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This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

That the Ku Klux Klan was in local and national news yesterday is perhaps just a coincidence.

At the national level, Republican Congressman Steve Scalise acknowledged he had been a speaker at an event organized by a Klan group in Louisiana 12 years ago when he was a State Representative.   The GOP is in damage-control mode.   

Locally, the sale at auction of a KKK robe presumably worn by a Rochester NH man in the 1920s drew attention mostly as a modern curiosity.   The robe was discovered by the robe-owner’s daughter in her attic.  It drew $475 at auction yesterday in Dover. 

Largely ignored in the press coverage is that the KKK had an active presence in the Granite State in the mid-1920s, when the white supremacist group made strides in northern states. 

A 1988 article in Historical New Hampshire, the journal of the NH Historical Society, provides background.  The author, Stephen H. Goetz, explained that KKK organizers, called “kleagles,” were able to “translate social tensions into simplistic, easily understood platitudes.”

Delivering highly charged emotional diatribes, the Ku Klux showmen blamed societal change on groups of scapegoats: blacks, Catholics, Jews, and immigrants.   It is significant to note that in those areas of the country where Klanism become most powerful, these particular groups formed only a small, though growing minority.  People alarmed by social dislocation naturally held these ‘new’ elements responsible.

Spreading west from Maine, the KKK established footholds in Rochester, Portsmouth, Dover, and Somersworth before pushing further west to Manchester, Concord, and Keene.  According to Goetz, major KKK rallies were held in the summer of 1914 in Concord, East Holderness, and Rochester, with the one in Rochester drawing as many as 10,000 people.  Take a look at the Town of Hampton’s official history and you’ll see a pull-out black and white photo showing a huge march of Klansmen along the beach.  Anti-immigrant sentiments along with anti-Catholicism were key elements of the KKK’s success in attracting members.  

Nationwide, the KKK swelled to more than 1 million members in the 1920s as recruiters exploited whatever local prejudices might attract members.  Wyn Crate Wade, in The Fiery Cross: the Ku Klux Klan in America, wrote:

If a town was afraid of labor unions, then Kleagles pushed the Klan’s position against alien-inspired strikers.  If the Kleagle was working a dry community, he promised that the Klan and the Klan alone had the guts to deal with the dead heads and bootleggers.  If a city was being swollen by immigrants, Kleagles proclaimed that the Klan stood for 100 percent Americanism, and would never allow the country to be taken over by a pack of radical hyphens (i.e. Italian-Americans, Irish–Americans, etc.)

And when the neighborhoods expressed fears over the postwar ‘New Negro,’ they were quietly reminded that the Ku Klux Klan had always known how to handle [n—–].  In short, kleagles pandered to every regional prejudice and fear, offering a scapegoat for every local tension.

It should be no surprise that members of New Hampshire’s white, Protestant, majority were just as prone to being taken in by such rhetoric as people in other states.  

The KKK effort petered out by the late ‘20s for two reasons.  First, the state’s Catholic minority was already large enough and well enough established that KKK ideology failed to take hold.  But secondly, the KKK lost wind from its sails when Congress approved restrictions on immigration, one of its major goals.

Hooded Klansmen are rare these days.  But ideologies of scapegoating based on race, religion, national origin, and immigration status live on.  The recent incidents can help shine a light where it is needed.    

“One Day Longer, One Day Stronger”

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With an inflatable corporate pig hovering behind them, hundreds of IBEW and CWA members with their allies rallied at the State House yesterday calling for a fair contract with FairPoint Communications.

The two unions went on strike ten weeks ago following months of frustrated bargaining before and after their contract expired on August 2.

“In April, FairPoint came out with their one contract proposal,” IBEW leader Glenn PC190063 Brackett said, waving his index finger while speaking from a stage attached to a Teamsters truck parked next to the State House.

The unions made three comprehensive proposals and even offered $200 million in concessions, Brackett said. But the company has refused to deal and lied to the public along the way. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of consumers have complained to the Public Utilities Commission that the company, which took over Verizon’s New Hampshire landlines in 2008, is not providing the services for which it is getting paid.  Vermont’s E-911 system has been among the casualties, as has the City of Nashua’s internet service. 

“This company has no credibility,” Brackett charged.

“The corporation is in North Carolina and this morning they have internet.  They’ve got 911 and their telephones work,” Brackett said.  “Why?  Because FairPoint does not provide services to the communities in which their executives live.” [see video] 

“How long will the State of New Hampshire allow its public safety to be threatened by a company frPC190054om North Carolina?,” Brackett asked. 

Strikers and supporters took a few circuits around the State House lawn, chanting and chatting, while  Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and retired IBEW member Linda Horan greeted them as they went by.  Other political figures in the crowd included State Representative Renny Cushing and State Senators Jeff Woodburn, Donna Soucy, and Lou D’Allesandro. 

The crowd left the State House at about 12:30 pm and walked a few blocks to the FairPoint office on South Street, where they chanted some more and tauntedPC190065 strikebreakers who were looking down from company windows. 

The conflict is not just about wages and benefits.  Central to FairPoint’s strategy is its intent to outsource jobs now held by union members.  The unions points out that the service problems consumers are experiencing now will become the norm if FairPoint can hire unqualified contractors to perform functions now carried out by experienced union workers. 

The conflict over contracting out is emblematic of developments in the larger PC190064

economy, where outsourcing via staffing agencies is becoming the norm in ever larger sectors of the labor market.  Strong unions are about all that stops the slide toward a disposable workforce.

That may be why clergy from the United Church of Christ have decided to speak up about the FairPoint strike.  In a column published in the Valley News, they wrote:

So here we are today: hedge fund corporate owners versus dedicated New Hampshire (and Maine and Vermont) workers who have the courage to take a stand to protect the kinds of jobs that sustain families and strong communities. Shades of Moses standing up against Pharaoh’s hard heart, perhaps? Or David versus Goliath? Or Jesus challenging the greedy money changers?

According to the Concord Monitor, a spokesperson for Governor Maggie Hassan said she is “concerned about the disruption in FairPoint services and its impact on the state’s communications infrastructure, our public safety systems and economy, as well as the company’s overall commitment to the people and businesses of New Hampshire.”

“One day longer, one day stronger,” the strikers chanted.  That’s great spirit, but some emergency funds for workers on strike more than two months will help.  You can contribute to the IBEW/CWA Solidarity Fund by clicking here.

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In the same week that the Air Force admitted it has to repaint fuel trucks in order to keep F-35 planes in the air, the US House is on the verge of providing more money than the Pentagon requested for the most expensive plane in history.

It’s not just expensive; it doesn’t work very well, for example catching fire on the runway.

In a report posted December 6 on an Air Force web site, spokespeople for the  56th Logistics Readiness Squadron in Luke, Arizona, acknowledged they are repainting their fuel trucks white.  It’s not a fashion thing.

"We painted the refuelers white to reduce the temperature of fuel being delivered to the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter," said Senior Airman Jacob Hartman, a 56th LRS fuels distribution operator. "The F-35 has a fuel temperature threshold and may not function properly if the fuel temperature is too high, so after collaborating with other bases and receiving waiver approval from (the Air Education Training Command), we painted the tanks white."

NBC News notes “there have been no publicly reported cases of current jet fighters experiencing problems with hot fuel. At the same time, repainting trucks bright white could make them easier targets if based in hostile territory subject to high temperatures, such as deserts. Temperatures in Iraq, for instance, can exceed 120 degrees.“

Meanwhile in Washington, House budget writers have padded their trillion dollar proposal – which needs to be approved by tomorrow to avoid a government shut down – with “funding for four more F-35 fighter jets than the Pentagon requested, for a total of 38 of the fifth-generation stealth aircraft,” according to Brendan McGarry of military.com

It is no coincidence that Lockheed Martin, the F-35’s prime contractor, has spent more than $10 million lobbying so far this year and invested more than $4 million in politicians, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.  #GUI2016

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, with a total cost of $1.5 trillion.

The F-35 program has been plagued by cost overruns and delays, has been grounded twice, and even has been criticized by those within the Pentagon.

The $1.5 trillion that will be spent on this wasteful Pentagon program is an enormous sum. It is equivalent to the cost of the sequester.

http://f35baddeal.com/

By the way, military.com says the House proposal also includes funds for “three Littoral Combat Ships, even though the House wanted to decrease the number to two; 15 EA-18G Growlers (the Navy didn’t ask for any, but included 22 of the aircraft on its so-called unfunded priorities list); M1 Abrams tank upgrades, even though the Army says it has enough tanks; and the A-10 Warthog, even after the Air Force pushed to retire the aircraft.

“Lawmakers also included $273 million for Israeli missile-defense programs. That includes an additional $175 million for the so-called Iron Dome system, which was used extensively this summer to intercept rockets fired from Palestinian fighters in Gaza. The funding brings the total U.S. investment in the system to $1.2 billion since 2011.”

Black Lives Matter

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Manchester Marches for Mike Brown

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Sixty people rallied, chanted, and marched through downtown Manchester, New Hampshire this afternoon in memory of Michael Brown, who was shot and killed in August by Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.IMG_1435

Organized over Facebook and word of mouth, the mixed race, mixed generation group held a speak-out by the entrance to Veterans Park on Elm Street.  Speakers denounced an epidemic of police killings of young black people and the racist system which enables such killings to recur. 

 

Many participants carried home made signs, with slogans such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Mike Brown,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” and “No Justice, No IMG_1434 Peace.”  The slogans served as chants, too.

My own sign said, “More Justice, More Peace.”

Following the speakout, the crowd marched along the sidewalk up the east side of Elm Street through the busy downtown area to the corner of Bridge Street, then crossed over and marched back on the other side.  

 

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My colleague Gabriel Camacho and I wrote this a year ago, timed to coincide with the twentieth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  With President Obama in China touting a new “free trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, this seemed like a good time to re-post it here.  The original article was published in the NH Business Review.

In the twenty years since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, millions of Mexicans have been pushed by NAFTA to make the dangerous journey across the border into the United States, many without legal authorization. The U.S. government has responded by turning the border into a militarized zone, jailing hundreds of thousands of people, and deporting record numbers back across the border.

Militarization of the border began in 1994 with Operation Gatekeeper, which erected fencing, walls, and other barriers between San Diego, CA and Tijuana, Mexico, forcing migrants into dangerous desert terrain. stop corporate rule

This was not supposed to happen.

According to NAFTA’s backers, the agreement was supposed to promote prosperity in both countries and actually reduce the pressure to migrate.

President Bill Clinton asserted NAFTA would give Mexicans “more disposable income to buy more American products and there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.”

Mexico’s former President, Carlos Salinas, offered a similar opinion: NAFTA would enable Mexico to "export jobs, not people," he said in a 1991 White House news conference alongside President George H. W. Bush.

William A. Ormes wrote in Foreign Affairs that NAFTA would “narrow the gap between U.S. and Mexican wage rates, reducing the incentive to immigrate.”

So what happened? As a precondition for NAFTA, the U.S. demanded drops in Mexican price supports for small farmers. The agreement itself reduced Mexican tariffs on American products. These changes meant that millions of Mexico’s small farmers – many of them from indigenous communities – could not compete with the highly subsidized corn grown by U.S. agribusiness that flooded the local Mexican market.

Dislodged from the places where their families had lived for generations, many people did in fact seek employment in export-oriented factories and farms. But there were too few jobs to go around, and those jobs that were created did not generate the “disposable income” President Clinton had promised.

A 2008 report on “NAFTA’s Promise and Reality” from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace concluded that while half a million manufacturing jobs were created in Mexico from 1994 to 2002, nearly three times as many farm jobs were destroyed.

As for Mexican wages, they went down, not up, during the same period. “Despite predictions to the contrary, Mexican wages have not converged with U.S. wages,” Carnegie observed.

Unable to earn a living at home or elsewhere in their own country, Mexicans did what people have done for ages; they packed their bags and headed for places where they thought they could find employment.

The experts shaping NAFTA knew that the deal would disrupt the Mexican agricultural sector. That’s why Operation Gatekeeper was implemented the same year as NAFTA. It’s impossible to integrate national economies without disrupting local ones – something that should give pause to those proposing new trade agreements today. The realities of NAFTA should not be replicated.

As the American Friends Service Committee outlines in “A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy,” the U.S. should advance economic policies that reduce forced migration and emphasize sustainable development. Instead of policies like NAFTA that elevate rights of transnational corporations above those of people, we need alternative forms of economic integration that are consistent with international human rights laws, cultural and labor rights, and environmental protections.

Modern-day free trade agreements are basically arrangements that take rights away from citizens and bestow expansive benefits to multi-national corporations.

Workers on both sides of the border have one thing in common: they need the ability to organize for higher wages and decent working conditions. Without the opportunity for workers to benefit from the rewards agreements like NAFTA generate for corporations, “free trade” becomes just another driver of the widening gap between the ultra-rich and everyone else.

With the Obama administration pushing hard to create a new arrangement linking the economies of eleven Pacific rim countries, and another that ties the U.S. economy to that of the European Union, it’s time for a new path.

Most of the discussion I’ve seen of wealth and income inequality has focused on trends in the USA.  Now comes the annual report from Credit Suisse, one of the world’s largest financial institutions, on wealth and inequality worldwide.  The picture looks familiar:  a small number of individuals control most of the globe’s wealth. 

Among their findings released October 14:

  • The number of millionaires worldwide is likely to increase from 35 million to 53 million in the next five years;
  • The USA is “the undisputed leader in terms of aggregate wealth;”
  • The USA, Switzerland, and Hong Kong are the most unequal “developed countries;”
  • Countries labeled as “emerging markets,” especially China, can be expected to grow their shares of global wealth in the next five years.  But there, too, inequality is rising.

Credit Suisse, which no doubt wants to handle those millionaires’ accounts, also finds that the USA leads the world with 14.2 million millionaires, 41% of the members of the worldwide millionaire club.  Credit Suisse  refers to them as ‘high net worth” or “HNW” individuals.

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Above the HNWs on the ladder are the UHNWs, the “ultra high net worth individuals,” those with with more than $50 million in net assets. The Global Wealth Report says this group has 128,200 members, 49% of whom live in the USA.  

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“The number of HNW and UHNW individuals has grown rapidly in recent years, reinforcing the perception that the very wealthy have benefitted most in the favorable economic climate,” the report says.  Indeed.

“HNW and UHNW individuals are heavily concentrated in particular regions and countries, and tend to share more similar lifestyles, participating in the same global markets for luxury goods, even when they reside in different continents,” the authors observed.

Here’s more numbers:

  • The poorest 50% of the global population owns less than 1% of the world’s wealth.
  • The wealthiest 10% (those with more than $77,000 of net worth) owns 87% of the world’s wealth. 
  • The top 1% (more than $798,000 of wealth) owns 48.2% of the world’s wealth.
  • The world now has 35 million millionaires, less than 1% of the population.  Together they own 44% of the wealth.

Figures such as these demonstrate that the world’s wealth is in the hands of a very small group of individuals. The figures don’t, by themselves, tell us anything about trends in wealth distribution.  But this topic has finally gotten the attention of policy makers and bankers, even those whose clientele is ultra-rich.

“The changing distribution of wealth is now one of the most widely discussed and controversial of topics, not least owing to Thomas Piketty’s recent account of long-term trends around inequality. We are confident that the depth of our data will make a valuable contribution to the inequality debate,”  the report’s introduction says.  

Credit-Suisse also says, “During much of the last century, wealth differences contracted in high income countries, but this trend may have gone into reverse.” 

It may be significant that the Global Wealth researchers find that while the top 10% has seen its share of the global pie rise from 67% in 1989 to 72% in 2007 and topped 75% in 2013, the share in the pockets of the top 1% has “shown little upward movement for the past two decades.” 

For the USA, however, they find that shares held by the top 10% and the top 1% have held steady, at about 75% and 38% respectively.  This finding contrasts with that of Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who recently wrote

“Wealth inequality [in the USA] has considerably increased at the top over the last three decades.  By our estimates almost all of the increase is due to the rise of the share of wealth owned by the 0.1% richest families, from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012.

The conflict may result from differences in methodology or from Saez and Zucman’s attention to the top 0.1%, a smaller sliver than Credit Suisse studied. Nevertheless, both reports add to a body of evidence that the economy is doing just fine for a tiny class of people while just about everyone else is getting left behind. 

It wasn’t long ago that economists generally avoided discussion of the distribution of wealth.  Even if they now differ on some fine points, it probably represents progress when economists working for an institution like Credit Suisse are adding their weight to a call for a change of direction.

“In mature economies,” they conclude, “policies to address wealth inequality are receiving increased attention and can hopefully be designed to avoid unwanted effects on growth or economic security. Among emerging markets, policy makers would be advised to study countries, such as Singapore, which have tried to ensure that wealth gains are broadly shared, and which have succeeded in keeping wealth inequality in check.”

[Note: There’s a link to the Global Wealth Report pn the Credit Suisse publications page, but the link did not work for me.  Instead, I contacted the bank’s New York press office, where I found someone to send me a copy.]

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