Friday, June 26, 2009

A time to mourn, a time to applaud

“BACK when times were better and the newspaper industry wasn’t fighting for dear life, reporters at the Cleveland Plain Dealer would regularly grumble at the measly pay increases their union negotiated. Last month, when the union announced it had negotiated a 12% pay cut in exchange for a promise of no lay-offs, there was applause. “It took me aback,” says Harlan Spector, a medical reporter and one of the negotiators.” – The Economist, ‘The Quiet American”

The Zona, all goodthinking commentators have commentated, is receding. Alan Greenspan recently emerged like the preternatural cryogenic Randian vampire he is to celebrate equities – which, he crows, have pushed 12 trillion dollars back into play globally this year. Just think – from collapse to Dow 8500! There’s something seriously awry in the latest noises made by the plutocrats. One expects, and expects vainly, that brushes with death are life-changing; that the junkie, as per some tv soap, will give up his junk after he opens his eyes and finds he is in the hospital, attached to the blood machine, tearful family gathered round the bed.

But these junkies have attached the blood machine to the family members, and are enjoying the high which comes from pumping their blood into his arteries. It is True Blood time in these here States! And so it has come to pass that what Tim Duy suggested – and what I in my humbleness here and at LI suggested – is being realized in the minds of the vampiric. That is, the Bush-Obama policy has succeeded in convincing the financial sector that we can go back to the past. That we can revive the conditions of 2006-2007. It is a madness reminiscent of the Bushian “surge” in Iraq. At least the latter, underneath the usual bullying rhetoric, disguised a series of strategic surrenders that did, indeed, disentangle America’s occupying force from the land it occupied. But I find that the real condition of this country – Quiet America, as the Economist puts it – has been put to one side. We now get the boring news – another 600,000 job losses – all sotto voce and stuffed into the corners of the biz pages. The more exciting news – Goldman Sachs biggest payday ever! – gets the star turn.

Under the sign of the replay, the center will not hold – I hold this zona truth to be self evident.. America is teary eyed about the death of Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett Majors – but I can’t shed a single drop, somehow. My tears are falling for the death of Detroit; my tears of rage are falling at the new American ethos of being a good sport, being the quiet American, being the patsy at the end of the assembly line of spiritual and material death. The workers applaud their own economic descent, while the only angry voices are those being whipped up rightwing fringe, America’s perennial lyncher’s margin. We “understand” – oh, we so understand the “market”. You can’t do anything against the market. Except, of course, we have watched that particular lie explode before our eyes as it turned out that market forces, once they brush up against the rich, can be dealt with – trillions, it turns out, will be found with astonishing speed to deal with the market then.

This NYT Magazine article about the Detroit and the Black middle class – now, here’s a situation to mourn, for those looking to mourn.

“When we talk about what the end of the U.S. auto industry will mean to thousands of autoworkers, we tend to have a specific image of that worker in mind: He’s a conservative white Democrat who lives in suburban Detroit, hangs out in his local union hall, belongs to a bowling league and owns a hunting cabin in the Upper Peninsula. This is the iconic American autoworker. In fact, as much as a fifth of the industry’s work force is African-American.

The story of the rise of America’s black working and middle classes is inextricably bound up with that of Detroit and the Big Three. It is not a story with a simple upward trajectory. For a long time, blacks were relegated to the least desirable jobs in the plants and initially confined to a small ghetto on the East Side of the city. But slowly, haltingly, over the course of the 1950s and early ’60s, the plants became fully integrated and black workers spread across Detroit block by block, moving the city’s de facto color line as they went. “It wasn’t that long ago that Detroit was the home of the nation’s most affluent African-American population with the largest percentage of black homeowners and the highest comparative wages,” David Goldberg, an African-American Studies professor at Wayne State University, told me.”

Recently, I finished a review of Alyssa Katz’s book, Our Lot – a review which should be out in the Austin Statesman this Sunday. For the sake of length, I had to cut out a section about the historic background of our housing predicament. That background was all about the silent forces that created the racial wealth disparities, and created them not, conveniently, back in the bad old slave days, but back in the fifties and sixties – the seedtime for the American middle class. Here’s the cut paragraph:

“There are two background facts about housing in America in the postwar years that one should keep in mind when trying to understand how the liberal desire for equal housing opportunities converged with the conservative desire for an unregulated mortgage market. The first fact is that in the decades after World War II, the government, in the guise of the FHA, made Herculean efforts to provide credit for housing, and succeeded spectacularly, creating the vast suburban boom of the fifties and sixties. As Katz notes, the FHA preferences – dense residential patterns separated by zoning laws from commercial buildings of any sort – sank into the very genome of surburbia, creating a culture in which the car was a necessity, and the house was an island apart from the main. The second fact is that, up until the late sixties, the FHA put an equal effort into segregating neighborhoods. As Richard Moe and Carter Wilkie, urban historians, noted, “a single house occupied by a black family in an urban neighborhood, even one tucked away on an inconspicuous side street, was enough for the FHA to label a predominantly white neighborhood unfit for mortgage issuance.” [Making a place for a community, Thad Williamson, David Imbroscio, Gar Alperovitz, p.75] Thus, on the one hand, the government did all it could to encourage suburbs (where the standard dwelling was owned, not rented), and, on the other hand, the government acted to grossly underdevelop neighborhoods where blacks lived, which happened to be mostly urban neighborhoods.”

What I didn’t say – because it is a family paper – is that historians who have studied the FHA’s archives are astonished by the pure, systematic racism of the agency. One historian compared the rules compiled by the FHA to the Nuremberg laws. Recently, the Congress voted to "apologize" for slavery. Such morality! So why not apologize for the FHA's systematic racism? Ah, but at that point morality cuts closer to the bone, doesn't it. After all, two generations of white, middle class kids were raised in houses in the suburbs that were under neighborhood association rules that spelled out, specifically, the skin color that could be sold to.

ps - Oh, I just learned Matt Taibbi has a new report up in the Rolling Stone, which you can find here. You should never ever ever miss a single Taibbi article about the Zona.


Anonymous said...

I grews up in New Haven, Ct, a long long time agol. I was very surprised that my dad, Jewish, who worked blue collar at a factory, coul;d speak so fluently in Italian. Explanation: when craftsmanship died along Amalfi coast in Italy, a few companies bro0ught over the skilled craftsmen to work the machines. They stayed. Raised families.

Now factories dead. All now outsourced. Globalization. Cheaper labor. Hope those Amalfi guys sent their kids to college.

In England, coal changed over (Am led in this) to oil rules...till??

things change.

feel sorry but that will change nothing.

Brian M said...

Saying "sorry" may do nothing. Yet, Mr. Fred, we need not celebrate the theft of this country by its rentier class. Much of this may reflect "economics" and "the market" but a bigger part is direct government policy. We chose to deindustrialize so our financial elites could skim off the profits from the demolition.

I love the imagery, roger, of the vampires hooked up to their family.