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Sweet 16 Open Thread

[ 69 ] March 23, 2017 |

I am sure you are all rooting for Oregon against Michigan and its Trump voters. Regardless, we can all agree that it’s great that Duke and its seemingly endless supply of privileged white players lost.

To start the conversation, here’s a question generated out of a conversation with a friend recently. Who is the best college hoops coach since John Wooden? This conversation started as the 2nd best coach of all time, but then I imagine it’s probably Adolph Rupp. And it’s hard to know based on a distant era of all-white teams and the like. So since Wooden. Coach K? Dean Smith? Boeheim? Knight? Pitino?


Chelsea Clinton

[ 191 ] March 23, 2017 |
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Chelsea Clinton speaks at the Clinton Foundation's No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project at the Lower Eastside Girls Club on April 17, 2014 in New York City. Sharing the stage with her mother Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, the project is the first in a series of live and virtual dialogues designed to hear directly from girls and women, men and boys about their hopes  and fears for the future. The event, which took live questions from schools around the country, is working to advance progress for women and girls around the world.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 17: Chelsea Clinton speaks at the Clinton Foundation’s No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project at the Lower Eastside Girls Club on April 17, 2014 in New York City. Sharing the stage with her mother Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton, the project is the first in a series of live and virtual dialogues designed to hear directly from girls and women, men and boys about their hopes and fears for the future. The event, which took live questions from schools around the country, is working to advance progress for women and girls around the world. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

I suppose I am kind of indifferent as to Chelsea Clinton’s possible desire to run for Congress. Political dynasties are an unfortunate annoyance of politics but are pretty unavoidable, be they Democrats or Republicans, Americans or other nations. It’s not the sign of endless neoliberal triangulation some of the left are claiming (guess what: it’s not 1997!), but it’s not like she has done anything to deserve election either. Still, it’s not ideal. Of course, if she does want to serve the public, that’s great. But I do agree with Alyssa Rosenberg that she should start at the bottom and earn it.

So if Clinton does want to run for office, or to be a successful advocate for an issue, or even just to continue to be credible when she tweets or speaks on a subject, the most strategic thing she could possibly do would be to disappear (as much as it’s possible for a famous person to do in the United States these days). She should decline graciously when she’s asked to be an award recipient and send substantial checks to the relevant charities instead. She should stick to publishing substantive volumes such as her previous “Governing Global Health,” written with Devi Sridhar, rather than the sort of children’s volume public figures dash off all the time. And she should find an issue-oriented job that she goes to every day, and at which she has significant, substantive responsibilities.

Even if Clinton does all of this, there will still be plenty of Americans who dislike her or would be disinclined to vote for her. We’re suspicious of dynasties, and overall, I think that’s a healthy element of our politics. But even if lying low and reemerging doesn’t get Clinton elected to anything, or doesn’t win her a platform, a carefully-calibrated retreat might at least put her on an actual career path. There’s more than one route to doing all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can, as long as ever you can.

She should also start by running for some low-level position, not Congress. Even if she doesn’t stay there very long, understanding how local politics work and building a resume there is really ideal. Even George P. Bush, scion of an endless political family, sort of understands that as he slowly but inevitably rises in Texas and Republican politics, starting with Texas Land Commissioner, not Congress. Chelsea Clinton can do the same.


[ 39 ] March 22, 2017 |


Today, I am participating in an event at my university about supporting immigrants against Trump’s racist and fascist immigration regime. In preparing for it, I thought this piece on the sanctuary movement of the 1980s and its relevance today was quite useful and important.

In Guatemala, the decades-long civil war would eventually claim 200,000 lives, with state forces responsible for 93 percent of the violence, according to a UN report; in El Salvador, 75,000 were killed, with state forces responsible of at least 85 percent of the crimes. The Reagan administration also covertly and illegally armed and supported paramilitary “contra” forces against the Sandinista government, financing this illicit venture through clandestine arms deals with Iran.

As these anti-communist proxy wars ravaged Central America, a massive grassroots response arose in the United States.

This movement, sometimes referred to as the Central America solidarity movement or the Central America peace movement, encompassed a vast and diverse amalgamation of organizations and tactics fighting to halt U.S. support for the wars, defend the revolutionary projects of Central American popular movements, and protect Central American refugees seeking a safe haven in the United States.

As part of the movement, activists traveled to Sandinista Nicaragua under siege from the contras, indigenous communities facing genocidal violence in Guatemala, liberated guerilla territory in El Salvador, and Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras to witness first-hand the collective organizing for social and economic justice so fiercely opposed by the “Free World” and to gather testimonies on the depredations of U.S. foreign policy. In the United States, they engaged in collective acts of civil disobedience, put their lives on the line in courageous direct actions, waged national political campaigns, provided aid and services for victims of the violence, and organized mass mobilizations.

As an array of forces again raise the mantel of “sanctuary,” it’s important to remember that the sanctuary movement of the 1980s was but one component of a broad-based, cross-border, anti-imperialist liberation struggle. This is the radical heritage that our organized responses to mass deportations, refugee bans, and imperialist wars must claim today.

There are of course critical differences between the sanctuary movement then and now, the most important of which is that the movements of the 80s were closely connected to particularly awful Central American governments. Those governments aren’t that great today, but protecting people from Efrain Rios Montt and Jose Napoleon Duarte gave very concrete targets because of their relationship to Reagan’s horrendous Central American policies that the drug wars don’t. That said, breaking the law to protect people’s rights to stay in this country is going to be absolutely necessary for resisting Trump’s whitening of America. I’m not entirely sure of quite what that should look like of course, but past movements ranging from the Underground Railroad to ACT-UP to the sanctuary movements of the 1980s provide real, concrete examples we can learn from. Because if we care about protecting our immigrant neighbors, that might mean hiding them in our houses, allowing them to stay in our churches, and shuttling them to Canada for their safety.

Feminism and Class at Harvard

[ 179 ] March 21, 2017 |


This is an outstanding essay about the class divisions within feminism, using Harvard as a background. Sarah Leonard and Rebecca Rojer note that both famed Harvard graduate Sheryl Sandberg and Harvard president and historian Drew Gilpin Faust talk about feminism but neither of them cares at all about the 90 percent female workforce at the Doubletree that Harvard owns in Cambridge. Noting how the workers and their student allies had to fight for years to finally win a union while Sandberg spoke repeatedly to rich women at the school and Faust has done everything in her power to hurt the school’s workers, the essay gets at a critical issue in feminism: a feminism that only speaks to rich white women really isn’t a feminism at all.

 What the majority of women want has, in many ways, not changed—economic security, good and accessible childcare, freedom from violence, the pleasures of life with enough education and leisure time to allow us to flourish. But intractable problems remain: Pregnancy is penalized by lack of time off, or time off for women but not for men, which exacerbates the wage gap. Childcare has been deemed unaffordable by the Department of Health and Human Services in every single state. Ninety-eight percent of women in abusive relationships are subject to financial abuse, and a woman without an income has a hard time getting away—a topic that was the subject of Sandberg’s own undergraduate thesis, “Economic Factors and Intimate Violence.” Luckily, we actually know quite a bit about how to fix these things. In Sweden, women and men are motivated to take parental time off (if the man doesn’t take his time, they both lose some), ensuring family time and a smaller wage gap. We know that universal childcare, as organized in Norway, produces happy kids and greater gender equity. In fact, America almost had something comparable in 1971, when a bill for universal childcare passed both houses, only to be vetoed by Nixon under the influence of a young Pat Buchanan.

Lobbying for universal childcare, unionization, or any of the other things we know help most women would mean making enemies in a way that advocating for “empowerment” or “banning bossy” never would. It would mean a fight not just with Republicans (Sandberg gives money mostly to Democrats, although she has paid into Olympia’s List and Facebook’s PAC, both of which have supported several Republicans), but with Democrats, too, and maybe even some of Sandberg’s pals on the Davos circuit. It would mean being political, and it would not serve her as PR. It would not help Facebook. But it would place her considerable resources in the service of women. Without solidaristic feminism, in the words of Osorio, “you haven’t solved the problem. You’ve just solved your problem.”

When I asked Lemus what she would have Sandberg do, she offered that Sandberg had enough money to make the government listen to the needs of women. Osorio noted that Sandberg might listen to women who are unlike her. The problem is not that women like Sandberg and Faust have failed to be saviors; as the DoubleTree workers have shown, working-class women are leading their own movements and stand at the head of their own struggles. It’s that women like the DoubleTree housekeepers are doing the concrete work of increasing equality, and women like Faust and Sandberg are thwarting instead of helping them. It is possible for a woman to sound like a feminist, and serve the function of The Man. We don’t need them to lead us, but if they aren’t going to express solidarity, they can at least get out of the way.

That’s the conclusion but the whole thing is really well worth your time. I will also say that Faust is an embarrassment to the reputation of historians. Faust herself works on issues of justice in her writing and yet has sold out all the way. I really struggle to understand how you can know everything she knows and then want to treat pregnant hotel workers or impoverished dining hall workers in this way. I guess that’s why I will never climb the corporate ladder.

The Republican War on Workers: Iowa Edition

[ 105 ] March 21, 2017 |


Colin Gordon has an excellent if depressing summary of the horrors Iowa Republicans have pushed through this year, which has included an anti-union bill that makes Scott Walker look like a piker and the repeal of local ability to set wages or other progressive standards. The state’s workers comp system is next. Why? Because unions support Democrats.

In this sense, ALEC is accelerating the “risk shift” brought about by the growth of precarious employment and the fraying of the social safety net. The assault on workers’ compensation in Iowa, for example, is animated not by “out of control” claims and costs but by a desire to further shift the burden from employers onto the backs of injured workers and taxpayers, as uncompensated claims end up on the balance sheets of Social Security Disability Insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. The prohibition on bargaining over health care, in turn, is widely regarded as the first step in the state’s retreat from offering any meaningful health coverage via public employment.

The final, and perhaps decisive, motive for Iowa Republicans is starkly political. The peculiar enmity for public-sector workers and their unions is less about fiscal constraint than it is about their critical role in the Democratic Party. The state’s largest public-sector unions (AFSCME and ISEA, the teachers’ union) contributed nearly $1 million to Democrats in the 2016 cycle. The collective-bargaining law (especially the dues and recertification provisions) is simply meant to turn off that faucet. This is what has played out in Wisconsin, where public sector unions have lost almost half their members (from 175,000 in 2010 to 91,000 in 2016): AFSCME has retreated to a single statewide council, and political contributions—and energies—have withered. The icing on this cake, unsurprisingly, is a new voter-ID law whose burden would fall largely on Democratic supporters.

Some in the statehouse may genuinely believe that this path makes sense for Iowa, but the evidence suggests otherwise. This is a frighteningly destructive agenda, virtually guaranteed—as we have seen play out in Kansas and in Wisconsin—to undermine the prosperity, security, and mobility of most Iowans. State Republicans and ALEC know this, which is why they’ve made sure to pair their economic agenda with measures designed to defang and defund their political opponents. The warm epigram from Field of Dreams—“It’s not heaven, it’s Iowa”—now sounds like a cruel joke.

This is of course the national Republican agenda and there’s a very real chance much of this goes nationwide by 2020.


[ 14 ] March 21, 2017 |

We are aware that most comments are going into moderation right now. We don’t know why. Probably the Russians. Don’t tell Glenn Greenwald, he’ll accuse us of McCarthyism. Anyway, we are working on it.

What Should Socialists Think about Godzilla?

[ 216 ] March 21, 2017 |


I am so excited that Jacobin movie reviews are not just a one-off. Evidently, having a Haymarket Books guy write film reviews about how socialists should think about popular movies is not a one-off thing. First there was the classically bad review of Get Out. And now, we have the all-important question about how socialists should consider monster films.

By setting most of Kong: Skull Island in 1975, just days after the end of the war in Vietnam, and by enlisting a Marine Corp helicopter regiment to transport a band of plucky scientists to the uncharted Skull island, Vogt-Roberts makes very clear that he’s not just making a monster movie. Not much for subtlety, the movie practically bludgeons us with its intention to do politics. Its marketing material, its inclusion of a character named after Joseph Conrad, and its plethora of lines aspiring to profundity (“What was this even for?” asks one of the soldiers; “We create our enemies” opines another; “You never come home from war” Hiddleston waxes during a pause in the action) all serve this purpose.

Vogt-Roberts thinks he’s riffing on Apocalypse Now, or maybe Heart of Darkness more directly, and it’s obvious that Kong is supposed to figure in his allegory somehow. But our king of the jungle’s symbolic content is more confused than it is polysemic. By Skull Island’s conclusion there is no question that viewers are supposed to be rooting for Kong as he does battle with both the skull crawlers and Samuel L. Jackson’s deranged Col. Preston Packard, but whether he represents the Viet Cong, or nothing other than himself, is anyone’s guess.

It is also worth noting that while it’s not possible to read this version of Kong as a metaphoric stand-in for black men, the movie has hardly escaped the racism present in earlier incarnations. In fact, this very comparison slips back in by way of the decision to pit the entirely sympathetic giant ape against an ornery Sam Jackson hellbent on revenge. During their showdown the camera zooms in on the furrowed brow of Jackson and then of the ape, asking us to question which them is truly the monster.

And then there are the island’s indigenous inhabitants who get neither names nor lines — though, admittedly, their portrayal is less outright offensive than in the original (which is not saying much).

So, should socialists reject Kong: Skull Island for its inability to shed the racism inherited from its source material? And if so, does this undermine the allure of watching Viet-Kong smash down American attack helicopters? Others have addressed the issues of how to approach contradictory and even downright reactionary works of art more eloquently and at greater length than can be accomplished in this review, so I won’t attempt an answer to these questions.

Suffice it to say that if one goes in to this movie looking for a political perspective to get behind it will sorely disappoint. If, however, you go in looking for giant monsters fighting other giant monsters, Kong: Skull Island will more than meet expectations.

I’m glad that’s cleared up. One can just enjoy a movie and still be a socialist!

Republican Pollution Policy

[ 18 ] March 21, 2017 |


Your Republican congresscritters:

Rep. Scott Perry was asked at a town hall in Red Lion on Saturday if he supported President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency in light of Pennsylvania’s “history of environmental problems.”

“Don’t we need a stronger EPA to protect the environment?” the questioner asked.

Perry, who has worked to restrict and limit the EPA’s abilities, didn’t directly answer the question.

Instead, he spoke of the Chesapeake Bay strategy, which he said was “forced on” the state and “left some violators out.”

Then he added:

“And by the way, some violators ― if you believe in, if you’re spiritual and you believe in God ― one of the violators was God, because the forests were providing a certain amount of nitrates and phosphates to the Chesapeake Bay.”

The crowd can be heard shouting in disbelief as Perry spoke.

“Oh, c’mon,” one person cried out.

The first thing everyone should learn about politics is that there is zero correlation between political success and intelligence.

LGM: How the Left Has Become a Cult!

[ 199 ] March 20, 2017 |


According to this clownish performative centrist, various LGM writers are indicative of why the left has become a cult that can’t unite the nation. Why? Because we say mean things about Trump voters. His conclusion:

This is the modern Left. Intolerant and absolutist. It’s their way or the highway. Disagreement with them means your views are illegitimate (e.g., racist, sexist) and you might be insane (e.g., xenophobic). It makes them look more like a cult than a successful political movement. They are a gift to the 1% and their servants in Washington.

Totally dude. Allow me to speak for my co-bloggers that we all just so glad to wield this kind of power. It goes well with our giant checks from the Clinton Foundation.

I await everyone’s comments on this one.

Black Organizing in the Americas

[ 54 ] March 20, 2017 |
Civil police officers detain suspects after a store was looted during a police strike in Recife, May 15, 2014. Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June. Pernambuco state police called a strike over their demands for better salaries and benefits. REUTERS/Igo Bione/JC Imagem (BRAZIL - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP) BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL - RTR3PDI5

Civil police officers detain suspects after a store was looted during a police strike in Recife, May 15, 2014. Road blocks and marches hit Brazilian cities on Thursday as disparate groups criticized spending on the upcoming World Cup soccer tournament and sought to revive a call for better public services that swept the country last June. Pernambuco state police called a strike over their demands for better salaries and benefits. REUTERS/Igo Bione/JC Imagem (BRAZIL – Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP) BRAZIL OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN BRAZIL – RTR3PDI5

There’s a really useful forum at NACLA on considering Black Lives Matter as a movement with hemispheric roots and importance. From the intro:

The Black Lives Matter movement is not a U.S. cultural export to Latin America and should not be treated as such, for the assertion that “Black lives matter” is far from new in the Americas. From the maroon communities of Jamaica, Suriname, and Brazil to Black independence movements starting with the Haitian Revolution, Black peoples across the Americas have long articulated a demand that Black life, personhood, and autonomy be valued and respected. Today’s movements are only the latest iteration in the long Black struggle for liberation.

As observers of contemporary waves of heightened hemispheric Black activism, we were surprised to find few talks, symposia, and syllabi that consider the issue of Black life mattering from a transnational perspective. Several questions emerged out of preoccupation with an unsettling observation: despite distinct socio-historical contexts, African descendants across the hemisphere face remarkably similar issues—from gentrification to displacement and segregation, cultural appropriation, labor discrimination, to institutionalized racism and the enduring presence of structural barriers to educational attainment and economic parity. From Baltimore, Maryland to Buenaventura, Colombia, Black people contend with what historian Forrest Hylton, in his book Evil Hour in Colombia, refers to as “the unresolved legacies of conquest, colonization, and slavery”—legacies that manifest as police surveillance and brutality, disproportionate rates of incarceration, poor health outcomes, and lower life expectancies. One need only read reports by Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, and the Brazilian Public Security Forum to find a host of sobering statistics that corroborate the need for and imperative of today’s social movements that center Black lives.

Today in the Criminal Injustice System

[ 35 ] March 20, 2017 |

The grotesque protection of police violence against any limits or consequences continues unabated.

Andrew Scott and his girlfriend were playing video games in their Florida apartment late at night when they heard a loud banging at the front door. Scott, who was understandably disturbed, retrieved the handgun that he lawfully owned, then opened the door with the gun pointed safely down. Outside, he saw a shadowy figure holding a pistol. He began to retreat inside and close the door when the figure fired six shots without warning, three of which hit Scott, killing him. Scott hadn’t fired a single bullet or even lifted his firearm.

The figure outside was Deputy Richard Sylvester. He failed to identify himself as a law enforcement officer at any point. He had no warrant and no reason to suspect that Scott or his girlfriend had committed a crime. He did not attempt to engage with Scott at all after he opened the door; he simply shot him dead. And on Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit held that Scott’s parents and girlfriend cannot sue Sylvester because the officer’s conduct was not “clearly” illegal.

The court’s reasoning? Qualified immunity, a constitutionally dubious doctrine that bars individuals from suing the government for violating their rights unless those rights were “clearly established.” And what, exactly, constitutes a “clearly established” right? It’s almost always possible to argue the point either way. Consider the events that led up to Scott’s killing. Sylvester had been pursuing a speeding motorcyclist who, he suspected, might be the same motorcyclist who’d recently committed armed assault and battery. (He had no legitimate reason to suspect this particular motorcyclist was the suspect in question.) Sylvester found a motorcycle at Scott’s apartment complex and decided it was the one he was looking for, even though a license plate search revealed no incriminating information. He and three other officers drew their guns and pounded on Scott’s door. When Scott opened it, Sylvester shot and killed him.

Being a cop is a license to kill. It’s no wonder that the profession attracts so many thugs and racists.

Ken Burns, George Will, and Public Arts Funding

[ 140 ] March 20, 2017 |


That the NEH, NEA, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides a lot of benefit to society for very little money and that closing these agencies down does nothing meaningful to change the federal budget is clear to anyone who is not evil. But in case anyone is on the fence, the impact that Ken Burns’ Civil War series had is a good reason to support these agencies, especially considering that it was popular with both liberals and conservatives.

Ken Burns is probably America’s most well-known documentarian, making traditional, history-rich multi-part films about important periods in American history and facets of American culture. Anyone who’s watched PBS has probably watched one of Burns’s documentaries, which span topics ranging from jazz, baseball, and the national parks to Prohibition and the Roosevelts. At this point, “PBS documentary” is basically synonymous with Burns’s name.

Burns’s films have also received a lot of funding from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, both of which were targeted for elimination (along with the National Endowment for the Arts) in President Trump’s budget proposal. The Jazz series received funds from the CPB, NEH, and NEA, in addition to private, corporate, and foundation funding. Jackie Robinson received a grant from the CPB alongside other sources of private funding. Prohibition received funds from the CPB and NEH.

Thanks to funding from the CPB, NEH, and NEA, Burns’s documentaries are widely available to watch. A good place to start is with his seminal 1990 nine-episode documentary series The Civil War, which was restored and rebroadcast in high definition in September 2015.

The film took five years to complete, and 40 million people watched it when it was first broadcast in 1990 — that’s roughly equivalent to the number of people who watched Game 7 of the World Series in 2016. It won 40 major film and TV awards, including two Emmys and two Grammys. Both the CPB and NEH contributed funding for the project.

The film is credited with an uptick in public interest in the Civil War — though some historians have found the account of the war presented in the film by historian Shelby Foote to be romanticized and reductive. Commemorating the restored edition in Time, Jeffrey Kluger wrote that it “explained an incalculably important chapter in American history to a generation that needed the tutorial.”

Before we get to Shelby Foote, we need to talk about George Will. Burns has used Will as a talking head in multiple films. He was in the Baseball series, which OK I guess, although I don’t think we ever need to listen to Will. More infuriating was his use in the Roosevelt series. Why do I want to hear George Will talk about FDR? What possible useful thing does he have to say about the man? Given that he opposes the entire existence of the New Deal state, that’s a really weird and poor choice. And of course Will’s response to the Trump budget is to embrace destroying the NEA. And while it’s true that he doesn’t take on the NEH or CBP, you can’t deal with one without the others. For Will of course this is all about the culture wars. Piss Christ is every work of art. Will’s right-wing stereotypes of national funding of art, as limited as it is, are part and parcel with the broader attack on the very agencies that allow him to appear in Burns’ series.

Of course a big part of the problem here is Ken Burns. He is strongly attracted to conservative figures for his films, even if they are often more cultural conservative than politically. Will is of course outrageous for a series on the Roosevelts. But this started a long time ago when he made Shelby Foote nationally famous late in life. Foote of course was a huge apologist for Nathan Bedford Forrest and provided a strong Dunningite voice in a series that was mostly pretty good at centering slavery and the African-American experience. This juxtaposition of telling stories that expand the American narrative of freedom while embracing conservative voices is typical of Burns. The repeated use of Stanley Crouch, a man who thinks hip hop is the Great Satan, in a documentary on jazz and then again when talking about Jack Johnson, who pushed all sorts of boundaries of offensiveness that the modern Crouch would find outrageous if repeated today, is another example of this. The whole Jazz series was exceptionally conservative for that matter, forcing the last 50 years into one episode where the continued experimentation in jazz was bemoaned because evidently we should all be listening to Wynton Marsalis turn jazz into a classical canon only relevant to old white people.

So while, yes, Ken Burns’ work is a huge success for the NEH and PBS and should absolutely be held up as relevant in this current political battle to save these agencies, let’s not also forget that Burns himself is a deeply problematic figure who employs people who would like to destroy the type of work he wants to create.

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