Saturday, July 29, 2017

Reformism: The Clean Water Act of 1972

Pictured above is the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire in Cleveland, Ohio that is said to have been one of the motivations for the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can't go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” - Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad

Randy Newman - Burn On (Motivated by the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire)

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act, is one of the most important and far-reaching environmental statutes ever passed by the U.S. Congress. Further, it is still one of the most controversial pieces of legislation ever passed. More than forty years since its passage, key provisions of the act continue to be debated at all governmental levels, and lawsuits frequently are brought to federal courts under the act. To understand why the Clean Water Act remains controversial, it is necessary to review the history of the legislation, its goals, and its methods of achieving those objectives.

Water Quality as a National Interest

The 1972 Clean Water Act represented a radical departure from previous federal water quality legislation. Beginning in 1948, Congress declared it to be in the "national interest" to assure a high level of water quality throughout the United States. It passed additional water pollution control laws in 1956, 1961, 1965, 1966, and 1970.

While each subsequent act was more stringent than the previous ones, they all contained the philosophy that water quality was primarily the responsibility of the states. It was the role of the federal government to assist the states financially, to conduct basic water research, and to maintain water quality in interstate waters, but the creation and enforcement of quality standards for most of the waters in the United State, intrastate lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, ponds, and the like were left to state and local governments.

Federal Responsibility

The 1972 Clean Water Act abandoned the approach that state and local governments were primarily responsible for ensuring water quality. In the midst of a national environmental movement, whose leaders claimed that virtually nothing had been achieved by relying on state action to reduce water pollution, the 92nd Congress embarked upon a bold new course. Although the 1972 act incorporated some elements contained in previous legislation, such as generous financial assistance to state, tribal, and local governments to construct wastewater treatment facilities, it also charted new waters in federal regulatory policy, and in relations between the federal government and the states.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, or the Clean Water Act, regulates the release of pollutants into U.S. waterways, such as this stream degraded by chemical contaminants and silt. The legislation signaled a new way of dealing with the nation's water pollution by prohibiting the discharge of pollutants unless the discharger first obtains a permit from the government.

Regulatory Objectives

The regulatory philosophy contained in the Clean Water Act is referred to as the command-and-control, or standards-and-enforcement, method. No longer would the federal government wait for the states to devise their own water quality standards, since few had done so when given the opportunity. Rather, Congress gave this responsibility to a new federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency. Under authority contained in the 1972 legislation, the EPA had the primary responsibility for implementing the ambitious and optimistic goals of ensuring that all waters of the United States be "fishable" and "swimmable" by 1983, 10 years after the act's passage.

The 1972 Clean Water Act also set as a lofty goal the "zero discharge" of pollutants into the nation's waters by 1985. Congress passed related legislation also at this time to ensure that its intent to cover all waters of the United States was clear. In 1972, Congress also passed the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act, known as the Ocean Dumping Act, and in 1974 they passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA was given authority to implement these acts, as well.

Rigorous Demands

In order to make as much progress as possible in cleaning up the nation's waters in as short a period of time as possible, the EPA embarked upon what is called a "technology-forcing" regulatory strategy. That is, the agency placed rigorous and rigid demands on those who were regulated by the statute, mainly municipalities and industries at first, to achieve increasingly higher levels of pollution abatement. Industries were told to install the "best practicable control technology" by 1977, and municipalities were told to achieve secondary treatment of their wastewater by that date.

Federal Construction Grants

To assist local governments in meeting these deadlines, the 1972 act also provided for a generous federal grant program to construct modern treatment facilities. Indeed, much of the nation's water quality infrastructure was built in the 1970s, and an issue for today's politicians in Washington, D.C., is whether to make a similar investment in bringing an aging system up-to-date. The EPA has estimated that it could cost as much as $140 billion to accomplish that objective.


The 1972 Clean Water Act has been amended three times, in 1977, in 1981, when Congress passed the Municipal Wastewater Treatment Construction Grants Amendments; and in 1987 with the Water Quality Act. All of these statutes reaffirmed the federal interest in assuring water quality in the United States, but they also recognized the difficulty of achieving the goals set forth in the 1972 act within the time period specified. Thus, timelines were pushed forward, and the rigid command-and-control regulatory approach was modified. It was replaced, in part, by a more flexible approach that stressed partnerships between the federal government and the states, tribal governments, and municipalities in achieving common purposes.

Sources of Pollution

Another important distinction between the original act and the 1987 revision was in its emphasis on the sources of water pollution in the United States. Prior to 1987 most programs were directed at eliminating what is called point-source pollution: that is, discharges into water that are more or less easily tracked to their sources. Pipes and other outfalls are examples of point-source pollution.

By 1987, however, it became clear that a great deal of pollution was coming from nonpoint sources. It was estimated that over fifty percent of the nation's remaining water pollution problems was coming from sources that are not easily identified, such as runoff from agricultural lands, construction sites, urban areas, and even forests.

Under Section 319 of the 1987 legislation, Congress authorized measures to address these diffuse sources of pollution by directing states to develop and implement management programs targeting their major nonpoint sources. Federal grants, covering up to sixty percent of the program costs, also were authorized to assist states in tackling this difficult pollution problem.

Overdue Reassessment?

There has not been a major revision to the Clean Water Act since 1987, and many feel that a comprehensive reassessment of accomplishments and failures is long overdue. The reason that such legislation has been stalled in Congress for so long is that the original 1972 act contained a few highly controversial programs, the most contentious of which may be the national wetlands protection program. Also known as the Section 404 Program, the 1972 act declared a federal interest in the protection of all wetlands in the United States. It set up a complex regulatory program administered jointly by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA under which anyone planning to dredge, drain, or fill a wetland must first secure a permit from the Corps.

The EPA exercises veto authority over Corps decisions, while other federal agencies, in particular the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, provide additional input to the process. Although the process has been streamlined and simplified since its inception, it remains controversial for property owners wishing to alter their lands. Certain states, too, have claimed that the program is an unwarranted intrusion into their domain; in contrast, most environmental organizations solidly support it.

Issues of Contention

Over the years, numerous court cases have addressed various issues concerning the wetlands protection program. A 2001 Supreme Court case, Solid Waste Agency of Cook County, Illinois, v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, found that federal jurisdiction did not extend to isolated wetlands such as the one Cook County planned to alter. With this important decision, the scope of the national wetlands protection program is reduced and returned to what it was some thirty years ago, at least until Congress revisits this aspect of the Clean Water Act.

Another contentious issue arising out of the Clean Water Act and its revisions involves the setting of precise water quality standards by the states and the EPA. The original act required states to identify pollution-impaired water areas and then develop "total maximum daily loads" for each waterbody. TMDLs are the maximum amount of pollution that a waterbody can receive without violating water quality standards. If the state fails to act, then the EPA is required to undertake this time-consuming and technologically challenging determination.

Most states have lacked the resources to undertake this task, and the EPA has been reluctant to step in and assume responsibility, in part because it, too, lacks the necessary personnel to do the job nationwide. Consequently, since the late 1980s, citizen groups have filed more than forty lawsuits in thirty-eight states against the EPA and the states for failing to implement the TMDL requirement. During the Clinton administration, the EPA attempted to strengthen the enforcement of this program, but with the change in the presidency after the 2000 election, that proposal has been tabled. As with the wetlands issue, scholars and other interested parties note that the time has come for the U.S. Congress to revisit the Clean Water Act of 1972.

The above ironic juxtaposition of two signs on a public beach reveals the complex task that society faces in protecting both land and water quality. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established National Beach Guidance and Performance Criteria for Recreational Waters designed to ensure the public's health and improve environmental protection for beaches. The Clean Water Act restricts discharges of pollutants into the nation's waterways.

Aspirations and Deficiencies

If and when Congress reconsiders this historic piece of legislation, it will want to look closely at what has been accomplished, and by what means. The Clean Water Act is not without its critics. Even the EPA acknowledges that the results are mixed. Today, forty percent of the waters surveyed by the states fail to meet national water quality standards.

Although the Clean Water Act was well intentioned, some scholars have found it to be an instance of flawed public policy-making. Cornell University political scientist Theodore Lowi wrote in 1979 that Congress knew nothing about water pollution when it was writing the act, and so simply mandated a regulatory agency, the EPA, to do whatever it saw fit. This was a recipe for political chaos, Lowi charged, which inevitably would result in the federal courts becoming deeply involved in the water pollution control policy process. Indeed they have, as noted earlier.

Another critic of federal pollution control policy, Barry Commoner, a scientist and spokesperson for the environmental movement for nearly fifty years, wrote in a 1990 book that both the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts relied far too much on "control" and too little on "prevention." Noting that waste, once produced, has to go somewhere, the federal approach has been largely to try to control the effects of municipal, industrial, and agricultural waste production. The EPA should have spent more time working on the causes; that is, in preventing it in the first place, through such measures as recycling, reducing, and reusing, known as "the three Rs" of conservation.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 and its revisions spoke to the highest aspirations of the American people with regard to the environment they wished to inhabit. Although deficient in a number of ways, it nevertheless pointed the direction society needed to take to insure the continuance of a healthy and productive natural environment. The task of politicians today should be to discover more efficient means, including the development of new technologies, in order to achieve the objectives set forth in 1972.

How Does This Relate to Reformism?

Acid Mine Drainage

Acid Mine Drainage refers to the outflow of acidic water from coal or metal mines, often abandoned ones where ore- or coal mining activities have exposed rocks containing the sulphur-bearing mineral pyrite. Pyrite reacts with air and water to form sulphuric acid and dissolved iron, and as water washes through mines, this compound forms a dilute acid, which can wash into nearby rivers and streams. AMD discharges elevated concentrations of acidity, iron, manganese, aluminum, and sulfate into receiving streams and rivers, depleting the buffering ability of water by neutralizing carbonate and bicarbonate ions that form carbonic acid. Streams and rivers with low buffer capacity are not able to neutralize the acid load and consequently become acidic. An estimated 2,390 miles of streams in the Allegheny and Monongahela River Basins have been degraded by AMD to the point of not being able to support fish communities.

Mountain Top Removal and Streams

Mountain Top Removal mining involves the blasting off the tops of mountains to reach the coal seams below, with the millions of tons of former mountains pushed into stream valleys. MTR has buried nearly 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams, contaminated drinking water, impaired water quality for river recreation, increased water treatment costs for industry, displaced some communities, and increased susceptibility to flooding for others. An EPA environmental impact study found that 724 miles (1,165 km) of Appalachian streams were buried by valley fills between 1985 to 2001, and that streams near valley fills from mountaintop removal contain high levels of minerals in the water and decreased aquatic biodiversity.

The 2012 Environmental Science and Technology study "How Many Mountains Can We Mine? Assessing the Regional Degradation of Central Appalachian Rivers by Surface Coal Mining" concluded that decades of mountaintop-removal mining in Appalachia may have harmed aquatic life along more than 1,700 miles of streams in southern West Virginia. Mining companies have converted five percent of the region to mountaintop mines, and the resulting water pollution has caused so many sensitive species to vanish that twenty-two percent of streams may qualify as impaired under state criteria.


Emissions from coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States, accounting for about forty-one percent, 48 tons in 1999, of industrial releases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight percent of American women of childbearing age had unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, putting approximately 322,000 newborns at risk of neurological deficits. Mercury exposure also can lead to increase cardiovascular risk in adults. When mercury is deposited on land or in water, microorganisms convert part of it to a highly toxic form called methylmercury. When fish and animals eat these microorganisms, the toxins accumulate and can interfere with reproduction, growth, and behavior, and can even cause death.

Thermal pollution

Thermal pollution from coal plants is the degradation of water quality by power plants and industrial manufacturers, when water used as a coolant is returned to the natural environment at a higher temperature, the change in temperature impacts organisms by decreasing oxygen supply, and affecting ecosystem composition. Power plants can also potentially harm fish eggs, larvae, and other aquatic biota in their early stages, as they require particular combinations of fresh water flow and temperature, among other factors, all of which can be impacted by coal plant water usage. In June of 2010, Ohio environmental groups stated that the Bay Shore Plant along Maumee Bay was killing more fish than any other plant on the Great Lakes, costing Ohio $29.7 million annually. The Ohio Environmental Council, the Western Lake Erie Waterkeepers Association, Ohio Citizen Action and other groups were urging the Ohio EPA to make FirstEnergy, the owner of the plant, to install cooling towers at the plant, which touches the Maumee River on one side and the Maumee Bay on the other, in order to reduce the fish kills.

Acid Rain

Coal-fired power plants are the largest human-caused source of sulfur dioxide, a pollutant gas that contributes to the production of acid rain and causes significant health problems. Coal naturally contains sulfur, and when coal is burned, the sulfur combines with oxygen to form sulfur oxides. Acid rain is rain saturated with chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which causes acidification of lakes and streams. Prior to falling to the earth, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide gases and their particulate matter derivatives, sulfates and nitrates, contribute to visibility degradation and harm public health. The use of bagpipes and scrubbers to trap pollutants and toxins from power plant emissions like sulphur creates coal waste that can leach into groundwater and waterways, contaminating drinking water supplies.

Allowable Amount of Pollution

A Total Maximum Daily Load is a regulatory term in the U.S. Clean Water Act, describing a plan for restoring impaired waters that identifies the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive while still meeting water quality standards.

The Clean Water Act requires that state environmental agencies complete TMDLs for impaired waters and that the United States Environmental Protection Agency review and approve/disapprove those TMDLs. Further, both state and federal governments are involved in completing TMDLs, the TMDL program is an example of cooperative federalism. If a state doesn't take action to develop TMDLs, or if the EPA disapproves state-developed TMDLs, the EPA is responsible for issuing TMDLs. EPA published regulations in 1992 establishing TMDL procedures. Application of TMDLs has broadened significantly in the last decade to include many watershed-scale efforts, including the Chesapeake Bay TMDL. TMDLs identify all point source and nonpoint source pollutants within a watershed.

Calculating the TMDL for any given body of water involves the combination of factors that contribute to the problem of nutrient concentrated runoff. Bodies of water are tested for contaminants based on their intended use. Each body of water is tested similarly but designated with a different TMDL. Drinking water reservoirs are designated differently from areas for public swimming and water bodies intended for fishing are designated differently from water located in wildlife conservation areas. The size of the water body also is taken into consideration when TMDL calculating is undertaken. The larger the body of water, the greater the amounts of contaminants can be present and still maintain a Margin of Safety. The Margin of Safety is a numeric estimate included in the TMDL calculation, sometimes ten percent of the TMDL, intended to allow a safety buffer between the calculated TMDL and the actual load that will allow the water body to meet it's beneficial use, since the natural world is complex and several variables may alter future conditions. TMDL is the end product of all point and non-point source pollutants of a single contaminant. Pollutants that originate from a point source are given allowable levels of contaminants to be discharged; this is the Waste Load Allocation. Nonpoint source pollutants are also calculated into the TMDL equation with Load Allocation.


Under section 309, the EPA can issue administrative orders against violators, and seek civil or criminal penalties when necessary. For a first offense of criminal negligence, the minimum fine is $2,500, with a maximum of $25,000 fine per day of violation. A violator may also receive up to a year in jail. On a second offense, a maximum fine of $50,000 per day may be issued. For a knowing endangerment violation, i.e. placing another person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, a fine may be issued up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment up to 15 years for an individual, or up to $1,000,000 for an organization. States that are authorized by the EPA to administer the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program must have authority to enforce permit requirements under their respective state laws.


What this all basically means is that, much like all of the the legislation that has been already reviewed so far, violators of the law in the United States, if they have the money to take advantage of it, will always have a loophole to get out of trouble. In this case, the Clean Water Act of 1972 allows institutions which are defined by the law to be businesses, state entities, and certain private groups to emit a certain allowable amount of pollution into America's water supplies, to be determined by a complicated and expensive process, for which the real only punishment will be a fine because in cases like this it is next to impossible to prove a case of knowing endangerment violation, i.e. placing another person in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury, and it is next to impossible for a small person or entity to survive the endless court battle that will ensue to prove their case. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reformism: The Clean Air Act of 1970

"Clean air is a basic right. The responsibility to ensure that falls to Congress and the president." - Thomas Carper

"Commercial institutions, proud of their achievements, do not see that healthy living systems - clean air and water, healthy soil, stable climates - are integral to a functioning economy. As our living systems deteriorate, traditional forecasting and business economics become the equivalent of house rules on a sinking cruise ship." - Paul Hawken

"Clean air is essential to the survival of all life on Earth. If that does not make it a natural right, I do not know what does." - Kent Allen Halliburton

The Clean Air Act of 1970 is a United States federal law designed to control air pollution on a national level. It is one of the United States' first and most influential modern environmental laws, and one of the most comprehensive air quality laws in the world. As with many other major U.S. federal environmental statutes, it is administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in coordination with state, local, and tribal governments. Its implementing regulations are codified at 40 C.F.R. Subchapter C, Parts 50-97.

The law has its roots in the 1955 Air Pollution Control Act, which was the first U.S federal legislation that pertained to air pollution and that also provided funds for federal government research on air pollution. The next step was the Clean Air Act of 1963, which was the first federal legislation to actually pertain to "controlling" air pollution. The 1963 act accomplished this by establishing a federal program within the U.S. Public Health Service and authorizing research into techniques for monitoring and controlling air pollution.

This act was first amended in 1965, by the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, which authorized the federal government to set required standards for controlling the emission of pollutants from certain automobiles, beginning with the 1968 models. A second amendment, the Air Quality Act of 1967, enabled the federal government to increase its activities to investigate enforcing interstate air pollution transport, and, for the first time, to perform far-reaching ambient monitoring studies and stationary source inspections. The 1967 act also authorized expanded studies of air pollutant emission inventories, ambient monitoring techniques, and control techniques.

It was the Clean Air Act of 1970; however, that was to set the bar for the future of air quality in the United Sates. Amendments to previous laws approved in 1970 greatly expanded the federal mandate, requiring comprehensive federal and state regulations for both stationary industrial pollution sources, as well as, mobile sources. It also significantly expanded federal enforcement. This also created the Environmental Protection Agency, which began formal operations on December 2, 1970 for the purpose of consolidating pertinent federal research, monitoring, standard-setting, and enforcement activities into one agency that would ensure environmental protection.

Further amendments were made in 1990 to address the problems of acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution, and to establish a national permit program for stationary sources, and increased enforcement authority. The amendments also established new auto gasoline reformulation requirements, set Reid Vapor Pressure standards to control evaporative emissions from gasoline, and mandated new gasoline formulations sold from May to September in many states. Reviewing his tenure as EPA Administrator under President George H. W. Bush, William K. Reilly characterized passage of the Clean Air Act of 1990 as his most notable accomplishment.

The Clean Air Act of 1970 was also the first major environmental law in the United States to include a provision for citizen suits, which meant that regular citizens could engage legal entities, namely corporations and the like, who they felt were violation of federal environmental laws, in federal court. A victory in such a case would, of course, result in the payment of damages for both property and health. There is one such case that is still in the courts involving the the American Smelting and Refining Company based in El Paso, Texas. They have been found guilty of willfully violating EPA environmental regulations, but they are trying to get out of paying damages to the families in the class action suit brought against them by claiming bankruptcy. In the mean time, numerous families in El Paso have lost loved ones due to health related issues resulting from the company's environmentally reckless and illegal actions. As always, in cases such as this, the company always has more money to spend than do the families who suffer from their reckless behavior. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Does This Relate to Reformism?

Let's continue with the American Smelting and Refining Company. After the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued ASARCO for damages to natural resources in 1983, the EPA placed the ASARCO Globe Plant on its National Priorities List of Superfund sites, with ASARCO to pay for the site's cleanup.

In 1972, ASARCO's downtown Omaha plant in Nebraska was found to be releasing high amounts of lead into the air and ground surrounding the plant. In 1995, ASARCO submitted a demolition and site cleanup plan to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality for their impact on the local residential area. Fined $3.6 million in 1996 for discharging lead and other pollutants into the Missouri River, ASARCO closed its Omaha plant in July of 1997. After extensive site cleanup, the land was turned over to the City of Omaha as a 23-acre (93,000 m2) park. All of East Omaha, comprising more than 8,000 acres (32 km²), was declared a Superfund site. As of 2003, 290 acres (1.2 km²) had been cleaned.

Pictured above is the ASARCO smelting plant that continued to spew hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere over the greater Omaha, Nebraska region well into the middle of the Twentieth Century.

In 1991, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe filed suit under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, known also as Superfund, against Hecla Mining Company, ASARCO and other defendants for damages and cleanup costs downstream of what has been designated as the Bunker Hill Mine and Smelting Complex Superfund site. Contamination had affected Lake Coeur d'Alene and the Saint Joe River, as well as, related waters and lands, and cleanup had been under way since the early 1980s. In 1996, the United States joined the suit. In 2008, after emerging from bankruptcy, ASARCO LLC settled for $452 million for contributions to this site. This was part of a nearly $2 billion settlement with the US for a total of 26 sites.

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency released the results of soil and air tests in Hayden, Arizona taken adjacent to the ASARCO Hayden Smelter. The results showed abnormally high amounts of pollutants that violated prescribed health standards. Arsenic, lead, and copper were among the most egregious pollutants found in Hayden. As a consequence of the contamination, the EPA proposed to add Hayden, Arizona to the list of Federal "Superfund" sites. This action would provide funding to clean up the contamination. ASARCO fought the action, supported by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who said: "I am asking that the EPA delay final decision on listing until March 31, 2008. This would provide ample time for the EPA, in close coordination with Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, to enter an agreement with ASARCO to conduct remedial actions..."

After emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2008, ASARCO made a settlement with the government in the amount of $1.79 billion for contamination at various sites; the funds were allotted to the EPA for cleanup at 26 sites around the country. This does not include the case in El Paso, Texas. What this all basically means is that a company that has been found to have been damaging the environment for over a century can get get past all of the criminal sanctions of the EPA laws by simply paying their way out of trouble. No one is going to jail, no one has to pay bail, no one is losing their job, and no one has to worry about a pay check. Oh wait, unless that is, of course, they are the people who's lives were dependent upon the smelter for a living wage and who's health is now at risk with no money to pay for it to get better. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Else Might This Relate to Reformism?

If you have been following Refuse to Cooperate for any lengthy period of you time, you will know that we support Renewable Energy, and there is a very good reason that we do this. Wind turbines on the continental USA could generate 37 PWh a year, according to a new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. That output is three times the level of previous studies, says the American Wind Energy Association. The study is the first state-by-state update of the potential for wind energy since 1993, and examines the potential for electricity from wind if turbines were perched 80 m above the ground, higher than previous studies.

The top state for wind energy potential is Texas, which has 435,638 km2 of wind land area where the capacity factor for wind at 80 m hub height is thirty percent. After excluded lands, protected lands, parks, wilderness, urban area, airports, wetland, water features, are subtracted, the remaining 380,306 km2represents fifty-five percent of the state which could install 1,901,530 MW of wind turbines and generate 6,527,850 GWh a year of renewable power.

Further, solar power is more affordable, accessible, and prevalent in the United States than ever before. Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown seventeen-fold from 1.2 gigawatts to an estimated 30 GW today. This is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes. Since 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than sixty percent and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about fifty percent.

Markets for solar energy are maturing rapidly around the country, and solar electricity is now economically-competitive with conventional energy sources in several states, including California, Hawaii, Texas, and Minnesota. Moreover, the solar industry is a proven incubator for job growth throughout the nation. Solar jobs have increased about one-hundred and twenty-three percent since November of 2010, with nearly 209,000 solar workers in the United States.

Despite this massive potential for growth in the field of renewable energy, the federal government continues to subsidize the coal industry, which powers coal power plants, which then pollute the air that we breath, in direct violation of EPA air quality standards. Federal coal subsidies are forms of financial assistance paid by federal taxpayers to the coal and power industries. Such subsidies include direct spending, tax breaks and exemptions, low-interest loans, loan guarantees, loan forgiveness, grants, lost government revenue such as discounted royalty fees to mine federal lands, and federally-subsidized external costs, such as health care expenses and environmental clean-up due to the negative effects of coal use. External costs of coal include the loss or degradation of valuable ecosystems and community health.

Pictured above is the W.A. Parrish Coal Burning Power Plant. It produces 2,697 MW of electricity in service of the Greater Houston Metropolitan area. The plant releases 1.6 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.

According to research done by GigaOm analyst Adam Lesser, buried deep in a 2011 report from the International Energy Agency, fossil fuels currently receive subsidies via at least 250 mechanisms. In June of 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said $557 billion was spent to subsidize fossil fuels globally in 2008, compared to $43 billion in support of renewable energy. In a July 2011 EIA report on federal fossil fuel subsidies, coal was estimated to have tax expenditures, provisions in the federal tax code that reduce the tax liability of firms, with an estimated value of $3.3 billion in FY 2007. Other numbers are coming out that show that subsidies to fossil fuel companies are starting to drop, but they still get way much more money than they are worth. In the mean time, the pollutants that they release into the atmosphere are putting all life on Earth at risk of extinction, while rich businessmen rake in enough money to buy off an entire country and more. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Reformism: The Fair Housing Act of 1968

“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization, black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.....What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.” - Robert F. Kennedy

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 (42 U.S.C.A. §§ 3601-3631) is also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Congress passed the act in an effort to impose a comprehensive solution to the problem of unlawful discrimination in housing based on race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. The Fair Housing Act has become a central feature of modern Civil Rights enforcement, enabling persons in the protected classes to rent or own residential property in areas that were previously segregated. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is charged with enforcement of the act. It issues regulations and institutes investigations into discriminatory housing practices.

The law was signed by President Johnson during the national riots that were breaking out after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The passage of the Fair Housing Act came after the failure of two earlier federal initiatives. A 1962 Executive Order, signed by President John F. Kennedy, directed all departments of the Executive Branch to take appropriate actions to prevent discrimination in all federally administered housing programs. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained language in Title VI that prohibited housing discrimination in any program receiving federal financial assistance. Although Title VI provided that a recipient of funding who was found in violation could be prevented from continuing receipt of governmental assistance, this sanction was rarely used.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discriminatory conduct by a variety of legal entities. The act defines "person" to include one or more individuals, corporations, partnerships, associations, labor organizations, legal representatives, mutual companies, joint-stock companies, trusts, unincorporated organizations, trustees, receivers, and fiduciaries. In addition, municipalities, local government units, cities, and federal agencies are subject to the law.

The act explicitly defines a list of prohibited practices involving housing, including sales, rentals, advertising, and financing. Its primary prohibition makes it unlawful to refuse to sell, rent to, or negotiate with any person because of that person's race, color, religion, sex, familial status, handicap, or national origin. The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 added extensive provisions that apply to discrimination against disabled persons and families with children 18 years of age and under.

It is illegal under the Fair Housing Act to discriminate in the sale or rental of a dwelling because of the disability of the buyer or renter, a person who will reside in the dwelling after it is sold or rented, or any person associated with the buyer or renter. It is not illegal, however, to refuse to rent or sell housing to an individual, with or without a disabling condition, whose tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others. Newly constructed multi-family dwellings must be designed so that the public and common-use portions are accessible to people with disabilities.

The Fair Housing Act also prohibits discriminatory advertising practices in the sale or rental of housing. Advertising may not disclose a "preference, limitation or discrimination" based on any of the protected categories of persons. The media company that runs an offensive advertisement or other statement may be held liable, as may the advertiser. Subtle advertising strategies, such as the selective use of minority-identified media for the marketing of segregated and over-priced housing to minorities, and the use of code words, such as "exclusive" neighborhood, in the text of the realty classified advertisements, violate the act. The law reaches unpublished statements including discriminatory expressions and conduct, such as a landlord's instructions to his rental agent, superintendent, or other employees that they should either not rent to blacks or that they should give a preference to whites or certain other ethnic groups.

The law makes it illegal for an owner or his agent to represent to any member of any statutorily protected class that a dwelling is unavailable for inspection, rental, or sale, when, in fact, it actually is available. The act has been found to have been violated by a realty firm that posted "sold" signs on the lawns of a white neighborhood in an attempt to discourage minorities from purchasing houses in the neighborhood.

The Fair Housing Act also sought to end a practice called "blockbusting," the practice by realtors of frightening homeowners by telling them that people who are members of a particular race, religion, or other protected class are moving into their neighborhood and that they should expect a decline in the value of their property. The purpose of this scheme is to get homeowners to sell out at a deflated price. In alleged blockbusting cases, the courts have focused on what was heard, rather than what was said. Even in the absence of wrongful intent by the real estate salesman, or explicit reference to a protected class, liability will attach if the reasonable homeowner believes that the salesman is trading on his assumed fear of minorities to stimulate that homeowner to list his house for sale.

Although the primary focus of the law is to protect prospective renters and buyers of real estate, the Fair Housing Act also protects real estate agents who are members of the protected classes. Real estate brokerages may not set different fees for membership in multiple listing services, and may not deny or limit benefits accruing to members in real estate brokers' organizations. In addition, brokerages may not establish geographic boundaries, office location, or residence requirements for access to, or membership in, any real estate-related organization, based on an individual's membership in any of the statutorily protected categories.

Congress worked to identify all components of the housing industry that might discriminate against persons in the protected classes. This explains why the Fair Housing Act governs the housing financing industry. Banks and financial institutions may not discriminate when financing the purchase, construction, improvement, repair, or maintenance of a house. This section of the act also applies to the selling, brokering, or appraising of residential real estate.

Despite the apparent breadth of the law, Congress did exempt several classes of defendants from coverage. It does not apply to single family homeowners if they sell or rent their homes without the use of a real estate agent or other person who is in the business of selling and renting homes. In addition, the homeowner must not use advertising that indicates a discriminatory preference. This exemption applies to only one sale within a 24-month period. Multiple-family homeowners are exempt if no more than four families reside in a dwelling, including the owner. The act also grants exemptions to religious organizations, private clubs, and Senior Citizens, subject to some limitations.

The provisions of the Fair Housing Act may be enforced by HUD and through "pattern and practice" lawsuits brought by the Attorney General of the United States. A person who alleges discrimination may file a complaint with HUD. If the department believes that the claim has merit, the matter will be referred to an administrative law judge for a hearing. The judge is empowered to award actual damages, equitable relief, and attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. The judge also may assess civil penalties against the violators, which can range from $25,000 to $50,000. The judge may not award Punitive Damages nor require Affirmative Action of the violator, however.

In addition, a private citizen may also file a civil lawsuit in federal court against the alleged violator of the act. Finally, the Attorney General may file a civil lawsuit when there is evidence of a pattern or practice by the alleged violator that extends beyond one or two victims. When the Attorney General prevails in these types of lawsuits, the act allows the awarding of injunctive relief and monetary damages to the aggrieved party. In addition, the court may assess civil penalties against the violator up to $50,000 for a first violation and up to $100,000 for any subsequent violation.

How Does This Relate to Reformism?

A Variable-Rate Mortgage, Adjustable-Rate Mortgage, or Tracker Mortgage is a mortgage loan with the interest rate on the note periodically adjusted based on an index which reflects the cost to the lender of borrowing on the credit markets. The loan may be offered at the lender's standard variable base rate. There may be a direct and legally defined link to the underlying index, but where the lender offers no specific link to the underlying market or index the rate can be changed at the lender's discretion. The term "variable-rate mortgage" is most common outside the United States, whilst in the United States, "adjustable-rate mortgage" is most common, and implies a mortgage regulated by the Federal government, with caps on charges. In many countries, adjustable rate mortgages are the norm, and in such places, may simply be referred to as mortgages.

Among the most common indices are the rates on 1-year Constant-Maturity Treasury Securities, the Cost of Funds Index, and the London Interbank Offered Rate. A few lenders use their own cost of funds as an index, rather than using other indices. This is done to ensure a steady margin for the lender, whose own cost of funding will usually be related to the index. Consequently, payments made by the borrower may change over time with the changing interest rate. Alternatively, the terms of the loan may change. This is distinct from the graduated payment mortgage, which offers changing payment amounts but a fixed interest rate. Other forms of mortgage loans include the interest-only mortgage, the fixed-rate mortgage, the negative amortization mortgage, and the balloon payment mortgage.

Pictured here in 2010, Ara Sparkman, 40, looks over her belongings after getting evicted from her home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Living on a single income, when the interest rate on her Adjustable-Rate Mortgage sky rocketed, she was no longer able to afford the payments on her home.

Adjustable rates transfer part of the interest rate risk from the lender to the borrower. They can be used where unpredictable interest rates make fixed rate loans difficult to obtain. The borrower benefits if the interest rate falls but loses if the interest rate increases. The borrower benefits from reduced margins to the underlying cost of borrowing compared to fixed or capped rate mortgages. What all of this jargon basically means is that the government allows lenders to make predatory loans to people knowing that interest rates are going be to going up over time, knowing full well that it is very possible that the borrower may not be able to compensate for the increase, and also knowing full well that their practices are likely in direct violation of the financing regulations of the Fair Housing Act.

Another thing that is not commonly announced is that these predatory loans are most usually commonly approved for African Americans and other minorities, the very people that are supposed to be protected by the Fair Housing Act. In addition to this, there are a laundry list of federal assistance programs that are available to people who are in jeopardy of losing their homes because the rate on their loan rose to an unmanageable level, and their lenders are technically required, per the Fair Housing Act, to inform them about these options. However, many lenders take advantage of their borrowers ignorance of the law and never inform their borrower of these options, and this includes federal lending agencies. They do so, of course, because they want to turn the property over as quickly as possible so as to sustain their profit margin. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Jesus Christ: Socialist?

"Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are not you covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not—should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not—to all these you are doing wrong." - St. Basil of Caesarea

To start: I am a Marxist-Leninist, not a Christian. With that being said, I can't help but love the figure of Jesus Christ in the Bible. In Christ, I see a fellow revolutionary, a radical community worker helping the oppressed at every point and pointing people to a new and better world. Now, I am not going to make the absurd claim that Jesus was a Marxist, as Marxism is socialism rooted in science and materialism; whereas, Christ's politics are rooted in religion and idealism. I will, however, argue that Christ's teachings are compatible with a religious based socialism utterly opposed to capitalism at every point, and thus, his followers must be also to be true Christians. Further, I will do it in Christian terms. All of the biblical quotes will be taken from the New American Standard edition of the Christian Bible for the shear literal nature of its translation.

 "And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.  Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man.  Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.  But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.  Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way."  - Luke 6:20-26

Now, the Beatitudes are generally considered the very core of Christ's ethical teachings. Right out of the gates, we have Christ both recognizing that economic classes exist and immediately showing with which class he stands in solidarity and which class receives his disdain. This disdain for the wealthy classes is reiterated in the Parable of the Rich Fool: 

"And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive.  And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’  Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” - Luke 12:16-21

And again:

"No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” - Luke 16:13
Capitalism is, of course, rooted at every point on the accumulation of worldly profits, and yet, Christ makes the exact opposite central to his doctrine of salvation:

"A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’”  And he said, “All these things I have kept from my youth.”  When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich.  And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” - Luke 18:18-25

Under capitalism we are told of the great value of self interest, individualism, and competition, and yet, central to the New Testament's message is again precisely the opposite. This is shown in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, as well:

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." - John 13:34


There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing." -James 3:16

" Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor." - 1 Corinthians 10:24

Further, how did the early Christians live? Did they seek out wealth and compete in enlightened self interest?

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." - Acts 2:44-45

"And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.  And with great power the Apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all.  For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales  and lay them at the Apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the Apostles, which translated means Son of Encouragement, and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet." - Acts 4:32-37

That right there is what modern communists would refer to as primitive communism!

I'm sorry, but at this point, I'm just going to say if you preach Jesus Christ "Capitalist," you are a false prophet and an Antichrist.

Of course, all this anti-rich, pro-poor, and communal living 
rhetoric goes nicely with socialism, but I can hear the objections, "Socialism is about big government and a welfare state!" Well no, that is not necessarily what socialism is about; socialism, in the broadest sense, is about communal control of the means of production in society, which may or may not include big government and social programs.

"But socialism is about revolution and violence, Jesus was a pacifist!"  Jesus did have pacifist tendencies at times if the "turn the other cheek" sort of verses are any indication, but contrary to most liberal narratives, Jesus was not entirely a pacifist and was no postmodernist looking to respect everyone's beliefs:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." - Matthew 10:34

"He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters." - Luke 11:23

Virtually the most important, and directly the main cause for his execution, was an act of violence, the Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-16). Christ literally made a whip out of chords, charged through the temple, flipped tables over, and whipped moneychangers, driving them out off the temple grounds. In modern terms, this is at least disorderly conduct and destruction of private property, if not inciting a riot. 

There is also the fact that if one is truly serious about helping the poor and establishing a society in accordance with Christian principles, they need to realize that a socialist revolution may be precisely what is needed to make sure that these things are taken care of. They will also need to get it into their minds that such a revolution would result in a much lower death count than the grind of Capitalism that is still taking thousands of lives every day. 

If you are truly serious about helping the poor, can you truly afford not to address the causes of their poverty? To tackle their oppressors? To drive the moneychangers out not merely from the temple but from the Kingdom of God that is in your midst? 

“But the poor person does not exist as an inescapable fact of destiny. His or her existence is not politically neutral, and it is not ethically innocent. The poor are a by-product of the system in which we live and for which we are responsible. They are marginalized by our social and cultural world. They are the oppressed, exploited proletariat, robbed of the fruit of their labor and despoiled of their humanity. Hence, the poverty of the poor is not a call to generous relief action, but a demand that we go and build a different social order.” - Gustavo GutiĆ©rrez

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Reformism: The Voting Rights Act of 1965

"Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

"When Huey P. Long told his supporters in Louisiana that 'If you don't vote, you don't matter;' as it relates to his African American supporters, he must have forgotten about the KKK." - Kent Allen Halliburton

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation in the United States that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson during the height of the Civil Rights Movement on August 6, 1965, and Congress later amended the Act five times to expand its protections. Designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, the Act secured voting rights for racial minorities throughout the country, especially in the South. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the Act is considered to be the most effective piece of civil rights legislation ever enacted in the country.

The Act contains numerous provisions that regulate election administration. The Act's "general provisions" provide nationwide protections for voting rights. Section 2 is a general provision that prohibits every state and local government from imposing any voting law that results in discrimination against racial or language minorities. Other general provisions specifically outlaw literacy tests and similar devices that were historically used to disenfranchise racial minorities.

The Act also contains "special provisions" that apply to only certain jurisdictions. A special provision is the Section 5 preclearance requirement, which prohibits certain jurisdictions from implementing any change affecting voting without receiving preapproval from the U.S. Attorney General or the U.S. District Court for D.C. that the change does not discriminate against protected minorities. Another special provision requires jurisdictions containing significant language minority populations to provide bilingual ballots and other election materials.

Section 5 and most other special provisions apply to jurisdictions encompassed by the "coverage formula" prescribed in Section 4(b). The coverage formula was originally designed to encompass jurisdictions that engaged in egregious voting discrimination in 1965, and Congress updated the formula in 1970 and again in 1975. In Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 2 (2013), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula as unconstitutional, reasoning that it was no longer responsive to current conditions, as the formula was then nearly forty years old. The Court did not strike down Section 5, but without a coverage formula, Section 5 is unenforceable. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Does This Relate to Reformism?

First, the Shelby case has already shone one way in which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been struck by reformist policies; however, long before the Shelby decision, there were other methods used to keep African Americans and other minorities from exercising their rights that were now guaranteed to them by yet another law. The initial blow back came from local citizens and small governments who did not wish to see their African American and other populations enter the polls. Sheriffs shut down polling stations completely; and if they did not do that, they brutalized any African American or any other person they did not approve of that attempted to enter a polling station. 

In this image, the police in Birmingham, Alabama sicked dogs on an African American protesting the restriction of his legal right to vote in the United States.

Video recordings and photographs from across the South were caught on national news and shown to the whole world. In other cases, the police set attack dogs on people, and these images also made their way around the world, however, other much more gruesome methods were used by Southern whites in their efforts to keep African Africans from exercising their rights under the new law. Founded in their original form in 1865, the KKK has historically served as one of the premier domestic terrorism organizations in the United States, and their primary target has always been African Americans.

In this picture, released by the FBI and the State of Mississippi Attorney General's Office, the burned-out station wagon that slain civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were driving in is seen in June of 1964 in the Bogue Chitto swamp, some 13 miles northeast of Philadelphia, Miss.

During the period when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was being debated and then was passed, they were highly active in terrorizing activists and then people attempting vote under the new law. Without mercy, and without legal restrictions in many areas, they murdered innocent people and these stories too made international news. People's homes were burned to the ground, churches were bombed, men were lynched or burned alive, people were drug from the back of trucks, people were drowned, people were shot, and the list goes on. The worst part of this is that in many of these cases, the federal government never brought charges against the local governments that condoned, or at the very least, failed to properly prosecute these actions. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

How Else Might This Relate to Reformism?

In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander, recently changed from the original; however, that word can also refer to the process. The term gerrymandering has negative connotations. Two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering: "cracking," i.e. diluting the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts and "packing," concentrating the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts.

Above is pictured a Gerrymandered voting district in Illinois that encompasses parts of  downtown Chicago and its outer suburbs.

In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as "majority-minority districts". Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents.

Above is pictured a pre-2010 map of Majority-Minority Districts in the US South, with potential future districts highlighted.

Majority-minority districts may be created to avoid or remedy violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965's prohibitions on drawing redistricting plans that diminish the ability of a racial or language minority to elect its candidates of choice. In some instances, majority-minority districts may result from affirmative racial gerrymandering. The value of drawing district lines to create majority-minority districts is a matter of dispute both within and outside of minority communities. Some view majority-minority districts as a way to dilute the voting power of minorities and analogous to racial segregation; others favor majority-minority districts as ways to effectively ensure the election of minorities to legislative bodies, including the House of Representatives. Majority-minority districts have been the subject of legal cases examining the constitutionality of such districts, including Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630 (1993), Miller v. Johnson, 515 U.S. 900 (1995), and Bush v. Vera, 517 U.S. 952 (1996). Since the Shelby County v. Holder case, such issues have become ever more prominent.

There are also now Voter ID Laws. Proponents of these laws argue that they reduce electoral fraud while placing only a small burden on voters. Opponents argue that electoral fraud is extremely rare in the United States and has been magnified as an issue to create barriers to voter registration, and that requiring voter ID in effect discriminates against minority groups and those who are less likely to possess photo IDs. Critics have argued that the barriers could result in the disenfranchisement of black, Hispanic, and other minority voters. Research has shown that the type of voter fraud that would be prevented by voter IDs is extremely rare; research is mixed as to whether voter ID laws reduce overall turnout or minority turnout; and research has shown that Republican legislators in swing states and districts with sizable black or Hispanic populations push the hardest for voter ID laws. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory - A Review

"Slavery is by far the most sickening stain on our County's history; and yet, to this very day, especially in Southern schools, slavery is considered to be but a minor academic issue in American history and is given only a slight mention is general daily studies." - Kent Allen Halliburton

Horton, James Oliver and Lois E. Horton, Eds. Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006.

Slavery is a very difficult subject to talk about in public. It is one of those topics that almost always draws out the deepest of emotions in people. It is able to do this because its very nature is in direct violation of the tenants of such famous documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that are supposed to dictate the freedom and liberty for all those persons who seek it. How have public institutions addressed the issue of slavery in the past? What changes are being made in the present? What is the hope for the future? In Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, edited by James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, eleven essays, two of which are authored by the editors themselves, do a very good job of answering these questions and more. They offer perspectives on the issue of slavery in public history that are both encouraging and thought provoking.

The first essay was written by Ira Berlin and is entitled “Coming to Terms with Slavery in Twenty-First-Century America.” In this essay, Berlin noted the only recent rise in the public’s interest in slavery, noting slavery’s presence on the radio, on the internet, at monuments, in museums, in books, on television, and in countless other public venues. He also traced the development of slavery from the entrance of slaves into the earliest colonies, what he calls the ‘Charter Generation,’ to the slaves that were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment, what he calls the ‘Freedom Generation.’

The second essay was written by David W. Blight and is entitled “If You Don’t Tell It Like It Was, It Can Never Be as It Ought to Be.” In this essay, Blight discussed public memory and it’s relation to history. He opened with a reference to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, in which the main character, Buendia the Silversmith, lost the ability to remember. As he slowly forgot everything, though, he did whatever he could to give himself reminders about what everything was. Blight also quoted St. Augustine in Confessions. In this text, Augustine described memory as the ‘vast court,’ the ‘treasury in the mind,’ or ‘a great chamber.’ Blight offered such quotes to demonstrate the importance of memory throughout history.

The third essay was written by James Oliver Horton and is entitled “Slavery in American History: An Uncomfortable National Dialogue.” In this essay, Horton discussed the near non-existent nature of slavery education in the past, reasoned why this was so, and then offered some suggestions for how to overcome this and inform the people. He pointed out that to begin with, while most people do react powerfully to slavery, they do not truly understand it. This is because education in public schools and other institutions has been absent or very poor in the past. He also pointed out the poor state of race relations as a reason for the uncomfortable nature of the topic of slavery.

In the next four essays the authors showed, through practical experience, how the issues of dealing with the public presentation of slavery have been addressed. Consider John Michael Vloch’s “The Last Great Taboo Subject: Exhibiting Slavery at the Library of Congress.” The Library of Congress asked him to make an exhibition out of the book that he wrote, Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery, which was based on their collections. Then, when some among the library’s staff declared their offense, the exhibition was taken down. After a big press issue ensued, the D.C. Library picked up the exhibition. Was the exhibition truly offensive? No, in fact, the African American population of D.C. was grateful for its honesty.

Further, consider Gary B. Nash’s “For Whom Will the Liberty Bell Toll? From Controversy to Cooperation.” He showed how the citizens of Philadelphia handled the National Park Service’s initial refusal to adjust its presentation of the Liberty Bell, but how, in the end, both sides benefited from cooperation. The new Liberty Bell Center is making good progress, it will draw in more visitors than was originally expected, and the public will be better informed about an important part of their history. The house that now stores the Liberty Bell served as the first President's House from 1790 to 1800. The house was served by a staff of slaves. The first President, George Washington, used his own slaves. Afterwards, slaves were rented from local slave owners. Joanne Melish, in “Recovering from Slavery: Four Struggles to Tell the Truth,” offered similar looks into the ground work involved with this issue. The most interesting of the stories that she told was that of Eric Browning who, as a young college student, did a great deal of work to adjust the presentation of the slaves’ lives that were lived at the old plantation home of former US Senator John Rowan of Bardstown, Kentucky.

The final of these four essays is “Avoiding History: Thomas Jefferson, Sally Hemings, and the Uncomfortable Public Conversation on Slavery,” by Lois E. Horton. In this essay, Horton addressed how the public perceived Thomas Jefferson as a slave holder. She also discussed how they viewed his relationship with the slave Sally Hemings and how they felt about the possibility of her children being fathered by Jefferson. In order to determine how people felt on these issues, she conducted private interviews at the museum that resides at Jefferson’s old home, Monticello. In these interviews, she found out some interesting things. She found that most people accepted Jefferson’s role as a slave holder, but then offered some sort of excuse for his actions. The most interesting thing that she discovered, however, was that how people felt about Jefferson and his connection to slavery was not based on their race, but rather, on their age. Older people were more willing to accept his owning slaves, as well as, his relationship with Hemings, as a normal way of life, despite the contradictions.

The next three essays are an interesting lot, in that they show that the debate over slavery is still not over, and that despite the progress that has been made in facing the issue of slavery, there are still people that refuse to face slavery in a mature and realistic manner. Marie Tyler-McGraw, in her essay “Southern Comfort Levels: Race, Heritage Tourism, and the Civil War in Richmond,” showed how a diverse city dealt with attempts at revival and the retention of its history. The central issue was a controversy over the placement of a statue of Abraham Lincoln on the city’s riverwalk. Southern heritage organizations, like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, argued that this would be similar to placing a statue of Osama bin Laden in New York City.

Organizations like this played similar roles in the next two essays. In Dwight T. Pitcaithley’s, “A Cosmic Threat: The National Park Service Addresses the Causes of the American Civil War,” persons from such organizations argued that including a discussion of slavery at battle sites would take away from what actually happened at the battle itself or was hateful ‘South Bashing.’ In his essay, “In Search of a Usable Past: Neo-Confederates and Black Confederates,” Bruce Levine discussed such organizations using poor evidence or twisted facts to support the existence of black Confederate combat soldiers. He, obviously, was not convinced.

What are all of the authors in this book showing? They are showing that in the past, and that past is not all that long ago, as late as the early 1990s, slavery was addressed very little or not at all at public historical sites; but since then, this has begun to change. Examples of these changes are the work that John Michael Vloch did with the D.C. Public Library, the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia and its inclusion of the ‘President’s House’ exhibit, and the museum at Monticello, home to Thomas Jefferson and his many slaves. They also show, however that there is much work yet to be done to overcome the recalcitrant attitudes that are the legacy of four hundred years of slavery and one hundred and fifty years of extended poor race relations. Looking at the issue, Slavery, ‘directly in the eyes,’ through proper education and public discourse, at every level, is the only way that Americans will be able to reconcile their differences and move on as one united people.