Ever wondered what America looked like heading into the Great Depression?

Have you ever wondered what America felt like on the eve of the Great Depression?

I don’t know for certain, but I can guess that we had wealthy heiresses who dabbled in fashion pontificating on politics, based on what they’d learned at society dinners and maybe some tortured conversations with the servant-class surrounding them.

Kinda like this society heiress here:

The heiress here is calling the GOPTaxScam a “middle class tax cut”. So does the president and the entire Republican caucus. Isn’t it strange though, that when HuffPo asked 18 Republican house members what the tax rates for the middle class are going to be after the bill is enacted, 17 of them had no idea. Strangely, many of them could rattle off the new tax rate for the top earners and corporations. Could it be that the Republicans have been lying about a “middle class tax cut” and this is in fact a Tax Scam to benefit their donor-owners?

To be clear, we were just looking for seven figures: 10 percent, 12 percent, 22 percent, 24 percent, 32 percent, 35 percent and 37 percent. We were not looking for congressional representatives to display some savant-like ability and provide the income thresholds for each bracket. We just wanted to see if Republicans knew this one simple element of a bill they were rushing into law.

They didn’t.

Among the GOP lawmakers who were shaky on those specifics were members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, the chairwoman of the House Budget Committee (Rep. Diane Black of Tennessee) and the lead author of the bill in the House (Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas).

House Republicans told us, time and again, that they were “very familiar” with the details of this legislation. When we suggested they didn’t have much time to read the final legislation after it was released Friday night, they said they had plenty of time. “We’ve had several weeks! I read it on the plane two weeks in a row!” Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) told HuffPost.  — www.huffingtonpost.com/…

Guess Brady’s cluelessness shouldn’t come as a surprise since the “lead author” didn’t actually write the bill, that was the job of 6,000 lobbyists on K Street. My uneducated guess is that the “middle-class” doesn’t employ all those lobbyists?

While the Republicans are huddling with thousands of lobbyists for the richest people and corporations in America, something else has been brewing. Income inequality remains at levels not seen since the 1930s.


Just as in the late 20s and early 30s, average Americans were under no misconceptions about the Republican party’s priorities: a compliant workforce paid starvation wages, weak/non-existent unions, and a relentless attack on benefits for the poor and infirm.

Here’s another thing about the 1930s, they involved a great debate on what the role of the state was in ensuring workers had some level of security, in old age, and during their careers. We saw enormous protections for working-class Americans enacted under the New Deal. The Republicans have relentlessly attacked these programs for decades, and they continue that assault, hoping to create a fiscal crisis that allows them to privatize or kill social security, and undermine Medicare/Medicaid.

The 1930s also saw a series of man-made environmental disasters befall the US in the form of the dust bowl. We are almost certainly beginning to see the impacts of man-made climate change. The 1930s were also part of an enormous shift in the US labor force, from farms to industry. This created new forms of insecurity for workers, unions fought to deliver security to workers. A similar shift is underway today, as traditional jobs covered by worker protections that were hard-fought, are being replaced by contracting work. Incidentally, the GOP Tax Scam creates incentives for workers to work on contracts, a mode of employment corporations find especially lucrative.

So on the eve of the Great Depression, America faced many of the same tensions we do today. They came to a head with the Great Depression. In response, FDR and Democrats were ready with a political platform for the times, highlighting the contrast between the lives and prospects of the rich and poor in America. Americans responded to FDR’s message like a duck takes to water. They made him president by a landslide (472 out of 531 electoral votes). By 1934, Democrats controlled 69 seats in the Senate, to Republicans’ 25. Democrats held 322 seats in the House, to the Republicans 103.

If we can produce the right platform, we can win similar electoral and legislative victories. It sounds fantastical, but prior to 1932, Republicans had controlled the Senate for 32 years out of 38. After 1932, Democrats would control the Senate for 58 of the next 62 years.

So a sea change is possible and we have the conditions to make it happen. Ordinary Americans know they’re getting a raw deal. We know income inequality is at unsustainable levels. We know the Republican Tax Scam is a massive give-away to billionaire heirs and heiresses with scraps left for the middle-class. Scraps that will be more than taken away when Republicans try to gut Social Security and Medicare next year as they’ve already said they will want to do.

The ground is set, if Democrats can deliver a convincing message, as FDR did, massive electoral victories are possible. On that note, the thread below discusses what is going on with polls in individual House races.

— @subirgrewal

100th Anniversary of the Silent Parade.

Silent Parade, New York City July 28, 1917

That large banner has the famous line from the American Declaration of Independence, followed by “If of African descent tear off this corner”. TomP had a diary last month on the 100th anniversary of the East St. Louis massacre that described the events and their causes in detail.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Silent Parade in New York City, organized to protest that massacre which claimed the lives of 100-200, the vast majority of them black people. Google changed it’s doodle today to commemorate the protest. They are also highlighting a documentary project from the Equal Justice Initiative called Lynching in America which is supported by Google.

The NY Times reported on the protest with this:

NEGROES IN PROTEST MARCH IN FIFTH AV.; 8,000 Men, Women, and Children Demand That Discrimination and Oppression End.

Among the banners was one which immediately attracted the notice of the police. It displayed a picture of a negro woman kneeling before President Wilson and appealing to him to bring democracy to America before carrying it to Europe. The police declared the banner to be objectionable, and the committee in charge of the parade readily withdrew it.

— timesmachine.nytimes.com/… (July 29, 1917)

It’s remarkable that the protesters were asked to remove that banner, almost as if the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights didn’t apply to them.

Along with the 8,000 marchers, another 20,000 black people lined the streets to witness the “silent protest against acts of discrimination and oppression” inflicted upon them in this country and in other parts of the world (we had a diary on the silent parade last year). The parade featured dozens of banners, some of the more notable ones included:

  • “Make America Safe for Democracy”
  • “India is Abolishing Caste, America is Adopting It”
  • “Memphis and Waco — Centers of American Culture?”
  • “Your Hands are Full of Blood”
  • “Pray for the Lady Macbeths” (of East St. Louis)
  • “We are Maligned as Lazy, and Murdered When we Work”

The last banner was a reference to the origins of the East St. Louis race riot, the employment of black persons in East St. Louis factories. Sadly, labor union members participated in and led the massacre.

The Waco reference evoked the lynching of Jesse Washington, who was tortured and burned to death by a crowd of thousands. The Memphis reference was to the notorious Memphis race-riot/pogrom of 1866.100 years on, many of these protest signs remain relevant.

There are contemporaneous accounts suggesting the rapid growth of the city’s population left services (including law enforcement) understaffed and the municipality bankrupt. Echoing the prejudices of the day, the Times reported with little examination on an “epidemic of hold-ups and shootings by negro footpads in the months of April and May” as contributing factors in the riot/massacre. The same article notes that black people and immigrants (from the Balkans and Austria) competed for the “hard, dirty and unpleasant work which no white American would consent to do”. That should be a reminder that though we see ourselves as a “nation of immigrants”, many among us have expressed prejudice towards the most recent group of immigrants, no matter where they are from. Of course, in the background was World War I which the US had entered earlier that year. Many residents of East St. Louis were drafted into the US army, and many newly arrived immigrants returned to their country of origin to enlist or serve.

The massacre was eventually halted by the arrival of the national guard. A mob of 500 was surrounded by the national guard and arrested, quelling most of the arson and killing. While it had raged, young boys and women had joined in to beat or shoot at unarmed black men and women.

The NYC protest’s organizers asked NAACP branches to help prepare signs, some of the “mottos” they distributed are above, others included:

  • “Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny”
  • America has lynched without trial 2,867 Negroes in 21 years and not a single murderer has suffered.
  • 200,00 Black men fought for your liberty in the Civil War
  • The first blood for American Independence was shed by a Negro — Crispus Attucks
  • We have fought for the liberty of white Americans in six wars; our reward is East St. Louis
  • We are excluded from the unions and condemned for not joining them.
  • Repelled by the unions we are condemned as scabs.
  • Our music is the only American music.
  • Race prejudice is the offspring of ignorance and the mother of lynching.
  • If fault is to be found with color, blame God and yourselves.
  • Mothers, do lynchers go to heaven?
  • We have 60,000 iron and steel workers.
  • Patriotism and loyalty presuppose protection and liberty.

The role of organized labor in the massacre is worth examining because it is a window into a dynamic that would play out over several decades as unions desegregated. The NY Times interviewed the local Congressman, Rep. William A. Rodenberg who noted that tensions had been brewing for some time, and a smaller riot five weeks prior had led to the deaths of six black and three white persons. He had this to say about the

“Several months ago there were strikes for shorter hours and higher wages at the packing houses and in the aluminum works. All these demands of the labor men were granted. Then the packing houses and the American Aluminum Company declared for open shops, and there was another strike based on the demand that the employers recognize the unions. This was not granted, so the workmen stayed out. Thereupon the companies concerned filled their plants with black labor. The white strikers declare that the companies sent agents all through the south to induce the blacks to come to the town. The employers deny this, and say that East St. Louis already had a plentiful supply of black labor when the whites went on strike and that the negroes were put to work because they were the only labor available to keep the plants going. As to the truth of the matter, I do not know.”

— timesmachine.nytimes.com/… (July 8, 1917)

The entire interview from the Times archives makes for an interesting read since it reveals both bias and clarity on the part of the Congressman. For example, this statement:

“Of course, the negroes were not members of the labor unions. I don’t know that they could have got in if they had tried; but it is a notorious fact that black laborers are not capable of being successfully unionized. They don’t understand why they should pay dues.”

timesmachine.nytimes.com/… (July 8, 1917)

Rodenberg knows that the unions, much like most other American institutions, were biased against black persons. But in the next breath, he indulges in some straightforward prejudice.

The events of 1917 do have relevance for us today. They illustrate the many ways in which workers and ordinary people can be divided. The organizers of the Silent Parade distributed a pamphlet with logistical information on the protest march. The National Humanities Center has a PDF of the pamphlet, which included a statement of objectives written by the organizers:

Why Do We March?

We march because by the Grace of God and the force of truth, the dangerous, hampering walls of prejudice and inhuman injustices must fall.

We march because we want to make impossible a repetition of Waco, Memphis and East St. Louis, by rousing the conscience of the country and bring the murderers of our brothers, sisters and innocent children to justice.

We march because we deem it a crime to be silent in the face of such barbaric acts.

We march because we are thoroughly opposed to Jim-crow Cars etc., Segregation, Discrimination, Disenfranchisement, LYNCHING and the host of evils that are forced on us. It is time that the Spirit of Christ should be manifested in the making and execution of laws.

We march because we want our children to live in a better land and enjoy fairer conditions than have fallen to our lot.

We march in memory of our butchered dead, thee massacre of the honest toilers who were removing the reproach of laziness and thriftlessness hurled at the entire race. The died to prove our worthiness to live. We live in spite of death shadowing us and ours. We prosper in the face of the most unwarranted and illegal oppression.

We march because the growing consciousness and solidarity of race coupled with sorrow and discrimination have made us one: a union that may never be dissolved in spite of shallow-brained agitators, scheming pundits and political tricksters who secure a fleeting popularity and uncertain financial support by promoting the disunion of a people who ought to consider themselves as one.

You could take that last paragraph and run it verbatim in an article analyzing Trump’s speeches about immigrants or Chicago. Once again, we are plagued by “shallow-brained agitators, scheming pundits and political tricksters” who seek “fleeting popularity” and “financial support” by promoting “disunion”. Once again, we confront the specter of demagogues who seek to further their political careers by pitting us against one another.


Progressive Lion: John Conyers Jr. (MI-13)

John Conyers Jr. is Dean of the House of Representatives, he was first elected to Congress in 1965. He is currently in his 26th term, and is one of only seven people to have served over 50 years in Congress.

Conyers was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rosa Parks served on his staff for over twenty years and he visited Selma to meet with Freedom Riders multiple times in the 1960s. In many ways, his longevity makes him a living link to our past.

Four days after MLK was assassinated, Conyers introduced a bill in Congress to make his birthday a national holiday. It was finally signed into law 15 years later, in 1983. Conyers has been a indefatigable champion for many other progressive causes, chipping away for decades at resistance working to create a breakthrough.

His commitment is exemplified by his determined sponsorship of two bills:

  • H.R. 40 — Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act.
  • H.R. 676 —  Medicare For All.

Conyers has re-introduced HR 40 in every Congress since 1989. In the current (115th) congress, it has 30 co-sponsors.Conyers has introduced HR 676 in every Congress since 2003. In the current Congress, it has 113 co-sponsors, the most support it has ever received.

Congressman John Conyers is on DKos and was posting intermittently till 2015. In a remarkable diary in 2008, he republished a 1974 article he’d written for the The Black Scholar. It made the case for Nixon’s impeachment. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, Conyers had helped draft the articles of impeachment that were prepared but never voted on, since Nixon resigned. The article begins:

Richard Nixon, like the President before him, was in a real sense a casualty of the Vietnam War, a war which I am ashamed to say was never declared.

Weeks after the 2016 election, Conyers highlighted the dangerous concordances between Nixon and Trump. Rep. Conyers enjoys a close working relationship with the Democratic Socialists of America and has been one of the most reliable progressive votes in Congress. He is also a staunch champion of individual rights, often getting the highest rating from the ACLU. He gets a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign, indicating his steadfast support for LGBT rights.

Under his chairmanship, the House Judiciary committee issued contempt citations to John Bolton and Harriet Miers for failing to produce documents related to the firing of nine US district attorneys. Committee staff, under his leadership, issued a report on the Bush administration’s rush to war in Iraq, and the scandal surrounding the abuse of prisoners by US soldiers and contractors. It was titled: “The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution and Coverups in the Iraq War.” He has found opportunities to work across the aisle on certain issues, notably a bill to limit the Patriot Act. As chair of the House Judiciary committee, he argued against prosecuting Wikileaks for publishing documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In supporting the right of the ordinary Americans to know how their government was using its vast surveillance powers, Conyers stood in opposition to senior Democrats and Republicans who wanted to prosecute.

After graduating from high school, Conyers became a member of the UAW (as his father was). He worked in the Lincoln Car Factory an on the staff at Local 900. Conyers served in Korea for a year and is skeptical of our military adventures. He favors dialog and diplomacy with North Korea (see the placard by the sofa):

Oh, and he’s pretty dapper.

Conyers remains committed to responsible defense, he’s sponsored an amendment to prevent the sale of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia as they’ve been used by the KSA against civilians in their war on Yemen.

Rep. John Conyers Jr. is a Progressive Lion.

Progressive Lion is an occasional series celebrating a politician or activist exemplifying progressive values. The goal is the recognize their achievements and lives. Our initial focus will be on those whose names do not come up frequently here. If you know aspects of their career or work that are not in the diary, please share them in comments.

Today’s GOP is the party of Jefferson Davis, not of Lincoln (Meyerson in WaPo)

Harold Meyerson has a column in today’s Washington Post Opinion pages: Today’s GOP is the party of Jefferson Davis, not of Lincoln

Though incendiary, it is a remark I’ve heard made before, but this little column has distilled it into its clearest and most essential form. To quote:

The emancipation of the slaves that accompanied the North’s victory ushered in, as Abraham Lincoln had hoped, a new birth of freedom, but the old order also managed to adapt itself to the new circumstances. The subjugation of and violence against African Americans continued apace, particularly after U.S. Army troops withdrew from the South at the end of Reconstruction. Black voting was suppressed. The Southern labor system retained, in altered form, its most distinctive characteristic: unfree labor. As Douglas A. Blackmon has demonstrated in his Pulitzer Prize-winning study “Slavery by Another Name,” numerous corporations — many of them headquartered in the North — relied heavily on the labor of thousands of black prisoners, many serving long sentences for minor crimes or no crimes at all.

Even today, one of America’s most fundamental problems is that the alliance between the current form of Southern labor and the current form of New York finance is with us still. The five states that have no minimum wage laws of their own are in the South: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Southern-based corporations such as Wal-Mart are among the leading opponents of workers’ right to organize, and as Wal-Mart has expanded into the North and West, so have the “right-to-work” statutes of Southern states been enacted by Republican governments in the Midwest.

Fueled by the mega-donations of the mega-rich, today’s Republican Party is not just far from being the party of Lincoln: It’s really the party of Jefferson Davis. It suppresses black voting; it opposes federal efforts to mitigate poverty; it objects to federal investment in infrastructure and education just as the antebellum South opposed internal improvements and rejected public education; it scorns compromise. It is nearly all white. It is the lineal descendant of Lee’s army, and the descendants of Grant’s have yet to subdue it.

Meyerson’s been writing about union/labor issues for a while. His WaPo archive is http://www.washingtonpost.com/…

This older column should endear him to most: Democrats need Elizabeth Warren’s brand of populism