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The Living Liberally Annual Celebration - May 10th in NYC

Support the work of Living Liberally, honor our great progressive allies The New Organizing Institute and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and join a great party at the Living Liberally Annual Celebration on Thursday, May 10th in New York.

Learn more and get your tickets now.

Maybe Government Should Be A Little LESS Like Big Business

We chide corporate execs for their excesses,
then confront a GSA that rocked too hard & learned
what happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas.

We blast Big Business for not playing by the rules,
then our esteemed Secret Service is caught
casually cavorting & corrupting their cause in Colombia.

We demand more respect from vulture capitalists,
but contend with the disrespect our military has shown
in incendiary, outrageous acts in Afghanistan.

People say government should behave like Big Business:
selfish behavior, greedy excesses & poor judgment --
maybe we've got too much corporate culture already.

Let's be a little LESS like Big Business for awhile.

We hope our CEO takes responsibility & takes action
or we know there's a Bain CEO anxious to send him packing.

Share your take on the week's events
& take your share of the pitcher on the table,
as we spend a night with liberals and libations
at our local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

War On Budget vs Warrenn Buffett

With Santorum out, the presumptive GOP nominee
pledges to bring Bain's vulture capitalism to DC,
while more Americans would just like to see
offshore corporate accounts brought back to the US.

Paul Ryan's ranks line up behind a radical plan
to slash investment in a stronger American system,
while President Obama backs an equally radical notion
that the wealthiest 1% should pay their fair share.

And as deficit hawks shout, "Cut, cut, cut,"
Americans agree: cut corporate tax loopholes,
cut excessive bonuses & cut the bull.

Conservatives want to wage a war on the budget.
Obama just wants to wager on Warren Buffett.

When the going gets tough, O gets Buff…

Toast farewell to Rick & share thoughts on Mitt
as your share a beer & left-leaning cheer
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Would You Strip-Search Moses? Stop-and-Frisk Jesus?

At Passover, we celebrate the Israelites' Exodus,
as they marched without a permit across the Red Sea…
today Occupy marchers without permits are faced
with police netting, pepper spray and mass arrests.

At Easter, we remember a man wrongfully judged & crucified,
while today we make indefinite detention a national policy
& conservatives defend "stand your ground" laws
which are excessive, unjust and extremely dangerous.

This weekend, we'll be honoring dissidents & protesters,
yet today our police go undercover to infiltrate
peaceful protest groups and student organizations.

Moses would have been strip searched.
Jesus would have been stopped and frisked.
The NYPD definitely would've had them under surveillance.

Maybe we do need to read the Haggadah again this year…

Pre-game Passover, anticipate Easter or celebrate spring
by talking liberally, sharing liberally, gathering liberally
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

ObamaCare...the Others Don't

Conservatives go to the High Court with the low goal
of making it harder for Americans to get healthcare,
yet while they threaten to undo Obama's achievement,
the President's own national poll numbers rise.

Republicans realize that Romney's the one
& start to close ranks if not exactly rally --
yet amid talk of car elevators & jokes about lay-offs,
his own approval ratings continue to sink.

The Tea Party Congress does what it promised:
attack benefits, defend the rich, obstruct progress
-- yet as they succeed in stalling all legislation,
those who elected them are having buyer's remorse.

Whatever your opinion of ObamaCare
Americans are relieved at least Obama cares
because Mitt & the Tea Party don't care at all.

If you care, come share -- you know where --
a pint, a point, liberal thinking & a little drinking
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Etch-a-Sketch Mitt vs. Ever-Sketchy Rick

For once, Romney keeps his own mouth shut
about Cadillacs, NASCAR owners & $10,000 bets,
yet his aide's mistake messes Mitt's momentum
as "etch-a-sketch" becomes the new "flip-flop."

Santorum refuses to shake anything up,
digging deeper in his anti-sex devotion,
doubling-down with radical right diatribes
and drawing the race directly into the doldrums.

Meanwhile Ron Paul & Newt Gingrich
continue to hold their own…and not much more.

Faced with these choices, even Republicans
turn down Paul the kvetcher & Newt the lecher,
choosing Etch-a-Sketch Mitt over ever-sketchy Rick.

But who knows? It could all shake up again.

Shake out your thoughts & stake out a seat
as we share a drink over what we think
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Unstable Global Actors?

As we resist domestic saber-rattling on Iran,
Israel issues threats making it as hard
to navigate our closest ally in the region
as it is to determine our next steps with our rival,

As we seek to provide humanitarian aid in Syria,
dealing with fellow Security Council nations
is proving just as difficult as the Assad regime.

And as we try to calm & exit Afghanistan,
our own senseless actions lead to chaos
as dangerous as acts of insurgents.

Global action doesn't become easier
when the folks on your side make it tougher.

Or as the old saying goes, with friends like these,
who needs unstable global actors and regimes?

Or maybe that's a new saying for new times…

Talk about the globe & share a bit of your own world
with new friends & old over a liberal libation or two
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Super Tuesday, Subpar Every Day

Super Tuesday didn't pick a winner, bit it showed
that lower-income voters dislike Romney,
more and more women dislike Santorum
and everyone dislikes Newt Gingrich.

Super PACs are prolonging, not deciding, the race,
promising a protracted pummeling of the candidates,
leaving them less popular than their party in DC.

Super Delegates still threaten to abandon Romney
and force the GOP to choose a new nominee
the public knows less and therefore likes more.

Super Tuesday, Super PACs, Super Delegates,
yet subpar turnout, subpar support, subpar choices.
Forget Super Tuesday -- they're subpar every day.

Yet, compared with the Tea Partiers in the House,
these guys actually might be right on par.

React, distract & interact with a beer & good cheer
as you share a night with like-minded lefties
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Mitt May Win, but He's No Winner

When Romney wins a state, he's quickly criticized:
he should have won by more, he spent too much,
it was his to lose & the next one will be tougher.

When he wins a debate, vulture analysts swoop in
to pick at him for winning by flip-flopping positions
or for being too aloof, then becoming too aggressive.

When he wins a news cycle, it's never to his credit:
it's due to his Super PAC, or support from GOP elites
or the absurd extremes of his radical right-wing rivals,
& everyone just waits for his next Richie Rich gaffe.

Mitt's tied with a guy who has come out against
contraception, college and Kennedy,
voters love him less the more they know him,
and he had to battle to eke out his home state.

Maybe Romney will win this thing
but he sure doesn't sound like a winner

Poor Mitt Romney - even when he wins, he loses.
Which is how Bain's holdings felt all those years.

Share reactions, trade predictions, enjoy libations
as you spend an evening in left-leaning company
at your local progressive social club.

DRINKING LIBERALLY
Find - or start - a chapter near you.

Going Undercover in the Belly of Our Beastly Food Chain

2012-02-29-americawayeat.jpg

Tracie McMillan's The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table takes us on a vivid and poignant tour of a place we don't really want to go: the mostly hidden, sometimes horrible world of the workers who form the backbone of our cheap, industrialized food chain. Sound grim? It is, at times, but McMillan's lively narrative and evident empathy for the people she encounters make her sojourn into the bowels of Big Food and Big Ag a pleasure to read.

From the fields of California's Central Valley to the produce aisle of a Michigan Walmart, and lastly, the kitchen of a Brooklyn Applebee's, McMillan gives a firsthand account of the long hours, lousy wages and difficult conditions that are par for the course in these places. This is tricky terrain for a white, relatively privileged, middle-class American woman, and McMillan navigates it with grace and humility, remaining acutely aware of the pitfalls inherent in such a project.

I sat down with McMillan recently to chat about her populist odyssey and found her to be just as down-to-earth and plucky as her prose.

Kerry Trueman: What was the hardest part of going undercover?

Tracie McMillan: This was the first time I had gone undercover to do work like that, because I believe very strongly in the importance of being upfront with people about what you're doing and who you are and I am not a good actress (laughs). So the place where I was culturally the least good of a fit, in the fields, I was really protected by the fact that I didn't speak the language. I just seemed like a kind of dumb white girl, and that was really helpful.

The first thing was getting over my anxiety over doing that kind of project and coming to terms with it. It meant that I had to be dishonest with my coworkers. I don't really care so much that I'm not honest with the companies. It's very interesting, the same year that I was working at Walmart during the holiday season, Stephanie Rosenbloom at the New York Times went and worked for a day at a Walmart with the company's permission, and she had a very different experience than I did.

And that's why you do it. Companies and supervisors do not treat you the same, and coworkers won't be as honest with you, or as open. I've come out of this very convinced that undercover work is worthwhile, but it's a complicated thing. There's a tendency to think "I can totally do this, and how else can I get this information?" but I also understand why people react badly to it sometimes.

So there was the undercover thing, and then there was finding the right balance between my narrative and talking about the people I was with. It's not supposed to be about me as a white girl having that experience; the idea is that I can only tell my story and what I observed, but I'm using that to get to the stories of the other people around me.

KT: You found that farm work in California's Central Valley was extremely demanding, sometimes dangerous, and routinely underpaid. What do you think it would take to provide the people who pick our crops with better working conditions and paychecks that don't deliberately shortchange them?

TM: I was typically working alongside undocumented immigrants. You always hear the stories about how undocumented immigrants work for very low wages and how they get treated. It's one thing to hear about it, it's another thing to see how terrified everybody is, how unwilling they are to say anything.

They complained about it outside of work, we'd talk about how bad the wages were and the women were like, "Why don't you say anything?" For me that was really awkward, because I wanted to say "That's terrible, and I will march off and I will fix everything!" Which is not something you can do as an undercover reporter.

Even if you're undocumented, you still have legal rights, but they don't necessarily know that. And even the ones that do, it's not like they have a guaranteed job, you could be hired or fired at any moment. There's no job security. So, you keep working, and at least you have the stability of knowing that you will get your eight hours of work for which you're paid $25 to $40.

How do you fix that? You enforce the existing labor laws. You don't necessarily need new ones. I think it's important not to stifle businesses' ability to do their job, but I did observe when I was working in the fields that every week I was asked to sign a piece of paper stating that I had taken food safety training that I had never taken. One of the arguments around food safety is that farmers should be allowed to self-regulate that. I saw in my work that self-regulation wasn't working.

And in terms of labor law enforcement, you need some sense that people are going to get in trouble if they cheat workers. The average fine levied under the Agricultural Worker Protection Act is about $350. During my time in the fields I was underpaid by about $500.

A farm advocate in Ohio explained to me that it's cheaper to violate the law and pay when someone complains than it is to follow the law.

KT: Can you even imagine how different conditions would have to be for it to not be an anomaly to have someone with your own background choosing that kind of work?

TM: That's called unionization and massive social change! Factory work in the early 20th century was really dangerous and it didn't pay very well, but those became really good jobs because there was unionization and legislation to protect workers. My grandfather raised my mother and her two brothers and took care of my grandmother on the salary he earned working for Ford.

So, if you could figure out a way to make farm labor a better job in terms of wages and working conditions, more people would do it. The reason why people don't do farm labor isn't because they're, like, "Oh, we're too good to be in the fields," it's because it's really hard work that often doesn't pay minimum wage. Picking up garbage is a shitty job, too, but people still go do that, because it's a decent gig.

KT: What were your most miserable moments?

TM: This belies my upwardly mobile aspirations (laughs). For me, what was the most emotionally miserable was working the night shift at Walmart. I didn't see any daylight for the most part. That's also really physical work, so I would move half a ton of sugar and a half ton of flour in a night, by myself. It's isolated work, you're in an aisle stocking by yourself, so there's no social aspect to it.

But what I found most draining about it was that most of my coworkers, many of whom were married and had families, had been there for seven, 10, 15 years. One coworker was earning $11 an hour after working there for seven years, and she talked about how if you worked at Walmart for 15 years that's actually really good because you get a lifetime discount card.

There's something really sobering when what you're aspiring to is that if you stick it out at $10, $11, $12 an hour you're going to get a lifetime 10-percent discount card.

KT: Walmart keeps touting its commitment to fresh healthy produce, but in your experience, they treated fresh fruits and vegetables just like any other non-perishable consumer good. Their blasé attitude toward the fresh produce engendered so much waste! How do you square that with their famous obsession for maximizing profit?

TM: I was really shocked to be working at Walmart and to see how inefficient the place I was working was. I have no idea if that department was just an anomaly, or if that's a broader problem.

Randy, the manager, was incredibly young, didn't really know what he was doing, and didn't particularly care. For that, I would fault the store management. It's one thing to be really bad at your job, but why did somebody give you that job?

What was really upsetting to me was that one of my colleagues, I think I call him Sam in the book, who's a black man, he had come to Walmart after the grocery store he worked at closed down. He had been working in produce for five years and knew a lot, so I could ask him anything, like "How do I tell if this is ripe?" Sam had applied for that job and they had given it to Randy instead. I have no idea who on the planet would have picked Randy over Sam, because Sam knew produce, whereas Randy had a background in electronics.

KT: You write, "When cooking instruction is paired with basic nutrition education, Americans cook more and eat more healthfully -- even when money is tight." What's your prescription for battling kitchen illiteracy?

TM: Almost everything people are eating at home involves some degree of convenience foods. That kind of thing usually tends to have a lot of salt and preservatives in it. But it's actually no more time-intensive to do a Hamburger Helper kind of thing from scratch, and it's actually cheaper.

The thing that sucks about a box isn't that it's quick -- it's that if you don't already know how to cook, you think you can't make a cake without a box. We need to start thinking about cooking as a basic life skill, not something that's optional. Incorporating that into public education to me seems like a smart idea. It can be a really great way to teach people other stuff. It's great for math, right? And for reading comprehension. Or learning to write recipes. It's an important survival skill.

I think one of the things you can support, no matter what your politics are, is that our schools should be teaching our kids how to be self-sufficient, how to take care of themselves and not to have to depend on large institutions. I would include in that not just government but also corporations.

We don't want to be raising kids who depend on corporations to tell them what to eat and how to eat. That's a really important part of American culture. People talk all the time about a nanny state, but there's the corporate nanny, too. And I don't like that either! If we want people to be self-sufficient, cooking and eating is a part of that. So, we need to include cooking as part of public school education. I also understand fully the difficulty of educational reform, but I think it's an important point to start discussing.

Originally posted on AlterNet

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