Sunday, August 31, 2014

The War on Job Corps

The first Monday in September was originally designated as "Labor Day" for the sole purpose of appeasing working stiffs who'd revolted against management in the bloody Pullman Strike of 1894. The legend that the Knights of Labor founded the holiday is only half true. That union did once hold a parade on the first Monday in September -- but Labor Day's eventual legal designation as a paid national holiday was essentially an olive branch proffered by nervous robber barons and the politicians who've always served them so well.

The other pro-labor day, May 1st, is observed in most other civilized countries and all but ignored in the United States. The irony is that this global May Day was inspired by Chicago's 19th century Haymarket Massacre. What happened in America not only didn't stay in America, it has been hidden and suppressed even as its pro-worker spirit has spread throughout the rest of the globe.

But aren't we constantly being reminded how exceptional America is? In America, a country of laws for everybody but the banks and the surveillance state, May 1 has been officially designated "Law Day." You are legally required to go to work, and not agitate.

Even Labor Day USA has been bowdlerized into a forced celebration of the last day of summer, the last weekend we can fire up the grill, cavort at the beach, and gambol in the town square to the sound of all-American brass bands and  politicians in taupe suits and flag pins tepidly wheezing out one tired platitude after another.

Labor Day USA is a special day to perpetuate the myth that the bosses, the politicians, and the workers are all part of one big American family. We get a three-day weekend! It ranks right up there with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the Fourth of July!  It is one of onlya handful of  paid national holidays. Unless, of course, you happen to work at Walmart or McDonalds, or wherever minimum wage is paid and paid days off are a Marxist pipe dream.

Labor Day USA should be extra-special this year, because it marks the 50th anniversary of LBJ's Job Corps Program, a natural Great Society offshoot of FDR's Civilian Conservation Corps. Although "unknown to most Americans," (by design?) it serves 60,000 of us every single year. As Time reports,
In total, some 2.7 million young people have participated in the Jobs Corps since President Lyndon Johnson launched the program as part of his Great Society initiative in 1964. And just like in the 1960’s, participants come from the harshest of circumstances. Still, 80 percent of program graduates leave with a full-time occupation.
With a successful track record like that, you'd think that President Obama and Congress would be champing at the bit to expand this program in order to alleviate our record wealth disparity and epidemic of wage stagnation and chronic unemployment and underemployment. Of course, you would then be thinking wrong. This, after all, is Exceptional America. The budget of the Job Corps has been cut in every succeeding year of the Obama administration, with the usual "mismanagement of funds" and "poor performance" excuses thrown out to justify the slow but sure whittling away of this valuable social safety net program.

Obama has proposed a permanent reduction in the Job Corps' "slot capacity" in his 2015 budget. Translated from Orwellian Newspeak, this means that about 10,000 at-risk youths will be left with no place to go. Since Job Corps centers feed and house participants as well as train them for careers, this will mean 10,000 more at-risk youths on the streets in such dystopian locales as Chicago and Ferguson.

If you needed any more evidence that the Obama administration's first allegiance is to tax-evading plutocrats who dictate prosperity for themselves and austerity hardship for the rest of us, look no further than the White House's own budgetary web-page for an explanation of why he is making these draconian cuts that harm some of the most vulnerable members of our society:
The Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with promoting the welfare of workers, job seekers, and retirees, which are key Administration priorities as our economy continues to recover and we work toward strengthening America’s competitive edge globally. The Department’s budget reflects the need to make sacrifices in many areas in order to invest in job creation and boost competitiveness for years to come. Accordingly, the President’s Budget provides $12.8 billion for DOL, a 5 percent reduction from the 2010 enacted level. To support effective job training programs, the Budget shifts resources from an underutilized portion of formula grants for states to a new Workforce Innovation Fund. Savings and efficiencies are achieved through a reduction in funding for the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services; and through a 25 percent reduction in the Job Corps construction budget. The Budget increases funding for worker protection and mine safety programs that were underfunded in the previous administration and are critical to Americans’ health and safety.
Translation: the little people must sacrifice in order that multinational corporations may profit globally and perpetually. No need to waste money on training programs for the dregs of society when the ravenous plutocrats can scrape the dregs in any corrupt Banana Republic at their disposal.("invest in job creation and boost competitiveness.")

The "workforce innovation fund" being diverted from the direct government-run Job Corps will include $53 million in grants to private businesses for use in training programs that in former democratic times, were funded by the employers themselves. Priority will be given to corporations that can prove they don't discriminate against veterans or the LGBT community and thus enable the predatory rentier class to feel good about themselves. It's all part of the neoliberal agenda of private profit at public expense that was sparked by Ronald Reagan and is raging full steam ahead under Barack Obama.

And to make creeping fascism more palatable to the American public, the job of demonizing the Job Corps is falling to the usual suspects in the sycophantic press. The tactic of destroying public education by closing "poor-performing"  schools in poor neighborhoods and firing unionized teachers is now also being extended to the Job Corps training centers. Rather than blaming their own poverty-inducing policies, the ruling class is blaming the programs that get in the way of profit and privatization. They forget to mention that any alleged poor performance is directly linked to low funding. And to the orchestrated epidemic of poverty itself.

One such Job Corps center, in a pristine yet indigent section of rural Oklahoma, is being closed in the wake of a Washington Post report revealing that half its trainees are either failing to complete the program or are failing to find jobs in their chosen fields upon graduating. The neoliberal agenda is trumpeted right in the scare-mongering headline:

 Great Society At 50: LBJ's Job Corps will cost taxpayers $1.7 billion this year: Does It Work?

Need we even read the article to get the answer to that question? Are readers ever even informed of the high success rate nation-wide? Reporter David A. Farenthold (more about him in a minute) cuts to the chase:
In the middle of an Oklahoma wildlife refuge — at a campus so remote that buffalo wander in — about 100 young people are taking classes in the hope that the U.S. government can turn their lives around.Given the statistics, most of them will be disappointed.
So many turns of slanted, right-wing free-market phrase in just a few little sentences. Job Corps: on a veritable game preserve in the middle of Nowheresville. A hundred youths, barely distinguishable from the herds of smelly cattle plodding around, are passively relying on the Nanny State to turn their lives around, when they could be acting proactive in Bootstrapville. They are instantly dehumanized and reduced to disappointing numbers.
This is the Treasure Lake Job Corps center, an outpost of a job-training program created as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. The program began with a noble, untested idea: Government could save troubled youths one at a time, taking them in and teaching them a trade.Today, students here learn subjects such as cooking, nursing and plumbing from employees of the U.S. Forest Service. A year of education and job placement costs taxpayers about $45,000, more than tuition at Georgia Tech.
There's that outpost at the back of beyond characterization again, when they should be out on the streets where the Washington Post can see them. And just think, they could even be going to college and owing a fortune in student loans to predatory lenders!
But at last count, only about 49 percent of Treasure Lake’s students completed their job training.
Guess what, Farenthold? The graduation rate at Georgia Tech has fallen for the fourth straight year, and is now at an abysmal 31%! So tear that college down, pronto, lest the taxpayers be peeved. (On second thought, never mind: their football program is still making scads and scads of dough. And even the non-grads are still on the hook for those usurious loans. So it's all peachy-keen.)

But Farenthold continues weaving his web of lies anyway:
The struggles of this place — and of the Job Corps program as a whole — have come to illustrate two powerful legacies of the Great Society. The first is that the government has vastly expanded its ambition to improve individual lives.
The "this place" (populated by "those people") phrase hovers uncomfortably close to a racial dog whistle.

For that matter, so does the bit about the government expanding its ambition to improve lives. As Paul Krugman and others have proven time and time again, the federal government has actually reduced the rate of spending on social programs, to the lowest levels in decades. Nor is this smear job on Job Corps  the first time Farenthold has spread the lie of government overspending and government inefficiency in programs that benefit ordinary people. He even tried to trash Medicare this summer by comparing it to the Russian Mafia. It seems that disabled people have been ripping off the taxpayers by joy-riding on motorized wheelchairs! Lucky for us, he approached the wrong source to get his scoop. Dave Farenthold, sycophant to the plutocratic centrists, got himself well and truly exposed by Wheelchair Junkie.

Another clue to Farenthold's deviousness is that he not only takes right-wing budgetary flim-flam man Paul Ryan seriously, he is seriously turned on by Ryan's lanky, sexy, sadistic wonkiness and their mutual hatred of Medicare and old people everywhere.

But I digress. Farenthold also cannot stand the thought of undeserving younger people daring to make themselves at home where the buffalo roam when they could be wage slaves at Walmart or drive-by shooting victims:
But Job Corps is still very popular in Washington, among lawmakers of both parties.

It is still considered a success — at least as “success” is defined now, after a hard and disappointing 50-year war on poverty.
The poor are still alive in places. The war on the poor has not been a success. So let's blame the poor, and rile up the white people.
The Job Corps program has 125 centers across the country. The students come as volunteers, some recruited by an online ad campaign: “Every day is a fresh start at Job Corps.”
To enroll, they must be from low-income families and at least 16 years old. More than half lack a high school diploma. Once accepted, nearly all students live at a center rent-free. Most stay there between nine and 11 months. In addition to academic and vocational classes, students also learn how to write a résumé and how to interview with an employer.
 It is an expensive way to get somebody a job.
What a bunch of moochers, living rent-free when there is such a demanding plethora of rent-seeking predators for whom too much is never enough. These kids learning a trade are snatching the caviar right out of the Kochs' mouths as far as Farenthold is concerned. He goes on to mutter over his keyboard that if Job Corps is such a great success, why are people on food stamps while these ghetto kids are living the life of Riley in a charm school? Really. Read his whole article for yourself, because I am feeling way too nauseous to continue.

But anyway, Farenthold's hatchet job on Job Corps was apparently a huge success, because just days before Official Labor Day USA, the Obama administration scheduled the Oklahoma training center for closure. And the Labor Department is looking for even more centers to shut down. With a 51% non-completion rate, Treasure Lake is only the first among many public treasures ripe for the privateer grant-plucking. Pretty soon even a 75% retention rate will be declared officially inefficient.

Obama to Youth: Go Jump In the Lake

When Job Corps students quit, it's called a failure. When college students quit, their institutions  simply have a non-retention problem. Even if both classes of student dropped out at approximately the same rates, (and Job Corps has much better stats) you don't hear the plutocrats calling for colleges to be shut down. That's because while both are in the business of education, one category is a money-maker for corporations and the other is not.
And speaking of quitters and slackers, look at Congress, due back in Washington this week after a month of laboring for private dollars on the public dime and against the public interest. Of the 9,732 bills and resolutions currently before them, only about 5% will become law.
That is a 95% failure rate.
Cut off the spigot, and throw the bums out.


Denis Neville said...

“The New Deal has been the creation of you, the American people. You provided work for free men and women in America who could find no work. Idle men were given the opportunity on roads to be built, homes to be erected, rivers to be harnessed, power to be made for farm and home and industry. You wrote into the law the right of working men and women to bargain collectively, and you set up the machinery to enforce that right…

I see an America where the workers are really free and—through their great unions undominated by any outside force, or by any dictator within—can take their proper place at the council table with the owners and managers of business. Where the dignity and security of the working man and woman are guaranteed by their own strength and fortified by the safeguards of law…” - Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Campaign Address at Cleveland, Ohio," November 2, 1940

Seventy four years later, Obama proposes a permanent reduction in the Job Corps' "slot capacity" in his 2015 budget.

In 2008, many thought the nation was on the verge of a new Age of Roosevelt. Hope and change! Obama was the second coming of FDR!! There was going to be a new New Deal!!!

Obama is no FDR. He feigned populism, but instead we got his advocacy for the elites and his best to undo the legacy of Franklin Roosevelt.

Obama was never serious about jobs, for the following reason:

“We shall deal first with the reluctance of the ‘captains of industry’ to accept government intervention in the matter of employment. Every widening of state activity is looked upon by business with suspicion, but the creation of employment by government spending has a special aspect which makes the opposition particularly intense. Under a laissez-faire system the level of employment depends to a great extent on the so-called state of confidence. If this deteriorates, private investment declines, which results in a fall of output and employment (both directly and through the secondary effect of the fall in incomes upon consumption and investment). This gives the capitalists a powerful indirect control over government policy: everything which may shake the state of confidence must be carefully avoided because it would cause an economic crisis. But once the government learns the trick of increasing employment by its own purchases, this powerful controlling device loses its effectiveness. Hence budget deficits necessary to carry out government intervention must be regarded as perilous. The social function of the doctrine of 'sound finance' is to make the level of employment dependent on the state of confidence.” - Michal Kalecki, “Political Aspects of Full Employment,” 1943

Isaiah Earhart said...

Sweet article Karen! Absolutely wonderful.

Fred Drumlevitch said...

I haven't been adequately keeping up with Sardonicky lately (I've been occupied with more pressing matters), but I do want to call attention to an upcoming (starting September 8) online course that I came across, on the History of Terrorism. (The course is free; only if one wants a "certificate of completion to satisfy continuing education requirements in various professional fields including the military, law enforcement, and education" is there a "small fee"). I have no idea whether it will be any good, or objective, but the instructor seems to have reputable academic credentials.

I have no idea whether there will be online discussions, but if so, I think that Sardonickyans could bring an interesting leftist perspective, all the more because American activists against worker exploitation, racial discrimination, war, nuclear weapons, imperialism, corporate and financial hegemony, the destruction of nature, and more, have all been, and continue to be, labeled and treated by the powers-that-be as equivalent to "terrorists".

For those interested in the course, do be careful, though. Just as a basic principle of carpentry is to "measure twice, cut once", participants in this class, if there is a discussion forum, should probably "think twice, comment once", particularly if there is a presence by members of the security-industrial complex. If one ends up on the "no-fly list", it should be because of clear paranoid/tyrannical overreach on the part of the surveillance state, not because of an ill-considered or ill-phrased comment!

Of course, Sardonickyans are undoubtedly acquainted with the quip that when a single person kills a few people, it's "murder" or "madness", when a group kill more, it's "terrorism", and when a nation kills many more, it's called "war" (and implicitly justified, in the minds of many people, at least until a certain number of soldiers start returning home in caskets).

Denis Neville said...

10,000 at-risk youths will be left with no place to go…

“Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?” - Jack Kerouac

These were the children of the myths upon which America was built. Now they are the children whom America has abandoned.

“Most people were raised to think they are not worthy. School is a process of taking beautiful kids who are filled with life and beating them into happy slavery.” - Studs Terkel, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do

The road is their life and their witness is the empty sky.

“It's good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies” - Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“He cut short my request for something to eat, snapping out, "I don't believe you want to work." Now this was irrelevant. I hadn't said anything about work. The topic of conversation I had introduced was "food." In fact, I didn't want to work. I wanted to take the westbound overland that night.” - Jack London, The Road

Mike 'Polaroid Kidd' Brodie's photographic record of homeless teens living the perilous life on the rails:

His photography touches the soul.

In the late 1940s, we lived near the Milwaukee Road railroad tracks. I remember seeing my mother feed a hobo who came to our house to ask for food. It was a lesson in giving that I never forgot. She told me about all the kids who rode the rails during the depression.

How did at-risk youth survive the hard times of the depression? During the depression, more than a quarter of a million teenagers, boxcar boys and girls, hopped freight trains in search of a better life.

Studs Terkel has said that the story of the boxcar boys and girls is "one of the vital, terribly neglected sagas of the Thirties. With today's homeless kids, it is a contemporary story of overwhelming importance."

Pearl said...

When I was a child during the Depression I remember looking out of the window of my fifth floor apartment during the winter and seeing ragged looking men holding up their hands to catch bread being thrown down to them. An image of hunger and desperation I never forgot.

We will be getting close to that scenario before too long.

Great column Karen and wonderful comments.

Denis Neville said...

1504Obama’s Labor Day speech at Laborfest in Milwaukee yesterday: “I’m not asking for the moon, I just want a good deal for Americans.”

Yeah, right!

Didn’t Obama once say he would put on his work boots and walk on a picket line?

"And understand this: If American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively bargain when I'm in the White House, I'll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself, I will walk on that picket line with you as President of the United States of America. Because workers deserve to know that somebody is standing in their corner." – candidate Obama, Spartanburg, SC 11/03/2007.

He did nothing of the sort. In June, intervening at the request of Republican Pa. Gov. Corbett, Obama broke the transit rail workers strike in Philadelphia.

Dear Obamabots (aka Democrat Party doormats):

“When the doctrine of allegiance to party can utterly up-end a man’s moral constitution and make a temporary fool of him besides, what excuse are you going to offer for preaching it, teaching it, extending it, perpetuating it? Shall you say, the best good of the country demands allegiance to party? Shall you also say it demands that a man kick his truth and his conscience into the gutter, and become a mouthing lunatic, besides?” - Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain, “Consistency,” paper read at the Hartford Monday Evening Club (excerpt); December 5th, 1887

I loathe neoliberal Democrats more than Republicans because they pretend (lie) to be liberal and have good hearts, but in reality they are thugs who are as heartless and bloodthirsty and fascist as their conservative comrades. They do bad things to good people. Obama’s deceptions have harmed millions.

Zee said...

“Obama is no FDR.” —Denis Neville

True. But was FDR as “progressive” as Progressives today think he was then?

A thread or two ago Isaiah Earhart said that he is “tired of hearing economists espouse the best way to save capitalism.”

Yet that is precisely what some economists and historians have said was FDR's purpose in raising taxes on the rich and perhaps in creating the New Deal.

From Bruce Bartlett's book The Benefit and the Burden:

“[FDR's] first major contribution to tax policy came in 1935, when he asked Congress to raise taxes on the rich. This move was driven less by revenue needs than by fairness. In a message to Congress on June 19, he said 'People know that the vast personal incomes come not only through the effort or ability or luck of those who receive them, but also because of the opportunities for advantage which government government itself contributes. Therefore, the duty rests upon the government to restrict such incomes by very high taxes.

Privately Roosevelt worried about the growing politial support for socialist and crackpot schemes. To keep them in check, he had to increase the perception of fairness in the capitalist system. 'I want to save our system, the capitalistic system,' he told an emissary of the archconservative newspaper publisher William Rahdolph Hearst. To do so, Roosevelt said, 'it may be necessary to throw to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year.'

The 1935 tax bill raised the top rate to 79 percent, but also raised the income threshold at which the top rate applied, from $1 million to $5 million (about $78 million in today's dollars. It was reported that only one person in America, John D. Rockefeller Jr., paid taxes at the top income rate.
(My bold emphasis.)

Bartlett's book is not that well footnoted, so I couldn't determine where he found his quotes and information. But by “googling” on the exact quote “it may be necessary to throw to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year” I found this:

“The clearest corroboration of the influence of the left is an account of a discussion between Moley, Vincent Astor, and E.D. Coblentz. As related by Coblentz, Hearst's emissary and supervising editor, Roosevelt's words were direct—remarkably direct:

'I am fighting Communism, Huey Longism, Coughlinism, Townsendism. I want to save our system, the capitalist system; to save it is to give some heed to world thought of today. I want to equalize the distribution of wealth. Huey Long says that 92 per cent of the wealth of this country is controlled by 8 per cent of the population. He would change this situation by giving a five-thousnad-dollar home to each head of a family, twenty-five hundred dollars a year, etc. To combat this and similar crackpot ideas, it may be necessary to throw to the wolves the forty-six men who are reported to have incomes in excess of one million dollars a year. This can be accomplished through taxation.'”
—Mark H. Leff, The Limits of Symbolic Reform: The New Deal and Taxation, 1933-1939 (Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 149)

Leff, in turn, attributes the Roosevelt quote to Coblentz's biography of Hearst, William Randolph Hearst (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1952, pp. 177-178)

According to Bartlett, it doesn't sound like Roosevelt's attempt to “equalize the distribution of wealth” via changes to our progressive tax code was much more than symbolic in the end.

But Roosevelt may well have saved capitalism with the New Deal and effective use of symbolism.

Still, it doesn't sound to me as though Roosevelt was champing at the bit to “fundamentally transform America” had he been given free rein, and as Obama boasted that he, himself, would.

He was a capitalist at heart but willing to adapt. As am I.