Sunday, March 17, 2019

Blockbusting proved the pudding

Fortunately, in a way, multiple generations may be growing up and growing old without ever hearing the word, but the history of racist blockbusting can still teach.  Richard Rothstein uses blockbusting as another example of how government aided, enforced, or at times instigated segregation -- by creating the conditions that allowed unscrupulous realtors to panic white homeowners and simultaneously exploit and overcharge black buyers (and of course, somewhat ironically, propagate segregation in  the process).  It wasn't just individual pref.

Eye-opening as his history may be (and valuable) there are actually more general lessons here, too, about the nature of American politics and the fallacies of classical/neo-classical econ.  For one, the two Big Tent 'parties' aren't as left or right (or black and white, so to speak) as you might think.  A Republican may oppose segregated housing projects just because he opposes public intervention in the housing markets, or a Southern Democrat may support the right for industrial workers to unionize because he knows unions will take down the Northern industrialists a notch.  And if legislation proposes to make blockbusting illegal -- is that intervention in the markets because individual realtors are profiteering like they oughta, or rectifying a legacy of slavery and undoing the mess the VA and FHA created with government intrusion?  Hm...

Anyway, does the panic-prone white homeowner and the evil realtor further prove markets do not run on the inherent rationality of buyer and seller?  I mean, black homeowners actually tended to jack up property values, not lower them, because they were willing to pay more (and did!).  Opportunities were after all limited by federal refusal to insure their mortgages, etc.  So if the white homeowners had not panicked, they could have made money, not sold at plummeting prices to the puppetmaster realtors.  Or were they caught in a classic prisoner's dilemma?

In other words, since the white homeowners don't trust one another to stick it out, perhaps because they see in them the same racial fears they themselves harbor, they all lose.  But if they were organized, stayed in communication, and developed trust, community, solidarity (first among themselves and then including their new neighbors), they could have just gained not just in property values but in community power to resist evil and do good.  They might have learned about the value of sticking together and not allowing themselves to be divided, not being tricked by xenophobic fear of the unknown and the parasitic profiteers who prey on such fears.  They might have learned that people can be ungrateful, devious, backstabbing pains in the hind end, no matter the color, religion, etc., and they can also come to your rescue when you least expect it.  They might have learned to judge people "not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."  And they might have learned that if a little solidarity can work wonders, a lot can be transformative.

But blockbusting proved how individualism makes people saps, dupes, fodder, victims of their own stupidity.  Organizing is the only answer.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Diversity among Dems - and not the good kind

Identifying Democrats with "liberals" (as we say*) has always been wide of the mark -- much less with the proverbial "left," which many have opined simply does not exist in this country.  (I disagree, by the way, if only on the premise that the term is relative, like "east" or "west.")  Certain Democrats at notable times and places of course work harder than others to prove my point.

The point has been proven time and time again, however.  After WW2, most people have probably forgotten, the US experienced a housing crisis, a severe one.  Returning GIs + Baby Boom + years of an entire economy focused on the war to block the fascists from taking us over and instead dominate the world ourselves = just not enough places to live.  During the conflagration the feds built housing for workers near war industries, not so they'd get blown up with the factories in the event of any attack, but just to get them in there making bombs.  There was massive migration of black workers, for example, from the sharecropping South, attracted by industrial work abandoned by white soldiers.  More on that story in a minute.

The Republicans, having begun their rightward shift not with the Tea Party or with Reagan or Nixon but with Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party exodus, had supported federal wartime housing construction only with the proviso that when the bombs stopped dropping the hated government intervention into housing markets would all be smashed up into jiblets or sold off to privateers (because the rich didn't get rich enough off the war effort itself) and the working poor would be parachuted back into the uphill slog to get housing over the array of bankers, developers, and other troll-bridge-occupiers weeding out the weak (social Darwinism of course being embraced by the same folks who deny the real, biological kind).  But with the post-war housing famine, the US population needed more hated government intervention into housing markets, not less.  So the Democratic Party appeared on the horizon once more in gleaming armor astride a white charger, the rising sun at their backs, and saved the day, right?  Well...

Remember that wartime housing and the African Americans housees?  We were all in it together to defeat fascism and make the world safe for democracy -- as long as white folks didn't have to live next to Negroes.  It started (in earnest) with the New Deal, actually, and it's worse than you think.  To mitigate poverty and keep the system alive, the feds built housing that increased or in some cases introduced segregation into some areas.  They made all kinds of excremental excuses, and they did it with wartime housing, too.  You won't be surprised that this evil continued after the war in the 1950s.
You may be surprised at the politik.

As labor historians know well, New Deal reforms like the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Wagner Act, and so on, passed the US Congress only by a terrible Faustian deal.  They excluded agricultural and domestic labor to win the votes of racist Southern Dems, who were prepared to oppose anything that would help Southern blacks get out from under the white thumb, even if it also threw a much-needed lifeline to desperately poor (sometimes literally starving) Southern whites.

Federal housing projects became one more (lesser known) example of Democratic Big-Tent-ism (or I would have it in my title, diversity, but not the good kind), i.e., the so-called party was for many years and to now in different specifics, in reality a coalition -- of liberal, or more or less Keynesian, Northern industrialists and Southern white planters (and their respective acolytes).  Check out Richard Rothstein's The Color of Law.  This history is iconoclastic.

Federal housing construction, like all the public assistance programs known as welfare and (at one time) food stamps, helped far more whites than blacks.  But Southern Dems would rather let their constituents (who in their minds did not include blacks, whom they'd rather prevent from voting than offer programs to win their votes) stew in their own juices than give in to the liberal emancipation scheme they had gutted like a fish ever since they got their power back.  So FDR went down to the crossroads and made his deal.  But the GOP, not to be out-cynicalled had a trick up their sleeve(s): they proposed desegregation language to poison the housing well!  No joke, they knew it would put the Dems in a tight spot, and it did.  FDR had to make a huge manure sandwich statement "hoping" that "our Negro friends understand" and killed desegregation to get the housing built -- segregated housing.

Some projects smashed up existing "Negro" or "mixed" housing to make way for the segregated government housing.  Some introduced segregation into areas that had not been segregated before.  And so on.

It's a pug ugly story (read the book), but the history lesson is not just or even mainly about the house divided that is still the Democratic Party, or even about the legacy of the left-right Democratic coalition we still suffer from today.

The real profundity here lies in this context:  African Americans built large parts of the country with their forced, free labor, making many white people rich, North, South, East and West, and building up a social fabric that benefited millions of others, and upon which families were able to begin accumulating some small wealth, which they could not share.  A war (three wars, I say) resulted before slavery ended and they were promised some meager compensation, which never came.  They were forced back into servitude and serfdom, blocked from voting after Reconstruction by Jim Crow, barred from good jobs with decent pay and benefits, basically until the deadliest war the world had ever known created a tiny opening.  Unions helped them keep what foothold they were able to maintain afterwards.  But they were legally unable to get federal housing loans or assistance to move into the housing that others claimed in the victory buffet (meager though it was compared to what the rich got), relegated to segregated substandard housing meant to warehouse them until they were needed again, while others left the public housing projects with the aid of government assistance.  Many white families were able to start accumulating something they could pass on to future generations, give them a little boost, get them started maybe not at the top of the ladder, but at least on the second or third rung.  Black families were held at the bottom by public policy.  Now they are asked why it is that they have been "free so long" from the bonds of slavery "like everybody else" but they still can't make it.

Black families did not fail to get ahead; they were prevented.  They did not fall but were pushed.


*I'm using the term here as most people understand it, disregarding its historical uses, just as I would use the word "deer" to mean only those big ungulates, some of which can be measured in points, which tend to stand in front of oncoming motorized vehicles, and notwhat Shakespeare would have meant (pretty much any woodland mammal, as in "rabbits and other deer.")

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Very Not Good Positiion

That's what the incoming POTUS would call the particular branch of Shit's Creek that we are, collectively, up.  This should be news to no one, but here's a pattern emerging:

Take Israel.  The news today was all Sec. Kerry's hand-wringing about Israel's undermining the sacred two-state -er- distant goal.  Meanwhile Netanyahu is all p-o'd  about the UN calling its new illegal settlements, well, illegal settlements.  Naturally the Donald has no idea what he is on about and very little to say about it, but he says it very aggressively and proudly.  Would that people with something to say would say it so proudly, but Xmas is over.  The surprise act that popped up out of the floor in this circus was an idea so preposterous in American politics that the only one to mention it is Kerry, who raises the unmentionable subject out here in front of god and everybody only out of wit's-end frustration with Netanyahu and the Orange One and to illustrate the disastrous path they are on.  Dear god, he is saying, if you undermine the holy two-state solution that we dangle in front of war-weary Jews and Arabs like a half-eaten dry carrot (2SS), you can only be left with Door Number One, a single (tyrannical) Jewish state or Door Number Two - horrors! - a multiethnic, democratic state in the Area Formerly Known As Palestine (AFKAP).  Think, ferchrissakes!  Think about what you are doing!

What no one says, not Kerry, not Netanyahu, and of course not the Willfully Clueless Incoming (WCI), is that the Obama Admin blocked a similar resolution a few years back, and the illegal racist Israeli incursions into AFKAP, euphemized as "settlements," have been fruitful and multiplied like rabbits during his eight.  Kerry is only frustrated because the support-Israel-only-99% club of which he is a leader is losing traction to the less nuanced killers in the WCI party.  (Cynics might say the real fear is that the brasher position threatens to expose the entire charade.)  The outgoing Sickretary is still 49% away from that crazy lefty idea of a multiethnic democratic state behind Door Number Two (Sheesh!  Who would want that?) and only willing to vent because he is outgoing. 

And just think: all this bowel-loosening fury and the US didn't even vote for the plain statement, true on its face and lacking any teeth whatsoever, condemning actions described in international law as illegal for almost seventy years - when any other country flaunting international law to the extent that Israel (and the US) habitually flaunt it would be labelled "rogue states."

The sophomoric mistake would be to assume that because Netanyahu and the WCI are rolling up their pant legs and dancing on the holy 2SS, they are closer to the position of rational human beings than the better-sounding sociopaths we have been used to.  Sorry, no cookie.  Moving away from the violent expropriation of the holy 2SS just does not equal moving towards a multiethnic democratic state if your whole thought in your whole little orange head is that, yeah, Door Number One sounds just fine.*

I draw one analogy (mercifully, for my friends who say there are too many).  It is this: health care.  What we need is single-payer, or, better, a national health care system.  The much-maligned/touted Obamacare (aka Romneycare) is neither.  But the WCI's dismembering of the ACA brings us no closer to rational, humane solutions.  The explicit goal of these snake oil salesmen is to relieve the better-off of the burden of helping anyone else and leave four-fifths of us to scrap over the scraps, Wild-West-style.  This much is clear.  I fear the WCI attacks on the rest of the Clintonite sacred cows (trade, etc.) will be similar.  (OK, that's another analogy; so sue me.)


*As long as the US can control it, or rather employ it as a very effective client state in an important strategic, oil-rich region.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Raise the Minimum, Bring Back Welfare

First, what's not true.  It's not true that unemployment follows a rising minimum wage.

Now what is.  Welfare helped a lot of people, but it had a lot of problems.  We need to bring it back.

People who think of poverty and the economy generally like the weather need to snap the frack out of it.  The US economy, and in fact the world economy to some degree, has been managed for many years.  It's just been managed on behalf of the rich, not most people.  Poverty is the inevitable result of the rules of the game.  Who is and is not poor depends on how you play, sure, but also what hand you're dealt, how the dice roll, what the other players do to you or for you, and so on.  But the rules were made by humans and can be changed by humans.  In fact, they are changed all the time, sometimes for the better, sometimes not so much.

Even Adam Smith - I know, who died and made him god? - said there would have to be balances to shield people from the worst effects.  Personally, I think we've learned a lot since then.  We just don't act like it sometimes.

Free State of Jones THE MOVIE!

I grew up hearing and inspired by the legend of "The Free State of Jones," the county that seceded from Mississippi after Mississippi seceded from the Union, because what's good for the goose...  (Now a major motion picture!  Coming soon to a theater near you!)

The part I remember most from my proto-attempts to find out stuff back when was the bitter irony (or hypocrisy) of Southern poor whites being, as a good book I recently discovered through my lovely and clever wife would have it, a chicken when the elephants dance.  The chickens had better be careful.  So, not only did the Confederates fail to see the humor (or fair play, as turnabout) of a county that tries the same secession trick they did as states, but the Union didn't appreciate Newt Knight and his crew hoisting the Union flag in Jones County too much, either.  At least their actions didn't show it if they did.  Fully prepared to defy the Constitutional prohibition against dicing up old states into new ones in the case of West Virginia, the news that federal troops brought to the Free State of Jones was: nope.

And as many who pay attention will know, the USA has a longstanding pattern of withdrawing and leaving allies to fend for themselves, a pattern which apparently dates back at least to Reconstruction and the Klan era.  So, if you've ever had something stuck in your craw for, oh, say, about 32 years, chattering about it like the lunatic relation any time you manage to squeeze it into a conversation without getting asked to leave, and then somebody hauls off and makes a movie out of it? ... then you know how I feel about waiting to see this film.

Anyway, I will say this more and stop.  Generally, in the argument about whether or not the Civil War was over slavery (it was), one point that often comes up in geography, specifically, Appalachia.  From West Virginia to Kentucky and Tennessee, and Northeast Mississippi (where I'm from but my ancestors were not - my great great grandfather fought for the CSA, survived, walked home from an Illinois POW camp, and taught his children to never fight in any war ever again, no matter what), the areas where Southern people ran off to fight for the Union are largely to mountainous, hostile to large slave-holding plantation-style agribusiness.  It's not uncommon knowledge that there were four "border states" that held slaves but did not secede: Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Delaware (although most people forget Delaware and include West Virginia, which was not a state until the middle of the war - more on that below).  Less common knowledge is that there also had been four more "border states" until the opening battle at Fort Sumter - Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Arkansas - slave states that argued over secession until after the first shots were fired.  All have hilly or mountainous areas, which are distinctive features of all but Delaware - likewise Northeast Mississippi.

Jones County is not mountainous.  It's part of Mississippi's Piney Woods region, where sandy soil and gigantic old forest made farming on a large money-making scale less than feasible.  The people there raised a lot of pigs, we were taught in Mississippi history class in school, and let them run free in the woods to eat acorns much of the year.  They were poor, dirt poor.  Newt Knight himself is described as "trailer trash" by pro-Confederates today in Jones County.  Plus he "married a black," apparently a further sign of his "low breeding" and "ignorance" in the Neo-Confederate hegemony, thankfully a little less dominant now in Mississippi.  But this is an important part of the tale, because Knight's men apparently learned an important thing about the Civil War - from being in it, like my great great grandfather - a lesson that applies pretty generally to wars throughout history and still today, those brutal destructive forces of organized violence irrespective of human life or value, those instruments of naked power masquerading as justice, the very justice they mock, and usually obtains whether they are over slavery or not: it was "a rich man's war... a poor man's fight."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Pawns

I grew up with people who look like these dumb clucks, talk like these dumb clucks, and I know how liberal snobs look down their noses at them... uneducated... troglodytic... banjo-pickin'... drugstore truck-drivin' men and women... not the friendly, hard-working, quick-to-laugh folks they imagine themselves to be, who'd give the shirt off their back but don't threaten their families.  So you might (if anybody were reading this) ask me, as a born-and-bred redneck, who knows working people need unions, families need free healthcare for all, public assistance is a human right for people who fall through the cracks, and with friends like the US most countries don't need any enemies,... well, which are they?

Both. Some are just plain mean and stupid.  Frack them.  Others mean well, but they hate because they're afraid, not just for themselves but for their families and their communities, old folks, children, and they've learned by being kicked around by greedy bosses and selfish non-union coworkers and liberal snobs and hypocritical churchgoers that they have to fend for themselves.  And they're afraid because many don't know much about the world outside of football and church and work and when they start getting lots of confusing facts they don't like to feel stupid, so they better hurry up and understand, and besides the devil uses clever words to confuse good christians, so they look to leaders who boil it down to simple terms and reassure them the world is just as simple as they'd like it to be, as it is comforting for it to be.  It confirms what they were told the bible says (most never read it).  They're told by people they respect to be afraid and that it's okay to be tired of being afraid (and there I agree 100%). 

They're human door mats who want something they can be proud of, so they rally around the cross and the flag.  These things were good enough for their parents, who worked hard and loved them, or they like to remember it that way, or if not, then they try to model themselves on other respected figures in their communities for whom these things were good enough, and liberal snots try to run them down all the time, the people they respect, who deserve their respect and more, run them down because they never had the opportunities they had, because they were satisfied with making a living and raising a family, which is after all the backbone of the country, is it not?

Well, it ought to be.  Work should be respected, valued, rewarded, revered.  What they don't know and aren't trying to hear is that the very same people who need them to hate Muslims and turn away refugees and rally around the cross and the flag and sacrifice for their families and communities and country, the fabled 'one percent', aren't sacrificing.  They're making a killing.  Union-busting.  Fear-mongering.  War-profiteering.  And sometimes even running for office themselves if they think they can pull the wool down far enough.  On the other hand, some will take a different tactic and try to say they support unions and the Fight for $15, and so on.  But 'we have to be reasonable.'   'Yes, you need more money -- how about $12?  Could you get by on that?  Me?  Oh, I'll take another $12 MILLION!

Either way, they all say everybody should be proud to be uneducated, poor, down-trodden -- and truly, there is no shame in it -- but it's no great honor, either.  The honor is in overcoming these obstacles, fighting against them, pushing forward, trying to get rid of poverty and ignorance and fear, standing up for something better for ourselves, our families, our communities... organizing!

And that's that they call themselves doing.  At least the best among them do.  The problem is, if you're rallying behind somebody because they're telling you what you want to hear, because you look alike, talk alike, even though they sit in their throne/board room and call the shots and take breaks to sit on golden toilet seats and join millionaire clubs and play millionaire games, instead of together with other poor and working people who may look different, talk different, worship differently, eat, drink, sing, work differently, but who are under attack by people who want to rob them of their homes, their livelihoods, their freedom, and ultimately their lives, just as you are, then you're just a pawn.  And until the pawns of whatever color get together and turn the tables on the kings, queens, knights, bishops, and rooks, they will continue to be the first to be sacrificed in somebody else's game.

P.S. Why SEIU endorsed Clinton

To quote one of those things that I say all the time, of course there are reasons - there are always reasons.  There just happen to be better reasons to do just the opposite.

Friday, November 20, 2015

"Give me your tired, your poor..." unless they're Muslims.

Yeah.  So the "nation of immigrants" wants to turn away women, children, old people, fleeing the "terrorists" we say are our enemies now?  Because they all look alike to us (at best)?  Give me a break!  Oh, yeah, and the leading GOP candidate for prez wants to make 'em wears gold stars or something?  Sieg effin heil.  Because everybody knows how patriotic and defensive (I mean, protective... er... I mean they take care of us, right?) the Republikkkans are!

And now for the Dems -- a minority of them, sure, but one of them's actually named Israel!  (No irony there!)

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of working class folks are buying into the stupid, ignorant bigotry of lies and general nonsense, calling for Obama to resign or Congress to impeach him, not for his actual crimes (blowing up children in Pakistan, etc.) but for letting in desperate people fleeing the same terrorists we're supposedly fighing and/or cowering in our conservative Christian ways -- while at the same time, the very plutocratic demagogues they support are cutting our throats: attacking unions, keeping us from getting health care, robbing our pensions and taking potshots at Social Security!

Ugh, just ugh.

Why, SEIU?

Okay, I know why.  But the decision to back Clinton over Sanders by any labor union, especially one that mostly represents poor people, is just weak.  First presidentail candidate in my life worth giving a dime to, and my own union chickens out.  Disgusting.

And a lot of people in SEIU feel the same as I do.  I got a lot of praise for the following simple comment on our local's staff email:

"I got the word from some (unhappy) members who saw Clinton's endorsement by SEIU in the news today.  Some of you may disagree, and I have to say I am not surprised by the decision, but I also have to say I am deeply disappointed in SEIU.  Not only has Clinton opposed a $15 national minimum wage, which Sanders supports, but she has repeatedly if inconsistently supported so-called 'free trade' agreements over the objections of organized labor, environmentalists, etc.  She voted for the disastrous Iraq War, which Sanders voted against, and as First Lady supported the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act and the disgusting "end of 60 years of support for the nation's poorest children."

That's on top of her record of working for Wall Street and sitting on the board of Walmart at a time when Bernie Sanders was fighting for the rights of working people.  I am sure her proposals for reforming the ACA will improve it, but why does she actually oppose single-payer health care (which Sanders supports), which would help working people much more?

But most importantly, we may have missed an opportunity to stand behind the best candidate for president in the last 40 or more years.  The decision, in which we join AFSCME, NEA, AFT, and others, will most likely signal any candidate for years to come who would have hoped to run on real working class issues not to bother because they are unlikely to get the support of very many labor unions.  I hope they do not listen but listen instead to NNU and the APWU, who are signaling readiness to fight for what working people need.

Presumably SEIU's decision was partly based on her supposed electability -- and we may find out how electable she is -- but, besides being skeptical of most polls (the overall popular vote doesn't count, so most polls mean next to nothing), I phone-banked SEIU members for her in New York when she ran for Senate (wow, they hated her!) and I don't find many fans of hers down here -- maybe you Chicago folks do?  And at least least some of those polls, which may or may not be accurate, show Sanders faring better against any Republican than Clinton would.  It's hard to say, I know.  I have no doubt SEIU will support the better candidate next November, not necessarily the more electable one.  I just wish we could do the same in the primaries."

I sent a similar message to SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.  I doubt I'll get much praise for that.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Worst Places to be Black

A brilliant, eye-opening article in the generally excellent Dollars & Sense magazine this month uses several indicators to show that the worst place in America to be African American is currently, somewhat surprisingly, Wisconsin.  It echoes earlier reports, but still runs counter to many general prejudices.

Though the article describes some history, of discrimination and police abuse, it relies most and most appropriately on socioeconomic rates in which the state is worst among the 50 (incarceration, child well-being, child poverty, unemployment) or close to it (homeownership, teen pregnancy, poverty).  And in this, some related surprises emerge -- besides the fact that Misissippi isn't #1 (worst) in any of these!  (I know, right?)

There are other indicators, too, such as graduation rates, which might surprise you.

OK, so Mississippi appears to be right up there (to the bad) for most other indicators (although #38 for black incarceration and #46 for black home ownership).  New York is worst in African American home ownership (which I might have guessed after working for ACORN there) and teen pregnancy.  Minnesota has the worst African American poverty rate.  Eleven to 12 percent of all Minnesotans live in poverty, hitting children hardest of course (around 15%).  But these statistics are all the more disturbing because Minnesota actually has one of the best poverty rates in the nation for white folks (about 6% to 8%), which of course means - hold on this is almost like math - black poverty would have to be extra bad to jack up the overall poverty rate so much.  And it is (around 38%)!

Put this together with Mr. Loewen's work on sundown towns in your smug Northern pipe and smoke it!  But seriously, Loewen finds a lot of racism in the South, too - because there just is a lot there - so don't celebrate too fast, Southern folks!

However, I want to say: rate is not everything.  You may have noticed that Wisconsin and Minnesota are unlikely candidates for this dubious honor due to the fact that, well, they just don't have a lot of black folks.  So, you may well ask (and if you refrain, I will) where is most of the black poverty?  You know, in terms of absolute numbers?  Well, as you should already know, the poorest parts of the country are also mostly, but not always, the blackest

Por ejemplo, using only slightly out of date population figures (2010 Census), Mississippi has substantially more African Americans living in poverty (412,000+) than the total black population of Minnesota (312,000), where the black poverty rate is worst.  (Or, using the 2014 Census estimated populations, 431,000 Mississippi African Americans in poverty vs. 382,000 total black Minnesotans -- about 145,000 in poverty.)

But aren't most poor people white?  Sure.  But most people in the US are white anyway, so that shouldn't surprise anybody.  Even most welfare goes to white folks.  So, back to rates

African Americans are 'disproportionately' poor, 'overrepresented' among the poor (and incarcerated, etc.) - and the inequality is actually growing in many ways.  None of this measures how it feels to be African American in any of these areas, of course, or how many people say nasty things, or good things, lie to you, laugh at you, look at you cross-eyed, etc.  But racism may be deeper in some places, broader in others.  Apparently, everywhere needs work.