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The Grapes of Wrath
by John Steinbeck
published 1939 during the last Great Depression.
Alex Knight, endofcapitalism.com, May 25, 2010
Arizona SB1070, signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, requires Arizona’s local and state law enforcement to demand the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally, and arrest them if they lack documents proving citizenship or legal residency. Effectively making racial profiling into state policy, this law is the latest in a series of attacks on Latin American immigrants, as well as the entire Latino community, who must live with the fear of being interrogated by police for their brown skin. Then on May 11, Arizona went one step further, outlawing the teaching of ethnic studies classes, or any classes that “are designed primarily for students of a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity”. This same law also states that schools must fire English teachers who speak with a “heavy accent.”
Perhaps these new laws make sense if we imagine that undocumented immigrants are merely “aliens”, a danger to the good, mostly white citizens of this great country. But suppose we look at the problem of immigration from the perspective of the immigrants? Why are they risking life and limb to come to a foreign land, far from their home and families? Why aren’t they deterred from making this trip no matter how many walls we put up, no matter how many police collaborate with ICE, no matter how many angry armed “Minutemen” vigilantes are conscripted to guard the border?
John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath, following the Joad family as they migrate to California during the “Dust Bowl” of the 1930s, sheds light on these questions in a way that perhaps every American can relate to. One of the most popular and well-written American books of all time, The Grapes of Wrath provides a very human perspective on the harsh lives of migrants, personified by the Joads – a family of poor sharecroppers from Oklahoma. Evicted from their family farm, just as the millions of Mexicans who have suffered enclosure from their land and become homeless and jobless because of NAFTA, the Joads travel to California in a desperate search of work, only to encounter the harassment of authorities and the hatred of the local population.
There are important differences between the “Okies” who traveled to the Southwest in the 1930s and Latino migrantes of the 2000s. The Joads, of course, were white, and did not cross a national border when they made their exodus. But at its core the story of the Joads is the story of the migrant workers, their troubles, their fears, but also their humanity, and their hope. It is a story that can inspire us to recognize the historic nature of the moment in which we live, understand why these enormous transformations are occurring, and recognize that justice for the immigrants is justice for everyone, regardless of color or citizenship status.
In order to understand the migrantes we first have to understand the story of their displacement, or the enclosure of their land, which has left them homeless and with no other options than to leave their homeland in search of a wage. What can The Grapes of Wrath tell us about this reality?
People usually do not resort to risky and desperate moves unless they have nothing left to lose. Steinbeck begins the Joads’ story with the loss of everything they had: the small farm on which they had sustained their family for generations by growing cotton. Young Tom Joad, fresh out of prison, returns to his home to find it deserted. “The Reverend Casy and young Tom stood on the hill and looked down on the Joad place… Where the dooryard had been pounded hard by the bare feet of children and by stamping horses’ hooves and by the broad wagon wheels, it was cultivated now, and the dark green, dusty cotton grew… ‘Jesus!’ he said at last. ‘Hell musta popped here. There ain’t nobody livin’ there.’” (51).
Whether as tenants or small landholders, either for subsistence or for markets, the vast majority of the poor migrantes now coming to this country are fleeing the loss of their farms and their livelihoods, just as the Joads. Perhaps for generations, maybe hundreds or even thousands of years, they had lived in connection with the land and had been able to depend on it for the survival of their families and culture. The loss of this land is devastating to those cultures, but larger forces stand to gain by driving these people into homelessness. Read the rest of this entry »
by Kristin Campbell
Reposted from Organizing Upgrade, March 1, 2010
Organizing Upgrade is honored to offer a preview of this insightful reflection on organizing – Engaging the Crisis: Organizing Against Budget Cuts and Building Community Power in Philadelphia – which will appear in Left Turn magazine #36 (April/May 2010). You can subscribe to Left Turn online at www.leftturn.org or become a monthly sustainer at www.leftturn.org/donate.
On November 6, 2008, just days after Philadelphians poured onto the streets to celebrate the Phillies winning the World Series championship and Barack Obama the US presidency, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a drastic plan to deal with the cities $108 million budget gap. Severe budget cuts were announced, including the closure of 11 public libraries, 62 public swimming pools, 3 public ice skating rinks, and several fire engines. Nutter also stated that 220 city workers would be laid off and that 600 unfilled positions would be eliminated entirely, amounting to the loss of nearly 1,000 precious city jobs. In classic neo-liberal style, the public sector was to sacrifice, while taxpayer money would bail out the private banking institutions.
City in crisis
Well before the economic crises of 2008, a decades-long process of economic restructuring and deindustrialization had left Philadelphia, with a population just over 1.4 million, an incredibly under-resourced city. Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate out of the ten largest cities in the US, an eleven percent unemployment rate and a high-school dropout rate that hovers dangerously around 50 percent.
The proposed budget cuts sparked waves of popular outrage especially concerning the closure of the libraries, many of which are located in low-income communities of color and serve as bedrock institutions for many basic resources. Eleanor Childs, a principal of a school that heavily relies on West Philadelphia’s Durham library, and later a member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries, recalls “a groundswell of concern about the closing of the libraries… people rose up. We had our pitchforks. We were ready to fight to keep our libraries open.”
Nutter’s administration set up eight townhall meetings across Philadelphia, designed to calm the citywide uproar. Thousands of people filled the townhall meetings poised to question how such drastic decisions were made without any public input. Under the banner “Tight Times, Tough Choices,” Mayor Nutter and senior city officials attempted to explain the necessity of such deep service cuts. They explained that the impact of the economic crisis on the city had only become apparent in recent weeks, and because the city could not raise significant revenue to offset its financial loses in the timeframe that was needed, rapid cuts were mandatory and effective January 1, 2009.
In the following days and weeks, Philadelphians quickly mobilized against the decision that their public services and city workers pay for the fallout of a economic system that had already left so many of them struggling. Neighborhood leaders organized impromptu rallies at the eleven branch libraries. Along with organizing people to turn out at the Mayor’s townhall meetings, these rallies gained media attention on both the nightly news and in the major newspapers, demonstrating widespread opposition to the budget cuts. Sherrie Cohen, member of the Coalition to Save the Libraries and long-time resident of the Ogontz neighborhood of North Philly remembers her neighbors coming together to say, “We are not going to let this library close. It’s not gonna happen. We fought for 36 years for a library in our neighborhood.” Read the rest of this entry »
“When you take the time to research and analyze the wealth that has gone to the economic top one percent, you begin to realize just how much we have been robbed.”
Despite the economic crisis, the ultra-rich seem to be making off quite well, even increasing their incomes while the rest of us worry about unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.
Crooks and Liars recently posted an article, “Richest 400 Americans See Incomes Double, Tax Rates Halved,” which has the latest statistics on income inequality, but to fully understand the widening gap between rich and poor, check out the following essay from David DeGraw.
How long will we permit this to go on? [alex]
The Richest 1% Have Captured America’s Wealth — What’s It Going to Take to Get It Back?
By David DeGraw / February 19, 2010
“The war against working people should be understood to be a real war… Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class… And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.” — Noam Chomsky
As a record amount of U.S. citizens are struggling to get by, many of the largest corporations are experiencing record-breaking profits, and CEOs are receiving record-breaking bonuses. How could this be happening, how did we get to this point?
The Economic Elite have escalated their attack on U.S. workers over the past few years; however, this attack began to build intensity in the 1970s. In 1970, CEOs made $25 for every $1 the average worker made. Due to technological advancements, production and profit levels exploded from 1970-2000. With the lion’s share of increased profits going to the CEO’s, this pay ratio dramatically rose to $90 for CEOs to $1 for the average worker.
As ridiculous as that seems, an in-depth study in 2004 on the explosion of CEO pay revealed that, including stock options and other benefits, CEO pay is more accurately $500 to $1.
Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.” Robert Freeman added, “Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%.”
Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the U.S. population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.
As mentioned before, just look at the first full year of the crisis when workers lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point clear, 400 people have more wealth than 155 million people combined.
Meanwhile, 2009 was a record-breaking year for Wall Street bonuses, as firms issued $150 billion to their executives. 100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people. Read the rest of this entry »
Also published on No Cure for That.
Last week President Obama announced an $8.3 billion loan of taxpayer dollars for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at the Vogtle site in Georgia. He has also proposed tripling the loans for new nuclear reactors to $54 billion in his 2011 budget.
In his announcement he argued, “To meet our growing energy needs and prevent the worst consequences of climate change, we’ll need to increase our supply of nuclear power. It’s that simple.”
Sadly, Mr. Obama is mistaken on all points.
If by “we” the President means to speak on behalf of his Wall St. advisers and the industrial capitalist system he represents, “our” energy needs are not growing. They’re shrinking along with the economy. And while preventing the worst consequences of climate change is necessary, nuclear power is not. It’s not necessary by any stretch of the imagination.
Here are 5 simple reasons why nuclear is not a sustainable solution to the energy woes of the 21st Century:
1. Nuclear is Too Expensive.
In economic hard times such as ours, we need cheap, readily-available sources of energy to create jobs and keep the lights on. Nuclear is the opposite. Nuclear reactors require billions of dollars of government subsidies just to be built, because no private investor wants to throw their money into an expensive and dangerous project that might never produce a return.
To grab those government subsidies, nuclear companies regularly low-ball their price tags, knowing they’ll have to beg for more money later and that the feds will always give in. The recent TIME article “Why Obama’s Nuclear Bet Won’t Pay Off” explains:
If you want to understand why the U.S. hasn’t built a nuclear reactor in three decades, the Vogtle power plant outside Atlanta is an excellent reminder of the insanity of nuclear economics. The plant’s original cost estimate was less than $1 billion for four reactors. Its eventual price tag in 1989 was nearly $9 billion, for only two reactors. But now there’s widespread chatter about a nuclear renaissance, so the Southern Co. is finally trying to build the other two reactors at Vogtle. The estimated cost: $14 billion. And you can be sure that number is way too low, because nuclear cost estimates are always way too low.
Environment America’s report, “Generating Failure: How Building Nuclear Power Plants Would Set America Back in the Race Against Global Warming”, explains nuclear’s faulty economics further:
Market forces have done far more to damage nuclear power than anti-nuclear activists ever did. The dramatic collapse of the nuclear industry in the early 1980s – described by Forbes magazine as the most expensive debacle since the Vietnam War – was caused in large measure by massive cost overruns driven by expensive safety upgrades after the Three Mile Island accident revealed shortcomings in nuclear plant design. These made nuclear power plants far more expensive than they were supposed to be. Some U.S. power companies were driven into bankruptcy and others spent years restoring their balance sheets.
At the end of the day, there are much cheaper and better ways to produce energy. The TIME article points out, “Recent studies have priced new nuclear power at 25 to 30 cents per kilowatt-hour, about four times the cost of producing juice with new wind or coal plants, or 10 times the cost of reducing the need for electricity through investments in efficiency.”
Instead of pouring billions of dollars into something the market wants to keep its distance from, why not spend that money on efficiency improvements or wind and solar, for which there is a growing market and massive public support?
2. Nuclear is Too Inefficient.
A big part of why nuclear is so expensive is that it’s incredibly inefficient as an energy source, requiring a high proportion of energy inputs as compared to what it produces in output. Between the cost of building the plants and equipment (tons of steel, concrete, and intricate machinery), mining the uranium, enriching the uranium, operating under stringent safety regulations, disposing the radioactive waste, and eventually decommissioning the plants, there is a tremendous about of energy and money poured in to nuclear reactors, making the energy they produce proportionaly less impressive than is often touted. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, President Obama announced his new $3.8 Trillion budget proposal, including about a trillion dollars for war and military, including increasing expenditure on Nuclear Weapons by $7 billion! Nuclear weapons? Really? That’s the change we can believe in?
[update 2/5: I should also mention the completely misguided funding of nuclear power plants as well, see Obama's Nuclear Giveaway]
This news came alongside an announced “spending freeze”, which would exclude military/war and only affect social programs, like jobs, housing, education and health care. These are precisely the programs which need to be dramatically increased in this economic crisis, not frozen. This proposed freeze would last 3 years, meaning for the rest of Obama’s term in office we could see no new spending on any of the social programs that are desperately needed. The poor, the middle and working classes, and everyone who has hope for a more compassionate United States is essentially being locked out in the cold.
Candidate Obama himself campaigned against exactly such an “across the board spending freeze,” as we may recall if we can muster our memories back through one year of hazy distractions (luckily Youtube never forgets):
If they’re so interested in reducing spending, why not cut totally useless and destructive programs – like NUCLEAR WEAPONS?
Why is Obama backsliding on all of his campaign promises? It just so happens that even though there’s no sane use of additional nuclear weapons (the US stockpile is already over 10,000 warheads, and the Cold War is over), nuclear weapons corporations like Lockheed Martin spend millions of dollars to lobby politicians for this funding anyway. And sadly, they’re getting it because Obama is afraid of the Republicans.
Once again we are seeing the continued march towards war, death and neo-fascism. The needs of the population – from decent jobs and housing, affordable education and health care, to a healthy environment – are being denied in order to protect corporate and financial interests.
Here’s Democracy Now! with the nuclear weapons story, and an article from Norman Solomon on the spending freeze below:
As part of a record $3.8 trillion budget proposal, the Obama administration is asking Congress to increase spending on the US nuclear arsenal by more than $7 billion over the next five years. Obama is seeking the extra money despite a pledge to cut the US arsenal and seek a nuclear weapons-free world. The proposal includes large funding increases for a new plutonium production facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico. We speak with Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch of New Mexico. Watch video.
This isn’t “defense.”
The new budget from the White House will push U.S. military spending well above $2 billion a day.
Foreclosing the future of our country should not be confused with defending it.
“Unless miraculous growth, or miraculous political compromises, creates some unforeseen change over the next decade, there is virtually no room for new domestic initiatives for Mr. Obama or his successors,” the New York Times reports this morning (February 2).
It isn’t defense to preclude new domestic initiatives for a country that desperately needs them: for healthcare, jobs, green technologies, carbon reduction, housing, education, nutrition, mass transit . . . Read the rest of this entry »
In November, community members in Spokane Washington articulated these Community Bill of Rights, to give neighbors the ability to control their neighborhoods and their futures. It was defeated by massive opposition of corporate and political elites, but the model of communities organizing at the grassroots level for basic economic, social and ecological rights is something that I’m sure will be reproduced and improved upon in the New Year. Happy 2010! [alex]
Spokane Considers Community Bill of Rights
by Mari Margil, November 4, 2009
Of all the candidates, bills, and proposals on ballots around the country yesterday, one of the most exciting is a proposition that didn’t pass.
In Spokane, Washington, despite intense opposition from business interests, a coalition of residents succeeded in bringing an innovative “Community Bill of Rights” to the ballot. Proposition 4 would have amended the city’s Home Rule Charter (akin to a local constitution) to recognize nine basic rights, ranging from the right of the environment to exist and flourish to the rights of residents to have a locally based economy and to determine the future of their neighborhoods.
A coalition of the city’s residents drafted the amendments after finding that they didn’t have the legal authority to make decisions about their own neighborhoods; the amendments were debated and fine-tuned in town hall meetings.
Although the proposition failed to pass, it garnered approximately 25 percent of the vote—despite the fact that opponents of the proposal (developers, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Spokane Homebuilders) outspent supporters by more than four to one. In particular, they targeted the Sixth Amendment, which would have given residents the ability, for the very first time, to make legally binding, enforceable decisions about what development would be appropriate for their own neighborhood. If a developer sought to build a big-box store, for example, it would need to conform to the neighborhood’s plans.
Nor is development the only issue in which resident would have gained a voice. The drafters and supporters of Proposition 4 sought to build a “healthy, sustainable, and democratic Spokane” by expanding and creating rights for neighborhoods, residents, workers, and the natural environment.
Legal Rights for Communities
Patty Norton, a longtime neighborhood advocate who lives in the Peaceful Valley neighborhood of Spokane, and her neighbors spent years fighting a proposed condominium development that would loom 200 feet high, casting a literal shadow over Peaceful Valley’s historic homes.
Proposition 4 would ensure that “decisions about our neighborhoods are made by the people living there, not big developers,” Patty said. Read the rest of this entry »
Today, Democracy Now! reported that two major records have been broken in 2009 – Wall St. profits ($35.7 billion in the first half of the year), and the number of Americans going hungry (50 million). These two seemingly unrelated tragedies immediately suggest a common solution – carve up the bloated hulks of Wall St. swine and serve them up to the American people!
On Tuesday, the NY Comptroller’s Office released a report showing that “broker-dealer operations of New York Stock Exchange member firms earned a record $35.7 billion in the first half of 2009.” Through September, $22.5 billion in profits were reported from the four largest firms alone —Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase. These are the same banks who got bailed out by the Federal Government last year – which means that taxpayers like you and I paid for these creeps’ bonuses.
Not coincidentally, these obscene profits were recorded at the same moment that the Department of Agriculture released a report showing that “nearly 50 million people — including almost one child in four — struggled last year to get enough to eat” (as written in the Washington Post on Monday). While the economy has been in the tank and unemployment has surpassed 10% officially, food prices have been skyrocketing, and so millions more Americans are being forced to go without needed nutrition.
Why isn’t it a coincidence? Because the crooks who sent global markets into a freefall last September, causing millions to lose their homes and jobs, have been rewarded for their bad behavior with preferential treatment from Uncle Sam. These Wall St. piggies have been gorging themselves on trillions of U.S. Federally approved dough, while regular folks struggle to pay the rent or put food on the table – without so much as a measly health care reform bill to give hope to their deteriorating condition. Now 1 out of every 4 of our kids are going hungry while the government subsidizes the very stock market slimeballs responsible for creating the trouble to begin with.
“Where’s OUR bailout?” struggling folks are wondering, as they see food prices climb and jobs shipped overseas by the day. 50 million folks are wondering where their next meal is gonna come from… and it’s time to entertain innovative, cost-effective proposals, even if they may seem exotic.
Well it turns out there’s one way to solve this problem without tapping the Treasury for so much as a penny!
It would bring down the cost of high-protein, high-quality food, providing much-needed nutrition to the hungry.
It could create high-paid and unionized manufacturing jobs, right here in the U.S. of A!
It would be environmentally friendly, dolphin-safe, and carbon-neutral (although there may be some associated methane emissions after the plan is implemented).
Best of all, this solution would remove the parasitic, bonus-hungry, pyramid-scheming, derivative-trading, regulation-gutting, President-advising, economy-wrecking, bailout mongers from the picture, allowing the American people to determine our economic future democratically!
And it’s so straightforward even Timothy Geithner could understand it:
Eat the Rich!
[alex, Nov. 19]