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“I Do Not Support a Livable Wage”

[ 165 ] June 7, 2017 |

Usually, Republicans hide their contempt for workers in some kind of language of bootstrapism or something. But not Karen Handel.

“This is an example of the fundamental difference between a liberal and a conservative: I do not support a livable wage,” she said on Atlanta’s WSB-TV in response to a viewer question about raising the minimum wage. “What I support is making sure that we have an economy that is robust with low taxes and less regulation.”

Yeah, I’d say that is pretty much the difference between a liberal and a conservative. I guess in the New Gilded Age, Republicans aren’t pretending anymore.

Hopefully saying the quiet parts loud helps doom her.

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This Day in Labor History: June 7, 1936

[ 10 ] June 7, 2017 |

On June 7, 1936, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee was created. This pioneering industrial union was critical in the mass organizing of the nation’s giant factories in arguably the nation’s most important industry. It’s eventual success combined with the organizing of auto to allow the CIO to succeed and the transformation of the American labor movement to advance.

Like many industries, steel workers had a history of attempts to unionize, but a largely unsuccessful one. The major union was the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA), which came out of the Sons of Vulcan and other early steel unions and had briefly organized Carnegie Steel before being crushed during the Homestead Strike in 1892. It maintained a presence for awhile, but by the 1930s, it was completely irrelevant. U.S. Steel had a company union that fought against any real organizing it its factories.

In 1935, John L. Lewis led a group of union leaders supporting industrial organizing within the American Federation of Labor and formed the Committee for Industrial Organization. Lewis was the head of the most important industrial union in the AFL, the United Mine Workers of America. But outside of the textile unions in decline because of capital migration to the non-union South, the AFL had few other industrial unions. Moreover, its leadership was openly hostile to industrial organizing. When loggers in the Northwest won the Great Strike of 1935, they were given to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters by the AFL, who had granted the UBC rights over anything having to do with wood. But the UBC was concerned about its politically conservative culture being overwhelmed with thousands of former Wobblies and current communists, so it gave them second-hand status in the union without the same voting rights as their core membership. This angered many of the loggers and demand for real industrial unionism continued.

Such it was in steel where the AA was basically useless by the 1930s. The relationship between the coal mines and the steel industry was deeply integrated. The steel mills burned enormous amounts of coal and thus the steel companies invested heavily in the mines. Lewis understood that he could not create a permanent successful organization in his own industry without organizing the steel mills too. He might be able to organize the mines not supplying the steel mills, but he could never be secure if the steel owned mines were undercutting his members’ wages. So he created the Steel Workers Organizing Committee and placed his top deputy Philip Murray in charge. The UMWA paid for the whole thing, as it would basically for the entire CIO for the first few years after it finally broke from the AFL in 1937. That investment started with $500,000 and went from there. Lewis also hired a whole bunch of communists to organize the steel mills. As much as an enemy of communism as any other old-time AFL union head, Lewis also understood the task at hand and welcomed them because of their usefulness, especially in organizing the large numbers of African-Americans working the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs in the mills. Lewis selected the officers, from Murray on down, on the basis of personal loyalty to him, although by 1940, when Lewis broke with FDR, that loyalty proved to have limits.

From the beginning, SWOC tied itself very closely to the Democratic Party. Reliant on the New Deal state to undermine company unions and prosecute the criminal intimidation against unionists, the industrial unions worked hard to elect Democratic politicians. While trying to organize Jones & Laughlin Steel in 1936, the employer fired hundreds of union supporters. SWOC fired an unfair labor practice under the new National Labor Relations Act, which provided a labor relations framework for the first time. But the constitutionality of the NLRA was highly unclear and given the Supreme Court’s rejection of much of the New Deal, the steel companies felt confident of throwing this out too. But in National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, the Court upheld the constitutionality of the NLRA in 5-4 decision in April 1937. This demonstrated the critical role of the New Deal state in industrial organizing and even when John L. Lewis flounced out of supporting FDR during the 1940 election, the rest of the CIO stayed strongly behind the Democratic Party and would remain so for the remainder of the federation’s independent existence. This was a complete rejection of the traditional AFL position that government could never be trusted by labor and thus labor should remain nonpartisan, although in reality that meant a lot of labor leaders were active Republicans, including John L. Lewis.

SWOC had a huge early win in March 1937, when it managed to take over the company union inside U.S. Steel. For a fictional account of this, Thomas Bell’s 1941 novel Out of This Furnace is excellent. On top of this, the LaFollette Committee’s investigation into how U.S. Steel intimidated and fired union workers forced them on the defensive. U.S. Steel surrendered due to this timely combination of worker organizing and government pressure, again showing the critical nature of governmental intervention for successful American unionism. This was a huge win for the entire industrial union movement. But the so-called Little Steel companies, which were not that little, refused to surrender. SWOC attempted to force their hand but Little Steel decided to turn into a military force, buying tremendous amounts of weaponry and then murdering strikers at the Memorial Day Massacre in Chicago in May 1937. Financially exhausted and lacking real state support to punish Little Steel (this is when FDR gave his “plague on both their houses” statement about the constant labor strife of the time, outraging the industrial unionists), SWOC would spin its wheels for the next few years. By 1939, it was $2.5 million in debt and it was struggling to organizing anything in the South. It wasn’t until the preparation for World War II that, seeing the inevitable future of very lucrative defense contracts, Little Steel acquiesced and between that and the maintenance of membership clause in World War II, SWOC and thus the CIO became financially stable for the first time.

In 1942, SWOC became the United Steelworkers of America. It would remain one of the nation’s strongest and most important unions for several decades, winning strikes in 1952 and 1959 before declining as foreign steel and American steel companies not investing in new factories undermined American steel competition on the national and international market.

This is the 227th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

How’s Our Ethnic Cleansing Program Going?

[ 32 ] June 5, 2017 |

Fascist ICE agents are the best.

Early last Monday morning, Oscar Millan’s longtime partner called him from a Boston hospital, weepy with relief.

Their son, Oscar Matias, had been born two weeks earlier with a serious condition that prevented food from traveling from his stomach to his small intestine. But that morning, he’d undergone a successful surgery to repair it, and a second was scheduled for early June. Millan told his partner, Evanice Escudero, that he’d be by to pick them up in a couple of hours, after checking in on a landscaping job he had to do that day.

But Millan, a 37-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant, never made it to the hospital.

As he drove to the job site, he was picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who were looking for him near his home in Framingham, Massachusetts, about 20 miles outside of Boston. In 2008, an immigration judge had ordered Millan deported after a failed asylum claim, but Millan had stayed in the country with his family until he recently pleaded guilty to driving under the influence. An ICE spokesman said Millan’s arrest was prompted by both the deportation order and the conviction.

At the hospital, Escudero began to panic. “I was calling him over and over again but he wasn’t picking up and I didn’t know why,” Escudero said in an interview in Spanish. “I didn’t know what was going on until Oscar’s mother came to pick me up at around 11 or noon.”

After the arrest, ICE agents had gone to Millan and Escudero’s house and explained to his mother what had happened.

The move to detain Millan is a sign that the Trump administration is delivering on its promise to strictly follow longstanding immigration laws to maximize its ability to deport people living unlawfully in the United States.

Making America Great Again is definitely predicated on making sure that sick babies don’t have fathers around. Meanwhile, deportations are going to be great for Haiti.

Watson Saint Fleur is 12 but he’s never attended a day of school. He’s toiled in hardship doing household chores and peddling plastic bags of drinking water along city streets noisy with motorbikes and trucks.

He’s one of Haiti’s “restaveks,” a term to describe children whose poor parents hand them over to others in hopes they’ll have opportunities to escape a dead-end life or at least get more food. It’s a practice deeply ingrained in Haiti, where families frequently have numerous kids despite crushing poverty.

For many, that better life never arrives. Many are exploited as domestic servants in households only slightly better off, working long hours in exchange for food and a spot to sleep on a shack’s floor. An untold number endure regular beatings, are deprived of an education and are victims of sexual abuse. And their numbers have been growing sharply as urban slums expand and poverty in the countryside deepens.

Studies indicate the population of child domestic workers rose from some 172,000 in 2002 to roughly 286,000 in 2014 — four years after an earthquake flattened much of Port-au-Prince and outlying areas, killing as many as 300,000 and leaving some 1.5 million people homeless.

Now child advocates in the hemisphere’s poorest country are bracing for yet another increase of youngsters like Watson driven into unpaid servitude.

The Trump administration is weighing an end to a humanitarian program that has protected nearly 60,000 Haitians from deportation since that earthquake — a “temporary protected status” based on the assumption their homeland could not absorb them following the disaster. If the program known as TPS is not extended, people could be sent back to Haiti starting in January.

Such mass deportation would cut off remittances that keep many Haitian families fed in a country where deep poverty is the primary force behind the restavek practice.

“There’s no doubt an end to TPS will create far more restaveks,” said prominent Haitian child advocate Gertrude Sejour.

The winning continues for everyone. At least Dear Leader can tweet at the London mayor while ignoring the white terrorist murder of two people in Portland and one in Maryland.

This Day in Labor History: June 5, 1976

[ 20 ] June 5, 2017 |

On June 5, 1976, Teamsters for a Democratic Unionism, the internal democratic union revolt inside the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was founded. One of the most significant organizations in the democratic union movements of the 1970s, it was also one of the most long-lasting and is still around today, controlling the Rhode Island local among others.

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is one of the most complex and misunderstood organizations, not only in labor, but in the entire country. They became synonymous for union corruption after World War II, personified in Jimmy Hoffa. And that reputation was earned. But the internal running of the Teamsters was (and still is to some extent) incredibly byzantine. Hoffa’s power was weak compared to many other unions. The regional councils held much power. The corruption was at the top, but it wasn’t only at the top. Even had Hoffa wanted to purge the union of its corrupt elements, he didn’t have the power. It also went back to before Hoffa, with Dave Beck, the Seattle Teamster leader who rode a good relationship with George Meany and an excellent sense of backroom politics into the Teamsters’ presidency. Arguably, it even went back to the early twentieth century. With so many corruption scandals, the McClellan Commission’s investigations finally forced Beck to retire and Hoffa took over. All of this led the AFL-CIO to expel the Teamsters from the federation in 1957 after Hoffa refused to resign as president.

The late 1960s saw a rise in internal union revolts. By this time, union leaders, flush with funds after winning good union contracts for two decades, had largely given up on the rabble-rousing and organizing of their youth. They were all too often happy with servicing the members they had, making large salaries, and playing insider roles in Democratic (and sometimes Republican) politics. This was OK so long as the workers were happy. But the young workers of the Vietnam generation were not happy with the jobs their fathers had. They were angry about the drudgery of assembly line work. And they were angry with the fact that their own unions seemed like just another boss telling them what to do. Given the close relationships so many unions had with management by this time, a new generation of workers, deeply influenced by the social tumult of the time, held their union leadership in contempt. The revolt started with the mine workers in the aftermath of the Farmington Mine disaster of 1968, when United Mine Workers of America president Tony Boyle responded at the workers’ funeral that there wasn’t anything the union could do. This led to the Black Lung Associations, grassroots organizations lobbying for state and then federal coal mine safety legislation and then Miners for Democracy, a direct challenge to Boyle’s leadership. When Jock Yablonski ran for UMWA president, Boyle fixed the election and had Yablonski assassinated. The federal investigation threw Boyle in prison and put MFD in power.

The rank and file rebellion began spilling into other unions. Sometimes, it was a spontaneous angry action of youthful workers, such as at Lordstown. Sometimes it was a political insurgency within a union, such as Ed Sadlowski’s challenge to the Steelworkers’ leadership. It was the latter that Teamsters for a Democratic Union represented. The connection between organized crime and Hoffa and the regional Teamsters’ leaders led to a lot of anger over dues money being used for nothing that would help workers, all while sweetheart deals helped the casinos. The roots of TDU began with a 1970 wildcat strike among long-haul truckers. This started putting local activists in touch with each other. In 1975, a few truckers held a secret meeting in Chicago to demand a fight for a good contract. Calling themselves Teamsters for a Decent Contract, they began to spread flyers and information about the need to organize a new group within the Teamsters to challenge leadership. This became Teamsters for a Democratic Union. It merged with other reformist organizations within the Teamsters, such as the Professional Drivers Council, which was a group of truckers working with Ralph Nader over trucking safety.

Internal union politics made TDU ineffective for more than a decade. It occasionally won a victory, but these small wins were easily isolated by the mainline union. In 1983, TDU had its first victory when it forced the union’s president, Jackie Presser to change the national master freight agreement that had originally given many concessions to the trucking companies. The door really opened with a late 80s RICO suit against the Teamsters after another era of corruption and in order to end it, leadership had to agree to a consent decree that significantly democratized the union.

TDU’s great success turned into disaster fairly quickly. It won a huge victory when it elected Ron Carey to the Teamsters’ presidency in 1991, followed by his reelection in 1996. The 1991 election was the first direct election in IBT history. Carey himself was not a TDU member but he won with its support. And he had some success, most notably the United Parcel Service strike. Carey moved the Teamsters toward solid support of the Democrats, a change for an organization with long ties to leading Republicans. But Carey also engaged in his own questionable actons. It turned out he had a donation kickback scheme to fund his reelection campaign that brought him a mere $700,000. Federal investigators busted this in 1997. Some of his supporters, particularly on the left who always projected more heroism on the TDU than was really deserved, claimed the capitalist class decided to get rid of Carey because of his success in the UPS strike. I guess that is one way to spin it. Carey claimed he knew nothing; it’s hard to really say. In any case, he was barred from holding the presidency and James Hoffa, Jr., took over, a major defeat for the TDU. Hoffa remains IBT president today. Carey was acquitted of all charges and died in 2008.

TDU still exists today, largely as a faction within the mainline Teamsters. I know people on both sides of the Teamsters divide and they basically hate each other, but for neither side is it 1965 anymore. From what I can tell, there are lots of people doing great work on both sides of this divide.

This is the 226th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 86

[ 125 ] June 4, 2017 |

This is the grave of Emma Goldman.

Born in 1869 in what is today Lithuania, Goldman was rebellious from a small child, both in terms of her family and standing up for injustice. While a schoolgirl, after the family moved to Prussia, she got a teacher fired after she fought back when he tried to molest her. She rejected her father’s arranged marriage for her while she was teaching herself radical thought at the age of 15. She was probably raped by one of her suitors, which affected her relationships with men for the rest of her life. She immigrated with one of her sisters to the United States in 1885. The rest of the family came a year later to avoid the growing anti-Semitism in Russia, including in St. Petersburg, where the family currently resided. They moved to Rochester and Goldman got work as a seamstress. She married a carpenter named Jacob Kershner, but it collapsed quickly, particularly because she discovered on her wedding night that he was impotent.

Goldman moved to New York City in 1887 and immediately dove into the anarchist scene. I mean that literally–the first day she was there she met both the anarchist theorist Johann Most, whose propaganda of the deed theory (that violent action and the state repression that followed was worth the dead innocents because it would spark revolutionary tendencies in the greater population) was behind the Haymarket bombing of the year before, and Alexander Berkman, soon to become her lover and political partner. She very quickly became a major anarchist speaker, soon breaking with Most because she wouldn’t follow his line and determined to be an independent thinker and activist. She and Berkman moved to Illinois and then to Worcester, Massachusetts, where they opened an ice cream shop.

That only stayed open briefly because she and Berkman decided to murder Henry Clay Frick, the vile capitalist and mass murderer behind the Homestead strike. Frick, a man who had once personally evicted a strikebreaker from company housing by picking him up and throwing him in a creek, had called in the Pinkertons to break the strike at Carnegie Steel, while his preening fraud boss whose careful self-image promotion has convinced people even today that he wasn’t such a bad guy vacationed in Scotland so he wouldn’t have to take personal responsibility. Berkman walked into Frick’s office with a knife and a gun. Being an anarchist, of course he completely failed in everything except receiving a 22-year prison sentence (he served 14) for his lame attempt; Frick was back at work the next week. Goldman actually attempted to fund all of this by turning herself out as a prostitute. But the first trick who picked her up bought her a beer, gave her $10, and told her she was completely unsuited for this kind of work. The police tried to bust Goldman after Berkman’s attack, but they found no evidence.

The next year she was arrested after giving an inflammatory speech protesting during the Panic of 1893 and was thrown in prison for a year. There she became a well-known political prison, committed herself to a heavy course of reading, and started learning medicine. She was particularly interested in midwifery and massage and spent much of the rest of the 1890s traveling in Europe to learn these practices, meet with various radicals, and study. By 1901, she was back in the U.S. permanently. An unhinged anarchist named Leon Czolgosz who Goldman and others thought was a police infiltrator into their groups, so odd was he, assassinated William McKinley, claiming her inspiration. She had nothing to do with it. She also refused to denounce the act. This both divided her from many anarchists and also made her nationally famous as the media tried to pin it on her. See below.

She was so alienated from other anarchists after the McKinley assassination that she largely disappeared from public activism for the next five years. In 1906, she started Mother Earth, her radical newspaper. She gave the editorship to the recently released Alexander Berkman while she toured the country to raise funds for it. She had a good time with this. By 1908, she was in a relationship with Ben Reitman, who was cheating on her at pretty much every stop on their tour, but as a believer in free love she had to live with it. Meanwhile, she wrote letters about how much she enjoyed the cheap, potent California wine she could have on the West Coast. She spent about a decade pretty constantly touring and speaking. She wrote her book Anarchism and Other Essays and became close with the young birth control activist Margaret Sanger. Although Sanger was no anarchist, their shared feminism and demands for women’s autonomy over their own bodies made them close allies. Both were arrested for violating the Comstock Laws.

During World War I, she came out against the draft and, as is well known, was caught up in the Red Scare. Like other radicals, she was imprisoned and like other immigrant radicals, deported in 1920. She and Berkman were sent to the newly established Soviet Union. She initially approved of the experimental revolutionary state, but soon turned on it as Lenin’s authoritarianism became clear; there would be no room for anarchism under Bolshevik power. After the Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921, Goldman and Berkman left the Soviet Union for Latvia and then to Stockholm. Finally, they both settled in Berlin for much of the 1920s, where Goldman wrote books opposing the Soviet Union. But they struggled in the new world of European radicalism. The rise of the Soviet Union really put the knife in anarchism worldwide, not so much because of state repression except internally, but because the first successful radical state made Bolshevism the only acceptable revolutionary politics for most of the left. They were largely shunned in Berlin for their opposition to the USSR. She had to get out; moreover, she feared German deportation. So she entered a sham marriage to a British radical that gave her a British passport and thus the ability to travel to not only Britain but also Canada. She moved to Canada in 1927 and lived there the rest of her life. She was allowed to give speeches in New York in 1934 so long as she avoided talking about current politics. She spent a little time in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, where she wrote perceptively about the battles between the anarchists and communists for control of the resistance to Franco, knowing very well what Stalin would do to ideological opponents.

Goldman died in 1940 of the effects of a stroke in Toronto.

Emma Goldman is buried in Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Home, Illinois. Probably because anarchists can’t do anything right, her death date is wrong on her own grave.

Rare LGM Beauty Advice

[ 2 ] June 3, 2017 |

Watching Agnes Varda’s wonderful Cleo From 5 to 7 again this evening and was reminded of this wisdom from the Lord.

This explains my Samson-like flowing locks.

Also, Agnes Varda is awesome.

Movie Violence

[ 95 ] June 3, 2017 |

This is a pretty great essay on the contradiction between hating real life guns and loving movie guns.

Psychologically, of course, this all makes sense. Penn, Peckinpah, even Porter (according to some interpretations) were attempting to make the viewer feel complicit in their films’ violence—something they assumed would provoke shame. But that’s not how movies work, or even stories. We only empathize with fictional characters in a compartmentalized way, imagining ourselves in their place right up to the point where it’s no longer convenient to do so. We can get all the thrills of gunning someone down with none of the guilt, and it frankly doesn’t matter whether we’re the hero or villain in that scenario.

It’s an allegiance that can shift on a whim, depending on who’s providing us with more cathartic pleasure. In the dark, we can indulge a fantasy of all-encompassing nihilism. So hell yeah, give us more guns! Bigger guns! Guns in each hand! Guns that have extra hands attached to them to hold more guns! Guns mounted on motorcycles! Guns popping out of boobs! Surreal, Salvador Dali guns, floating on the melting mirror of time glimpsed in a flamingo’s gun! Guns that, at first glance, look like our boring office-mate David, but then you flip him over and a barrel pops out of his ass and boom, now Dave’s a gun! Fuck yeah, guns!

Of course, as a sort of meek, intellectual type (read: snobby wuss), I’ve never been titillated by sheer arsenal alone—your Commandos and Cobras, your Schwarzeneggers and Stallones wielding rocket launchers and submachine guns in a loud frenzy of coked-up ’80s excess. Effete fop that I am, I like guns that have stories, so you care whose gun it is and why it’s gunning. In particular, I’ve always been drawn to the sorts of gangster films where the gun remains, primarily, a silent threat. My longest-held favorite movie is Goodfellas, whose characters are stabbed, stomped upon, shoved headfirst into ovens, and—in the case of the dorky Bruce—beaten with guns. Yet only Joe Pesci’s Tommy is crazy enough to actually fire one, even when his fellow wiseguys tell him to put it away. (In a bit of poetic justice, it’s only Tommy ends up taking a bullet to the back of the head.)

In movies like this—and in similar stuff I love, like The Sopranos—the gun is just a codpiece, conferring heft and swagger on these not-especially-tough-looking tough guys. To those with neither heft nor swagger, as I was when I first saw it as a 13-year-old boy, there was a natural psychological connection there. When I first heard Lorraine Bracco’s Karen say, upon being handed a bloodied revolver to hide, “I gotta admit the truth—it turned me on,” it sent a signal to my pubescent brain: Guns are cool. Guns are sexy. Girls want to have sex with cool guys who have guns. I was far less interested in what guns did to others than what they did for you.

I think I am going to have to watch a Wild Bunch/A Better Tomorrow double feature tonight and then launch some attacks against the NRA on Twitter before bed tonight.

Music Notes

[ 124 ] June 3, 2017 |

First, this is a good time to thank all those who gave a few pennies in our recent fundraising drive. Many thanks. While it is the blog’s 13th birthday, it was right around this time 6 years ago that I was brought on to ruin the site populated by centrists who thought this was the blog where they could be socially liberal and economically conservative. Seriously, that was pretty much the comment threads on my posts for the first year, until those people finally left. The whole experience has been good for me in many ways, including that Out of Sight would not have happened without it.

Now some music notes and a lot of album reviews.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Gregg Allman. Although I have some of the early live albums, the Allman Brothers is not a band I have thought much about in recent years. I certainly have nothing against them (although 44 minute jam songs are very tiresome, i.e., the entire second album of Live at Ludlow Garage). But listening to a few songs from their peak after Allman’s death, at its peak, that band worked very well. Moreover, while they were borrowing from black music as much as any other white rock band of that era, unlike the Stones or Led Zeppelin, Gregg Allman was always very open about his influences and didn’t try to steal credit from them.

Jimmie LaFave has died at the age of 61. He wasn’t my favorite of the Texas/Oklahoma country music scene, but he had a lot of good songs.

If you like to pair your metal listening with the appropriate beer, this could help you. Personally, I would just go with anything from TRVE out of Denver, the great black metal brewery there.

I’ve long felt that Sorcerer was a highly underrated album in Miles Davis’ canon. Now there is a font based on the song “Masqualero,” from that album.

20 years since Radiohead released O.K. Computer. We are all old.

So Roger Waters seems to have released a new album. Huh.

Now for an unusual number of album reviews that happened basically because I keep forgetting my external drive with all my music when I go to work for the day. Have to listen to something. Was a good opportunity to clear the deck of a lot of albums that I had been meaning to hear for awhile. Lemons into lemonade and the like.

Laura Gibson, La Grande

I really like Gibson’s recent album, Empire Builder. So I checked out this 2012 release, an album that is probably the only popular culture item named after or about La Grande, Oregon. The video below is even filmed there! La Grande may not be quite of the level of Empire Builder, an album that is a pretty sublime set of songs, but this is a solid singer-songwriter album. There are some great songs here and some songs I need to listen to again. I really liked the title track and Crow/Swallow. I will be listening to the whole album again as well.

B

Daddy Issues, Fuck Marry Kill

I saw Daddy Issues open for Tacocat in February. Loved them, almost as much as Tacocat. I thought this was just really solid girl band indie rock. So I finally checked out one of their albums. Fuck Marry Kill was released in 2015 and confirms everything I liked about Daddy Issues when I saw them live. Great vocals, punk sound with pop sensibility, songs about sex, with a chorus to “Riot Grrrl” of “Fuck me in the back seat, I’m so bored and you’re too cheap.” A very fun band. I will listen to this regularly.

A-

Rhiannon Giddens, Freedom Highway

This is really good stuff. Giddens, former singer with Carolina Chocolate Drops, was basically a cover artist, first of old-time black folk music and then, with her 2015 solo album, of a wider variety of 20th century music. I’ve always appreciated song interpreters as much as songwriters, whether Emmylou Harris or Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. We need more interpreters. But Giddens is writing more here. This album tells the story of the black freedom struggle. It begins with “At the Purchaser’s Option,” about the slave trade and then moves to “Julie” about a woman leaving her mistress after the Civil War. She then moves very quickly to the twentieth century, with a powerful cover of Joan Baez’s “Birmingham Sunday.” Not every song is so directly political or historical, but that’s the overall theme of the album, closing with The Staples’ “Freedom Highway.” Some of the love songs toward the end perhaps lag a bit, but if you want to say that Giddens’ songwriting is not yet that of Richard Farina or Pop Staples, that’s hardly an insult. Overall, this is a fine step forward for a tremendous talent.

A-

Willie Nelson, God’s Problem Child

After all these decades, Willie Nelson’s amazing voice is beginning to slip. That’s the first thing one notices on his new album. The second thing one notices is that this is a really good collection of songs. Not surprisingly, many of them are about aging and losing friends, including one song about all the internet rumors of his own demise and another about the death of his good friend Merle Haggard. Old men doing old men records is now an old genre and can sometimes be a little depressing as well as kind of dialing it in. But while Willie has certainly dialed in his share of recordings over the years, this is a pretty fine album without a real clunker at all and some really nice tracks. It’s a worthy contribution to his sizable catalog. Who knows if it will be his last album, although he is 84 and not in the greatest of health. But it may well be his last really worthy album. It’s certainly worth a listen.

B+

Ondatrópica, Baile Bucanero

Ondatrópica is more of a project than a band. It’s Mario Galeano of Frente Cumbiero and Will Holland, the British producer better known as Quantic, gathering a bunch of Colombian musicians and recording some songs. In this case, their second full album, they focused more on the English side of Colombian life, particularly the formerly English island of Providence Island, where much of this was recorded. This then brings in some English lyrics, including the opening song, which was a bit of a jolt from what I expected. This mashing of the many sounds of Colombia works pretty well. There’s no reason to evalutate the “authenticity” of such a project and who cares anyway. The only question is whether it is good and interesting music and in this case, these musicians certainly pass the test with a huge variety of sounds from over 30 musicians, playing in various combinations in the different songs.

B+

Shamir, Hope

Shamir’s first album, Ratchet, was an amazing, out of nowhere work of pop genius from a young Vegas kid. As he puts it himself, he was an unexpected pop star. And it kind of freaked him out. He’s been struggling with what to do next. So out of nowhere, he recently dropped a new album on Soundcloud. I was excited when I heard about it. But in describing it himself, he admits that he just threw it together over the weekend, had it mastered in a hour, and sent it out. And it feels that way. He avoids the dance hall sounds that made his previous work so great and tries more of a low-fi sound. That’s fine in principle, but it doesn’t really work. The songs have no pop too them and it’s just pretty forgettable. I completely respect an artist just trying to figure out their way. In the digital age though, that can lead to some unfortunate self-releases without someone saying, “maybe this needs more work.” Shamir is a promising and curious artist and I look forward to seeing where he goes next. But this isn’t successful.

C

Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution

Having heard Spalding on several albums of others, I figured I would check out her album released last year. I know many are more familiar with her work than I am, probably because she unexpectedly won a Best New Artist Grammy that everyone thought was supposed to go to Justin Bieber, leading the Grammies to change the rule, because, hey, it’s all about reinforcing the beliefs of 15 year old girls and not about who is actually the best new artist. She became instantly famous, performed for the Obamas, and it sort of freaked her out I guess. Anyway, she took a couple of years off before releasing this album last spring. It’s a good one. “Funk the Fear” is very catchy and there’s a lot of songs about freedom. I don’t know that this grabbed me and made me want to listen again and again, but I should give it a few more spins at least.

B+

The Lowest Pair, Fern Girl and Ice Man

I’ve heard about this band for awhile. But I was skeptical. A couple of banjo players from Olympia sounded like hipster faux-Americana, probably from Evergreen graduates, assuming people actually graduate from that school instead of becoming acid cases. But I was pleasantly surprised. I am of course a sucker for Americana if it’s well done. And this is indeed well done. Kendl Winter probably isn’t my favorite vocalist but especially when singing with her band partner Winter Lee, it works pretty well. I understand this is a fuller instrumentation than usual and it serves them well. The songs are fine, if not particularly amazing. This doesn’t travel far from standard rootsy Americana duos, but they do it well and it’s worth your time.

B+

Julia Holter, Have You in My Wilderness

Several years ago I picked up the album Ekstasis, by the composer and singer Julia Holter. It’s pretty ethereal and works fine, but never really grabbed me. I might listen to it once a year and if a song comes on in the shuffle, that’s cool. But I hadn’t thought too much about her since. But her 2015 album Have You in My Wilderness is a real step forward because she combines her composition training with more of a pop sensibility, making a relatively straightforward album that’s a little less in the clouds and a little more in the heart. “Lucette Stranded on the Island” is a near epic song. “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Betsy on the Roof” are excellent as well. Sometimes this does slip back toward the background, but mostly this album brings the listener inside an intimate space, even if it’s not always entirely clear what’s happening in the lyrics.

A-

The Coathangers, Nosebleed Weekend.

First, The Coathangers is an outstanding name for a girl punk band. The band itself is pretty good too, with catchy lyrics, lots of noise, and two very different vocalists, one of which sounds like she is singing with gravel in her mouth. This band started in Atlanta 10 years ago and finally found relative success with this album from last year. Now rock lifers, they keep on going and have a new EP coming out soon. “Dumb Baby” is fun, and you don’t get enough songs of women insulting men for their stupidity. “Nosebleed Weekend” and “Make It Right” stick in the mind, and overall, this is just a really solid album.

A-

Will Johnson, Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

The former Centro-matic singer has been playing his various versions of Americana for a long time now and while I never got super into his old band, I did enjoy this sonically interesting set of pretty intimate songs that revolve people dealing with “situations of tension,” according to Johnson. Worth a listen.

B+

Finally, another thanks to a reader who purchased me a couple of gifts, including a new cast iron skillet and a collection of Elmore Leonard’s later novels. Again, it’s very kind when this happens and makes doing all this writing a little more fruitful.

Daddy, Do You Hate Me?

[ 81 ] June 2, 2017 |

If you were facing a loathsome Tory such as Theresa May and you had the great leftist filmmaker Ken Loach at your disposal, wouldn’t you use him? This is amazing.

I’m a huge Loach fan, even though his career is super inconsistent. As someone who loves agitprop in a completely non-ironic way, films like Land and Freedom and Carla’s Song are very enjoyable to me. The Wind That Shakes the Barley is epic. And probably his best films are his depictions of the down and out late 20th century British working class, most notably Sweet Sixteen. His later films have been pretty schmaltzly, but whatever. Looking for Eric was pretty OK.

Anyway, talk about an ad that pulls no punches.

Why Columnists at the Newspaper of Record Matter

[ 52 ] June 2, 2017 |

Good job New York Times. Good job.

The Paris Withdrawal in Context

[ 88 ] June 2, 2017 |

The liberal gnashing of teeth and rendering of garments over yesterday’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement is certainly justified. We are an international embarrassment as a nation. We should be ashamed of our president and of ourselves.

However, let’s not pretend that the U.S. is ever a leader on issues of climate change or on any international agreement promoting larger justice-related issues. Given that the left has largely ceded foreign policy to interventionists and neoliberals and rarely thinks of these issues in any way except for broad “DON’T INTERVENE” rhetoric, it’s hardly surprising. See one “Sanders, Bernard” for an example of this, but really almost anyone on the left is basically guilty of this. We, and by “we” I am thinking of the left writ large and including left-liberals such as the commenters on this blog, simply don’t take these issues very seriously. I will point to the consistently low levels of comments on my posts on international trade as an example. People don’t much comment, not because they don’t agree, but because they don’t really have that much to say about it. And that’s pretty much standard among liberals and the left. We don’t think very hard about these issues.

Because of this, there is very little pushback against our pro-corporate foreign policy. The Paris agreement was already structured to protect our corporations. Most of our treaties are. Certainly Republicans do this, but so do Democrats. On any international agreement, the United States is the single biggest problem in making it strong and implementing meaningful safeguards. Moreover, let’s not forget Obama’s wretched decision to reclassify Malaysia’s human trafficking record just after mass graves of slaves were found in order to include it in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Those slaves were producing goods that entered into U.S. supply chains. That is abominable.

Because of the need to protect American corporations, the actual commitments in the Paris agreement were very small with basically nonexistent enforcement. The whole framework is voluntary. Nations can make pledge whatever reductions they want and the U.S. commitment on that was already very small. No meaningful money was committed to force rich nations to help poorer nations build a green infrastructure. The reality is that Paris is not going to do much to fight climate change. It’s a good thing and maybe it is a start (although Kyoto was the real start and, well, we see how far we’ve gone since then). It’s great that states are pledging to do it themselves. But then they can do that because there really aren’t meaningful commitments in the thing.

So yes, pulling out of the Paris deal is terrible and embarrassing. But so is the rest of U.S. policy when it comes to these sorts of the treaties. And until we start paying as much attention to the details of foreign policy and articulating exactly what we want a left foreign policy to look like as it deals with the real world as we do to relitigating the 2016 Democratic primary for the 208th time, we cede the field to very weak agreements like this that protect our corporations over the world’s people and climate and don’t really do very much to fight climate change. Be embarrassed. But look at yourself as part of the reason for that.

The Daily Step Toward Fascism

[ 92 ] June 2, 2017 |

Above: Donald Trump

Trump is the second coming of Andrew Jackson and turning the federal bureaucracy into an openly partisan operation is part of that.

The White House is telling federal agencies to blow off Democratic lawmakers’ oversight requests, as Republicans fear the information could be weaponized against President Donald Trump.

At meetings with top officials for various government departments this spring, Uttam Dhillon, a White House lawyer, told agencies not to cooperate with such requests from Democrats, according to Republican sources inside and outside the administration.

It appears to be a formalization of a practice that had already taken hold, as Democrats have complained that their oversight letters requesting information from agencies have gone unanswered since January, and the Trump administration has not yet explained the rationale.

The declaration amounts to a new level of partisanship in Washington, where the president and his administration already feels besieged by media reports and attacks from Democrats. The idea, Republicans said, is to choke off the Democratic congressional minorities from gaining new information that could be used to attack the president.

The one party authoritarian state that goes to the mat to protect its Dear Leader–what could go wrong!

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