Category: history

Delusions of Empire – Iran in Iraq 15 Years After Bush’s War

Bush Mission Accomplished on aircraft carrierEveryone who wants to know already understands how disastrous President Bush’s Iraq War has been. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost, perhaps several million displaced people and financial costs in the $ trillions. This to depose a dictator not much different than many dictators the US has supported and continues to support elsewhere. After the close of the military phase we undertook the completely idiotic grand administration of the country by Bush’s cronies, most notably Paul Bremer. In his role as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, Bremer ruled by fiat. His first two orders were to disband the Ba’ath Party and dismantle the Iraqi Army. In one fell swoop he released a swarm of armed angry men to the countryside. The rest is the rapid decline into violence and chaos and the creation of Iraq as a central rallying point for extremist of all brands. It turns out that exporting American democracy, rule of law and all the other delights of our civilization was not as simple as shock and awe that began the war.

The ensuing history up to this day can only be seen as a catastrophically expensive and destabilizing bit of American overreach for objectives that were never clear excepting the weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

In the context of ceaseless angst and drum beating by politicians and experts over the threat of Iran to us and the rest of the world there is new evidence that the Iraq War has redounded to the benefit of Iran. In the July 15, 2017 NYTimes Tim Arango wrote an article about Iran’s quite comprehensive penetration of Iraqi society and government and the pipeline that exists between Iraq and the fighting in Syria. “Iran Dominates in Iraq After U.S. ‘Handed the Country Over'” appears to be Part 1 so presumably there will be more to follow. 

New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu, and the Future of Race in America

In recent months there has been news of conflict over the removal of three statues of leaders of the Confederacy from public spaces in New Orleans. On Friday 5/19/17 Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave a powerful speech about the need to deny the falsifications of history that are those statues and to embrace the phrase, e pluribus unum, from many we are one. The speech is well worth listening to (it is 23 minutes long):

Creating Segregated America in the 20th Century – Government in Action

Today, more than 50 years after the much lauded 1960s era Civil Rights Acts legislated the end of segregation in housing and education, this country is as segregated as ever. The official explanation is that this is de facto segregation, the comforting idea that this segregation is a function of choice. This is notion amplified through our mass media and education system. It is a complete delusion.

There is a piecemeal awareness by some that, over the years – from the 1930s to the present, government and private business carried out policies that created and reinforced segregation. Some are aware of the history of Redlining in the real estate market. But fewer know that this was not a construct of private industry but the result of Federal policy. See the map created by a Federal agency below for an example. Investigate redlining in your city at MAPPING INEQUALITY – Redlining in New Deal America  for a complete set of these maps. 1  

Piecemeal bits of the story of segregation in housing hide the full reality of how our country came to look the way it does.

A new book, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein2 provides a compelling, comprehensive history. Rothstein’s relatively compact, readable exploration of this story presents dozens sad details to flesh out his argument. It will re-educate you about what you think of the history and politics of the 20th century and on into the 21st.

The story is not just about government. It includes a broad set of private and industry players acting in concert with government action and support. All of them pursuing explicit white supremacist beliefs.

Rothstein sets his story within the context of the distinction between de facto and de jure legal states.

De facto means a state of affairs that is true in fact, but that is not officially sanctioned. In contrast, de jure means a state of affairs that is in accordance with law (i.e. that is officially sanctioned).3

His primary objective is to demonstrate that government, Federal, state and local, took a long string of affirmative actions to set up and sustain segregation that is clearly unconstitutional and illegal. He proves the de jure nature of the history then puts the burden on the government, our government, to remedy the situation. 

Rothstein describes in great detail the following types of government actions:

  • Federal legislation with supporting regulations – e.g. New Deal legislation – Federal Housing Administration (FHA), Fair Labor Standards Act, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Public Works Administration, US Housing Authority, Federal Works Administration.4
  • Local zoning and land use regulations – these have been used and continue to be used to concentrate populations and functionally prevent the integration of suburbs.
  • Real estate industry – supported and enforced segregation through redlining practices based on government maps and discriminatory practices enforced by the courts.
  • Restrictive covenants in land and building contracts and deeds – these were written in based in part on maps created by the Federal government. These blatantly racist legal practices were enforced by state courts into the 1950s.
  • IRS grant of non-profit exemption to religious and educational institutions that supported segregation.
  • Insurance companies and banks supported whites only housing development.
  • “Slum clearance” via the Interstate Highway System and other Federally funded projects
  • Locating public schools to reinforce segregation.
  • State sanctioned violence against families attempting to move into white neighborhoods
  • Suppressed African American incomes due to segregation in housing and education – the concentration and reinforcement of poverty by the government
  • Unions were allowed by government to exclude blacks from membership
  • Real estate tax assessments and therefore tax burdens are higher on African Americans than whites.

    HOLC redlining map for Los Angeles – 1937

Rothstein notes that the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system was built in 1967 largely with Federal transportation dollars without a single African American worker on the entire project. This because the government refused to enforce the law against the wishes of the local trade unions.

As recently as July 2, 2017 the New York Times ran a story with the title, “Program to Spur Low-Income Housing Is Keeping Cities Segregated” – the beat goes on.

The Future

Rothstein does not end his book without addressing the question of what should and can be done to remedy government created and enforced segregation.

The first necessary step is for white people to accept responsibility for the racist actions of their government and their civic and economic institutions. The problem of segregation is not an African American problem. White people created this system and white people must bring it to an end. We need to create a broad public recognition of the facts of the history and reject the comforting notion that all of this happened by a combination of choice and chance. Here the education system needs to abandon its passive voice and actively teach the real history of the 20th century. Rothstein cites a widely used 2012 American history textbook that has this to say about residential segregation:

 “African Americans found themselves forced into segregated neighborhoods.” That’s it. One passive voice sentence. No suggestion of who might have done the forcing or how it was implemented.5

More active steps might involve banning exclusionary zoning in the suburbs. Rothstein envisions much more direct action:

We might contemplate a remedy like this: Considering that African Americans comprise 15 percent of the population of the New York metropolitan area, the federal government should purchase the next 15 percent of the houses that come up for sale in Levittown [built with Federal subsidies and excluding African Americans from ownership] at today’s market rates (approximately $350,000). It should then resell the properties to qualified African Americans for $75,000, the price in today’s dollars that their grandparents would have paid if permitted to do so. The government should enact this program in every suburban development whose construction complied withy the FHA’s discriminatory requirements, If Congress established such a program and justified it based on the history of de jure segregation, courts should uphold it as appropriate.6

Other Resources

Rothstein has appeared regularly in recent years. One can find recordings of his lectures, speeches and interviews readily on the internet. Here is a 13 minute speech by him, “A Human Rights Address: How Ferguson became Ferguson” 8/15/2015:

 

See also Ta-Nehisi Coates’ June 2014 essay in the Atlantic: “The Case for Reparations

 

  1. see http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/housing-discrimination-redlining-maps/ for examples of the  Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation maps. https://dsl.richmond.edu/panorama/redlining/#loc=4/36.71/-96.93&opacity=0.8 Go Look up your own city []
  2. Rothstein, Richard. Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2017. []
  3. https://onlinelaw.wustl.edu/blog/legal-english-de-factode-jure/ []
  4. It must be noted that the original sin of the Constitution with its 3/5ths compromise to count slaves to mollify the Southern slave holders came back in a new form to continue white supremacist rule, now throughout the country.  Roosevelt could not pass his New Deal legislation without the support of Southern Democrats, white supremacists to the last. So segregation was written into law and regulation throughout the New Deal and on into the 1960s. This reflects the racism of Northern whites who have repeatedly failed to confront the issues raised by the alleged freeing of slaves at the end of the Civil War. []
  5. Rothstein, P. 199 []
  6. Rothstein, p. 202 []

Slavery in Hudson and nearby – continued

My earlier post on this topic was picked up by Gossips of Rivertown. That brought a reference from David Marston to a new source: Radical Cartography where the results of the 1790 Census (the first census) provided further data on slavery in our region and elsewhere. Here are a few examples. In 1790:

  • Hudson – total population of 2,584 with 2,364 free whites, 27 free non-white, and 193 slaves – 7% of the population.
  • Kinderhook – total population of 4,666 with 4,027 free whites, 6 free non-whites and 638 slaves – 14% of the population.
  • Rhinebeck – total population of 3,649 with 3,175 free whites, 66 free non-white and 421 slaves – 11% of the population.
  • Catskill – total population 1,885 with 1,667 free whites, 8 free non-white and 365 slaves – 15% of the population.

It is clear that though slavery in the North was not the dominant economic engine that was true of the South, slavery was present and visible on a day-to-day basis.

Click on image to go to Radical Cartography and the interactive map.

Slavery in Hudson and Columbia Cty NY

Students presenting their work at HAL.

It is doubtless a fact that most Northerners, including the writer, think that slavery in America was a Southern problem. In the North slavery was an occasional institution, or so we think.

A week ago on Thursday 6/8/17 I attended a program at the library, “Abolition and Women’s Rights in Local History” presented by the students of Hudson Community Schools’ Writing Center at the Hudson High School. More about this project here.

“James W. C. Pennington” by Cecille Ruiz – click to see full size image

The bulk of the program revolved around presentations by the students of their research and creative projects about slavery, abolitionists and women’s rights activists of the 1830s-1850s in upstate NY. The word and image projects are on display in the library now.

Slavery in Hudson and Columbia County

But, I want to focus on just one aspect here. The program opened with readings of notices of runaways slaves from the Hudson River Valley. Many were notices from slave owners in Hudson and Columbia County dating roughly from 1795 to 1840. The source of these notices is In Defiance: runaways from slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831 ((Stessin-Cohn, Susan, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini. In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, 2016.))  It is available in the library.

One hint about the deep history of slavery in our region is the fact that over 50% of the runaways spoke both Dutch and English.1  This is clearly an indication that they lived here long enough to learn two languages.

Here are a few samples from the book: (click on images for full size)

 

  1. p324. Stessin-Cohn, Susan, and Ashley Hurlburt-Biagini. In Defiance: Runaways from Slavery in New York’s Hudson River Valley, 1735-1831, 2016. []

Movie – War Machine – a misplaced parable

Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy.  Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June 2009 only to be ousted in June 2010 after a profile appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine revealed much foolishness and derogatory comments about President Obama and VP Biden. The movie has its comedic moments and the very broadly played General MaMahon is bound to either really annoy those enamored of the US military or fulfill the image of buffoonish generals that others may prefer.

America’s Longest War and Attorney General Sessions

Attorney General Sessions clearly knows no history, even that of his own lifetime. He is just another petty, cyclical political hack thrust into a prominent position.

Nixon’s War on Drugs which Sessions is now re-intensifying began as a cynical campaign tactic. As described by John Erhlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy adviser:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”1

  1. https://harpers.org/archive/2016/04/legalize-it-all/ accssed 5/13/2017 []

Election Results: The Next Ten Years

img_1844– The Morning After –

The election of Trump and the continued Republican control of both Congress and Senate guarantee that the rich will continue to get richer at the expense of the shrinking middle class and further aggravate conditions for the poor. Trickle down economics and tax subsidies will flow for the rich and corporations. The financial sector will buy its way out of the weak regulations of Dodd/Frank and lurch towards new adventures in gambling; a financial disaster will once again require the socialization of their risk at taxpayer expense.

Book Review – The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Rise and Fall of American Growth-bookcoverThe Rise and Fall of American Growth: the US standard of living since the Civil War by Robert J. Gordon1 is a weighty book in every regard. At 762 pages it is a heavy lift – not beach reading or even bed-time either. But I found it almost a page turner. It is very well structured and written. None of the fussiness or obscurantist language one often finds in academic works. The central point of the book is that during the period from 1870 to 1970 the US economy grew at an extraordinary and we will not see a return to that rate for some pretty fundamental reasons.

  1. Princeton U. Press. 2016 []

“The True Size of Africa” – immappancy revisited

For years I have been disturbed by my lack of knowledge of Africa. This lead me years ago, stimulated by Michael Crichton’s pulp novel Congo, to investigate Mercator maps and the true size of Africa. You can find  some of that in an earlier twice revised post,  “Michael Crichton’s Congo and the Transformation of the Western Mind“.

Now comes a more compelling graphic from Kai Krause, “The True Size of Africa“.12

The True Size of Africa by Kai Krause

click on map to get larger image.

 

  1. I found the graphic and reference in the 10/10/2010 Economist []
  2. I am not the first to discover this map – Google “true size of africa” []