Category Archives: Economy

Romney Appeals to White Tribalism in Ohio

By Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett, The Progressive, October 15, 2012

SIDNEY, OHIO—At the Shelby county fairgrounds in Sidney, Ohio, on Oct. 10, a jumbotron showed a bus approaching. Image became reality as Mitt Romney’s bulbous white chariot glided into the rally of thousands. It was an impressive entrance, for those who are impressed by RVs.

Bounding up to a podium, Romney was ready to proselytize. Thousands of faces turned toward him in the chilly evening air. Word was that Romney’s conquest of Obama in the first debate had infused his robotic demeanor with passion. It was hard to see much evidence of that.

To polite applause, Romney blandly declared, “That’s an Ohio welcome. Thank you guys.” He tried to rouse the audience with a counter to Obama campaign chants of “Four more years,” and the crowd hesitantly recited “Four more weeks,” their tone as flat as the surrounding farmland.

No matter. Romney dove into his stump speech. It was the gospel of lower taxes, freer trade, stronger military, and drill, baby, drill, and the audience was receptive. He hit all the buttons, “jobs,” “small business,” “compete,” and “opportunities.” Some specifics drew hearty cheers: “Get rid of the death tax,” “get that pipeline in from Canada,” and “our military must be second to none.”

The crowd responded favorably because the ideas are presented simply and clearly. People are hurting, and Romney says he’ll create more jobs and put more money in your pocket. His message is he won’t do it through welfare, like Obama, but by encouraging American values like entrepreneurialism, strength, and self-sufficiency.

Author Thomas Frank calls this brand of politics “Pity the Billionaire … a revival crusade preaching the old-time religion of the free market.” Frank argues the post-Obama resurgence of the right is not about racism or culture wars, but a populist politics of resentment. The right, he explains, has effectively defined the economic crisis as “a conspiracy of the big guys against the little,” and their solution is “to work even more energetically for the laissez-faire utopia.”

It’s not either-or as Frank contends, however. The right is invoking “producerism,” telling Americans bruised by the downturn that your pain is due to social factors, which are presented as coded racial categories.

Political Research Associates, a group of scholars who study right-wing movements, defines producerism as a call to “rally the virtuous ‘producing classes’ against evil ‘parasites’ at both the top and bottom of society.” The concept stretches back to the Andrew Jackson era, and weaves “together intra-elite factionalism and lower-class whites’ double-edged resentments.” Today, the parasites at the top are liberals, bureaucrats, bankers, and union “bosses”; the ones below are “welfare queens,” teachers, Muslims, and “illegal aliens.” They are all taking money from the hard-working Americans in the middle.

By historical standards Romney should be a Walter Mondale, a candidate who has lost even before the race begins. But he is effectively utilizing the politics of white resentment because of Obama’s dismal economic record. Tens of millions of low-wage workers feel their world is coming apart and they don’t know whom to blame. To them, change may mean lower wages, fewer hours, no health care, or a lost home. Romney plays on fear by linking it to Obama. In Sidney he said, “The president seems to be changing America in ways we don’t recognize,” which elicited chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

It’s not that the United States is inherently right wing, as many commentators claim. In Ohio, autoworkers say there is almost universal support among their co-workers for Obama because the auto bailout saved their jobs. But the bailout affected less than 1 percent of all U.S. jobs. In a recent poll the president has the support of only 35 percent of white working-class voters compared to Romney’s 48 percent.

The Romney rally was stunningly white. Among the estimated 9,000 people, it was hard to find more than a handful who looked to be Black, Latino or Asian. Attendees complained about welfare and high taxes destroying the country. Romney fed the resentment by claiming Obama was going to “raise the tax on savings,” “put in place a more expensive death tax,” and raise taxes on “a million” small businesses.

Democrats dismiss Romney as a snake-oil salesman. Joe Biden pointed out in the debate against Paul Ryan that the GOP counts billion-dollar hedge funds as small businesses. That’s true, but it doesn’t account for the popularity of their ideas. You see, the Republicans have turned small business into a catch-all group the way “working class” once served that function for the left.

According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, the number of self-employed and employer firms – those with employees other than the owner – numbered 15.7 million in 2009. It’s likely that most are kitchen table, garage or laptop operations, but that’s beside the point. Republicans are courting millions of Americans whose livelihood depends on unswerving faith in the market.

Of the five people we talked to who told us their profession, four said they were a small-business owner. They did not seem to think of themselves as workers, but as frustrated entrepreneurs. When Romney says he’s going to help small business expand and stop Obama from increasing taxes on small businesses they think he’s speaking to them. They hope Romney will return the nation to its natural free-market state – free from regulations, bureaucrats and welfare – in which hard-working Americans like them achieve the success they deserve.

Why shouldn’t they believe this rhetoric? The Democrats mimic the right even when they control all of Washington. Obama says he will make business more competitive, cut taxes, sign trade deals, bomb the world into democracy and drill, frack and mine for energy. The Democrats’ dilemma is they are in the pocket of Wall Street, but need votes from groups that want the economic pie to be sliced more evenly. The result is liberals worship the same free-market god as conservatives, but have no conviction about it.

Absent an alternative, many voters veer right because they are reaching for the only lifeline they see. “Energy independence” and “a military second to none” are not just catch phrases. They provide millions of decent-paying jobs for the white working class.

This is not to say Romney voters always understand what they are voting for. Talking to some was like walking Through the Looking Glass, where backwards is forwards. Supporters repeatedly ascribed to Romney positions that are the exact opposite of what he advocates. Or they swallow lies about Obama that contradict their own experience. This suggests that racial identity often outweighs rational self-interest. Romney again made this a direct appeal, capping his speech by saying, “We’re taking back America.”

Ron Elmore, a small businessman who sells education supplies, preferred Romney because he would “get America going in the right direction again.” Elmore said he was struggling to get by and believed Romney would help his business by increasing education funding.

Two 16-year-olds, Jennifer Poling and Caitie Johnson, called themselves Romney backers. Johnson said, “There’s too many people today who depend on the government.” Poling said her mother is a “hardcore Obama” supporter because Romney is against women’s rights. Poling, though, shrugged off the right’s explicit anti-abortion politics, saying, “I don’t think they [Congress] will let Romney pass any laws against abortion.”

Jeff Doresch, who owns a small business detailing cars, was angry. “Obama is shutting us all down. He’s destroying us with tax increases.” When asked how his taxes had fared under Obama, Doresch responded, “They’ve stayed the same.”

Eighteen-year-old Andy Egbert and 16-year-old cousin Troy Kloeppel’s family owns 5,000 head of beef cattle. Egbert said, “Romney is going to make more jobs for the middle class instead of sending them overseas to China.” Kloeppel supported Romney because he was opposed to welfare fraud: “It’s a great system if it’s not abused.” Egbert chimed in, “A lot of people are lazy and are paid to do nothing.”

Jason, a local soybean farmer, said, “I like everything about Romney.” Why didn’t he like about Obama? “No Obamacare,” he said before quickly departing.

A businessman worth a couple hundred million dollars was telling a white audience that a president who is changing the country “in ways we don’t recognize” was stealing their money for job-killing programs like Obamacare. In a warm-up talk, Ohio Gov. John Kasich railed against “bureaucrats” and “California rules.”

The audience knew what they meant. “We” – white America – are besieged by liberals using our tax dollars on undeserving poor, dark people. This attitude is often expressed as a crude or violent desire to eliminate the other, such as with the spate of “chair lynchings.” At the rally one vendor hawked toilet paper with Obama’s face on each sheet. Another sold buttons that read, “Forget your cats and dogs, spay and neuter your liberal.” Jeff Doresch said, “With Obama, if there’s another four years, it will be like when Hitler was here.” A few hours west of Sidney, near Fort Wayne, Indiana, a highway billboard showed a picture of armed commandos with text that read, “The Navy SEALs removed one threat to America … The voters must remove the other.”

But it’s not just about aggression. In his one effective moment, Romney painted a vision of a beloved, exclusionist community. He told a story about an American flag that went up in the Challenger, which was recovered intact after the shuttle exploded and that “was like electricity … running through my arms” when he touched it. He turned the secular symbol into a holy one that embodies “who we are.” Romney said, “We’re a people given to great causes. We live our lives for things bigger than ourselves.” That “who,” was people in the military, “a single mom,” “a dad taking on multiple jobs.” Finally, he said, “We’re taking America back.”

There’s little doubt that Romney will double down on decades of bipartisan policies that benefit plutocrats. But that’s not what the audience in Sidney heard. Romney offered an easy-to-grasp explanation that spoke to their years of suffering, their unease with the present state of affairs and their anxiety about the future.

An election or two down the road the appeal to white tribalism may no longer work due to shifting demographics, but it could triumph this November.


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Filed under Economy, Politics, Presidential Election 2012, Race

Real Steel: Striking a Chord for the Lost American Dream

Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:59

By Arun Gupta, Truthout | News Analysis

Caught between an unyielding corporation and crumbling solidarity, striking steelworkers in Ohio find history is both their ally and enemy as they ponder the uncertain future of organized labor.

Niles, Ohio – My childhood was made of steel.

In 1969 my family moved to Baltimore, where my father designed ships at Bethlehem Steel’s Sparrows Point Shipyard – what one historian notes “was once the largest steelworks in the world.”

It was a place of forbidding grandiosity: miles of clanking mills, blackened smokestacks and hellish furnaces, armies of grimy workers and supertankers in dry dock that blotted out the sky. I took pride in the millions of tons of steel forged annually, lived in a stable (if racist) working-class neighborhood near the plant and spent summers frolicking in the Olympic-size pool at the Sparrows Point Country Club.

Sparrows Point shut down its blast furnaces this past June, perhaps for the last time. A workforce that numbered 26,500 when we arrived in the United States had wasted away to 1,975 employees when its latest owner threw in the towel. The story is the same for much of the country. The golden era of industry is gone, but it weighs on workers who lament the passing of the American Dream, while anxiously confronting a future that seems to be one of perpetual decline.

The ripples of history surface in areas like Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, known as the “Ruhr Valley of America,” for the 28 mills that once lined the region. This year, 2012, is the 75th anniversary of the “Little Steel Strike” that turned the valley into a battlefield as steelmakers violently quashed unionization efforts. It’s also the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Steelworkers of America (USW) and the 35th anniversary of “Black Monday,” when more than 5,000 workers lost their jobs after the demise of Youngstown Sheet & Tube’s Campbell Works in 1977.

It’s local lore that people would point to soot from steel mills dusting fresh snow and say, “That’s gold,” meaning that’s what paid the bills. That’s no more. The gigantic blast furnaces have long been demolished save for a few modern plants like V&M Star, which casts pipes for natural-gas fracking (and which was aided by $20 million in federal stimulus money). Steelmaking in the valley is otherwise limited to warehouse operations employing dozens of workers in jobs such as cutting metal parts.

One such facility is Phillips Manufacturing in the town of Niles, which straddles the Mahoning River. Workers there produce drywall and steel corner beads and studs used in building construction. Except Phillips is now using “replacement workers” to fill orders. On Sept. 13, 44 members of USW Local 4564-02 shut off their machines before noon. Instead of breaking for lunch, they walked out and struck over wage, benefits and seniority issues.

The dispute pits an emboldened corporation extracting ever-greater concessions from an ever shrinking-union. More significant, the history that shaped this area is in play as both sides try to turn it to their advantage. Organized labor often accepted racism in organizing, which enabled industrialists to divide workers along the color line.

In the Mahoning Valley, steel mill owners would employ blacks to cross the picket line. Today, Phillips is doing the same by bringing in African-American strikebreakers. As for the workers, who proclaim they are born and bred union, they have their own advantage: The city of Niles has dusted off a 1960s-era anti-scab law and invoked it against Phillips.

The stakes are higher for the steelworkers than the company. They must win this fight not only to retain decent-paying jobs with benefits, but to keep the local alive – one of the few institutions that can nurture a new generation of unionists.

Workers say since Phillips purchased the facility 14 years ago it has demanded concessions in every contract. David Hanshaw, a self-described “passionate Italian” and 30-year employee at the facility, is still angry about the givebacks Phillips extracted in 1998. “They took away our pensions, a weeks’ vacation and we had a pay freeze for five years.”

The current contract expired Aug. 9, and steelworkers walked out after management refused to budge on its demands despite 15 negotiating sessions. Local 4564-02 Vice President Tony Beltz says Phillips wants to hike workers’ payment for the family health care plan by 21 percent to nearly $3,900 a year. The company also wants workers to pay for short-term disability insurance and it wants to terminate seniority rights for those who are out for more than six months, a serious concern for a workforce mainly in their 50’s and 60’s.

Beltz explains during contract talks management tried to split the union by offering skilled workers more pay while cutting wages for production workers. He says that gambit didn’t work because “we’re united.”

When the union asked for a wage increase to lighten the burden, the company offered some production workers 3 cents an hour, or $62 annually. As for his situation, the 55-year-old Beltz says, “They want me to take a pay cut of 12 cents an hour, despite the fact I make only $15.71 an hour after 32 years at the plant. It’s insulting.”

The steelworkers understand that swirling around the wage and benefits dispute are the punishing currents of history. Hanshaw thunders that the strike “is about America. I want it back. We’re sinking into a moral abyss.”

Beltz sees a generational divide hampering the labor movement. He comments that younger strikers have not been on the picket line as much as the older crew. “Half of these kids don’t know what a union is. They bitch about dues. But now they get it.”

One factor in why younger workers may be less fired-up is their paltry wages. Beltz says new hires start at $9.90 an hour, about what a Starbucks barista earns. Hanshaw explains that because of low wages, “I’ve got two guys who ride bicycles to work. One guy can’t even come out to the picket line because he can’t afford gas.”

Paul Dierkes, who at age 56 has put in 27 years at the plant, says “We just want to do our job, get a paycheck and spend time with our family.”

But that’s not possible because strikers are caught between an unyielding company and weakening solidarity. Dierkes says on Oct. 8, during the fourth week of the strike, the company brought in four vans full of scabs. “These kids are in a rude awakening if they think things are going to get better. We told them, ‘Please don’t cross the picket line.’ But they don’t listen. If these kids keep crossing the picket line, they’re gonna eventually pay them nothing. You gotta keep the union alive and make sure people get paid fair.”

Some wonder if that’s the company’s goal – to smash the union. Mary Smith, a stout African-American who hails from Tennessee, has worked at the Niles plant for 32 years. Inside the warehouse the size of three football fields, she drives a tow motor, hauling doughnut-shaped coils of steel weighing up to 18,000 pounds, which are cut into building materials.

Smith says, “I think they’re trying to break the union. This strike is more negative than previous ones. They are playing hardball. They’re taking scabs right over us.” Smith says, “The scabs made sexually derogatory remarks to me, ‘Pull your pants down. I want to see your cookie.’ I tell them, if your mother were out here would you say the same thing?”

Smith is not one to back down, however. She arrives at Phillips at 4:30 a.m. every workday and stays up to 15 hours on the picket line. When asked about her devotion to the strike, Smith, a 62-year-old grandmother, says, “I’m fighting for my job and everyone’s job.”

Smith is referring to union jobs, not the category of “jobs” that has become an incantation. In the media, to speak of jobs is to invoke a mystical force that salves all social ills, but the ultimate source of which is unknown.

If there is a single reason why Obama is likely to be re-elected, it’s jobs. Specifically it’s because the bailout his administration enacted saved Ohio’s auto industry. The steel industry is too decimated to bail out, but the USW claims the auto rescue saved the jobs of 350,000 of its members – from glass workers who construct windshields to rubber workers who make car tires to chemical workers who manufacture paint brighteners.

It’s hard to deny that the bailout worked. By June 2009 the unemployment rate in the region that includes Niles had shot up to 13.5 percent. In August, it touched 7.9 percent, below the national average.

But the reason why Obama has not clinched the race is due to widespread anxiety among workers. The bailout saved thousands of union jobs in Ohio at the cost of forcing wages down, which impacts all workers. Average wages in Northeastern Ohio have dropped by nearly 9 percent since 2010. For many college graduates, a good job is working in a call center. One auto worker says for high-school graduates who can’t land a spot on the production line, Walmart is a good option.

While these jobs are non-unionized, workers say they are treated better because of the spillover effect of organized labor. Local 4564-02 President Bill Irons stopped by the picket line one day with a crock pot of barbeque pork. A mountain of a man, Irons’ bolt-like fingers are riven with cracks, as if the skin is straining to contain flesh and bone. Irons argues, “Unions keep companies honest. All the non-union guys benefit from safety improvements and higher wages that unions win.”

Yet his local is in critical condition. Today it has 135 members at six plants. Twenty years ago, says Irons, the local had 800 members. A generation before that, it probably numbered in the thousands.

For companies like Phillips, and corporate America in general, even a handful of unionized workers is too many. After I finished talking with Irons, strikers pointed out that Phillips’ president and CEO George Kubat was exiting the plant. I caught up with him at the gate and inquired about the status of negotiations.

Looking tense, Kubat said it was in the hands of a “federal negotiator.” I asked three times if he foresaw the situation being settled anytime soon. After deflecting my question twice – “Email me” – he shook his head no.(I emailed Kubat as he requested, but received no response to multiple inquiries.)

Phillips is a privately held company based in Omaha. Workers fear it will shift production to its non-union facility there. Phillips doesn’t publicize its vitals, but it seems to be thriving. Tony Beltz says, “There’s been an increase in business.” He says after four years with “zero overtime,” workers regularly logged 60-hour work-weeks this year. Further evidence of the company’s good health was Phillips’ announcement in June that it had acquired the assets of Steel Drum Industries in Tampa, allowing it to grow its business in the Southeast.

When I mentioned to workers that Kubat did not seem inclined to settle the strike, no one was surprised, given management’s intransigence during negotiations. Bob, a 67-year-old lathe operator, became distraught when talking about the strike. “It’s disheartening as hell to be treated like this. They’re telling the guys in there, ‘We’re going to starve them out.'”

Even though strike-breaking has been all but legalized, the steelworkers have home-field advantage. Union sentiment is still strong in Niles. Phillips workers mention their families have been union for generations and recall as children their fathers going out on strike. People driving by regularly honk and wave at the strikers. Two men in a pickup truck leaned on the horn and yelled, “Local 396, plumbers and pipefitters. Yeah, go boys!” The pro-union mood has also been boosted by a referendum last year that resoundingly repealed an Ohio law eliminating collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers.

The strikers’ ace in the hole is the anti-scab law. According to local reports, on Sept. 28 the Niles city prosecutor “filed a criminal complaint against Phillips Manufacturing for breaking a city ordinance that prohibits the hiring of professional strike-breakers in place of employees who are involved in a labor dispute.” Apparently the prosecutor did not know about the 1960s-era law. Niles City Councilman Dan Wilkerson, who has been a regular at the strike, drew the city’s attention to it. Violating the law carries a minimum fine of $500 and a jail term of up to six months.

If unionism is part of Niles’ legacy, then so is racism. And Phillips appears to be counting on it. At the end of one work day a van with half a dozen men, all of whom appeared to be African-American, pulled out of the lot as strikers yelled “scab” and “don’t come back.” Paul Dierkes says that the day four vanloads of strike-breakers came into Phillips, all but a couple looked African-American.

Thomas Sabatini, a professor of US History at Youngstown State University, says Niles used to be a “sundown town,” which was the norm in the North. Historian James Loewen writes that many sundown towns “formerly sported at their corporate limits signs that usually read, ‘Nigger, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on You in ____.'”

The racial divide pains Mary Smith. The only African-American in the workforce, she says, “Phillips hasn’t hired any in the last seven or eight years. So to see them bring these African-Americans in there in the vans makes me angry.” Not that she has sympathy for the scabs. Smith says, “They can’t get jobs by doing the right thing, only by doing the wrong thing. I shouldn’t be saying this but they all look like thugs. They rub their fingers at us, ‘We’re taking your money.’ They’re cold-hearted in there, both the owners and the scabs.”

A hearing on the anti-scab law is set for Oct. 11. In the meantime workers spend their days sitting under canopy tents across the street from the main gate because an injunction has limited them to five pickets per entrance. They talk about the difficulty of staying out on strike because they live from one paycheck to the next. Smith says, “I’ve had to sacrifice a lot over the years, missing vacations with my children and grandchildren because I had to be at work.”

Smith says she was planning to retire next year, but is unsure now because the strike might drag on. For Bob, enjoying his golden years is not an option. “I can’t afford to retire because of my wife’s medical care,” he says. “Some of her arthritis prescriptions cost nearly $1,000 to refill.”

One day they will all be retired. The question is who will replace them: a new generation of strike-breakers, or a new generation of organized labor? One that understands the fight is not only for jobs with living wages, but to bridge the racial and economic divides affecting all workers.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.


Filed under Economy, Labor, Race

Obama’s Trickle-Down Symbolism leaves Black America Behind

By Arun Gupta, September 7, 2012, The Progressive

It was not what I expected to hear from a politician. I had invited myself to the Congressional Black Caucus party – sponsored by Duke Energy – at the Democratic National Convention. An African-American elected official and Obama delegate was venting about racism in Oklahoma, when he confided: “Listen, I probably should be saying this, but if Barack Obama wins a second term it will be bad for blacks in Oklahoma.” I looked at him quizzically. “The board room,” he explained. “There’ll be retaliation.”

He added that he encouraged young African-Americans to leave Oklahoma because there was little economic opportunity in a state dominated by “racist rednecks.” At the carefully scripted convention, his message was a screeching reminder that no amount of soaring oratory could mask the painful reality of economic decline and thriving racism.

Now, it was hard not to be moved by the beautiful African-American First Family on stage in Charlotte the final night. The symbolism of a nation progressing from slaves on plantations to the Obamas in the White House is powerful. It’s even more potent coming after years of “Obama is a Kenyan-born Nazi-Muslim-Socialist” oozing from every orifice of the right and the GOP’s presidential nominee slinging a birther joke.

That symbolism, which has lost its luster after four bleak years, had a bit part in Charlotte that went largely unnoticed. Around the DNC were scores, perhaps hundreds of vendors, peddling memorabilia of Obama and the First Family such as tee shirts, buttons, hats, posters, calendars, books, and programs.

The vendors were overwhelmingly African-American. I conversed with six of them. Most looked to be middle aged and worn out. Two were from Charlotte; others travelled from Florida, Atlanta and elsewhere in North Carolina. “Business is okay” was the standard response when I asked if they were making money.

John, a warehouse worker from Winston-Salem, hawked buttons and programs in downtown Charlotte. He said a friend who had a company making buttons hired him and 14 other vendors on commission. “They count out the buttons. We sell ’em for $5 each, and get $2 for each button. If you don’t sell anything, you don’t make any money.”

A block away, Cynthia, a slight woman from Jacksonville, Florida, struggled with a board of buttons. “Proceeds go to a local food pantry.” Upon further questioning she said she received $2 a button. She was hired after responding to a Craigslist ad, driven to the convention from Jacksonville and given a room in Charlotte. “I have to pay for my own food though,” she added, juggling a box of Bojangle’s “Famous Chicken ‘n Biscuits” along with the buttons.

Cynthia looked like she was 60 and missing most of her teeth. I asked how she was doing. “My back hurts, but I’m used to it,” she shrugged. She took time off from her job in Jacksonville as a healthcare aide. “Most of my patients are 300 pounds and I have to move them. I’m 114 pounds. We have techniques to do it,” she added with a grin.

The dirty secret about the 21st-century economy you won’t hear from either party is that millions of jobs involve moving goods or tending to bodies. More than 3.3 million Americans currently earn an average of $10.85 an hour moving goods by hand. Another 1.9 million pocket $9.70 an hour as personal care and home health aides. With a hollowed-out manufacturing sector, Obama’s promises aside, and an aging population, employment is growing in these fields. When you add in related fields, such as truck drivers and construction helpers or child-care workers and medical assistants, the ranks of these low-wage workers swell to more than 13 million. It’s hard not to notice that the workers are disproportionately African-American (and Latino).

The painful irony of Obama is that even as he represents the potential of triumphing over racism, the reality for most of Black America is an apartheid-like economy. Every indicator screams depression. A real unemployment rate of23 percent for Blacks. A childhood poverty rate of 33 percent. A foreclosure rate 47 percent higher than white Americans. Since 2005, the wealth of Black families has been razed by more than 50 percent to $5,700 per average –one-twentieth the amount of white families. For Hispanics, the story if virtually the same.

Abandoned by a society in which no banker is left behind – by 2011 the feds instituted 76 separate programs and measures with potential support topping $15 trillion – those at the bottom are lectured by Obama that “we insist on personal responsibility,” “hard work will pay off,” and “not every problem can be remedied with another government program.”

Once the glittery words are dusted off, Obama and the Democrats are peddling trickle-down economics. They will “reward” companies that “create new jobs here.” They will sign new trade agreements. But remember, “We don’t want handouts for people who refuse to help themselves.” The talk about education and jobs has been the mantra for decades. The difference is now Democrats have jumped on the beat-up-public-education bandwagon even as we train workers for jobs that don’t exist.

When Obama spoke about personal responsibility and celebrating “individual initiative,” he was not talking about people like Cynthia and John. They work some of the hardest jobs in our society for the lowest pay, and still muster the energy to work some more. They practice raw capitalism, making their living one tee shirt and one button at a time with no safety net.

It’s not that there isn’t a difference between the two parties. To the Democrats’ warmed-over Reaganism, the Republicans propose bare-knuckled plutocracy. It’s a choice between more of the same and a descent into darkness. But for Cynthia and John and Black America, a new day is still far over the horizon no matter who wins.


Filed under Democratic National Convention, Economy, Race

Occupy invades “America’s storage shed” (Salon)

Faced with protest, Walmart unilaterally shuts down three warehouses in Southern California


Spilling out below the snow-dusted San Bernardino Mountains, California’s Inland Empire in Southern California is America’s storage shed. Its economy is a key link in the global supply chain. Goods from Asia funnel through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports that handle more than one-quarter of all the imports pouring into the United States every year, and much of it is warehoused here before finding its way into homes and businesses across the nation. If all the storage space was gathered under one roof, more than 700 million square feet, it would make a warehouse larger than Manhattan.

With manufacturing scant in the Inland Empire, an estimated 118,000 workers are employed hustling through cavernous warehouses to stack and fetch goods or hauling them in rigs. The area is infested with banal exurbs that clump in towns such as Mira Loma, which has been tagged the “diesel death zone” for the lung-searing truck pollution that envelops it. It was in Mira Loma that a few hundred members of various Southern California Occupy movements converged at sunrise  on Feb. 29 with the goal of shutting down a Walmart distribution center.

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iEmpire: Apple’s Sordid Business Practices Are Even Worse Than You Think (Alternet)

By Arun Gupta, AlterNet

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Behind the sleek face of the iPad is an ugly backstory that has revealed once more the horrors of globalization. The buzz about Apple’s sordid business practices is courtesy of the New York Times series on the “iEconomy. In some ways it’s well reported but adds little new to what critics of the Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest electronics manufacturer, have been saying for years. The series’ biggest impact may be discomfiting Apple fanatics who as they read the articles realize that the iPad they are holding is assembled from child labor, toxic shop floors, involuntary overtime, suicidal working conditions, and preventable accidents that kill and maim workers.

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Occupying Hawaii: Paradise Lost and Found (Truthout)

Kauai, the "Garden Island"

Kauai, the “Garden Island.” (Photo: yark64)

Sunday 29 January 2012

by: Michelle Fawcett, Truthout | News Analysis

Ever since the Garden of Eden headlined the Torah, savvy marketers have realized that we all deeply desire a slice of paradise. Utopia is woven into America’s national fabric starting with the Puritan ideal of a “city upon a hill” and progressing through the centuries to Shakers, Mormons, Manifest Destiny, socialists and suburbia. These days, paradise is all around us from potato chips seasoned with “harmonic convergence” to bath soaps that “take me away” to Steve Jobs’ “quest for perfection.”

Utopia has always been half the equation, however, the balance being the extermination of indigenous people, who already inhabited the land, and denial of entry for all manner of people from blacks and women to immigrants and the poor.

This dichotomy is evident in Hawaii where competing visions of paradise blend with dystopian realities. Now, Hawaii would soften even a cynic’s heart. I’ve been visiting Kauai, the “Garden Island,” for 20 years and remain intoxicated by the undulating emerald mountains of the Na Pali Coast, the warm, aquamarine waters of Hanalei Bay and the “Aloha spirit” of its people.

The natural splendor of Hawaii draws about seven million tourists a year as well as thousands of transplants, many wealthy, who relocate to the Pacific island chain for the relentlessly balmy weather. At the same time, the tropical Shangri-La barely conceals teeming tent cities, droves of poverty-wage workers and the legacy of the conquest of native Hawaiians.

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Buying Elections (RT)

Russia Today talks with Craig Holman, Seton Motley and Arun Gupta on January 23 asking: How have Super PACs changed the face of campaigns? Are there too many Super PACs? How have they changed the tone of the debate? Do the ads they produce really help Americans figure out who is a better candidate? And can voters see who’s spending these unlimited amounts of money on campaigns?

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Arundhati Roy: ‘The people who created the crisis will not be the ones that come up with a solution’ (Guardian)

The prize-winning author of The God of Small Things talks about why she is drawn to the Occupy movement and the need to reclaim language and meaning.

Arundhati Roy, Wednesday 30 November 2011

Sitting in a car parked at a gas station on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, my colleague Michelle holds an audio recorder to my cellphone. At the other end of the line is Arundhati Roy, author of the Booker Prize-winning The God of Small Things, who is some 2,000 miles away, driving to Boston.

“This is uniquely American,” I remark to Roy about interviewing her while both in cars but thousands of miles apart. Having driven some 7,000 miles and visited 23 cities (and counting) in reporting on the Occupy movement, it’s become apparent that the US is essentially an oil-based economy in which we shuttle goods we no longer make around a continental land mass, creating poverty-level dead-end jobs in the service sector.

This is the secret behind the Occupy Wall Street movement that Roy visited before the police crackdowns started. Sure, ending pervasive corporate control of the political system is on the lips of almost every occupier we meet. But this is nothing new. What’s different is most Americans now live in poverty, on the edge, or fear a descent into the abyss. It’s why a majority (at least of those who have an opinion) still support Occupy Wall Street even after weeks of disinformation and repression.

In this exclusive interview for the Guardian, Roy offers her thoughts on Occupy Wall Street, the role of the imagination, reclaiming language, and what is next for a movement that has reshaped America’s political discourse and seized the world’s attention.

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In the heartland, the occupation of the near poor (Salon)

From Texas to Kentucky, the service economy doesn’t serve up a future

Occupy Charleston, WV

Occupy Charleston, WV

AUSTIN, Texas — Under a photovoltaic glass trellis, on the terraced steps of Austin’s modernist City Hall, dozens of occupiers sprawl amid sleeping bags and sleeping dogs. A few people tap on computers while others nestled in bedding sit up, looking as if they are slowly sloughing off a hangover. It’s about 4 in the afternoon.

Trying to escape the pungence of fermenting compost, I gingerly climb the steps, scooting around one young woman with a brown sweater knotted around her waist and blue jeans around her ankles. A few feet away, a wiry guy in a flower-print sundress with body hair spilling out like Borat in a mankini strums a guitar.

At a table that passes for the kitchen on the plaza below a hefty man with a bandanna hanging off his chin eagerly offers mashed beans and vegetables on bread to passersby. A dozen homeless youth pass around a bowl as three impassive cops hang on the edge of the occupation. Two older women waltz to music only they can hear and a shirtless man grabs his shorts with one hand and a protest sign with the other as he chases a death-defying dog across four lanes of traffic.

When I describe the scene to Michelle Millette, an organizer with Occupy Austin, she laughs and in a rising voice says, “Keep Austin weird!” She explains that the encampment, which is mostly street people, stems from the fact that “Austin has a huge homeless population. A lot of the people are there because they say, ‘This is the only place I can legally sleep because I’ve been chased out of everyplace else.’” Plus, Millette adds, because the city has banned tents, “it looks like a hobo camp to people walking by. Many people are afraid to leave their stuff because it’s just lying out there.”

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The American Dream As We Know It Is Obsolete (Alternet)

Why progressives need to think beyond the mantra of creating a “middle class America.”

We’ve hit 14 occupations thus far. The latest ones being Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, and Lexington, Kentucky. One common refrain is “the American Dream” is no longer possible, it’s dead or it’s a nightmare. The American Dream is shorthand for the middle class utopia. It’s the post-WWII ideal of well-paying working class jobs that can support a family, which have full benefits, and hope that the next generation will be better educated, have more opportunities and greater prosperity.

It’s a powerful mythology that ignores how socially deadening post-war society was. It was based on American Apartheid, virulent anti-Communism and suffocating notions of sexuality. Poverty was still widespread at home, Cold War militarism and the rise of advertising boosted the economy and plunder from the underdeveloped world allowed for increasing standards of living at home.

In the following article published before the occupy movement began I argue against the idea that “saving” the middle class should be the center of political or social struggles. Now, this is highly relevant to the Occupy movement because many people we have interviewed think we can just return to this post-war fantasy with a few policy tweaks and an election or two.

Just as the current crisis festered over many decades and is thus deeply rooted in our socio-economic system, creating a new world means radically restructuring our society and social relations, something that is not going to happen overnight or by electing some Democrats.

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