small town (numerical) values

It’s really sort of remarkable, the lengths some people will go to in order to hide the metropolitan reality of this country. And that’s assuming that Wasilla and all other similarly-sized cities are small towns that are not, as surely some of them are, actually suburbs just on the edge of urbanized areas.

Tribune Thursday Friday

It will be up later. Various obligations kept me from doing it on Thursday (which just ended for me).

Update: Here it is.

  1. Banker George I. Whitney of Pittsburg wrote a letter “to friends in this city” saying that among the reasons for the failure of Brown & Co. were loans made by Brown & Co. to Whitney, Stephenson & Co., which Whitney heads, and to Whitney himself. The loans were made “before and after” the collapse of Whitney, Stephenson during the 1907 panic.

  3. Colonel Alexander Troup, prominent Democrat and a friend and supporter of William Jennings Bryan died suddenly in Grand Central Station. His death is thought to have been caused by apoplexy.

  5. Vice President and Presidential candidate Taft, who is in Ohio, “devoted the greater part of the forenoon to correspondence, which for the last two days had remained unanswered,” had a conference with Secretary of the Interior James R. Garfield “on the general political situation,” and then headed off to fish in the afternoon. Garfield gives the paper his view of the political situation.

  7. The Amalgamated Association of Street and Electric Railway Employees of America is threatening a strike of its 32,000 New England members, which may begin on Labor Day. Background of the dispute:

    The trouble started some time ago in this city [the dateline is Providence], when fifty-four men on the Rhode Island company’s street railway system, controlled by the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, were discharged. The company’s officials stated that the men were released because of a breach of discipline, while the union men asserted that the discharge was the result of the formation of a local branch of the Amalgamated association.


  9. Nearly 200 employees at Ellis Island were stranded for six hours by a series of problems with the boats connecting them with the surrounding area.

  11. At the Niagara County Fair, Governor Hughes got a cold reception from the Wadsworth Republicans – apparently the machine in control of the district – but a warm reception from the general audience who came to see him.


cultural geography

Isn’t Wasilla really more of a suburb than a small town? The city website’s “At Work” page talks about “small-town living” but the statistics sure look like “suburb” (or “exurb”):

One of the Mat-Su Borough’s chief exports is labor. Wasilla residents and most of the Borough’s population live within 40 to 50 miles of the state’s largest city, Anchorage, and approximately 35 percent of Mat-Su workers commute. Many local residents who work in other locations were first drawn to Wasilla because of its affordable housing and the benefits of small-town living.

A significant number of workers travel even longer distances. These commuters—about 10 percent of borough residents—include North Slope oil workers, construction workers who travel among various parts of the state, and commercial fishers (120 area residents hold commercial fishing permits).

These population statistics suggest the same thing. Look at the high rate of growth for the city and the borough of which it is a part since the 1990 census.* Wasilla may still be fairly small, but it certainly appears to be following the path of a lot of other former small towns that have been incorporated into larger metropolitan areas through the processes of urban and suburban growth.

There’s been a trend in recent years towards urban living, but if I’m not mistaken, more Americans live in suburban than in urban or rural areas. And as anyone who follows current debates over transit and urbanism knows, suburbs have no shortage of defenders. Better schools, larger houses with private yards, access to open space, more light, often cleaner air and water – there are a lot reasons many people favor suburbs over many central city areas.** Combine that with proximity to the cultural and economic power of a city and you have a pretty good idea of why many choose suburbs over small towns, perhaps after an initial move to the central city.

But how often do you hear about “suburban values”? The phrase doesn’t necessarily have a negative connotation, but compare it to “small-town values”: why, after decades of suburban growth, does the latter ideal still retain such power, and political power in particular? I suppose the quick explanation is that it is the continuing influence of the agrarian ideal, but that’s somehow not very satisfying, especially since the shift away from “independent yeoman farmer” to “small-town resident, possibly but quite often not self-employed” was a non-trivial one. Why hasn’t there been another shift?

Last year on CNN Candy Crowley ran a story about Congress and its low approval rating. It was the usual “Congress isn’t getting much done, find some people to criticize it on camera for being out of touch, don’t mention the filibuster or the veto” kind of story. One of the people quoted was described as a small-town mayor. A quick search online revealed the small town to be near O’Hare airport, to have been founded as a suburb, to contain a large business park, and to have a mayor so distant from Congress and its concerns that he was mentioned as a possible candidate for Henry Hyde’s seat in the House when Hyde retired. (He chose not to run).

*Also check out the relatively low median age and high percentage of residents under 18: probably a lot of young families with children.

**Yes, not everyone, and not every suburb over every central city. That’s why I wrote many. But it’s no use denying that there are plenty of people who choose suburbs for these reasons.

stand out

This remarkable story comes towards the end of Bob Herbert’s recent column about Obama’s convention speech:

P.T. Cochran would agree. Mr. Cochran, 88, a retired appraiser for the city of Detroit, recalled a day in 1944 when he and a fellow student at Wilberforce University, a black school in Ohio, went into the town of Xenia to see a movie. The ticket taker told them the theater was closed.

“We knew it wasn’t closed,” said Mr. Cochran. “They just didn’t want to let us in. So we stood there, watching to see if they would let anyone else in.”

The ticket taker refused to admit anyone as long as the two friends were standing outside. They stood there for six hours. Then they called the school and let other friends know what they were doing. The students at Wilberforce alerted white students at nearby Antioch College.

Students from both schools turned out in force — more than 100 of them — to support Mr. Cochran and his friend. “They all stood there with us, to back us up,” said Mr. Cochran. At that point, his voice broke, and he wept softly at the memory from 64 years ago.

“We stayed there until the theater closed that night,” said Mr. Cochran. “And then we came back the next day, which was Sunday, and stood there until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, when they finally decided to let us in.

“I’ll never forget what those kids did for us.”

ballot cards

I was going to review a book about (the idea of) work today, but I’m still reading it. So instead I’ll write a little about card check, which I’ve been trying to learn more about. As I understand it (and correct me if I am misunderstanding things), current law says that workers gain union recognition if a secret ballot election results in a majority vote in favor of unionization. Under a card check system workers would gain union recognition if a majority sign cards authorizing the formation of a union. Sometimes employers recognize unions on the basis of card check, but they can choose not to and require an election.

Labor groups and most Democrats in Congress favor card check, which would be given the same legal force as an election if Congress passes and the President signs into law the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA); employers favor keeping the current secret-ballot requirements. Each side argues that the other’s position allows the other to unfairly influence the outcome of the process: employers can engage in anti-unionization tactics over the months before an election is held; union organizers can approach workers multiple times over a period of months until they get enough cards signed.

I’m generally pro-unionization, and given a choice between only the two options of card check and secret ballot under current conditions, I would favor card check. As it happens, I don’t think the choice is quite that restricted: I believe that the EFCA allows employees to choose either card check or an election.* (I’m going by wikipedia here, so again, correct me if I’m wrong.) Nevertheless, though I know there’s plenty of evidence that the current election system is deeply flawed, I’m still not very comfortable with the idea of not using a secret ballot at all.**

Which is why I was interested to see this piece in Slate by William B. Gould IV, who was chairman of the National Labor Relations Board under the Clinton administration. Gould writes that the “Democrats’ view [in favor of the EFCA] is preferable to the status quo,” but doesn’t think that the Democrats will be able to get the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster. Instead, he suggests the following compromise, which keeps the secret ballot but reforms the elections process:

Secret ballots to resolve union representation rights are the way to go, and Obama should meet the Republicans halfway by saying so—and then add this all-important coda: Elections should continue only if the law ensures that voting is conducted expeditiously—for instance, within one or two weeks of the filing of a union’s petition seeking recognition. This is the case in Canada, whereas in the United States, the resolution of union drives currently takes months and sometimes years. Quick elections are the key to meaningful reform because delay is the principal way in which labor law stacks the deck against employees. It allows employers to engage in one-sided anti-union campaigns of intimidation and coercion, with little possibility for remedy.

This seems like a good idea to me, but I can’t help thinking it’s probably not the first time it’s been proposed. Which leaves me with some questions: has it already been considered and rejected? If so, why? And would the Republicans filibuster it anyway?

In the meantime, outside of Congress, the Bush administration appears to be getting ready to take action against card check (via TPM) among government contractors:

The executive order would require large government contractors to use secret-ballot elections for union organizing or risk losing government contracts, say people familiar with the order. Though companies typically prefer secret ballots, some are willing to accept card checks to avoid a fight.

Will someone stand up for employer free choice?

*I wonder how this decision is made: do they hold an election about holding an election?

**There’s probably an interesting history to be written about the rise of the secret ballot and its diffusion into nonpolitical contexts. Do shareholder elections use the secret ballot?