Article 43


American Solidarity

American Solidarity - Time To Stand Up

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jobs For All


Another Dream of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Mathew Forstater, Director, Center for Full Employment and Price Stability, University of Missouri-Kansas City
National Jobs For All Coalition

The 1963 “March on Washington” was officially named the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” a detail that often gets lost amid the important celebration of the general achievement and highlights such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” oration. Indeed, the theme of job creation runs though Dr. King’s writings. Perhaps no single policy could have as great a social and economic impact on the African American community (and the entire country) as federally funded job assurance for every person ready and willing to work. This is a policy approach that was explicitly supported by Dr. King, and that is currently receiving attention in economic and policy circles.

In an article in Look published just after his assassination (King, 1968), Dr. King wrote that: “We call our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting.” Thirty-three years later, at the peak of a peacetime economic expansion heralded as the longest and strongest in recent history, not only is the African American unemployment rate stuck at twice that of whites, but at around 8% that figure remains at a rate that would be considered evidence of a deep recession were it to hold for society as a whole:

There is a literal depression in the Negro community. When you have mass unemployment in the Negro community, it’s called a social problem; when you have mass unemployment in the white community, it’s called a depression. The fact is, there is a major depression in the Negro community. The unemployment rate is extremely high, and among Negro youth, it goes up as high as forty percent in some cities. (King, 1968)

Yet another generation has had to witness the inability of a ‘booming’ economy to provide gainful employment for every person willing and able to work, a point well understood by Dr. King:

Economic expansion alone cannot do the job of improving the employment situation of Negroes. It provides the base for improvement but other things must be constructed upon it, especially if the tragic situation of youth is to be solved. In a booming economy Negro youth are afflicted with unemployment as though in an economic crisis. They are the explosive outsiders of the American expansion. (King, 1967)

As politicians and media figures laud the relatively lower aggregate unemployment rates and the ‘success’ of ‘welfare reform’, more careful observers note the hidden unemployment official numbers do not account for and caution the optimists that the real test of the ‘Personal Responsibility Act’ will be as the economy goes into recession. Official unemployment figures go down not only when the unemployed find work, but when ‘discouraged workers’ drop out of the labor force, a process with harsh consequences:

[T]he expansion of private employment and nonprofessional opportunities cannot, however, provide full employment for Negroes. Many youths are not listed as unemployed because in despair they have left the labor market completely. They are psychologically disabled and cannot be rescued by conventional employment. (King, 1967)

Those in prison are also disproportionately young, black, and male and are also not included in official unemployment figures. Combined with other recent developments such as the exploding homicide rates for young, Black men (itself linked to the war on drugs) and the return of the death penalty (with a disproportionately young, Black, male death row), this explains the decline in marriageable-age Black men--unlike ‘welfare incentives’ a factor with some explanatory power in understanding the decline of the two-parent family among African Americans (see Darity and Myers, 1994). As Dr. King well-understood, what emerges is a system that excludes many young African American women and men from participating, and creative policy measures are required to respond effectively and fairly to this challenge:

There are also some Negro youth who have faced so many closed doors and so many crippling defeats that they have lost motivation. For those youth who are alienated from the routines of work, there should situations which permit flexibility...until they can manage the demands of the typical workplace. (King, 1967, p. 126)

The private sector, even in the “best of times” is unable to provide jobs for all. Moreover, racial wage and employment gaps are not fully explained by human capital, i.e. differences in skill and education levels. Dr. King’s alternative explanation points to the functional role of racial economic inequality in modern capitalism:

Depressed living standards for Negroes are not simply the consequence of neglect. Nor can they be explained by the myth of the Negro’s innate incapacities, or by more sophisticated rationalization of his acquired infirmities (family disorganization, poor education, etc.). They are a structural part of the economic system in the United States Certain industries are based on a supply of low-paid, under-skilled and immobile nonwhite labor. (King, 1967, p. 7)

Now we realize that economic dislocations in the market operations of our economy and the prevalence of discrimination thrust people into idleness and bind them in constant or frequent unemployment against their will. Today the poor are less often dismissed, I hope, from our consciences by being branded as inferior or incompetent. We also know that no matter how dynamically the economy develops and expands, it does not eliminate all poverty. (King, 1972 [1968])

Unfortunately, Dr. King’s hope has not been realized, as ‘culture of poverty’ and even bio-genetic theories continue to rear their ugly heads. The resurrection of these frameworks by authors such as Dinesh D’Souza, Thomas Sowell, and Charles Murray is in part a response to the failure of human capital theory. But their reemergence is also part of the trend toward greater discrimination as the racial education and skills gaps are closed--evidence further supporting the functional theory of racial economic inequality (Darity and Hamilton, 2001). Speaking of Black men, but of a process also relevant to the African American female experience, Dr. King wrote that:

The quest of the Negro male for employment was always frustrating. If he lacked skill, he was only occasionally wanted because such employment as he could find had little regularity and even less remuneration. If he had a skill, he also had his black skin, and discrimination locked doors against him. In the competition for scarce jobs he was a loser because he was born that way. (King, 1967, pp. 106-07)

In addressing these tremendous challenges, Dr. King’s writings have a laser-like focus on job creation as addressing multiple concerns and carrying multiple benefits:

The nation will also have to find the answer to full employment, including a more imaginative approach than has yet been conceived for neutralizing the perils of automation. Today, as the skilled and semiskilled Negro attempts to mount the ladder of economic security, he finds himself in competition with the white working man at the very time when automation is scrapping forty thousand jobs a week. Though this is perhaps the inevitable product of social and economic upheaval, it is an intolerable situation, and Negroes will not long permit themselves to be pitted against white workers for an ever-decreasing supply of jobs. The energetic and creative expansion of work opportunities, in both the public and private sectors of our economy, is an imperative worthy of the richest nation on earth, whose abundance is an embarrassment as long as millions of poor are imprisoned and constantly self-renewed within an expanding population. (King, 1963)

Dr. King reiterated over and over again his proposal that “government… become an employer of last resort” (King, 1971 [1963): “We need an economic bill of rights. This would guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work. It would mean creating certain public-service jobs” (King, 1968):

We must develop a federal program of public works, retraining, and jobs for all--so that none, white or black, will have cause to feel threatened. At the present time, thousands of jobs a week are disappearing in the wake of automation and other production efficiency techniques. (King, 1965)

Dr. King’s proposal was that anyone ready and willing to work would be assured a public service job. His vision thus extended to all those left behind, including unemployed and poor whites:

While Negroes form the vast majority of America’s disadvantaged, there are millions of white poor who would also benefit from such a bill. The moral justification for special measures for Negroes is rooted in the robberies inherent in the institution of slavery. Many poor whites, however, were the derivative victims of slavery. As long as labor was cheapened by the involuntary servitude of the black man, the freedom of white labor, especially in the South, was little more than a myth. It was free only to bargain from the depressed base imposed by slavery upon the whole of the labor market. Nor did this derivative bondage end when formal slavery gave way to the de-facto slavery of discrimination. To this day the white poor also suffer deprivation and the humiliation of poverty if not of color. They are chained by the weight of discrimination, though its badge of degradation does not mark them. It corrupts their lives, frustrates their opportunities and withers their education. In one sense it is more evil for them, because it has confused so many by prejudice that they have supported their own oppressors. (King, 1963)

Black and white, we will all be harmed unless something grand and imaginative is done. The unemployed, poverty-stricken white man must be made to realize that he is in the very same boat with the Negro. Together, they could exert massive pressure on the government to get jobs for all. Together they could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all. (King, 1965)

Dr. King clearly distinguished Public Service Job Assurance from ‘training programs’. Too often, he wrote, “‘[t]raining’ becomes a way of avoiding the issue of unemployment” (King, 1967):

The orientation...should be “Jobs First, Training Later.” Unfortunately, the job policy of the federal programs has largely been the reverse, with the result that people are being trained for nonexistent jobs. (King, 1967)

While the development of skills and support of educational experiences are important characteristics of Public Service Job Assurance, “The jobs should nevertheless be jobs and understood as such, not given the false label of ‘training’.” (King, 1967, pp. 196-199)

Referring to the historical and structural socioeconomic experience of some of the young and long-time discouraged, Dr. King envisioned Public Service Jobs as providing them with “special work places where their irregularity as workers can be accepted until they have restored their habits of discipline” (1967). At the same time, he insisted that “we need to be concerned that the potential of the individual is not wasted” (King, 1967). For Dr. King, Public Service Job Assurance is capable of reconciling these various requirements, as it is conceived around the idea that “New forms of work that enhance the social good will have to be devised for those for whom traditional jobs are not available” (King, 1967).

In Where do We Go From Here? (1967), Dr. King elaborated his vision of Public Service Job Assurance. First, development of skills and education are outcomes, not prerequisites, of the program. Second, the jobs are producing community and public services that are in short supply and that benefit the neediest communities. Third, the program generates incomes for individuals and families that have unmet needs. Fourth, there are numerous social-psychological benefits for individuals, families, communities, and the nation:

The big, new, attractive thrust of Negro employment is in the nonprofessional services. A high percentage of these jobs is in public employment. The human services (medical attention, social services, neighborhood amenities of various kinds) are in scarce supply in this country, especially in localitiesof poverty. The traditional way of providing manpower for these jobs ‘degree-granting programs’ cannot fill all the niches that are opening up. The traditional job requirements are a barrier to attaining an adequate supply of personnel, especially if the number of jobs expands to meet existing need.

The expansion of the human services can be the missing industry that will soak up the unemployment that persists in the United States. [It can be the] the missing industry that would change the employment scene in America. The expansion of human services is that industry--it is labor intensive, requiring manpower immediately rather than heavy capital investment as in construction or other fields; it fills a great need not met by private enterprise; it involves labor that can be trained and developed on the job.

The growth of the human services should be rapid. It should be developed in a manner insuring that the jobs that will be generated will not primarily be for professionals with college and postgraduate diplomas but for people from the neighborhoods who can perform important functions for their neighbors. As with private enterprise, rigid credentials have monopolized the entry routes into human services employment. But...less educated people can do many of the tasks now performed by the highly educated as well as many other new and necessary tasks. (King, 1967, original emphasis, pp. 197-98)

Public Service Job Assurance provides the framework for income maintenance, skill development, and community service provisioning. Dr. King also believed that it could support goals in other areas, such as housing and education:

Work of this sort could be enormously increased, and we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. (King, 1972 [1968])

Health and childcare are other areas where Public Service Job Assurance may serve as the vehicle for progressive social policies. If the Public Service wage-benefits package included medical coverage and childcare, not only would this guarantee Public Service workers and their families coverage, but it also could pressure firms in the private sector to match such benefits. Failure to do so could leave firms unable to attract workers to their places of employment.

Individuals develop skills and work habits and provide community service, with the effects reverberating throughout the social fabric of society. The benefits of Job Assurance are potentially widespread and all-pervasive:

Beyond these advantages, a host of positive psychological changes inevitably will result from widespread economic security. The dignity of the individual will flourish when the decisions concerning his life are in his own hands, when he has the means to seek self-improvement. Personal conflicts...will diminish when the unjust measurement of human worth on a scale of dollars is eliminated. (King, 1972 [1968])

I am positive, moreover, that the money spent would be more than amply justified by the benefits that would accrue to the nation through the spectacular decline in school dropouts, family breakups, crime rates, illegitimacy, swollen relief rolls, rioting and other social evils. (King, 1965)

Of course, Dr. King recognized that Public Service Job Assurance could not take the place of all social programs. He therefore supported comprehensive legislation that would:

guarantee an income to all who are not able to work. Some people are too young, some are too old, some are physically disabled, and yet in order to live, they need an income. (King, 1968)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. supported Public Service Job Assurance throughout his life. It was a concrete part of his Dream, but he did not view it as utopian or overly-idealistic: “This country has the resources to solve any problem once that problem is accepted as national policy” (King, 1965). By supporting the provision of community services, “it raises the possibility of rebuilding America so that private affluence is not accompanied by public squalor of slums and distress” (King, 1968). In 1963, he wrote: “I would challenge skeptics to give such a bold new approach a test for the next decade” (King, 1963). We know that unfortunately we did not take up his challenge at that time, but it is not too late to take up that challenge now, as we enter the new millennium.

What better way to celebrate the Dream and the Vision of Dr. King?

Bibliography of Work Cited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

King, Jr., Martin Luther, 1963, Why We Can’t Wait, New York: New American Library.

Interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., 1965, Playboy, January, 117ff.

King, Jr. Martin Luther, 1967, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, New York: Harper & Row.

King, Jr., Martin Luther, 1968, “Showdown for Nonviolence,” Look, Vol. 32, April 16, pp. 23-25.

Dr. King’s last letter requesting support for his March on Washington, quoted in Robert Goodman, 1971, After the Planners, New York: Simon and Schuster, p. 32.

King, Jr., Martin Luther, 1972 [1968], “New Sense of Direction,” Worldview, 15, April.

Other Works Cited

Carlson, Ellen, and William F. Mitchell (eds.), 2000, The Path to Full Employment and Equity, ELRR: Economic and Labour Relations Review, Supplement to Volume 11.

Darity, Jr., William A. and Samuel L. Myers, Jr. (with Emmett D. Carson and William Sabol), 1994, The Black Underclass: Critical Essays on Race and Unwantedness, New York: Garland.

Darity, Jr., William A. and Darrick Hamilton, 2001, “A Test of the Functionality of Discrimination,” presented at Allied Social Science Annual Meetings, New Orleans, January.

Warner, Aaron, Mathew Forstater, and Sumner Rosen (eds.), 2000, Commitment to Full Employment, Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe.

Wray, L. Randall, 1998, Understanding Modern Money: The Key To Full Employment and Price Stability, Cheltenham, U.K.: Edward Elgar.


Posted by Elvis on 01/14/14 •
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Monday, December 30, 2013

Sysadmins Unite


WikiLeaks Assange: Sysadmins of the World, Unite!

By John Borland
December 29, 2013

Faced with increasing encroachments on privacy and free speech, high-tech workers around the world should identify as a class and fight power together, said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on Sunday.

In a video speech to the Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) here, Assange drew parallels between the labor movements of the industrial age and the technology workers of today. As workers joined into unions to fight for better working conditions, technology workers should unite to fight government encroachments on Internet and speech freedoms, he said.

System administrators, who have access to confidential government or corporate documents, have particular ability to play a role in what he painted as a new class war, he said.

“We can see that in the case of WikiLeaks, or the Snowden revelations, it’s possible for even a single system administrator to have very significant constructive effect,” he said. “This is not merely wrecking or disabling, not going on strikes, but rather shifting information from an information apartheid system from those with extraordinary power to the digital commons.”

Joined at this CCC talk by WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison, who helped Edward Snowden in his flight from Hong Kong to Russia earlier this year, and by digital activist Jacob Appelbaum, Assange painted a picture of the coming years in near-apocalyptic colors.

“This is the last free generation,” he said. “The coming together of the systems of government and the information apartheid is such that none of us will be able to escape it in just a decade.”

Fighting this system by leaking information, where possible, or otherwise working for the cause of transparency - was the only way to shape government systems in a positive way, he said.

“We are all becoming part of this state whether we like it or not,” he said. “Our only hope is to help determine what kind of state we will be a part of.”

Connecting to the conference over an often-broken Skype connection, Assange was speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The WikiLeaks founder has been accused of sexual assault in Sweden, and Britain has approved his extradition. He has been granted political asylum by Ecuador, which cited fears of his otherwise being extradited to the United States, but has not been granted safe passage out of the country by the United Kingdom.

Hackers and technologists should accept jobs at intelligence and other institutions, in order to bring out more documents, Assange said in his video speech.

“Go into the CIA,” he said. “Go into the ball park and bring the ball out.”


Posted by Elvis on 12/30/13 •
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Sunday, December 22, 2013

America Hates Its Poor


“A strong labor market with full employment need not be a rare economic anomaly that returns roughly twice for every one appearance of Halley’s Comet.”
- Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein in Getting Back To Full Employment: A Better Bargain For Working People

Linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky on our country’s brutal class warfare—and why it’s ultimately so one-sided

By Chris Steele
Zuccotti Park Press

This is an excerpt from the just released second edition of Noam Chomskys ”OCCUPY: CLASS WAR, REBELLION AND SOLIDARITY,” edited by Greg Ruggiero and published by Zuccotti Park Press.

An article that recently came out in Rolling Stone, titled “Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail,” by Matt Taibbi, asserts that the government is afraid to prosecute powerful bankers, such as those running HSBC. Taibbi says that “there’s an arrestable class and an unarrestable class.” What is your view on the current state of class war in the U.S.?

Well, theres always a class war going on. The United States, to an unusual extent, is a business-run society, more so than others. The business classes are very class-conscious - they;re constantly fighting a bitter class war to improve their power and diminish opposition. Occasionally this is recognized.

We don’t use the term “working class” here because its a taboo term. You’re supposed to say “middle class,” because it helps diminish the understanding that theres a class war going on.

It’s true that there was a one-sided class war, and thats because the other side hadn’t chosen to participate, so the union leadership had for years pursued a policy of making a compact with the corporations, in which their workers, say the autoworkers - would get certain benefits like fairly decent wages, health benefits and so on. But it wouldn’t engage the general class structure. In fact, thats one of the reasons why Canada has a national health program and the United States doesn’t. The same unions on the other side of the border were calling for health care for everybody. Here they were calling for health care for themselves and they got it. Of course, its a compact with corporations that the corporations can break anytime they want, and by the 1970s they were planning to break it and we’ve seen what has happened since.

This is just one part of a long and continuing class war against working people and the poor. Its a war that is conducted by a highly class-conscious business leadership, and it’s one of the reasons for the unusual history of the U.S. labor movement. In the U.S., organized labor has been repeatedly and extensively crushed, and has endured a very violent history as compared with other countries.

In the late 19th century there was a major union organization, Knights of Labor, and also a radical populist movement based on farmers. Its hard to believe, but it was based in Texas, and it was quite radical. They wanted their own banks, their own cooperatives, their own control over sales and commerce. It became a huge movement that spread over major farming areas.

The FarmersҒ Alliance did try to link up with the Knights of Labor, which would have been a major class-based organization if it had succeeded. But the Knights of Labor were crushed by violence, and the Farmers Alliance was dismantled in other ways. As a result, one of the major popular democratic forces in American history was essentially dismantled. There are a lot of reasons for it, one of which was that the Civil War has never really ended. One effect of the Civil War was that the political parties that came out of it were sectarian parties, so the slogan was, ғYou vote where you shoot, and that remains the case.

Take a look at the red states and the blue states in the last election: It’s the Civil War. Theyve changed party labels, but other than that, it’s the same: sectarian parties that are not class-based because divisions are along different lines. There are a lot of reasons for it.

The enormous benefits given to the very wealthy, the privileges for the very wealthy here, are way beyond those of other comparable societies and are part of the ongoing class war. Take a look at CEO salaries. CEOs are no more productive or brilliant here than they are in Europe, but the pay, bonuses, and enormous power they get here are out of sight. They’re probably a drain on the economy, and they become even more powerful when they are able to gain control of policy decisions.

That’s why we have a sequester over the deficit and not over jobs, which is what really matters to the population. But it doesn;t matter to the banks, so the heck with it. It also illustrates the considerable shredding of the whole system of democracy. So, by now, they rank people by income level or wages roughly the same: The bottom 70 percent or so are virtually disenfranchised; they have almost no influence on policy, and as you move up the scale you get more influence. At the very top, you basically run the show.

A good topic to research, if possible, would be “why people don’t vote.” Nonvoting is very high, roughly 50 percent, even in presidential elections - much higher in others. The attitudes of people who dont vote are studied. First of all, they mostly identify themselves as Democrats. And if you look at their attitudes, they are mostly Social Democratic. They want jobs, they want benefits, they want the government to be involved in social services and so on, but they dont vote, partly, I suppose, because of the impediments to voting. ItҒs not a big secret. Republicans try really hard to prevent people from voting, because the more that people vote, the more trouble they are in. There are other reasons why people dont vote. I suspect, but donҒt know how to prove, that part of the reason people dont vote is they just know their votes donҒt make any difference, so why make the effort? So you end up with a kind of plutocracy in which the public opinion doesnt matter much. It is not unlike other countries in this respect, but more extreme. All along, it’s more extreme. So yes, there is a constant class war going on.

The case of labor is crucial, because it is the base of organization of any popular opposition to the rule of capital, and so it has to be dismantled. Theres a tax on labor all the time. During the 1920s, the labor movement was virtually smashed by WilsonҒs Red Scare and other things. In the 1930s, it reconstituted and was the driving force of the New Deal, with the CIO organizing and so on. By the late 1930s, the business classes were organizing to try to react to this. They began, but couldnt do much during the war, because things were on hold, but immediately after the war it picked up with the Taft-Hartley Act and huge propaganda campaigns, which had massive effect. Over the years, the effort to undermine the unions and labor generally succeeded. By now, private-sector unionization is very low, partly because, since Reagan, government has pretty much told employers, ҒYou know you can violate the laws, and were not going to do anything about it.Ӓ Under Clinton, NAFTA offered a method for employers to illegally undermine labor organizing by threatening to move enterprises to Mexico. A number of illegal operations by employers shot up at that time. Whats left are private-sector unions, and theyԒre under bipartisan attack.

They;ve been protected somewhat because the federal laws did function for the public-sector unions, but now theyҒre under bipartisan attack. When Obama declares a pay freeze for federal workers, thats actually a tax on federal workers. It comes to the same thing, and, of course, this is right at the time we say that we canҒt raise taxes on the very rich. Take the last tax agreement where the Republicans claimed, We already gave up tax increases.ғ Take a look at what happened. Raising the payroll tax, which is a tax on working people, is much more of a tax increase than raising taxes on the super-rich, but that passed quietly because we dont look at those things.

The same is happening across the board. There are major efforts being made to dismantle Social Security, the public schools, the post officeԒanything that benefits the population has to be dismantled. Efforts against the U.S. Postal Service are particularly surreal. Im old enough to remember the Great Depression, a time when the country was quite poor but there were still postal deliveries. Today, post offices, Social Security, and public schools all have to be dismantled because they are seen as being based on a principle that is regarded as extremely dangerous.

If you care about other people, that’s now a very dangerous idea. If you care about other people, you might try to organize to undermine power and authority. That;s not going to happen if you care only about yourself. Maybe you can become rich, but you don’t care whether other peoples kids can go to school, or can afford food to eat, or things like that. In the United States, that’s called “libertarian” for some wild reason. I mean, its actually highly authoritarian, but that doctrine is extremely important for power systems as a way of atomizing and undermining the public.

That’s why unions had the slogan, “solidarity,” even though they may not have lived up to it. And thats what really counts: solidarity, mutual aid, care for one another and so on. And itגs really important for power systems to undermine that ideologically, so huge efforts go into it. Even trying to stimulate consumerism is an effort to undermine it. Having a market society automatically carries with it an undermining of solidarity. For example, in the market system you have a choice: You can buy a Toyota or you can buy a Ford, but you cant buy a subway because thatҒs not offered. Market systems dont offer common goods; they offer private consumption. If you want a subway, youҒre going to have to get together with other people and make a collective decision. Otherwise, its simply not an option within the market system, and as democracy is increasingly undermined, itҒs less and less of an option within the public system. All of these things converge, and theyre all part of general class war.

Can you give some insight on how the labor movement could rebuild in the United States?

Well, it’s been done before. Each time labor has been attacked - and as I said, in the 1920s the labor movement was practically destroyed - popular efforts were able to reconstitute it. That can happen again. It’s not going to be easy. There are institutional barriers, ideological barriers, cultural barriers. One big problem is that the white working class has been pretty much abandoned by the political system. The Democrats don’t even try to organize them anymore. The Republicans claim to do it; they get most of the vote, but they do it on non-economic issues, on non-labor issues. They often try to mobilize them on the grounds of issues steeped in racism and sexism and so on, and here the liberal policies of the 1960s had a harmful effect because of some of the ways in which they were carried out. There are some pretty good studies of this. Take busing to integrate schools. In principle, it made some sense, if you wanted to try to overcome segregated schools. Obviously, it didnt work. Schools are probably more segregated now for all kinds of reasons, but the way it was originally done undermined class solidarity.

For example, in Boston there was a program for integrating the schools through busing, but the way it worked was restricted to urban Boston, downtown Boston. So black kids were sent to the Irish neighborhoods and conversely, but the suburbs were left out. The suburbs are more affluent, professional and so on, so they were kind of out of it. Well, what happens when you send black kids into an Irish neighborhood? What happens when some Irish telephone linemen who have worked all their lives finally got enough money to buy small houses in a neighborhood where they want to send their kids to the local school and cheer for the local football team and have a community, and so on? All of a sudden, some of their kids are being sent out, and black kids are coming in. How do you think at least some of these guys will feel? At least some end up being racists. The suburbs are out of it, so they can cluck their tongues about how racist everyone is elsewhere, and that kind of pattern was carried out all over the country.

The same has been true of women’s rights. But when you have a working class thats under real pressure, you know, people are going to say that rights are being undermined, that jobs are being under- mined. Maybe the one thing that the white working man can hang onto is that he runs his home? Now that that’s being taken away and nothing is being offered, hes not part of the program of advancing women’s rights. That’s fine for college professors, but it has a different effect in working-class areas. It does’t have to be that way. It depends on how its done, and it was done in a way that simply undermined natural solidarity. There are a lot of factors that play into it, but by this point it’s going to be pretty hard to organize the working class on the grounds that should really concern them: common solidarity, common welfare.

In some ways, it shouldn’t be too hard, because these attitudes are really prized by most of the population. If you look at Tea Party members, the kind that say, “Get the government off my back, I want a small government” and so on, when their attitudes are studied, it turns out that they’re mostly social democratic. You know, people are human after all. So yes, you want more money for health, for help, for people who need it and so on and so forth, but I don’t want the government, get that off my back and related attitudes are tricky to overcome.

Some polls are pretty amazing. There was one conducted in the South right before the presidential elections. Just Southern whites, I think, were asked about the economic plans of the two candidates, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Southern whites said they preferred Romney’s plan, but when asked about its particular components, they opposed every one. Well, thats the effect of good propaganda: getting people not to think in terms of their own interests, let alone the interest of communities and the class they’re part of. Overcoming that takes a lot of work. I dont think it’s impossible, but its not going to happen easily.

In a recent article about the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest, you discuss Henry Vane, who was beheaded for drafting a petition that called the people’s power the original from whence all just power arises. Would you agree the coordinated repression of Occupy was like the beheading of Vane?

Occupy hasn’t been treated nicely, but we shouldn’t exaggerate. Compared with the kind of repression that usually goes on, it wasnt that severe. Just ask people who were part of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, in the South, let’s say. It was incomparably worse, as was just showing up at anti-war demonstrations where people were getting maced and beaten and so on. Activist groups get repressed. Power systems dont pat them on the head. Occupy was treated badly, but not off the spectrum - in fact, in some ways not as bad as others. I wouldnt draw exaggerated comparisons. It’s not like beheading somebody who says, Let’s have popular power.

How does the Charter of the Forest relate to environmental and indigenous resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline?

A lot. The Charter of the Forest, which was half the Magna Carta, has more or less been forgotten. The forest didnҔt just mean the woods. It meant common property, the source of food, fuel. It was a common possession, so it was cared for. The forests were cultivated in common and kept functioning, because they were part of peoples common possessions, their source of livelihood, and even a source of dignity. That slowly collapsed in England under the enclosure movements, the state efforts to shift to private ownership and control. In the United States it happened differently, but the privatization is similar. What you end up with is the widely held belief, now standard doctrine, thatҒs called the tragedy of the commonsғ in Garrett Hardins phrase. According to this view, if things are held in common and arenԒt privately owned, theyre going to be destroyed. History shows the exact opposite: When things were held in common, they were preserved and maintained. But, according to the capitalist ethic, if things arenҒt privately owned, theyre going to be ruined, and thatҒs the tragedy of the commons.ғ So, therefore, you have to put everything under private control and take it away from the public, because the public is just going to destroy it.

Now, how does that relate to the environmental problem? Very significantly: the commons are the environment. When theyre a common possession - not owned, but everybody holds them together in a community - they’re preserved, sustained and cultivated for the next generation. If they’re privately owned, they’re going to be destroyed for profit; thats what private ownership is, and that’s exactly whats happening today.

What you say about the indigenous population is very striking. There’s a major problem that the whole species is facing. A likelihood of serious disaster may be not far off. We are approaching a kind of tipping point, where climate change becomes irreversible. It could be a couple of decades, maybe less, but the predictions are constantly being shown to be too conservative. It is a very serious danger; no sane person can doubt it. The whole species is facing a real threat for the first time in its history of serious disaster, and there are some people trying to do some- thing about it and there are others trying to make it worse. Who are they? Well, the ones who are trying to make it better are the pre-industrial societies, the pre-technological societies, the indigenous societies, the First Nations. All around the world, these are the communities that are trying to preserve the rights of nature.

The rich societies, like the United States and Canada, are acting in ways to bring about disaster as quickly as possible. Thats what it means, for example, when both political parties and the press talk enthusiastically about “a century of energy independence”. “Energy independence” doesn’t mean a damn thing, but put that aside. A century of “energy independence” means that we make sure that every bit of Earths fossil fuels comes out of the ground and we burn it. In societies that have large indigenous populations, like, for example, Ecuador, an oil producer, people are trying to get support for keeping the oil in the ground. They want funding so as to keep the oil where it ought to be. We, however, have to get everything out of the ground, including tar sands, then burn it, which makes things as bad as possible as quickly as possible. So you have this odd situation where the educated, advanced civilized people are trying to cut everyone’s throats as quickly as possible and the indigenous, less educated, poorer populations are trying to prevent the disaster. If somebody was watching this from Mars, theyd think this species was insane.

As far as a free, democracy-centered society, self-organization seems possible on small scales. Do you think it is possible on a larger scale and with human rights and quality of life as a standard, and if so, what community have you visited that seems closest to an example to what is possible?

Well, there are a lot of things that are possible. I have visited some examples that are pretty large scale, in fact, very large scale. Take Spain, which is in a huge economic crisis. But one part of Spain is doing okay - that’s the MONDRAGON COLLECTIVE. Its a big conglomerate involving banks, industry, housing, all sorts of things. It’s worker owned, not worker managed, so partial industrial democracy, but it exists in a capitalist economy, so its doing all kinds of ugly things like exploiting foreign labor and so on. But economically and socially, it’s flourishing as compared with the rest of the society and other societies. It is very large, and that can be done anywhere. It certainly can be done here. In fact, there are tentative explorations of contacts between the Mondragn and the United Steelworkers, one of the more progressive unions, to think about developing comparable structures here, and its being done to an extent.

The one person who has written very well about this is Gar Alperovitz, who is involved in organizing work around enterprises in parts of the old Rust Belt, which are pretty successful and could be spread just as a cooperative could be spread. There are really no limits to it other than willingness to participate, and that is, as always, the problem. If you’re willing to adhere to the task and gauge yourself, theres no limit.

Actually, there’s a famous sort of paradox posed by David Hume centuries ago. Hume is one of the founders of classical liberalism. Hes an important philosopher and a political philosopher. He said that if you take a look at societies around the world - any of them - power is in the hands of the governed, those who are being ruled. Hume asked, why don’t they use that power and overthrow the masters and take control? He says, the answer has to be that, in all societies, the most brutal, the most free, the governed can be controlled by control of opinion. If you can control their attitudes and beliefs and separate them from one another and so on, then they wont rise up and overthrow you.

That does require a qualification. In the more brutal and repressive societies, controlling opinion is less important, because you can beat people with a stick. But as societies become more free, it becomes more of a problem, and we see that historically. The societies that develop the most expansive propaganda systems are also the most free societies.

The most extensive propaganda system in the world is the public relations industry, which developed in Britain and the United States. A century ago, dominant sectors recognized that enough freedom had been won by the population. They reasoned that it’s hard to control people by force, so they had to do it by turning the attitudes and opinions of the population with propaganda and other devices of separation and marginalization, and so on. Western powers have become highly skilled in this.

In the United States, the advertising and public relations industry is huge. Back in the more honest days, they called it propaganda. Now the term doesnt sound nice, so itҒs not used anymore, but its basically a huge propaganda system which is designed very extensively for quite specific purposes.

First of all, it has to undermine markets by trying to create irrational, uninformed consumers who will make irrational choices. That’s what advertising is about, the opposite of what a market is supposed to be, and anybody who turns on a television set can see that for themselves. It has to do with monopolization and product differentiation, all sorts of things, but the point is that you have to drive the population to irrational consumption, which does separate them from one another.

As I said, consumption is individual, so its not done as an act of solidarity - so you don’t have ads on television saying, “Let’s get together and build a mass transportation system.” Whos going to fund that? The other thing they need to do is undermine democracy the same way, so they run campaigns, political campaigns mostly run by PR agents. It’s very clear what they have to do. They have to create uninformed voters who will make irrational decisions, and that’s what the campaigns are about. Billions of dollars go into it, and the idea is to shred democracy, restrict markets to service the rich, and make sure the power gets concentrated, that capital gets concentrated and the people are driven to irrational and self-destructive behavior. And it is self-destructive, often dramatically so. For example, one of the first achievements of the U.S. public relations system back in the 1920s was led, incidentally, by a figure honored by Wilson, Roosevelt and Kennedy - liberal progressive Edward Bernays.

His first great success was to induce women to smoke. In the 1920s, women didnt smoke. So here’s this big population which was not buying cigarettes, so he paid young models to march down New York City’s Fifth Avenue holding cigarettes. His message to women was, “You want to be cool like a model? You should smoke a cigarette.” How many millions of corpses did that create? I’d hate to calculate it. But it was considered an enormous success. The same is true of the murderous character of corporate propaganda with tobacco, asbestos, lead, chemicals, vinyl chloride, across the board. It is just shocking, but PR is a very honored profession, and it does control people and undermine their options of working together. And so thats Hume’s paradox, but people dont have to submit to it. You can see through it and struggle against it.



Poor in the Land of Plenty
Sasha Abramskys “American Way of Poverty”

By David K, Shipler
NY Times
September 23, 2013

Virtually everything worthwhile written about American poverty is essentially about moral failure. It is the failure of the society (according to liberals) or of the poor themselves (according to conservatives) or of institutions and individuals together in a complex combination (according to centrists). Poverty violates core American values. It challenges the American dream’s promise of prosperity for anyone who works hard, a faith central to the national ethic. Richard Wright called this faith “the truth of the power of the wish.”

The dream dies in the early pages of Sasha Abramskys intricate study, “The American Way of Poverty.” Abramsky, a freelance journalist who has written for The Nation, The Atlantic and other publications, regards inequality “as a social control mechanism supported by financial interests’ belief in the desirability of oligarchy.” He endorses the notion, popular on the left, that poverty is not just a glitch but a feature of the American system, “a corrosive brew,” he writes, “capable of eating away at the underpinnings of democratic life itself.”

His observant reporting is less doctrinaire than these grand assertions. He travels the United States meeting the poor, whose wrenching tales he inserts in tight vignettes among data-driven analyses and acute dissections of government programs. The country he portrays is damaged by indifference at high levels - his American heroes are not in Congress or boardrooms - but is rescued here and there by caring citizens at the grass roots, their inventive programs achieving small successes.

Abramsky presents himself as an heir to Michael Harrington, whose book “The Other America,” published in 1962, awakened parts of the political establishment to the shadows of poverty beneath the country’s gleaming affluence. But that work came during the civil rights movement, which was already sensitizing Americans to social injustice. Fifty-one years later, injustice does not readily incite outrage. This is so even as millions of middle-class Americans, in free fall during the economic collapse that began around 2008, have had a taste of what it means to be poor.

The absence of a strong movement for change is striking, especially given the diversity Abramsky finds as he maps the landscape of poverty. “There are people with no high school education who are poor,” he writes, “but there are also university graduates on food bank lines. There are people who are poor because they have made bad choices, gotten addicted to drugs, burned bridges with friends and family - and then there are people who have never taken a drug in their lives, who have huge social networks, and who still canגt make ends meet.”

The destitute include those “who have never held down a job,” and others who hold down multiple, but always low-paying, jobs, frequently for some of the most powerful corporations on earth. “There are the chronically poor - children whose only hot meals are what they are given at school - and the newly poor who have lost the middle-class comfort of huge suburban houses and expensive cars.”

Many of these peoples wounds’ are intimate and invisible to outsiders. Frank Nicci, a chef in Pennsylvania who lost his leg to diabetes and his job to his ill health, could not even afford to pick up his 8-year-old son for their monthly custodial visits. Lorenza and Jorge Caro, living in a storage room in New Mexico, regularly ran out of propane during the winter and relied on herbs and Tylenol for medical treatment. A 40-year-old mother in California, laid off from her job, had reached the lifetime limit for welfare and so was denied benefits after she had a new baby; she became homeless, and her older son had to quit college to support her. A Hawaii woman named Emily could never free herself from the legacy of a family racked by alcoholism and violence.

“What should we do,” Abramsky asks, “with someone like Emily?” His answer is not to blame the victim, and he skewers conservatives for doing so. Whether poverty “is caused by dysfunction, or the dysfunction is itself a product of the poverty, or, as is likely, the dysfunction and the poverty interact in ever more complex feedback loops, for the larger community to wash its hands of the problem represents an extraordinary failure of the moral imagination.”

Abramsky has written an ambitious book that both describes and prescribes. He reaches across a wide range of issues - including education, housing and criminal justice - in a sweeping panorama of poverty’s elements. Assembling them in one volume forces him to be superficial on occasion, but that price is worth paying to get the broad scope. In considering solutions, its crucial to understand how the disparate problems of poor families interact in mutual reinforcement.

Drawing from his own and others’ ideas, Abramsky proposes a host of potential remedies, chiefly “by government as the great mobilizer of financial resources for the commons,” by which he means common good, common assets and common sense. “Poverty is less a tragedy than a scandal,” he declares, the result of decisions taken, or not taken, by political and economic leaders - and accepted by voters. “decisions can be made,” he argues, if Americans have the will. He might have given more attention to the private sector, which creates most jobs, after all. But he believes there is plenty of room to tax upper incomes.

Some of Abramskys fixes are no-brainers: Let a struggling college student get food stamps even if she can’t find a job, for example; don’t make her quit school to be eligible. Finance school lunch programs for needy children flexibly, not just at the years beginning, so a midyear recession that drives more families into poverty doesn’t leave children hungry. If Abramsky had also traced the chain reaction of poor infant and childhood nutrition to impaired brain development and poor school performance, he would have strengthened his argument.

The risk of stepping into the policy weeds is that you sometimes stumble, as Abramsky does in his bold proposal for an Educational Opportunity Fund. “Comparable to Social Security and Medicare, it could provide as much as $20,000 for each child at birth, to grow over time into a near-complete subsidy for their higher education,” he writes. But even if $20,000 were to grow as fast as college costs, it would cover less than half of one year in the Ivy League, and only about a year at a state university. And according to Abramskys plan, the fund would be financed by adding between 0.25 percent and 1 percent to the payroll tax, which is a regressive flat tax of the kind he denounces later in the book for hitting low-wage earners hardest.

“Those who don’t go to college would get money from the educational fund as a near-guarantee of economic security in old age,” Abramsky writes. He also condemns federal cutbacks in funds for job training. But he does not lay out a plan for comprehensive vocational education, and he overlooks the increasing support for European-style apprenticeship programs being voiced by some American economists. Antipoverty measures need to help people who fall through the cracks of the private economy.

Even with his books few lapses, Abramsky has invited serious rethinking and issued a significant call to action. Meanwhile, the American dream remains the American myth.

David K. Shipler is the author of “The Working Poor.” His latest books are companion volumes on civil liberties: “The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties” and “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America.”



Deserving vs. undeserving poor for the love of God, here we go again

By Kathleen Geier
December 21, 2013

The New York Times’ Timothy Egan has a good OP-ED about a pernicious idea thats recently made a roaring return into the national discourse: the distinction between the “deserving” vs. the “undeserving” poor. Writing about what he refers to as “two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history” - cutting food stamps and letting unemployment benefits expire - Egan says:

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

“It would be a disservice to further extend unemployment assistance to those whove been out of work for some time,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.”

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

And a very merry Christmas to you too, idiots!

I’ll put it this way: if I were unable to find a job, getting my food stamps and unemployment benefits slashed, and then on top of that was subjected to smarmy lectures about my low moral character by these mouth-breathing maroons, not only would I be buyingӔ beer, Id be regularly drinking myself into a coma.

Simple-minded, mean-spirited ideas about good poor people vs. bad poor people have a history that goes back many centuries. As early as England’s Elizabethan-era Poor Laws, distinctions between the “deserving” poor respectable, virtuous folk who were believed to be poor through no fault of their own - and the “undeserving” sort lazy, dishonest, unmotivated - were encoded into public policy. That ideology persisted, was enforced with particular cruelty during the Victorian period, and came back with a vengeance in the 1980s, when poor-bashing and victim-blaming became all the rage. It persists to this day.

But according to Washington University poverty expert Mark Rank, researchers have found that the behavior of poor people differs little from that of more economically advantaged folks:

Yet my research and that of others has consistently found that the behaviors and attitudes of those in poverty basically mirror those of mainstream America. Likewise, a vast majority of the poor have worked extensively and will do so again. Poverty is ultimately a result of failings at economic and political levels rather than individual shortcomings.

Sure, poor people are not perfect, and some of them engage in destructive behaviors. The main difference is that economically privileged folks can indulge in countless bad behaviors and make any number of boneheaded decisions without paying any serious consequences. Theoretically, if youre wealthy and well-connected enough, you could spend your twenties hoovering up quantities of cocaine equivalent in worth to the the GDP of a small country, then stumble through your thirties as a hopeless, falling-down drunk - and yet still manage to ascend all the way to the office of the presidency of the United States.

Im merely speaking theoretically, of course.

But a poor person who exhibited similar behaviors might well end up homeless, in prison, or worse. Particularly in this unforgiving economy, one misstep could mean losing your toehold in the middle class, forever.

You don’t become poor because you’re a terrible person or a defective human being. People are poor because of the way our economy and our society is arranged. As Mark Rank has written, “American poverty is largely the result of structural, rather than individual, failings”. There simply are not enough viable opportunities for all Americans. For example, compared to other rich nations, the U.S. has what is by far the highest proportion of its workers in low-wage jobs. Yet as hard as they work, those workers have found it impossible to work themselves out of poverty.

I really like Mark Rank’s comparison of poverty to a game of musical chairs:

In class, I often use the analogy of musical chairs to help students recognize this disconnect. Picture a game with ten players, but only eight chairs. When the music stops, whos most likely to be left standing? It will be those who are at a disadvantage in terms of competing for the available chairs (less agility, reduced speed, a bad position when the music stops, and so on). However, given that the game is structured in a way such that two players are bound to lose, these individual attributes only explain who loses, not why there are losers in the first place. Ultimately, there are simply not enough chairs for those playing the game.

The critical mistake that’s been made in the past is that weve equated the question of who loses at the game with the question of why the game inevitably produces losers. They are, in fact, distinct and separate questions. So while characteristics such as deficiencies in skills or education or being in a single parent family help to explain whoђs at a heightened risk of encountering poverty, the fact that poverty exists in the first place results not from these characteristics, but from a failure of the economic and political structures to provide enough decent opportunities and supports for the whole of society.

By focusing solely upon individual characteristics, we can shuffle people up or down in terms of their likelihood to land a job with good earnings, but when there arent enough of these jobs to go around, somebody will still end up in poverty.

How do we help poor people? The answer is simple. We have abundant proof that anti-poverty programs work. See this recent Columbia University study, for example, which shows that the anti-poverty programs enacted since 1967 - the War on Poverty programs, the EITC, etc. - have reduced the actual poverty rate (as rigorously measured) from 27 percent to 16 percent. Take that, Ronald Reagan! (Reagan loved to troll liberals by sneering, דwe waged a war on poverty, and poverty won.)

To combat poverty, we need to significantly expand existing anti-poverty programs. We also need to increase the earnings of low-wage workers by enacting macroeconomic policies that promote a full-employment economy, raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and making it easier to join a labor union. None of this will be easy to pull off politically, off course. But it is well within the power of one of the richest societies the world has ever known to ensure that each one of its citizens has access to the resources she needs to live a decent life. And no, wingnuts, doing so will not undermine the moral character of poor people - though it might cast a harsh spotlight on your own.



The poor are very special to God and Democrats pretend to care for them

By John Begg
The Examiner
June 6, 2011

Democrats pretend to care about the poor.

Often, it is asked what the difference is between the Democratic and Republican parties in US. The answer is simple: The Democrats pretend to care about the poor. Moral and thinking men are Republicans because they realize that ignoring the poor, as Republicans do, is marginally less sanctimonious then using the poor to get votes. Beyond this pretense to care about God’s poor on the part of the Democrats, there is functionally little difference between the two parties. But this, perhaps obscure, difference is very important because the poor are especially precious and special to God and He has made this very plain to us.

The American political system is, at this present juncture, so thoroughly corrupt that there is no way to change it short of permanently riding ourselves of both parties. Or, to more precise, getting rid of the one party that rules us and masquerades as two. American politics is a one-party juggernaut controlled by corporate interests that occasionally whips the public into frenzy by having elections that are supposed to give the impression to the citizen that the citizen has his choice of rulers.

As a young man, Americans of my age were very smug respecting the many differences between America and the Soviet Union - for most of my life the only issue of importance was who would win the war that was sure to come between the two then transcendent super powers. American smugness was of a general sort - America was richer, better armed, more free and better prepared than the Russians.

Much to the surprise of all men in my generation, the Soviets simply threw in the towel on the Cold War and quit the contest. That development has had many ripple effects not the least of which is that, as American has a volunteer military of great size, we are, and must remain, always at war largely to justify the size and power of our war making machinery. Soldiers are meant to fight and so to war we must always go. In fact, since the end of the Second War, America has been perpetually at war.

People have become more convinced in recent years that, as George Wallace liked to say “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the two parties.” Today, the overwhelming majority of American adults would subscribe to this notion. And yet, what way out of the woods? The Democrats and Republicans are very fearful that they are ceasing rapidly to have any significance whatsoever to the American voter. Every year or so a fantasy election occurs designed to perpetuate the myth that the people have a choice in elections when they have none at all.

The only constant is that the poor are never helped or cared for. Recall that ignoring the poor is a grave affront to God but using them to get votes and then doing nothing at all to help them is to anger God greatly as the poor are his special ones.

Some will say “elect a third Party candidate for president” revealing just how little the citizens know of how Washington works. Had Ross Perot won election in 1992 himself instead of simply handing the White House to Clinton, Perot would have found out quickly that the President is powerless without the Congress. He can make pretty speeches but that is all.

And, so, the sanctimony continues unabated and Americans are given what the media is paid to call a very serious choice of Presidents every four years. The Republican Party is little different from its Democratic rival, except on the issue of the poor. Increasingly, it appears that everybody either hates or ignores the great number of poor ones who do exist in America. Their presence spoils the party.

So, we come back to God---as we always ought. He was an adament protector and spokesman for the poor when He was with us. To ignore them as my Party does is surely evil and Un-Godly. To pretend to care for the poor as do Democrats, to steal the votes of the poor in order to get elected is manifestly worse. But neither position would please God.

At present, we have this small, yet morally very consequential difference, in elections - To be a Republican as I am, knowing full well that my Party ignores the poor, or to be a Democrat and pretend to care for the poor in order to use them to get votes. This is a very, very sad and dismal choice.


Posted by Elvis on 12/22/13 •
Section Revelations • Section American Solidarity • Section Dying America
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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eminent Domain To Reduce Mortages


More Cities Consider Using Eminent Domain to Halt Foreclosures

By Shaila Dewan
NY Times
November 15, 2013

New cities are joining the effort to head off home foreclosures by using a twist on the power of eminent domain, despite threats of financial retaliation from Wall Street and Washington.

On Saturday, Mayor Wayne Smith of Irvington, N.J., will announce that his mostly working-class city is proceeding with a legal study of the plan. Irvington could try to head off legal action and repercussions through what are called “friendly condemnations,” in which “incentives are used to persuade the owner to drop any objections,” he said. “We figure if this program works it can help anywhere from 500 to 1,000 homes.”

This summer the similarly working-class city of Richmond, Calif., in a heavily industrial part of the San Francisco Bay Area, became the first to identify homes worth far less than their owners owe, and offer to buy not the houses themselves, but the mortgages. The city intends to reduce the debt on those mortgages, saying that will prevent foreclosure, blight and falling property values. If the owners of the mortgages mostly banks and investors balk, the letters said, the city could use eminent domain to condemn and buy them.

Since then, intense pressure from Wall Street and real estate interests, including warnings that mortgages will become difficult or impossible for Richmond residents to get, has whittled away support for the plan. The city has yet to actually use its power of eminent domain, but it is already fighting two lawsuits filed in federal courts.

Still, cities hard hit by the housing crash are showing interest. Yonkers, just north of New York City, will soon take up a resolution to study the use of eminent domain to reduce debt, and support is building in Newark as well. In California, Pomona and Oakland are considering it as well. .

“Things seem to be picking up steam in Minnesota, and I’ve just been contacted in the past couple of weeks by two cities in Pennsylvania as well,” said Robert Hockett, a Cornell University law professor and one of the architects of the strategy. Nationally, housing prices have begun to recover, but about one in five homeowners still owes more than the home is worth, and in cities like Richmond as many as half do.

Several local governments that have considered the plan eventually backed away, including San Bernardino County and North Las Vegas. But, Mr. Hockett said, “We’re moving into a kind of second generation of municipal interest that is more hard core - it’s interest with a spine, so to speak.”

The cities are all still in the early stages of considering the plan.

In New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union has also joined the effort, saying that opponents are using threats to keep cities from exercising their legal right to employ eminent domain.

Opponents of the strategy, including the institutional investors BlackRock and Pimco, Wells Fargo and the Mortgage Bankers Association, say that taking mortgages by eminent domain is a breach of individual rights and that investors will not receive fair market value for the mortgages. In Richmond, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin has asked investors to come to the table to work out a price, but they have so far declined to negotiate.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and controls most mortgages in the country, has said that the eminent domain strategy is a clear threat to the safe and sound operations of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan BanksӔ and that it may take legal action against cities that use it or limit mortgage activity there. In Congress, a housing finance bill by Jeb Hensarling, a Texas Republican and chairman of the Committee on Financial Services, would effectively end mortgage financing in cities that used eminent domain.

On Friday, letters signed by 10 Democratic members of Congress were expected to be sent to Edward J. DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Shaun Donovan, secretary of housing and urban development, saying that any policies that restrict mortgage lending in areas that use eminent domain would violate anti-discrimination laws.

“We writeto express our disappointment that the Federal Housing Finance Agency is actively supporting and threatening legal action against communities which consider exercising their legal rights to use eminent domain to help struggling homeowners,” the letter to Mr. DeMarco said.


Posted by Elvis on 11/24/13 •
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Saturday, September 28, 2013

41 Citizen Groups Tell Congress - Stop This Job-Killing Crisis


41 Citizen Groups Tell Congress: Stop This Job-Killing Crisis

Forty-one organizations, representing millions of Americans, have signed this letter to Congress, asking them to stand against those who would “hold our economy hostage in order to dictate the terms of the debate.” See the list of signers below.

Please read this letter and circulate it widely. We at the Campaign for America’s Future are proud to have played a leadership role in helping to writethe letter. And thank the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and all the other groups who worked to forge a consensus on the statement and helped to get the attention of Congress in this important moment of real danger for our economy.

Principles for Debate on the Budget and the Economy

Dear Member of Congress:

As we head into another series of manufactured budget crises, the 41 undersigned organizations stand against those who want to hold our economy hostage in order to dictate the terms of debate. We urge you to:

End Job-Killing Sequestration Cuts

The greatest challenge facing our economy today is the continuing jobs crisis, not the deficit. Over 20 million people are in need of full-time work. Meanwhile, the annual deficit has been cut by more than half since 2009 as a portion of the economy, and is now falling faster than at any time since the demobilization after World War II.

The across-the-board budget cuts—called “sequestration”—that began in March of this year are making the jobs crisis worse and holding back economic growth. According to the Congressional Budget Office, simply repealing sequestration would generate 900,000 jobs. We call on Congress to end the sequester—period—and not replace it with other harmful cuts.

We reject threats by some extremists to shut down the government or cause a government default unless their ransom demands are met—including their demand to defund or delay the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Congress should lift the debt ceiling without conditions because the full faith and credit of the U.S. government is not—and should not be—negotiable.

Protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security

We urge you to oppose any cuts in Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare benefits, including the shifting of health care costs to beneficiaries. We should be improving Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare by expanding benefits, not cutting them, because working people need more economic security, not less.

Defend Core Programs for Those Most At Risk

Congress should defend the core security programs for those most at risk in this economy, such as impoverished women and children, the elderly, or the long-term unemployed. The savage cuts proposed for food stamps (SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Program) are unconscionable. Cuts now projected in education, housing, home heating, Head Start, infant nutrition and other programs vital to low-income families should be reversed.

Eliminate All Tax Incentives for Sending Jobs Overseas

Powerful corporations and the rich should pay their fair share of taxes. As a start, we call on Congress to eliminate all tax incentives that encourage companies to ship jobs abroad. Ending these tax subsidies would—by itself—increase investment and employment in the U.S. At the same time, it would generate hundreds of billions in revenue which could help rebuild our economy without increasing the deficit. This money could be used to launch a five-year plan to rebuild our outmoded infrastructure; to help ensure that the U.S. captures the lead in a green industrial revolution that is already generating growing numbers of good jobs; and to invest in education, from preschool to affordable college, to prepare our children to succeed in the 21st century. Congress should combine this with raising the minimum wage and reviving the right to organize to counter the extreme inequality so debilitating to our economy.


AIDS United
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
American Federation of Teachers
Campaign for America’s Future
Caring Across Generations
Center for Community Change
Center for Effective Government
Coalition on Human Needs
Communications Workers of America
Community Action Partnership
Council for Opportunity in Education
Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund
Fair Share
Green For All
Health Care for America Now
International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work
Leadership Center for the Common Good
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Civic Action
National Coalition for the Homeless
National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare
National Employment Law Project
National Fair Housing Alliance
National Immigration Law Center
National People’s Action
National Women’s Law Center
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Partnership for Working Families
Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities Coalition
Service Employees International Union (SEIU)
Social Security Works
United Steelworkers (USW)
Wider Opportunities for Women
Working America


Posted by Elvis on 09/28/13 •
Section American Solidarity
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