Labor Day Reads

Labor_Day_Parade_New_York_1909_Float_Womens_Auxilliary_Typographical_Union-1EXLGHappy Labor Day!

Today I thought I’d give you some long, interesting reads to fill what I hope is a nice quiet day for you!  Some of these are related to the holiday we celebrate today.  You’ll notice that I’ve put up some photos of what it meant to be worker back in the day including pictures of child labor which was made illegal with the help of Union activism. No Labor Day celebration would be complete without a generous selection of Pete Seeger tunes.  Check the bottom and listen to this  American Treasure!

My first offering is from TP and salutes Seven Union Heroes.

This Labor Day, while you’re enjoying the three-day-weekend, take a moment to celebrate the heroes of the union movement. These noteworthy people left behind a legacy that we enjoy today, from the end of child labor to the more humane treatment of farm workers.

My next selection is from the UK Guardian and explains why the US middle class started really losing ground during the Dubya years. This is especially true of wages.

Until recently, an examination of the labour market relied on the annual publication of average wages. That is how the story of flat wages for the many and super-returns for the few over such a long period has emerged. Each calculation of average wages is a snapshot of all the people in the workforce. Unfortunately, millions of people quit the labour market during the year and others join. It is not the same cohort, and not just at the outer margins.

Robert J Shapiro, a former economic adviser to Bill Clinton who now runs the Sonecon consultancy in Washington, grabbed the opportunity to look at the raw census data when the US statistical office published it a few years ago.

He tracked the median incomes of average households as they travelled through the decades, checking on the progress of men versus women, Hispanic people versus black and white people, college graduates and different age groups. The report presents us with a more nuanced picture of the workforce and how it has fared.

He found that the 1980s boom, which gained traction in the middle of the decade, boosted the wages of all but the oldest group of workers. So large, steady income gains characterised the average household whether they were headed by men or women, or by people with high school diplomas or college degrees, whatever their ethnicity.

As Shapiro said: “This evidence contradicts the narrative told by those who track the value of aggregate income from the 1970s to present the claim that most Americans have made little progress for decades.”

The momentum dissipated in the first Bush presidency between 1989 and 1993 and accelerated again in the Clinton years before running out of steam in the early 2000s

Then came the downturn. The second Bush era, under George W, was painful for almost all but twentysomething college graduates, who even survived the 2008 crash with barely a scratch, and was worst for those without a high school diploma. Shapiro says the least educated saw their incomes “devastated” after 2001.

“Across the three younger age-cohorts, the median income of households headed by people without high school diplomas fell an average of 1.9% per year as they aged through the 2002-2007 expansion; and over the entire period from 2002 to 2013, their median incomes fell by an average of 1.8% year as they aged,” the report says.

Between 2010 and 2013, households where the main earner had been aged 25 to 29 back in 1982 suffered even more if they quit education before going to high school. They lost 7.1% in income in each year as vast numbers either took a cut in pay, in hours or were made unemployed.

The rise and fall of the average workers’ wages documented in the report chimes with the business cycle and the trend in Europe, which followed a similar trajectory.

The average German worker made income gains through the same period before a deregulation of the labour market under the Social democrat Gerhard Schroeder brought about an effective freeze in wages from 2003.

In the UK, the chancellor at the time, Gordon Brown, reacted to the downturn by switching on the government spending taps. He introduced tax credits as an income top-up to offset the trend for flat or falling real wages. It was a policy that insulated British workers from a trend that clobbered Americans and to a lesser extent German workers.

Retelling the economic story of the 1980s, Shapiro says the US benefited from a mix of Reagan’s expansionary policies in defence and infrastructure and the collapse of commodity prices after the inflationary oil shocks of the 1970s.

George Bush senior was forced to cope with the borrowing hangover from the Reagan years before Clinton assumed the presidency.

Old Photos of Child Labor between 1908 and 1924 (4)Another Guardian article explains how US and British policy in Iraq and Syria actually grew and predicted and WISHED for the rise of ISIS.

A revealing light on how we got here has now been shone by a recently declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which uncannily predicts – and effectively welcomes – the prospect of a “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria and an al-Qaida-controlled Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. In stark contrast to western claims at the time, the Defense Intelligence Agency document identifies al-Qaida in Iraq (which became Isis) and fellow Salafists as the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria” – and states that “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey” were supporting the opposition’s efforts to take control of eastern Syria.

Raising the “possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality”, the Pentagon report goes on, “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime, which is considered the strategic depth of the Shia expansion (Iraq and Iran)”.

Which is pretty well exactly what happened two years later. The report isn’t a policy document. It’s heavily redacted and there are ambiguities in the language. But the implications are clear enough. A year into the Syrian rebellion, the US and its allies weren’t only supporting and arming an opposition they knew to be dominated by extreme sectarian groups; they were prepared to countenance the creation of some sort of “Islamic state” – despite the “grave danger” to Iraq’s unity – as a Sunni buffer to weaken Syria.

That doesn’t mean the US created Isis, of course, though some of its Gulf allies certainly played a role in it – as the US vice-president, Joe Biden, acknowledged last year. But there was no al-Qaida in Iraq until the US and Britain invaded. And the US has certainly exploited the existence of Isis against other forces in the region as part of a wider drive to maintain western control.

The calculus changed when Isis started beheading westerners and posting atrocities online, and the Gulf states are now backing other groups in the Syrian war, such as the Nusra Front. But this US and western habit of playing with jihadi groups, which then come back to bite them, goes back at least to the 1980s war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, which fostered the original al-Qaida under CIA tutelage.

It was recalibrated during the occupation of Iraq, when US forces led by General Petraeus sponsored an El Salvador-style dirty war of sectarian death squads to weaken the Iraqi resistance. And it was reprised in 2011 in the Nato-orchestrated war in Libya, where Isis last week took control of Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte.

In reality, US and western policy in the conflagration that is now the Middle East is in the classic mould of imperial divide-and-rule. American forces bomb one set of rebels while backing another in Syria, and mount what are effectively joint military operations with Iran against Isis in Iraq while supporting Saudi Arabia’s military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen. However confused US policy may often be, a weak, partitioned Iraq and Syria fit such an approach perfectly.

Music sounds better when you’re under the influence of LSD.  I think I learned this lesson as a sophomore at university but evidently there’s research so we don’t have to rely on my anectodotal evidence.Lewis Hine - Spinners and doffers in Lancaster Cotton Mills. Dozens of them in this mill, 1908

The right music can evoke powerful emotions seemingly out of the blue, but under the influence of LSD the musical experience is enhanced even further. This according to the Beckley/Imperial Psychedelic Research Programme whichtested this long held assumption under a  modern placebo-controlled study for the very first time.

Ten healthy volunteers  listened to five different tracks of instrumental music during each of two study days, a placebo day followed by an LSD day, separated by 5–7 days. After listening to each track, participants were asked to rate their experience on a visual analogue scale (VAS) and the nine-item Geneva Emotional Music Scale (GEMS-9). According to the participants’ subjective ratings, LSD enhanced the emotions they felt while listening to the instrumental tracks, particularly those described as  “wonder”, “transcendence”, “power” and “tenderness”.

This article from The Atlantic on how universities are helping student protect themselves from ideas and philosophies they don’t want to hear was really quite astounding to me.

Among the most famous early examples was the so-called water-buffalo incident at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1993, the university charged an Israeli-born student with racial harassment after he yelled “Shut up, you water buffalo!” to a crowd of black sorority women that was making noise at night outside his dorm-room window. Many scholars and pundits at the time could not see how the termwater buffalo (a rough translation of a Hebrew insult for a thoughtless or rowdy person) was a racial slur against African Americans, and as a result, the case became international news.

Claims of a right not to be offended have continued to arise since then, and universities have continued to privilege them. In a particularly egregious 2008 case, for instance, Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis found a white student guilty of racial harassment for reading a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan. The book honored student opposition to the Ku Klux Klan when it marched on Notre Dame in 1924. Nonetheless, the picture of a Klan rally on the book’s cover offended at least one of the student’s co-workers (he was a janitor as well as a student), and that was enough for a guilty finding by the university’s Affirmative Action Office.

These examples may seem extreme, but the reasoning behind them has become more commonplace on campus in recent years. Last year, at the University of St. Thomas, in Minnesota, an event called Hump Day, which would have allowed people to pet a camel, was abruptly canceled. Students had created a Facebook group where they protested the event for animal cruelty, for being a waste of money, and for being insensitive to people from the Middle East. The inspiration for the camel had almost certainly come from a popular TV commercial in which a camel saunters around an office on a Wednesday, celebrating “hump day”; it was devoid of any reference to Middle Eastern peoples. Nevertheless, the group organizing the event announced on its Facebook page that the event would be canceled because the “program [was] dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possibly unsafe environment.”

Because there is a broad ban in academic circles on “blaming the victim,” it is generally considered unacceptable to question the reasonableness (let alone the sincerity) of someone’s emotional state, particularly if those emotions are linked to one’s group identity. The thin argument “I’m offended” becomes an unbeatable trump card. This leads to what Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at this magazine, calls the “offendedness sweepstakes,” in which opposing parties use claims of offense as cudgels. In the process, the bar for what we consider unacceptable speech is lowered further and further.

Since 2013, new pressure from the federal government has reinforced this trend. Federal antidiscrimination statutes regulate on-campus harassment and unequal treatment based on sex, race, religion, and national origin. Until recently, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights acknowledged that speech must be “objectively offensive” before it could be deemed actionable as sexual harassment—it would have to pass the “reasonable person” test. To be prohibited, the office wrote in 2003, allegedly harassing speech would have to go “beyond the mere expression of views, words, symbols or thoughts that some person finds offensive.”

But in 2013, the Departments of Justice and Education greatly broadened the definition of sexual harassment to include verbal conduct that is simply “unwelcome.” Out of fear of federal investigations, universities are now applying that standard—defining unwelcome speech as harassment—not just to sex, but to race, religion, and veteran status as well. Everyone is supposed to rely upon his or her own subjective feelings to decide whether a comment by a professor or a fellow student is unwelcome, and therefore grounds for a harassment claim. Emotional reasoning is now accepted as evidence.

If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.

immigrant-laborersAlso from The Atlantic is this great article by Economist Jared Bernstein on how the poorest among us are not getting the help they need.  We’re beginning to find out how the Welfare Reform of the 1990s has been as big of a failure as the Drug Wars of the 1980s.

People who pay attention to poverty, including the poor themselves, know one thing all too well: Over the past few decades, anti-poverty policy in this country has evolved to be “pro-work.” This means that if you’re a low-income parent who’s well connected to the job market, the government will help you in a variety of ways. But, if you’re disconnected from the job market, public policy won’t help you much at all.

How do people in that second group survive?That’s a question that Kathryn Edin and H. Luke Shaefer, a sociologist and a social-work professor, answer in their new book, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. It is, as the title suggests, a devastating portrait of families struggling to get by on impossibly low incomes.

A few of their strategies: availing themselves of charities and public spaces (like libraries), selling food stamps for cash (illegal, and they typically get just 60 cents on the dollar on the street), relying on relatives (who can be as hurtful as helpful), selling scrap metal or aluminum cans, selling plasma (which involves considerable angst as to whether a person’s blood’s iron levels are sufficiently high, especially difficult around menstruation), receiving some public support (housing vouchers, nutritional support, disability payments), occasionally holding a job, and—the most common strategy of all—just going without.

Check out these astounding pictures of a small town in California that’s running out of water if you’d like to be stimulated both visually and mentally. This is from Mother Jones who is one of the Labor Leaders we should be celebrating today.

Glance at a lawn in East Porterville, California, and you’ll instantly know something about the people who live in the house attached to it.

If a lawn is green, the home has running water. If it’s brown, or if the yard contains plastic water tanks or crates of bottled water, then the well has gone dry.

Residents of these homes rely on deliveries of bottled water, or perhaps a hose connected to a working well of a friendly neighbor. They take “showers” with water from a bucket, use paper plates to avoid washing dishes, eat sandwiches instead of spaghetti so there’s no need to boil water, and collect water used for cooking and showers to pour in the toilet or on the trees outside.

East Porterville is in Tulare County, a region in the middle of California’s agriculture-heavy Central Valley that’s been especially hard hit by the state’s historic drought. More than 7,000 people in the the county lack running water; three quarters of them live in East Porterville. The community doesn’t have a public water system; instead, residents rely on private wells. But after years of drought, the nearby Tule River has diminished to a trickle and the underground water table has sunk as more and more farmers rely on groundwater. Last week, I spent a few days interviewing residents in the town, also known as “ground zero” of the drought.

 

Happy Labor Day!


What’s on your reading and blogging list today?