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War on Poverty

[ 188 ] January 8, 2014 |

The greatest war in American history turns 50 today. That’s the War on Poverty.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, Members of the House and Senate, my fellow Americans:

I will be brief, for our time is necessarily short and our agenda is already long.

Last year’s congressional session was the longest in peacetime history. With that foundation, let us work together to make this year’s session the best in the Nation’s history.

Let this session of Congress be known as the session which did more for civil rights than the last hundred sessions combined; as the session which enacted the most far-reaching tax cut of our time; as the session which declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States; as the session which finally recognized the health needs of all our older citizens; as the session which reformed our tangled transportation and transit policies; as the session which achieved the most effective, efficient foreign aid program ever; and as the session which helped to build more homes, more schools, more libraries, and more hospitals than any single session of Congress in the history of our Republic.

All this and more can and must be done. It can be done by this summer, and it can be done without any increase in spending. In fact, under the budget that I shall shortly submit, it can be done with an actual reduction in Federal expenditures and Federal employment.

We have in 1964 a unique opportunity and obligation–to prove the success of our system; to disprove those cynics and critics at home and abroad who question our purpose and our competence.

If we fail, if we fritter and fumble away our opportunity in needless, senseless quarrels between Democrats and Republicans, or between the House and the Senate, or between the South and North, or between the Congress and the administration, then history will rightfully judge us harshly. But if we succeed, if we can achieve these goals by forging in this country a greater sense of union, then, and only then, can we take full satisfaction in the State of the Union.

While Johnson’s Great Society was not perfect, it was a brave and noble attempt to fight entrenched poverty in the world’s largest economic power. But largely today, we’d have to call this war lost. The New Gilded Age is by definition a resounding defeat of the War on Poverty by the plutocrats and the shareholders, with quarterly reports meaning more than childhood nutrition and end of the year Wall Street bonuses a higher priority than homelessness, racial equality, or education. Capital mobility is the weapon of the rich, undermining the job security necessary for people to make demands on corporations and making politicians desperate for the good will of corporate leaders for both campaign donations and jobs for their constituents.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t take LBJ as an inspiration and fight a new war on poverty, one that is increasingly needed a nation defined by enormous income inequality, long-term unemployment, and devastating debt loads.

This Day in Labor History: January 8, 1811

[ 54 ] January 8, 2014 |

On January 8, 1811, the largest armed slave uprising in U.S. history took place. The German Coast Uprising in Louisiana had up to 500 participants marching to New Orleans to attempt a Haitian Revolution in the United States. Only 2 whites died in this uprising, showing the extreme difficulty any slave revolt had in succeeding or even making a dent in the slave power within the United States. Yet for the significance of this event, it is almost completely unknown in popular American history, even compared to the rest of slavery history.

Louisiana developed a significantly different slave tradition than the rest of the United States. Whereas most early British North American slavery was in tobacco (and rice in South Carolina) and then cotton in the 19th century, Louisiana money was made in sugar. This made it much more like the Caribbean. There was a lot more money in sugar than the other crops. This meant wealthier planters and higher concentration of slaves. The German Coast of Louisiana, generally speaking St. Charles Parish and St. John Parish, had these concentrations. Some have estimated a 5:1 ratio although census records suggest a more even ratio. This matters because the larger the predominance of the slaves, the better the conditions were for organized rebellion, something whites knew and a fact that scared the bezeejus out of them, especially after the success of the Haitian Revolution.

From the perspective of the United States government and the nation’s white supremacist ideology, Louisiana was also a troubled place. While Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had close relationships with the French, after purchasing Louisiana, they did not believe the Creoles of Louisiana could govern themselves (they used the typical rhetoric of children needing to learn good government from the Americans that would be used against Native American tribes, the Philippines, and Latin America). Part of the discomfort was Louisiana’s different racial hierarchy, with a wealthy free black community and common consensual interracial sex that led to skin tone rather than one drop rules dominating the racial hierarchy. Jefferson and Madison resisted granting Louisiana statehood, clearly guaranteed in the Louisiana Purchase agreement, until 1812. So when the slave revolt took place, it happened in a Louisiana undergoing rapid changes.

As for much about the history of slavery in this period, the specific details of even such a major event are pretty hazy. Planning for the revolt began on January 6, just after the end of the brutal sugar harvest. The leader seems to have been Charles Deslondes, with men named Quamana and Harry also playing major roles. Quamana and another slave named Kook were Asantes, evidently warriors, who had been imported from Africa around 1806. Deslondes summed up the fear of race mixing and the French system of slavery for American whites, a green-eyed man with greater education and access to the world than the average slave. He was the son of a white planter and black slave and evidently was used as a slave driver.

The revolt began at the home of plantation owner Manuel André, about 36 miles north of New Orleans along Lake Ponchartrain in an area known as the German Coast because of a number of German planters in the area. André was struck with an axe and wounded and his son chopped to death. Deslondes brought the slaves from a plantation owned by widows where he was enslaved. Deslondes led the slaves into the plantation cellar for muskets and militia uniforms.

The precise numbers of slaves involved are unclear and estimates varied. The original revolt consisted of between 64 and 125 participants. As these slaves marched toward New Orleans, they picked up people along the way, leading to a final number of between 250 and 500. It’s thought that between 10 and 25% of slaves from the various plantations affected joined the rebellion, mostly single young men under 30. Armed with hand tools, knives, and a few guns, they marched for two days, covering twenty miles. The historical documentation is sketchy. But there is at least limited evidence that the slaves were aware of the Haitian Revolution and modeled this after that, a possibility given that many Haitian planters had fled to Louisiana with their slaves during the Revolution. It also seems that some of the slaves had military experience in Ghana and Angola before their capture. We do know that the slaves marched in military formation so someone had some military training at some point.

Area whites panicked, fleeing to New Orleans, fearing a Haiti in their midst. And in fact, it does seem that Deslondes and the slaves wanted to conquer New Orleans. Later, after this was over, a slave named Jupiter was asked why he participated. He answered that he wanted to kill white people.

The response to the uprising was utterly brutal. Whites came at the slaves with maximum force. The U.S. military combined with French planters to suppress the rebellion. They came close to New Orleans before being turned around at Jacques Fournier’s plantation and crushed near modern-day Norco, Louisiana, on or very near the site of what is today the Waterford 3 Nuclear Power Plant. As they fled into the plantation backcountry and bayous, whites hunted them down. Another 44 were tried and executed. The total number of dead was around 95. What makes this response different than other slave rebellions is the brutality. Slave owners recognized the rebellion as a very real threat and wanted to be clear of the consequences. So they cut off the heads of the slaves, placed them on pikes, and lined the roads with them, in the most public and brutal suppression of slave agency in the nation’s history. The territorial legislature compensated the owners for the loss of their property by paying them $300 for each dead slave.

The federal-planter alliance to crush the rebellion helped smooth over the hard feelings about the federal treatment of the territory. Louisiana would become a state the next year. It also helped commit the federal government to the defense of slavery. Slowly Louisiana’s system of race and slavery would become more like the rest of the American South.

The most prominent book I know of on the 1811 rebellion is Daniel Rasmussen’s American Uprising, and some of the information for this post comes from there.

This is the 88th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.


[ 74 ] January 7, 2014 |

Yesterday, we discussed the serious problems the American West has with its water supply and the very real threats this portends for the region’s future. Those who truly believe technology can solve our problems sometimes turn to desalination plants as a cure. Sarah Goodyear sums up many of the reasons why these are really problematic:

First among these is cost. Desal plants are hugely expensive to build and operate. Water companies would have to pass those costs along to customers. Fluctuating demand can make this type of massive capital investment even riskier for utilities. The plants are also are energy intensive — another factor in the operating expense — and could be significant contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The environmental costs of desal are still only partially understood, according to a new report from the Pacific Institute. The possible negative effect on marine ecosystems has emerged as a major stumbling block to the construction of desal on the California coast.

Then there’s the disposal of the super-salty brine left over after the desalination process is complete. That liquid, produced in huge quantities — roughly one gallon for every gallon of desalinated water — is denser than normal seawater and could cause its own set of problems, particularly for desal plants located in areas without a lot of tidal flow.

All these factors, combined with the strong environmentalist constituencies in many coastal California communities and strict state regulations, mean that developing desal plants can turn into an expensive headache for water companies. In 2006 the number of proposed plants in California was 21. Now it’s down to 17, despite strong support for developing desal among many elected officials.

I am extremely skeptical of desalination as a reasonable solution for all these reasons. The impacts are likely to be massive–to the pocketbooks of customers and to the environment. Because the long-term impacts on ecosystems are poorly understood, like fracking and other energy projects that we rush into without sufficient study, desalination is likely to have unexpected consequences that will lead to difficult problems down the road. And while politicians and the public love these things in theory because they don’t see consequences, I don’t think they can either build enough of these to solve the water problems in California or that the cost of the produced water will be worth the effort.

Mapping Child Labor, 1933

[ 20 ] January 7, 2014 |

The Department of Labor provided some useful maps in 1933 of the United States’ patchwork regulations on child labor. One map.

Seems to me that Arkansas was infringing on the freedom of 8 year olds to work given that 4th grade requirement.

The Beef Monopoly

[ 84 ] January 7, 2014 |

It’s not so much that the beef monopoly is evil. We all know that. It’s that the beef monopoly is an evil subsidized directly by taxpayer dollars. That’s a problem.

I’d also argue that the beef pictured in the link was a bit overcooked.

Corporate Income Taxes

[ 81 ] January 6, 2014 |

I really don’t think Lawrence Kotlikoff’s idea to abolish all corporate income taxes is very good.

In recent decades, American workers have suffered one body blow after another: the decline in manufacturing, foreign competition, outsourcing, the Great Recession and smart machines that replace people everywhere you look. Amazon and Google are in a horse race to see how many humans they can put out of work with self-guided delivery drones and driverless cars. You wonder who will be left with incomes to buy what these robots deliver.

What can workers do to mitigate their plight? One useful step would be to lobby to eliminate the corporate income tax.

That might sound like a giveaway to the rich. It’s not. The rich, including Boeing’s stockholders, can take their companies and run — and not just from Washington State to, say, North Carolina. To avoid our federal corporate tax, they can, and often do, move their operations and jobs abroad. Apple’s tax return says it all: The company, according to one calculation, paid only 8.2 percent of its worldwide profits in United States corporate income taxes, thanks to piling up most of its profits and locating far too many of its operations overseas.

While Kotlikoff makes the not unreasonable suggestion that corporate taxes be replaced by taxes on dividends, the reality is that policy makers are going to take this, slash the corporate taxes, and not tax dividends or income. And while he might not be wrong that corporate taxes are an incentive to corporations moving around the world to maximize profit, they are doing that anyway to avoid labor standards, environmental regulations, and every social responsibility in exchange for an awesome next quarterly report.

The Rightless Workplace

[ 42 ] January 6, 2014 |

Former NLRB member Craig Becker on an extremely disturbing decision by the 5th Circuit that effectively creates what he terms a “rightless workplace.”

Unnoticed except by employment lawyers, the United States Court of Appeals in New Orleans last month issued what might be the most important workers’ rights opinions in decades. The decision permits employers to require workers, as a condition of keeping their jobs, to agree to arbitrate all workplace disputes and to do so as individuals, standing alone against their employer. The ruling could spell the end of employment class actions that were instrumental to breaching the barriers of both race and sex discrimination after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and remain critical to enforcement of minimum wage and other labor standards laws.

The case involved D.R. Horton, a home-builder operating in 27 states with annual revenue over $6 billion. The company required all employees to sign an agreement providing that employment disputes would be resolved by binding arbitration and that the arbitrator “may hear only Employee’s individual claims.” When one employee tried to pursue a claim that D.R. Horton had misclassified an entire category of workers as exempt from the protection of federal overtime law, the company insisted that each worker had to file his or her own claim.

The employee sought relief from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which held that the “agreement” to waive the right to join with co-workers in pursuing workplace claims violated federal labor law, which not only gives employees a right to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, but also to “engage in … concerted activities for the purpose of … other mutual aid or protection.” More than 30 years ago, the Supreme Court recognized that labor law protects employees when “they seek to improve their working conditions through resort to administrative and judicial forums.” After all, if employees have a right to strike together for higher wages, surely they can sue together to obtain the same result. And that is what the board held: Just as employers cannot require employees to “agree” not to join a union by signing what’s known as a “yellow dog contract,” neither can they require employees to “agree” not to file a class action.

The New Orleans Court of Appeals, by a 2-1 vote, reversed the board’s decision, concluding that employees’ longstanding labor-law right to act collectively was trumped by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which was enacted in 1925 to require courts to enforce private parties’ lawful agreements to resolve disputes out of court. But the FAA does not say anything about class actions and does not require enforcement of arbitration agreements that violate another law, such as the National Labor Relations Act. The court’s holding was guided instead by recent Supreme Court decisions giving the FAA an expansive reading—for example, permitting AT&T Mobility to enforce an arbitration clause appearing in the fine print in its form contract with cell-phone users, precluding consumers from bringing a class action.

Forgive the long block quote but it’s necessary to understand what’s going on. Effectively, Republican judges are continually pushing the United States toward the New Gilded Age, where employees no longer have rights but employers have expansively defined rights that happen to coincide with Republican policy beliefs about the workplace. Think of Gilded Age courts not enforcing Sherman Antitrust Act against the corporations the legislation originally intended to regulate but instead being used to bust unions, as was the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for a comparison. Courts are effectively ending a long tradition of workers using the institutions for their rights through defining laws to end class action suits.

The Republican Party and its court appointees have basically deified corporations. Whether we believe corporations should be our masters are not is irrelevant, since the courts will decide the question for us.

The Republican War on Women Has Real Effects

[ 47 ] January 6, 2014 |

The Republican War on Women, Texas Edition, is having the precise effects Rick Perry and the gang hoped:

In the Rio Grande Valley, Whole Woman’s Health CEO Amy Hagstrom Miller told msnbc, doctors are struggling to care for women who have complications from self-induced abortions. Her clinic there, in McAllen, was one of two in the border region that had to stop performing abortions because of the law’s requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

“I can’t even get the hospital there to send us an application,” said Hagstrom Miller.

Women keep showing up anyway. All she can offer them is a gas card and bus tickets to San Antonio, four and a half hours away and at least a two-day affair, what with Texas’s forced ultrasound and waiting period requirements.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Texas, the handful of abortion providers who have been able to gain admitting privileges are scrambling to meet the demand. “The same number of women still need abortions,” said Hagstrom Miller.

Two of her employees have been working full time on the morass of paperwork and differing admitting privileges requirements at each hospital. Her Fort Worth clinic recently reopened when one doctor got privileges – but he has a full-time job elsewhere and can only come to Texas on the weekend.

“We had 100 people come the first day we reopened,” said Hagstrom Miller. “It was like New York, pre-Roe.”

The worst may be yet to come. The state only just issued specific regulations requiring that all abortions be performed in ambulatory surgical centers, authorized under the same omnibus abortion bill. According to Hagstrom Miller, of the 23 clinics with physicians who have admitting privileges, there are only six that currently have that certification, which can costs millions to achieve. An estimated 60,000 Texan women seek abortions every year.

Water in the West

[ 68 ] January 6, 2014 |

Although urban planners and environmentalists worry about these issues constantly, the blind faith by which most people involved with western development have assumed that water supplies would be found is amazing and disturbing.

“There is no planning for a continuation of the drought we’ve had,” said one expert on the Colorado’s woes, who asked not to be identified to preserve his relationship with state officials. “There’s always been within the current planning an embedded hope that somehow, things would return to something more like normal.”

Unfortunately, the Colorado during most of Lake Mead’s 78-year history was not normal at all.

Studies now show that the 20th century was one of the three wettest of the last 13 centuries in the Colorado basin. On average, the Colorado’s flow over that period was actually 15 percent lower than in the 1900s. And most experts agree that the basin will get even drier: A brace of global-warming studies concludes that rising temperatures will reduce the Colorado’s average flow after 2050 by five to 35 percent, even if rainfall remains the same — and most of those studies predict that rains will diminish.

Already, the drought is upending many of the assumptions on which water barons relied when they tamed the Colorado in the 1900s.

The growth of Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver, and southern California all happened with the promise that technology could made paradise bloom. Agriculture wouldn’t have to suffer either–dairy and pecans in southern New Mexico and vegetables in the Imperial Valley could be satisfied by controlling water too. The implications for the long-term drought combined with continued demands upon the water supplies are immense. Not only will aquifer supplies likely be used up in a last-ditch effort to continue the lifestyle for another few years, but the Vegas lifestyle and the Phoenix golf courses are in real peril over the next few decades. Far more important than any of this is the tens of millions of people who have moved to the region. Drought is likely to be far more damaging to the regional economy of Phoenix and Vegas than the housing market collapse.

And even if you don’t live in the Southwest, you probably do eat lettuce in January. The relationship between out of season vegetables in the American diet and water technology in the Southwest is very deep.

Natural Resources

[ 25 ] January 5, 2014 |

A sweet and uplifting message from the Cold War for your Sunday morning.

The Costs of American Immigration Policy

[ 72 ] January 3, 2014 |

Perhaps the blackest mark on the Obama Administration has been the significantly harsher enforcement of American immigration law and the subsequent deportation of people, breaking up families.

Twelve-year-old Jason Penate spent the holidays hanging close by his father. They picked out a Christmas tree and decorated the front window of their Gainesville, Va., home with candy canes, and Jason tried very hard not to think about whether his father would still be here in the new year.

Jorge Penate, a Guatemalan national who came to the United States illegally in 1997, has a hearing scheduled Monday that will determine whether he can stay in the country. A drunken driving arrest two years ago launched deportation proceedings and cast his family’s future into uncertainty.

Jason wrote a letter to the immigration judge, explaining that the three days his father was detained in 2011 “were the worst days of my life” and asking not to be separated from him again. “If he does have to leave I think every day of my life is going to be the worst,” Jason wrote.

More than 1 million illegal immigrants were deported in the past three years, a record number reflecting increased enforcement efforts under the Obama administration. The crackdown has spun the lives of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens — including children like Jason — into upheaval.

In fiscal 2012, an estimated 150,000 U.S.-citizen children had a parent deported, according to a study by Human Impact Partners, a health advocacy group.

I know that Obama would sign a good immigration reform bill that would mitigate some of these problems and it’s not his fault that racist Republicans in the House won’t pass that bill (Boehner is talking about getting something through at least, giving me some hope. We’ll see if he’s really willing to stand up to the racists in his caucus. Color me skeptical). But it is very much Obama’s fault that he’s actually increased deportations of such threats to this nation as hard-working fathers and mothers of small children. Really unacceptable.

Garment Workers and Their States

[ 32 ] January 3, 2014 |

One of the laziest and morally bankrupt arguments people make about apparel workers and the working conditions is that they have governments and those governments need to step in if they want to improve wages. It’s up to Bangladesh to decide factory conditions in Bangladesh; American companies are just rightfully looking to maximize profit!

This of course not only lets American consumers and American apparel companies off the hook, but it also completely ignores the active complicity of those companies in backing up corrupt or dictatorial politicians that actively prefer to represent the companies over their own people. Apparel workers are demanding action from their own governments. What happens when they do? They get shot.

Military police officers fired Friday on protesters demanding higher wages for Cambodian garment workers, killing at least three people, officials said, as antigovernment protests against the decades-old rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen entered a volatile new phase.

The garment workers are demanding a doubling of their monthly wages, and they have been at the forefront of growing protests against Mr. Hun Sen’s authoritarian government. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people rallied to demand that Mr. Hun Sen step down.

This is why I keep arguing for the ability of workers to have access to an international legal regime defending their labor rights not only in their own country but in the country of corporate origin. The Cambodian workers desperate to make a decent living, like the Bangladeshi workers and like the Indonesian workers and Chinese workers and Vietnamese workers, face a government that has no interest in representing them and with a lack of meaningful democratic processes to create that change in ways that American liberals deem acceptable, i.e., the ballot box. So given that, what are they supposed to do?

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