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So Long, It’s Been Bad to Know You

[ 30 ] June 28, 2013 |

I don’t think we can bury the coal industry yet, but this article really suggests an industry on its last legs. Or dying from black lung perhaps.

…In case you want some more evidence on the sheer awfulness of the coal industry from the 19th century to the present, reading Alan Derickson’s Black Lung is a good place to start

Rise of the Get-Passive

[ 82 ] June 28, 2013 |

Language is always changing. I find the organic transformation of language quite fascinating, even when it leads to new forms of language that drive some people crazy, like using the word “grow” in ways such as “growing the economy.”

I think my support for changing language comes from a grammar snob aunt who used to correct people for using supposedly bad grammar.

Native Americans and the Court

[ 151 ] June 28, 2013 |

In our stories about racial oppression in the United States, Native Americans aren’t forgotten, but the legal details of how the government have denied Native American rights usually are ignored. At least two possible reasons for this. First, unless you are from or live in a handful of western states, there just aren’t very many Native Americans. It doesn’t seem as fundamental to either the recent past or present as African-American issues. Second, the most famous decision on Native American rights actually supported them, when after the Marshall court issued Worcester v. Georgia, Andrew Jackson basically told Marshall where he could stick his decision and went ahead with plans for Cherokee removal.

But the same courts that have denied African-American rights have also denied Native American rights. We all know that in 1896, the Supreme Court ruled for legal segregation in Plessy v. Ferguson. But that year the Court also issued its decision in Ward v. Race Horse. This case decided Native American hunting rights on public lands. In 1895, thirty Bannock from the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho were arrested by a Wyoming posse after hunting in what was then Yellowstone National Park (which had been a major hunting ground for Native Americans for thousands of years). The Court got involved and ruled in Ward (to quote Mark Spence, from Dispossessing the Wilderness) “that all treaties guaranteeing native rights to hunt on public lands were predicated on ‘the disappearance of those [public lands]‘. Consequently, a posse could enforce state laws that banned native hunters from lands expected to be settled sometime in the future.”

In other words, like with African-Americans, the Supreme Court created a ruling that fit its white supremacist ideology.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that voided the most relevant portion of the Voting Rights Act. Texas and other southern states are already moving ahead to reduce the power of African-American voters. But the Court also issued another disturbing ruling undermining Native American rights. In a 5-4 decision (with Scalia dissenting and Breyer in the majority) the Court ruled in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl that a Native American girl adopted by South Carolina parents could not be returned to her father who later tried to reclaim her, using the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which sought to keep Native American children in Native American families.

This was a narrow ruling, focusing around strictly the specifics of the case. It’s not an outrage on the level of Ward. But it also reaffirms the difficulty Native Americans have in realizing sovereignty and the consistent misunderstanding between the American legal system and tribal law and custom. Colorlines:

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together.

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The high court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the justices made this case about race—in their mind—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the high court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

The conception of race is particularly important here. How do we classify race? As always in this country, it’s about blood quantum determined by non-whiteness (i.e. Barack Obama is the 1st black president instead of the 44th white president, even though he 50% Kenyan and 50% Anglo). But that doesn’t always fit the situation and certainly didn’t here. Instead, the Court’s decision in Adoptive Couple reinforces systemic racism, with non-Indians forcing their conceptions of race over Cherokee conceptions of race.

Again, this is a narrow ruling, kicking this back to the South Carolina courts. And of course, I do feel for the adoptive parents and realize that the particulars of this case are not cut and dried. But this is a bad principle to set; the fact that 4 of the 5 conservatives made up the majority is always a bad sign.

On Our Knees for America

[ 201 ] June 27, 2013 |

The Family Research Council has called for a day of action on June 30 against same-sex marriage. They designed a really great logo for it.

These people are so ready to come out of the closet, they can’t help themselves.

….Once again, it’s worth noting that it is in fact impossible to parody conservatives. Impossible.

Student Loans

[ 14 ] June 27, 2013 |

While I’m glad that Senate Democrats are fighting for a better bill that would lower student loan interest rates, Obama really left them hanging out to dry after proposing tying the interest rates to the 10-year treasury note, which Republicans and a few Democrats have embraced.

Obama’s War on the NFL. And America Of Course. Let’s Not Forget His War on America

[ 39 ] June 27, 2013 |

This is even stupider than the usual Republican paranoia. Evidently, Obama is trying to destroy the NFL–by planning to run ads during NFL games this fall explaining the details of the health care bill as it goes into effect.

It’s just one scandal after another with this administration. Did you see that it is now trying to destroy the NFL? This is what’s happening, according to certain quarters of the Internet. Here’s the skinny: the Health and Human Services department is ”in talks with the National Football League to promote [Obamacare]’s insurance marketplaces that begin enrolling people Oct 1.” Who knows how deep this corruption goes — HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius also ”said the administration is also talking to other major sports franchises about improving public awareness of the Obamacare online insurance exchanges.”

Kaiser Health’s story also notes that during the media push for Massachusetts’ similar health care law, “the campaign was advertised during Red Sox games at Fenway Park. That marketing is widely credited with helping build public acceptance.” Once again in the health care field, the federal government is just following Mitt Romney’s lead.

Conservative media outlets are getting upset at this co-opting of America’s favorite sports franchises, coerced to do the dirty work of promoting the most evil law in the history of the universe. Perhaps this top comment, on The Hill’s story, left by one “MR FOOTBALL,” epitomizes the attitude: “Goodbye NFL!” MR FOOTBALL’s presumably got all sorts of things goin’ on and with football, he can take it or leave it.

We’ll see if this deal comes to fruition. It may turn out that the NFL’s rates are too high to justify the expenditure. And not everywhere in the country is like Massachusetts, where Red Sox players can order any person in the state to do anything – fix up a pre-game cheese plate for them, enroll in subsidized health insurance plans, whatever – at any time.

Poor football fans.

The System Works

[ 158 ] June 27, 2013 |

Jeebus.

Jeff Olson, the 40-year-old man who is being prosecuted for scrawling anti-megabank messages on sidewalks in water-soluble chalk last year now faces a 13-year jail sentence. A judge has barred his attorney from mentioning freedom of speech during trial.

According to the San Diego Reader, which reported on Tuesday that a judge had opted to prevent Olson’s attorney from “mentioning the First Amendment, free speech, free expression, public forum, expressive conduct, or political speech during the trial,” Olson must now stand trial for on 13 counts of vandalism.

In addition to possibly spending years in jail, Olson will also be held liable for fines of up to $13,000 over the anti-big-bank slogans that were left using washable children’s chalk on a sidewalk outside of three San Diego, California branches of Bank of America, the massive conglomerate that received $45 billion in interest-free loans from the US government in 2008-2009 in a bid to keep it solvent after bad bets went south.

The Reader reports that Olson’s hearing had gone as poorly as his attorney might have expected, with Judge Howard Shore, who is presiding over the case, granting Deputy City Attorney Paige Hazard’s motion to prohibit attorney Tom Tosdal from mentioning the United States’ fundamental First Amendment rights.

“The State’s Vandalism Statute does not mention First Amendment rights,” ruled Judge Shore on Tuesday.

Evidently, the Constitution does not apply to state law unless the relevant parts of it are explicitly mentioned in each statute. And I’m sure 5 Supreme Court justices would agree.

Our corporate overlords will not be challenged. Especially by chalk.

…..In a related story, a Pennsylvania health care activist was arrested last night for writing in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the governor’s mansion that Governor Tom Corbett has health care and we should too.

Today in Humans Destroying the Planet

[ 28 ] June 26, 2013 |

1. You like Canadian tar sands? Then you’ll love domestic Utah tar sands, as Tara Lohan reports!

2. The EPA dropping a fracking study linking the practice to contaminated groundwater in Wyoming is just embarrassing and again suggests the one step forward, one step back approach to the environment under Obama. As Sarah Gilman at High Country News (the best newspaper on western environmental issues, you all should read it!) states:

On a higher level, though, it’s yet another example of the Obama administration coming out guns a-blazing, aiming at the high middle of progressive ambition on an environmental policy issue, only to shrink back (or roll back proposed rules) when things get politically ugly. It’s something HCN staffers have tracked with bemusement since Obama’s election in 2008. There were those new ozone limits that the administration had trumpeted as a necessary step to protect public health, for example, which it later withdrew and endlessly delayed for further review after a political flogging from the Republican-dominated House of Representatives. There were the Bureau of Land Management’s first-ever hydraulic fracturing rules, which the administration first tried to spin in terms of clearing the industry’s name and then later were systematically weakened after a top White House official met several times with industry groups.

Before last fall’s election, when Obama still had everything to lose by taking a stand that could be construed as anti-economy, his agencies’ wishywashyness sort of made sense. (Only sort of, though, since politicizing legitimate public health concerns actually doesn’t make moral sense at all.) Now, though, it’s baffling.

We can only hope that the lofty language and goals Obama laid out in his June 25 speech on how he (FINALLY!) plans to address the biggest environmental problem of all – climate change — won’t suffer the same fate as so many other of his administration’s environmental initiatives.

Yep.

3. In our focus on energy, let’s not forget the joy of pesticides. Certainly people in Wilsonville, Oregon won’t forget:

Target shoppers in Wilsonville, Oregon found a tragedy in the parking lot as tens of thousands of of bumble bees were found dead and dying on the pavement, along with honey bees and ladybugs. Shoppers notified Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, who went to the scene to investigate.

Oregon officials say preliminary results point to an insecticide that was used on the nearby European Linden trees. The trees were sprayed with a pesticide called Safari to kill aphids, an insect that destroys plants and vegetation. Safari is part of a group of pesticides called neonicotinoids that are known to kill pollinators such as bumblebees, Associated Press reports. The investigation is still under way. If the pesticide is the confirmed cause and it wasn’t used according to the label instructions, civil penalties could be handed down ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per violation for gross negligence or willful misconduct, Dale Mitchell, program manager in the Agriculture Department’s pesticide compliance and enforcement section, told AP.

Why is this pesticide even legal? But hey, I’m sure that a pesticide that kills 50,000 bees has no effect on humans. So. Much. Confidence.

If We Are Declaring Civil Rights Legislation Unconstitutional, I Guess We Might As Well Return to Discredited Jim Crow Era Theories about the Civil War

[ 127 ] June 26, 2013 |

Forbes is a terrible magazine in general, but now that it is reviving the idea that the tariff was the real reason for the Civil War, it’s adding bad history to its usual bad economics and bad politics. This David John Marotta column is really awful. The tariff of course was an area of disagreement between the South and North–but the fundamental point of the disagreement was around whether the nation should favor the slave plantation economy or a manufacturing economy. This is like saying, as some have, that the Civil War was fought over westward expansion without noting that the only bone of contention around that issue was whether those western lands should be slave or free. But what is really bad is when Marotta actually talks about slavery:

Slavery was actually on the wane. Slaves visiting England were free according to the courts in 1569. France, Russia, Spain and Portugal had outlawed slavery. Slavery had been abolished everywhere in the British Empire 27 years earlier thanks to William Wilberforce. In the United States, the transport of slaves had been outlawed 53 years earlier by Thomas Jefferson in the Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves (1807) and the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act in England (1807). Slavery was a dying and repugnant institution.

The rewritten history of the Civil War began with Lincoln as a brilliant political tactic to rally public opinion. The issue of slavery provided sentimental leverage, whereas oppressing the South with hurtful tariffs did not. Outrage against the greater evil of slavery served to mask the economic harm the North was doing to the South.

The situation in the South could be likened to having a legitimate legal case but losing the support of the jury when testimony concerning the defendant’s moral failings was admitted into the court proceedings.

No. There is absolutely no evidence that slavery was on the wane as any historian could tell you. Cherry picking from other nations abolishing slavery and fifty year old laws against the importation of slaves is some pretty weak evidence that ignores all the other actual evidence about the cotton economy, the massive profits made by slaveholders, the rush for westward lands to expand slavery, the desire for the US to take over Cuba in order to expand slavery. Oh yes, and the actual words spoken by Southerners when they seceeded from the Union. The South Carolina Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union:

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the *forms* [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

Right, so it’s all about the tariff.

In case anyone needs a primer on the history of myths about the origins of the Civil War, here’s James Loewen, who addresses some of the classic howlers used by Marotta.

Chauncey on the Court Decisions

[ 9 ] June 26, 2013 |

The historian of gay America, George Chauncey, with an excellent essay on the history behind the move toward gay marriage. In part:

The lesbian and gay liberation movements of the early 1970s did not make marriage a priority — quite the opposite. Activists fought police raids, job discrimination and families’ rejection of their queer children. Most radical activists scorned the very idea of marriage. But a handful walked into clerks’ offices across the country to request marriage licenses. State officials suddenly realized that their laws failed to limit marriage to a man and a woman; no other arrangement had been imagined. By 1978, 15 states had written this limitation into law.

A “traditional family values” movement arose to oppose gay rights and feminism. Anita Bryant and other activists took aim at some of the earliest local anti-discrimination laws, and by 1979 they had persuaded voters in several cities to repeal them. In some 140 local and state referendums, gay-rights activists were forced to defend their fledgling protections. This, not marriage, consumed their energies.

It was the 1980s that changed things. The AIDS epidemic and what came to be known as the “lesbian baby boom” compelled even those couples whose friends and family fully embraced them to deal with powerful institutions — family and probate courts, hospitals, adoption agencies and funeral homes — that refused to recognize their relationships at all.

The gay partner of someone with AIDS confronted hospitals that could deny him visitation privileges, not to mention consultation over treatment. He couldn’t use his health insurance to cover his partner. He risked losing his home after his partner’s death if his name wasn’t on the lease or if he couldn’t pay inheritance taxes on his partner’s share of it (which would not have been required of a surviving spouse).

Militarization

[ 64 ] June 26, 2013 |

Good that John McCain is so giddy about creating what he calls the most militarized border since the Berlin Wall with the immigration bill. I mean, that turned out pretty well for everyone, no?

We Shall Overcome

[ 64 ] June 25, 2013 |

Maybe so Lyndon. But it didn’t last forever. Now we have to overcome again.

John Lewis on what the Court decision means, stabbing the civil rights movement “in its very heart.”