The United States is unique among the world’s democracies in the relative absence of socialism as an accepted world view and political movement. Unlike most democracies, the U.S. does not have a socialist party capable of winning major elections—a fact that might surprise some Tea Party members who insist that President Barak Obama is himself a socialist!
Yet socialism has played an important role in American history—especially here in Minnesota, where socialists were at the heart of the labor and progressive farm movements, were elected mayors and city council members in both Minneapolis and St. Paul and played a critical role in the foundation of the Farmer-Labor Party.
Signs that history may be repeating itself surfaced in Minneapolis this past November when Ty Moore of Socialist Alternative came within 229 votes of being elected to the city council.
Given the growing divide between the one percent and the rest of us, it is no wonder that socialist ideas are making a comeback. A 2011 poll by Pew Research showed that 49 percent of respondents between the ages of 20 and 29 had a positive view of socialism compared to 43 percent for capitalism.
So why bring socialism out of the closet? What does if offer America and more specifically Minnesota in the current historical moment?
First, socialists believe in class conscious politics and aren’t afraid to use words that reflect that consciousness. When did every American with incomes between $20,000 and $500,000 become middle class? Who erased the term working class from America’s political vocabulary? Naming things as they are is an essential first step to reconnecting working people with the democratic process.
Secondly, socialists refuse to approach public policy with one hand tied behind their back. Not every form of social ownership is a good thing, of course. But the simple act of broadening our public imagination can lead to better public policy ideas. The socialist impulse has given us creative and arguably superior approaches to health care (single payer) professional stadiums (community ownership) and municipal cable. It has given us land trusts in urban neighborhoods, food coops, and commons-based approaches to governing the Great Lakes.
Third, a lived emphasis on the social in socialism is essential to restoring a healthy civic community. Socialism’s core principle is another “S” word —solidarity. As an ideal, socialism is a timely counter to the resurgence of libertarianism, itself a marginal movement (if not a dirty word) only a decade ago.
A 21st century encounter with socialism offers neither the comfort of a uniformly heroic past or a clear-cut road map to a more equitable future. Rather, it offers something more fundamental. Far from being a “dirty word” an honest encounter with socialism as a word, world view and political practice may just be the tonic for a political dialogue worthy of a mature and dynamic society.
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Below is a weekly round-up of news, videos and books that our staff and writers are enjoying this week. Enjoy!
From one Hmong family, four of Johnson High's top students (Pioneer Press) — It was enough to make a fellow East Sider want to go out and give his neighbors a big hug. Mila Koumpilova offered an inspiring salute to the Terrific Thaos in Wednesday's Pioneer Press. St. Paul and its Johnson High School are so lucky. Carlton College is, too. Heck, the entire state has a family to look up to, encourage going forward, and try to emulate.
Jon Stewart, one of our greatest political satirists, takes on the Highway Trust Fund fandango in Washington.
The Letters That Warren G. Harding’s Family Didn’t Want You to See (New York Times) — As a budding historian, I am really excited that 29th President of the United States, Warren G. Harding's letters are about to become public. I'm sure that it will offer a more complex view of this controversial man!
Five Ways Unions Are Trying To Get Their Mojo Back (Think Progress) — An encouraging snapshot of union progress across the country.
People Kept Complaining This Restaurant Sucked, Look What They Found Out… (The Meta Picture) -- Here's a very entertaining example of why "blame the workers" isn't always the best default analysis. Also... put down your cell phone and enjoy your meal.
Obituary: Chester Nez (The Economist) -- This obituary tells the story of the last of the Navajo code-talkers, who died last month. These U.S. marines used their native language, which their own government once tried to prevent them from speaking, to help win WWII.
The Surprisingly Predictable Patterns of Random Choice (Science Friday) — We're not good at random; we just think that we are. In fact, we're pretty predictable in getting random wrong. Science Friday.
I just picked up Hilary Clinton's new book and look forward reading it. I've been intrigued with the Clinton's since I first started covering them during their time as governor and first lady of Arkansas.
The Original Tea Partiers: How GOP Insurgents Invented Progressivism (The Atlantic)— Click-bait headline aside, this is an entertaining story of some of "Fighting Bob" La Follette's political battles in Wisconsin early last century. For those looking for an example of a political insurgency that actually did some good, it makes for great reading.
I just finished reading Rough Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains by Keith Heyerdahl Meldahl. It's a pretty fast read that is a very interesting and not overly technical history of essential how the western US, including the Great Plains, was made. The author has a good sense of humor and lots of passion for the subject that drew me in. A nerdy read for sure but incredibly fascinating.
We have just finished the celebration of our nation’s birth, 238 years ago. This is a good time to consider that birth and get a better understanding of the beginnings and development of the United States. In particular, we should look at some of the words from two of the important documents from that time; the Declaration of Independence, and the Preamble to the Constitution. These words can help us understand what our founding fathers had in their minds and how we evolved from there.
Start with the title of the Declaration of Independence, “The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." Today we are the United States of America but 238 years ago we were just united. Our history has seen us evolve from a loose confederation of united states into a powerful, centralized federal government of United States. That evolutionary direction was confirmed by a Civil War that resulted in the deaths of about 3% of the population. Debate continues over the powers of the States and Federal governments, as it should, but we should not fool ourselves we would not be a great nation and maybe not a nation at all if united had not become United.
Looking at the rest of the Declaration, we see at the start of the second paragraph one of the great phrases of history, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Eleven years later, after the Articles of Confederation revelaed unsurmountable barriers to national growth, cooperaton and expansion, our next great document, the Constitution of the United States, starts with, “We, the People of the United States.” The current meaning of “all men” and “We, the People” means something different than it did when they were first written. “All men” truly meant just males and did not include women but it also meant just white men and depending on the state, maybe only property owning white men.
The same restrictions equally applied to the phrase“We, the People." This should not disparage the birth of our nation because inequality was the common truth for the world. Since that time, our nation has been a leader in the evolution of the meaning of those words. That evolution has been slow and gradual, it took four score and seven years from our Declaration of Independence to the Emancipation Proclamation and another 102 years till the 1965 Voting Rights Bill. It was 133 years from the approval of the “We, the People” in our Constitution before women voting enfranchisement through the 19th Amendment.
It is easy to be discouraged by slow progress but it is also encouraging that we move forward. Yes, recent Supreme Court rulings and our do-nothing Congress seem to be pushing us in the wrong direction but I continue to have faith in Americans and humanity. Let us all work to a country and world where all all are treated equally and fairly.
Every week, I ask the staff here at Minnesota 2020, "What's making you happy this week?" The list below reflects this week's collection of things we're enjoying and wanted to share with you.
Two extremely witty philosophers explain why Minnesota 2020 readers and contributors must be like two-handed economists. Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein and their playful Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar (Penguin Books) refute or support different philosophers and their theories with contemporary jokes. Explaining one (Leibniz), they deduce, "An optimist thinks that this is the best of all worlds. A pessimist fears that this is so." So, on the one hand, we must all be a bit optimistic. On the other...
In celebration of the life of legendary Broadway star Elaine Stritch who passed this week, I share this clip from the Tony-award winning production of "A Little Night Music." I feel fortunate to have seen her perform this role. Enjoy.
Suburban World The Norling Photos was published six years ago but I just got around to reading it. Fascinating slice of post-war Bloomington, MN and a fabulous essay by author Brad Zellar.
Hobby Lobby ruling gives impetus to Lizz Winstead's Lady Parts Justice effort (MinnPost) -- Lizz Winstead and Lady Parts Justice principal weapon against misogyny is humor. The videos linked to in the article are funny, albeit highly irreverent.
Last year, our federal government shut down. In 2011, Minnesota’s government did the same thing. Clearly, as far as governments go, we are struggling to come up with a functioning public policy consensus. But this problem extends beyond stalled governments. It has woven its way into the very fabric of American culture, taking over our way of life, and if we are not cognizant of it, it will surely have its way with our nation’s economy and political scene.
Political polarization is a mainstream experience.
A new Pew Research Center report indicates that over the last 20 years, our political ideologies have deepened to the extent where we are living and breathing them in our daily lives. We are so divided that it has begun to influence where we live, the people we choose to associate with, and how we view those who disagree with us. Even more concerning, the problem is worse among people who are engaged in the political scene.
We know this is a problem – it’s shut down our government both on a national and state level. But with all the trash talk, what can we actually do about it?
During my senior year of high school, I wrote an Original Oratory speech competition piece, “Kill the Troll,” addressing this issue. I intended to call attention to media troublemakers who distract us from legitimate conversation and ignite fierce, polarizing debate. Even then, the core problem is more simple than one might imagine. The trouble is in addressing it.
Essentially, polarization stems from a lack of understanding coupled with ineffective discourse. When we use inflammatory language that doesn’t actually describe much, or doesn’t have any fact to support it, we invite heated discussions and frustration. This frustration metastasizes and eventually blocks communication all together.
We need to humanize politics, starting at home. We need to go back to Kindergarten: remember to speak with our indoor voices, treat people with respect, and listen carefully to all of what they have to say. We need to break the cycle, strive to maintain educated and up-to-date. We have to remember that those who disagree with us are not inherently ruining the country. The abyss dividing us is.
As I ended my Oratory piece, “So, instead of giving the trolls what they want, our anger, devotion, and ignorance, let us light our way with knowledge, see the face of our political rivals as a human compatriot, and finally end the reign of the troll. “
Posted in News & Notes
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Below, the staff here at Minnesota 2020 have collected links to a few things that are making them happy this week.
Summer can be quiet in the policy world, however, this week was everything but. We've got a new report coming out on Monday: thinking critically about working conditions in the hospitality industry. Come by mn2020.org to check it out!
I kept thinking about one of the speeches in particular from the SEIU Healthcare MN rally, from home care worker Shaquonica Johnson. Luckily, Briana got the whole thing on video, in case you missed it.
What made me happy this week is great news for Minnesota dogs and cats. The Dog and Cat Breeder Regulation Bill went into effect on July 1st.
The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance (New York Times) — The recent U.S. Supreme Court Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case is based on the premise that employer provided health insurance is provided out of the employer's largess (thus giving the employer the moral right to dictate what services the employee has access to), rather than something the employee has earned through her own labor. This excellent article points out other flaws in the employer provided health insurance model and why it is ripe for change.
A Quest for the Secret Origins of Lost Video Games (The Atlantic) — Heidi Kemps tells the very engaging story of piecing together hints and clues about lost levels for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It's a wonderful story full of passion, frustration, and nostalgia.
Why Budget Airlines Could Soon Charge You to Use the Bathroom (FiveThirtyEight) -- Incentivizing airline passengers works better, even when it comes to the question, "Now, did everyone remember to use the bathroom before we leave?"
Free Hotel Rooms Offered for Job-Hunting Veterans (KTSP) — This KSTP news clip, and accompanying news release, should brighten most people's day. Minnesota and partners are telling military vets looking for work to come on up.
Moon Hooch: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert — They're called Moon Hooch and, besides making great music, the main saxophonist straps a traffic cone to his instrument. 'Nuff said.
Regular Minnesota 2020 readers will notice a new voice contributing to our content starting today. I’m very pleased to welcome Deb Balzer to our staff as our new Director of Communications.
Deb came to Minnesota in 1990 to work as Managing Editor for Conus Communications, where she oversaw broadcast news for the Hubbard-owned satellite news feed for twelve years. She’s produced stories for Good Morning America, CNN, World News Tonight, and Farmer’s Almanac. She’s also managed communications for non-profit organizations, including the Animal Humane Society, where she earned media for adorable puppies, and ArtSage, where she promoted events around art and aging.
I know you’ll be impressed, as we have been, with both her editorial expertise and her instinct for finding the human story that connects people’s experience to research.
Her background in broadcast journalism will ensure that we continue building on our success producing video content, and her editorial experience will help us maintain the accuracy and quality everyone’s come to expect from Minnesota 2020 content.
As we think about ways to improve, expand, and enhance our content offerings and media reach, we’re very excited to have a strong, creative leader driving our communications department.
Posted in News & Notes
This year is the 225th anniversary of the implementation of our Constitution and the new national government it defined. It is also an election year and in the polarized environment of our politics, we will hear much about the Constitution. When people talk about the founding of our nation and our Constitution, they often focus on the Bill of Rights and our rights as citizens. But, remember that 2014 is only the 223rd anniversary of those first ten amendments. I certainly believe in the importance of the Bill of Rights, but they were an after thought to the Constitution. The document's original intent was to strengthen the central government and weaken the power of the individual states.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 was formed to address the problems of the Articles of Confederation (AOC). After consideration, the majority of the participants realized that the AOC were beyond repair. They decided instead to create a new national governing framework.
The leaders of the group pushing for this stronger government and constitution were James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington. They realized that the AOC created a State dominant government with a national government too weak even too raise money on its own. This weak central government lacked sufficient authority to defend itself against either the native tribes or foreign powers waiting to pounce on the new nation. The weak central government also made trade and industry difficult.
It is important to realize that the Articles of Confederation were a product of the times, evolving from specific conflict. The Colonies were separate governments functioning within the British Crown's legal framework. The British central government's perceived threat to colonists' rights reflected the AOC's construction, reflecting a fear of a strong central government. So, it is surprising that within a relatively short time American leaders realized that the AOC could not do the job and that a stronger national government was needed.
It is not surprising that the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the rights of the people and the states while creating a strong national government. When the Constitutional Convention approved the final document, delegates broadly felt that enough checks and balances were in place to protect those rights. But, there was enough clamor for more protection during the efforts to get each of the states to approve the Constitution that supporters agreed to add them after implementation of the new government. James Madison principally authored the project. Ten amendments -The Bill of Rights- were added in 1791.
Over the last 225 years our country and our Constitution has evolved. There have been an additional 17 amendments, but there have been changes as the Congresses, Presidents, and the Supreme Court have filled in the many ill-defined areas of the document. We should not forget the original goal of the authors was to create a strong national government that protects the rights of the American people. Some of the most important words in the Constitution are found in the Preamble. These words explain what the framers wanted to see come out of their efforts.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Hopefully, “We the People” and our national leaders will keep these words in our hearts and minds.
Every week, we ask Minnesota 2020 staff what's making them happy. The results become a link round-up of things we think our readers would enjoy. This week is a balance of specific bits of policy progress, big ideas and a cheesy blockbuster movie.
Glass Ceilings, Glass Mirrors (Politico) -- This piece examines common problems that women face in politics.
What is the Greenest Party Drink Vessel of All? (Grist.com) -- Go green at your Fourth celebration with a BYO-Cup party!
Disney Princesses Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before (Aplus.com) -- Dina Goldstein created a photography series called the "Fallen Princesses," exploring women’s reality in today's society in conjunction with the perpetuated lifestyle that is often displayed in Disney movies.
I Have a Dream (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King) -- This summer is the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the Mississippi voter registration drive. Dr. King's 1963 speech galvanized volunteer recruitment and made civil rights a national rather than a regional issue. Few speeches inspire action, fulfilling the Declaration of Independence's and the U.S. Constitution's promises.This is one.
Players Must Think Inside the Box to Find Escape (Star Tribune) -- Locked in the Riddle Room.
The Power of Two (The Atlantic) -- Folks my age can never get enough of the Beatles. The subtitle of this article is "Despite the mythology around the idea of the lone genius, the famous partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney demonstrates the brilliance of creative pairs."
Independence Day (Twentieth Century/Fox Pictures, 1996) -- "Today, we celebrate our Independence Day!"
Below is a quick list of recommended reads from the staff and writers here at Minnesota 2020. Have a link of your own? Tell us, what's making YOU happy this week?
The map of Native American tribes you've never seen before (MPR) — This man's approximation of Native American tribes pre-contact throughout the Americas is fascinating and, given my previous study of Native American tribes, is a great learning tool and fascinating item for a cartography fanatic.
Congressman Keith Ellison busted out his guitar to play "Purple Rain." Too bad Vine only offers six second clips.
10 Gadgets Trying to Save the World (Time) — Creative, clever, and simple devices that can help transform our environmental impact.
A Farm Dies Once A Year (NPR)— Reading this book, for me, is a memory lane stroll and picking at a scab. My farmer parents were commodity growers not hippy veggie producers but Crawford's journey is warmly resonant.
Jonathan Coulton teams up with They Might be Giants to sing hilarious zombie ballad "Re: Your Brains"
Does He Pass the Test? (New York Review of Books) -- Nobel laureatte economist Paul Krugman reviews former U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s Stress Test (which I have not read) and concludes that, while Washington policymakers succeeded in avoiding a complete economic free fall, in other regards they "failed, badly."
A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail - Bill Bryson gives his account of walking the Appalachian Trail. Partly about his tribulations, but mostly focused on his encounters with others and his odd relationship with his hiking companion. Page turner that mixes comical writing with science and the ecology of the Eastern US.