French philosopher, Michel Foucault once famously argued that society operates as a vast prison. While Foucault’s concerns were with an individual’s freedom constrained in such a system, maybe a more direct analogy to our current situation is how our judiciary and police force is used to control and literally imprison a vast swath of our lower classes.
It is no secret that in Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed by police officer Darren Wilson, much of the city’s income was derived from fines and court fees for minor traffic violations, essentially converting area police work from “public safety” officers to revenue collectors. These violations disproportionately fell on poorer individuals and minorities who may not have had the money to keep their hedges trimmed and their vehicles perfectly equipped. In effect, the tickets and citations amount to a regressive tax on members of our society least able to afford it.
In the wake of the Brown killing, Governor Jay Nixon signed a broad municipal court reform bill that capped court revenue and imposed new requirements in an attempt to end what the bill’s sponsor called predatory practices aimed at the poor. Good. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Eric Schmitt, said people have the right “not to be thrown in jail because you’re a couple of weeks … late on a fine for having a taillight out.” He called the current system in place in Ferguson, “taxation by citation.”
“Under this bill, cops will stop being revenue agents and go back to being cops,” Nixon said.
This is all good, too, and certainly the caps on revenue collection by police is a step in the right direction, but in the larger scheme of things, I’m not nearly as sanguine as Governor Nixon is about “cops going back to being ‘cops.’”
…in Southern states groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same.
For one thing, the historical precedent that they might ‘go back’ toward isn’t exactly edifying, especially in Southern states where groups of designated white men would set out on patrols to round up runaway slaves during the antebellum period. The phrase for these men—paddy rollers, or patrollers — has come down to us as patrolmen or patrol officers and it’s not too much a stretch to suggest that in areas of the deep American South their function is much the same; that is, ensuring the safe keeping of property for the wealthy. In the North, police officers often functioned as barriers between the wealthy elites and the immigrant “hordes.” The history of industrialization and unionization in this country is rife with struggles between union supporters and police officers or private firm surrogates operating in their wake (such as the Pinkerton Detective Agency –fun fact, at the height of its existence, the Pinkertons had more agents than the standing army of the United States of America).
We like to think of police officers as neutral arbiters of the law, itself a neutral amalgam of well thought out rules for living, but whether rounding up runaway slaves or busting union organizers, the police have historically found themselves on the side of property owners. What this means in contemporary America is a focus on things like illegal drug use and sale, vehicle violations, public disturbance rules, and zoning laws that disproportionately hit the poorest members of our society first and hardest. If we run back through just the most noteworthy police shootings in the last year (topping 1,000 according to an unofficial list compiled by the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/04/08/us/fatal-police-shooting-accounts.html?_r=0), most of the precipitating causes involved minor infractions, expired inspection stickers, broken signal lights, or tail lights, unpaid fines or alimony. Public service, protecting humans from harm to themselves or to others might be a nice ancillary outcome of a police officer doing his job, but it’s not the main event.
In fact, the idea that police are here to protect us is not much more than a happy slogan. In its landmark decision DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services,the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “the Constitution does not impose a duty on the state and local governments to protect the citizens from criminal harm.” The United States Supreme Court, in the 2005 case, Castle Rock v. Gonzales upheld that decision and extended it to include a state or municipality’s police force– codifying what many folks in poorer neighborhoods had long since suspected: neither the state nor the police have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm.
Strictly speaking, the police are law enforcement officers, they are present to make sure the laws as passed by city, county, and state legislators are followed. Towards that end they write tickets, and citations for breaking the law, make arrest and testify in court about their actions. This narrow interpretation of their duties is often clarified in training on the so called ‘public duty’ doctrine that provides that a “governmental entity owes a duty to the public in general, not to any one individual.”
Police are also warned—constantly—to look out for themselves. According to ex-Officer, Seth Stanton, writing in the Atlantic Magazine, “police training starts in the academy, where the concept of officer safety is so heavily emphasized that it takes on almost religious significance.” Rookie officers are taught what is widely known as the “first rule of law enforcement”: An officer’s overriding goal every day is to go home at the end of their shift. One slogan that is bandied about squad rooms sums up the mind set: “Better to be judged by twelve than carried by six.”
Police are trained to fear the public they are nominally intended to serve. During their training “they are shown painfully vivid, heart-wrenching dash-cam footage of officers being beaten, disarmed, or gunned down after a moment of inattention or hesitation. They are told that the primary culprit isn’t the felon on the video, it is the officer’s lack of vigilance.” Writes Stanton, “in most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
“In most police shootings, officers don’t shoot out of anger or frustration or hatred. They shoot because they are afraid. And they are afraid because they are constantly barraged with the message that that they should be afraid, that their survival depends on it.”
If you happen to peruse Police Magazine, you’ll find that the majority of the stories are about violence against police—and the weapons or tactics they can use to keep themselves safe. This month’s issue features a large photo of an Armalite AR-10 20-Inch Tactical Rifle that was initially designed for the US military. To drive home the point, Police magazine’s logo shows the O in policeman segregated by cross hairs, like a target.
Of course, in addition to the protect-thyself-first attitude, there’s also an underlying racial bias; probably because police officers fear blacks more than whites. In 2015, The Washington Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. “Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire.”
“The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,” said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. “This just bolsters our confidence that there is some sort of implicit bias going on,” Nix said. “Officers are perceiving a greater threat when encountered by unarmed black citizens.”
The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black…
The report noted that officers may unconsciously develop biases over time. “In other words, the police — who are trained in the first place to be suspicious — become conditioned to view minorities with added suspicion,” according to the report.
So we have a fearful police force, over trained for self-protection with an underlying bias against minorities whose main job is not to protect citizens but to enforce legal codes that order society for the benefit of property owners (that will likely make a poor person’s life more difficult). Add to the brew, the over militarization of our police force (do we really need armored tanks on civilian streets?) and the fact that most police officer shootings are investigated by the police departments themselves and it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how deeply dysfunctional the whole shebang is. I had one friend suggest that, given the stress our minority communities are under, it was surprising incidents like Dallas hadn’t happened more frequently.
But they haven’t– and perhaps that’s a testimony to what many police departments are coming to recognize—the necessity for retraining and community engagement. In fact, it’s a sad irony that the Dallas Police department has done an exceptional job in just this area. It’s obvious that Police Chief David Brown –whose own life is rife with personal tragedy—is dedicated to a community outreach program. Just hours before the killings began last Thursday night in Dallas, his officers took time to chat with protesters, even taking selfies with them.
“We saw police officers shaking hands and giving high fives and hugging people and being really in the moment with us,” demonstrator Sharay Santora said.
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting. All of this should tell us that police forces in this country are as diverse as their leaders and the communities that they serve. Our own city, Richmond, Virginia, much like Dallas, has done excellent work in reaching out to the various communities here—including, surprisingly, the LGBT community. So it’s not hopeless, but no one solution will fit all the municipalities across the nation, and maybe one of the questions we should be asking is how well our expectations of police service match the reality? After all, as Chief Brown has noted, “Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve”
But then the shooting began, and, as if granted permission, police departments like those in Baton Rouge quickly reverted to form and began arresting activists on private property without cause or due process, much less warrants. In fact, they arrested the individual who provided video evidence of the Alton Sterling shooting
Many of our poor neighborhoods have a nearly round the clock police presence—from squad cars anyhow. Police appear, write up infractions, and arrest vagrants, keep an eye on shifty characters, “gangbangers” and the like. They do what they are trained to do. But the result isn’t a working society. The result, as I suggested in the beginning of this essay, is a carceral state.
Right now, if you are an Afro-American male, your odds of being in jail at some point in your life are 1 in 3. I doubt this is because 1 in 3 Afro-American males are genetically predisposed to periodic episodes of violence and criminal behavior. More likely, it has to do with the incredible dearth of job prospects made infinitely worse by a rap sheet and applying while black.
Police officers can’t solve that problem. They aren’t social workers or teachers or medical service personnel, as Brown correctly points out—but the nature of the system we have put in place allows all the problems of our society to flow downward to the cop on the beat whose one job is to enforce the law, but who we mistakenly believe can somehow catch all the detritus of a dysfunctional system and keep it working.
In Michel Foucault’s famous work, Discipline and Punishment, the ruling metaphor is society as a vast prison; a kind of panoptic nightmare—a word derived from Jeremy Bentham’s famous panopticon which was a prison designed so that every cell is view-able from a raised central location, like a watchtower plunked into the middle of a cell block. The point was to understand and react to the behavior of the individuals in the surrounding cells so as to control them. But even at this rudimentary level we are failing, for it’s obvious we don’t understand the individuals caught in our system and we aren’t really controlling behavior, we’re merely holding them in our prison cells precisely because we don’t know what else to do with them.
You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell.
Our criminal justice system is trying to repair something it simply isn’t equipped to mend. You can’t fix a mental health problem with an AR-10, any more than you can fix homelessness with a traffic citation, or drug abuse with an armored vehicle, or unemployment with a prison cell. Perhaps if we, as a society, decided that the carceral state was a bad idea; if we decided, instead, to fund jobs programs and provide secure housing for those in need, if, indeed, we provided drug treatment programs instead of felony convictions we might resolve many problems before they become statistics. We can tinker with police community outreach, provide stricter guidelines for engagement and the use of force and institute better ways of policing the police (oh, please let us have a uniform standard for conduct and an external agencies that review police shooting across the nation), but in the end the panacea we are looking for won’t come from a guy or gal on the beat– with or without a gun. They will come from providing adequate resources to all our public workers, developing jobs programs and training for individuals from all walks of life, and from our own personal engagement with the community in which we live. Maybe it’s time to stop looking to the police to solve the problems of our deeply dysfunctional system. Rather, we should restructure the system so we don’t need the police—or not nearly as much. Maybe it’s time we all signed up.
There’s a certain perverse pleasure in waiting to see what disastrous policy initiatives Republicans can develop, like watching a Jerry Lewis movie. You enjoy the unwinding disasters, almost in disbelief, just waiting to see how bad it can get. Attempting to repeal Obamacare for the 50th time, for example, when we come in dead last for healthcare outcomes among all developed nations…. That’s something, really. It requires a kind of supreme lack of imagination. We endure the worst rates of heart disease, lung disease, obesity, and diabetes among all the developed nations on Earth. We are last in positive outcomes, but we spend the most–outstripping all rivals in flushing money down the insurance toilet without any actual return on investment (or ROI, as the smart MBA kids like to say). So the natural conclusion for the conservative movement is to repeal anything that would correct that situation, right? All this might suggest that the right doesn’t actually care about outcomes, or maybe it’s some unfathomably clever political ploy. Like how, every six months or so, they actively seek to plunge our economy back into an ice bath by holding the debt ceiling hostage. Or again, maybe it’s just the right gone wild in their usual productive cycle of ginning fake outrage over fake scandals (Benghazi! IRS!) and destroying any attempt at a sane economic policy which, I have to admit, is par for the course. After all, our band of antediluvian brothers’ idea of economic progress is to repeal the minimum wage.
Yet, there are moments when even a cynic must pause. Ten years ago, for example, would anyone have wagered that our Supreme Court would gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act, invalidating section four and opening the way for conservatives to pass some of the most restrictive voting laws in the country? Within 2 hours of that court decision, Texas arranged a voter ID law and redistricting map both of which were blocked in previous years for their discriminatory tendencies against blacks and Latinos. It’s not like this should have come as a surprise, either. The Texas Republican Party’s 2012 platform specifically called for the repeal of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The only people who didn’t see it coming, apparently, were the five Justices who concurred in the decision to gut the act. One must conclude they were willfully blind to reality, or criminally stupid, or, more likely, they were perfectly aware of the outcome, and that’s precisely why they formed their decision.
This brings us to an interesting question. Suppose the recent antics of the right aren’t just gross stupidity, poor analysis, or general loss of contact with reality? But, rather– it’s opposite. Suppose it is simply this: the right is actively seeking to disenfranchise millions of citizens to retain political power, keep sick people from adequate health care to ensure continued profits for a dysfunctional healthcare system, and weaken the middle class and labor movements so that big business–their primary constituent–can avail themselves of cheap labor in perpetuity.
If the latter is true, then maybe the activists in North Carolina have it right. The Reverend Barber and the NAACP have developed a sustained protest dubbed “Moral Monday” in reaction to anti-abortion legislation, voter suppression laws and cuts in public school teacher pay the conservatives of their state have enacted. Thousands have showed up at the North Carolina state house throughout the summer. Five thousand activists alone showed up in Asheville, North Carolina on Monday, August 5th. Close to a thousand have been arrested over the course of the summer in acts of civil disobedience.
“This is no momentary hyperventilation and liberal screaming match,” Reverend Barber told AP. “This is a movement.”
Indeed, it is. And with the racists-gone-wild antics of the right in Arizona, singing “Bye Bye Black Sheep,” outside one of President Obama’s speeches and carrying signs reading, “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”, maybe it’s time to consider a nation wide “Moral Monday.”
After all, if the right isn’t entirely divorced from reality, their motives aren’t hard to decipher. Why gut the middle class economy, destroy any attempt at healthcare policy, restrict women’s rights, mock a black President and– a local note– plant a Confederate Flag just south of Richmond, Virginia (home of the ex-Confederacy, where millions of slaves were brought to be auctioned off to the highest bidder a little over 150 years ago) unless that is exactly what you’re seeking? To turn the clock back to that sunny time when blacks slaved like raisins in the sun, and poor whites were tenant farmers eking out a hard life’s wage, half of which went to pay their landlord? Sans any government protection, much less ‘healthcare’….This, after all, is the essence of the Confederacy, and, at bottom, the essence of the right-wing laissez faire economic model. It would not be the first time in human history that we’ve taken a step or two back.
Some folks might say I am exaggerating, because outside of a government predicated on a wealthy elite’s supremacy, the destruction of the middle class, the elimination of social services and the return of institutions that look and act like slavery or tenant farming, would the right-wing agenda really be all that bad?
I’m glad you asked, because even if we were to accept the feudal living arrangements the far right’s economic agenda promises, there is one other area where they would actually prove worse. According to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, 30 Texas towns are about to run out of water due to global warming induced droughts, and– wait for it — fracking. Why? Because fracking uses water humans need to survive. The oil and gas industries are draining Texas of water in order to break up the earth so that oil may be extracted to produce gas that runs cars that lead to global warming which further exacerbates the lack of water … that humans need to survive.
The oil and gas industries consider the cost of this degradation–that is, the draining of Texas’ aquifers so that humans have nothing to drink–an ‘externality’ (another word those smart MBA kids love); and to the extent that they think about them at all, most of the humans in Texas are probably also considered externalities, as are their children and their children’s children, etc… Except the fetuses, naturally. That’s just the way the far right rolls.
We could put this another way, of course. We could talk about the human cost of such a far right economic model that reduces humans to a plus or minus on a ledger sheet. We could suggest that, as humans, strictly speaking, we cannot drink oil, and we cannot eat money.
Barnhart, Texas has already run dry. Moral Monday, anyone?
What do you think Steinbeck would have to say about Benton Harbor, Michigan? I think he would say democracy is in a tailspin looking at ground zero. Grab the joy stick and pull!
After 9/11, we, as a nation, raised up patriotically and militarily and challenged the entire world against any act that would imperil the American people or the assurances of our democracy.
So, what happened to that?
The people of Benton Harbor have to be wondering where all those patriotic people are today, and the rest of the world must be wondering too. What could ever make democracy expendable in America?
The answer is poverty. Not just any poverty, but the sort that is planned in advance. The takeover of Benton Harbor and the concept of “financial martial law” was implemented by Michigan lawmakers in cooperation with corporate leaders while other local stakeholders organized a public land grab.
Political commentator, Rachel Maddow, a recent recipient of the The John Steinbeck Award, has championed this cause, but the national public outrage it deserves has yet to be seen. Consider what she has to say in this video:
The one thing we seem to hold most dear, that which ensures our freedom, is being considered expendable in Benton Harbor, and the same neoliberal pattern being used to privatize the public good across our nation is clearly observable in the process.
First, break it –
“Sucked Down the Whirlpool
Whirlpool, which has its global headquarters in Benton Harbor, has long controlled the city. In 1986, at the behest of business leaders, Benton Harbor was designated as an “Enterprise Zone” to give tax exemptions to the private sector. Whirlpool quickly ate up the exemptions.”
“By 2010, nearly 99 per cent of Benton Harbor residents were receiving food stamps, while Whirlpool reportedly banked more than $18 billion in global annual sales.”
“Benton Harbor’s population is 92% African-American and deeply impoverished by the de-industrialization of the city and surrounding area. Whirlpool’s plant shutdown is the most recent, crushing blow as the corporation continues to expand significantly in low-wage plants in Mexico, despite taking $19 million in federal recovery funds. Benton Harbor is plagued by the lowest per capita income in Michigan ($8,965), with 42.6 percent of the population living below the poverty line, including a majority of kids under age 18.”
Get paid to rebuild it in your image –
To skeptics of the redevelopment of Benton Harbor, Whirlpool looks less like a good corporate citizen than another company manipulating the system, leveraging its power to maximize its tax breaks and taking advantage of the town’s access to federal and state grant money. (It’s worth noting that Whirlpool hasn’t paid any federal corporate income taxes in the United States for the last three years (…)
The juxtaposition of Benton Harbor’s impoverished population and its two rising monuments to wealth — all wedged into a little more than four square miles — make it almost a caricature of economic disparity in America.
“I felt almost as if I were at a resort in a third-world Caribbean country: beyond the boundaries of Harbor Shores is the poorest city in all of Michigan. (…)
The contrast is deliberate, part of a strategy of social engineering that’s central to the plan to save Benton Harbor.” (Mahler, NYT)
Then, funnel the money to the top –
Whirlpool’s central role in the town and redevelopment plans has led many Benton Harbor residents to feel that the corporation views them as distinctly disposable and mainly a barrier to their plans.
“It’s being converted into a resort town for wealthy weekenders and Whirlpool employees that, when all is said and done, its struggling black population will either be driven out by the development or reduced to low-wage jobs cleaning hotel rooms, carrying golf bags or cutting grass.”(Mahler, NYT)
If elections and representation are now just a passé sort of thing, tolerated in some places but not in others – fine. We’re set. But if we still value the democratic process that we raised up and swore to protect, the people in Benton Harbor need help. They’ve been stripped of every semblance of democracy and left with no voice of their own.
I think it’s safe to assume that if corporations manipulating our government can successfully take over one little American town by getting democracy out of their way, they will expand that effort and try to “save” the rest of our country in due time.
This is a non-partisan fundamental issue. When powerful people and elected officials of any political persuasion decide to slap our hands and take the democratic process away from us, we have to find the courage to stand up to corrupting power and protect democracy with the utmost vigor.
Noted author and former U.S. Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, speaking at the Summit For A Fair Economy in Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 10, 2011. “The greatest enemy we have is mass cynicism.”
The big lies:
1) Tax cuts to the rich and corporations trickle down to the rest of us.
2) If you shrink government you create jobs.
3) High taxes on the rich hurts the economy.
4) Debt is to be avoided and it is mostly caused by Medicare.
5) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.
6) We need to tax the poor.
The worst thing is, because these facts from the right-wing are repeated over and over, the media repeats them without challenging them and people accept them as truth. This is intentional! The greatest enemy we have is mass cynicism. When people really get to the point where they think nothing can be done, the other side wins. That’s what they want, by the way. That’s what they want. They want government, because it is starved for money, because it is going to be underfunded – all the regulatory agencies – they want government at all levels to function so badly that people say, “Well government can’t work. I told you.” And they also want politics to be so bad and so paralyzed that most Americans say, “Nothing can be done. I’m going to give up on our democracy.”
Cynicism, now and then ~ an interesting cycle
“Modern cynicism has been defined as an attitude of distrust toward ethical and social values and a rejection of the need to be socially involved. It is often regarded as a product of mass society, but one where political engagement has no option but to be cynical. Unlike mere depression, cynicism can be said to be more active; in his bestselling Critique of Cynical Reason, Peter Sloterdijk defined modern cynics as “borderline melancholics, who can keep their symptoms of depression under control and yet retain the ability to work, whatever might happen … indeed, this is the essential point in modern cynicism: the ability of its bearers to work – in spite of anything that might happen.”
Late 5th century BCE: [Cynicism] meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, and fame, and by living a simple life free from all possessions.
The ancient Cynics rejected conventional social values, and would criticise the types of behaviours, such as greed, which they viewed as causing suffering.
The name Cynic derives from the Greek word κυνικός, “dog-like” … the word dog was also thrown at the first Cynics as an insult for their shameless rejection of conventional manners, and their decision to live on the streets.
I believe we have to think about how to create spaces for people to experience the solidarity that bolsters our courage to explore new ideas and to take risks to challenge power. ~ Robert Jensen
I’m feeling very solution oriented today. After yesterday’s political show – a continuation of the bullheadedness of our elitist leaders, Robert Jensen’s Combatting Ignorance, Avoiding Arrogance gave me some extra determination. It seems at first like an ‘I told you so’ piece, but develops into a strong case for the patience, humility and tenaciousness that we should find and foster in grassroots organizations if we plan to succeed in reversing our course of economic destruction. It’s a confirming sort of pep talk with thoughtful reasons for everyone to get involved with a group like our Alliance for Progressive Values. The people still have the strength to turn things around, but only with a meaningful collective voice. Once you find a good group to join, that group will link with other like-minded groups to form an effective foundation for the changes we all want to see.
Time for Americans to Participate in Power by Kevin Zeese backs it up nicely. This well sourced Labor Day piece includes a lot of statistics that are often misreported. His strong arguments for raising taxes on the rich and reducing military spending seem especially supportive now that the super committee’s Jon Kyl is threatening to quit over military spending reductions and other neoliberals on the committee are refusing to raise taxes. That, in addition to the predictable breaking news of a one week old terrorist threat that challenged football for the domination of our American nightly “news” immediately following the president’s important (but planned to be rejected) jobs speech.
Zeese’s conclusion is like that of Jensen’s in that we “need to look honestly and deeply into the corruption of government by economic and political elites and demand that we participate in power,” but he suggests a stronger stand of active participation and solidarity in an upcoming event: October2011.org, which advocates “Fifteen Core Issues the Country Must Face.”
October 2011 is the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan and the beginning of the 2012 federal austerity budget. It is time to light the spark that sets off a true democratic, nonviolent transition to a world in which people are freed to create just and sustainable solutions.
I think it’s going to be an important event – it has certainly been well-organized.
There are lots of reasons why America is seemingly being steered into a deep ditch and we all have different views about the causes – but at this point, there are enough groups and activities promoting solidarity that everyone should be able to find a good fit, and that’s definitely the tack we should take.
In 9/11 hero Todd Beamer’s last words, “Let’s roll.”
For APV members: Here’s some information on the APV Fall 2011 Lobby Trip to Washington D.C. Don’t forget to sign up! It’s going to be a great one!
Under President Kennedy’s leadership, the United States initiated programs that promoted health, education and the opportunity for economic equality. Now celebrating 50 years, The Alliance for Progress was one such initiative. He worked toward a solidarity among nations to fight against autocracy, plutocracy, oligarchy or any other form of governmental control that did not recognize justice and an equitable quality of life for the people as national priorities. Nations agreed that the people’s ability to find work is an essential freedom and governments should correct conditions that are not conducive to the sustainment of employment opportunities and acceptable working conditions for all. Warning against “an imperialism of force and fear”, his outreach was for a compassion among nations, each exhibiting a common commitment to prosperity, “the handmaiden of freedom.”*
That was then. Today, with unemployment at a critical level, our government, the media and most representatives have even ignored the fact that a law – not an initiative, a law that mandated a government jobs program and promoted “proper attention to national priorities”, The Humphrey-Hawkins Act of 1978, was allowed to expire in 2000. It was a way to ensure that a president’s hands were not tied by partisanship when the people needed a jobs program. Today, Rep. John Conyers’ bill (HR 870), “The Humphrey-Hawkins 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act” – is proposed to mandate job training and other programs designed to curtail our extreme unemployment, “but the bill has no chance as long as Republicans control the House.”
President Obama should stand up for Americans and call for bi-partisan cooperation on passing this bill immediately – and hope for the best.
In this article, The Democratic Stratigest recaps some efforts that recognize the people’s need to work by referencing Jeanne Mirer’s and Marjorie Cohn’s recent post on past mandates and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ standard for employment.
I might add, for what it’s worth, that the U.S. has signed and ratified the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) to which we pay millions of dollars in membership. Articles 34 and 45 are particularly pertinent.
The Super Committee and the new free trade agreements will cause more job losses in addition to the already increasing unemployment numbers we see escalating American poverty. As the article suggests, we need to protest inactivity! “It was FDR who said “make me do it,” and MLK showed us the way, not only with one demonstration, but with a sustained commitment to mass protest. Now let’s make them do it.”
*President Kennedy was killed the day after the last clip in this video, and the Alliance for Progress became the vessel for many atrocities committed, as such, in his name. However, and in all reasonableness, he and others who were truly infected with the fear of communism, reacted without diplomacy – with horrible and violent consequences for the people more than a few times, as opposed to the “compassion among nations” designed to redefine the people as national priorities. … war is the health of the state.
And this, the experts tell us, is only the beginning. The price of our loaf of bread is forecast to increase by up to 90% over the next 20 years. That will mean yet more upheavals, more protest, greater desperation, heightened conflicts over water, increased migration, roiling ethnic and religious violence, banditry, civil war, and (if past history is any judge) possibly a raft of new interventions by imperial and possibly regional powers.
And how are we responding to this gathering crisis?
Well, there’s room for improvement. In fact, our contribution of military aggression seems to be counter-productive. Realizing the nature and causes of regional hunger is critical to predicting violent conflict and government failure at home and elsewhere. Our humanitarian fabric is weakened by state policy. Fleeing hunger, a move to survive, is an unraveling condition forced on our neighbors in the world today, and unheeded, unattended will certainly be part of our undoing.
“Already the poorest on this planet spend 80% of what incomes they have on food staples and those prices are expected to double in the next two decades.”
This is a good article that includes Breaking Bread – a TOMCAST EPISODE with Christian Parenti discussing critical issues that cause hunger, and his well received new book. Climate change, crop shortages, drug cash, state policy and violent conflict are merged into a recipe for disaster – a warning that should not be ignored.
A recent case in point, the mass exodus of starving Somalis is here.
What’s not to like? It helps to empty landfills, it’s stronger than steel, it stores energy and cables and powers my house. It also pays for itself, helps break our fossil fuel addiction and it would put people to work all over the country.
So far, I like it.
Lewis Lapham is always a good Sunday read and this one is particularly good. He wanders around through the annals of servitude and debt to find “the lost battalion of America’s unemployed”. It’s a tough choice, but two quotes stand out as he shapes an American dilemma:
“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” ~Teddy Roosevelt
“We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.” ~Woodrow Wilson
At this point, ‘putting’ Americans back to work may be a more dynamic issue than our national obsession with terror. I think it is. And drawing from the history in this piece, Lapham’s forte – the options being considered for America’s jobless may come to mind. Just the word ‘putting’ in “putting to work” tends to shift control from the workers to Woodrow Wilson’s “small class of persons deserving of a liberal education” which is called to question in practice and theory. Is the work of the middle class really mindless? Is the kind of work regular Americans do “a substitution of what is animal for what is human”? Those are pretty chilling thoughts. Cutting back on corporate domination of the workforce and helping, ‘allowing’ the American people viable choices for independence, reasonable ways to create their own businesses and hire their own employees again, might be a healthy option – and one we should find ways to support. Because, frankly, in the middle class we are not chopped liver. We ARE America; we are the tax base and we are the dollar. Everybody else is still technically a side dish.
What’s lingering for me, is that unemployed Americans are not being politically framed as “a body of fellow citizens” wanting to work to provide themselves with a decent living. They are a statistical noose tightening around our necks, 25 million invisible lazy people who are failing to contribute to the consumption and borrowing that have brought us to where we are now. Where policy dictates, attitudes shape policy.
I think as progressives engage in public policy around the country, people are finding they have more choices, more power, and they’re expanding past the old black and white offerings … it’s contagious. So, who knows? Maybe America’s children will end up having employment choices other than to be a Walmart ribbon-clerk … or a soldier.