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If I Buy the Bread, I Can’t Afford the Wine

[ 50 ] March 29, 2017 |

I will be testing Merle’s dilemma the next few days, as I am at a conference in the Windy City, which also means light blogging around here. Although I have some more labor history posts in the pipeline, as my quest to write something so obscure that it gets 0 comments continues. Had I not been wrong about Tlateloco being outside of the borders of Mexico City the other day, I would have achieved my lifelong dream on that post on the 1959 Mexican rail strike. But I can dream, I can dream.


This Day in Labor History: March 29, 1951

[ 54 ] March 29, 2017 |


On March 29, 1951, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of treason for passing classified information to the Soviet Union. A few days later they were sentenced to death. This famous case has of course received a tremendous amount of attention; for this series, it’s useful both as a window into the legacy of the New York-based and largely Jewish radicalism that shaped much of the left in the first half of the twentieth century, as well as to place them in the context of the broader attack on left-wing of the labor movement during these years.

Both Julius and Ethel Rosenberg came out of the leftist Jewish tradition extending back into the late 19th century. He was born in New York in 1918, she also in New York in 1915. The both became members of the Young Communist League in the mid-1930s, as was far from uncommon in those days where democracy seemed to be dying and communism was the only hope for the left. They married in 1939. Both had significant union backgrounds. In 1932, Ethel led a strike at a shipping company where she worked, fighting for better wages. In 1935, she led another strike that included the blocking of the entrance to her company’s warehouse with 150 women workers. She was fired, but the National Labor Relations Board ordered she be rehired. All of this helped create the Ladies’ Apparel Shipping Clerks Union. Julius studied to be an engineer, but came from a staunchly union background. His father was a union representative in the sweatshops and apparel industry of New York. They were committed communists who sought to extend the revolution of workers’ rights under a socialist government to the United States. These were the children of the Clara Lemlich and Triangle Fire generation. They brought that same passion and organizing for workers’ rights to a new generation, one shaped by the rise and success of the Soviet Union.

During World War II, Julius worked at the Army Signal Corps Engineering Laboratories until it was revealed he was a communist. Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, worked at Los Alamos. Julius was running a spy ring for the Soviet Union, believing that military information needed to be shared to ensure peace after the war. He and his comrades managed to take photographic copies of documents concerning a wide number of major military projects, including a complete set of prints and production designs for the first jet planes. Greenglass was providing some information from his position at Los Alamos, though as a machinist, he did not have access to much of the really highly valuable information.

After the war, Julius and Greenglass ran their own machinist shop briefly but it fell apart, causing some tension between the two men. When Klaus Fuchs got busted for spying for the Soviet Union, he named names to hopefully reduce his sentence. This led the government to David Greenglass. When Greenglass was caught, he then testified that it was Julius Rosenberg who introduced him to the spy ring. Rosenberg was arrested. So was Ethel, although there was no evidence that she was involved. The government hoped to use her to pressure Julius into revealing everything. She denied everything on the witness stand, including any knowledge of her husband or brother’s activities. She may well have been lying and later studies have suggested she was. But the government didn’t have any evidence to convict her. This did not stop them. After all, the co-prosecuting attorney was one Roy Cohn, who later bragged that he was responsible for them getting the death penalty. The prosecution went full atomic scare, claiming that Greenglass had given the Soviets the secret to the atomic bomb, which is not really supported by the evidence. Atomic scientists said that Greenglass’ supposed sketch of an atomic bomb was worthless and Greenglass himself was highly inconsistent in his testimony. The trial was a complete farce, even if they were both probably guilty. Both Julius and Ethel were convicted and were sentenced to death. They were executed on June 19, 1953. Ethel’s was botched and they had to keep applying shocks through the electric chair. By the time she was declared dead, smoke was rising from her head.

Despite this famous case though, the communists in the labor movement were hardly a threat to the United States. Were there communists in the labor movement? Of course there were. They had played critical roles in the CIO’s organizing campaigns. By the late 1940s, the CIO was ready to get rid of these people for a number of reasons. There’s no question now, after decades of leftist historians dying it, that the CP-led unions and their organizers were following Moscow’s dictates, often alienating non-communist workers who could see through their inconsistency and constantly shifting positions to conform with the Soviets like a thin soup. There’s also no question that the communist issue also split unions, with non-communist members writing in to HUAC, asking for the communists to be investigated and eliminated. The question of communism in the labor movement during the postwar period is much harder and thornier than either anti-communist zealots or the modern left want to admit. Kicking out the communists was both an anti-democratic and anti-left move and was probably necessary for the industrial unions to survive the Cold War. It took away many of the best organizers, but those organizers had often worn out their welcome anyway and I am hesitant of arguments often made that this doomed the labor movement to its staid state of the post-1955 merger of the AFL and CIO. On the other hand, the loss of those good organizers was not replaced with some new generation of hard-core organizers and organizing fell off considerably after around 1950.

But in any case, most of these communists in the labor movement, including the Rosenbergs, genuinely thought they were doing the best thing they could for humanity in a global movement that would bring equality and freedom to the masses. You might argue that after 1939, only someone blind to reality could believe that. And maybe you are right. But I think when looking at people like the Rosenbergs, or the communists in the midcentury left generally, it’s useful to think of them in their own terms. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. But it does mean that the same desire for freedom that led them to create the modern labor movement and the greatest victories in the history of American workers is the same that led them to give secrets to Joseph Stalin. Such were the complexities of the time.

This is the 214th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

This Day in Labor History: March 28, 1959

[ 4 ] March 28, 2017 |


On March 28, 1959, railroad worker union leaders in Mexico that threatened to shut down the nation were arrested. The government crack down, its firing thousands of workers and arrest of many more demonstrates how the PRI government in Mexico would reject militancy in the labor movement and how this once revolutionary government had now entered its own Cold War phase.

Mexican railroad workers were significantly underpaid by the late 1950s and the nation had entered a period of inflation. The Mexican rail workers union, Sindicato de Trabajadores Ferrocarrileros de la República Mexicana (STFRM) created a price study committee to determine proper wages for its members. They demanded an increase of 350 pesos ($28) a month. When the government rejected this, offering an increase of 200 pesos ($16) a month, the path was laid for an increasingly bitter series of labor actions that resulted in one of the most important events in Mexican labor history. This union had been an independent union in the 1940s but by the 1950s was heavily co-opted by the PRI, the institutionalized revolutionary government of Mexico that theoretically made unions central to the state but in reality had made them adjuncts of state policy that did not represent workers. Moreover, railroad workers were a hugely important part of the Mexican labor movement and Mexican workers had played a leading role in starting the Mexican Revolution. As late as the 1950s, trains were a major mode of transportation in Mexico. Even today, public transportation is enormously important there, especially in rural Mexico, although today this is predominantly bus travel.

The first of the strikes began on June 26, 1958 in Oaxaca. Led by Demeterio Vallejo, a long-time union leader and one-time communist who had been active in the Mexican labor movement since the late 1920s, the workers began their actions with short strikes, usually only about 2 hours. Vallejo’s actions were not just about the wages. They were also about retaking control of the union from the officials handpicked by the government since 1948 and who had worked with the PRI to keep freight rates low by freezing wages. Vallejo’s newly invigorated workers escalated the length of their walkouts over the next few days, reaching 8 hours, before finally calling for a full-fledged strike. 60,000 workers participated in the first 2-hour strike. By the June 28 8-hour strike, Vallejo’s rail workers were joined by petroleum workers, teachers, and students. At this point president Adolpho Ruiz Cortines stepped in and offered a 215 peso raise. That was accepted and it seemed like this strike would end quickly. However, on July 12, the Railroad Workers Union elected Vallejo general secretary of the National Railroad Council, in no small part because he was angry about the Ruiz Cortines agreement that gave them such a small raise. He rode that rank and file anger to a victory. The companies refused to accept this and neither did the government, who wanted a less radical union leader in a system where the ruling PRI had incorporated unions into its government structure. Once again, the union went on strike and forced the government to cave.

They then sought to build on these two victories to demand much more. They wanted their pay raise based on the principle of a 6-day pay week instead of a 7-day pay week, thus raising their overall pay by 16% instead of 14% and wanted it applied retroactively to Ruiz Cortines’ intervention. They also wanted a housing allowance of 10% or a government housing plan for railroad workers. Finally, they wanted a limitation on loans from U.S. companies that was taking up too much of the railroad’s finances and thus getting in the way of pay raises for workers. By this time as well, a new president had taken office in Mexico. Adolfo López Mateos was seen as a possible return to a more populist and left-leaning Mexico by many disappointed with the conservative, corrupt statism of the PRI since Cardenas. Alas, they were to be bitterly disillusioned by the new administration.

Contract negotiations stalled and the 1-year contract agreed to in 1958 expired. Vallejo and his union became national pariahs in the media, but they pressed ahead with their strike, which started on February 25, 1959. This strike lasted less than a day, as the company agreed to the 16% raise, free medical care for workers’ families, and a government housing program. But the contract was not equal for all rail workers as some lines were left out. This led Vallejo to once again call a strike that would commence on March 25. The union chose that date specifically because it was Holy Week. With Easter on March 29, this maximized their leverage because people could not travel to see their families on this critical Mexican holiday. But this was too much for the López Mateos government. It declared the strike illegal. The military took over the rail stations. Army telegraphers scabbed on the striking rail telegraphers. The police busted the doors of workers, pulled their guns on them, and forced the to work at gunpoint. The military arrested Vallejo and thousands of workers. This actually filled the available prisons and many of the workers were sent to military camps. Throughout all of this, the workers grounded their demands in the language of the 1917 Constitution that is the fundamental document of the Mexican Revolution. But for the government, even this reeked of radicalism in a Cold War world where PRI leaders now feared leftist organizing as opposed to welcoming it, as it had done a mere 20 years earlier.

Vallejo was found guilty of sedition and given a 16-year prison sentence. The government replaced Vallejo and his followers with hand-chosen union leaders who would cooperate. The new contract remained and the lives of average workers improved, but union militancy in Mexico would be crushed by the PRI, which valued control and power over the unions brought into the government over its supposed revolutionary ideology. The state was the revolution and the revolution was the state. Vallejo remained in jail for 11 years and became a major cause for students in the 1968 movement. That fateful year saw the greatest suppression of labor and civil rights in modern Mexican history, most notoriously with the Tlateloco Massacre just outside of Mexico City, where the government murdered protesting students. This combined with guerillas fighting for dignity in the rural state of Guerrero set off Mexico’s Dirty War, a spasm of state violence that it has never really recovered from. The ultimate betrayal of Mexican democracy culminated in 1968 but it started in 1959.

I borrowed from Robert Alegre, Railroad Radicals in Cold War Mexico: Gender, Class, and Memory, in the writing of this post.

This is the 213th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Jobless Future

[ 341 ] March 27, 2017 |


Above: The United States, circa 2040

Who is ready for our jobless future?

Thirty-eight percent of jobs in the U.S. are at high risk of being replaced by robots and artificial intelligence over the next 15 years, according to a new report by PwC.

Meanwhile, only 30% of jobs in the U.K. are similarly endangered. The same level of risk applies to only 21% of positions in Japan.

The U.S. and U.K. labor markets are both dominated by services jobs, and roughly the same share of workers are employed in key sectors including finance, transportation, education, manufacturing and food services.

But PwC found major differences in the nature of the work done within these sectors that explains why more U.S. jobs are at risk.

Take financial services as an example. In the U.S., 61% of jobs in the sector are at a high risk of being replaced by robots. The same is true for only 32% of finance jobs in the U.K.

John Hawksworth, PwC’s chief economist in the U.K., said that many workers in the U.S. financial sector are focused on domestic retail operations — think bank tellers in small towns.

The U.K.’s finance sector, meanwhile, is much more focused on international finance and investment banking — functions that require significantly higher levels of education and expertise.

Workers at risk in the U.S. “would be doing more routine tasks that are easier to automate than that of, say, an investment banker in London,” Hawksworth said.

If you are a working-class person, you are basically screwed. This is going to cause massive social, economic, and political upheaval. And no one is prepared for it. Certainly not the government. This is, along with climate change, the biggest problem of our time. And we aren’t even talking about solutions in anything close to a serious manner. To throw out one, it’s time to make the original Humphrey-Hawkins Act bill part of the progressive agenda, with the government serving as an employer of last resort. Carter screwed us out of this in 1978. Let’s bring it back.

More About America’s Last True Liberal President (TM)

[ 39 ] March 27, 2017 |


Let’s learn more about the Last Real Liberal President Unlike Neoliberal Sellout Barack Obama!

Richard Nixon was the first U.S. president who made a promise to close the U.S-Mexican border to illegal drugs and unwanted people part of an election-winning strategy. Speaking on the campaign trail from Anaheim, California, in 1968, Candidate Nixon promised to deal with the “marijuana problem” protested by parents of California’s youth by intercepting Mexican drugs at the border. Then, on September 21, 1969, just eight months after his inauguration, President Nixon’s Treasury and Justice Departments launched Operation Intercept along the almost 2,000 miles of southern border in a supposed attempt to enforce federal narcotics laws.

Spending $30 million USD, Intercept staffed the border with thousands of federal law enforcement agents who were charged with executing intense, time-consuming customs inspections. Nixon’s bottlenecks at the international bridges disrupted life and business on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. They also provoked resistance. The Mexican Chamber of Commerce led a brief U.S.-travel boycott on behalf of merchants who had lost trade in Mexican border communities, including Ciudad Juárez. Then Mexican president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz said Intercept “raised a wall of suspicion” between the two countries. Indeed, for almost three weeks, Intercept created a “wall effect” as the U.S. government turned a fluid border into an obstacle course.

Although the U.S. government officially ceased the operation of the program in October 1969, Intercept’s principles have guided border policy for every president since Nixon. In the late 1970s, Kent State University political scientist R. B. Craig called Intercept “a benchmark in United States-Mexico narcotics policy.” In 1999, U.S. Congressman Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso) remembered Intercept because it “initiated new approaches to a problem of national magnitude.” Reyes would know. Prior to Congress, he was the El Paso sector Border Patrol chief, and in 1993, he designed and executed Operation Blockade/Hold-the-Line, placing agents at roughly 50-yard intervals along the urban border between El Paso and Juárez to stop smuggling and unauthorized immigration. Reyes immediately followed Hold-the-Line with an attempt to build a fence on the western outskirts of Juárez/El Paso. Similarly, law-and-order politicians, like former Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, fondly remember Intercept. As the New Yorker’s William Finnegan reported in 2009, Arpaio, who worked on Intercept with erstwhile Nixon operative G. Gordon Liddy, said the operation “nearly closed the border with Mexico.” The no-exceptions customs inspections became permanent after September 11, 2001.

Today, Donald Trump’s threatened U.S.-Mexico border wall—like Nixon he wants to keep unwanted elements from Mexico out of the U.S.—comes straight from Nixon’s playbook. As Grace Slick of the rock band Jefferson Airplane sang in 1970 in response to the dearth of marijuana in the U.S. for the months after Intercept, “Mexico is under the thumb of a man we call Richard.” As with Nixon, so too with Trump. And now, perhaps more than ever, Mexico must beware of the United States’ longstanding inclination for unilateral action on the two nations’ shared border. After all, Trump won’t so much build the wall as complete it: at present, a fence 18 feet tall lines 650 miles of the southern border.

Who was put in charge of this lovely program?

G. Gordon Liddy—the infamous Watergate burglar—was Intercept’s foreman and Joe Arpaio his henchman. Lieutenants in Nixon’s Justice and Treasury Departments, Richard Kleindienst and Eugene Rossides, sent then Special Agent to the Treasury Liddy to towns along the border in the summer of 1969 to lay out the border operation. Bob Ybarra, a reporter for the El Paso Herald-Post remembered Liddy’s visit to El Paso in an oral history interview in 1994. “This is the way we are going to do business from now on,” Ybarra recalled Liddy saying, referring to how Intercept changed border inspections to a no-exceptions-to-inspections regime. Prior to Intercept, the New York Times reported, customs officers “took less than a minute to process a vehicle and its passengers. Only one car in twenty was given the present three-minute treatment, including thorough scrutiny of the trunk and engine areas, under seats and behind cushions and door panels.” According to Ybarra, it was Intercept that brought “the phenomenon of long lines [to the border].”

G. Gordon Liddy AND Joe Arapio! What a pair! But Nixon showed tremendous bravery in signing environmental legislation that passed the House 405-3! What a great liberal!!!

The whole article is really fantastic.

The Sessions Press Conference

[ 49 ] March 27, 2017 |


Above: Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III struck today.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at the White House press briefing Monday afternoon to urge sanctuary cities to change their policies, noting that the Department of Justice plans to deny them funding if they do not begin following federal immigration laws.

“I strongly urge our nation’s states and cities ad counties to consider carefully the harm they are doing to our citizens by refusing to enforce our immigration laws, and to rethink these policies,” Sessions said.

So-called “sanctuary cities” offer safe harbor to undocumented immigrants who might otherwise be deported by federal law enforcement officials. The United States has more than 140 sanctuary jurisdictions, either cities or counties, including 37 cities. Among the sanctuary cities are San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles.

But the Trump administration has argued that sanctuary cities also offer safety from deportation for undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

“When cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe,” Sessions said. “Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk, especially immigrant communities in the very sanctuary jurisdictions that seek to protect the perpetrators.”

Sessions’ comments follow approximately two months after President Trump’s executive order allowing the attorney general and homeland security secretary to decide whether sanctuary cities would be eligible for federal grants. The order was one of the first Mr. Trump signed after taking office.

This is of course entirely expected with a racist white nationalists in the Oval Office naming an open neo-Confederate as Attorney General. The Slave Power lives. The extent to which cities fight back will be very interesting. The key is that they do not cave. If one or two cave, a bunch will. This will take grassroots activism to demand mayors do the right thing, even if it costs money. This is an ethnic cleansing moment and as I have said before, if you want to know what you would have done if you lived under a fascist power in the past, well, now you know based upon what you do today.

Why did this happen today? David Kurtz speculates, convincingly.

Perhaps the White House had planned all along for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to make an appearance at today’s press briefing to rail against sanctuary cities. But the timing is consistent with what I’ve long feared will be the impulse for the Trump administration: When the going gets rough (failed Obamacare repeal, low poll numbers, etc), it will fall back on appeals to racism and xenophobia to regain political footing.

With so much incompetence taking root, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where those base appeals must become more amped up, extreme, and scurrilous to be “effective.” It threatens to turn into a vicious cycle the likes of which we’ve never seen in this country.

Obviously we can’t know this. But doesn’t shifting from a defeat by fanning the flames of racism sound exactly like something Steve Bannon would do?


[ 50 ] March 26, 2017 |


Sure, defeating Andy Puzder’s nomination to be Secretary of Labor was a good thing. He is a truly terrible human being. But during a week where the headlines were rightfully dominated by the huge Republican defeat on health care, hearings for the new nominee, Alexander Acosta happened and on policy is going to be nearly as bad as Puzder.

The disturbing takeaway was that Mr. Acosta would not defend the new overtime standards, which are desperately needed. By government estimates, 4.2 million workers earning salaries between $455 and $913 a week would become newly eligible for overtime if the regulation took effect. By more liberal estimates, another roughly eight million workers who are currently denied overtime on the basis of their job duties would have a stronger claim to it under the new rule’s clear and updated standards, including millions who live in states that went for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Acosta’s answers to questions about other worker protections were also troubling. He would not commit to upholding a Labor Department rule, set to take effect in April, that would require financial advisers to put clients’ interests first when giving advice or selling investments for 401(k) rollovers or other retirement-related transactions. Nor would he commit to enforcing a rule to protect construction workers from carcinogenic dust.

Mr. Acosta tried to justify his evasions by citing directives from Mr. Trump to review and possibly roll back pending rules before moving forward with them. But that dodges the issue. It is important to know what he thinks, because it would be his job to educate and influence the president on labor-policy matters. His reticence at the hearing suggests he will — or already does — embrace the Trump administration’s demolition approach to sensible regulation.

The difference for American workers between the special moral repugnancy of Puzder and the everyday banal awfulness of Acosta is not going to be that much. And that banal awfulness is something that will unite all Republicans, regardless of whatever civil wars they have over other issues.


[ 129 ] March 26, 2017 |


The case of Whiteclay, Nebraska makes for an interesting moral dilemma perhaps worth discussion. It’s probably the worst town in the nation. It literally exists strictly to provide alcohol to the Lakota, who have banned it on the reservation. There is nothing else there but liquor stores. This makes it basically a colonial outpost. There are now calls coming from both activists at Pine Ridge and legislators in Nebraska to crack down on this hellhole, where Lakota drink until the pass out on the side of the road or in a field. The impact of alcohol on indigenous populations is of course tremendous and horrifying and exists in the context of attempted genocide and a lack of hope or work. But as many Lakota point out, this isn’t actually going to stop the drinking. People will find alcohol. We know that prohibition isn’t effective, no matter the drug. So what to do about Whiteclay? I don’t know.

This is also relevant, although the sound is a bit low.

The Resistance

[ 71 ] March 26, 2017 |


Weigel has a good summary of how grassroots resistance stopped TrumpCare. It wasn’t a strategy coming out of Congressional Democrats. It was everyday people, getting in the streets, protesting, disrupting town hall meetings, holding mock town hall meetings for congresscritters who wouldn’t do them, and overwhelming phone lines with calls opposing the bill that made this happen. And that’s what will do more than anything to continue defeating Trump and Ryan. We need more protest. We need more campaigns. We need more political activism. The success going forward for the left will be the ability to build on this victory through using the same tactics on other bills, starting with the budget. Let’s make it happen.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 76

[ 175 ] March 26, 2017 |

This is the grave of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody


Born in 1846 in frontier Iowa, the family moved to Kansas in 1853, where Cody’s father became involved in the Bleeding Kansas conflict, on the side of the abolitionists. He gave a speech and then was stabbed twice by a slavery advocate. In 1857, he traveled to Cleveland to gather anti-slavery advocates to come to Kansas, but ill and not recovered from his stabbing, he died on the trip. This forced young Bill to go to work, at first on wagon trains and then as a scout helping guide the Army to Utah where a Mormon revolt was feared. He claimed to kill his first Indian on this trip, but who really knows. Forgive me if I’m not trusting Buffalo Bill’s autobiography as the purest distillation of truth.

In 1860, Cody, still only 14, moved to Colorado to mine gold. But on the way, he joined the Pony Express and found work with it. He wanted to join the Union Army in 1861, but was too young. He worked with a freight caravan delivering supplies to Fort Laramie until 1863, when he was old enough to volunteer. He served as a teamster with the 7th Kansas Calvary. He was discharged at the end of the war but then reenlisted in 1868 after working for the Kansas Pacific Railroad. By this time, he western experience was becoming extremely valuable and he as named chief of scouts. He was a scout both in the U.S. military’s genocidal campaigns against Native Americans and for hunting parties of rich men. He also shot bison to feed the military and then the Kansas Pacific workers. He killed about 4200 bison in 1867 and 1868 and earned his name “Buffalo Bill.”

In 1869, Cody is just this guy. He’s 23 years old and has worked his whole life. He isn’t really exceptional in any way. But eastern readers and Europeans were increasingly fascinated by the American West. The romance around western conquest was just getting under way. And those readers needed heroes. That year, a writer named Ned Buntline met Cody and then made up a bunch of stories about him to feed the eastern dime novel market. This made Cody famous. Cody himself was happy to take advantage. In 1872, he started taking to the stage to capitalize on his fame, ridiculous as said fame was. Other western “heroes’ joined him over the next few years, such as Wild Bill Hickok. There they reenacted supposed events such as Cody killing Indians. By most accounts, the quality of the acting was atrocious, but the American public didn’t care and the shows sold out everywhere. In 1882, this evolved into Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, his classic act. For decades he toured the U.S. and Europe. Show performers like Annie Oakley became famous on his tours. After the subjugation of the Lakota, Sitting Bull joined briefly as well, reenacting the conquest of his people and his way of life for a little money and food. This is almost the most depressing thing imaginable. Anyway, Cody became famous and he became rich. In 1895, he founded the town of Cody, Wyoming and bought a huge ranch nearby. He hoped to take advantage of the growing tourist traffic into Yellowstone and the town indeed became prosperous for that reason, as it remains today. It wasn’t until the 1900s that the show’s popularity began to wane; finally Cody could no longer pay the bills and the show was foreclosed upon in 1908.

By this time, Cody had a pretty severe drinking problem but he was useful to others. He moved to Denver, where he was kept by local elites to trot out for various events in exchange for booze. He wasn’t poor yet, but his fortune had dwindled to about $100,000, which is about 1.8 million today. But it was a fraction of what he had twenty years earlier. He died in Denver in 1917.

Buffalo Bill wanted to be buried in Cody, Wyoming, which he founded. But Colorado wasn’t about that have that. There was more money to be made of the corpse. He was buried on top of Lookout Mountain, near Golden, overlooking the Plains. Stories were made up that he wanted to this. Then to make sure Wyoming didn’t steal the corpse, they parked a tank next to the grave.


Then in 1948, after the American Legion in Cody offered $10,000 to anyone who brought his body back to Wyoming, the Colorado National Guard stood armed watch over the grave. There are people in Wyoming who believe to this day that he was secretly buried there.

Of course Buffalo Bill has been portrayed in film and television only about a zillion times. He’s been played by Paul Newman, Roy Rogers, Charlton Heston, Joel McCrea, Peter Coyote, Stephen Baldwin, and J.K. Simmons, among many others. And naturally enough, he appeared in at least 22 early silent films.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Buffalo Bills is the stupidest name in the history of professional sports, as Cody had no connection with the city except for performing a few times there.

Buffalo Bill Cody is buried at Lookout Mountain, Golden, Colorado.

Elite 8 Open Thread

[ 27 ] March 25, 2017 |


Pretty entertaining weekend of basketball here. No one is going to complain about a Gonzaga-Xavier matchup in the West unless you are an Arizona fan and who likes those people anyway. South Carolina-Florida is a random matchup in the East featuring the rare game between two conference teams. I am rooting for South Carolina primarily because they beat Duke. What better reason do you need? Kentucky-North Carolina will of course be excellent. And then there is Oregon-Kansas. No one is giving Oregon a chance here. And it’s a very tough game. Kansas is playing great ball and the game is in Kansas City. This is the kind of game where Oregon losing Chris Boucher could really hurt them. Kansas is favored by 7 and that seems about right to me. That said, don’t read too much into Kansas slaughtering Purdue on Thursday. It’s not that often that teams play that perfect in consecutive games. And Oregon actually hasn’t had a real great game in the tournament. If they can get hot from the outside, they do have a real chance. I’m not saying it’s going to happen because I don’t think it will happen. But it wouldn’t be a huge shocker if it did.

Also, congrats to the 10th seeded Oregon women’s basketball team for making their first ever Elite 8, with the right to be massacred by UConn on Monday. Beating Duke along the way makes it even more sweet.


Happy Triangle Day!

[ 29 ] March 25, 2017 |


Triangle Fire Day is such a happy time. Good thing we have learned so much and we treat our workers with respect, allow them to work in safe workplaces, give them a voice on the job, and generally allow them to live a dignified life, unlike those savage times of the past.

“The supply chain isn’t going just to Bangladesh. It’s going to Alabama and Georgia,” says David Michaels, who ran OSHA for the last seven years of the Obama administration. Safety at the Southern car factories themselves is generally good, he says. The situation is much worse at parts suppliers, where workers earn about 70¢ for every dollar earned by auto parts workers in Michigan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Many plants in the North are unionized; only a few are in the South.)

Cordney Crutcher has known both environments. In 2013 he lost his left pinkie while operating a metal press at Matsu Alabama, a parts maker in Huntsville owned by Matcor-Matsu Group Inc. of Brampton, Ont. Crutcher was leaving work for the day when a supervisor summoned him to replace a slower worker on the line, because the plant had fallen 40 parts behind schedule for a shipment to Honda Motor Co. He’d already worked 12 hours, Crutcher says, and wanted to go home, “but he said they really needed me.” He was put on a press that had been acting up all day. It worked fine until he was 10 parts away from finishing, and then a cast-iron hole puncher failed to deploy. Crutcher didn’t realize it. Suddenly the puncher fired and snapped on his finger. “I saw my meat sticking out of the bottom of my glove,” he says.

Now Crutcher, 42, commutes an hour to the General Motors Co. assembly plant in Spring Hill, Tenn., where he’s a member of United Auto Workers. “They teach you the right way,” he says. “They don’t throw you to the wolves.” His pay rose from $12 an hour at Matsu to $18.21 at GM.

In 2014, OSHA’s Atlanta office, after detecting a high number of safety violations at the region’s parts suppliers, launched a crackdown. The agency cited one year, 2010, when workers in Alabama parts plants had a 50 percent higher rate of illness and injury than the U.S. auto parts industry as a whole. That gap has narrowed, but the incidence of traumatic injuries in Alabama’s auto parts plants remains 9 percent higher than in Michigan’s and 8 percent higher than in Ohio’s. In 2015 the chances of losing a finger or limb in an Alabama parts factory was double the amputation risk nationally for the industry, 65 percent higher than in Michigan and 33 percent above the rate in Ohio.

Korean-owned plants, which make up roughly a quarter of parts suppliers in Alabama, have the most safety violations in the state, accounting for 36 percent of all infractions and 52 percent of total fines, from 2012 to 2016. The U.S. is second, with 23 percent of violations and 17 percent of fines, and Germany is third, with 15 percent and 11 percent. But serious accidents occur in plants from all over, according to more than 3,000 pages of court documents and OSHA investigative files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

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