When I have described the well-considered, coherent political and economic strategies of the conservative white South, as I have done here, here and here, I am sometimes been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist.” But one need not believe that white-hooded Dragons and Wizards are secretly coordinating the actions of Southern conservative politicians from a bunker underneath Stone Mountain in Georgia to believe that a number of contemporary policies — from race-to-the-bottom economic policies to voter disfranchisement and attempts to decentralize or privatize federal social insurance entitlements — serve the interests of those who promote them, who tend to be white Southern conservatives.
Just as a strategy is not a conspiracy, so it is not insanity. Ironically, American progressives, centrists and some Northern conservatives are only deluding themselves, when they insist that the kind of right-wing Southerners behind the government shutdown are “crazy.” Crazy, yes — crazy like a fox.
Another mistake is the failure to recognize that the Southern elite strategy, though bound up with white supremacy throughout history, is primarily about cheap and powerless labor, not about race. If the South and the U.S. as a whole through some magical transformation became racially homogeneous tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the Southern business and political class would suddenly embrace a new model of political economy based on high wages, high taxes and centralized government, rather than pursue its historical model of a low-wage, low-tax, decentralized system, even though all workers, employers and investors now shared a common skin color.
So the struggle is not one to convert Southern Baptists to Darwinism or to get racists to celebrate diversity. The on-going power struggle between the local elites of the former Confederacy and their allies in other regions and the rest of the United States is not primarily about personal attitudes. It is about power and wealth.
For some time, the initiative has rested with the Southern power elite, which knows what it wants and has a plan to get it. The strategy of the conservative South, as a nation-within-a nation and in the global economy, combines an economic strategy and a political strategy.
The economic strategy is to maximize the attractiveness of the former Confederacy to external investors, by allowing Southern states to out-compete other states in the U.S., as well as other countries if possible, in a race to the bottom by means of low wages, stingy government welfare (which if generous increases the bargaining power of poor workers by decreasing their desperation) and low levels of environmental regulation.
The political strategy of the Southern elite is to prevent the Southern victims of these local economic policies from teaming up with allies in other parts of the U.S. to impose federal-level reforms on the Southern states. Voter suppression seeks to prevent voting by lower-income Southerners of all races who are hostile to the Southern power elite. Partisan gerrymandering of the U.S. House of Representatives by conservatives in Southern state legislatures weakens the votes of anti-conservative Southerners, if they are allowed to vote.
If voter suppression and vote dilution strategies fail, the Southern conservatives can still try to ward off unwelcome federally-imposed reforms that might weaken control of the Southern workforce by Southern employers and their political agents, by policies of devolving federal programs to the states, privatizing federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, blocking the implementation of new federal entitlements like Obamacare or a combination of these strategies.
To date the response of progressives and centrists, as well as moderate conservatives in the North (who have a quite different tradition) to what might be called the Southern Autonomy Project has been feeble and reactive. The South acts, the rest of the country reacts.
Here Midwestern Republican legislatures or governors try to copy the South’s anti-labor “right-to-work” legislation, and labor activists and liberals react. The legislatures in the South and their allies elsewhere pass voter suppression laws, and civil rights groups scramble to counteract them. Now the Southern-dominated Tea Party in the House shuts down the government and threatens to force the federal government into default. In this game of “Whack-a-mole,” the Southern right and its neo-Jacksonian allies in other parts of the country always has the initiative.
Instead of waiting for the next Southern conservative outrage, and treating it as a single, isolated example of inexplicable craziness, the rest of America from center-left to center-right should recognize that it is dealing with different aspects of a single strategy by a regional elite — the Southern Autonomy Project. It is time for the non-Southern American majority, in alliance with many non-elite Southerners of all races, to target and attack every element of the Southern Autonomy Project simultaneously. If the neo-Confederates want to wage political and economic war, their fellow Americans should choose to respond with political and economic war on all fronts, not on the terms and in the places the Southern conservatives choose.
Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.
A federal living wage. At one blow, a much higher federal minimum wage would cripple the ability of Southern states to lure companies from more generous states which supplement the too-low present federal minimum wage with higher local state or urban minimum wages. (Strong national unions could do the same, but that is not a realistic option at present.)
Nationalization of social insurance. Social insurance programs with both federal and state components, like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), allow Southern states to be stingier than many other states, creating more desperate workers who are more dependent on the mercy of employers and elite-dominated charities. Completely federalizing Medicaid (as President Ronald Reagan suggested!) and other hybrid federal-state social insurance programs would cripple the Southern Autonomy Project further.
Real voting rights. Using the authority of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress should completely federalize voting requirements for all federal, state and local elections, making it as easy as possible for U.S. citizens to vote — over the objections of kicking and screaming neo-Confederates.
Nonpartisan redistricting. Partisan redistricting by majorities in state legislatures should be replaced by nonpartisan redistricting commissions, as in California, New Jersey and other states. The redistricting commissions should be truly nonpartisan, not “bipartisan” arrangements in which incumbent Republicans and incumbent Democrats cut deals to protect their safe seats from competition. (Electoral reforms like instant run-off voting and proportional representation are struggles for a more distant future).
Abolish the Senate filibuster. The filibuster is not part of the U.S. constitution. It has been used by Southern white conservatives from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first to preserve Southern white power and economic privilege. This relic of premodern British parliamentary politics should be abolished. Democracy means majority rule. If the Southern Right loses a battle in Congress, it can try to round up allies and win next time. It should no longer be able to paralyze the Senate, the Congress or the federal government as a whole.
Abolish the federal debt ceiling completely. The federal debt ceiling is another institution like the filibuster which has now been ruined by being abused by Southern conservatives. Now that the Southern right is trying to turn it into a recurrent tool of hostage-taking when it loses votes in Congress, the federal debt ceiling should be abolished. The federal government should be authorized to borrow any amount necessary to fund spending appropriated or authorized by Congress, if there is any shortfall in tax revenues.
Put all these policies and perhaps others together, and you have a National Majority Rule Project capable of thwarting the Southern Autonomy Project. The best defense is a good offense.
Does saying this make me, a white Southerner, a traitor to the South? Among the beneficiaries of a National Majority Rule Project, if it succeeded, would be middle- and low-income white Southerners, whose interests have never been identical with those of the local oligarchs. Particularly among the Scots-Irish of Appalachia and the Ozarks, there have always been many Southern white populists and radicals — from the West Virginian and Kentucky Unionists of the Civil War to New Deal liberals in Texas — who have understood the need to ally ourselves with non-Southerners in national politics to defeat the local Nabobs, Bourbons and Big Mules. The true Southern patriots are those of us who want to liberate the diverse population of the South from being exploited as wage earners and from being disfranchised or manipulated as voters. Another term for the National Majority Rule Project might be the Southern Liberation Movement.
Will the initiative remain with aggressive Southern reactionaries, as their fellow Americans try to appease them or react on a case-by-case basis against a feint here or a diversion there? Or will an aroused national majority, tired of being pushed around by a selfish Southern minority of the shrinking American white majority, finally fight back?
For decades now, I’ve seen the aftermath of botched drug raids; early morning mayhem in which police, using mauls and wearing body armor, smash through the front doors of ghetto homes, guns drawn, shouting for sleeping residents to drop to the ground. I’ve seen raids of sixteen or eighteen addresses come up empty for drugs and weapons at more than half of those locations. And of course, I’ve seen raiding officers drop a copy of the signed, documented and perfectly legal probable cause on the rowhouse floor, gather equipment, and walk out of homes from which they recovered no evidence of criminality.
“Are you gonna fix my door?” is always a stunned resident’s first question.
“You need to call the city for that,” is always the ready, ambiguous reply.
What poor and working-class communities routinely endure within the very constitutional construct of our drug war makes the wails of indignation over this NSA data-mining astonishing and embarrassing to me. And no, before you get wound up prematurely and choose the too-easy, I-didn’t-read-deep-enough argument, I am not saying that overreach in other realms of the criminal justice system justifies overreach anywhere else.
After all, no one is suggesting that we do away with court-approved search warrants for domestic crime suppression. Or dialed-numbered recorders. Or interrogation rooms. Or informants. Or just about any other law enforcement asset that can be used properly and misused egregiously. Oh, more people are now complaining about the excesses of the drug war, to be sure. But all of us understand that the existing legal weapons and strategies are there for all crimes — for murder, for rape, for robbery, for burglary. Hell, if a crew of detectives were pulling cell numbers off a tower to identify and arrest a rampaging serial rapist — and traipsing through the phone metadata of ten thousand other citizens to do it — we’d do more than applaud; we’d buy the film rights. We are comfortable with a certain level of intrusion involving all previous weapons of law enforcement, and even the use of phone metadata as it can be utilized. Why, I wonder. And why has this particular law enforcement intervention– no less legal as it was proposed to the FISA court — engaged the worst fears of many.
So as the House Agriculture Committee debated this week over how much to cut from SNAP, it was not surprising that Representative Juan Vargas, a California Democrat, would remind the committee to follow the example set forth by Jesus, who said that how we treat the least among us is how we treat him. Of course, not to be out-Bibled, Representative Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican, came back with his own Bible verse, quoting the Old Testament when he said, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
Really? Is that how we see the least fortunate among us? As lazy? Last I checked, there were laws against child labor in this country, and children make up almost half of all SNAP beneficiaries. Further, since many of the jobs that have been created since the economic recovery began are low wage jobs, it is to be expected that many of the families on the program are what are called ‘working poor’; families that do work but do not make a living wage.
But Rep. Fincher certainly doesn’t fall under this category. The Fincher family owns a 2500 acre farm in western Tennessee that brings in MILLIONS of dollars in Federal farm subsidies from the very bill he says needs to be targeted for its food stamps benefits. Make no mistake, this is no small family farm. Not one to miss out on any free government money, Fincher also took a grant from the state of Tennessee, as did his father, that allowed for taxpayers to buy them new farm equipment. That’s free to them. Free work related materials. FREE.
But free is only okay if it benefits him, evidently. Free is no longer okay when it comes to giving poor children, disabled, and elderly enough food to barely keep them from starving. Fact is that the amount of benefits granted by the SNAP program is very low, $668 for a family of four. If your family of four makes more than $1,921 a month, you do not qualify. To give perspective, the USDA says a modest food budget for a family of four with children between the ages of 6 to 11 years old is about $1,024.70. That is $356.70 higher than the allowance received through SNAP. For this reason, most benefits run out before the month is over.
Rep. Fincher has already been hearing from angry voters after bragging about the passage of the proposed cuts to SNAP benefits (all while keeping government farm subsidies in tact). On his Facebook page, people are letting him know what they think of his politics with comments such as:
Looks like you haven’t missed any meals lately…do you even know how it feels to be hungry? You are a dumbass!
“The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” ~Fincher Guess you better tighten your belt, parasite.
Did you mention what benefits Fincher Farms will get put of this and how many more 8th dist kids will starve as you reduced the USDA SNAP benefits in favor of your financial supporters. Sounds like something the Devil would do.
With politics like his, it’s only fitting that Rep. Fincher would now be feeling the heat that his un-weatherbeaten skin has obviously never experienced in his career as a “farmer.”
Representative Stephen Fincher (R-TN) is a first-term member of Congress, representingTennessee’s 8th congressional district. Rep. Fincher’s ethics issues stem from concealing thesource of a campaign loan and his failure to accurately disclose his income, assets, and liabilities on his personal financial disclosure forms.
On October 29, 2009, Rep. Fincher, then a candidate for Congress, filed a requiredpersonal financial disclosure statement with the House Ethics Committee covering the periodfrom January 1, 2009 to September 29, 2009. On the form, Rep. Fincher reported his 2008earned income from his family farm as $59,245. He also estimated his total earned income for 2009 would be $60,000. Rep. Fincher reported no liabilities and only one asset – his farm,though he did not include a value for the property. Notably, he reported no other assets such as savings accounts, money market accounts, stocks, or bonds. Rep. Fincher filed another required personal financial disclosure statement on May 17, 2010, covering the period from January 1,2009 to May 15, 2010. This time, he listed his 2009 earned income as $124,016 – more thandouble his earlier estimate. Again, he reported the farm as his only asset.
The latest bad idea circulating on the American right is drug-testing anyone getting food stamps, welfare, etc. North Carolina is the latest to pass a bill on this. Of course, the Republicans behind this didn't want to have themselves and other state employees from undergoing the same test.
Republicans in the North Carolina state Senate on Monday pushed through bill that would strip public benefits like food stamps and job training for people who fail a drug test.
In 35-15 vote largely along party lines, senators passed SB 594. A single Democrat voted for the bill, and no Republicans voted against it.
The bill requires those applying for benefits to pay for their own drug tests. Applicants who test negative would be eligible to have the costs of their tests reimbursed. The policy could cost the state more than $2.1 million.
At the same time, senators rejected an amendment offered by Democratic state Sen. Gladys Robinson that would have drug tested lawmakers, the governor and cabinet secretaries.
“We receive state funds, we represent the law, we institute policy,” Robinson told senators on Monday night. “So, it should not be above any of us to submit to drug screening.”
Republican State Sen. Jim Davis said that he did not mind being tested, but insisted that he would vote against the amendment because it had no mechanism to provide him with a reimbursement for the $100 test.
Instead of voting on Robinson’s amendment, state Senator Tom Apodaca (R) used a substitute amendment as a parliamentary maneuver to kill the the proposal.
“The substitute amendment is offered to have the affect of killing the other amendment,” Democratic state Sen. Martin Nesbitt explained in a floor speech. “You need to know that before you vote because you’ll be killing the one that requires a drug test of the leaders of this state since we want to require it for the followers of this state.”
“And we seem to be getting into a situation where where we’re kind above the people,” he added. “Kind of looking down on them, telling them what to do or telling them to be quiet while we talk, and I just sense that it keeps on going.”
The thirst for urine can be traced to the military’s 1971 Operation Golden Flow, aimed at detecting druggies among Vietnam veterans. Launched in response to rumors of heroin addiction, the test disproportionately netted marijuana users, since one byproduct of marijuana, carboxy-THC, lingers in the body longer than that of harder drugs. (In contrast, the body flushes out the byproducts of harder drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, within a day.) Nevertheless, before long, all service members were required to urinate in a cup at least once every two years.
Then there was the executive order issued by Ronald Reagan in 1986, which warned that “the use of illegal drugs, on or off duty, by federal employees in certain positions…may pose a serious risk to national security.” The order mandated that all federal agencies implement drug-testing programs to “show the way towards achieving drug-free workplaces.” Two years later, Reagan went one step further, signing the Drug Free Workplace Act, which mandated urine tests for every employee working for a federal grantee and even those working for some contractors.
At first, the medical profession dismissed urine testing as “chemical McCarthyism”—and ineffective to boot, since a worker using cocaine several times a week was more likely to pass a drug test than a colleague who’d smoked a joint at a party the previous Saturday night. Meanwhile, most tests ignored alcohol, which is the drug most often blamed for workplace accidents.
“It’s like learning that somebody drank beer three days ago,” says Bill Piper, director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “What’s that going to say about how functional they are at work today? It’s unscientific and discriminatory.”
But the Reagan administration saw drug tests as essential for cracking down on a population largely outside the reach of law enforcement: people smoking pot in the privacy of their own homes. “Because anyone using drugs stands a very good chance of being discovered, with disqualification from employment as a possible consequence, many will decide that the price of using drugs is just too high,” read a 1989 White House report.
In the decades since, drug-testing companies have marketed urine tests as a wise investment for all employers. They claim that any drug user is a less productive worker, and more likely to cause workplace accidents, show up late for work or simply quit. Such claims persist despite a 1994 review, by the National Academy of Sciences, of all the independent research published on workplace drug testing, which found little support to back up those claims.
Indeed, one study of employers in the high-tech sector found that drug testing “reduced rather than enhanced productivity.” Performance-based tests, researchers found, are far more effective at assessing a worker’s ability to perform safety-sensitive jobs than drug testing. Unlike urine tests, these tests detect drug impairment and a host of other factors (fatigue, stress, alcohol) far more likely to compromise a worker’s concentration than past marijuana use.
Nevertheless, the escalation of the drug war would prove more powerful than the evidence that undermined it, producing a powerful coalition of government and private industry players determined to convince employers of the wisdom of monitoring their workers’ bladders.
So how about checking everyone on, say, Social Security Disability, for alcohol?