• Here in Youngstown

    December 12, 2015 // 12 Comments »

    mill overgrown

    Ghosts of Tom Joad is fiction per se, but fiction based on fact. My story of the intentional destruction of an entire class of people through economic disparity is mirrored in so many people’s lives.

    Here is one of those stories, originally submitted to this blog as a comment, but well-worth repeating here (lightly edited):

    From 1955 to 1965, my Dad lived near Youngstown, Ohio. He moved up from the Mississippi Delta and worked at Packard Electric and some steel mills to get through college at Youngstown University.

    I drove through Youngstown last month for the first time after my Uncle’s funeral (submariner for six years, at Pearl Harbor, worked for 40 years at the General Motors Lordstown plant). Youngstown today reminded me of Detroit (as a firefighter, I tend to notice lots of empty lots where houses once stood).

    I graduated from high school in Detroit in 1983. The place has really gone even more downhill since 2008; my old house on the West side has been stripped out (dead dog carcass in the dining room), probably a 25 percent vacant rate.

    I don’t see things getting better anytime soon. I’m doing OK as a firefighter, but I’m making less than I did 13 years ago and the powers-that-be have been going after the public unions (now that less folks are in private unions than before the Great Depression).

    Here’s another from Comments:

    This blog resonates with me as I grew up in Troy, Ohio in the 1960s and ’70s before moving to New Jersey in 1974. I experienced small town America with Soap Box Derby races and Memorial Day parades and watching 4th of July fireworks from the levee on the Miami River. I went to college in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where “The Steel” ran the longest continuous steel mill in the world, something like 11 miles. A few years ago I read that the foundry part downtown had been turned into a casino and I knew that the U.S. was dying of capitalist rot.

    …And another:

    My long dead friend Joe was the son of the owner of a bar in downtown Lorain. My Polish friends had fathers that worked the steel mills. My high school used to play Admiral King, and my trip there was to the other end of the universe. The last several times in Lorain the major bridge was out for repair and it sure took a long time to fix it. I used to drive 6 and 2 driving to BGSU. Joe commented while dying that he remembered us tooling down that road doing 120 mph in my Detroit iron/389 Pontiac.Both of us were immigrant stock and soldiered for this country. Joe is still buried in Lorain with his parents.

    In October 2013 I stayed at Port Clinton and it was depressing. Half the business district was depressed. Tourism is down. A condo in town sold for $20K. Bowling Green town is dull and needs a paint job and new roofs. Cleveland is a slum, as is Euclid where my folks lived.The house I grew up in has been demolished. The inner city is every bit of what you wrote about, but worse. If that’s possible then things are really bad.

    There are so many, too many, such stories out there, good people who believed what they had been told only to find themselves discarded when companies found they could make more money somewhere, somehow else. They all are the ghosts of Tom Joad now.

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    Posted in #99Percent, Economy

    Bruce Springsteen Makes the Lesser Evil Case

    October 19, 2012 // 16 Comments »

    I do not support either candidate for the presidency; I have a large “Nobody” sign in my yard and encourage my dog on walks to wee wee equally on all candidates’ signs. It’s the American way. If this blog appears more often critical of Obama, it is simply because he is the president and makes decisions and takes actions (or not) worthy of attention. Romney is just campaigning. I voted for Obama in 2008 and am deeply remorseful, especially over how he has failed on so many promises (close Gitmo) and expanded the drone wars to include the assassination of American Citizens without trial. I remain deeply conflicted on whether I should vote for a presidential candidate this year or not.

    I also love Bruce Springsteen, not in a romantic sticky way, but if anyone could draw me into that I’d probably go with Bruce. Bruce Springsteen wrote two of his more poignant songs about working life, The Ghost of Tom Joad (Rage Against the Machine offers a good, rough, angry version) and Youngstown, based on Dale Maharidgeand Michael Williamson’s work. Springsteen is the most relentless and prolific chronicler in popular culture of the plight of the working class, picking up the job from Dust Bowl singers like Woody Guthrie, and carrying the idea forward that America’s workers are resilient. Angry but ebullient, Springsteen echoes Maharidge and Williamson in believing that a new era will follow deindustrialization and that the men and women they write about will survive into it. For me, I am not as sure about the future, and that’s what my next book (called The People on the Bus, a Story of the #99 Percent) is about.

    Bruce supported Obama in 2008, and now has come out again for him. Bruce’s reasons– focusing mostly on social justice issues– are about the best-laid out “better to vote for Obama than to stay home” argument I’ve seen; well, the guy does have a way with words. I’ve also always respected Bruce for seeming to research his causes, and not just be some empty-headed celebrity who lends his name to whatever seems cool at the moment.

    So this is why I want to call out Bruce a bit over something he said at an Obama rally in Ohio on October 18. “I’m thankful GM is still making cars,” Springsteen joked. “What else would I write about? I’d have no job!”

    Bruce is of course referring to the $80 billion of tax payer money Obama handed to the auto industry. I want to call his attention to the fact that GM then turned around and shut down the Spring Hill Saturn plant after nineteen years of operation. The success we were told was that after GM agreed to restart the factory, many of those Spring Hill jobs were expected to go to Mexico but were able to remain in the United States only thanks to a deal that included a second-tier wage scale for new employees. About 700 older workers remained on layoff even as they hired new people at the lower wage. Pensions were cut, too. GM had a record profit of $7.6 billion last year. So tally that up: fewer jobs at lower wages, pensions cut, and GM still owes the taxpayers $25 billion while they pull in record profits. The deal is touted as a model for Ford and Chrysler.

    All on our backs. I might as well just write-in “Goldman Sachs” and leave out the middle man.

    I get the point Bruce: it could have been worse, in Spring Hill, at General Motors, in America. I just wish there was a candidate I could embrace in a sticky way, could support, rather than one that I could never vote for and one I am told is better than nobody. Jeez, I wish I could vote for Bruce.

    More? Daniel Ellsberg makes the same case as Obama the lesser evil.

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    Posted in #99Percent, Economy