Why Both Sides Need to Read the Whole Article

My leftwing Facebook friends and quite a few mainstream news media are blasting Paul Ryan for reciting, yet again, what lefties consider to be a lie: that GM closed its plant in Janesville, WI, during the Obama administration. But if everyone would just sit down for a minute and do a little research, the public record shows that both sides are telling emotional truth. Janesville has had a long, tough journey. That means some folks took a big hit under GOP leaders, some fell during Democrat administrations. So let’s take a look at the public record, which clearly shows that while finger-pointing might respond to “what happened when,”  it goes nowhere if we change the question to “why?”

So, in defense of Ryan’s memory and his superficial staffer, here is the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel headline that landed on doorsteps in June 2009:

http://www.jsonline.com/business/49114047.html

Reports: Janesville loses GM plant

Michigan will get small-car line

By Joe Taschler and Joel Dresang of the Journal Sentinel
June 25, 2009

If — as I assume — Representative Ryan’s staffer was scrolling through the Journal Sentinel archives to find the date for an event emblazoned in the mind of  every family in that small town– something which the congressman rightly says ended the career vision of people he knew from high school, of neighbors he sees every day — yes, indeed, fellow lefties, this headline confirms that the final nail went in the coffin after Barack Obama had settled into the White House. That’s okay for harried staffers (I used to work in DC, I know that feeling!), but it really disgraces the co-called “political fact-checkers.”

Because look what the article actually says: Would everyone please shut up for a minute and read this:

“General Motors will announce Friday that a new small-car manufacturing line is to be located in Michigan and not at the company’s shuttered Janesville plant, according to news reports.

“If the news is accurate, it is disappointing beyond belief,” said Tim Cullen, a retired state legislator who is co-chairman of a state task force appointed by Gov. Jim Doyle to save the Janesville plant.

The Associated Press and Bloomberg News, citing anonymous sources familiar with the decision-making process, reported Thursday that a plant in Orion, Mich., would get the new subcompact car line.

Wisconsin officials said they had not been informed of the decision.

If true, the decision would be one of the final blows to Wisconsin’s identity as an automobile manufacturing state. Hundreds of Chrysler workers in Kenosha are awaiting word about whether Fiat, the new owner of Chrysler, will keep the engine plant open in that city.

About 1,500 jobs are at stake in Janesville.”

So the plant was already closed when that headline punched Janesville in the gut. When did that happen?

Here’s a report about the impact of the 2008 closing, effective two days before Christmas 2008.

Ripple effect felt in closing of GM’s Janesville plant

Rick Wood

“The closure may ultimately end up costing Rock County nearly 9,000 jobs, according to estimates compiled by Steve Deller, a professor of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Using a multiplier effect, Deller says almost every sector in the county may suffer some job losses, everything from construction to real estate to retail to health services.

“GM has been slowly but surely winding down,” Deller says. “But the timing is horrendous.”

The plant is ceasing production in the teeth of what may be the country’s most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. It also comes as the Big Three automakers – GM, Ford and Chrysler – are fighting for their survival.

“GM was the town, not so long ago,” says Bob Clapper, president of Fagan Chevrolet-Cadillac. “If you didn’t work there, you were related to someone who did.”

Clapper’s dealership tells a story of the town. One year in the late 1990s, he recalls, his firm sold 2,000 new vehicles, with around a third of them going to GM employees. This year, he says, he sold 800 new vehicles through October, with around 20% going to GM employees.

“We’re watching every expense,” he says. “We cut our advertising. We’ve cut our inventory. We’ll probably have a few less employees. Not a lot, a couple.”

At Zoxx 411 Club – a bar located in the shadow of the factory – they’ve served GM workers for decades, once employing four bartenders during workday lunch hours. Now, they’re down to two bartenders daily. As the GM work force has declined, the bar has sought to lure new business with dart leagues and big-screen televisions.

“We’re going to recover from this,” says Andy Sigwell, 40, the third generation in his family to operate the bar. “It might take 10 years, but we’ll recover.”

“In Janesville, workers and their families are trying to cope as best they can, bracing for the day they know will come, the ending of GM production…

“…Patricia Torner, 46, a pipe fitter at the Janesville plant, is keeping her options open. In many ways, the fate of Janesville is tied to people like Torner, who is divorced and raising her 10-year-old granddaughter.

With 22 years in at GM, she’ll take a job transfer to another plant, if she can get it. If not, she’ll attend college, trying to fast-track 56 credit hours she’ll need toward an undergraduate degree in psychology and social work.

If Torner leaves, her chiropractor will be down one patient, her hair dresser will miss one client, the veterinarian who takes care of her two dogs will suffer a loss. And, of course, Janesville schools will be losing one more pupil, Torner’s granddaughter.

Last month, she took her granddaughter on a tour of the plant, in what was dubbed Heritage Days, a last chance for the general public to see the assembly line in operation.

“As we’re riding around the plant, I’m waving to people I know and I thought, this is it, this is truly it,” Torner says. “It brought me to tears. I realized at that moment, we’re done.”

This fact-check took less than 2 clocked minutes. The blog post has taken fewer than thirty. But figuring out what to do next — now that’s gonna be the hard part.

And as the GOP likes to say, we’ll all do better if we start at the same starting line. As the Democrats like to say, that line is made of facts.

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God and Abe Lincoln Agree: Both Sides Need a Fundamental Challenge

There are so many ironies and illuminations from the weather-related contraction of the GOP Convention. Someone (sorry, I was channel-surfing) has already pointed out that the GOP budget substantially reduces both weather monitoring and disaster response. Apparently, God begs to differ. Let’s see how Romney and Ryan respond to an actual on-the-ground disaster. Let’s see if they tell their adherents along the Gulf Coast to dig themselves out with the family backhoes.

But the Left isn’t doing much better. On Sunday I heard an inspiring service about the UUA’s recent “Justice GA” in Phoenix. Certainly the treatment of these detainees — and the unfairness of the trumped up charges against so many of them — tears at my heart and arouses my wrath. But at no point did anyone mention that Phoenix has one of the top foreclosure rates in the nation. The statistic about Mexican economic disruption due to NAFTA had no parallel about what the same legislation did to jobs in the US.

In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln looked over a nation damaged by slavery and war, now completely without any process for assisting millions of freed people– and said to all sides,

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Whatever one thinks about Sheriff Arpeio’s work, there are reasons he enjoys popular support. I would have thought that GA a little more just if there had been a little more charity toward the folks of Phoenix, at least enough to ask about their lives as well.

A More Positive View of the Problem

Yesterday’s post was so bleak, I really wanna get something positive up here now, without just going all hopey-dopey. Happily, Today’s “Here and Now” featured a scholar addressing some of the same issues from a practical point of view. Some of the same concerns — have we reached the end of work, because people are so cheap and machines can make so much profit? — came up in this article in this week’s NYTimes Book Review. This father-son team is revisiting John Maynard Keynes’ idea that by now we would all be working no more than twenty hours per week — but living more fulfilled lives. (Irrelevant complaint about this review: apparently not one of these men realize how much housework and child care an energetic woman could provide with those “extra “twenty hours.)

Both authors come to about the same conclusion: people need money to live, and employers need people to earn enough wages — or, although they don’t say this, government transfer income — to function as regular customers. Brynjolffson sums it up in the dialogue between Henry Ford and the labor leader. Ford shows the organizer a room full of machines and asks, “How are you going to get your men to make cars as well and as cheaply as these robots do?” And the labor leader answers: “How are you gonna get all those robots to buy your cars?”

Was the labor leader right? The Times thinks there’s something to it. Turns out they need working Americans to buy all that stuff we pay them to make for us. Now that we can’t pay them for it, they’re feeling stuck.  Maybe even a little interdependent.

Do We Need Another Black Death?

Wat Tyler’s Rebellion — an obscure trivia question, something for crossword puzzles and Jeopardy. Don’t repeat my mistake, and confuse it with the Diggers of Elizabethan times, despite the similarities. Because Wat Tyler’s Rebellion teaches what Occupy movements have to learn.

You might have seen — might even own — the tee-shirt that says “Black Death World Tour.” In 1347, the population of England declined by about 40 per cent. According to Norman Cantor, quoting Michael Hatcher, the labor shortage didn’t begin to affect wages until the second generation. The Statute of Laborers, 1351, begs to differ: Parliament moved immediately to suppress the wage increase that supply and demand would force into effect. Cantor summarizes this generically, rather than pointing out the immediate suppression of market forces.

What made the wage level of 1346 so attractive to employers? Well, despite the almost total lack of medical care as we know it, the spread of competent farming, coupled with some good climate years, had generated a huge labor surplus. Landlords were able to bind peasants and employers to bind workers at low wages, because all these poor folk felt lucky to have even minimal food and shelter. Supply and demand in this case benefited the employers and landholders. Plus, given the excess population, they could afford their own private police forces (all those dashing knights, swearing fealty to “my lord”) to keep the more ambitious potential fugitives in line. Black Death eliminated the surplus on which personal excess depended.

Thanks to medical care — which might become more widespread if Obamacare or something like it prevails — food lunches, even those bags of groceries you drop off at the local food shelf or, conversely, stand in line to receive — the current American laborer lives in 1346. It’s probably worse now than it was then, due to our longer span of life — which, again, is rising more greatly. I have to laugh at the Greedy Class: if they knew what was good for them, they’d be sending Obama so much money he’d send it back!

So how do we, the 99 per cent, avoid the fate of Wat Tyler? You might not recall that his rebellion was suppressed and its leaders executed in nasty ways. I laugh at all the Facebook posts about police oppression against Occupy: you folks have no idea what state-suppression can mean. Tyler was run through with a sword as he approached King Richard II, who then promised peasant leaders a full hearing. Once they settled into his presence, he had them arrested, and some were hung. Apparently not drawn and quartered, as would have been done in Elizabethan times. Ah, progress.

Despite this setback, supply and demand prevailed: wages rose over the next century, as did the first independent middle class. For a readable account of such a family, try this life of Geoffrey Chaucer,
which I found to be a real page-turner that completely derailed my aspiration to read The Canterbury Tales. What Professor Howard makes clear is that Chaucer’s economic and political rise was no isolated incident. The Black Death had reconsolidated scattered family wealth and made a talented local youth a good investment for ambitious aristocracy. Not only did the smaller population open a path for him, but the clearing was wide enough to be seen from inside the royal household itself.

But, again, we live in 1346, not 1351. The wage level we want to restore grew not from supply and demand but outright class warfare between unions and corporations. But even then, recent medical advances have increased survival rates from warfare, childbirth, workplace accidents and ecological degradation. Have you ever noticed how many young men in early US history died from misadventures with farming tools? Do you notice the way folks in other countries still suffer and die –especially children and elderly — of bad water, bad air, landslides, heat waves, deep freezes, floods that for us are just Weather Channel “Send Us Your Photo” ephemera?

That’s the real problem, and no, I don’t know the answer. All I know is that the switch from unionism to universalism isn’t going to happen without a return to the kind of nasty class warfare that names and condemns greed, that distinguishes between the desperate acquisitive energy of folks trying to escape poverty and celebrate newly-won comfort, as compared with folks who want their kids to think of work as something their social circles give them to play with (which lets everyone deduct all the parties, horses and club memberships from their taxes).

Supply and demand, at this moment, is not the laborer’s friend. In earlier eras, social pressure forced women back into unpaid marital and parental roles, and that helped (especially since hiring females is a great way to maintain low wage averages). Racial and ethnic prejudice, tight borders for labor or capital — those are other avenues often pursued. Which are we going to choose? How are we going to combine them? These days we reward members of affluent families for unpaid “community service” and delay our children’s earning years with “internships,” but these do not remove them from the job market: they remove jobs from the realm of pay and make the pressure worse.

I’ve been pondering this one for over a year, and come up with no ready answer. But the first step is to understand what we are up against, and what has worked before. The only thing that restores wages is a smaller pool of laborers. Even then, the only thing that gets employers to pay them is blood-soaked class warfare.

This is not what I advocate. Mao tried it and within three generations, the problem is back, big time. But what can we do instead?

Where Did Catholic Nuns Come From?

Many of us are watching with high emotion as the Leadership Conference of Roman Catholic nuns does battle with the Roman Catholic bishops. I happened to run across a description of where Roman Catholic nuns came from while reading Norman Cantor’s Civilization of the Middle Ages, and it wasn’t what I thought. It’s probably not what anyone thought, so here we go…

I thought, probably not unlike many others, that individual women of privilege took up the veil in order to avoid marriages or other patriarchal impositions. I thought that other women — probably with personal gumption but probably without social connections pressing down on them — joined in. I saw it as personal decisions by individual women standing up against their culture.

Cantor agrees that Benedictine convents were founded by women of privilege trying to escape marriages they didn’t want. But here’s the trick: their culture was all in favor of it. Their culture was not Roman-heritage Italian, but Franco-Germanic, that is, the invaders who took over as the Roman Empire crumbled. Germanic society was organized on a more collegial and ad-hoc basis, with electoral offices even for kings, and smaller groups entering and leaving confederations according to what worked. In these societies, women had much more individual stature. Unlike the Roman imperial culture to their west, these Ostrogoths held to Arian rather than Constantinian Christianity.

The Ostrogoths made confederations with Romans along the imperial border, by which they increased their wealth through trade and a few new industrial skills. These relatively peaceful strategies generated enough largesse to pass among their own allies further to the east, from whom, in return the border Ostrogoths collected certain taxes. As the Roman state collapsed, the Ostrogoths took over northern Italy — Milan, Ravenna, Venice. As with today’s liberals,  these “conquerors” (not to be confused with a later group, the Vandals, who were not Arian and not nice) declined to impose their culture on the Roman aristocracy (which was neo-Platonic pagan), refused to confiscate enough of the old estates to cripple their power — and thereby were themselves quickly overrun by the much more numerous Franks from their immediate north.

Ah, the French… well, not quite yet. These Franks were a Germanic heritage tribe whose primary distinction was a desire to colonize (take over land for themselves and their families), but whose political culture was still Germanic. (Come to think of it, France still has a pretty strong emphasis on regional pride and powerful women…)

But there still were Italians in Italy, so the Franks needed a strategy to pacify them. The Italians, however, had given up on secular government (apparently still do) and cast their lot with the rapidly-bureaucratizing Roman Catholic Church.  This worked pretty well for Frankish men, who could easily get baptized and go to mass. For free-minded Frankish women, however, the Church was a problem.  As it built itself according to the dictates of Pope Leo I and Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, theological consolidation rejected any gnostic or heretical sect which accepted the stature of women as equally worthy of bearing God’s message to humanity.  There were men as well as women who believed in human spiritual equality, and I doubt all their conversions were joyous occasions.

And what about their womenfolk?

Here’s where I nearly shot out of my chair: Cantor says Frankish families of wealth worked as one — women and the men who loved them — to set up convent culture.  The men wanted their women to have the choice of female-led, service-focused lives.  It was not a rebellion by individual women against their fathers, uncles and brothers, but by well-beloved women enjoying support from their fathers, uncles and brothers. The Frankish men freely funded the work for which we love these women still: housing the homeless, sheltering the friendless, feeding the hungry, nursing the sick, educating children, teaching and modeling a covenant of community care for everyone.

So when we, today, admire Roman Catholic women standing up against the bishops, we join their long-ago families and friends in a well-documented cultural practice. Conversely, when the bishops attempt to shut these women down, they are also perpetuating only one side in a long-standing war theological war. Leo, Ambrose and Gregory, along with their successors, call out one interpretation of the long-ago controversial scripture (“This is Peter”); Roman Catholic women — proto-Protestants in this case — for just about as long, have been reading the Bible differently.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since the 5th and 6th centuries of the Common Era, but some of it, apparently, still tastes of its original springs.