit, this question only occurred to us this morning.)

Again, we are grateful to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition for organizing this important event, and we thank the following sponsors: The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana.

See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Further Reading

800px-Mississippi_Delta_IRSee our previous post about the Coastal Conservation Conversation below.

Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis: To learn more about Louisiana’s environmental predicament, which has repercussions for the entire United States, see “Understanding Louisiana’s Environmental Crisis” on our Environment & Ecology page.

Other LNW posts about Louisiana’s coastal crisis: 

Honoré Speaks for La. Flood Protection Authority Lawsuit Against Big Oil (9/12/13)

Louisiana Flood Protection Agency Sues Big Oil to Repair Wetlands (7/25/13)

Conservatives, Please Help Conserve Louisiana’s Coast (10/3/11)

When Harry Met a Cover-Up: Shearer Talks about “The Big Uneasy” (10/14/10)

Martha Serpas: Our Life, Between Sea and Oil (7/11/10) : reprint of a New York Times op-ed

BP Oilpocalypse Threatens New Orleans’s Very Existence (5/14/10)

BP Celebrates Earth Day with Bonfire, Oil Spill: Well Leaks 210,000 Gallons a Day into Gulf of Mexico (4/26/10)

Coastal Conservation Corps: A New CCC for Coastal Restoration—and Jobs (11/18/09)

And more! Click here.

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An unforgettable scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) showed former Attorney General John Ashcroft singing “Let the Eagle Soar.” We say “Let the Pelican Soar . . . and soar some more.”

pelican (big bird)

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Join Louisiana’s Most Important Conversation: Aug. 20 at Loyola University

08/13/14

A Coastal Conservation Conversation

CCCThe Lens, with sponsorship from the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, is hosting a panel discussion—a Coastal Conservation Conversation—on the financing of the $50 billion master plan for coastal restoration at Loyola University, Wednesday, Aug. 20 from 6 to 8 p.m., in room 114 Miller Hall. (The title of the event is admittedly not dyslexic-friendly; just think CCC.)

The experts on the panel will be:

Mark Davis, Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy  •  John Driscoll, Corporate Planning Resources  •  Kyle Graham, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority  •  Douglas J. Meffert, Audubon Louisiana/National Audubon Society  •  Steve Murchie, Gulf Restoration Network

The discussion will be moderated by John Snell of WVUE/Fox 8.

(Click here for a campus map, and here for the event’s Facebook page.)

What Is Coastal Restoration and Why Is It Needed?

microbewiki.Wetlands_lossEvery year Louisiana loses 25 square miles of land—50 acres every day. About 1,900 square miles have disappeared in the past century—more than 25 times the land area of Washington, D.C.—and the erosion is accelerating. Katrina tore away four years’ worth of land loss—about 100 square miles—in only a few hours. The land loss is not only killing species of wildlife, but is taking away the buffer that protects human settlements such as the city of New Orleans and Acadiana—Cajun country—from hurricanes and the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. Valuable oil and gas and shipping infrastructure are also endangered, exposed to violent storms. Experts say if a serious, all-hands-on-deck, fully-funded federal effort is not mounted within the next five to ten years, New Orleans and Acadiana will be lost.

Wetlands protect human settlements from hurricane storm surges, which can rise as high as 25 feet. Every 2.5 to 4 miles of wetlands reduce hurricane storm surges by about a foot; measured another way, each mile of marsh reduces storm surges by 3 to 9 inches. Metro New Orleans, home to about 1.5 million, is now protected by a buffer no more than about 20 miles of wetlands.

Coastal restoration—replacing the eroded soil and wetlands—can be done in many ways, as the panel will explain, but among the methods being attempted are diversions of sediment-rich water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers. Diversions at strategic openings, such as the ones at Caernarvon and Davis Pond, allow river water to spread across the wetlands and replenish the soil. Other methods are vegetation plantings (as shown in the photo below, left), hydrologic restoration, marsh creation, shoreline protection, sediment trapping, and stabilization of barrier islands. All are being implemented, but only to a small, insufficient degree.

What Will They Be Talking About?

We spoke with Mark Davis of Tulane’s Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy to ask about the focus of the Coastal Conservation Conversation. Davis, former director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, says there are many good, workable plans that have been drawn up over the years; the critical need now is to identify how exactly the implementation will be funded. “For one thing, the $50 billion figure you’ve heard about does not include everything that will be needed. We need to identify what funds we have currently available to draw from, and then where we can get the additional funding. The funding cannot be left to chance,” Davis emphasized. “Considering that nobody wants to pay higher taxes—not individuals and not businesses—where will the money come from? Bonds won’t do the trick.”

noaaprotects_volunteersDavis stressed that the often-heard assertion that “they owe it to us”—meaning Big Oil owes Louisiana the money to repair damages from oil exploration—doesn’t get us very far. If that is true, how are you going to get that money? How are you going to convince the companies to help pay for restoration? We all need to have some “skin in the game,” he said, to make elected officials and CEOs take our claims seriously. Environmental groups and activists must be able to demonstrate what we are doing, what we ourselves are willing to pay and to do, with time and roll-up-your-sleeves efforts. This could involve talking to neighbors, organizing town hall meet-ups, generating public will and action to press on elected officials and businesses, and volunteering for plantings and other restoration efforts.

For a simple example, Davis said, we’re willing to spend a few dollars more for bottled water to make sure we have clean, safe drinking water. Expand it out from there: what else are we willing to pay for to ensure that the state will have restored wetlands that preserve wildlife and hunting and fishing areas and keep a buffer between us and the hurricane storm surge?

“We shouldn’t delude ourselves about what we’re facing,” Davis said. “There is an area between fatalism and acceptance of doom. We have not yet become victims of inevitable change. We have tools here that we can work with.”

“Louisiana has to realize that other parts of the United States are discovering they need assistance, local and federal, for storm protection and rebuilding—Florida especially and now, after Hurricane Sandy (2012), New York and New Jersey, too. We have to have a practical financial plan. This is what the Coastal Conversation is about.”

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In addition to The Lens and the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, the Coastal Conservation Conversation is being sponsored by the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, the National Wildlife Federation, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, and the Audubon Society Louisiana. See the event’s Facebook page here.

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Honoreleadership-207x300“We have a hard task, but through the power of connectivity, we can succeed. In a democracy, you can turn the situation around. . . . We’ve got to figure out how we’re going to use our voice to influence our legislators. . . . This is our time. This is a great cause. How are you going to get your nieces and nephews and neighbors involved? The way we’re going in the state of Louisiana, this place will not be fit to live in.”

Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, keynote address on leadership and environmental justice, Rising Tide conference, New Orleans, Sept. 14, 2013

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louisiana-coast

LaCoast.ca1950

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Land-loss maps from MicrobeWiki; planting photo by NOAA; photo of oil/gas pipeline canals cutting through Louisiana wetlands, 2010, from Getty Images via Bloomberg; bottom map of Louisiana by U.S. Geological Survey circa 1950.

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Must We? For Now, But for How Long?

08/10/14

A Reluctant, Tentative Endorsement of (More) U.S. Military Action in Iraq

“As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq. . . . American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq. The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.”President Obama, Aug. 7, 2014

ISIS areasOn Aug. 7 President Obama announced on live TV that he had authorized U.S. military strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and humanitarian airlifts of food and water to some 5,000 to 12,000 Yazidis, an ethnic and religious minority, who have fled into the hills of Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq to avoid being slaughtered by ISIS. On Aug. 9 he made a follow-up statement to prepare the public for what will be an extended operation. (President’s remarks here.)

Using Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets, the U.S. has launched airstrikes against ISIS forces around Erbil, a Kurdish city in northern Iraq where U.S. advisers are stationed. (The Kurds, long persecuted by Saddam Hussein, have been friendly to the U.S. since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)

The American objectives at this time are primarily humanitarian and strategic: to prevent more deaths among the starving and dehydrated Yazidis, and to halt the already unnerving incursion of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as ISIL, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) into northern Iraq. ISIS is a militant Sunni group  founded in 2006 with ties to Al Qaeda—in fact they called themselves Al Qaeda in Iraq—but Al Qaeda has disowned ISIS as too extreme. (Indeed, it is difficult to say whether “Iraq” as we have known it still exists, as ISIS has declared a “caliphate,” an Islamic state, that includes both Syria and Iraq; they have effectively erased the border between the two nations.) ISIS’s blitzkrieg through northern Iraq in early June alarmed the Pentagon and White House enough that Obama ordered some 300 armed forces personnel to Baghdad to protect the U.S. embassy, then about 500 more personnel later. (See “Obama Sends Troops to Protect U.S. Embassy in Baghdad” 6/17/14.)

Sometimes It’s Not Easy Saying No

Yazidi children in IraqWe want very much to oppose this new use of U.S. military force in Iraq, but it’s complicated, and it’s hard to say Absolutely No. For one thing, we trust the judgment of this president who is so reluctant to send U.S. forces into action—in Iraq of all places, from which he worked hard to extricate our too-long-entrenched troops. This is partly a humanitarian mission—we agree with humanitarian missions in principle—and also, whether we like it or not, the United States is obligated to help clean up a mess that Obama’s neocon predecessors started by the mad, obsessive rush to war against Iraq in 2003.

“Complicated” doesn’t begin to describe the current predicament, but if the U.S. can help ease Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, out of office and help coordinate Iraqis’ organizing in a more representative government in Iraq, one that comprises Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish representatives, then the fury of ISIS may abate somewhat. For now, however, Maliki refuses to relinquish or even to consider sharing power. To a great extent, Maliki is the problem, but he’s not the only problem.

We feel strongly that the U.S. must not get involved (any more than we are already secretly, covertly involved) in the Syrian civil war. ISIS’s commanders apparently are based in Syria. We think President Obama was right to pull back from firing on Syria last year around Labor Day when he gave signals that the U.S. was about to fire on Syria for having used chemical weapons against their people. (See “Congress, Now Is the Time to Vote ‘Hell No’ ” 9/4/13) Obama had unwisely said that such would be a “red line” that Bashar al Assad could not be allowed to cross. Just because the president misspoke, however, did not obligate him to go ahead and make further mistakes by escalating a highly complicated conflict. America’s involvement would just blow the whole thing up, and we think Obama was right to step back, however embarrassing it was for the administration, and even though it added more ammunition to the conservative hawks like John McCain and Lindsey Graham who criticize Obama’s foreign policy no matter what he does.

We Kind of Owe It to Them, After All

The United States has been involved in Iraq since at least the mid twentieth century, well before Saddam Hussein. In 1960 the CIA was making plans to incapacitate the communist-inclined dictator Abd al-Karim Qasim, who in 1958 had deposed the Iraqi monarchy that had been friendly to the West. (Oil, remember.) See “Plan to Oust Qasim” in Wikipedia’s entry here. (The CIA and the U.K. had engineered a coup in Iran in 1953 to overthrow democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh; why stop there?)

As with Iran next door, U.S. relations with Iraq have long been complicated and murky, to say the least, but our nation has interfered with Iraq’s internal affairs in order to have access to oil—the primary reason for the 2003 invasion, after all—and it seems to us only fair that the United States try to help restore some order in a nation where we have wrought untold damage. Now, whatever is done will naturally be tilted primarily in what is perceived as the United States’s best interests, but if it must be done, we would sooner trust a Democratic administration to handle the cleanup than the other party; we saw how well Republicans handled matters when George W. Bush was in office.

We kind of owe it to the Iraqis to give some protection and assistance in cleaning up a mess largely of our making, but for how long, and at what cost? We don’t pretend to know, and we remain profoundly uneasy about the whole affair.

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ISIS’s Real “Shock and Awe”

Addendum: At Talking Points Memo, a reader who has worked as a U.S. military intelligence and counter-terrorism specialist in Iraq since the late 1980s writes in to explain who ISIS (or ISIL) are and why they have been so successful in sweeping bloodily through Iraq. He also makes clear why the Kurdish Peshmerga, who have a reputation as fierce fighters (and were allies of the U.S. against Saddam Hussein and Islamic insurgents), need help against ISIS:

As for ISIS, they are just a resurgent and re-named al-Qaeda in Iraq. They have the same combat capability they have always had. They fight with suicide bombers, AK-47s and RPG-7 rocket launchers, single vehicle long range battlefield rocket launchers and are mobile in what we call TTFs – Toyota Task Forces. They use extremely simple Taliban inspired “complex attack’ tactics. First they collect intelligence, covertly move into position, launch a wave of suicide bombers to breach gates and soften the objective up, then they bombard with battlefield rockets and launch a multiprong “Allahu Akhbar” infantry attack supported by heavy machineguns on Toyotas. . . . 

Why is ISIL so successful? Simply put they attack using simple combined arms but they hold two force multipliers – suicide bombers and a psychological force multiplier called TSV – Terror Shock Value. TSV is the projected belief (or reality) that the terror force that you are opposing will do anything to defeat you and once defeated will do the same to your family, friends and countrymen. . . . 

Keep reading at Talking Points Memo . . .

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House Democrats Demand to Know Why GOP Govs Rejected Medicaid Expansion

07/31/14

elijah-cummings.TimSloan-GettyImagesShow Us Why You’re Keeping Your People Poor and Sick

“In order to better understand the basis for your opposition, I request that you provide . . . copies of any state-specific analyses, studies, or reports that you ordered, requested or relied on to inform your decision.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, letter to GOP governors, July 29, 2014

In a rare and delightful display of Democratic vitality and imagination, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md., above), has sent requests to six Republican governors to provide documentation to justify their decisions to reject—or to accept—federal funding that does, or would, enable expansion of Medicaid coverage under  the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”). Three governors spurned the money, and three  accepted.

Talking Points Memo reports that Cummings sent letters to governors Rick Perry of Texas, Rick Scott of Florida, and Pat McCrory of North Carolina, each of whom turned down millions in available federal money that would have helped thousands of low-income people in their states have access to health care (individuals with incomes up to $14,856, and families of four with incomes up to $30,657; see graphic below). The three Republican governors who have accepted federal funding for Medicaid expansion are Jan Brewer of Arizona, John Kasich of Ohio, and Chris Christie of New Jersey.

A press release on the House Oversight Committee’s website explains, “Under the Affordable Care Act, Congress pays 100% of costs to expand Medicaid for the first three years, declining gradually to 90% by 2020, with states paying only 10% of these costs. Democratic governors have consistently supported expanding Medicaid, but Republican governors have disagreed among themselves, with widely differing explanations.”  

The press release adds:

At a national level, if the 24 states that have not yet expanded Medicaid were to do so today, they would provide healthcare services to an additional 5.69 million people in 2016, receive an additional $423 billion in federal funds for their state budgets through 2022, and help create an additional 734,000 jobs through 2017.  

Let’s Ask Bobby Jindal

JindalYesterday Levees Not War phoned Cummings’s office (202-225-4741) to request that the congressman also demand answers from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, who frequently boasts of turning down federal funding with the air of teetotaler virtuously abstaining from alcohol. In 2009, Jindal spurned nearly $100 million that would have aided some 25,000 unemployed Louisianians through the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or “stimulus” bill of early 2009.

That was just the start of Jindal’s rejecting of funds that would help Louisiana. When he attacked Obama in October 2012 for not waiving a federal 25% local matching requirement for emergency disaster assistance after Hurricane Isaac, Senator Mary Landrieu (D–La.) had had enough:

“The governor can’t have it both ways. He cannot complain about the federal government being stingy when he turned away $80 million in broadband for rural communities, $300 million in high-speed rail for urban areas and $60 million in early childhood education for all Louisiana’s children.”

Readers who want to ask Jindal’s office directly can call 225-342-7015 or (toll-free) 866-366-1121; fax 225-342-7099, or e-mail him here.

Remember “Country First” in the presidential campaign of 2008? It turns out that, for the party that used it, it was only a campaign slogan. We knew that at the time—we just didn’t anticipate to what extremes the cynicism would stretch.

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See also:

Jindal: From Rising Star to Black Hole (LNW, 2/25/09)

Mr. Jindal, Tear Down This Ambition (LNW, 2/20/09)

Republicans Against Medicare: A Long, Mean History (LNW, 10/15/12)

Think Progress: Bobby Jindal’s Obamacare Replacement Could Kick Millions Off Their Insurance Plans

More about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) at Levees Not War

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Check out The Commonwealth Fund to learn more about how the Affordable Care Act is working.

The Commonwealth Fund: Implementing the Affordable Care Act: State Action on Quality Improvement in State-Based Marketplaces

Affordable Care Act Uninsured

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Photo credits: Elijah Cummings by Tim Sloan/Getty Images; Bobby Jindal by Tim Mueller for The New York Times. Graphic by The Commonwealth Fund.

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Louisiana Anthology Interviews Levees Not War

07/7/14

Louisiana AnthologyUsually when Levees Not War is involved in an interview, we do the interrogating. But now, we’re happy to report, the tables have been turned: Levees Not War is the subject of an in-depth interview with the editors of the Louisiana Anthology, Bruce R. Magee and Stephen Payne, professors at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. The Levees Not War Q&A is the second of a two-part interview with blogger and author Mark LaFlaur, focusing on Elysian Fields, a novel of New Orleans, that was posted on June 28 and July 5. Click here for the iTunes podcasts.

Bruce and Stephen have kindly posted two pieces from Levees Not War on the Louisiana Anthology website, “Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11?” and “Disaster Capitalism Will Solve U.S. Budget Deficit? Ask New Orleans and Wisconsin” (original links here and here).

At about 39:30 minutes in, the interview includes a 5-minute shout-out to the Rising Tide conference on the future of New Orleans held annually in mid-September at Xavier University (Sept. 13, 2014)—affordably priced and always interesting—with mentions of prominent keynote speakers such as Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, Harry Shearer, John Barry, and David Simon. Click here for more information about Rising Tide 2014.

The interview was conducted by phone in late April. Since the Q&A with Bruce and Stephen, Elysian Fields’s presence in bookstores, especially in the South, has expanded significantly. The book is now available at the stores listed below: support your local independent bookstores. We hope you’ll spread the word among your book-readin’ friends, and we welcome your suggestions of indie booksellers near you who you think might want to carry Elysian Fields.

EF_Kirkus

Bookstores Carrying Elysian Fields

[ see complete, up-to-date list here ]

New Orleans: Crescent City Books, Garden District Book ShopMaple Street Book ShopForever New Orleans, and Toulouse Royale

Baton Rouge: Cottonwood Books, Barnes & Noble at LSU

New York City: Three Lives & Co., McNally-Jackson Books

Atlanta: Eagle Eye Book Shop (Decatur)

Birmingham: The Little Professor Book Center in Homewood

Mobile: Bienville Books

Jackson, Miss.: Lemuria Bookstore

Oxford, Miss.Square Books

Bay St. Louis, Miss.: Bay Books

Memphis: The Booksellers at Laurelwood

Nashville: Parnassus Books

thanxamazonChapel Hill, N.C.: Bull’s Head Bookshop (UNC)

Durham, N.C.: The Regulator Bookshop

Austin: BookPeople

Houston: Blue Willow Bookshop

Little Rock, Ark.: WordsWorth Books & Co.

Berkeley, Calif.: University Press Books

San Francisco: City Lights Books

Portland, Ore.: Powell’s City of Books

Seattle: Elliott Bay Book Company

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Wishing America a Happier Birthday

07/4/14

democracy_a-challenge@TP. . . And Many Happy Returns

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, —That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

—from ¶ 2 of The Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, July 4, 1776

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Bloggers on politics and current affairs tend to welcome the Fourth of July not only for the fireworks and cookouts like everyone else, but also because America’s Birthday provides an occasion for a kind of midsummer Thanksgiving. It’s also a time when we cannot help but feel the contrast between the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and our nation’s present-day actualities. Of course the nation is inevitably found wanting—as any nation would be—but the holiday can be a time to take stock of our fitness, in the same way a person who wants to lose weight or build strength weighs herself, looks in the mirror, and resolves to strive harder and smarter at the gym and the grocery store.

America.2In the neighborhood cinema last week we saw a trailer for America: Imagine the World Without Her, the new film by Dinesh D’Souza (based on his book of the same title), which challenges audiences to imagine the world without the greatness that is the United States of America as we (conservatives) know it, or her. The film shows the Statue of Liberty and other national icons disintegrating as one what-if after another strips away the essential components of our national history.

Now, the film may or may not be worth seeing, but what these images of disintegration called to mind almost immediately was the ravaging effect of the Supreme conservatives and Tea Partiers in Congress and in state legislatures who are dismantling the New Deal, the Great Society, stripping away the social safety net, refusing funding for rebuilding roads, bridges, and levees, revoking hard-won voting rights protections, and blocking access to health care for women and the poor and to common forms of birth control. (See William Greider’s powerful essay “Rolling Back the 20th Century,” a survey that’s as illuminating today as when The Nation published it in 2003.)

Here are some things we are thankful for on the nation’s birthday:

Domestic affairs: Although the Labor Department’s reports are not to be taken at face value because their numbers do not indicate the nearly 6 million who have given up trying to find jobs, we are pleased to see that about 2.5 million jobs were created in the last year, and over 9.4 million jobs have been created over the last several years. A New York Times editorial today (“Jobs Rebound, Prosperity Lags”) reports:

The economy added 288,000 jobs in June, and tallies for April and May were revised upward, bringing job creation over the past year to 2.49 million, the highest level in five years. The unemployment rate also fell to 6.1 percent, the lowest level in nearly six years, and, even better, the decline was unambiguously good news. It resulted from people getting hired and not leaving the work force.

The editorial goes on to note, however, that

Job growth is still falling short by 6.7 million jobs, including government jobs that were lost and not replaced, plus jobs that were needed to keep up with the population but not created. The jobless rate would be 9.6 percent, if it counted nearly six million people who would be looking for work or working if the economy were stronger.

Regrettably (to put it lightly), much of this weakness could be avoided by aggressive congressional action—and it’s never too late. Many, many jobs could be created, and others kept, if another stimulus were to be enacted, a really robust one this time; or if congressional Republicans would allow a vote on the American Jobs Act that President Obama first proposed in a speech to a joint session of Congress in September 2011, and for which he campaigned vigorously. (Click here to see what that act would have provided for—e.g., $35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and $50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure.)

Executive actions: We are pleased that President Obama, who for too long tried to be reasonable and conciliatory with an opposition party that had already resolved to block him at every turn and allow no legislative accomplishments, ever, has recently, and with evident relish, turned to executive actions to do what he can on issues that cannot wait—such as raising the minimum wage for federal workers and for workers employed by federal contractors, on making the U.S. better prepared to combat climate change, etc. Other executive orders can be found here. As President Obama remarked before a July 1 cabinet meeting:

. . . what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans offer no solutions of their own and continue to block all Democratic attempts at progress on creating jobs, on funding of badly needed infrastructure projects, on comprehensive immigration reform, on gun control, and other matters on which the Obama administration has pushed for legislative action. (See, for instance, “GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities,” LNW 10/17/13, and “Jobs, Jobs . . . Senate Republicans Keep Vets Unemployed,” LNW 9/25/12.)

Foreign affairs: We are reassured (for the most part) that this president is secure enough in his own judgment about national security and the expertise of his advisers that he will not be rushed into a knee-jerk military response to the latest crisis in Iraq (or what used to be known as Iraq). We are relieved, for example, that he does not worry about what John McCain will say. Regarding Iraq and the ISIS crisis, we are writing to the White House and to the Democratic Senate leadership to urge them to keep diplomacy first, to keep U.S. involvement minimal, military action nonexistent if possible, and to use every opportunity to think long-term and use diplomatic pressure to try to bring about more equitable representation of Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in Iraq’s national government.

We remain impressed that the president opted not to authorize military strikes on Syria, as he considered doing around last Labor Day—that was the right call, in our view, and a courageous exercise of restraint—and that he and Secretary of State John Kerry have worked to reduce Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile (nearly all disposed of now, we’re told), with cooperation from Russia. We also applaud Obama for being a vigorous supporter, since his days in the Senate, of nuclear nonproliferation efforts and of arms reduction agreements with Russia, particularly the New Start Treaty of 2010 (thanks also to former Senator Dick Lugar, Republican of Indiana, along with then-Senator John Kerry).

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“Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends”

vintage-flagWe continue to believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution, and, as long as gross inequities and injustices exist, we expect never to be really satisfied with this nation that has such immense potential. Much has been given to this country, and much is expected of it. Perhaps it is only through our own individual efforts at cultivating peace and protecting liberty, including our neighbors’—the America within each of us—that the nation can be brought closest to its fulfillment.

This formerly (and ever potentially) great country deserves better, so much better, than what many of its elected officials are doing for it at present. (Country First, or Party First?) On this national holiday, the nation’s birthday, let us all, let each of us, recommit to do our part.

“Work as if you are in the early days of a better nation.” —Alasdair Gray

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Further Reading:

On July 4, Yearning for a Progressive American Revolution” (LNW 7/4/13)

Charles M. Blow, New York Times: “Barack the Bear

Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog: “Obama no longer cares whether the GOP is outraged

GOP Is Not to Be Trusted with Adult Responsibilities: Two-Week Tantrum Epitomizes GOP’s Recovery-Strangling Refusal to Share in Work of Governing (LNW, 10/17/13)

Review of Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution 

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Illustration credit: “Democracy . . . a challenge” found at Think Progress.

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