Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Geography of Gas Prices

My family and I went car-less this summer.

It was a three month experiment to see how we would do without the family vehicle. It was a terrific success. In all honesty, it wasn't really that difficult. We had the pleasure of feeling virtuous without the pain of working too hard at it.

We spent those three months in the University City section of Philadelphia. There, we had easy access to good public transportation; bike lanes on many streets made it fun for the four of us to zoom around that way; the neighborhood itself is walkable, with a twice-weekly farmers market and a park down the street; and it is home to the best Vietnamese tofu hoagie in the country. On those few occasions where we really needed a car, we used the local car-share program. Philadelphia, as it happens, is better served by car share than any other city in the nation.

And we didn't miss the car much at all - for us, it was more fun (and relaxing) to take the train or the trolley, to walk where we needed to, to pretend we were living a European life-style without having to pay in Euros. Most of all, we read all those news stories about high gas prices as if they were dispatches from some foreign country.

Now that we have returned to Ohio and the experiment is over, it strikes me that the pain of rising gas prices this summer has a specific geography. That geography, in turn, might well predict much of our economic future.

Counterpointing the stories in the papers this summer about gas prices were stories about the increased use of mass transit. Needless to say, however, increased ridership on public transportation only happened in places that have public transportation to begin with: New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Metro DC.

People in much of the rest of the country don't have any alternative to the car. Like those living in most of the South and the Midwest, for example. Take a map of those places where the car is the only form of transportation and lay it over a map of the most economically distressed parts of the country and I think you'll find a fair degree of over-lap.

Exhibit A - Ohio. The state has been in serious economic trouble for several years. At the same time, there isn't a public transit system worthy of the name in the whole state. (Twenty years ago the local burghermeisters in Columbus conspired to tear down the city's train station, turning Columbus into the largest city in the country without any passenger rail service). Over the last two decades, suburban sprawl has been among the few growth industries in the state, reinforcing the reliance and cars and gasoline. Gas prices thus hurt here a lot more than they do in New York.

Put another way, those places with a wider range of transportation options are positioned to be economically more competetive than those parts of the country without them. This means those places with greater density - shorter commutes, shorter trips to the store etc - and those places where people have options about how to take those trips. The new economics of energy is going to reward places like Chicago and it will punish places like Birmingham.

Fifty-five years after Charles Wilson said it, it has become clear that what's good for General Motors is no longer good for the country. Good urban design, public transit, and increased metropolitan density, once seen as a conspiracy of liberals and do-gooders (see Tom's earlier post "Suburbanites Beware!), is now the key to economic prosperity. Or at least to my economic prosperity now that I have to buy gas for my car again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Checking Back Into the Hanoi Hilton

John McBush did a turn on Leno the other night. Toward the end of his appearance Leno said: I've just got to ask, how many houses do you have? McBush responded by refering to his time as a POW in Vietnam.

It was a bizarre non sequitur. Had he not heard the question? Or perhaps it was another "senior moment" from a guy who is having more and more of them as the campaign rolls on.

Or perhaps it was exactly the scripted response McBush's Rove operatives told him to give to that question. And to virtually any hard question asked of him by the press and the media.

The McBush campaign has certainly figured out that the press will not go after McBush in any serious way. Certainly not the way they have gone after Obama. The New York Times, our nation's "paper of record," called Obama's speech in Berlin "vague" in its headline, while treating McBush's repeated rants for "victory in Iraq" as a specific set of policy objectives. This past Sunday, the Times Magazine ran a cover story on "Obamanomics" which featured some critical analysis; McBush's economic proposals, such as they are, have not received the same grilling. Or how about this, by Jackie Chalmest under the heading "news analysis": For Obama, a Challenge to Clarify His Message "The drama of the convention makes it harder for Barack Obama to connect with the economic anxiety of voters." That isn't analysis, it's a McBush ad.

In other words, the press grades Obama straight, but they grade McBush on a generous curve.

And the Rovian choreographers who now make McBush dance know that the press goes weak in the knees on the subject of McBush's war record. Many in the press are members of the Vietnam generation, and most did not serve in that war for one reason or another. Call it guilt, call it macho-envy, call it a strange military version of starry-eyed celebrity worship - the press simply won't go after McBush because he was a POW.

So the campaign strategy becomes to bring up that experience as often as possible, in as many venues as possible, but always with the media. In the absence of any compelling ideas, of any vision for the future, and in the face of a Republican-created mess which he helped enable, McBush's years in a gruesome Vietnamese prison 40 years ago have become his biggest qualification to be president.

As long as the press continues to give McBush a pass, we can expect to hear about his time in Vietnam, no matter what other issues we ought to be discussing.

And how many houses does he have, anyway?

PS. I hate to keep ranting about the New York Times, but their treatment of Obama is reprehensible. This the day after Obama gave his acceptance speech in Denver:

"John McCain’s choice of running mate was a surprise, and — as designed by Mr. McCain’s advisers — eclipsed the acceptance speech delivered by Barack Obama."

Huh??!! It took two Times reporters - John Zeleny and Adam Nagourney - to come up with that bizarre conclusion. If someone can tell me why the Times has decided to work for the McBush campaign I'd appreciate it.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Biden His Time?!

So it's now official: The bumperstickers will read: Obama/Biden 2008. Count me among the deeply disappointed.

My objections aren't simply the obvious ones: he adds nothing to the electoral math (Delaware would probably gone Democratic anyway, and besides how many electoral college votes does it have anyway??!!); he is already the butt of late-night talk show jokes about his wind-bagginess; he comes from the Senate as does Obama. All of these would argue against choosing Biden.

But what this decision reveals, at least to my eyes, is that the Obama campaign, having scored a brilliant and stunning upset in the primaries, has decided to play things safe and timid in the general election. They have chosen a man with an impeccable resume, and the pundits will nod their collective heads about all the foreign policy expertise Biden will bring to the ticket. In other words, Obama has made the critical mistake of choosing substance over style.

While Biden makes perfect sense to those inside the proverbial Beltway, voters in Ohio and Michigan and Missouri won't give a hoot that Biden has served for so many years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They will see another East Coast, insider elitist.

My own preference would have been Wesley Clarke. Clarke was written off a few weeks ago because he said things about McBush's military experience which the press deemed out of bounds (though those comments were not, in fact, wrong). By choosing Clarke, however, or a reasonable facsimile, Obama would have thrown down the gauntlet, demostrating that he was willing to take a risk, and that the gloves were coming off over issues of foreign policy and security. And by having a general campaigning next to him, Obama would certainly pull in some of those white, blue-collar voters in Ohio.

On the op-ed page of today's Times (Sat. Aug 23) Charles Blow has a short piece complaining that Obama has lost his momentum (and his lead in the polls) because he has gone professorial in the last few weeks. By picking another professor to run with him, Obama isn't going to get his momentum back.

As it has played out this summer, this presidential election begins to resemble 1988. Michael Dukakis surprised many by winning the nomination, and then proceeded to run a mind-bogglingly dumb fall campaign. I recall at the time that the head of the DNC said if the Democrats couldn't beat George Bush I, they didn't deserve to be in power. Twenty years later, this election is Obama's to lose. Biden is a choice that signals he is playing not to lose. As any sports fan will tell you, that isn't how you win.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Flunking Civics 101

William Kristol has had an epiphany.

With Congressional Republicans facing losses like the 1962 New York Mets in November, Kristol and other right-wingers have begun to preach the virtues of "divided government."

The theory is simple: With Congress firmly controlled by one party, better that the White House be controlled by the other. It's a checks and balances thing - each one acts as a break on the other. Just like the Founders intended

Kristol has clearly had a conversion experience. As far as I can recall, neither he nor any other residents at intellectual assisted-living centers like the Weekly Standard, the Heritage Institute or the American Enterprise Institute have preached the doctrine of divided government during the last seven years. One-party rule seemed fine to them, provided it was one-party Republican rule, and none of them seemed to care much about "checks and balances" when Bush was systematically pushing the Constitution into a paper-shredder.

And call me cynical, but I don't think the conversion is genuine. It is simply the best argument they can muster on behalf of John McBush - elect him, otherwise the Democrats really might succeed in passing a national health care plan!

But this campaign tactic masquerading as a civics lesson ignores a key issue we must all face after November. Of all the messes left by Bush/Cheney - and it will take us some time even to count them all - surely the most dangerous is the unprecendented power-grab by the Executive branch. Turning the President into a strong-man has been Cheney's life-long ambition, of course, dating back to Watergate. He was the author of the Iran-Contra minority report in which he said, in effect, Reagan had every right to ignore a vote of Congress. And he has succeeded to a frightening extent, with the help of David Addington, John Yoo and others. In the area of foreign policy/national security issues in particular, the Bush/Cheney administration believes the president can operate without any checks at all.

It may be too late to close the barn door. Once powers have been established through precedent, it is difficult to rescind them. The only hope we have, therefore, of restoring some sense of accountability to the Executive branch is by having a President who can cooperate with Congress on that task. One can hardly imagine John McBush, who promised to keep troops in Iraq for 100 years and sang a song about bombing Iran, cooperating with a Democratic Congress in restraining executive power. Indeed, faced with an oppositional Congress, the irascible, nasty McBush might well exert this new executive power even more forcefully. Contrary to Mr. Kristol's civics lesson, the expansion of Executive power has been orchestrated by the Bush administration precisely so that the president can ignore Congress, not cooperate with it.

Sorry Mr. Kristol, Republicans in Congress and in the White House bear full responsibility for the fix we are now in. Democrats may not be able to solve all these problems created over the last seven years, but Republicans certainly can't be trusted even to try.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

I've got masonry problems. Complicated, expensive ones. So having hired a contractor to fix them, I greeted the two brick guys yesterday morning with eagerness.

Turns out they are Russians, whose English is not as good as their bricklaying. Great, says I. My wife Angela is fluent in Russian. I dragged her outside and made her talk to these guys about exactly what and when and how we were going to do this business.

She comes back inside 45 minutes later. Yikes, thinks I. Are things really that bad? Yes, says she, but the bricks are the least of it.

These guys aren't Russians exactly. One of them is Ossetian, and my wife hadn't been talking to him about bricks, but about the Russian invasion of Georgia. The gist of their conversation is this:

This guy is livid at the way the invasion has been covered in the American press (and the European press, which he was also following). From his point of view, the Russians acted to save South Ossetia from an ethnic cleansing orchestrated by the Georgian government. He told truly horrific stories of Georgian troops slaughtering Ossetians in villages and burning them alive in churches in an operation which, roughly translated, they called: Operation Clean Fields.

Further, he claims that the images of death and destruction shown in the west and labeled "Russian" actually show damage inflicted on the Ossetians by Georgian troops. Some in the Ossetian community are already talking about preparing war crimes documents against the Georgian government. The Russians, he claimed, came in and saved Ossetians from Serb-style treatment by the Georgians.

I don't know how reliable this Ossetian mason really is. Nor do I know how much he could really know, being so far away from the scene. But he was absolutely clear that the Georgian army executed its operation with American weapons, supplied by the Bush Administration.

Once the fighting subsides, the real story that may emerge here is the extent to which Georgia was supported by the Bush Administration. And if the press does follow that trail, it will make an interesting campaign issue.

As soon as Russian troops rolled across the border, McBush began using it in his campaign speeches. In fact, it may turn out that this small war in the Caucasus is yet another example of Bush foreign policy bungling.

Despite all the talk of the "post-9/11" world, most in the Bush administration - starting with Condalezza Rice (the "devil incarnate" according to my Ossetian bricklayer) - have never been able to leave the Cold War behind. They continue to see the world in those Manichean terms, and seem bent on re-manufacturing the Cold War now that Russia is reasserting itself in the world. Rice's first response to the Russian invasion was to squawk: This isn't 1968 and this isn't Czechoslovakia! Which only reveals the extent to which the Cold War remains the lenses through which she sees the world.

There is no question that the Bush foreign policy has been a categorical failure. Events in Georgia are merely the latest example of that. The Obama campaign, rather than shy away from security issues as Democrats have for the last 7 years, ought to use the Georgian affair to drive home the Republican blundering on foreign policy.

For my part, my new Ossetian friend said he was so incensed he was thinking about returning to fight the Georgians. He didn't show up for work today.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Drill Bits

The New York Times reports today (Sunday, August 17) that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has dropped her opposition to a vote on off-shore oil drilling and will now be willing to schedule one in the next session.

Be afraid.

It isn’t simply that the off-shore drilling issue is pure pandering, which it is. Nor is it that off-shore drilling will have bad environmental consequences and distract us from developing a real energy policy, which it will. Rather, this craven capitulation on the part of the Democratic leadership demonstrates that Democrats still haven’t learned how to play politics against the McBush Republican Party.

By giving in on off-shore drilling, Pelosi and crew hope to diffuse the drilling issue which has become the most successful Republican ploy thus far. Instead, they have handed an August victory to the McBush campaign.

Democrats continue to operate as if political compromise, jockeying, and horse-trading will yield an electoral advantage. Republicans don’t play by these, or any other rules, however. The drilling question has gone this way: invent an issue (Democrats responsible for high gas prices); invent a fictitious solution to this fabricated issue (off-shore drilling); attack Democrats for blocking this solution.

The Rovian strategy is always to play offense – attack, attack, attack. Further, the strategy is to attack most viciously at your opponent’s perceived area of greatest strength. With that eroded, everything else crumbles easily.

In 2004, John Kerry thought the public would see him as a war hero running against a guy who spent Vietnam drunk and AWOL in the National Guard. What we got, of course, was Swift Boat, and once the doubts were sown about Kerry’s war record, the public wondered if he could be trusted about other things. Never mind that Bush has still never explained where he was during those missing weeks in Alabama.

In 2008 Democrats entered the campaign season with higher marks for handling the economy. Thanks to the drilling non-issue that is now being eroded. McBush still scores higher on security matters, in large part because the press continues to narrate the story that way, and so once voters begin to sour on Democrats over the economy, McBush can win the election.

The only response to the Republican campaign is to attack back. Democrats ought to respond to the non-issue of off-shore drilling by publishing a list of McBush campaign advisors with heavy investments in the oil industry and on McBush's own ties to the oil business. (I have no idea whether there are any – that’s the point. Create the smoke and it doesn’t matter if there’s a fire).

So Pelosi’s backtracking on off-shore drilling really indicates that Democrats still don’t know how to run against this Republican party. James Carville: Where are you now?!

PS: The Times reported Monday on how Western petro-giants are entering a period of crisis because they have run out of places to drill largely for reasons of political access. So why isn't the Democratic leadership calling off-shore drilling what it really is: a way to prop up and subsidize huge oil companies?? For what it's worth, the latest Zogby poll released today (Wed) now has McCain leading Obama on the economy.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


The whole S family is about to embark on the 2008 Tour de Rustbelt, following the path of American industrialization from its origins in Philadelphia across the Appalachians, through the Cleveburgh steel zone, past the band of industrial satellites of the upper Midwest, and then to South Bend, Gary, and, hooray!, Chicago. Then up north to the extraordinary dune-lined west coast of Michigan, before landing in the ultimate destination, the Blue Collar Riviera of Lake Huron, where generations of auto workers built little summer cottages and hunting cabins. I'm hoping to blog from the road, but internet service in the boondocks can be a little hard to come by. Mom and Dad don't even have a computer. So loyal readers, be patient and stay tuned.

Thanks to Coal Camp USA for this map. My Rustbelt boundaries are a little different, but this one is pretty good.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once the darling of the DLC and hailed as the mayor of the "hip hop" generation, has been mired in a scandal that is a tragedy for the struggling Motor City but a farce for everyone else. I won't rehearse the whole sordid story of a covered-up affair, "hear no evil, see no evil" police protection, the politically-motivated firing of whistleblowers, $9 million misspent city dollars on a losing court case, blatant perjury, bail skipping, and cop-shoving. Kilpatrick should have stepped aside long ago, for the sake of his constituents and his city.

But Kwame is now the unwitting tool of a group of politicians even slimier than he is. The Tennessee Republican Party is running an ad linking Barack Obama with the troubled mayor. Why should Tennessee residents care about the mayor of a far away city with only a nominal association with the presidential candidate? Call it one small dose of guilt by association and three big doses of "scary black man" race-mongering. This is appalling stuff. Expect worse to come.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Suburbanites beware! The skryrocketing price of oil is part of a liberal conspiracy to destroy your way of life. Of $4 a gallon gas and the Democrats, Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann (R-Minnesota) argues: "I know it is hard to believe, it's hard to fathom -- but this is 'mission accomplished' for them....They want Americans to take transit and move to the inner cities. They want Americans to move to the urban core, live in tenements, [and] take light rail to their government jobs. That's their vision for America."

All I can say in response is thank goodness we're in the Last Days. Bachmann and the pious suburbanite rightists who support her will be lifted from their SUVs in the Rapture before President Obama herds them into subways and forces them into tenements.

Some other examples of Bachmann's religious hubris, her far-right views on the environment, and her general wingnuttery.

Monday, August 11, 2008


In the past few weeks the McCain campaign has finally found its Rovian mojo. Confident that the press will not report that the wheels have long ago fallen off the Straight Talk Express – and for the most part it hasn’t – McCain has launched the sorts of sleazy ads that must have Lee Atwater smiling.

So far, the issue that has gotten the most traction has been the question of off-shore drilling. It is pure political posturing, as everyone – including McCain – knows. To suggest that new off-shore drilling will lower gas prices and increase our energy independence is intellectually dishonest and farcical to boot. Even oilman and big-time Republican T. Boone Pickens has said that we can’t drill our way out of this energy crisis. But Americans, according to recent polls, have fallen for the red herring. They favor drilling in big numbers.

Those poll numbers point to a major fault line between two Democratic constituencies, a fault line that has rumbled for almost 40 years. On one side of the fault are those who care about environmental issues; on the other are those working people who feel the pain of rising energy prices most acutely. Both ought to be natural Democratic voters, especially this year. But if the economy continues to stagnate, even while the environmental crisis remains unaddressed, drilling – and all that it represents – may prove to be the great wedge issue of this election.

We’ve been here before, of course. The environmental movement arrived on the national scene in 1970 with the very first Earth Day on April 22. The great promise of the “ecology” movement was that it could unite Americans in a new way. Time Magazine, in a pre-Earth Day issue, wrote that clean air and water know no class or race. Every American had a stake in a cleaner future, so the promise went, and in a nation reeling from the fractious politics of the 1960s that promise was alluring.

But the promise was short lived. Within months of the first Earth Day, we entered the first energy crisis and the economy entered a period of “stagflation.” Quickly, the environment and the economy were cast as enemies in a pitched battle. What was good for the environment was bad for the economy; good environmental policies were too expensive in an age of rising inflation and rising unemployment; environmentalists were egg-headed elitists who didn’t understand the economic pain of working-class life.

It largely worked. The initial energy of the environmental movement faded with the economy, Reagan then rolled back progress on environmental issues, and the nation avoided reckoning with greenhouse gases, peak oil, or alternatives to fossil fuels. Through much of the 1980s and 90s, the environment became a niche issue, not a central part of the national agenda.

Forty years later, however, the environmental crisis is more urgent than ever, and we are reminded of it because oil prices have slowed the entire economy to a crawl. So the McRove campaign is working hard to redirect anger at the state of the economy toward environmentalists. Right-wing shills like Kevin Ferris writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer are already trying to paint Obama as the second coming of Jimmy Carter in a cardigan sweater.

For his part, Obama must aggressively create common cause between the environment and the economy. In the 1970s the environmental movement was driven by a set of moral imperatives, an ethos that scolded that we all ought to do the right thing despite costs and inconveniences. That ethos withered in the face of economic realities. This time around, we need to insist that what is good for the environment will be good for the economy.

Just as importantly, Obama needs to counter the McRove tactics by scaring voters in return, showing them that failure to develop new energy policies will leave this nation at risk. TV commercials showing American consumers in debt to evil-looking Gazprom executives, and parades of soldiers going off to fight yet another war for oil in the Middle East. A litany of jobs lost as America falls further and further behind in the eco-technology race.

We have a much better sense now than we did in the 1970s of what economic damage is being done by our over-reliance on oil. The only way for the Obama campaign to quiet the Republican noise machine over the issue of drilling is to punch back: the nation’s economy and its working people can’t afford an energy future which promises nothing but more of the same.


In sixth grade, Sister Wilhelmina (who lived up to her Imperial German namesake) showed a crack in her stern, habit-bedecked facade. She allowed one student in our art class to bring a radio so we could listen to music while we cut our construction paper. One of my hip friends turned the dial to the Big 8, CKLW AM 800, the Canadian radio station whose high-power signal transmitted a fabulous mix of R&B, rock, and pop to us kids in Detroit. Canada was a cool, cool place. But Wilhelmina's little experiment came to a shocking halt as soon as the first R&B tune came out of the tinny speaker. "Turn off that nigger music!" she snapped. Off went the radio as a bunch of red faced students stared down into their half-finished art projects. By the mid-70s, we knew to be embarrassed for her.

Perhaps the voice that so alienated our Teutonic teacher was that of Issac Hayes. Hayes's golden voice fills the soundtrack of my Detroit childhood.

In this fabulous rendition of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," Hayes offers his rebuttal to intolerance--not in any political way--but with a silky smooth celebration of love. "Love makes the world go around." Amen, Issac, may you rest in peace. The eternal choir will be digging it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Breaking news: the polar bear is the true agent of racial repression in America. I kid you not.

No this is not an Onion story--really. It's a wacky, tragic, and true tale of how a venerable civil rights organization became a corporate pawn. And how corporate lobbyists, overpaid and underworked, are creating a sham movement of the poor to support an agenda to roll back environmental regulation.

The players: Exxon, the Pacific Legal Foundation (a right-wing libertarian advocacy law firm), the dubious Alliance to Stop the War Against the Poor, the polar bear, and the Congress of Racial Equality and its chairman-for-life Roy Innis. Jill Tubman, herself the daughter of a CORE activist, untangles the bizarre story.

But first, a brief look back at CORE. Founded in 1942, CORE brought together an interracial group of activists, many of them interested in bringing Mahatma Gandhi's teachings to bear on the creation of a "beloved community" that transcended racial division. CORE activists built alliances with the labor movement, with left and religious groups, and with wartime pacifists. They formed experimental communities (sometimes called ashrams) where they lived together black and white, at a moment in history where crossing the color line was transgressive. They experimented with sit-ins to challenge restaurant segregation and sponsored a 1947 Journey of Reconciliation to break down segregated interstate transportation in the South. CORE activists bridged North and South, providing training for a new generation of activists who would shape the transformative wave of protest in the early 1960s. Most famous for its role in the 1961 Freedom Rides through the South (a reprise of the 1947 Journey, but on a much larger scale), CORE activists also led protests against housing segregation in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Cleveland, New York, and Los Angeles. In Philly, Newark, and Brooklyn, CORE spearheaded protests and civil disobedience at construction sites with all-white workforces. And by 1964, CORE chapters were leading the way in grassroots community organizing in poor communities over issues like tenants' rights, price-gouging inner city stores, and police brutality. CORE fell on hard times, however, and by 1966, it repudiated its longtime interracialism and embraced black power. Its membership plunged and its donations dried up. But some of its most creative activists, including founding member James Farmer, housing reformer Clarence Funnye (who tragically died in a plane crash in 1970), and antipoverty warrior George Wiley, left CORE but took the organization's mandate with them and pushed in new directions.

Roy Innis, who took the helm of CORE in 1968, followed a different path. A firebrand advocate of black power, he soon migrated to the political right. By 1972, Innis was a prominent supporter of Richard Nixon. He became a Reaganite. And he joined the board of the National Rifle Association and, in an appalling affront to its founding principles, branded CORE as a national "pro-firearms organization." Among CORE's more prominent allies is the Community Financial Services Association of America, the trade association of "payday lenders" (or as they call themselves the "payday advance industry"). In 2005, CORE honored life-long civil rights activist Karl Rove at its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner. In Tubman's words, Innis now presides over "the decrepit, corrupt CORE."

What is Innis's new battle? It is against the listing of the polar bear as an endangered species. Protecting the endangered bear is, in Innis's words, an "attack on economic civil rights." If we save the polar bear, sites for oil drilling are limited, the oil supply shrinks, prices rise, and guess what, poor people are left paying more. Advocates of the protection of endangered species are "modern day Bull Connors and George Wallaces, who are standing in the door, trying to prevent poor Americans from achieving Martin Luther King’s dream of equal opportunity and true environmental justice." I can think of about 500 direct ways that poor black people are ripped off by profit-artists like those who bankroll CORE. And I can think of lots of ways that Exxon could show its concern for poor people. How about subsidies to inner city gas stations? Or better yet, grants for public transit systems that so many people of color rely upon, since they can't afford exorbitant insurance, expensive cars, and costly fuel.

The environmentalist movement has not always allied itself with African Americans and other minorities. But a robust environmental justice movement in recent years has gone a long way toward repairing that breach. The bottom line is that environmental devastation knows no color line. Climate change and reliance on fossil fuels have devastating long-term consequences for black and white, Latino and Asian, American and Bangladeshi alike. In fact it's poor people who suffer the brunt of manmade environmental disasters from floods to fires to chemical dumping. And really, what has Exxon done for poor people of color?

Thinking about the face off in Alaska between the polar bear and Roy Innis, one thing is for sure. I will never think about whiteness and privilege in the same way again. And more seriously, I shudder in horror in memory of the true heroes of CORE: James Farmer, James Peck, Gloria Brown, George Houser, Clarence Funnye, and on and on, whose extraordinary contribution to the black freedom struggle will continue to inspire, well after the tragedy and farce of the organization that calls itself CORE is long gone. They would be marching on Exxon and thinking locally and globally about the ways that racism, environmental degradation, and corporate greed are mutually reinforcing.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Who will John McCain select as his vice presidential nominee? The conventional wisdom is that, in the end, the VP nominee doesn't really make much of a difference. And that's probably true. I mean who voted for Reagan because of Bush, or Bush because of Quayle, or Clinton because of Gore, or Bush II because of Cheney? But in a close race, on the margins, a carefully-selected veep choice could matter.

I'm not worried about the GOP darling du jour, Tim Pawlenty, who is subject to a fawning profile in this morning's NYT. Yes, he's photogenic, he's reputed to be a policy wonk, he's a member of a megachurch, he has an ethnic name, and he's the same age as Barack Obama. But he's not likely to put Minnesota in play for McCain (after all Pawlenty didn't even pick up a majority of voters in his run for the governorship.) Bobby Jindal is a favorite of many Republican insiders, but Louisiana will go Republican regardless and he's a little too novel, probably not quite white enough for the GOP hard core. McCain is probably not going to go for the novelty ticket. Most of the others on the GOP list aren't particularly compelling or have serious liabilities, like the chameleon Mitt Romney, the rabid Lindsay Graham, or the unctuous Charlie Crist. None of them will bring a lot of pizazz to the McCain ticket. Each of them will confirm the view of voters that McCain is really McSame, someone beholden to the GOP orthodoxy.

My guess is that if the people McCain is consulting on the vice presidency have more of a brain that the nitwits who are designing his ad campaign, they will make their vice presidential choice with a detailed electoral map in hand. They need to neutralize the Democrats in one or two key swing states. Two of the biggest prizes are Virginia and Florida. Obama has his eye on Virginia, which has gone cold for the Democrats since Lyndon Johnson, but which has leaned blue in recent years. Two of his frequently named possible veeps, Jim Webb and Tom Kaine, both problematic in my view, are Virginians. And, of course, Obama has his eyes on Florida, home to a volatile mix of Rustbelt-born Snowbirds, I-4 corridor evangelicals, generationally-divided Cuban-Americans, African Americans, small town white Southerners, and coastal cosmopolitans. But there's no compelling Floridian to serve as Obama's number two.

Putting myself in the shoes of McCain's advisors, there is one name which jumps out. And he scares me. The one potential GOP veep who has the potential to bag both Virginia and Florida for McCain is Eric Cantor, a 45-year old GOP representative and chief deputy house whip. Why Cantor? He's popular, he's a fresh face on the national scene, he's photogenic, he has impeccable wing-nut credentials, he represents a Richmond, Virginia district, and he will siphon off enough Florida voters from the Dems, especially older Jews who are uneasy with Barack Obama. A Jewish running mate for McCain, even if he is a rightist like Cantor, would play into McCain's carefully-crafted image as an out-of-the-box "moderate" who is willing to take a "risk."

If he knows what's good for him, Obama will go for a Rustbelter as his veep choice, maybe Ohio's popular Sherrod Brown (he's at the top of my list--listen up Barack). But here's another new, intriguing possibility: Michigan senator Carl Levin. I have a great deal of respect for Levin. (I first met him in high school and, if he's the nominee, I promise to post the photograph of Levin awarding me a scholarship. The first time I voted, I pulled the lever for Levin). He's one of the more liberal members of the Senate, he is smart and conscientious, he has been re-elected by huge margins in a key Rustbelt state, he is attuned to labor and economic issues, and he has strong foreign policy credentials, especially as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. There's something charming about the way that he resists the blow-dried look of most veep wannabees: he has a cheap haircut and rumpled suits. He's not in the least bit flashy. An Obama-Levin ticket would leave McCain-Cantor in the dust and will keep Florida in play. Carl Levin is a dark horse to be sure, but I'll join TNR's Jonathan Cohn and elevate him to the top ranks of my veep list.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


The Democrats are going for McCain's jugular on economic issues. It's about time. This ad, pitched to Rustbelt voters by the Ohio Democratic Party, is brutally effective because it actually marshals damning facts to link John McCain, his lobbyist cronies, and the economic devastation of the Rustbelt. It's a stark contrast with McCain's fact-free ads about Obama and injured soldiers, Obama as Paris Hilton, and Obama as "the one."

Thanks to Ari (now I know he's a fellow Rustbelt Intellectual) at Edge of the American West.


"Is Obama the End of Black Politics?" So asks Matt Bai, one of the smartest political reporters at the New York Times, in an article to be published in this Sunday's magazine section.

In the article, Bai reaffirms what is quickly becoming conventional wisdom on African American politics--namely the emergence of what Bai calls a "basic generational divide" among black politicians. One generation, those who fought in the black freedom struggle of the 1960s like James Clyburn, Elijah Cummings, Jesse Jackson, and John Lewis, embrace the confrontational, race-conscious politics of the civil rights era. The other, their sons and daughters, "bred at universities rather than seminaries," reject race conscious politics and instead "seek a broader political brief." Bai's emphasis on the political differences between black politicians schooled in civil rights and black power and those who came of age in the era of Clinton and Bush, is unassailable. The gap between older and younger politicians is a theme in black history--the "old guard" versus the "new Turks" in the 1930s, "militants" versus "integrationists" in the 1960s, and an earlier version of this argument, which fleeted across the stage in the 1990s, the "hip hop" generation versus the civil rights generation. None of these dichotomies--including Bai's--is particularly illuminating about the past and present of black politics in the United States.

I hate to play the history card against Bai, but I promise not to play it from bottom of the deck. Bai's article, like other recent commentaries that position Obama as the harbinger of a "post-racial" order, rests on a caricatured view of civil rights history and black politics and a fundamental tone-deafness to the complexity of black politics and social thought over the last one hundred years.

Let's look closely at some of Bai's arguments:

1. New generation black politicians are "likely to see themselves as ambassadors to the black community as they are to see themselves as spokesmen for it, which often means extolling middle-class values in urban neighborhoods, as Obama did on Father's Day. Their ambitions range well beyond safely black seats." Well, first of all, there was nothing new about the rhetoric of Obama's Father's Day speech. Calls for personal responsibility, laments about family breakdown, and denunciations of the corrosive effects of popular culture on black life reprise an old and familiar current in black politics. One of the major themes in late nineteenth and twentieth century African American history has been the importance of the politics of uplift (the special role that middle-class blacks play in "lifting as they climb," that is serving as role models and moral guardians for their poor and working-class brothers and sisters). Advocates of racial uplift called for what Harvard's Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham labeled a "politics of respectability," namely that embracing "middle-class" values was an essential first step toward full acceptance of the race by blacks. Calls for uplift and respectability have animated the careers of countless black ministers, community activists, and intellectuals.

The reason this seems new to Bai is that the everyday world of black politics is invisible to most of white America. Obama got many nods and shouts from his Father's Day audience precisely because he was playing a tried-and-true tune familiar to anyone who has spent more than a few Sundays in a black church. The big difference, however, and this explains Jesse Jackson, Sr.'s outraged (and outrageous) reaction was that until recently such calls for self-redemption were meant for black ears only. By contrast, Obama knew that under the close scrutiny of a national campaign, most of the audience for his sermon would be white.

2. Bai assumes the insularity of civil rights-era black politicians, and the "universality" of the middle class experience of the new generation of black politicians. It's tempting, but historically problematic, to separate black politicians into the civil rights/post-civil rights camp. Many of the most prominent and successful black politicians of the last forty years won office precisely because they forged appeals across racial lines. Deval Patrick is the political descendant of Edward Brooke. Tom Bradley won election and re-election as mayor of Los Angeles, a city with a relatively small black population with a lot of white support (even if the Bradley effect still kicked in). Wilson Goode was elected mayor of Philadelphia, a majority white city, with the support of white voters. Progressive whites in Chicago--one of the most racially polarized cities in the country--gave Harold Washington the votes to put him over the top. Many black politicians (Coleman Young in Detroit and John Street in Philadelphia) won office by playing the race card, but their visibility shouldn't obscure the fact that blacks won mayoral races in many other white majority cities, among them New Haven, Denver, and Dallas. Barack Obama is their political heir.

3. New generation black politicians "are a world away from the reality that was pounded into civil rights activists... to whom racism meant dogs and hoses and segregated schools and luncheonettes." This is too simple a formulation, one that reduces the history of race relations in the United States to the South. Clyburn and Lewis rose to power in the South, but many of the most visible and powerful black politicians in the U.S. have represented Northern districts (think Shirley Chisholm, John Conyers, Charlie Rangell, and Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick) or western ones (think Augustus Hawkins and Maxine Waters).

The history of the forgotten struggle for civil rights outside the South--one that began early in the twentieth century and continues up to the present day--complicates this simplistic formulation. Black politicians who came of age in Detroit, New York City, Harlem, Newark, Philadelphia, Cleveland, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Oakland, Boston, and on and on--were sympathetic with the Southern freedom struggle. They were all for breaking down segregated public accommodations (which, it should be said, were common in the North through the 1950s) and passing antidiscrimination legislation. But their targets (and those of many Southern activists, for that matter) were always much, much broader than Jim Crow laws. Unfortunately, Bai falls into the common trap of associating civil rights ("THE movement") with only one of its strands. Picking up on a cliche of civil rights reporting (one that dates back to at least the 1940s), Bai states: "Now the inequities in the society are subtler- inferior schools, an absence of employers, a dearth of affordable housing - and the remedies more elusive."

There's nothing subtle about mediocre schools, unemployment, and rundown housing--and civil rights activists for most of the twentieth century would agree with me. That's why they led picketed stores that refused to hire blacks, why they boycotted separate and unequal schools (North and South), why they fought for inclusion in the workplace, why they marched for open housing, why they battled police brutality, why they demanded affirmative action, and why they lobbied for federal social programs to assist the poor and to redevelop inner cities.

Bai overlooks the fact that economic, education, and housing issues were at the center of civil rights activism in the postwar years, in the 1960s, and beyond. We pay attention to the civil rights activists who held sit-ins in Greensboro, Nashville, and Atlanta in 1960 and the Freedom Rides through the Deep South in 1961, but forget those who at the very same time were marching, committing civil disobedience and litigating for the end of separate and unequal education in Boston, Chicago, New York, and even suburban New Jersey those very same years. We remember Bull Connor's atrocities in Birmingham in 1963, as we should, but we overlook the hundreds of confrontations between civil rights protestors and the police in places like Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Newark, and Detroit that led observers to call 1963 the year of the "Negro Revolt." Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged segregated lunch counters, but remember that he gave his most famous speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The issue was, in the 1950s, and it is now unequal education, urban disinvestment, inferior housing, the lack of equal employment opportunity, and an unfair criminal justice system. A whole generation of black politicians put their energies into opening government jobs for blacks (arguably the most important consequence of the civil rights revolution nationwide) and why grassroots activists turned to the important, if not particularly TV-worthy, politics of community economic development and public health. It was the politics of neighborhood, of uneven economic development, of access to public goods and jobs that shaped two generations of black politicians.

Bai is right that SOME black politicians--mostly those who came up in mostly white communities in the United States--do not have direct experience with some of the worst indignities of racial oppression. But the vast majority of blacks are not so lucky. I won't rehearse arguments that I have made about persistent black-white gaps in health, wealth, access to the mortgage market, and public opinion, to name a few.

4. Bai recognizes the contradictions in black politics, even if ultimately, they do not serve as the organizing framework for his essay. He acknowledges that black politicians embody the

principal duality of modern black
America. On one hand, they are the most visible
examples of the highly educated, entrepreneurial and
growing black middle class that cultural markers like
'The Cosby Show' first introduced to white Americans in
the 1980s. According to an analysis by Pew's Economic
Mobility Project, almost 37 percent of black families
fell into one of the three top income quintiles in
2005, compared with 23 percent in 1973. At the same
time, though, these black leaders are constantly
confronted in their own cities and districts by
blighted neighborhoods that are predominately black,
places where poverty collects like standing water,
breeding a host of social contagions.

That both of these trend lines can exist at once poses
some difficult questions for black leaders and

True. The black experience in America cannot be easily reduced to one thing or another. As a result, black politicians are heterogenous--a reflection of the contradictions that Bai correctly acknowledges (though sometimes the weight of those contradictions gets a little too heavy, when, for example, Bai sees support for Hillary Clinton as the sign of old school black politics, except, as in the case of Michael Nutter, it isn't). But those tensions also bely an ongoing sense among blacks that regardless of class, they still share a common identity, one forged by America's unresolved history of oppression and inequality, a common history of educational and residential segregation, and a common sense that racial prejudice and discrimination are still persistent problems in American life.

One thing that I predict with certainty about this fall's election. Whether Barack Obama wins or not, it won't mean the end of black politics, nor will it mean the end of cliched thinking about race in America.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


Yesterday evening my phone rang at about 9pm. I didn't answer. You see, our phone number must be the most frequently misdialed number since Alexander Graham Bell walked the earth. We're one digit different from a local pharmacy. Without caller ID, I would have a new, unsatisfying career as an operator for people getting their prescriptions refilled. Caller ID is one of the great blessings of modern technology, but it also has its drawbacks. The best is that I blow off phone solicitors. The worst is that I don't respond to surveys and polls--and I think that people like me should be represented in the samples of 500 or 1000 that represent public opinion.

Last night's wrong number came from "Payphone," somewhere in central Pennsylvania. It was a collect call from a state prison. The automated message, asking me whether I would accept charges for "Tyrell" went through two cycles on my answering machine before it disconnected. The computer voice also informed me that should I answer the call, it might be monitored for security purposes. Poor Tyrell didn't get through.

Sometimes little things, like a missed collect call, shed light on something bigger and more important. In this case, I discovered yet one of the myriad ways that corporate America screws the least powerful people in our society. Animated computer voice operator informed me that the charge for the collect call would be $4.89 for the first minute and $.89 for each additional minute. In other words, Tyrell's mother or brother or friend would be stuck with a bill of more than $8.00 for a mere five minute conversation.

Domestic telephone calls these days are virtually free. But not for prisoners and their families.

Poor and working class people, especially if they are minorities, pay more for virtually everything, from groceries to interest on subprime mortgages. It's another indignity, a reminder of the inequities of our market society, that the families and friends of inmates are stiffed, just for the privilege of a few minutes conversation with a loved one.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


John McCain's newest anti-Obama advertisement, "The One," is one of the wackier, more surreal examples of the genre that I have seen. At first, I read it as a strange attempt at humor, another version of the ridiculous ad suggesting that Obama is a superficial celebrity like Britney Spears or Paris Hilton. When I watched it again, it struck me as another lame McCain attempt to undermine Obama as an uppity, flashy, all-too-charismatic candidate for president. But neither version really works. A gullible television viewer could view the ad and actually come away rather impressed by Obama's ability to connect with ordinary Americans. It's too serious to be funny.

But I have now watched the ad again, this time after reading blogs by two ex-Southerners. According to Maud Newton and Scott McLemee, McCain's ad is not directed toward you and me. It's not directed toward the bitter working-class whites to whom McCain has been pandering, most recently at a motorcycle rally in South Dakota.

Rather it's pitched toward a segment of Republican voters whom McCain desperately needs in November. Both McLemee and Newton "grew up," in McLemee's words, "in the South, not just 'around fundamentalists' but within the shadow of all those 'beasts with seven horns and ten crowns,' and 'baskets of locusts with scorpion tails,' and 'golden cups filled with the abominations of the world' and whatnot described in the apocalyptic books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and St. John." McCain's ad is pitched towards adherents of pre-millenial dispensationalism, a variant of fundamentalist Christianity that is based on a literal reading of the very literary prophetic books of the Bible (especially the Book of Revelation). Pre-millenial dispensationalists predict the imminent return of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only after a period of trial and tribulation, marked by war, natural disaster, climactic disruptions, and calamity, and the rise of a charismatic leader, a false messiah, the Anti-Christ.

Newton contends that McCain's ad:
is designed to galvinize a very specific group: Evangelical Christians of the End Times, Rapture-Ready variety. It is designed, more to the point, to scare the shit out of these people by insinuating that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. This is a particularly nefarious and crafty argument to make because it is the one context in which all the candidate's strengths -- his smarts, his articulateness, his contagious smile and way with people -- can become evidence against him. All these traits are associated in the Bible with the charismatic, popular, well-spoken man who is supposed to become the leader of the world and bring about the Tribulation.

The theology of the ad is a little confused. If Obama is the Anti-Christ or his enabler, wouldn't his election speed up the coming of the Last Days? Maybe. As McLemee puts it: "If you are waiting for the Rapture, it's not like preventing the rise of the beast with seven horns and ten crowns etc. is a huge priority. (You sort of want to get it all over with, ASAP.)" But then again, the alchemy of religious and political belief is murky and only the truest of true believers spend their time working out all of the many inconsistencies inherent in prophetic theology.

Premonitions of the End of Time might seem wacky to the Rustbelters, urban planners, Midwestern liberals, blogging history graduate students, and new neo-conservatives who make their way to this website. But to the fifty million people who purchased Hal Lindsay's best-selling accounts of the last days, they are real. They are part of a disturbing but widespread political and theological vision of current events. McCain's people know and understand this--and are playing on the hopes and fears of a group of voters whose turnout might well decide the election. It's a strange, strange world out there, but it's one that we have to understand.

Footnote 9:33am: Hal Lindsay himself has weighed in on the Obama campaign. He argues that the Democratic candidate has "prepped the world" for the Antichrist, bearing out McLemee's version of the vision of Obama as the anti-John the Baptist. H/t to Phil.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Being a regular consumer of daily print journalism is like being a volunteer medic in a field hospital during the Civil War, watching dozens of patients fight valiantly as they struggle for life, against the odds. We look on with horror as doctors cut off limbs and administer all sorts of dubious chemicals and medicines, in a desperate but usually doomed effort to save their patients' lives. The scene is excruciating.

Back in the 1970s, when I was a kid, I woke up in the morning before my parents so I could read the entire Detroit Free Press from cover to cover. I had to put it back in order by section before my dad came downstairs, though I could buy some extra time by handing him the sports pages first. Ever since then, I have been a print journalism junkie. Even as a young parent, my kids were somehow aware, even before they were sentient, of their father's compulsive need to read the morning papers. God bless them, they slept late as infants, giving me a stretch of time over coffee to read without interruption. This morning, like most mornings, I read three papers: the New York Times for its national and international coverage, and the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News) for local and regional matters. At various times, I've subscribed to the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and the Christian Science Monitor.

Now I spend less and less time reading the paper in the morning. And it's not because my kids are bugging me. It's because there is less of substance on the inky pages to engage me. Over the past decade, nearly every major daily newspaper has struggled for survival. None of them has gotten better. The dailies are hemorrhaging readership. They have been subject to risky, mostly botched surgeries that have left them nearly unrecognizable. They are emaciated and weak. Even the best papers, like the LA Times, are the victims of disfiguring, experimental surgery.

I need not rehearse the larger structural forces undermining print journalism: the rise of TV news, the proliferation of cable outlets, the growing public disinterest in anything substantive, gotcha politics, the tabloidization of American life, and the drivel of celebrity gossip. But the results are devastating for anyone who holds out the hope that information and ideas still matter.

A few big changes: the collapse of foreign bureaus and the waning of international coverage. The Detroit Free Press, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune, and the Boston Globe all had excellent foreign desks. Today, those papers mostly rely on thin, superficial wire service reports or, at best, redacted pieces from the New York Times. I don't even waste my time reading the Inky's international stories: I just skip right to the local section. But if I didn't subscribe to the Times, what would I know about the rest of the world? Not a lot. It's no surprise that the majority of Americans still think that Saddam had the bomb.

The thinning of national coverage. Domestic political coverage today is mostly abysmal, though it's still better than international reporting. The 24/7 news cycle has led the print media to spill more ink on ephemera and less on substance than ever before. Even the Newhouse News Service, which provides inside the Beltway coverage for small, regional papers that can't afford to send reporters to DC, has announced that it's shutting down.

The collapse of arts and culture. The Philadelphia Inquirer's once grand book review section is now two thin pages. The LA Times has killed its book section, which was arguably only surpassed by two of the few survivors, the Washington Post Book World and the New York Times Book Review. The Chicago Tribune's superbly edited book section is now buried in the Saturday paper, though at least it has (for now) lived through the bloodletting.

To be sure, there are still superb reporters and editors in the news business, even if they have to fight for column inches, get stuck covering trivial stories, and don't have the resources to conduct full investigative stories like they used to in the 1970s. I have spent a lot of time talking to print journalists over the last fifteen years and I have found them on the whole to be intelligent, careful, and thorough, with a few exceptions (like a journalist for a major British newspaper who interviewed me earlier this year with an idee fixe for a story that was wrong--but that I couldn't persuade him to modify, even with mountains of evidence to the contrary).

But even excellent reporters are the victims of desperate surgery at the dailies, witness the grim news that the Newark Star-Ledger will probably axe twenty percent of its staff. Last summer, I spent a few hours with reporters from the Star-Ledger who wrote a superb series commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 riots in Newark and Plainfield. I hope they survive the Newhouse chainsaw amputation. But the grim reality is that many other reporters like them in great papers around the country have taken early buy-outs or been out and out laid off.

I don't have a good solution to the print journalism mess. TV and radio are too beholden to the fleeting image. The 24/7 news cycle on cable news leads to superficiality and trivial pursuits (in a hotel room last week, I suffered through the endless repetition of John McCain's dubious campaign ad about Barack Obama's alleged inattentiveness to wounded US soldiers.) This is not news. It's unpaid campaign advertising. It is a phenomenal waste of our time that the so-called journalists and the pseudo-experts they hire waste our time with their flatulent platitudes.

Unfortunately, I don't hold out much greater hope for the blogosphere. There are some very good investigative journalists on the web, but they don't have the staff and resources to cover stories deeply like the news desks of thirty or forty years ago. And, in many respects, the blogs suffer from some of the worst excesses of 24/7 cable news. Even bloggers whom I respect circulated the completely bogus Michelle Obama "whitey" rumor, giving it a credibility and longevity that it did not deserve. Rumor and innuendo take on a vast, subterranean life on the internet. Worse than that, half-baked, inaccurate, or dubious stories worm their way back into the MSM, which is desperate to appear relevant. The gotcha politics of using a single word or phrase from a candidate's off-the-cuff speeches has, for the most part, done little to elevate political discourse or tell us anything new or important about the larger issues at stake in our elections.

We stand by and helplessly watch the Zells and the Newhouses needlessly amputate limbs and bring out the medical leeches and administer the doses of mercury and laudanum with hopes that their ailing patients will somehow survive. When those remedies fail, they put their charges on starvation diets. It's a sad process to watch.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


It sometimes takes a political scientist to put current events into their historical context. The Monkey Cage's Phil Klinkner offers this history lesson on Walmart's electioneering:

During the 1896 election, employers warned their workers that if Democrat William Jennings Bryan won the election over Republican William McKinley, they shouldn’t even bother to show up for work the next day since a Bryan victory would mean economic collapse. In 1936, many employers put the following message in their employees’ pay envelopes:

Effective January 1937, we are compelled by a Roosevelt New Deal law to make a 1 percent deduction from your wages and turn it over to the government. You might get this money back . . . but only if Congress decides to make the appropriations for this purpose.

Nothing like this could go on today, of course. Could it?

Friday, August 1, 2008


Here's one of the best reasons yet to vote against McCain and the Republicans this fall. Walmart, the Octopus of twenty-first century capitalism, is steering its staff toward supporting the Republican Party. Today's Wall Street Journal reported that the company is holding "mandatory meetings at which the retailer stresses the downside forworkers if stores were to be unionized." It seems that the "Wal-Mart human-resources managers who run the meetings don't specifically tell attendees how to vote in November's election, but make it clear that voting for Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama would be tantamount to inviting unions in, according to Wal-Mart employees who attended gatherings in Maryland, Missouri and other states." Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

Walmart fears that a Democratic president and congress will support legislation that will make it easier for unions to organize workers. In this battle, according to the WSJ, Walmart and its business allies are predicting a "David-and-Goliath confrontation." That the world's largest employer--and one of corporate America's fiercest and most effective union-busters--sees itself as an "underdog" is testimony to the Orwellian language that big business has used to deprive workers of the basic freedom to organize and act collectively in their interests. This from a company that fires its union-supporting members, discriminates against women workers, and even went so far to force its "associates" to work overtime by locking them in a store.

Of the hundred reasons to vote against the GOP this fall, this one makes my top five.