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Shorter North Dakota Republicans: “Kill the Hippies and the Indians!”

[ 8 ] January 17, 2017 |

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North Dakota Republicans have developed a quite rational response to the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests:

Republican lawmakers in North Dakota are taking aim at protesters with a handful of bills that would make another pipeline protest far more dangerous.

The oil-friendly legislature argues that its constituents are frustrated over the protests, which led federal authorities to halt construction of the $3.8-billion Dakota Access Pipeline as thousands of protesters braved cold weather and violence for months.

A bill that state GOP Rep. Keith Kempenich introduced would exempt drivers from liability if they accidentally hit a pedestrian, according to the Bismarck Tribune. House Bill 1203 was written up in direct response to groups of protesters blocking roadways, Kempenich told the paper. He claims protesters were seen jumping out in front of vehicles.

“It’s shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian,” Kempenich said. “They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger.”

He admits that the law might be used in cases that don’t involve protests. But a few casualties of justice are apparently worth it; his bill would mitigate instances when panicked drivers might have accidentally “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes” as protesters blocked the roads.

That should go well. White people being able to kill Native Americans without the threat of punishment. Well, that’s a new event in American history!

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The Last Shakers

[ 30 ] January 17, 2017 |

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Did you know there were still Shakers? There were 3. Now there are 2.

Sister Frances was a member of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester, Maine who spent her life teaching and writing about her experiences as a member of the ever-dwindling, idiosyncratic Protestant denomination. Brother Arnold Hadd, one of those who survive her, reported that Sister Frances died “surrounded in love, tears and Shaker songs.”

A Shaker since the age of 10, Sister Frances converted to the faith with her mother after her father’s death. As the sect practices complete celibacy, no Shaker is born into the faith. With her death, a small, but significant, part of America’s religious ancestry moves closer to its extinction. To paraphrase John Donne, as the death of any person diminishes the individual, so of course does the death of Sister Frances diminishes our world a bit—and so much more so because she was a refugee of a counter-cultural tradition that held a bit of utopian promise against the machinery of state and industry.

Often confused with the far larger denomination of the Quakers (though itself a relatively small sect), the Shakers came from the same milieu of dissenting, radical religious traditions that emerged in 17th and 18th-century Britain. Ann Lee, the religion’s founder, was the daughter of a Manchester, England blacksmith. In 1774 she set out to the wilds of America with the promise of establishing a godly community in the New World. Mother Ann’s experiment became an important chapter in American utopianism, which included groups as varied as the Oneida Community, the Fourierists, the pilgrims at Ephrata and the social experiments of the 1960s. For Mother Ann, the New World was an opportunity to make the world new. As Mother Ann would reflect on her new home in upstate New York, “I saw a large tree, every leaf of which shone with such brightness as made it appear like a burning torch, representing the Church of Christ, which will yet be established in this land.”

To be fair, it’s fairly impressive that a religion with a central tenet that the sexes should not touch either could survive for more than 200 years.

The Modern Day Yellow Dog

[ 22 ] January 17, 2017 |

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The yellow dog contract was common in early 20th century work. These entailed employers forcing workers to sign a contract that explicitly stated they could not join a union as a condition of employment. In the 1915 case of Coppage v. Kansas, the Gilded Age Supreme Court ruled this legal. Finally in 1932, the Norris-LaGuardia Act banned them.

The New Gilded Age Supreme Court has decided to take up the modern version of this, the binding arbitration contract.

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether companies can use employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues.

The court accepted three cases on the subject. They follow a series of Supreme Court decisions endorsing similar provisions, generally in contracts with consumers. The question for the justices in the new cases is whether the same principles apply to employment contracts.

In both settings, the challenged contracts typically require two things: that disputes be raised through the informal mechanism of arbitration rather than in court and that claims be brought one by one. That makes it hard to pursue minor claims that affect many people, whether in class actions or in mass arbitrations.

I think we know where this is going and why Merrick Garland is not on the Supreme Court. Republicans saw a real threat to their plan to bring us back to the Gilded Age. And they were going to stop at nothing to kill that threat, ranging from unprecedented destruction of norms concerning confirming justices to approving of massive Russian interference in our election to allow Emperor Tangerine to take the throne despite his massive lawbreaking and impeachable offenses.

If the Roberts court, presumably up to 5 members thanks to Trump outsourcing his selections to Jim DeMint by the time oral arguments occur, there is almost no way it does not rule in favor of employers. To do so would take away one of the only tools workers have without unions to ensure some sort of rights on the job. Forcing mandatory arbitration returns the workplace to the Lochner era of the Gilded Age, where workers and employers were legally assumed to be equals in power on the job, inevitably resulting in the utter crushing of workers. Going back to this point is not the policy of Donald Trump. It’s the policy of the entire Republican Party.

Government by Friedman

[ 73 ] January 17, 2017 |

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Betsy DeVos is a devotee of Milton Friedman and will be bringing his ideas about education into the Department of Education.

Milton Friedman, patron saint of the free market, died in 2006, but his ideas about public education live on in the thought and deeds of Betsy DeVos, likely the next U.S. Secretary of Education. The two are ideological soulmates—a fact that justifiably panics supporters of public education.

In a 1955 essay called “The Role of Government in Education,” Friedman laid out his plan for K-12 schooling, which boils down to this: taxpayer funded but privately run. The government would provide each child, through parents or guardians, funds in the form of a voucher to pay for what the government considers the minimum adequate education. Parents and guardians would then choose what education services to purchase on the free market. For Friedman the choices included private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, religious schools, and “some even” run by the government. Today Betsy DeVos and other free-market education reformers add home schooling and private online schooling to the mix. They also support privately run charter schools, financed directly by the government, not by student voucher money.

It’s a wealth of privatized choices meant to squeeze out, as much as possible, the least appealing alternative for free-market ed reformers: neighborhood public schools.

Taxpayer funded but privately run is how “privatization” of the public sector works in the United States. In countries where the government owns major companies or industries—for example, Aeroflot in Russia or the UK’s National Health Service—privatization means selling off enterprises to new owners in the private sector. In the United States, the government hands over control to private entities, but the taxpayers keep on paying. The most familiar U.S. example is the privatization of federal prisons.

In 1996 Milton Friedman and his wife Rose (also an economist) launched the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice as “the nation’s only organization solely dedicated to promoting their concept of educational choice.” “Choice” is the ed-reform movement’s euphemism for privatization. All the tools used to create choice—vouchers, charter schools, tax credits for private school tuition, tax credits for individuals and businesses that create private school scholarships, “education savings accounts” (usually government-funded debit cards used for various private-school expenses, not just tuition)—siphon tax dollars out of the public school system and into private hands. DeVos has worked with and donated to the Friedman Foundation, recently renamed EdChoice.* Their visions for the future of K-12 education coincide.

There are massive problems with all of this course, including the neoliberal privatization of public goods, the looting it includes, and the anti-democratic tendencies. But the resistance to this faces another big problems–that the neoliberalization of education has been so embraced by Democratic Party elites, including Barack Obama and Cory Booker.

A useful model for DeVos comes from the outgoing ed-reformer-in-chief, Barack Obama. He allocated $4.3 billion from the 2009 “stimulus package” to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who used it to create the controversial Race to the Top program. More than thirty states competed for RTTT grants by committing to a detailed list of K-12 reforms—reforms that often required changing state laws. In exchange for money, resource-strapped states agreed to evaluate teachers, at least in part, according to student scores on standardized tests; raise or eliminate any caps on the number of charter schools; and “turn around” low-achieving schools by turning them into charters, replacing the teachers and principals, or closing them. Many states found that implementing the reforms cost more than they received in grant money. Much worse, the reforms undermined public school teachers, robbed many neighborhoods of their most stable institution, and introduced into the public system less accountable, often poorly performing schools and financial malfeasance by private operators. But the free-market ed reformers were thrilled. By opening the way for rapid charter school expansion, the Obama administration made the nation’s first significant progress toward privatization.

I have long said that education policy was Obama’s worst policy arena and the impacts of this and his henchman Arne Duncan are enormous. Cory Booker of course went down this road in Newark, bringing in Mark Zuckerberg, whose expertise on education consists solely of his wealth. How did this happen? How did we get to a bipartisan agreement on the neoliberalization of education? That’s a key question for us to figure out.

When did Americans stop talking about public K-12 education as the keystone of a strong democracy, as the incubator for citizenship, shared values, and social cohesion in a diverse nation, as the only educational institution obligated to serve every child who appears on the doorstep? Conservatives don’t bear sole responsibility for changing the conversation. The Clinton and Obama administrations reduced K-12 education to little more than the required stepping stone to a college degree that leads to successful competition in the global economy. That’s a meager sales pitch, making it all too easy for K-12 schooling to be chopped up into products sold on the market.

The only counterweight to “choice” is excellent public schools, and so the only way to save public education (which is largely very good in the United States) is to improve it where it needs improvement. Hundreds of thousands of public school teachers and administrators commit themselves to the task everyday. The job also belongs to everyone who sees the need to rebuild American democracy. In the face of privatization, we are all stakeholders in the public good that is public education.

The answer is rooted in the deregulation craze that began in the 1970s, the rise of the modern corporate lobby that began in the same decade, the concomitant reduction and erasure of American unions, the rise of the DLC and Clintonism as the central tenet of the Democratic Party that it is only just now recovering from, and the long-time American deification of the wealthy. But maybe it’s also rooted in white backlash and the desegregation of schools (even if actual integrated public schools rarely happened without busing). Like other public services, once the government was seen as working for black interests, white people turned on them with a fury with the self-privatization of the religious school or private school as a response to keep white children away from black kids. Combined with suburbanization, the withdrawal of tax dollars from urban districts, and media stories of the horrors of inner cities, it became all too easy to decide that public education was a problem that only corporations could solve.

Keep Up the Pressure

[ 45 ] January 16, 2017 |

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This is a good sign that even the Cabinet of Deplorables is subject to left-wing pressure.

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be labor secretary has voiced second thoughts in recent days, because of a relentless barrage of criticism from Democrats, labor unions and other liberal groups, a business ally and GOP sources tell CNN.
Andy Puzder is the CEO of the company that owns the Hardees and Carl’s Jr. fast food chains.

“He may be bailing,” said a Republican source plugged into the Trump transition effort. “He is not into the pounding he is taking, and the paperwork.”

Democrats and their allies have launched an aggressive campaign against Puzder, who opposes key Democratic workplace priorities, including the goal of a $15 federal minimum wage.

His required ethics and financial paperwork also has not yet been posted by the Office of Government Ethics, which makes the filings public after nominees for top federal positions detail how they plan to comply with federal ethics rules regarding financial holdings.
Puzder’s confirmation hearings was initially scheduled for this week. It is now on hold, and likely will not be held until next month.

A couple of points here. First, the thing about CEOs is that they are not used to being accountable to anyone. They hate the idea of transparency and they hate public pressure. This is why, traditionally, they have hired politicians to do this work for them. For whatever reason, we are in an era where CEOs want to actually hold the offices. This means that they are quite susceptible to pressure, especially as we are seeing with Secretary of State nominee John D. Rockefeller and Secretary of Education nominee Ayn Rand, their business dealings are so execrable that the exposure may force them to run from the light into Peter Thiel’s coffin.

Second, if Pudzer is delayed a month, that’s a month more of workplace protections for people. If he is forced to withdraw and we have another month before another selection and confirmation, that’s 2 months of workplace protections. I am not exactly celebrating this, but small victories.

Third, it’s not like Emperor Tangerine is going to name someone much better than Pudzer if he bails. As I have argued consistently since the election, on most issues, Trump is a bog-standard Republican. On labor policy that’s certainly true. Whether he names Scott Walker or some other CEO or some anti-labor think tank hack, they are going to be terrible. But taking on these people over and over again reinforces how unpopular Trump and his positions are. And that has great value. Even someone as vile as Pudzer is susceptible to public pressure. That’s important to remember.

A Presidency for Those Looking to Revive Child Labor

[ 74 ] January 16, 2017 |

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Color me shocked that Betsy DeVos also also funds organizations that openly advocate for child labor:

In addition to being a donor, DeVos has served on Acton’s Board of Directors for 10 years. The Institute is a non-profit research organization “dedicated to the study of free-market economics informed by religious faith and moral absolutes.”

In a recent blog post, an Acton Institute writer and project coordinator showed his dedication to something else: child labor.

The post’s author, Joseph Sunde, argues that work is a “gift” that we are denying American children. After all, Sunde concludes, the child laborers of America’s past were “actively building enterprises and cities” and “using their gifts to serve their communities.”

Some especially disturbing highlights from Sunde’s piece:

In our policy and governing institutions, what if we put power back in the hands of parents and kids, dismantling the range of excessive legal restrictions, minimum wage fixings, and regulations that lead our children to work less and work later?

Let us not just teach our children to play hard and study well, shuffling them through a long line of hobbies and electives and educational activities. A long day’s work and a load of sweat have plenty to teach as well.

You know who was taught a lot at a very young age? 10 year olds working and dying in West Virginia coal mines. They knew plenty of things. Like how to have no hope for their lives, how not to see the daylight for days on end, and how to go hungry. Those were the good days.

How the Conservative King Was Created

[ 52 ] January 16, 2017 |

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Today is our annual reminder that the conservative cooptation of Martin Luther King continues in its grotesque march forward away from the truth into a fascist candyland of “colorblindness” to serve the purposes of white supremacy. How did this begin? I am always skeptical of monocausal explanations, but its pretty clear that Grandpa Caligula played a pretty big role. Reagan of course hated King, rode white supremacy into the White House, and then resisted creating the MLK holiday with support from his good friend Jesse Helms. Why did he change his mind and sign the bill? Pure politics and realizing that he could message King into meaninglessness.

However, in a dramatically about-face, Reagan capitulated in the final months of 1983. The month following his news conference—and fifteen years after Michigan congressman John Conyers first introduced legislation for the King observance—Reagan sat on the White House lawn and signed a bill establishing a federal holiday for a man he had spent the previous two decades opposing, whilst several hundred attendees sang “We Shall Overcome.”

Yet even after he publicly changed his position, Reagan wrote a letter of apology to Meldrim Thomson, Jr., the Republican governor of New Hampshire, who had begged the president not to support the holiday. His new position, Reagan explained in the letter, was based “on an image [of King], not reality.” Reagan’s support for the federal King holiday, in other words, had nothing to do with his personal views of the civil rights leader. Instead the holiday provided Reagan with political pretext to silence the mounting criticism of his positions on civil rights. By 1983 Reagan faced an onslaught of criticism from groups such as the NAACP and the Urban League for his aggressive assaults on affirmative action and court-ordered busing. With a reelection bid on the horizon, he began to make more concerted efforts to pacify his critics and soften public opinion over his open hostility to civil rights. The King holiday was the primary component of this effort.

Reagan’s pivot on the King holiday provided a two-pronged benefit. On the one hand it would pacify critics of his positions on civil rights, but on the other it enabled Reagan to position himself as the inheritor of King’s colorblind “dream”—a society in which “all men are created equal” and should be judged “not . . . by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”—in order to advance the anti-black crusade he had waged since the 1960s, now under the alluring mantle of colorblindness.

The notion of a “colorblind” approach to U.S. law originated in 1896, when Justice John Marshall Harlan argued in his dissent to the Plessy v. Ferguson decision—which established the legal precedent for racial segregation—that “separate but equal” was unconstitutional because “our Constitution in color-blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.” Nearly sixty years later, Justice Harlan was vindicated when the Warren Court invalidated Plessy in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Yet Harlan and Reagan understood colorblindness in profoundly different ways. For Harlan, colorblind law safeguarded non-whites from the institutionalization of white supremacy in state and local governments under Jim Crow. For Reagan, who opposed both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, colorblindness offered an effective ideology through which to roll back the victories of the civil rights movement.

Reagan’s efforts to align himself as the inheritor of King’s colorblind “Dream” picked up considerably during his second term in the White House. Reagan’s assistant attorney general for civil rights, William Bradford Reynolds, began defending the president’s opposition to civil rights programs by insisting that Reagan’s actions were informed by King’s colorblind philosophy. Throughout his second term, Reagan would frequently turn to the colorblind rhetoric, and only the colorblind rhetoric, of the civil rights movement to justify his continued assault on civil rights as a realization of King’s dream.

The most revealing example of Reagan’s second-term King strategy occurred on January 17, 1986. Three days before the inaugural Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Coretta Scott King unveiled a three-foot solid bronze bust of her slain husband in the Capitol rotunda (later moved to Statuary Hall). After the ceremony Reagan met with King and other civil rights leaders and urged them to “never, never abandon the dream” of a colorblind United States. Reagan’s rendering of King begins and ends on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It is a King who said little more than a single sentence: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Absent entirely from Reagan’s representations of King are his critiques of capitalism, the war in Vietnam, nuclear weapons, or white supremacy.

“I Have But One Plank For My Platform: Sucking the Blood of the Young”

[ 33 ] January 16, 2017 |

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I see Nosferatu is interested in higher office.

Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire and outspoken Donald Trump supporter, is considering a 2018 bid for California governor, according to three Republicans familiar with his thinking.

Thiel, who co-founded PayPal and was an early investor in Facebook, has been discussing a prospective bid with a small circle of advisers, including Rob Morrow, who has emerged as his political consigliere.

Adding fuel to the speculation: Thiel raised eyebrows this week when he granted a rare interview to The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd. In the interview, he outlined his political worldview and explained his support for Trump. (At one point, Thiel said, perhaps jokingly, that he’d be “fine” with California seceding. “I think it would be good for California, good for the rest of the country. It would help Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign,” he added.)

Neither Thiel nor a representative responded to requests for comment.

Thiel, who delivered a prime-time speech at last summer’s Republican National Convention, isn’t entirely new to the political scene. According to public filings, he has contributed over $8.5 million to federal candidates and committees since 2000. He speaks frequently with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the most powerful Republican in California.

I will say this for Thiel: nothing sums up modern Republican ideology more succinctly than vampirism.

Mislabled Fish

[ 75 ] January 15, 2017 |

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I am not generally the biggest fish fan in the world, and the intellectual jumps Catholics make to say fish is not meat is just hilarious to the outsider, but I do like good sushi, oysters, lobster rolls, the very occasional fried fish sandwich, Veracruz-style preparations in Mexico, etc. In other words, I eat fish perhaps once every other month or so. But the entire fish supply chain is full of outright fraud, with sellers claiming fish is one thing when it is another. Given that we are eating our way through the ocean’s bounty with remarkable speed, you would think that people could at least figure out what animal they are eating from the taste. However, they rarely can, even when eating sushi, which is basically the purest form of eating fish. That it takes DNA scans to confirm that a fish is what its sellers claims it is and that so often it is not, I guess the question I have is why eat it in the first place if we don’t even know what it is. I suppose that we always take it for granted that we aren’t eating horse or dog when we buy ground beef. Or maybe we just want meat, no matter what it is, and honestly don’t really care outside of the social norms about a) not eating certain types of animals and b) social status for eating supposedly better cuts of fish and other animals.

D’Souza

[ 203 ] January 15, 2017 |

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I find Dinesh D’Souza so confusing. The man clearly wants to return to the Jim Crow years. Or even slavery. But why does he think that if that was to happen, he wouldn’t be affected by it? Here is D’Souza on slavery:

Recently convicted felon and conservative columnist Dinesh D’Souza’s book, “The End of Racism,” provides some great examples of rewriting race. D’Souza says of slavery, “No free workers enjoyed a comparable social security system from birth until death.” Later, he writes, “Masters … encouraged the family unit which basically remained intact.” In a particularly appalling passage, he writes, “slavery appears such a relatively mild business that one begins to wonder why Frederick Douglass and so many other ever tried to escape.” And concludes, “In summary, the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

And then his tour de force tweet of yesterday:

I actually expect this from Attorney General Forrest. But, again, why does D’Souza think he would be excepted from the racist regime he fights for?

The Harvard Cross-Burning

[ 27 ] January 15, 2017 |

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I was reading an academic article yesterday and came across a reference to a 1952 cross burning at Harvard, as white students protested 8 black students living in a dorm. One of those students was J. Max Bond, who would late become a leading architect, not to mention being the cousin of Julian Bond. I was curious to see if Harvard had done anything to remember this really horrible incident, as it was the first I had heard of it. Turns out, no.

Max’s widow, Jean Carey Bond, a writer, teacher, and activist, had prepared an 11-page recollection of his life. In it, she noted that Max entered Harvard at age 15, finished in three years, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Yet shortly after his fifteenth birthday, he was welcomed by the burning cross. Even more outrageously, wrote Ms. Bond in the handout, he was subsequently threatened by the Harvard administration (presumably to protect the University’s image) that any black student who reported the incident to the Boston media would be suspended.

But Max and Lou Sharpe, co-chair of the Harvard Society for Minority Rights, defied the threat, and a story or short account of the cross-burning appeared in The Crimson, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the New York Times, and elsewhere, in the U.S. and abroad. As someone (white) whose work and personal life are replete with anti-racism activities, I decided I’d try to get Harvard at least to apologize for their alleged threat (and the censorship that threat would have constituted). While this is a very different era in U.S. race relations and one hopes that such an event would not happen today, past incidents of racist behavior certainly deserve an apology, if only for its educational or symbolic value.

I first wrote a letter to the editor of Harvard Magazine. Next I went to the top: On Sept. 2, 2009, I wrote University President Drew Gilpin Faust, recently appointed as Harvard’s first female president, referring to my just-published letter, summarizing the history, and urging an institutional apology. Indeed, Brown University had just recently apologized for its own racial history. In return, Faust wrote me, essentially asking for documentation of the threat and clearly reluctant to accede to my request.

While I made some real effort to locate such documentation, attempting to contact the relevant deans at the time, such historical documents are essentially closed to researchers; contacting those of Max’s fellow black students whom I could find (some of whom—more than five decades later—had only dim memories of the incident), but who were unable to pass on to me any firm proof of who made the threat, to whom, and in what form.

President Faust’s response struck me as truly off-putting and defensive—no offer to search the archives (by me or someone else) for relevant documentation, no willingness to contact Jean Carey Bond or their children to find out what Max had told them of that incident, no trust that Jean was accurately reporting something Max had conveyed to her. President Faust’s words: “Unfortunately, in a university as old as ours there will be many regrettable incidents involving administrators whose values are different from ours, and not all of them are easily verifiable after much time has passed… [The] episodes described in your letter to the magazine are particularly egregious and make painful reading. I do appreciate your bringing them to my attention.”

Of course Drew Gilpin Faust, one of the nation’s leading Civil War historians, has been a general embarrassment as Harvard president to anyone who thinks historians should apply the lessons about injustice that they write about to the present. Really shameful. Harvard needs to do something to apologize for this and commemorate it on campus.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 66

[ 16 ] January 15, 2017 |

This is the grave of James J. Hill.

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Born in 1838 in Ontario, Hill moved permanently to the United States in 1856, setting in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a few years before the good citizens of that state committed massive genocide against the Dakota people in the 1862 Dakota War. He quickly became involved in shipping and then banking, building a small fortune for himself. Railroads became his next target. He wanted to build a transcontinental line across the northern border of the U.S. to the Puget Sound. He starting buying up railroads and moving his lines farther west, into North Dakota and Montana. In 1893, his Great Northern Railway reached Seattle, connecting that burgeoning city to the east. As part of the railroad empires, the federal government deeded huge sums of land to the capitalists. They wanted to dump that land in order to turn a profit that was not always easy to get building into sparsely populated land. But how to turn North Dakota into a profit? Hill relied on schemes to convince Scandinavia farmers to come to the United States and buy this bucolic land of mild climate, where anything could grow and sure fortunes were to result. In other words, his agents lied to the poor of Europe to sucker them into buying land in the middle of North Dakota. Hill also was aggressive in finding new labor forces to exploit. Never comfortable actually paying workers enough to live, he originally wanted to use the Chinese but that was getting more difficult by the 1890s. He briefly turned to Italians and Greeks but found the Japanese more exploitable.

He then sold 900,000 acres of Washington to Frederick Weyerhaeuser in 1900, creating that state as a timber capital and allowing the southwestern part of it to become a permanent timber colony, subject to the whims of the global market and allowing it to remain in poverty, in many cases to the present, as massive deforestation, a lack of alternative economic options, and schemes to con the poor into farming logged-off lands created a semi-permanent Washington underclass today embodied in such areas as Aberdeen, Longview, and Centralia.

Hill of course was as steeped in shady dealings as any other Gilded Age capitalist, although he doesn’t seem to have stolen from his own companies like the California rail barons did. He sought to build his monopoly and found a ready ally in J.P. Morgan to help him do that. He wanted to take over most of the major railroad lines in the West. He first grabbed the Northern Pacific during the Panic of 1893. He and Morgan then made a play at the Union Pacific, but that railroad had Rockefeller money behind it. The ensuing chaos meant too much competition. So instead they came to a truce, but Hill and Morgan created the Northern Securities Company to tie all the lines together and come out on top. It was this monopoly that Theodore Roosevelt chose to take on in 1902 to acquire his undeserved reputation as a “trust-buster,” a reputation that, like everything else with Roosevelt, was a product of his own self-promotion machine that sought to play the press like a violin to promote his own agenda, a machine that still colors our view of Roosevelt, as well as people who he turned on like William Howard Taft, into the present.

In any case, the Supreme Court upholding Roosevelt’s actions in busting the Northern Securities monopoly did hurt Hill’s hoped for investments in Asia. He had to console himself with only taking over more American railroads and building himself a 36,000 square foot mansion. When Hill died in 1916, he was only worth $2.5 billion in today’s money. Hard out there for a plutocrat.

What kind of man was James J. Hill? The kind who is a hero to the Mises Institute and other purveyors of Austrian economics. The kind of man who would call William Jennings Bryan’s plan for government regulation of the railroads “revolution.”

Unfortunately, no one has ever played Hill on TV or in the movies. Maybe it’s time to create an HBO show on the vile doings of Gilded Age capitalists.

James J. Hill is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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