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For a Vision of What Republicans Want to Do to the Nation, Look at North Carolina

[ 25 ] May 17, 2017 |

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Above: The North Carolina GOP

While we are rightfully focused on the out of control Trump administration, I continue to pay attention to the meth laboratories of democracy that are the states. I do so for many reasons, but one of them is that you can see how Republicans are trying out new methods to create their dreamed of autocracy. I was originally going to combine this was a brief mention of Trump and Erdogan, but Melissa usefully did this already. So instead I will stick to that lovely paradise known as North Carolina. To being with, North Carolina Republicans stick to their most important principle: Being stringent defenders of pig shit.

North Carolina’s hog farms won an extra measure of protection from lawsuits Thursday, after the state Senate overrode a veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, who had sought to preserve the right of property owners to sue farmers over quality-of-life issues.

The state Senate narrowly defeated Cooper’s veto, a day after the House took the same step. The Senate vote was 30 to 18, mostly along party lines, in a procedure that requires support from three-fifths of lawmakers present. The vote was similar Wednesday in the House, with 74 voting to override the governor’s veto, and 40 voting to support the governor.

The new law limits the amount of money people can collect in lawsuits against hog farms for odors, headaches, flies and other aggravations. Critics have said the law limits financial recovery to the point that such lawsuits are not likely to be filed in the future.

The measure, which protects all agricultural and forestry operations, was prompted by 26 federal lawsuits filed against the state’s largest pork producer, Murphy-Brown, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. In other states, such lawsuits have resulted in jury awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars to local residents. North Carolina’s law will limit financial recovery to several thousand dollars, according to some estimates.

An early version of the law, House Bill 467, would have applied retroactively to the Murphy-Brown cases, but lawmakers stripped out that provision amid objections from Democrats and Republicans alike that it would be inappropriate for the legislature to intervene in a pending legal dispute.

On Thursday, all 15 Democrats in the Senate supported Cooper, and were joined by three Republicans who had previouly voted against the legislation, including Tamara Barringer of Wake County. Two Republicans were absent who had previously voted for the bill when it passed the Senate last month.

In the House vote to override Cooper’s veto, seven Democrats voted against the Democratic governor, and three Republicans voted with him.

North Carolina has about 9 million hogs on nearly 2,300 hog farm operations, many of them concentrated in the eastern part of the state. The large farms, which can contain thousands of hogs, treat the hog feces and urine in open-air lagoons, from which water is pumped onto crops as a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Nearly 500 residents living near those farms allege in the lawsuits that they are subjected to revolting odors as well as swarms of flies and buzzards attracted to outdoor bins where pig carcasses are dumped for pickup by haulers. The lawsuits include allegations that the spraying from the lagoons disperses fecal bacteria that wafts across property lines and settles on cars, homes and lawns.

North Carolina’s hog farming practices have been under scrutiny for decades. Amid rising public health concerns, the state banned the construction of new hog farms in 1997 that treat hog waste in open-air lagoons. More than 30 scientific studies have documented public health and environmental problems arising from industrial hog farming here.

And before someone makes the obvious point–yes, on this issue there are also crappy Democrats in the pockets of the agricultural lobby. That they suck on this issue is unfortunate. Whether they should be primaried or not I can’t say; obviously it depends on the district. But both sides don’t do it–all of one side and a few bad apples of the other side do it, which is not a reason to decry the entire Democratic Party, especially since Roy Cooper vetoed the thing.

Then there’s how Republicans respond to Democratic challenges.

N.C. Senate Republicans were visibly upset with Democrats for prolonging the budget debate with amendments during an after-midnight session Friday morning.

As the clock approached 1 a.m., Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue was summoned to the front of the chamber to talk privately with Senate leader Phil Berger. The Senate had rejected five amendments from Democrats to fund their spending priorities, but each time one proposal was shot down, another one was filed.

Senate Rules Chairman Bill Rabon abruptly called for a recess, stopping the proceedings for nearly two hours. GOP leaders headed to a conference room with legislative budget staff, while Democrats – some surprised by the lengthy delay – passed the time with an impromptu dance party in the hall.

The session finally resumed around 3 a.m., and Republican Sen. Brent Jackson introduced a new budget amendment that he explained would fund more pilot programs combating the opioid epidemic. He cited “a great deal of discussion” about the need for more opioid treatment funding.

Jackson didn’t mention where the additional $1 million would come from: directly from education programs in Senate Democrats’ districts and other initiatives the minority party sought.

Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram’s rural district in northeastern North Carolina took the biggest hit from the amendment. It strips $316,646 from two early college high schools in Northampton and Washington counties, and it specifically bans state funding from supporting a summer science, math and technology program called Eastern North Carolina STEM.

The Northampton County program has received about $180,000 in recent years to serve 90 high school students, many of whom are African-American and from low-income families.

“I don’t know what motivated the amendment, but it will have a devastating effect on an area that is already suffering,” Smith-Ingram said Saturday, adding that the STEM summer program would shut down if the provision is in the final budget.

Would you be surprised to know that Smith-Ingram is African-American as well as a Democrat and that her district is heavily black? No, of course you wouldn’t.

Speaking of North Carolina Republicans’ war on African-Americans, it’s attempt to recreate something as close to Jim Crow voting as it could was rejected by the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it’s entirely about the fact that the state’s new Democratic governor, whose power was drastically reduced by the GOP once they couldn’t control the office anymore, decided to stop defending the case, and not about the merits of the openly racist law. The upside is that the Fourth Circuit completely rejected it on the merits already and that stands. Of course, the real lesson is that even with flawed Democrats, they are way, way, way better than Republicans precisely because of issues like this. But maybe the Greens can run a challenger next time! That’s more important than making sure this type of voter suppression doesn’t continue!

But I guess Hillary should have held campaign rallies in Wisconsin. Anyway.

This is what a unified Republican government would look like nationally if it could a) get the power, b) break down the norms that prevent this sort of thing nationally, and c) didn’t elect a man of stupendous stupidity who blows up his own presidency. In other words, holding onto to both houses of Congress with a Mike Pence presidency and a bunch of judges named to these courts means we could be much closer to Erdogan’s Turkey than you would like to think.

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This Day in Labor History: May 17, 1933

[ 17 ] May 17, 2017 |

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On May 17, 1933, Rep. Robert Houghton, a North Carolina Democrat, introduced H.R. 5755 into the House. This would become the National Industrial Recovery Act, the first comprehensive attempt to fix the economy of the Great Depression through national planning. While deeply flawed, the NIRA not only was a critical early response to the Depression, but it also spurred tremendous labor activism that laid the groundwork for the more comprehensive labor legislation of the decade.

From the beginning, the NIRA was intended to stabilize the economy by reducing the ruinous competition between businesses in many industries, leading to no one making money. Thus, the Roosevelt administration worked closely with many major corporate leaders who saw how this could work to their advantage. In fact, many New Deal programs tended to promote an oligarchical capitalism of a few companies dominating each industry. The Chamber of Commerce was behind it, as were leading capitalists such as Gerald Swope of General Electric and Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel. The monopoly aspects to it did lead to opposition in the Senate from people such as George Norris and Hugo Black but it passed and Roosevelt signed it on June 16.

The NIRA created the National Recovery Administration and the Public Works Administration. General Hugh Johnson was placed in charge of the NRA and Harold Ickes the PWA. The NRA would be more important in terms of implementing the act. The Blue Eagle was created as the NRA’s symbol, with compliant companies getting the official seal of approval. But from the beginning the NRA did not work well. There were hundreds of industry codes approved and thousands of business practices outlawed. The pages of legal opinions about implementation ran to the tens of thousands or more. It was only a 2-year program before it needed to be renewed and it became fairly clear early on that renewal was unlikely.

Section 7(a) was the most controversial part of the legislation. It read, in part:

employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and shall be free from the interference restraint, or coercion of employers of labor, or their agents, in the designation of such representatives or in self-organization or in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection; [and] (2) that no employee and no one seeking employment shall be required as a condition of employment to join any company union or to refrain from joining, organizing, or assisting a labor organization of his own choosing.

Some industry captains thought there might be a place for “responsible” unions in helping to regulate these industries because stable decent wages that were enforced across industry would undermine that devastating competition. Since business couldn’t stop competing with each other, some at least wanted government and even unions to do it for them. This led to the insertion of 7(a). The needle trades actually openly relied on the Amalgamated Clothing Workers led by Sidney Hillman to enforce the industry code against cheaters in one of the worst industries when it came to devastating competition. The retailer Edward Filene stated, “Our labor unions have a better understanding of what is good for business today than our chambers of commence have.” AFL president William Green definitely agreed and saw the NRA as the ticket to rebuilding a movement absolutely devastated by the anti-union sentiment of the 1920s and one that was carefully watching its left wing as well to prevent its model of business-friendly conservative unionism from being challenged.

FDR and Johnson assumed 7(a) would be self-regulating and so created no meaningful enforcement mechanism. That did not work. It soon created an ad-hoc National Labor Board after the fact to mediate disputes and it had good people on it–William Green, John L. Lewis, Robert Wagner among them–but it was winging it. Meanwhile, led by the National Association of Manufacturers, most employers absolutely refused to accept unions in their workplaces. The oil and chemical industries simply ignored anything the NRA said about labor. The Chemical Alliance told its members to ignore NRA wage standards. In fact, the NLB’s decisions alienated Hugh Johnson as well. After it ruled against Weirton Steel and Budd Manufacturing in a couple of cases that pushed labor rights, both the employers and the NRA itself simply ignored the rulings.

Workers thought that 7(a) explicitly said that the government wanted them to organize. That wasn’t really true; FDR had not gone that far. But it barely mattered. The NIRA gave workers an opportunity to shape their own history. Incredibly angry over their treatment on the job, the continued repression of their unions, and desirous of making serious change to their lives and the country, workers believed that the NIRA was a message from the president telling them he wanted them to join a union. Of course, this is not what Roosevelt said or meant. He had no major problem with unions and believed they had a role in regulating the nation, but he was not overtly pro-union at this point. In the first six months of 1933, the economy lost an average of 603,000 worker days to strikes per month. In July this went up to 1.375 million days and in August to 2.378 million as workers tested just what the NRA would do for them. Then, in four great strikes in 1934–at the Auto-Lite plant in Toledo, the docks in San Francisco, in the trucks and warehouses of Minneapolis, and throughout the textile belt in the South and New England, workers walked off the job to fight for the rights they believed Roosevelt had granted to them.

The NIRA was declared unconstitutional by an outraged Supreme Court in Schechter Poultry Corporation v. U.S. in 1935. By this time, business had turned against the NRA very sharply. Charles Evans Hughes wrote the decision for a unanimous court. The actual impact of this was limited. By this time, Roosevelt himself saw the weaknesses in the plan. Congress was unlikely to reauthorize it anyway as it had been so disastrous in practice. So he moved on to his so-called Second New Deal, a period that included the Social Security Act and the National Labor Relations Act, following closely upon the Court’s decision. The latter finally granted workers the explicit right to organize. The NLRB grew out of the NLB, which had renamed itself the National Labor Relations Board in 1934 and would be legally enshrined the next year.

I borrowed from Colin Gordon, New Deals: Business, Labor, and Politics in America, 1920-1935 in the writing of this post.

This is the 222nd post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

GOP Class Warfare

[ 31 ] May 16, 2017 |

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Once again, the primary threat to this nation is not Donald Trump, it’s the Republican Party.

Under enormous internal pressure to quickly balance the budget, Republicans are considering slashing more than $400 billion in spending through a process to evade Democratic filibusters in the Senate, multiple sources told POLITICO.

The proposal, which would be part of the House Budget Committee’s fiscal 2018 budget, won’t specify which programs would get the ax; instead it will instruct committees to figure out what to cut to reach the savings. But among the programs most likely on the chopping block, the sources say, are food stamps, welfare, income assistance for the disabled and perhaps even veterans benefits.

If enacted, such a plan to curb safety-net programs — all while juicing the Pentagon’s budget and slicing corporate tax rates — would amount to the biggest shift in federal spending priorities in decades.

Atop that, GOP budget writers will also likely include Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposal to essentially privatize Medicare in their fiscal 2018 budget, despite Trump’s unwavering rejection of the idea. While that proposal is more symbolic and won’t become law under this budget, it’s just another thorny issue that will have Democrats again accusing Republicans of “pushing Granny off the cliff.”

And sure, Republicans might lose control of the House in 2018. But they won’t lose control of the Senate, millions of poor whites will gladly accept their own loss in benefits if they know that blacks aren’t getting benefits either, and Trump will still be in the White House. Even the worst case scenario here would fulfill Ryan’s dream to starve granny. I wonder if he dreams of throwing people into poverty at night.

National Monuments

[ 24 ] May 16, 2017 |

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In the daily grind of Trump outrages and congressional Republicans rolling us back to the Gilded Age, I suppose the fate of public lands means less to most people than handing over classified intelligence to the Russians and stripping tens of millions of people of health insurance. But Trump ordering the Department of Interior to review all the big western monuments created by Clinton and Obama, with the likelihood of shrinking or eliminating them is not only outrageous, it’s an insult to a century of conservation legislation and the millions of people who have fought to preserve our natural legacy for the future. I don’t really know what is going to happen in the end. Conservation groups are going to put up one heck of a legal fight. There’s no precedent for repealing a national monument, although the boundaries of Olympic National Park changed repeatedly during its monument and early park days, and it’s not clear what legal standing exists for it. The Antiquities Act does not expressly give permission to eliminate national monuments. But for Trump and Republicans, national parks are just another part of the liberal legacy that needs dismantling. Making America Great Again means drilling for gas and oil in our most beautiful places, desecrating Native American archeological sites, cutting down the last old growth timber, and driving animals and plants to extinction, all while denying climate change exists. This is just one of hundreds of battles we have to fight at once. Like most of them, the fundamental problem is not Donald Trump, it’s the Republican Party. Whether our natural heritage will survive the New Gilded Age is far from assured.

Conservative Voters Aren’t Monocausal

[ 264 ] May 15, 2017 |

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In the aftermath of the 2016 elections, there’s been way too many articles trying to explain conservative white voters in terms of one issue. Did white people vote for Trump because they were racist? Did they vote for him because they were misogynist? Did they vote for him because their jobs were shipped overseas and they have no real economic prospects? The answers are of course complex. The whole debate has been deeply problematic to begin with, for a number of reasons. First, most white people vote Republican anyway and so many of the stories about Trump voters ignore this and assume that such a vote was a one-time deal. Second, the debate about economic issues has been vastly overblown. Pinpointing that issue as a critical reason Clinton lost is a very different proposition than saying that’s why white people voted for Trump. The jobs issue matters a lot in understanding why specific blue collar counties with long histories of voting for Democrats shifted by up to 10% toward Trump and thus throwing some states to him. It does not describe necessarily why working-class whites as a whole voted for Trump. And yet that complexity has been ignored by people who don’t want to admit that economics is part of it. Moreover, the discussion of racism and misogyny has been misguided in the sense that people seem to believe that one is a racist or misogynist or isn’t a racist or misogynist, when in fact we all exist along a sliding scale of prejudice. There’s a lot of people wanting to call Trump voters racist but will defend to the death their decision to move to the all-white suburbs for the schools. Sorry, it’s not that simple as you’re racist because you voted for Trump and I’m not because I voted for Clinton.

The complexity of these issues gets a lot more dense when you deep dive into the particular region. That brings me to southwestern Oregon. This story is about how right-wing white voters in these old timber towns are so anti-tax that they aren’t even voting to fund their own police and libraries. An excerpt:

“We pay enough taxes,” said Zach Holly, an auto repair worker in a shop a few blocks from the library who said his vote against the tax was not about libraries at all, but government waste. “I vote against taxes, across the board,” he said.

An instinctive reaction against higher taxes has been stitched into the fabric of America in recent decades, starting with the property tax revolts of the 1970s through the anti-tax orthodoxy expressed by many conservative members of Congress today. But few places in the nation are seeing the tangled implications of what that means — in real time — more vividly than in southwest Oregon, where a handful of rural counties are showing what happens when citizens push the logic of shrinking government to its extremes.

“The trust is gone from people who are paying the bills,” said Court Boice, a commissioner in Curry County, which borders Douglas. At least four property tax proposals aimed at keeping county services afloat, like the library rescue plan in Douglas, have failed in Curry County over the last decade.

Just east of Curry in Josephine County, the jail has been defunded after nine consecutive defeats of public safety tax levies — there will be another try next week in a special election — leading to a policy of catch-and-release for nonviolent criminals.

Demographic and economic changes in this swath of the Pacific Northwest, where thick forests brush down to the rocky Pacific Coast, have given the tax resistance movement its backbone. Retirees who came in recent years for the low housing costs or the conservative political culture have become a major voting bloc. And the tech jobs that are fueling growth in Portland, a three-hour drive north, are mostly just a dream.

But what is even more significant is that for many years, timber-harvesting operations on public lands here paid the bills, and people got used to it. A law passed by Congress in the 1930s specified that a vast swath of forest lands that had passed into corporate hands and back into federal control would be managed for county benefit. But then logging declined, starting in the 1980s and 1990s, as it did across many other parts of the West, and the flood of timber money slowed to a trickle, with only a stunted tax base to pick up the difference. The property tax rate in Curry County is less than a quarter of the statewide average. Douglas County residents pay about 60 percent less than most state residents.

President Trump’s plan to overhaul the nation’s corporate and personal income-tax systems adds another wrinkle. His proposal would not directly affect local property tax rates, but the ripple effects, several local officials said, could be profound and unpredictable. More money in voters’ wallets from tax cuts in Washington could reduce the sting in asking people to pay more at home, or it could just reinforce the idea that all taxes are meant to go down.

So what’s going on here? The article gets at some of it. These southwestern Oregon counties went hard for Trump. They are genuinely right wing. For all Oregon is known as a liberal state, the reality is that it’s politics are probably as divided as any state in the country. It’s Democrats are on the far left of the nation. It’s Republicans belong in Idaho or Utah. This is why unlike Washington, where Republicans run credible statewide campaigns, Democrats blow out Republicans over and over again. Yes, the retirees are an issue, but the locals are just as right-wing. These are State of Jefferson people, as the area is festooned with signs for splitting from Oregon (and California counties like Del Norte and Siskiyou) and starting their own, properly white and conservative state with lots of guns and no taxes.

So what is it? Are these people racist? Yeah, no doubt. But that’s not why they are voting against their own libraries and not the only reason why they are voting for Trump. Sure, call them idiots if you want to. I’m not even going to disagree. But it’s more than that. First, they have tremendous cultural resentment toward Eugene and Portland. Those urban liberals are an obsession in these areas. Moreover, Oregon has changed dramatically in the last 50 years (this is the book I am researching on my sabbatical starting this fall). In 1960, this was a relatively poor but homogeneous state that valued white working class cultures based in natural resource economics. In the 1970s, that started to change, as tech and tourism became to replace logging and fishing as economic drivers. That continued to grow and as higher end companies such as Nike and Microsoft developed, the natural resources of the Northwest meant more for the economy standing and preserved than developed. Thus the spotted owl protests and the preservation of the last old-growth stands. Globalization and free trade agreements played a big role here. While NAFTA has been terrible for Michigan and Ohio, it’s been really good for the West Coast. But its benefits are highly divided. Cities like Portland and Seattle have exploded. But the old logging towns are left with nothing. And that’s what these places in southwest Oregon are. Sure, you get California retirees out there, but most of these towns are as desolate as anything you would find in western Pennsylvania. There’s nothing in tech, a little in tourism along the Rogue River and with mountain biking, but by and large, that old white working class economy is dead. This varies quite a bit by country. The article focuses on Curry, Douglas, and Josephine Counties, but not Jackson. There’s a good reason for that, which is that Jackson County has become the urban core, such as it is, of southern Oregon. With Medford (working-class town but reasonably big), Ashland (college town, Shakespearean Festival, brewery center, outdoor paradise) and Jacksonville (small town but historic and a tourist destination), Jackson County has responded to the challenges of the new economy more effectively and thus the anti-tax sentiment is lower. It still went Trump 51-42, but compared to Josephine at 62-31, Curry at 58-35, and Douglas at 66-27, it’s downright liberal.

Add to this a tradition of low taxes. The linked article discusses this to some extent, but let me expand upon it, as I get into this some in Empire of Timber (now available at a not horrible price!). The majority of taxes in these counties came from the Oregon and California Land Grant lands for many decades. The O&C was a failed railroad grant through the most valuable timber lands in Oregon that was reacquired by the government and leased to timber companies. Douglas County became the nation’s timber capital based on these lands. The deal was that the timber companies would pay taxes on the timber they cut and a big chunk of that went into the county larder. That meant that schools and roads and police were paid for with little to no money from the citizenry, creating a no-tax culture. So in the 1980s, when the timber industry declined (for many reasons, not just owl protection), not only did unemployment rise, but so did the need to tax the populace for this first time. This all added significantly to the overall atmosphere of resentment.

All of this is to say that the core of white conservatism, especially white working class conservatism, is really, really complex, much more so than is allowed to exist in liberal debates on it. Race and misogyny no doubt played a role in the voting of these people, but they also have very real “economic anxiety” and economic resentment in a rapidly changing state and economic reality. Add to this their unique history and you have a brew of right-wing extremism that hurts only themselves, and of course anyone unfortunate to live under their rule.

At the very least, I hope this discussion pushes back effectively against the simplistic discussion of the white working class and the 2016 election. Because I don’t think there’s anything about Douglas County, Oregon that suggests a monocausal reason for its conservatism. It’s conservative for a lot of reasons, some of them addressable perhaps by Democrats and some perhaps not.

Powers Boothe, RIP

[ 58 ] May 15, 2017 |

Powers Boothe is dead.

Sadly, I guess this means that Cy Tolliver won’t be in the film version of Deadwood that may eventually happen, hopefully before all the other actors are dead too.

Of all the characters in Deadwood, Tolliver was probably the single most vile, outside of George Hearst. Meaning that Boothe must have had a really fun time playing him.

Then of course there was Powers Boothe literally parachuting into the middle of Red Dawn.

Mother’s Day

[ 10 ] May 14, 2017 |

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As another Mother’s Day winds down, here’s a reminder that the real way we treat our mothers is allowing poor mothers to die in childbirth, forcing them to live in poverty, don’t provide state-supported child care (thanks Nixon!), deny mothers parental and sick leave, and basically allow our mothers and thus their children to suffer needlessly. USA! USA!

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 83

[ 50 ] May 14, 2017 |

This is the grave of William Clay Ford.

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William Clay Ford was born into American royalty in 1925, the son of Edsel Ford and grandson of Henry Ford. He was rich, did some rich person things, was very active in the family business, blah blah blah.

The real reason to discuss Ford is his ownership of the Detroit Lions. Under his ownership, the Lions reached an astounding level of ineptitude that never ended until his death, if it has since then. Ford bought the Lions in 1963. In 50 years of owning the club before his death in 2014, the Lions won 1 playoff game. 1!!! Here is a list of 5 defining moments of Ford’s ownership tenure, mostly terrible. I guess it’s fitting that he bought the team on the day JFK was shot; for the people of Detroit, the president’s assassination was only the second worst event that day. Even Barry Sanders couldn’t take it anymore, quitting while he was at the height of his powers, realizing that he would destroy his body for a franchise that would never win.

The real highlight of course was Ford hiring Matt Millen to be General Manager in 2001. In fact, Ford only hired 3 GMs in his 50 years, putting up with endless losing for all of them. The first guy lasted 22 years and never won a playoff game! Millen and Ford’s combined idiocy sent the team to a 0-16 record, the only time that feat has been achieved in NFL history. Millen’s fine 1st round picks included Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, and, yes, Joey Harrington, although I maintain that Harrington could have been a decent QB in a different system, even if he would never really fit into an NFL locker room. At least one Millen knew his dad couldn’t draft his way out of box, but it wasn’t Matt. Ford kept Millen around forever. Why? Because he felt his GM was a good Christian! Now that’s a way to run a franchise. It’s really too bad Millen was fired too, as the way he was talking up Christian Hackenberg could have led to another era of greatness in the Motor City! The only reason Ford finally dumped Millen is that Ford’s own son publicly announced that he would do it if he was in charge. You really have to love how Millen took it with class too, calling himself a martyr for the entire problems of the city of Detroit. Really, only Al Davis was a worse owner over the last 20 years and at least Davis did this on a lived history of success. Ford even managed to make Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill look competent. Dan Snyder may see Ford as a model of how to ruin a franchise.

Anyway, Henry Clay Ford lived a long life that I’m sure was successful in some other way before dying in 2014 at the age of 88. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Detroit, Michigan.

Music Notes

[ 78 ] May 13, 2017 |

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I saw The New Pornographers at House of Blues in Boston recently. For as much as I dislike the atmosphere of the two House of Blues venues I’ve been to (Dallas is the other), this was a very fun show. I haven’t heard the new album yet and so I didn’t know those songs but that doesn’t matter much. The great thing about this band is its faith in the sound of the human voice. With up to 5 people singing at once, it becomes a transcendent party of voices. And of course the songs are so fun and the music so happy that it is almost impossible not to have a good time at a New Pornographers show. It’s also interesting that A.C. Newman sings with an audible lisp, which is not something I think I have ever heard before. I say that only as a curious point, not that it adds or detracts from the music. From the point of view of justice and acceptance, it’s a pretty great thing. Another pretty great thing is seeing Neko Case play anything, but then I don’t have to convince anyone of this.

Waxahatchee opened, which was also great, even if Katie Crutchfield’s songs don’t quite translate that well to a big room with a crowd only half paying attention and a lot of talking. This is of course the peril all opening acts face. Sometimes, the opening act is the better act and while I wouldn’t necessarily say that here, it’s close.

On Tuesday I saw the Old 97s play in Millvale, Pennsylvania, which is just outside of Pittsburgh. It was outstanding. Old 97s has been one of my favorite bands for the last 20 years, yet the only time I had seen them was opening for Drive-By Truckers in 2013. Not sure how that happened. So I was glad to see a full show. Of course it’s Rhett Miller’s band and his party lyrics and ass shaking and windmill guitar have always made it work. But their secret weapon has always been guitarist Ken Bethea, whose driving riffs define the band’s sound and that really came through live. Being 2 feet from the stage always helps bring this out. They played a good variety of songs from their career, heavily focused on the new album (see below), their brilliant last album Most Messed Up, and their 1997 album Too Far to Care, which has many of their classics such as “Timebomb,” “Four Leaf Clover,” and “Barrier Reef,” all of which were played. Being the Pittsburgh area too, a city festooned with old Catholic churches from its steel days, the club was inside an old church and so that was also a cool venue.

I was in Detroit the other week. We stopped by this dive bar called Nancy’s Whiskey. At this bar was just some Detroit bar band. Except that this bar band was made up of old Detroit people doing Motown, soul, and 70s and 80s pop tunes. I could imagine all of these people around the Motown scene in the 70s or early 80s. And it was really outstanding. The bass player especially was sick. And there’s something about random musical experiences that blow your mind that are really great. Back in 1997, I was backpacking around Sumatra. I was walking down a road once and passed this house. There was this band playing, getting ready for what I think was going to be a wedding later in the day. There was this mix of Indonesian and western instruments. And these guys could really play. I just hung out outside for 30 minutes listening to these guys do their thing. I don’t know that this Detroit experience quite met that standard, if for no other reason than that the melding of musical cultures is a wonderful thing. But it was probably the best random no name, pick up bar band I’ve ever encountered.

I don’t have the same level of strong feelings about The Rolling Stones’ songs ranking as many of you did. “Bitch” is too low. And I don’t really agree with “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as #1 either. Although I don’t feel strongly about the right song. “Sway” is my very favorite but that’s a personal choice. I suppose “Gimme Shelter” or “Sympathy for the Devil.” Or “Honky Tonk Women,” which is a long favorite of mine.

I’m not sure you were looking for a career retrospective interview with Kim Carnes, but here’s one for you anyway.

Revisiting the music of Midnight Oil in a new era of protest. I always thought this was a highly underrated band. Patterson Hood agrees.

When the American Federation of Musicians tried to stop British rock bands from playing in the United States.

The last time I wrote one of these posts, I noted that I had recently seen Wadada Leo Smith play in New Haven. Here is a lengthy essay on those shows and Smith’s legacy.

Allan Holdsworth died recently. He’s someone who I know is a great guitarist but I just did not like his music. He hated that some tapes were released as the album that became known as Velvet Darkness, but for me, that’s actually my preferred music by him. I didn’t care for his heavily processed 80s albums at all and while I hadn’t heard any recent albums, he just never moved me.

Col. Bruce Hampton died too. On stage, while playing his own 70th birthday concert. Thing was, his own bandmates thought it was an act at first, which did not help matters.

The recent Facebook meme of putting up 10 concerts you’ve seen and then people guess which one you are lying about was useful is learning what terrible taste a lot of people have in music. They probably eat ketchup too.

Reviews:

Lori McKenna, The Bird and the Rifle

One of the 8 million Dave Cobb-produced folk/country/Americana albums a year these days, McKenna provides a very solid set of songs and a good sound. McKenna is most known for writing songs that more famous country singers record. What’s interesting about this is that while mainstream Nashville is an open sewer, there are great songwriters making music that might get recorded by people I disdain, but whose own versions are not only far better but don’t even have that cliched Nashville sound. That’s McKenna, whose songs have been recorded by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, among others. In fact, the McGraw cover of “Humble and Kind,” which is on this album, won some country music awards. But whatever, McKenna is better. There’s no fake twang for one thing (McKenna is from Massachusetts). There’s just good songwriting.

B+

Mikal Cronin, MCIII

For some reason, I occasionally listen to a Mikal Cronin album, like it a good bit, and then think a week later that I didn’t care for it that much. I feel the same about Ty Segall, who I frequently put together, as do many since they come out of the same San Francisco garage scene. But then I listen to a Cronin album again and think, “that’s pretty good.” And indeed this 2015 release is pretty good, with great melodies, good hooks, and a solid beach rock sound. I’m not sure the second half of the album, a song suite about loss and discovery, really works all that well.

B

Lyrics Born, Now Look What You’ve Done: Lyrics Born Greatest Hits

My musical journey over the last 20 years has been very willful, with little interest in what was popular or what anyone cared about it. What that has meant is a deep exploration of creative modern jazz and 50s-70s country, two genres with literally nothing in common. Over the past several years, the limitations of this has led me back to a lot of genres I had ignored for a long time. That is I think clear from the variety of albums I review in these posts. But it does often leave me at a loss for words about artists or even entire genres people have thought a lot about. I don’t worry about this too much; like anything else, the only way to get better about writing about these types of music is to keep doing it, sound dumb, and learn. Such it is for basically the entirety of black music between 1990 and 2010. That includes hip hop, pop, and soul. Now, that has changed a good bit in the last several years, but it means that I often lack the vocabulary to talk about those two decades.

I say all of this because there are pretty important artists about whom I am totally clueless. One is Lyrics Born, the Japanese-American hip hop/soul artist from Berkeley who had a number of well-regarded albums beginning in the early 2000s. This greatest hits collection from 2016 is a great intro to a really strong artist who I wish I had known earlier. He’s a very solid singer, even if his voice isn’t perfect, he has tons of great guests on his songs, and this is music that holds up very well.

And if this is kind of vague because I don’t have the right language to talk about it fluently, that’s OK too.

A-

Old 97s, Graveyard Whistling

When I heard that Old 97s was putting out an album about being on the road, drinking, and drugs, I was very skeptical, for as much as I have loved this band over the years. But Most Messed Up was an awesome album. So I had high hopes for Graveyard Whistling. And mostly this is a good album. This band is good enough with the rock and Rhett Miller is a good enough vocalist that it’s hard to imagine a bad album in any case. This first couple of songs here keep up the great rock and roll. There are some gems in other places as well. “Jesus Loves You” is pretty fantastic: “He makes wine from water, but I just bought you a beer.” The second half of the album doesn’t quite hold up and there are a couple of tracks that sound like cuts that didn’t make Most Messed Up. They have the same drinking and partying theme, but aren’t of the quality of that great masterpiece. Still, this is solid listening at the worst and there are several tracks I will listen to a lot.

B

John Moreland, Big Bad Luv

Moreland is a national treasure. His last two albums were absolutely mind-blowing, full of hard songs about love and loss and Oklahoma. Seeing him live last spring was also just wonderful. With his newest album, he brings a bigger sound that keeps him firmly within the Americana world, but with the same great lyrics as usual. “Sallisaw Blue” is a great opening track that really jumps out with the fuller sound. “Old Wounds” and “Latchkey Kid” are a couple of others that instantly grabbed my attention. Reviewers have wondered if all these stories are dealing with some personal trauma of terrible relationships. For his sake, I hope he just knows how to write a great song than has to draw too much from his own heartache.

A

Jyotsna Srikanth, Call of Bangalore

Srikanth is a master of the violin in the Indian Carnatic tradition, who also plays western classical music. This is squarely in the former, a masterful recording of Indian classical music, replete not only with her violin, but also outstanding percussion and stringed instruments. Usually this music is vocal-heavy but the violin serves effectively as the vocal here. The extent to which you like this or not depends on your interest in 39 minute compositions of Indian classical music, which is the length of one song on this album, but I find it pretty amazing.

A

Kelela, Hallucinogen

The Pitchfork hipsters loved this 2015 EP when it came out. I found it to be reasonably mediocre pop music on top of a lot of annoying synthesizers. Not terrible, but not something I will be revisiting.

C+

Finally, thanks to a couple of commenters for their gifts to me. One bought me an awesome Asian cookbook and another a couple of really cool Hawaii based gifts. As I’ve said before, we make peanuts from all this work and so the occasional unexpected benefit is a really wonderful thing and you can pull down our Amazon wishlists under our names at the top of the screen.

As always, this is an open thread for all things music.

What Arouses Cillizza

[ 148 ] May 13, 2017 |

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Above: Home of Real Americans (TM)

Even for Cillizza, this is incredibly embarrassing.

I guess Real Americans live in rural Texas and therefore their votes should count more than those all those urban dwellers. Maybe some more CNN segments on Trump voters and how the mean liberals are mean to their sacred holy values would help everyone understand that voting should be by land mass, not people. The desert, that’s where people who truly understand the global significance of EMAILZZZ!!! live. Maybe that can be part of the Fournier/Dowd 3rd party centrist savior campaign that I’m sure Cillizza will embrace.

Our Idiot King, Part V

[ 138 ] May 13, 2017 |

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An incredible specimen of idiot.

One health aspect Trump is transparent about: He doesn’t like to break a sweat. To be more precise, he thinks physical activity will kill you faster.

In a remarkable New Yorker story this week about how Donald Trump could realistically be removed from the presidency, Evan Osnos writes: “Other than golf, he considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.”

The Trump “human body as non-rechargeable battery” theory was first detailed by Michael Kranish and Marc Fisher in their 2016 book, Trump Revealed:

After college, after Trump mostly gave up his personal athletic interests, he came to view time spent playing sports as time wasted. Trump believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted. So he didn’t work out. When he learned that John O’Donnell, one of his top casino executives, was training for an Ironman triathlon, he admonished him, “You are going to die young because of this.”

On the campaign trail, we learned that Trump didn’t dedicate any extra time to breaking a sweat because he believes exercise is actually harmful, according to this 2015 New York Times profile:

Trump said he was not following any special diet or exercise regimen for the campaign. ‘‘All my friends who work out all the time, they’re going for knee replacements, hip replacements — they’re a disaster,’’ he said. He exerts himself fully by standing in front of an audience for an hour, as he just did. ‘‘That’s exercise.’”

Let’s pause to consider how remarkably backward this is.

There was a time when doctors would have concurred with Trump on this. That was the Victorian era. Back then, people worried a physical activity could cause everything from exhaustion and heart palpitations, particularly in women.

If we are bringing back the Gilded Age, we might as well include Gilded Age ideas about the body. Now can we legalize laudanum so I can get through the next 4 years?

Tearing Down Monuments to Treason in Defense of Slavery

[ 40 ] May 13, 2017 |

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Above: Actual protestor for keeping up New Orleans monument to Jefferson Davis

New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu has a good op-ed on why his administration is eliminating the Confederate monuments polluting it.

But New Orleans was also America’s largest slave market: a port where hundreds of thousands of souls were brought, sold and shipped up the Mississippi River to lives of misery and torture. Our history is forever intertwined with that of our great nation — including its most terrible sins. We must always remember our history and learn from it. But that doesn’t mean we must valorize the ugliest chapters, as we do when we put the Confederacy on a pedestal — literally — in our most prominent public places.

The record is clear: New Orleans’s Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were erected with the goal of rewriting history to glorify the Confederacy and perpetuate the idea of white supremacy. These monuments stand not as mournful markers of our legacy of slavery and segregation, but in reverence of it. They are an inaccurate recitation of our past, an affront to our present and a poor prescription for our future.

The right course, then, is to excise these symbols of injustice. The Battle of Liberty Place monument was not built to commemorate the fallen law enforcement officers of the racially integrated New Orleans police and state militia. It was meant to honor members of the Crescent City White League, the people who killed them. That kind of “honor” has no place in an American city. So, last month, we took the monument down.

This week, we began the removal of a statue honoring Davis, and soon thereafter Lee and Beauregard. It won’t erase history. But we can begin a new chapter of New Orleans’s history by placing these monuments, and the legacy of oppression they represent, in museums and other spaces where they can be viewed in an appropriate educational setting as examples of our capacity to change.

After we’re done moving these monuments, we’ll face an even greater task: coming together to decide who we are as a city — and as a nation. Over the past few years, before the monument removal effort, we began Welcome Table New Orleans, which facilitates tough conversations about race and brings various communities together on projects in their neighborhoods. As part of our work, residents have discussed and designed reconciliation projects, such as a mural and oral history project on what was once part of a plantation, as monuments to the future, not the past.

This is really great. Memphis has moved to get rid of its horrible Nathan Bedford Forrest statue but has been stopped by the lovely state government of Tennessee. I don’t know too much about the various laws and regulations over these statues in cities and states. I do know New Orleans’ response should be a model for the rest of the South to follow, expunging these monuments to white supremacy and racial violence.

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