Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Four Things We Saw On Our Road Trip

On Friday the weather was nice, so my wife and I aimed our car north from the DC area, with no particular destination in mind. We wanted to avoid the interstate highways, and we had a vague intention of hiking somewhere. After a while, a series of impulsive turns on state and county roads led us to the cool little town of Westminster, Maryland. We drove slowly down Main Street, looking at the shops and restaurants on each side. Up ahead, we saw a crowd gathered on a corner, with some people holding signs. It looked like maybe it was a protest in front of a bank. But as we got closer, we saw...

1. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley standing on the sidewalk, talking to people, while four or five women demonstrated with anti-tax, anti-spending signs. The signs ("Tax cuts, Not Handouts!" etc.) looked like they were left over from a recent tea party. In general, I'm a fan of street protests. So after passing the group, we turned around and drove by again. I also wanted to see what else was going on. It looked like O'Malley was being greeted by city leaders. There were state police up and down Main Street and local cops on bikes. I couldn't tell if the protesters were with any group in particular. Just four or five women who want the state of Maryland to provide fewer services. Four or five women who apparently think the "free market" hasn't done quite enough damage yet. Four or five women who want less democratic control of the economic recovery.

I didn't want to keep driving by looking like we were casing the governor, so we drove on, west-ish, through Taneytown, Maryland. 

2. In Taneytown we saw some major road work going on downtown, the result of the recent stimulus bill. I just found a CNN video from February talking about Taneytown, "a conservative stronghold" where unemployment is the highest its been in years, making a big push for stimulus funds. Remember a couple of months ago when everybody kept repeating the phrase "shovel-ready" over and over? Well, some of Taneytown's shovel-ready projects, drawn up by Democratic Mayor Jim Mcarran, included repairing the town's old water and sewage systems. 

It felt good driving through an old-fashioned small town, seeing people at work and money being spent to plan for the town's future. Taneytown is the kind of place that you hope has a future--one other than slow decay or absorption into DC's suburban sprawl. But that future won't materialize without a deliberate effort and without democratic influence over the economy. Free-market fundamentalism, left to its own devices, swallows Taneytowns and spits them out.

People need work, and there's work that needs to be done. It was good to see it happening. 

We drove on, winding our way through Emmitsburg, until we finally found our hiking:

3. We found the beautiful Cunningham Falls State Park, which was created in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). We got to climb up beside the highest waterfall in Maryland thanks to our great-grandparents' generation deciding to put people to work by preserving natural wonders and creating outdoor public recreation areas. In the 1930s, the federal government acquired the land around the 78-foot cascading waterfall from the McAfee family, who had originally settled the land in 1807. (The falls are still known locally as "McAfee Falls.") I hope the McAfees enjoyed the waterfall while they owned it. And I'm very glad that nobody owns it now.  

There were educational signs along the hiking paths which are now maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. We learned among other things that the Catoctin Mountains--and the greater Appalachians--are among the oldest mountains on Earth.

We left Cunningham Falls and drove a long way back east during the early evening. We ended up in Annapolis, where we met some friends for dinner at a seafood place. We decided to stay the night in Annapolis instead of driving home, and on Saturday my wife and I took a meandering walk through downtown. It's a neat downtown, but it seemed like there were a hundred places to buy expensive hats. I was just starting to complain of Annapolis' "upper-crustiness," when...

4. We stumbled upon the Banneker-Douglass Museum, as in Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass

Now we're talking, I thought. Everything I've ever read about Frederick Douglass has impressed me, and I didn't know much about Benjamin Banneker, so we jumped on it. Admission was free, thanks to the Maryland Governor's Office of Community Initiatives. The museum focuses not so much on Douglass and Banneker in particular as on Maryland's African-American history in general. We read about the underground railroad in Maryland and then looked at pictures from local civil rights protests in the 60s. We didn't have a lot of time, so we skipped over lots of good exhibits. There was one exhibit about recent archaeological digs in Annapolis that have turned up lots of little artifacts from the early 18th century. Next time you're in Annapolis, this is worth a visit. Interesting, educational, free, and air-conditioned. It's at 84 Franklin Street, just off Church Circle in the historic district.

That was pretty much the end of our weekend roaming. We love these short trips. There are endless things to see in this part of the country. Every trip we take, for me, is sort of a trip through history.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thoughts on Specter's Switch

It made perfect sense for Sen. Arlen Specter to announce, as he did today, that he is switching parties and becoming a Democrat. I was still surprised to hear it, because I thought he had publicly ruled out such a move. 

In his press conference today, Specter gave two main reasons for the switch:
  1. The Republican Party has moved too far to the right.
  2. He can't win the upcoming Republican primary election. 
Both reasons are absolutely correct and interrelated. In that way, I respect Specter's frankness in all of this. On one hand, he talks about his growing ideological differences with the party, which he's now a little more free to discuss. On the other hand, he acknowledges the political calculation and simple self preservation involved.

GOP Growing Smaller and More Conservative

The move says more about the general political climate than it does about Specter himself. Arlen Specter can't win Pennsylvania's Republican primary against old-fashioned, corporate-conservative Pat Toomey because the Republican Party has turned hard to the right. Why has the party moved to the right? Because most of the moderates like Specter have already left. In the run up to the presidential campaign, 200,000 Pennsylvania Republicans became Democrats. Those were 200,000 people who would have been likely to vote for Specter in the primary.

The Republican Party continues to shrink. Moderates run for the exit while the die-hard corporate hacks and social reactionaries assume more power, scaring away even more moderates. I predict that this cycle will continue at least through the 2010 elections, probably through the 2012 elections. The GOP is increasingly a regional political party focused in the South and the Mormon Corridor. It's snow White and elderly. And they don't have ideas.

"Filibuster-Proof" Majority?

Much is being made of the idea that Specter's party switch means that Democrats will have a 60-seat "filibuster-proof" majority in the Senate. Although 60 seats will be a reality, we don't yet know enough to say that the filibuster situation has changed significantly. There is no reason to believe that Specter has seen the light and had some great progressive conversion. He has already said he will not vote to stop a filibuster against the Employee Free Choice Act. We can probably assume there are plenty of other issues where he will do the same. Also, the other conservative members of the Democratic caucus have not suddenly disappeared. There are still Liebermans and Nelsons and Bayhs. On big issues, it will be difficult to get all 60 members to act in unison to override the Confederate Party's Republican Party's obstructionism.

Make Specter Become a Real Democrat, Or Replace Him With One

The best thing that could come out of this would be for Specter to be pulled further to the left in the coming months. Instead, if he ends up being the same Specter--but with a D after his name--then the change will be mostly meaningless. We need him to come around on big issues, like a public health plan and Employee Free Choice. The best way to make that happen would be to challenge him with a strong progressive candidate in the Democratic primary. Make Specter compete for labor's support. Make him explain to Democratic audiences why he opposes the EFCA. 

Unfortunately, it looks like part of the deal for him switching parties was that the Democrats would "clear the decks" for him in the primary. President Obama has even offered to campaign for Specter. Huh? I recognize that you want to reward high-profile crossovers. But I think Democrats are giving a lot more than they are getting in this deal. Specter needs Dems way more than Dems need Specter. Instead of going with Specter, Democrats could win with an unabashed progressive.

It makes me think--and hope--that there is more to this deal than what we know right now. Maybe Specter assured Harry Reid that when the chips are down, he will vote for cloture on healthcare reform, cap-and-trade, or Employee Free Choice. I hope there is more to it. Because although Specter's party switch says good things about our shifting political climate, the excitement about the "filibuster-proof" majority is overblown at this point.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ludlow Story Still Strikes a Chord

I "cross-posted" Tuesday's article about the Ludlow Massacre over on Daily Kos. (You can see it here.) I posted it there early Wednesday evening and didn't look at it again until Thursday morning. My jaw fell open when I saw that it was half way up the "Recommended Diaries" list, with hundreds of "tips" and "recs" (daily kos terms). There were around a 160 comments that morning, and they climbed up to about 260 in the next day or so. It stayed up on the Rec' List for about 24 hours.

The comments section is a treasure trove of personal connections to the event, perspectives from Coloradans, links to related stories, and more good music from Woody.

Here's a sample:
"I live in Denver and the parents live in New Mexico, So i pass the plaque all the time on the highway and wonder. Thank you for telling me. I appreciate that this state did have some early progressives. Not many, but a few." --COwoman
"My grandfather was one of the striking miners.  He sent my grandmother, my father (who was 5 at the time) and my aunt to Ohio to live with his sister as they were thrown out of their house in Berwind. An interesting bit of history is that it was the first time the machine gun had been used by a US military unit in a hostile action - and there were some people that were thrilled with their new toy. If you haven't read it The Coalfield Wars by George McGovern is an excellent history of the strike and the surrounding corporate  and political corruption. --carver
"I grew up in Colorado (Denver) and I don't recall ever hearing this story - even from my progressive parents (who grew up in Kansas). I don't think many in Colorado know this. I hope that changes. Thank you for the diary, will be getting those books you sourced!" --Clytemnestra

And as a bonus (!), the diary got noticed by bendygirl who runs a cool labor blog I've been following called Union Gal. You definitely want to check out her blog. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Ludlow Massacre

Why am I writing a post about the Ludlow Massacre 95 years after it happened? For one, I think that the progressive movement today lacks historical perspective. Or, if it has historical perspective, progressives themselves don't bring historical lessons to bear on today's issues. We often lack a sense of continuity of purpose with the people's movements, the underdogs' resistance of American history.

In my first post on this blog, I said, "Today's Web-surfin' progressives--whether we know it or not--are part of the same struggle as the strikers, suffragists, abolitionists, and civil rights marchers who came before us." And I believe it. We look back on so many of these stories from history, and the motives of the actors involved, the broader themes at play, and the lessons are so clear. I might be criticized as oversimple to say that, when we look, it's also clear who were "the good guys" and who were "the bad guys." But it's usually true!

Progressives today don't have to reinvent the wheel. We're fighting for the same things progressives, liberals, radicals have always fought for: democracy applied broadly, justice applied equally, a fair distribution of our nation's resources. We can look back and see what worked and what didn't for our forbears. We can examine what kinds of people, and philosophies, and systems opposed them. Then we can look and see the very same kinds of people, and philosophies, and systems opposing us today.

This is a general theme I feel is lacking in much of the blog world, so I aim to continue it on BTM.

That's one reason I'm writing this post. Another reason is that, ever since I first read about Ludlow, in the "early springtime" I get that tune in my head.

"It was early springtime when the strike was on..."
That's how Woody Guthrie begins his tribute to the victims of the "Ludlow Massacre" of 1914.

In southern Colorado, mine workers had been on strike since September 1913 against the big coal interests of the region, chief among them the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation, owned by John D. Rockefeller. The miners' demands included the eight-hour day, more honest procedures for weighing the mined coal, the right to buy and trade in any store they pleased, recognition of the union, and other basic dignities that were already supposedly guaranteed under the law--a common theme in the labor movement's history.
"They drove us miners out of doors,
Out from the houses that the company owned..."
The company owned the workers' houses, set the wages, and paid the workers in scrip that could only be spent at stores that the company owned, where the company set the prices. The surrounding towns, and indeed the state itself, were all but controlled by the great mine interests. So, when Mr. Rockefeller owns everything, and you are striking against Mr. Rockefeller, you are turned out to the cold.
"We moved into tents up at old Ludlow."
The workers were forced out of their homes and out of the mining towns--all private property belonging to the mine owners. They formed tent colonies on public ground in the hills around the towns and were supported by the United Mine Workers (UMWA). The largest tent camp was at Ludlow. 
"I was worried bad about my children,
Soldiers guarding the railroad bridge,
Every once in a while a bullet would fly,
Kick up gravel under my feet." 
The winter was cold, and the strike dragged on. Martial Law had already been declared, although there had been no violence from the miners. The Rockefeller interests' hired guns, such as the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, periodically raided the tent colonies throughout the winter, killing mine workers. (When a company hires a gunman or arms a thug, he is called a "detective.") But the workers would not yield. Some of them were armed and would defend themselves. 
"We were so afraid you would kill our children,
We dug us a cave that was seven foot deep,
Carried our young ones and pregnant women
Down inside the cave to sleep."
When spring arrived and the miners still held out, the great owners got impatient. Baldwin-Felts used an improvised armored car, with a mounted machine-gun, that drove around and sprayed bullets into the tent camps. The miners called it the "Death Special." The miner families dug trenches around their camps and holes beneath the floors of their tents for protection. 

The miners gathered more arms and ammunition; they had to know that more brutal attacks were coming. It's hard to imagine today how living in tents and fighting against armored vehicles and mounted machine-guns seemed like a better alternative than returning to the same working and living conditions as before the strike.

By this time the National Guard had joined the "detectives," militias, and armed thugs surrounding the striking miners, so that government and corporate interests were one force. The National Guard was under the command of the governor, who was of course under the de facto command of the mining interests. The Rockefellers were even paying the Guardsmen's wages.
"That very night your soldiers waited,
Until all us miners were asleep,
You snuck around our little tent town,
Soaked our tents with your kerosene."
On the morning of April 20th, gunmen attacked the Ludlow camp in earnest, with machine-gun fire slicing through the tents. At one point during the fight, the soldiers summoned the miners' leader into the hills to discuss a truce, where he was shot to death by a company of National Guardsmen. That night, the soldiers descended on the camp with torches and lit up the tents. 
"You struck a match and in the blaze that started,
You pulled the triggers of your gatling guns,
I made a run for the children but the fire wall stopped me.
Thirteen children died from your guns."
Early sources say that 33 people were killed, more than half of whom were children. More recent sources indicate that 20 people, including 11 children, were killed in the tent camp on April 20th. The discrepancies between those numbers, the ones in Woody's song, and those in other early sources may relate to confusion over when people were killed (on April 20th? during April? during the Spring? etc). But according to A People's History of the United States, 66 people were killed over the duration of the strike.

The workers grew more militant after the massacre, and they were supported by people throughout the region. Armed miners from around southern Colorado descended on the Ludlow area. Thousands of people marched on the state capitol, demanding that the Guardsmen be tried for murder. The funeral for those killed at Ludlow was held in Trinidad, the main town in the area. After the funeral, miners armed themselves and took to the surrounding hills to attack the mine guards and blow up mine shafts. A company of state soldiers ordered to Trinidad refused to mobilize, saying they would not shoot women and children.

12 more miners were killed before federal troops arrived to "restore order." The strike was over. Mr. Rockefeller and the great corporations won, because they could go to whatever lengths necessary for victory and rest assured that state and federal government stood ready to assist. The solidarity of working families throughout Colorado was no match for the solidarity of corporations and government throughout the country. When it was all over, none of the company's gunmen were charged with a crime.
"I said, 'God bless the Mine Workers' Union,'
And then I hung my head and cried."
Today, most people have not heard of the Ludlow Massacre. You probably did not learn about it in school. I didn't. But our history is full of "Ludlows." Tent colonies and armored machine-gun cars may sound old-fashioned. But a privileged class that benefits materially from slowly crushing working families and is willing to act ruthlessly to maintain its privilege never goes out of style. The systems and philosophies and distractions that made it possible then are still at work today. The story has not fundamentally changed. The difference is that there has been progress, thanks in large part to the awakening of the public by events throughout our history like the Ludlow Massacre. But it's been a slow and grinding progress, and we've seen indications of how easily it can be rolled back.

We would do well to arm ourselves with the knowledge and memory of the Ludlows of our history.


Sources for this post:
From The Folks Who Brought You The Weekend, by Priscilla Murolo and A.B. Chitty

Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama's Worst Decision Yet

Last week, the Justice Department issued a statement saying that "intelligence community officials" would not face federal prosecution for torturing prisoners. The Department of Justice also promised to defend alleged torturers in any "judicial or administrative proceeding" brought against them and to compensate them "for any monetary judgement or penalty ultimately imposed."

That's right. In a short press release the Obama Administration promised not only to let torturers walk but also to use public money to defend their conduct.

President Obama made a speech the same day,
"To assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution."
And explaining why justice should take a back seat to politics, Obama continued:
"This is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past. Our national greatness is embedded in America's ability to right its course in concert with our core values, and to move forward with confidence. That is why we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."
Remember, Obama was the editor of the Harvard Law Review. He was a professor of constitutional law. He's smart. But here he is describing war criminals being held responsible in a court of law as "retribution" and "laying blame for the past." Oh, don't worry, he respects the "strong views and emotions" that U.S.-sanctioned torture evokes. But holding torturers accountable would be too divisive, so we're just going to try to not let it happen again.

As disappointed as I was with this news, I noticed that the statement from the Justice Department and Obama's remarks each offered amnesty for "intelligence officials" acting on guidance from the Bush Justice Department. There was no mention of those actually in the Bush White House and Justice Department who gave the guidance, who set the policy, to torture. I wondered if that was intentional. I can live with amnesty for the intelligence officers and military personnel following orders if we hold accountable the ones who gave the orders. So I waited for some clarification about how far up the chain Obama's "get out of jail free" card would go.

And then...

White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel appeared on ABC's "This Week" today and said, 
"Those who devised the policy, [the president] believes that they were, should not be prosecuted either." [sic]
And there you have it: Obama's worst decision yet as president. We pinky swear we won't torture anymore, but we won't hold anyone responsible. Never mind if the decision violates the U.N. Convention Against Torture by failing to make torture a crime and prosecuting those who engage in it. Pesky laws don't fit with the image of unity and "looking forward" that the White House would like to maintain.

What makes this even more bizarre is that the "amnesty for torturers" decision came on the same day the administration made the good and decent decision to release the Bush administration's torture-approving memos. (Thanks to the ACLU, whose Freedom of Information Act lawsuit initiated the release.) So as it sinks in with us that our president will not lift a finger against the torturers, we get to read how nasty the torture actually was. Here are some of the "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized and practiced by Bush administration officials whom the Obama administration now promises to defend:
  • Waterboarding (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in one month.)
  • Forced nudity (including in front of female officers)
  • Sleep deprivation up to 7 1/2 days
  • Slapping prisoners on the face or abdomen
  • Slamming a prisoner into a wall (aka "walling")
  • Facial hold (I guess grabbing a prisoner by the face?)
  • Cramped confinement for up to 18 hours
  • Forced stress positions (standing, sitting, squatting, kneeling in uncomfortable ways for long periods of time)
  • Insects placed with prisoner inside cramped confinement box
  • Wall standing (prisoner leaned toward a wall to hold weight up with his fingers for a long time)
  • Dietary manipulation (withholding solid food from prisoners)
  • Spraying prisoners with cold water
  • Combining and repeating above methods
As I write this, there is still some talk around the Web along the same lines as my earlier question: 
Does Obama's amnesty for CIA officials leave the door open for prosecuting senior Bush officials? 
Marc Ambinder, of The Atlantic, even quotes "senior administration officials" saying that there is no blanket immunity for all interrogators--just the ones who acted "in good faith" following the Justice Department's guidance. If that's true, then the door would also be open for prosecuting the big wigs. But until they are quoting people with actual names, I'm going to believe the White House Chief of Staff's comments on ABC. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On a (Right) Wing and a Tea Bag: Corporate Power Desperate for a Movement

With a progressive labor-friendly President in the White House, large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, and the public turning against the capitalist extremism that led to the economic collapse, the old right wing is desperately searching for a spark. Hmm, where to look?

"Hey how 'bout these tea bags?!"  

Trying to create the illusion of a rising tide of conservative populism, corporate lobbyists have created the "tea party" movement. It's a loose coalition of anti-tax, anti-government, mainly anti-Obama protesters, funded by lobbyists and conservative think tanks and heavily promoted by FOX News. Oh and it's supposed to remind you of the Boston Tea Party. Today--on tax day!--there were teabaggin' rallies staged all over the country.

How'd it go? Well, let's see. In San Francisco, 300 or 400 confused white people waved little tea bags in the air. In Washington, the Secret Service shut down the rally at the White House when someone threw a package over the fence. The teabaggers wanted to dump a million tea bags in the already-polluted-enough Potomac River but realized they would be arrested. Then they were going to dump them on the ground in Lafayette Park, near the White House, but weren't allowed to drive their big rental truck into the park. In Chicago, a CNN reporter interviewed a teabagger who had a poster calling President Obama "a fascist." When asked why he called the President a fascist, the man answered, "Because he is." 

And so went the story all across the country. Corporate money organized angry, snow-white crowds. Right-wing TV exaggerated their numbers and boosted their story:

And the rest of us were left confused. 

What country are the teabaggers living in? They are vaguely worked up about taxes being raised when the only taxes going up are those on people making over $250,000 a year and on cigarette purchases. Their signs say things like, "Taxed Enough Already" and "Taxed to Death!" when 95% of American households just got a tax cut. So their messages only make sense if they are... 
  1. Very rich, 
  2. Tobacco company executives, 
  3. Representatives/lobbyists for the rich, or 
  4. Completely duped by a right-wing ploy to get working people to lead a "revolution" to demand more wealth and power for the wealthy and powerful. 
I've studied the crowds a little bit, and I'm pretty sure it's #4.  

***BTW, the calling-it-like-it-is award goes to the creators of this new website, $ave the Rich, that exposes the real power behind the tea party movement.

Honey, I love you so much that I just gave more money to Al Franken!

Well not exactly true, but I did say that a few times during the campaign. And yesterday's news has me feeling generous again.

We're inching closer to seeing Senator Franken in Washington. The Minnesota Election Contest Court, a three-judge panel, issued a unanimous decision yesterday that Franken won the election and should be given the official certificate of election declaring him a winner and allowing him to be seated in the Senate.

The court's 68-page ruling was apparently so thorough and it so utterly dismantled Coleman's central arguments that Republicans did not have a response for a long time. I'm still not sure what their response is.

Al Franken should now be seated in the Senate. If Norm Coleman wants to throw away more money on appeals or new lawsuits, fine. But this isn't even controversial anymore: Franken won. It was really close. Deal with it. Seat Franken, and then let Coleman decide what he wants to do.

For Coleman, it now comes down to weighing his options:  

1. On one hand, Republicans simply want to delay adding another Democrat to the Senate for as long as possible, even if the legal reasoning for more appeals is pretty silly. That's why Coleman has been raising so much money from national Republicans. It's easier for Republicans to filibuster in the Senate when there are 58 (instead of 59) Democrats.
2. On the other hand, Republicans as a whole don't mind looking silly, but Norm Coleman might. Taking this thing even further and continuing to deny Minnesota a senator could ruin his political future in the state.

In other words Norm can either continue to please his powerful GOP buddies (who could help him in a future presidential primary), or he can do what's politically best for him in the state of Minnesota (Governor Coleman anyone? No thank you.)

Either way, Franken won. Still. Again.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sam Walton Rolls Over in His Grave

More than 180 workers at a Walmart in Canada won a union contract with the UFCW last Wednesday, after four years of legal opposition from the world's largest retailer. Congratulations to our northern neighbors! The workers in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec are the only Walmart employees in North America with union representation. 

So what will it take to unionize American Walmarts? 

Wally World is America's largest corporation and biggest private employer, with over a million workers. Walmart is virulently anti-union and pays poverty wages to most of its workers. These are the stomp-your-neighbor values that helped make the Walton gang the richest family in the world.

Consider this:
It would take someone making $20,000 a year (which is a relatively high wage for your typical Wal-Mart cashier) one million years to net the amount of money one Walton sibling is worth.
And this: Our country claims to value democracy; therefore, a $20,000-a-year Walmart employee and Jim Walton each have one vote. The Walton's would like you to pretend that this means they each have equal say in the way the country works... or just submit to the benevolent guidance of your corporate overlords... or just stop thinking.

Anyway, while you're deep in pondering, go check out Wake Up Walmart.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

They cut him down, and he leapt up high.
Sometimes an apparent defeat is really the precondition for an even greater victory.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Flying in the "Free Market"

an association of independent commercial or industrial enterprises with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition
Remember last summer when all the major American airlines started charging $15 extra to check a bag? The reason given at the time was the high price of oil and aviation fuel. Now the price of oil is down again, but the higher prices remain.

What are you, the "free market" consumer, supposed to do? 

Use airlines that don't charge the new fees? Well, you apparently have two airlines to chose from, JetBlue and Southwest. I hope they fly to your destination city. And serve your point of origin. Are you going to cut back on frivolous flights to teach the airlines a lesson? Well, who takes frivolous flights these days anyway? People fly for major life events for which they'll pay whatever it takes.

No, we will pay the new fees because the airline corporations tell us to. Our society has been built up around the assumption that middle class people will be able to fly around the country when they need to. At Christmas, we will fly to see grandma, we'll pay the baggage fee, and on the plane we'll pay for a sip of water and some peanuts. If next year the prices double or the airlines charge an extra fee for seats where rusty, broken springs don't stick in our butts, we'll pay those too. 

We'll pay whatever they ask, because we have to fly and our options are limited.