October 3, 2013 Issue

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 


Montebello Candidates Focus On Ending City’s ‘Bad’ Image

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Citing the city’s negative image and dissolution of the Redevelopment Agency as the primary reasons why Montebello has not fully recovered from the recession, candidates running for seats on the Montebello City Council at a forum last week said they would help the city address its economic challenges by bringing new businesses to Montebello.

They said they would highlight advantages for locating in the eastside city.

(Left to Right): Ana Ariolla, Mayor Pro Tem William M. Molinari, Councilman Art Barajas and Vivian Romero participated in a candidate forum on Sept. 26 at the Armenian Center in Montebello. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(Left to Right): Ana Ariolla, Mayor Pro Tem William M. Molinari, Councilman Art Barajas and Vivian Romero participated in a candidate forum on Sept. 26 at the Armenian Center in Montebello. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Four of the seven candidates vying for one of three council seats on the November ballot participated in the candidate forum held at the Armenian Center and hosted by the Armenian National Committee San Gabriel Chapter.

The seats of two current council members —mayor pro tem and business owner William M. Molinari and councilman and business owner Art Barajas — are on the ballot along with a third seat currently held by Councilman Frank Gomez who decided not to seek reelection. The top three vote getters from the pool of seven candidates will win.

Molinari and Barajas were joined at the forum by challengers Anna Arriola, a retired financial technician and long time community activist and businesswoman and chair of Montebello’s Culture & Recreation Commission, Vivian Romero.

The forum quickly turned to the topic of money and the battering the city’s image has taken  in recent years amid allegations that it improperly handled its finances, including federal housing funds, that resulted in a dive in the city’s credit rating among other financial problems. By the end of the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year, Montebello was grappling with a $6.7 million budget deficit, a situation that has since improved.

Some candidates said claims that Montebello was on the verge of bankruptcy and owed a lot of money to the state due to misuse of funds were false. Arriola said blame for the city’s negative image belongs to the current council, which has failed to be straightforward with residents.

“I don’t beat around the bush or try to hide things and pretend that what’s going on is not the truth,” she said.

Incumbent Molinari said he was running for one more term because he feels he still has something to contribute to the city and betterment of the community, but asked residents and fellow elected officials to stop “playing the blame game” and move forward.

“Its important to put an end to the negativity that has permeated this community for the last three years. It has served no beneficial purpose,” he said. Rather, “It has hurt the city’s image and discouraged business.”

“We need to start making Montebello what it once was,” Barajas said. “Montebello certainly has the meat on its bones to turn the city around.”

Romero agrees that Montebello needs to restore its reputation to the level it once had.

“We were once known as the Beverly Hills of the eastside,” she recalled. “I’d like to see that happen again.”

Montebello’s current operating budget is balanced and the city has over $3 million in reserves, but more revenue is needed to cover the city’s  $1 million in annual bond repayments.

Bringing more businesses to the city or taking more drastic actions such as raising taxes is what’s needed, Arriola said. She said her finance background, which includes playing the stock market for years and never going “broke,” will help her figure out what financial options the city has to move forward.

The greatest challenge in Molinari’s eyes was the dissolution of the RDA, which he identified as a “major economic engine in California” that helped recruit businesses to cities across the state. Barajas agreed, saying the dissolution of RDA took away funding that helped generate tax revenue for the city.

Nevertheless, Molinari says the city is “embarking on an era of economic development.” He cites new condominium developments, a hotel, restaurants and a new Chase bank location coming to the city as examples of the progress being made. His focus, however, will continue to be the revitalization of the downtown Whittier Boulevard corridor, he told forum participants.

“We owe it to the local business community to get the same considerations that we gave to the major businesses,” he added.

A local business owner himself, Barajas said constant negativity and false rumors of impending bankruptcy and the transferring of the city’s police and fire service have made it hard to attract new businesses or be a property owner in Montebello.

He said the city is “turning a corner” and should focus on marketing itself to entice developers to the city.

Vivian Romero agreed that changes are needed if the city hopes to successfully draw new businesses. She said Montebello should relax some of its ordinances and open city hall on Fridays to make it more conducive to business.

A self-proclaimed “foodie,” Romero said she would like to see more restaurants move to Montebello and fill some of the numerous empty storefronts.

“I would like to see Montebello turn into something like South Pasadena,” she told the 100 or so forum participants, drawing applause.

Candidates, each of whom elaborated on why they think they are the best choice for the council, also discussed the pro and cons for allowing the Montebello Hills Project to move forward, and took questions regarding their stances on public safety and getting more youth involved in the city.

The three candidates who did not attend the forum are Operations manager Emma Delgado, teacher and school administrator Flavio Gallarzo and Montebello city clerk and quality control supervisor Daniel Hernandez who said he could not attend due to a scheduling conflict. However, statements from each of the missing candidates, which sounded remarkably similar, were read at the forum. In each case, the author identified the city’s budget as a top priority of their campaign.

Nearly 100 Montebello residents attended a candidate forum to learn more about city council hopefuls. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Nearly 100 Montebello residents attended a candidate forum to learn more about city council hopefuls. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Armenian National Committee San Gabriel Chapter member Levon Kirakosian responded to their absence during the forum.

“We believe that democracy means that those that are asking for the vote and support of the people that they are transparent and open and be present at all events to present their viewpoints so voters can make an informed decision on who they would vote for,” he said.

Residents have until the Nov. 5 Election Day to decide who they will vote for.

Chronically Homeless Vets to Get Homes in Boyle Heights

October 3, 2013 by · 5 Comments 

An apartment complex to house chronically homeless senior citizens who are veterans of the US Armed Forces is going up on the eastside. Construction of the Beswick Senior Apartments—the first of its kind in Boyle Heights—is scheduled to be complete in fall of 2014.

Lea esta nota en ESPAÑOL:  Veteranos Crónicamente Sin Techo Tendrán Hogar en Boyle Heights

The $12.5 million-dollar low-income development project at 3553 Beswick St. was celebrated last week with the signing of a construction beam by co-developers East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) and New Directions for Veterans, Inc., and others. The beam will be incorporated into the two-story structure with 32 one-bedroom units to house veterans.

Construction of a housing complex for elderly homeless veterans began five months ago; project partners gathered last week for a ‘beam signing’ celebration at the facility. (Photo courtesy of ELACC)

Construction of a housing complex for elderly homeless veterans began five months ago; project partners gathered last week for a ‘beam signing’ celebration at the facility. (Photo courtesy of ELACC)

The apartment complex is meant to be permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless and disabled U.S war veterans who are 62 and older, according to ELACC.

“It’s about time something like this would happen… and hopefully this is the start of many” [more], said Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4696 Commander Tony Zapata, who led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Zapata, a long-time resident of Boyle Heights, participated in ELACC’s community meetings, advocating for the apartments construction. “These brave people who have served this country deserve decent housing… I can’t stand to see a veteran living under a bridge,” Zapata said in a written statement.

Zapata’s VFW members will help rename the development, according to ELACC.

Maria Cabildo, president of ELACC, said construction on the development began five months ago but a ground-breaking ceremony was not held in order to “show action” and to cut perceptions about how long the construction is taking to complete.

The project, however, was not without opposition, according to Cabildo who said some Boyle Heights residents do not support ELACC’s affordable housing developments. “These individuals have a serious compassion deficit,” said Cabildo, who at the same time commended veterans living in the community who support the development.

New Direction for Veterans President and CEO Gregory Scott called the event historical, but he too acknowledged that they received pushback from residents who oppose homeless veterans moving into their neighborhood.

“… New Directions is not far from that pushback when we’re trying to do right, but we always know that compassion always wins … no matter what the opposition is,” he said.

Scott said New Directions wants to someday eliminate the term “homeless veteran.”

“Our vision and mission is to empower all veterans and their families to live a vital and sustainable life. We believe that no man or woman who wears a service uniform, who risks their life to serve this county, should ever be without a home or a job or food in their homeland,” he said. “Nobody thinks being homeless is the best, most comfortable, safest way to live. Nobody wants to beg for food, or beg for attention looking for food, shelter, clothing…”

Opponents of affordable housing in Boyle Heights have previously told EGP that they oppose such projects because they do not give priority to local residents and because they exclude undocumented immigrants in the mostly Latino community, while bringing in the homeless from other parts of the city. They in turn draw their homeless associates to loiter in the area.

Residents worry that the chronically homeless suffer from mental illness, perhaps caused by trauma. As a result, affordable housing projects targeted to the chronically homeless, including veterans, is unattractive to some local homeowners.

According to ELACC, however, the new apartment complex will offer on-site case management, mental health services, and other services provided by New Directions. Other partners include the Department of Veteran Affairs, Los Angeles County Department of Military Affairs, Behavioral Health Services, and Weingart East LA YMCA.

Eastern LA County is home to 856 homeless veterans according to the 2011 Greater LA Homeless Count Report, ELACC stated in a press release.

Dodgers: Ready for October!

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez (pictured) last Friday score on a double by catcher A.J. Ellis. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

Matt Kemp and Adrian Gonzalez (pictured) last Friday score on a double by catcher A.J. Ellis. (EGP photo by Fred Zermeno)

The Los Angeles Dodgers continue their World Series quest today in Atlanta where they will take on the Braves for game one of the National League Division Series playoffs.

The team roster will look different going into round one of the playoffs, as the Dodgers — plagued by injuries since day one of the 2013 season — shuffle players around to with deal with injuries to key players like center fielder Matt Kemp who will be forced to sit out postseason play due to an ankle injury.

An MRI administered Sunday showed Kemp has significant swelling and weakening in a bone in his left ankle. Fearing further damage, Dodgers team doctor Neal ElAttrache said the team decided Kemp—who wanted to continue playing—should sit out the rest of the season.

As of press time Wednesday, injured outfielder Andre Ethier was still questionable for the playoffs, with a game day decision expected today. Ethier has been practicing with the team but has avoided running bases in hopes of giving shin splits on his left leg time to mend.

Games one and two of the series against the Braves will be played today and Friday at Turner Field in Atlanta. Games three and four will be played Sunday and Monday at Chavez Ravine, with the deciding game 5 back in Atlanta if necessary.


Con Fin de Mejorar su Imagen, Vernon Urge Acción por AQMD

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Preocupados por la percepción del público de que la Ciudad de Vernon no está haciendo lo suficiente para proteger a los residentes de las emisiones potencialmente dañinas de plomo y arsénico provenientes de la planta de reciclaje de baterías Exide Technologies, funcionarios de Vernon el martes tomaron acción. El concejo municipal de Vernon aprobó por unanimidad una resolución que pide a la agencia de control de contaminación del aire a emitir una advertencia de salud para el Sudeste del Condado de Los Ángeles, en respuesta a los descubrimientos hace unas semanas de que las emisiones de la planta han superado las normas de nuevo.

Read this story IN ENGLISH: Hoping to Improve Public Image, Vernon Urges Action by AQMD

Vernon está solicitando al South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD o AQMD por sus siglas en inglés) a emitir la advertencia, similar a las alertas de smog y humo que emite el organismo. Las advertencias por la agencia incluyen medidas que los residentes pueden tomar de inmediato para protegerse de la exposición.

La solicitud de los funcionarios de Vernon es inusual. No está claro si la solicitud tendrá algún impacto ya que ese tipo de aviso por lo general solo se emite cuando la calidad del aire es mala, y no después que las condiciones insaludables han pasado.

Sin embargo, los funcionarios de Vernon han dicho que seguirán presionando a AQMD a emitir la alerta, a pesar de que ya han pasado semanas desde que se registraron las emisiones peligrosas.

El Alcalde Michael W. McCormick dijo que la cuidad también alentará a las ciudades cercanas a hacer lo mismo, y les enviará una copia de la resolución a la Junta de Supervisores del Condado de Los Ángeles, y a los concejos municipales de Los Ángeles, Commerce, Maywood, Bell y Huntington Park. También enviarán la resolución a los congresistas y senadores que representan la zona, instándoles a enviar cartas a AQMD.

A partir del martes, los funcionarios de AQMD no habían recibido la solicitud formal de Vernon, pero el portavoz de AQMD Sam Atwood dijo a EGP que la agencia ya ha hecho su parte para informar al público.

“La notificación ya tomo lugar”, él dijo, y señaló las 8 reuniones públicas realizadas por AQMD en Commerce, Huntington Park, Vernon, Boyle Heights y City Terrace, y el sitio web de la agencia tiene información extensa sobre Exide.

Sin embargo, la información disponible y las reuniones públicas parecen haber generado más coraje contra Vernon, al que se le culpa por permitir que Exide siga operando a pesar de exceder las normas de plomo y de arsénico. La planta, que ya estaba bajo escrutinio durante los últimos meses, a medios de septiembre volvió a ser ordenado por AQMD a reducir su producción, por 15 por ciento, debido a los niveles elevados de emisiones peligrosas.

Grossberg dijo a EGP que la resolución por los funcionarios de Vernon era “necesaria” y crea conocimiento público acerca de la preocupación de la ciudad. Él dijo que la ciudad será un aliado en ayudar a “responsabilizar a AQMD,” que, según él, tiene el poder de regular Exide, no Vernon.

“[Los residentes y activistas] apuntan a Vernon con el dedo acusador porque Exide esta [en la zona] y contamina su comunidad”, dijo Grossberg. “Hay preocupación que no hemos hecho todo lo que podemos hacer y no queremos dar la impresión de que estamos protegiendo un negocio en Vernon”.

Si el AQMD encuentra que no hay razón para emitir tal advertencia, deben explicarle al público por qué las emisiones de Exide no merecen una advertencia, él dijo, liberando a la ciudad de culpa y el control sobre el tema.

Sin embargo, Grossberg señala que Exide sólo ha superado los niveles de plomo y arsénico permitidos bajo su permiso de operación, pero no los límites legales. Esto a pesar de que una evaluación de riesgos a la salud por AQMD a principios de este año resultó en la emisión de un aviso de no conformidad contra Exide y una orden de notificar a más de 250.000 residentes de su exposición y riesgo a cáncer debido a los niveles elevados de plomo y arsénico liberados al aire.

Aunque Vernon no tiene autoridad de controlar la calidad de aire, sí puede regular y hacer cumplir los códigos de zonificación locales, pero Grossberg dice que seria “inconstitucional” si la ciudad modifica sus códigos de zonificación o buscan otra manera de clausurar la planta de Exide.

Atwood dijo a EGP que la agencia está revisando el plan de reducción del riesgo de Exide y asistirá a una reunión comunitaria acerca de Exide que se realizará este martes, 8 de octubre, en Boyle Heights.

La reunión esta presentada por el Senador Kevin De León y habrá reguladores que presentarán una actualización sobre los esfuerzos para reducir las emisiones de la instalación. La reunión será de 6 a 8 p.m. en la Iglesia Resurrección, ubicada en 3324 Opal St., L.A. 90023. Para obtener más información llame al (213) 483-9300 o envíe un correo electrónico a Senator.deleon@senate.ca.gov.


Hoping to Improve Public Image, Vernon Urges Action by AQMD

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Worried the public thinks Vernon is not doing enough to protect residents living in and around the city from harmful lead and arsenic emissions by Exide Technologies, city officials on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution calling for the local air quality district to issue a health advisory for Southeast Los Angeles County in response to recent findings that emissions at the Vernon-based lead battery recycler have exceeded safety standards.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Con Fin de Mejorar su Imagen, Vernon Urge Acción por AQMD 

Vernon is asking the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) to issue the advisory, similar to smog and smoke alerts sent out by the agency that include immediate steps residents should take to protect themselves from exposure.

Vernon city council (pictured) approved a resolution Tuesday asking the South Coast Air Quality Control District to issue a health advisory in response to the Exide’s aresenic emissions. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Vernon city council (pictured) approved a resolution Tuesday asking the South Coast Air Quality Control District to issue a health advisory in response to the Exide’s aresenic emissions. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The request from Vernon officials is unusual. It is unclear what if any impact it will have since those types of advisories are usually issued when air quality is poor and not after the unhealthful condition has already passed. Vernon officials said that they will continue to press AQMD to issue the alert even though weeks have passed since the unsafe emissions were recorded.

Mayor W. Michael McCormick said the city also plans to urge surrounding municipalities to do the same and will be send a copy of Vernon’s resolution to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the city councils for Los Angeles, Commerce, Maywood, Bell and Huntington Park. They will also send it to congressional and state representatives and urge them to send letters to AQMD.

“We feel more steps can be taken to protect the health and lives of residents and workers in the city of Vernon as well as those other potentially affected communities,” said Vernon Health Director Leonard Grossberg.

AQMD officials have not yet received Vernon’s formal request,but AQMD Media Relations Manager Sam Atwood told EGP the agency has already done its part in informing the public.

“The notification has already taken place,” he said, noting the 8 public meetings held by AQMD in Commerce, Huntington Park, Vernon, Boyle Heights and City Terrace, and the agency’s website where extensive information can be found regarding Exide.

But the available information and public meetings seem to have generated more animosity toward Vernon, making the industrial city a target for blame by residents and activists frustrated that Exide has been allowed to continue to operate despite exceeding safe lead and arsenic emissions levels, which most recently caused AQMD to issue a notice of violation to the battery recycler and ordering them to cut production by 15 percent.

Grossberg told EGP that the resolution was “necessary.” He said it makes the city’s concern public, and will help “force the action back to AQMD,” which he says has the power to regulate Exide, not Vernon.

“[Residents and activists] point an accusing finger at Vernon for Exide being [in the area] and polluting their community,” said Grossberg. “There’s a concern that we haven’t done everything we can and we don’t want to give an impression that we’re protecting a business in Vernon.”

If the AQMD finds there is no reason to issue such an advisory, they should explain to the public why Exide’s emissions do not merit an advisory, he said, deflecting blame and control over the issue away from the city.

Grossberg is also quick to point out that Exide has only exceeded the lead and arsenic levels contained in its operating permit, not statutory limits, even though an AQMD health risk assessment conducted earlier this year resulted in Exide being issued a notice of violation and an order to notify over 250,000 residents of their increased cancer risk due to higher than allowed emissions of lead and arsenic

Vernon knows AQMD could choose to not issue an advisory, but the city feels asking for one may be all they can do, said Grossberg, who also told the council Vernon lacks the statutory authority to regulate air quality. The city can, however, regulate and enforce local zoning codes, but Grossberg says suggestions by some that Vernon should amend zoning codes or find other ways to shut Exide own would later be found to be “unconstitutional.”

Vernon City Manager Mark Whitworth said the resolution will “up the ante” in making AQMD address the fear and frustration of residents over Exide’s continued operation.

Residents in the city and surrounding areas want to know what they can and “should do to protect themselves and loved ones” from the harmful emissions, said Whitworth.

On Tuesday, Councilman Richard Maisano and Mayor Pro Tem Davis expressed concern over AQMD’s reluctance to issue an advisory. “We believe AQMD can do more to help the residents fully understand their immediate and long term health risks,” said Davis.

However, Councilman Michael Ybarra, who agreed the resolution was something the city had to pass, said actions taken so far by the air management district have not alleviated the risk to people living and working in the area.

“[Exide] cuts back [15%] but what is that going to do? If something is malfunctioning that’s the problem,” he said. “I don’t think the cause has been addressed.”

AQMD’s Atwood told EGP the agency is currently reviewing Exide’s risk reduction plan and will attend a Town Hall meeting on Exide being held Tuesday Oct. 8.  in Boyle Heights.

“Our focus is on getting Exide to reduce its emissions.”


Tuesday, Oct. 8

6-8pm–Senator Kevin De Leon will host a Town Hall Meeting on Exide Technologies at Resurrection Church in Boyle Heights. Regulators will update the public on efforts to reduce lead emissions from the facility. Resurrection Church is located at 3324 Opal St, L.A. 90023. For information, call (213) 483-9300 or email Senator.deleon@senate.ca.gov.


Whose Responsible for Budget Impasse?

October 3, 2013 by · 1 Comment 

October 1, 2013 has brought a bit of bad news for the Republican Party. A majority of Americans don’t oppose the Affordable Care Act like they thought.

In fact, the response was so big for ACA’s rollout Tuesday, online sites and phone centers established to handle enrollment were overwhelmed and in some cases could not keep up with the initial demand.

The website for California’s healthcare exchange, Covered California, received more than 645,000 hits on the first day people could sign up for health insurance and more than 17,000 calls were received by the state’s call centers. More than 2.8 million people visited the federal website set up to assist people in states without their own health exchanges. That number had grown to 6.1 million by the end of the Wednesday.

By the end of the day, the insurance exchange computers had crashed. Techs immediately went to work to correct problems exposed by the overwhelming response.

While there is no guarantee that everyone who attempted to get information or enroll through the exchange will ultimately do so, those types of numbers show people want, need health insurance.

So Republicans in Congress should stop using the flawed mantra that they are trying to de-fund the Act, also called Obamacare, because that’s what most Americans want. The notion that Americans are so anti-Obamacare they are willing to support the Republican shut down of the government and a possible default on the national debt is ludicrous. So is a proposed plan to fund items in the budget one by one until only the Affordable Care Act remains, then refusing to vote on that one item!

Democrats are refusing to delay the implementation of the Act for a year and we don’t blame them since next years’ budget battles could include efforts to defund the Act again.

The Republican Party has refused to reconsider the draconian cuts of sequestration aimed mostly at the American middle and working classes and the American poor and unemployed, so what makes anyone think they’ll reconsider defunding the Health Care Act?

Having said this, we really can’t understand why President Obama and the congressional Democrats are being so uncompromising in their refusal to negotiate some type of agreement with the other side of the aisle to take care of American veterans by making sure they receive their pay and services, relenting on allowing National Parks to stay open and making sure unemployment benefits are paid.

By refusing to negotiate at all, Democrats risk being viewed as uncaring and could lose the moral high ground.

President Obama summoned both sides of the aisle to the White House Wednesday afternoon for a meeting, but it seems little progress was made.

It’s time to get the government moving again, continued delay will only harm our still fragile economy.

Fund the Affordable Care Act and then get to the work of improving it so it meets the goal of insuring more of the uninsured and lowering health costs.

 Editor’s Note: This column has been updated to correct the number of hits to the Covered California web page. State officials, citing “internal miscommunication” as the cause for the error, said the actual number was 645,000 and not 5 million as initially reported. It is EGP’s view that this number, though much lower, still demonstrates a strong desire on the part of uninsured Californians to purchase health insurance.

From Our Readers

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

Re: Recalls Rarely Productive, Sept. 26, 2013

I share the concern of EGP News regarding the push for a recall election in the City of Commerce. As EGP stated, recall elections should only be held when there is clear evidence of public officials’ extreme malfeasance or criminal wrongdoing.

Commerce voters spoke just six months ago in March of 2013 and elected the three councilmembers who are targets of the recall effort. As mayor, I am proud of all of my colleagues on our city council. We consider the issues before us with thoughtful and sober discussion. A review of our voting record would reveal in almost every case, a unanimous vote on budgetary and policy issues.

Only recently has the city been able to slowly climb out of the National recession that impacted all levels of government. The projected expense of the recall election is upwards of $33,000 plus associated staff costs. These are funds that could be better spent on enhanced recreation, library or social services for Commerce residents.

I would encourage Commerce voters to carefully consider the reasons for this recall effort. I urge voters to disregard the signature gathering effort and allow the democratic process to unfold. There is a city election scheduled for March of 2015.




Mayor Joe Aguilar

City of Commerce

When Citizens Shocked Plutocrats

October 3, 2013 by · 4 Comments 

A hundred years ago, on October 3, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the first modern federal tax on income.

John Buenker has been writing about the events that led to that signing for a good bit of the last 50 years. His 1985 book, The Income Tax and the Progressive Era, remains our most insightful history of the years of struggle that led to federal income taxation.

That history clearly matters to Buenker, an emeritus historian at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. But should this history also matter to the rest of us?

Actually, the early history of the income tax may matter more today than ever before. In 2013, after all, Americans face almost the same challenge our counterparts in 1913 faced. They lived amid a staggeringly intense concentration of wealth and income. We do too.

America’s wealthy a century ago enjoyed nearly a lockgrip over the nation’s politics. One example: U.S. senators back then never had to stand before voters. State legislatures, not average Americans, decided who served in the Senate, and the lawmakers who filled these legislatures often considered giant corporations their only constituents who mattered.

And should legislation hostile to plutocratic interests somehow slip into law, the U.S. Supreme Court stood ready to rescue the nation’s most comfortable. In 1894, with the West and South aflame in Populist revolt, Congress passed a modest tax on high incomes. The Supreme Court the next year declared the tax unconstitutional.

Americans of modest means, despite this stacked political deck, would eventually prevail in the battle for an income tax. Growing economic hardship, historian John Buenker believes, certainly played a key role in the victory. A depression in the 1890s, followed by sharp inflation and then a financial panic in 1907, all nurtured growing public unease over the political power America’s rich exercised.

But this growing unease, Buenker stresses, only translated into an income tax because citizen activists had spent decades on the “frustrating, brutal, and boring work” of building a movement committed to taxing the rich.

“They kept grinding away against all that wealth and power,” as Buenker told me recently. “They refused to give up, no matter how many barriers their opponents threw in their path.”

The last major barrier went up in 1909. Income tax advocates in Congress finally appeared to have enough votes to put an income tax into law. Instead, a series of cynical congressional leadership deals produced a prospective constitutional amendment that only gave Congress the authority to consider an income tax.

Conservatives felt sure this amendment would never be ratified. But in 1910 and again in 1912, progressives mobilized to elect pro-income tax legislative majorities in state after state. In early 1913, the amendment allowing an income tax became part of the Constitution, and Congress would soon send President Wilson an income tax bill.

This first income tax statute wouldn’t be much more than a nuisance for America’s rich — no dollar of income faced more than 7 cents in tax — but tax rates on high incomes would rise significantly in the years to come.

By mid-century, notes Buenker, the income tax had become an “effective tool for dealing with the obscene maldistribution of income and wealth.” By 1944, the tax rate on income over $200,000 had jumped to 94 percent, and the nation’s top tax rate would hover around 90 percent for the next two decades. Those were years of unprecedented middle class prosperity.

Given the conservative counterattack against the income tax of recent decades — the top tax rate today stands at 39.6 percent — what would Buenker do differently if he were writing his 1985 tax history today?

“I would go into much more depth,” he notes, “on the dynamics and mechanics of building the multifaceted, nationwide coalition that brought the income tax into effect.”

The lesson from that coalition? Achieving success against concentrated wealth, says Buenker, “takes persistence over a long period of time.”


OtherWords.org columnist Sam Pizzigati, an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow, edits the inequality weekly Too Much. His latest book is The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class. 


The Values Divide

October 3, 2013 by · Leave a Comment 

There’s a lot of talk about how polarized the country is today. Sometimes that polarization is more than about partisan politics — it’s about real differences in values.

Take the House Republicans’ recent votes to deny food and health care to millions of Americans. Those were statements of values.

The first vote was to cut 3.8 million Americans off the SNAP program — food stamps — because they can’t find jobs. The Republican argument is that adults who don’t have children to take care of must be responsible for themselves. The fact that there are three people looking for work for every job available was beside the point to the 217 members of Congress who voted for the cut in food assistance.

The other big vote was to defund the Affordable Care Act, which would deny 25 million Americans health coverage. Unlike the SNAP cuts, blocking President Barack Obama’s landmark health care reform would halt expanding health coverage to millions of working people whose jobs do not come with health coverage. It would also cut off people with pre-existing health conditions and Americans who are out of work and don’t qualify for Medicaid.

But the core Republican argument is the same, as expressed by the Missouri State Senator who has led the effort to stop the Affordable Care Act’s implementation in his state. “We can’t afford everything we do now, let alone provide free medical care to able-bodied adults,” said Missouri State Senator Rob Schaaf.

While it’s easy to point out all the ways Schaaf’s statement is false — the Affordable Care Act won’t be providing free health care to most beneficiaries, it will be made available to children and people with chronic disabilities as well as “able-bodied adults,” and it’s fully paid-for with taxes — those arguments miss the lawmaker’s basic point. He’s making a values statement here, the same one underlying the attempt by House lawmakers to cut off food assistance.

The values argument is about different notions of responsibility and freedom between Republican conservatives and progressive Democrats. The conservative value of responsibility is that people are on their own to take care of themselves. If they can’t do that, it’s not the collective responsibility of society through government to help them, leaving voluntary charitable efforts to take care of any humane concerns.

The conservative value of freedom is that it’s an infringement on a person’s freedom to be taxed to take care of someone else.

Progressives have contrasting views of the same values. Progressive Democrats believe that while we are each responsible for ourselves we also have a shared responsibility, through our government, to care for each other. Accordingly, if we have not created an economy with enough jobs for people to support themselves, we are responsible for being sure that people have the support they need, including food.

Freedom for Democrats isn’t just the freedom to express oneself — it’s also the “freedom from want,” in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words. An example here is being free to get health insurance even if you have a preexisting medical condition.

There’s certainly a boatload of political posturing in Washington. We know that one reason Republicans keep voting to defund the Affordable Care Act, knowing that they won’t prevail, is to appeal to conservative voters and funders. But behind the posturing is a clear set of values.


Richard Kirsch is a senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and the author of Fighting for Our Health: The Epic Battle to Make Health Care a Right in the United States. He’s also a senior adviser to USAction. USAction.org. Distributed via OtherWords.org.


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