I suppose that maybe this was a misspoken statement, but it certainly seems to fit with the rest of the Republican response to Obama to blame the national drought on the president. Not the response, the drought itself. And who doubts that a certain segment of American society believes the drought is God’s response to electing a black Islamofascist to the presidency?
Author Page for Erik Loomis
This story about the siphoning of water from the Sacramento River to the big corporate farms and cities of southern California says a lot about the future of water resources in the West, and the nation more broadly. Water is the #1 issue in western development. It’s a true axiom in American history that those who control water control power. With climate change, the West’s oversubscribed water supplies are more hotly contested than ever. It’s pretty clear to me that over time, the priorities for water are going to be a) cities, b) corporate farms, 3) slightly less corporate farms, 4) the environment. Meaning the environment will get as little as the will allow. And despite the very real power of agriculture, it doesn’t match the power of voters who are desperate for their own water.
Who else is just ecstatic at the possibility of Catfood Commission Erskine Bowles as Secretary of the Treasury? I know I can’t wait for the Obama Administration to start negotiations with Republicans on the deficit with the principle of eviscerating Medicare and Social Security. I’m sure that will end well! As Ezra Klein says, Bowles is “personally loved by Wall Street.” So we can also expect the necessary reforms so that 2007 never happens again!
As Dave Dayen says (see first link above):
What is the sum total of Bowles’ record? What primes him for this position? He worked at Morgan Stanley and in the corporate world his entire life until the 1990s; ran the Small Business Administration for about a year under Clinton; became chief of staff from January 1997 to October 1998, during which time he tried to broker a deal on Social Security with Newt Gingrich and would have succeeded if it weren’t for the Lewinsky affair; ran unsuccessfully twice for Senate in North Carolina; and then did Bowles-Simpson. He’s never been elected, doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of accomplishments other than being a Clinton-era crony, and has throughout his public life exhibited a passion for cutting the safety net.
Somehow this song seems appropriate for this Friday night:
Please note my selection of the Wetton-era live version versus the original off the nearly unlistenable In the Wake of Poseidon. I have that much taste at least.
For this week’s Forestry Friday post I want to follow up on last week’s discussion of drug cartels destroying the forests of Mexico by bringing this story into the forests of California. A team of scientists at UC-Davis conducted a study about recent deaths in the population of the rare Pacific fisher, a member of the weasel family. What they found was disturbing. Essentially, the Mexican drug cartels are using a huge amount of rat poison on their hidden plantations in the Sierra Nevada. The rodents eat the poison, but they don’t die immediately. As predators kill the still living rodents, they ingest the poison into their own system. It builds up and they die a horrible, painful death that turns their internal organs to mush. 79% of the fisher carcasses studied had rat poison in their system.
Of course, fishers aren’t the only animals to eat forest rodents. Like other poisons, it moves up the food chain. The study worries about the impact of poison on other predatory mammals. The effect of this poison upon birds has not been studied, at least to my knowledge, but we can probably make an educated guess about that. This rat poison, which the cartels use in huge amounts (I’ve seen the original report with DEA pictures from raided pot plantations), also washes into streams and affects fish and other aquatic creatures.
Effectively, this poison enters the food chain in ways not dissimilar from DDT and other famous poisons. Of course, this is not widespread enough to truly cause a Silent Spring-type scenario, but on a local level, this rat poison could have an enormous effect on the forest ecosystem.
There are two logical policy moves that would help eliminate this problem. In the short term, the DEA needs to put its resources toward eliminating these cartel operations and away from the easier to find operations on the west coast. Second, we need to decriminalize marijuana. California will eventually decriminalize, over the objections of the pot growers themselves who profit off criminalization, but it has to be nationwide. Otherwise, the cartels still have reason to go into our national forests and tear up the environment in order to provide Americans’ seemingly insatiable demand for the drug.
I’ve read a lot of writing by members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Propaganda, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, posters, etc. The I.W.W. may have been completely ineffective at actual unionism, but it sure could articulate the disgust many working-class people had toward capitalism in the early 20th century.
Still, I’ve never quite seen an article like one the I.W.W. newspaper Industrial Worker published on July 3, 1913. Entitled “Cossacks Rule in Oregon City,” the writing just drips with outrage. I just had to present you all with an excerpt. If anyone wants to see the whole thing, e-mail me and I’ll send the PDF. It’s classic.
Reports of a strike, plus numerous arrests of I.W.W. agitators took us to Oregon City. We arrived at 5:35 p.m. By accident (of course) a scatter-brained, scarecrow-faced deputy sheriff accompanied us from Portland. We got off about a quarter of a mile from the business section of the town. On almost every street corner, in front of saloons, cigar stands, etc., stood excited groups of Rubes, Ninnies, and Boobs. They were loudly proclaiming against I.W.W. and Socialist agitators. Their assinine, bovine, and swinelike dials gave credence to their utterances of contentment and satisfaction. No sow, cow, or ass, with its belly full of oats, grass, or swill ever looked less intelligent, or more self-satisfied than this aggregation of boss-loving, belly-crawling scissorbills. The air of Oregon City stank with the abominable odor from the decaying and rotting sheep hides in the basement of the woolen mill. It reeked of vile fumes from the pulp mills. But the most abhorrent of Oregon City’s many and varied stinks, was the stinking free booze breaths oozing from the putrid mouths of those offscourgings from the sewage of the hell, the militia, deputy sheriffs and the hired sluggers of the mill owners. The most human looking face among this horde would do service for a butcher’s block. A trinity of stenches are here enumerated. Portland has likewise a trio of stenches. They are the Morning Miasma alias the Oregonian, the Evening Cesspool alias the Telegram, and the Afternoon Sewer alias the Journal. This smellsome set of trinities have almost a sextette affinity. If the Pittock, Leadbetter, and other such interests behind the Reptile Rags do not control the officials of Oregon City, then it is a mistake. An answer as to “who owns the paper and pulp mills of Oregon City?” might not please the Pittocks, Leadbetters and other such Sassiety Scum. Neither would the TRUTH about the ownership at Camas, Washington please these gentry, eh? The kept jades of Portland’s infamous trio of Reptile Rags were as venomous in their attacks on the girl strikers of Camas as on the Oregon City strikers. The reason in both cases being the same. The despicable Iditorials were goaded into life by the same interests, namely Pittock, Leadbetter, and the ilk.
The air of Oregon City was charged with an atmosphere of “there’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight.” The stammerings, stutterings, and splutterings of gun, star and billy bedecked, blood-soaked savages, militia, deputy sheriffs, stew bum gun men were easily understood. These mis-carriages of nature were prepared at a moment’s notice to slaughter every union man or woman in town.
Well, it goes on from there.
To say the least, we don’t exactly write about class and labor this way anymore.
I watched Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank the other night. It was a pretty excellent film, even if the plot twist was predictable. Essentially, a very confused, messed-up, and angry 15 year old causes problems and gets into fights, yet shows great tenderness in other cases. She also loves to dance, as evidently do many of the young women in her neighborhood who watch a lot of videos. Her alcoholic single mom gets a new boyfriend who seems like a perfectly nice working-class guy and gentlemen. Of course he’s not and mayhem ensues. You can read the Times review here.
It’s a good movie and you should see it. But I write about it because it reinforced something I see again and again: the commonality of the British working-class film and the complete disappearance of the working-class from American film. In Britain, portrayals of working-class life are entirely common. These don’t have to be political either. The height of the form might be Ken Loach’s outstanding Sweet Sixteen. Loach makes overtly political films too but these are highly inconsistent and usually less satisfying than his portrayals of just everyday working-class life. They don’t have to be social realism either–Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels may not be a realistic portrayal of working-class life but working-class people are absolutely central to the story.
Contrast this to the United States. I don’t have many expectations from the big studios that at this point make superhero movies, a few comedies, and official Oscar contending films that 10 years ago seemed to all be about the Holocaust and today seem to be all about old British royalty.
But what about independent film? We supposedly have this vibrant indie film scene in the U.S. One can certainly question its quality (and I very much do) but there are a lot of films being made. And yet the working-class is almost entirely absent. Simple stories of working-class people barely exist. There are probably a lot of reasons for this. Britain of course has a much more honed sense of class consciousness than Americans. And most of these indie filmmakers here probably don’t come from working-class backgrounds themselves and naturally enough tell stories that have meaning to them.
Nonetheless, the disappearance of stories about working-class people from American film is sad and the plethora of good movies covering these topics shows how much American filmgoers are missing out on.
Of course any post on the top 10 films in history is basically trolling for comments. But they were interesting comments. And here’s a few additional thoughts based upon them:
1. I recognize that there are good movies from the 1980s. But I would say that there are less good movies from that decade than any other. If I counted The Decalogue as a movie, it would be in my top 10 of all time, but it’s really more of a miniseries, as is Scenes from a Marriage, another clear top 10 contender. As is, Raging Bull is probably the decade’s best film.
2. I simply don’t get the love for Fight Club. It’s a good solid movie, but a total cop-out in the end with the two guys being the same person. I guess it serves as a touchstone for modern discussions of masculinity and I think that’s why people love it so much, even if they don’t think of it in those terms. But it’s really not that great. And neither is Children of Men, another recent film that people love more than is justified. Nothing against that film either, which I also liked a good bit. But really.
3. I’m interested, both in the original Sight and Sound list and in comments, of the increasing respect for Mulholland Drive. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a David Lynch fan. But there’s no question it’s his best movie. His aesthetic is not really for me. But the key to reaching the S&S Top 10 is not to have your votes divided among multiple films. I think Lynch’s are coalescing around Mulholland.
4. I liked SEK bringing up Sunshine. Although I don’t much care for science fiction, the first 2/3 of that were really good. And then it was a complete meltdown. God the last third was garbage. But then I am also not a Danny Boyle fan. I think he jumps from genre to genre without really developing his craft around particular types of storytelling in a way that would deepen his films over time. I also thought Slumdog Millionaire was irritating poverty porn and it reinforced how stupid Oscar voters are.
5. Finally, just to throw another 10 films out that could easily have made my top 10 on a different day, think Wild Strawberries, The Godfather Part I, Pather Panchali, Kings of the Road, The Big Sleep, Raging Bull, The Gold Rush, A Generation, Army of Shadows, and All About Eve.
And just to troll a bit, and because I truly love this film, I’ll add an 11th: The Last Temptation of Christ.
Also, Moonrise Kingdom was really, really great.
On August 4, 1942, the United States and Mexico made an agreement to deliver contract Mexican labor to American farmers in order to serve as cheap replacement labor during World War II. While the Bracero Program helped fill the labor shortages, it also opened up a new era of Americans exploiting Mexican labor. The abuses associated with the Bracero Program helped lead to a number of social changes in the United States, including the Chicano Movement, the United Farm Workers, and the Immigration Act of 1965.
Mexican-Americans made up an important part of the agricultural labor force in the Southwest long before World War II. While most of the land the U.S. stole during the Mexican War was not densely inhabited, Mexicans in California, Texas, and especially New Mexico found themselves all of a sudden second-class citizens in their new nation. Agricultural labor was all many could find within the white supremacist economy of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Moreover, the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution sent waves of Mexicans across the U.S. border for the first time in the 1910s. That was great for American farmers who wanted to pay their labor as little as possible. It also gave them an alternative to the white labor that tended to join the I.W.W. and demand decent pay and living conditions.
But during the 1930s, as whites needed jobs, any job held by a non-white was seen as a betrayal of white supremacy. John Steinbeck may have movingly told the story of white migrants to the California fields in The Grapes of Wrath, but he almost totally leaves out the history of Mexican labor in those same fields. During the Great Depression, that labor was forcibly expelled from the Southwest. During the 1930s, over 500,000 Mexicans returned to Mexico, many by force, others by social pressures. Whites took their jobs.
But during World War II, what seemed like good social policy to many whites turned into a disaster because all of a sudden white people could make a lot more money than they could in the fields. So U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho agreed to the Bracero Program. Essentially, this provided Mexican labor to American employers through short-term contracts. When the contract ended, the worker returned to Mexico. Crops are picked, America stays white. By 1945, about 125,000 Mexicans worked under Bracero contracts, not only in agriculture, but for the railroads.
Originally the program was to end in 1947 and the railroad program concluded upon the return of soldiers in 1945. But southwestern farmers, who, due to their power within their relevant states and long distances from the centers of national power, managed yet again to convince the otherwise pro-labor federal government of the New Deal era to facilitate their exploitation of workers (see their exemption from complying with the Wagner Act and the Fair Labor Standards Acts for other examples). By 1956, 456,000 Mexicans labored in the fields under Bracero contracts.
Under these contracts, workers effectively had no rights at all. Because they could be employed legally nowhere besides the fields, they worked in near slave conditions. Contracts were only in English and the Mexicans had no idea what they were signing. Wages were stolen, housing was substandard if even provided, food was terrible, and complaints resolved by sending workers back to Mexico.
I went as a bracero four times, but I didn’t like it. We got on the train in Empalme, and went all the way to Mexicali, where we got on busses to the border. From there, they took us to El Centro. Thousands of men came every day. Once we got there, they’d send us in groups of two hundred, as naked as we came into the world, into a big room, about sixty feet square. Then men would come in in masks, with tanks on their backs, and they’d fumigate us from top to bottom. Supposedly we were flea-ridden, germ-ridden. No matter, they just did it.
Then quickly, they took a pint of blood from every man. Anyone who was sick wouldn’t pass. Then they’d send us into a huge bunk house, where the contractors would come from the growers associations in counties like San Joaquin County, Yolo , Sacramento, Fresno and so on. The heads of the associations would line us up. When they saw someone they didn’t like, they’d say, “You, no.” Others, they’d say, “You, stay.” Usually, they didn’t want people who were old — just young people. Strong ones, right? And I was young, so I never had problems getting chosen. We were hired in El Centro and given our contracts, usually for 45 days.
In Tracy I was with a crew from Juajuapa de Leon, in Oaxaca, and one of those boys died. Something he ate at dinner in the camp wasn’t any good. The kid got food poisoning, but what could we do? We were all worried because he’d died, and what happened to him could happen to any of us. They said they’d left soap on the plates, or something had happened with the dinner, because lots of others got diarrhea. I got diarrhea too. But this boy died.
It was these sorts of conditions, the everyday exploitation of Mexican labor, that helped motivate the Chicano rights movement in the United States. In Texas, the conditions were so awful, as white owners ruled their ranches as fiefdoms, that Mexico refused to send braceros to that state until 1947. The United Farm Workers built off the treatment of Mexican and Mexican-American labor like that Garcia Perez experienced to create its movement to improve working conditions in the fields.
The Bracero Program ended in 1964. Two things replaced it–the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 that provided a legal pathway for immigrants from most of the world to enter the U.S. for the first time since 1924 (although for Mexicans obviously this was a more complex legacy) and the establishment of the Border Industrialization Program in 1965. BIP was intended to keep Mexican labor south of the Rio Grande by giving incentives to American companies to cross the river and use cheap Mexican labor. While capital fled to Mexico, neither increased legal immigration nor BIP came close to filling the employment needs of Mexicans driven from their traditional lands by a complex cluster of factors. Undocumented migration to the United States grew rapidly in coming decades. This new phase of immigration continued the history of exploitation of Mexican workers by American employers.
Finally, here is Cisco Houston’s version of Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee,” a song the great songwriter composed after the death of 28 braceros in a plane crash while being sent back to Mexico in 1948.
This is the 37th installment of this series. Earlier installments are archived here.
If you haven’t read Karla Zabludovsky’s piece today on locals in Michoacán organizing to fight illegal logging by criminal gangs that is robbing them of their livelihood and traditional ways of life, you really must do so. A few points on this:
1. While legalizing marijuana in the United States would rob the Mexican criminal gangs of a major source of income, the idea that it would somehow resolve the violence in Mexico is absurd. Maybe at one time such a thing might have made a major difference but not now. The gangs have moved into any number of other activities, including kidnapping, extortion, the illegal wildlife trade, and logging, as well as of course smuggling hard drugs. Of course, the U.S. could shut the flow of guns to Mexico but that would violate my rights to have a personal arsenal the size of the Honduran army or something.
2. That locals have to organize to fight these criminals says a lot about the failures of the Mexican government over the last 70 years or so to bring rural communities into state. Effectively, the government has given up any hope of paroling these areas. While the post-revolutionary state did take major steps forward under the Calles and Cardenas regimes, after 1940, it really stalled out. Although Mexico is a fairly well off country by developing world standards, resources never flowed into rural areas and neither did a state presence. The long-time rule of a single party state is the real culprit–the PRI made sure the leaders of these communities bought into the program and that was good enough. There was never much incentive for the state to deliver in these communities.
The “uses and customs,” or usos y costumbres, that some indigenous communities rule themselves under have positive benefits, but it is also deeply complex and fraught with intra-community tensions, as my wife Kathleen McIntyre shows in her dissertation on evangelicalism and religious conflict in indigenous Oaxacan villages.
But while usos y costumbres might give these indigenous communities some power to fight the criminal gangs, it’s absolutely pathetic that they have to rely on this instead of the Mexican police force. This just says so much about the problems Mexico faces. Why does everyone look the other way on all the drug smuggling, the killing of women in Juarez, the illegal logging, and so much else? Because the state refuses to pay cops enough to make it worth their while and because the state never bothered developing the infrastructure that would provide economic options to people. And while I may be a bit harsh on governance in a relatively poor country, the Mexican government deserves a lot of blame here.
3. This illegal logging is both a social and ecological disaster. Ecologically, among other things it severely threatens the future of the monarch butterfly, since even in this central tourist destination, the Mexican state is unable/unwilling to protect the forests the monarch relies upon to survive. Plus you have the survival of many other species placed in peril, from migratory birds to all too rare mammal populations to rare plants. The forests of Michoacán also contain mushrooms the local people rely on for their economy. With those disappearing, the future of these villages is very much in doubt.
On another note, I am starting a new series on the blog that I am calling Forestry Friday. I’ll have a forestry related post each week on some aspect of current or historical forest issues. Why? Because I care a lot about these issues and I hope you will too.
On August 3, 1981, the nation’s air traffic controllers went on strike in arguably the greatest disaster in the history of American organized labor. Ronald Reagan’s busting of the union led to a new period of corporate anti-union attacks and served as a precursor to the current Republican-led campaign against public sector unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and across the country.
The Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association was founded in 1968 and quickly proved to be an important and active trade union of public sector employees. This was a period of rapid growth for public sector unions, reaching nearly 40% of public workers by 1980. The air traffic controllers were mostly working-class people who had acquired their skill in the military. For them, the union meant a middle-class lifestyle without attending college. These people were living the idealized American Dream, the one that encourages us to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. But of course, the employers don’t really want people to follow through on that mythology en masse, for doing so means understanding the need to wrest power from the bosses.
PATCO had a pretty militant membership and strong leadership. But with striking by federal employees illegal, their options for workplace actions were limited. In 1969, PATCO workers implemented safety rules that maintained large distances between aircraft, which effectively proved to be a slowdown. In 1970, PATCO engaged in a sick out to protest understaffing and stress, leading the government to hire more air traffic controllers and increase modernization efforts. But with public sector strikes illegal, the air traffic controllers had limited options to achieve its aims. Moreover, PATCO had a very bad relationship with Jimmy Carter. So in 1980, the union endorsed Ronald Reagan for the presidency. Reagan, a former union leader who had led the Actors Guild on a strike in 1952, said favorable things about their union despite his conservatism.
Supporting Reagan didn’t exactly pay off for PATCO.
On August 3, 1981, PATCO went on strike for better pay, improved working conditions, and a 32-hour work week. The union wanted an across the board $10,000 pay raise and fully funded retirement after 20 years. It was an audacious set of demands that would have cost taxpayers $770 million. The government came back with significantly less, but still a shorter work week and a 10% pay increase for a few workers. 95% of the membership rejected the deal and authorized a strike.
But it was illegal for government workers to go out on strike. Congress passed a law in 1955 that made strikes government workers punishable by a year in prison, which the Supreme Court upheld in 1971. Ronald Reagan, flexing his muscles as a new president who represented an invigorated right-wing movement, decided to repay PATCO for its support in 1980 by destroying the union. Reagan used the Taft-Hartley Act to force the workers back on the job, but the large majority stayed out. The strike aimed to cripple the nation’s flight capacity, but through automation and quickly sending in scabs, flights were reduced only by about 50%. When the union refused to go back to work, Reagan fired the 11,345 strikers. He did not have to do that. The law did not require the firing of striking public sector workers and no one expected Reagan to do this. He also banned them from government employment for life. Finally, Bill Clinton rescinded that ban in 1993, but only about 800 returned to government employment. That October, the Federal Labor Relations Authority decertified the union. This was probably the greatest disaster in the history of American labor.
Regardless of the wisdom of the air traffic controllers going on strike, Reagan’s busting of their union had widespread implications. It invigorated the latent anti-union sentiment in the country. According to Alan Greenspan, Reagan is to be lauded for his actions precisely because it emboldened private employers to treat their own workers as expendable and take a harsher stance against organized labor. And it’s not like everyday Americans came out in support of the PATCO cause: in the weeks after the strike began, 45,000 people applied to become air traffic controllers.
Organized labor certainly saw the threat to its future and held what they called Solidarity Day on September 19 that drew about 250,000 people, mostly organized union members, to Washington. But even such a large rally was pretty easy for Reagan to ignore, particularly with him receiving a lot of support from his base and the more conservative parts of the country. And what does such a march do anyway? Not much. The AFL-CIO sent out letters to its unions banning them from engaging in any secondary strikes or more radical actions. From a legal perspective that makes a lot of sense, but from a strategy perspective it was pretty disastrous because it showed the labor federation completely unable to mobilize effectively in response to this threat. Moreover, AFL-CIO Lane Kirkland explicitly told Reagan he wouldn’t do anything to damage him and said he opposed “anything that would represent punishing, injuring or inconveniencing the public at large for the sins or transgression of the Reagan administration.”
Great leadership Lane.
From the perspective of air safety and cost effectiveness, busting the union could have been destroyed Reagan. Air traffic safety was severely compromised; even Reagan’s own supporters worried that plane crashes would result from his actions. It took 10 years for the government to train enough workers to restaff the air towers at the level of 1981. The cost of this was billions more than the workers demanded in 1981.
Yet for Reagan, as for conservatives so often, fiscal discipline only mattered if it served his political aims. Reagan’s larger goal of crushing American organized labor took precedence and was worth the risk to him. The cost of the strike didn’t matter so much as American forget about these things quickly. That he was willing to put the lives of American flyers at risk in order to score political points shows his moral monstrosity. But it paid off big time for Reagan. Even at labor’s peak, a large percentage of the American population hated the sheer idea of labor unions and rarely has union bashing cost American politicians at the polls. Reagan wrapped himself in his labor union past for the duration of the action, lamenting that he had to take such actions against labor and that he only did so because the strike was illegal and threatened public safety. Reagan also showed his respect for the law and public safety later in his presidency in the nation of Nicaragua.
The airplanes did not crash (though they certainly could have) and Reagan gained his desired reputation for toughness. Both American labor and the Soviets took note of his stand. Public sector unions never again took such an aggressive bargaining stance toward the federal government.
There’s plenty of places one can mark where American labor began its decline: Taft-Hartley. The expulsion of the communists from the unions. The Border Industrialization Project. But right at the top of this depressing list is the PATCO strike. Even today, labor has not recovered from this and still doesn’t have an effective strategy for dealing with employers’ uncompromising union-busting tactics.
The definitive account of the PATCO strike is Joseph McCartin’s recent book. I have only read excerpts but it comes highly recommended.
Today, the air traffic controllers are again unionized in the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, but obviously the militancy is not the same as in 1981.
This is the 36th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.