In 1846, there was an advertisement in the Springfield, Illinois Gazette that said, "Westward ho. Who wants to go to California without costing them anything?" The ad was signed G. Donner. Responding to the appeal, a group of travelers, including several families, got snowed in by a blizzard on the way to the West Coast. They were trying to take a "short cut" to California -- the land of milk and honey -- but they ended up eating each other (literally). They are typically remembered as the Donner Party. Donald Trump's cabinet is shaping up to be the Donors Party.
One common refrain during the 2016 campaign was that Trump's success both in the primary season and the general election proved that money in politics doesn't matter. And while Trump did beat better-funded candidates such as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, Trump always had his personal wealth to tap into at a moment's notice. In the end, he supplied 22 percent of the $247 million his campaign spent.
"I want people that made a fortune." Trump has said of his cabinet picks. The idea that these individuals will work for the public good instead of their own narrow self- interest is as seductive as Donner's 1846 advertisement purporting to give something of value for nothing.
What the Trump cabinet choices show is that money in politics is still a large determinate of who gets positions of power. After the Supreme Court's twin decisions in McCutcheon and Citizens United, donors don't have be choosy about where they spend their largesse in politics. Citizens United allows donors to put money in an unlimited set of Super PACs to fund independent ads and McCutcheon allows donors to give hard money donations to all federal candidates simultaneously. And add onto that the growing dark money problem which allows big donors to hide their role if they wish.
And that's just spending in federal elections. Big donors have been bankrolling the Republican Governors Association (RGA) for years. A couple years back I did a study of the donors to the RGA between 2002 and 2010. Those in the million-dollar donor RGA club were: Paul Singer (a legendary hedge fund manager), Richard DeVos (co-founder of Amway), Sheldon Adelson (owner of the Sands Casino), and David Koch (part owner of Koch Industries).
Big donors like these often give as members of a family (fathers and sons, husbands and wives, or brothers). In the 2016 cycle the RGAs donors include multiple members of the DeVos family, Paul Singer ($500,000), Sheldon Adelson ($500,000) and Koch Industries -- the privately held corporation owned by the Koch Brothers -- which gave the RGA $2 million.
Of this group, Trump picked Betsy DeVos as his nominee for Secretary of Education. (She's the daughter-in-law of Richard DeVos.) Besides their long-term funding of the RGA, the DeVos family gave to the RNC and Trump's campaign. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop on other historical big donors being named to positions of power.
But newer big donors are already getting the nod. Linda McMahon and her husband Vincent (of World Wrestling Entertainment) gave millions to support Trump and the Republican Super PAC supporting Senate Republican candidates, among other conservative causes. Ms. McMahon is now Trump's nominee to run the Small Business Administration.
Todd Ricketts is the son of billionaire Joe Ricketts. Before this election, the two were best known as owners of the no-longer-cursed-by-a-goat team known as the Chicago Cubs. Todd is now Trump's pick to be Deputy Commerce Secretary. Todd Ricketts followed an unusual trajectory to land his job. He began the 2016 cycle as fundraising co-chair for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. After Walker left the race, the Ricketts family, whose political contributions Todd manages, gave $5.5 million to a super PAC opposing Trump. But then, late in the general election campaign, Todd helped raise $66 million for two pro-Trump super PACs. Although Trump is notorious for never forgetting a slight, money has a remarkable way of inducing amnesia.
Meanwhile, Steven Mnuchin who is Trump's pick for Treasury secretary, gave over $300,000 to conservatives in 2016, according to Open Secrets. By the standards of the Trump administration, Mnuchin's political donations are trivial. Perhaps that's because, relatively speaking, Mnuchin is a pauper. His net worth is roughly estimated at a paltry $40 million
And Trump's pick for Secretary State, ExxonMobil CEO and Putin Pal, Rex Tillerson, gave more than $70,000 to Republicans in 2016 and over $400,000 over the past 24 years. Yet, these contributions obscure Tillerson's real political financial power. At least from what's publicly available, ExxonMobil has contributed $7.1 million to Republican candidates since 2010, representing 87 percent of its total candidate contributions. Meanwhile, the company gave another $5.8 million to PACs during this period, and it's a safe bet most of them supported Republicans.
Given ExxonMobil's size, it's perhaps not surprising that nearly 8 percent of members of the House and Senate reported owning stock in the energy behemoth. Yet Exxon's stockholders include Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who sits on the House Subcommittee on Environment, which oversees environmental standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency. And in the Senate, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) is a member of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, which oversees the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
So lecture me again about how money in politics has nothing to do with power. Please. The Donors Party is about to move into the administration. We'll see what short cuts they make and what fate befalls them. But just as the Donner Party's cost to get to California was not "nothing," the cost for having a cabinet of billionaires likely won't be zero either.
Last week auto workers from Chicago and Detroit made a pilgrimage to the birthplace of auto workers' sit-down strikes to lend solidarity to workers who've been locked out for eight months and counting.
Honeywell locked out 320 aerospace workers with Auto Workers (UAW) Local 9 in South Bend, Indiana, on May 9 after they voted 270-30 to reject the company's offer. Another 40 Honeywell workers with Local 1508 at in Green Island, New York, are also locked out.
Honeywell was demanding the power to change health care premiums and deductibles unilaterally. The rejected proposal would also have eliminated cost-of-living increases and retiree health care, frozen pensions, curtailed overtime pay, subcontracted work, and voided seniority rights.
The company's 2015 profit of $4.77 billion set a new record. Yet Honeywell claims it has to rein in costs because declining demand is producing "turbulence" for plane manufacturers.
Honeywell is a major defense contractor. The two plants produce wheel rims and braking systems for commercial and military aircraft, including the Boeing 737, the Boeing B-92, and Lockheed Martin F-35.
Indiana's UAW Local 9 asked the Navy not to renew the company's $18.3 million contract as long as the lockout went on. But the contract was renewed.
The average wage of Local 9 hourly workers is $21.83 -- while Honeywell CEO David Cote, one of the top-paid corporate executives in the country, makes $15,865 an hour.
After he retires in March he will receive an estimated $908,712 every month for the rest of his life.
Scabs Shadowed Workers
Honeywell had prepared for a lockout carefully, hiring Strom Engineering to provide 150-200 scabs, who shadowed workers inside the plant in the lead-up to the contract vote.
For months the locked-out workers went without their unemployment benefits, because the state agency that handles unemployment -- part of the administration of Indiana Governor Michael Pence, now vice president-elect of the United States -- classified the case as "under review" and sent it to an administrative law judge. Eventually the workers got their benefits.
From May until September, negotiations ceased. When the company finally came back to the table, it offered to move on health care. The bargaining committee brought the new, still concessionary proposal to the membership without a recommendation on how to vote.
This time, as unemployment benefits ran out and the holidays approached, the company's proposal passed in the smaller Green Island unit -- but Local 9 voted it down by 70 percent.
Meanwhile another Honeywell facility, in Minneapolis, has a contract deadline of February 2. The corporation is using the same tactics to try to scare workers there into accepting a concessionary contract.
In several other Honeywell facilities, the membership is composed of Steelworkers and Teamsters.
Caravan of Supporters
Last summer the community of South Bend -- particularly members of UAW Local 5, who make Mercedes there -- turned out for rallies and pickets.
Members of UAW Local 551, who work 80 miles away at the Ford plant in Chicago, have made trips to the picket lines and raised funds. For Christmas they raised $7,500 for Local 9 members.
A dozen autoworkers and retirees from Detroit and Chicago, members of the Autoworker Caravan group, drove through the snow on January 5 to be at Local 9's split-shift union meetings and talk to officers and members. We brought a check for $525.
Locked-out workers told us what it's like to survive on just the $200 a week they get in benefits from the union (plus basic health care). Some have found work in other plants and industries.
Local 9's recording secretary told us that when he had toured the plant with safety inspectors just a few days before, it seemed there were only about half as many scabs as pre-lockout workers. Parts-making has apparently been outsourced; the scabs merely assemble.
Some workers told me the plant was old and they thought Honeywell might want to shut it down. On the other hand, the facility is profitable enough that over the last five years, the corporation has invested $27 million there.
Where the Sit-Downs Began
The Honeywell plant in South Bend was originally a Bendix plant. A thousand workers sat down there in November 1936, making it the first US auto plant to employ the sit-down tactic. Their eight-day occupation eliminated a company union and won UAW representation.
Following their model, workers at Kelsey Hayes Wheel Company on Detroit's west side organized a series of sit-downs, which ended with an agreement for higher wages (but not union recognition) just before Christmas that year.
And by the end of December, autoworkers occupied General Motors plants in Flint, Michigan. Their historic sit-down ended on February 11, 1937, with UAW recognition and a commitment from the company to negotiate a national agreement.
Over the years the UAW International has asked its members to honor that victory by wearing white shirts to work on that date. This symbolizes that "blue-collar" workers, just like "white-collar" workers, are individuals who deserve management's respect.
Autoworker Caravan members have pledged to go back to South Bend on February 11. We hope that event can be both a celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Flint victory and a support rally for the locked-out workers.
CORRECTIONS: This article has been updated to correct the number of locked-out workers in South Bend (320, not 340) and title of the union officer who toured the plant, recording secretary, and to clarify that the Bendix sit-down was the first in a US auto plant, not in any US plant. We regret the errors.
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Protesters demonstrating support for the Affordable Care Act hold signs and chant in the lobby of Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle in New York City on January 15, 2017. (Photo: Demetrius Freeman / The New York Times)
One of the lines the Republicans often used to attack Obamacare was complaining that it would lead to a massive switch to part-time work. The argument was that employers would cut all their workers to less than 30 hours a week. This would exempt them from the employer mandates in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The line "part-time nation" was a regular refrain on Fox News and other conservative news outlets.
It didn't turn out that way. The share of workers who are employed part-time is virtually the same today as it was when the ACA was fully implemented at the start of 2014. It turns out that covered employers, those with more than 50 workers, have more important issues to consider in scheduling their workforce than avoiding the ACA requirements. Of course, since more than 90 percent of these employers already provided health care for their workers, it is not surprising that they didn't change their behavior.
However the aggregate numbers on part-time work conceals an important shift that has largely gone unnoticed. While total part-time employment has changed little over the three years the ACA has been in effect, there has been a huge shift from involuntary part-time work to voluntary part-time work.
The number of people who report that they are working part-time involuntarily -- they could not find full-time jobs -- has fallen by 2.2 million since December of 2013, the last month before the ACA took full effect. By contrast, the number of people who report that they are working part-time because they have chosen to work part-time has risen by more than 2.4 million. Both parts of this picture are good news and almost certainly are attributable to the ACA.
The reason the ACA increased voluntary part-time employment is that the exchanges allowed people to get insurance without having to rely on an employer. Typically employers require people to work full-time in order to get health care insurance.
As a result, many people who would rather work part-time jobs, such as parents of young children and older workers nearing Medicare age, were forced to work full-time jobs to get health care insurance. This was especially likely if they or someone in their family had a serious medical condition that would make insurance very expensive or unobtainable.
In an analysis done the first year after the exchanges were in operation, Cherrie Bucknor and I found that voluntary part-time employment was up by more than 8 percent among young mothers. A separate analysis found that voluntary part-time employment was up by almost 5 percent in 2014 for the workers between the ages of 55-64 who are still too young to qualify for Medicare.
This is one of the major unsung successes of Obamacare. Millions of people who wanted to work part-time jobs so they could spend more time with young children now have the option to do so. Similarly, many older workers, some who are in bad health, now have the ability to cut back their hours and still get affordable health care insurance.
The flip side of the movement to voluntary part-time employment was also good news. The decision by millions of people to voluntarily leave full-time jobs to take part-time work opened up these jobs for people seeking full-time employment. Since the ACA, the rise in voluntary part-time employment closely mirrors the decline in involuntary part-time employment. People who needed full-time jobs were now much more likely to get them.
We can expect this story to go in reverse with the Republicans' repeal of Obamacare. Young parents and older people in bad health who would prefer to work part-time will again be forced to get full-time jobs so that they can get insurance through their employer. When these workers take full-time jobs, it will displace workers who want and need full-time employment. There may be little net change in part-time employment under the Republican plan, but fewer of the people who will be working part-time will be people who actually want part-time employment.
Extending health care insurance to 20 million people was a really big deal and an important driver for the ACA. Arguably an even bigger deal was providing security to people who already had insurance. The surge in voluntary part-time employment was evidence of this security, as was a 6 percent jump in the number of people who are self-employed. But providing security to the nation's workers is obviously not the Trump-Ryan agenda.
IS captured eastern areas of the embattled eastern city from government troops in fighting that killed more than 80
On January 21, I will march in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nameless, countless multitudes who joined his movement. Donald Trump's policies are going to disadvantage the white women who voted for him. So when I march on January 21, I will also be marching for them.
Demonstrators gather in front of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to protest the election of Donald Trump, in New York City, on November 12, 2016. (Photo: Christopher Lee / The New York Times)
I have not spent much time with the white women and girls of Middle America since fifth grade, when we sat on the school bus and sang the soundtrack from Grease, giggled through "health" class, exchanged knowing glances when a classmate carried a small purse with the classroom hall pass on her way to the restroom, when we laughed out loud at slumber parties. I grew up in what was then semi-rural Pennsylvania, where most of the other girls in my class were white. We lived near dairy farms and deep woods and open fields that led to the Allegheny Hills. In summer, fireflies lit the night, and we punched holes in glass jar tops to catch their magic. In fall, so many birds flew for the hills in "V" formations perfect and sure, it seemed like every bird in the world had taken flight. In winter, plows pushed the deep, deep snow into perfect forts for our snowball fights. In spring, gnats swarmed into clouds so thick, they got in our eyes and noses. We ran, laughing, through each season, together. We spent our glorious childhood together, so I know the culture of white Middle America. Well.
I know that Pittsburgh is the best team in the NFL, no one has greater work ethic than the Amish, good neighbors keep tidy yards, and when someone tells you who they are, you should take them at their word. This is one of the reasons I was hurt when I found out how many white, rural women voted for Donald Trump.
This is MLK Day, and I want to say to my childhood friends: I am going to need you, and I think you're going to need me, too.
On January 21, I will march in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. and the nameless, countless multitudes who joined his movement -- and made it possible for us to be childhood friends at all. Remember, I was one of just a few African American students at South Side Elementary School. And when we moved out by Linglestown, Pennsylvania, I was the only Black student at North Side. The only one. It was on the bus to North Side that I was called the N-word for the first time in my life. The boy throwing the word at me, over and over and over again, laughed as he said it. He laughed and pointed, said the N-word, and laughed some more.
So I was not surprised when I heard that, three miles from Linglestown, a group of students at Central Dauphin High in Harrisburg posted a picture of themselves in 2016, holding a hand-written sign that reads, "You stupid N*****." The students, all girls, are all smiles as they pose for the selfie. Just like the boy who pointed and cursed at me all those years ago, they are laughing. Their image will live forever because it was posted on social media. His image will live forever because it was driven into my heart.
News of the high school girls' post circulated in October, the same month I went back to Harrisburg with my husband and son to visit family. We went apple-picking on a glorious fall day. There were families of all hues and backgrounds walking the orchard together. The Harrisburg area has gotten browner since I was a child, and that image of my child running under a bright sun near those Allegheny Hills with a beautiful and diverse group of children is an image I want to live forever, too. The rush of wind and taste of fresh apples and the golden rays of light on my son's face.
Harrisburg is home.
My great-great-grandfather was an army soldier in the Third Regiment Infantry organized at Camp William Penn and served the Union Army in the Civil War. My great-grandfather founded Hooper Memorial Funeral Home and served on the board of the Forster Street Y. His wife, my great-grandmother, was a schoolteacher in the Harrisburg schools. My grandmother secured Hooper's as a family legacy and served in numerous capacities to improve the lives of all Harrisburg residents. I have a picture of her receiving a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Award for community and civic service that ran in The Evening News on February 11, 1980. Her husband, my grandfather, was a Capitol Hill correspondent for the Pittsburgh Courier and became a member of the Harrisburg Friends. My Harrisburg roots run deep and strong. When I was a child, my father worked for human relations and my mother taught at Harrisburg Middle School. I went to Hansel and Gretel Nursery School before my parents separated, my mother and I moved out, past the Colonial Park Mall, and I rode the bus to North Side. My family had prepared me for the day that boy called me that hateful term. They had heard that same epithet for four generations. I was the fifth.
But I still love semi-rural Pennsylvania. Now there are strip malls where farms used to be. You have to drive farther to see cows lolling near barns affixed with hex signs to keep the bad spirits away. Like the rushing waters of the Susquehanna, home changes. But, then, there are the things that stay the same. Things that are there, as sure as the mighty, mighty Allegheny Mountains. When I drive into Lancaster, there are those Amish farms, there are those corn fields. When I drive back to the 'burg, around The Park and over to The Hill, I can see that capitol dome that tells me I am home.
It is easy for me to love home. Not just because of the good times we shared at the Harrisburg Community Theatre or earning Girl Scout badges. But because, when I think way back to that day on the school bus I remember this, too: All of my old childhood friends telling that boy to stop. To shut up. To leave me alone. To stop using that word as he pointed and laughed at me. The bus stood up against him, for me. That is another image I want to live forever.
There is an academic word for what the children on the bus did. That word is "ally." I have a more accurate word for what they did. That word is "friend."
I will never forget the sound of the bus, silencing the boy who tried to silence me. It is the roar of justice. King would have liked to hear those voices rising to overwhelm hate.
I know things are not perfect in Harrisburg. Girls are scrawling epithets on loose-leaf paper, posing with frozen smiles, clicking send. Did they check comments, count likes, seek validation for what they did? And what of the child their hate was aimed to pierce? Has her wound healed? Did her friends, blonde and blue-eyed, rally around her? I ask because I know that racist hate.
But I also know that white women voters have been misunderstood. I am a Black woman who gets that most of the television pundits have the world of my classmates all wrong. This MLK Day, in the spirit of the national harmony that King agitated to try to achieve, I want to reach out to my childhood classmates and other white women in Middle America with this message:
I know you are not stupid, because our schools were excellent, but you are accepting FOX commentary as hard news. I know you are not burning crosses on your neighbor's lawn, but you did plant a Trump sign on yours. I know you don't hate your mother, your sister, your daughter. I know you don't hate yourself. But you didn't take that Trump sign down when he was caught on tape boasting of his sexual assault of women. You kept it up even when he was accused of raping three different women (well, one of them was just a girl). I know you are not crazy, but you voted for an unqualified xenophobe, even though deep in your heart you know Mexico is not gonna pay for any wall. I know you pay your taxes but, counter-intuitively, you admire Trump's ability to not pay his. I know this is complicated. But I need you to stand with me now just as you did years ago on that school bus.
One thing is simple and true: Half of our country is in deep, convulsive pain. Think. Americans have marched and protested for many reasons, but never have so many hundreds of thousands pledged to come together in defiance of a swearing-in. This time is very, very different.
Will the kids who stood up in protest when I was subjugated by hate speech rise against racism now that we are adults and hate crimes have increased around the country? Where will the girls who giggled with me in health class stand now that we are women, and access to basic health care is being taken away from millions of Americans?
Because, this is the thing: Trump's policies are gonna kick the white women of Middle America right in the part where he boasted he liked to grab. So when I march with women, children and men on January 21, I will also be marching for them.
Dawn at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2016. (Photo: Zach Gibson / The New York Times)
With a neo-fascist president-elect taking office in just four days, it is past time to deconstruct sanitized narratives of Martin Luther King Jr.'s activism. History shows us that in times like these, a radical vision of what is possible is exactly what people need.
Dawn at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC, on January 18, 2016. (Photo: Zach Gibson / The New York Times)
Coretta Scott King testified before Congress twice, in 1979 and 1982, to argue for the importance of instituting a national holiday in honor of her late husband, Martin Luther King Jr.
Pushback to the proposed holiday included conservative Democrat Congressman Larry McDonald's assertion that a recognized holiday centered around King -- a figure who both engaged in civil disobedience and openly criticized the government -- would encourage young people to foster "contempt for the law."
Contrary to this conservative (and racist) fear, MLK Day has since become a day centered around a watered-down or "sanitized" telling of the life of King and the movement he was a part of. What McDonald seemed to underestimate was the ability of people in power to control popular understandings of history and paint the past as something that supports the conditions of the present.
Today, many young people will be taught a warped version of history -- punctuated by King's inspiring speeches -- that overlooks the hard work of organizers by suggesting that the Montgomery bus boycott organically evolved in response to Rosa Parks singlehandedly refusing to give up her seat.
With a neo-fascist president-elect taking office in just four days, these ahistorical narratives are dangerous. They work to mislead the public about the tools it takes to make change, the honest historical context in which we exist and the true political legacies of our icons and our ancestors. Although King's persona and charismatic calls to action held a strategic place in galvanizing people, it was not charisma that turned out thousands of people to march to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965; it was organizing. And it was not a spontaneous decision by a tired woman on the bus that led to the most massive transportation boycott of the century; the Montgomery bus boycott was a result of coordinated organizing efforts, and Parks' refusal was a strategic direct action.
MLK Day narratives about the Black freedom movement of the 1960s too often allow King's shadow to eclipse acknowledgment of the contributions of the many organizers and strategists who made the movement -- including Ella Baker and the students who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Fannie Lou Hamer and the countless other former sharecroppers who joined the movement; Diane Nash and the coordinators of the 1961 Freedom Rides; Pauli Murray and those who challenged the movement to interrogate gender and sexuality; Kwame Ture and others who went on to lead the shift away from nonviolence and toward a Black power framework. As Baker once said, "Martin didn't make the movement, the movement made Martin." The erasure of these essential movers and shakers is both a result of the limitations of a leadership model that rests on figureheads and singular icons and the intentional whitewashing of King and of history.
James Baldwin once wrote that "the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do." These words emphasize what is at stake for us in trying to make sense of history. Taking history as seriously as Baldwin suggests we should, organizers of my generation have participated in efforts to reclaim MLK Day. These attempts to "#ReclaimMLK" aim to de-sanitize the stories we've been told in order to uncover radical impulses and organizing strategies that may better equip us to navigate the intense present.
The transition of power we are about to witness marks not only a shift in the political climate, but also a radical transformation of power structures and, likely, a new political normal. For this reason, the moment we are in demands that we pay close attention to history. Our lives depend on it.
We must understand the fight for the right to vote as one part of a movement that understood the dehumanization inherent in the denial of Black people's right to vote, and how that dehumanization was a part of enforcing the hierarchy necessary in order to maintain the system of racial capitalism.
In 1967, King named racism, capitalism and militarism as the "three evils of society." In this moment, we have a similar responsibility to name and connect how larger structures are behind the impacts people feel and will increasingly feel in their daily lives. Pursuing incremental reforms rather than structural transformations is no longer going to be a feasible strategy, nor has it ever been enough.
As we see mass mobilization happening on the extreme right, it is necessary that we work toward mass political engagement of the left, of poor people, of Black people, of immigrants, of Muslims, of Indigenous people, of queer people, of trans people. History will show us that in times like these, a radical vision is exactly what people need. In fact, it is the only thing that will serve as a hopeful North Star leading us toward what is possible.