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Today’s Crazy State Winner

[ 100 ] February 22, 2013 |

It’s Oklahoma, for its bill that would ban teachers from failing students if they turned in homework in biology or other classes that pushed creationist ideology.

I suspect if I start doing this every day, Oklahoma is going to win Crazy State a lot of days.

How to Rate Presidents According to Beltway Priorities

[ 116 ] February 22, 2013 |

This Chris Cillizza produced list at the Washington Post of the most underrated and overrated presidents is good for a laugh because it so reflects Beltway priorities. I know that these choices were sent in by readers, but they were of course picked by editors. While not all are terrible, there are some choice howlers. Here’s a couple:

*James Monroe: From “HistoryJonah” – ”His average standing in opinion and scholar polls is 14th. However, Monroe deserves a much higher ranking than that: He created a bipartisan cabinet, with pro-slavery Southerner Calhoun as Secretary of War, and the Northern anti-slavery diplomatic genius John Q. Adams as Secretary of State. Monroe acquired Florida, and admitted five states to the Union. In addition, his actions following the Panic of 1819 stopped the economy from completely spiraling and his Missouri Compromise helped stave off disunion for decades”

Ah bipartisanship. Does that even have any meaning in 1817? No. After the Hartford Convention, the United States was essentially a 1-party state with multiple factions. Plus, this analysis fails on its own terms. When Monroe put that cabinet together, Calhoun was still a nationalist who was not obsessing about slavery. That wouldn’t happen until his slow response to his state’s growing radicalism in the 1820s threatened his political career. Moreover, in 1817, slavery was a non-issue in American politics. It wasn’t until the Missouri crisis in 1819 that things got crazy all of a sudden. And while Adams was always anti-slavery, it wasn’t until his post-presidency return to Congress that he became a leader on it.

But bipartisanship! Yay! Why can’t Obama be like James Monroe?

* James Polk: From “mountainwestBob” — ”He said he’d do four things when he came to office, he accomplished them, left office after a single term, retired and died within about 6 months. His four things? Extended the southwestern U.S. to the coast (New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada), ‘fixed’ the northwestern boundary of the lower 48 with Canada (without war), ‘fixed’ the question or Florida’s status, and established a new national bank that stood until the 20th century.”

The old “We love presidents who do stuff, regardless of their horrible consequences.” “Fixed” the northwestern boundary without war. “Fixed” the southwestern boundary by lying to Congress to get a declaration of war against Mexico and then stealing half the nation. It’s all good if it leads to American domination.

* William McKinley: From “Greg Tatro” — “The country had been hashing and rehashing fights over currency (Greenbacks! Silver!) and the Tariff. William Jennings Bryan was nominated on a silver platform to run against McKinley’s gold standard platform. The early 1890’s are filled with riots, Coxey’s March on Washington, and depression. Many people have lost hope, especially the farmers in the West.
Four years after his election however, the economy that he campaigned to fix was booming. The currency question that defined politics of the past has been left behind in the hustle and bustle of this new era.”

Another favorite pundit fallacy–giving presidents credit for policies they had no control over. William McKinley had nothing to do with the end of the Panic of 1893 and subsequent depression. That ended because gold discoveries in Alaska and South Africa increased the world’s gold supply.

* John Tyler: From “SpyralJD” : “His actions helped ensure an orderly transition of power upon the death of President Harrison and set the precedent for similar transfers of power in the future. He governed in (what he perceived to be) the national interest and refused to be beholden to special interests or the Whig Party (i.e. Henry Clay). He may not have achieved as much as some other presidents but he prevented a damaging free-for-all following Harrison’s death.”

The mind boggles with this one. Tyler governed in the national interest–making aggressive pro-slavery expansion the policy of the United States without an electoral mandate to do so and naming John C. Calhoun Secretary of State! Calhoun proceeded to outrage the British with the Pakenham Letter, where Calhoun warned Britain that the US would not tolerate them getting involved in Texas to end slavery there. There was probably not a more hated president in his own lifetime than John Tyler. National interest indeed!!!

The overrated side is more predictable and somewhat less irritating, although including Washington makes no sense. But then there is the real laugher:

* Franklin Roosevelt: From “acre00″ – ”I would have to say that FDR is the most overrated president. His New Deal did little to help the Great Depression, and he was a major contributor to the current spending problem that we have today. That being said, I also don’t think he was a bad president. He was a good leader, keeping the American People optimistic through the Great Depression and motivated through WW2.”

His New Deal did little to help the Great Depression, eh? First, that’s demonstrably not true because when FDR decided to reduce government spending in 1937, the economy tanked, thus showing that his policies were helping people. And if they failed to end the Depression, that’s because they weren’t big enough. These arguments about FDR and the Depression always conveniently forget one big thing. The spending in World War II that got the nation out of the Depression? It was government investment in the economy. Just because it was for war doesn’t mean it doesn’t show how powerful federal spending can be in stimulating the economy.

In any case, you can so read Beltway projections about Obama in this list. Funny stuff.


[ 32 ] February 22, 2013 |

Ron Fournier wins the 2013 David Broder award for his column arguing “sure, Republicans are nuts. But why won’t President Obama cave to their wishes to avoid the sequester? Also, we need to destroy social programs to cut deficits, a political action absolutely vital even though no one outside of the Beltway supports it.”

George Bailey: Communist

[ 45 ] February 21, 2013 |

Maybe some of you have heard about this before, but I just found out this week that It’s a Wonderful Life was communist propaganda.

Communist stooge begs before capitalist hero

Or so said a FBI memo in 1947:

To: The Director

D.M. Ladd



There is submitted herewith the running memorandum concerning Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry which has been brought up to date as of May 26, 1947….

With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This, according to these sources, is a common trick used by Communists.

In addition, [redacted] stated that, in his opinion, this picture deliberately maligned the upper class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters. [redacted] related that if he made this picture portraying the banker, he would have shown this individual to have been following the rules as laid down by the State Bank Examiner in connection with making loans. Further, [redacted] stated that the scene wouldn’t have “suffered at all” in portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown. In summary, [redacted] stated that it was not necessary to make the banker such a mean character and “I would never have done it that way.”

[redacted] recalled that approximately 15 years ago, the picture entitled “The Letter” was made in Russia and was later shown in this country. He recalled that in this Russian picture, an individual who had lost his self-respect as well as that of his friends and neighbors because of drunkenness, was given one last chance to redeem himself by going to the bank to get some money to pay off a debt. The old man was a sympathetic character and was so pleased at his opportunity that he was extremely nervous, inferring he might lose the letter of credit or the money itself. In summary, the old man made the journey of several days duration to the bank and with no mishap until he fell asleep on the homeward journey because of his determination to succeed. On this occasion the package of money dropped out of his pocket. Upon arriving home, the old man was so chagrined he hung himself. The next day someone returned the package of money to his wife saying it had been found. [redacted] draws a parallel of this scene and that of the picture previously discussed, showing that Thomas Mitchell who played the part of the man losing the money in the Capra picture suffered the same consequences as the man in the Russian picture in that Mitchell was too old a man to go out and make money to pay off his debt to the banker.

Read the original document here.

Chinese Environment

[ 158 ] February 21, 2013 |

We all know that the Chinese environment is just a bit degraded.

And then there’s this of course:

But luckily the Chinese government has a hot new plan to solve at least the air problem:

Ah, yes—the Chinese government will stop at nothing to reduce pollution that has enveloped parts of the country in a toxic soup. First, Chinese cities restricted the number of cars on the road and scrapped old vehicles. Then the government asked citizens to give up a time-honored tradition of setting off thousands of firecrackers before and on Chinese New Year. Beijing’s next ambitious measure? Banning barbecue.

At least that’s what China’s state media is reporting, though it scrimps on details. China’s environmental watchdog has now issued draft legislation calling on cities to ban “barbecue-related activities.” (Does that include just eating barbecue, looking at barbecue, or thinking about barbecue? We don’t know!) One blogger on Sina Weibo indelicately commented in response, “Soon they’ll ban farting in order to clean up the air.”

Serious efforts here my friends. Meanwhile, there is real grassroots resistance to the environmental degradation in China that has created real pressure on Chinese politicians, for whatever that’s worth in a totalitarian state.

And remember, a major part of why China developed this way was that American companies decided that labor and environmental regulations in the United States were cutting into profits too much and so decided to replicate the paradise of the U.S. Gilded Age somewhere else.

The NCAA: Upholding the Finest in American Hypocrisy

[ 80 ] February 21, 2013 |

The NCAA, an organization with such open-decision making practices and clear accountability as to provide lessons to the mafia, is forcing a University of Minnesota wrestler to give up his music career or be declared ineligible for profiting off his own image. Can we please just disband this organization?

Bauman embodies everything for which college athletics should stand. He should be the face of the NCAA. But the NCAA wants to make sure it is the only entity that can make money off Bauman’s face. Fearing an NCAA reprisal, Minnesota officials have asked Bauman to take his name off his songs and remove his image from the videos if he wants to remain eligible to wrestle at Minnesota.

He has two more years of eligibility remaining, but he is willing to sacrifice his scholarship rather than go by an alias in his music. “Now that I have a message,” Bauman said Wednesday, “I’m not going to go by an alias to deliver my message. … If I stop, what would that show people? If I just made an alias, what would that show people? That I’m going to quit what I started?”

This is the NCAA in a nutshell. When it isn’t busy hijacking a federal bankruptcy deposition to gather dirt in defense of its flawed model of amateurism in an infractions case involving Miami, its schools use that same flawed model as the rationale to attempt to crush a young person’s non-sports career. Never mind that if Bauman were a minor league baseball player instead of a singer, the NCAA would allow him to keep his baseball earnings and still wrestle. Apparently, those 99-cent iTunes downloads of Bauman’s Ones In The Sky represent a threat to the purity of college athletics, even though Bauman has yet to make a cent of profit. “I’ve not broken even on anything I’ve done,” he said.

At some point, the people at the NCAA and the leaders of the universities that comprise its membership need to stop and think about what exactly they’re fighting for here. Bauman’s case is yet another example of a group of people who have their heads stuck so deep in their massive rulebook that they can’t see the bigger picture.

Bauman, who is just returning to the mat in practice after missing three months because of concussion issues, is hoping he can make a last-ditch effort to keep his music and his scholarship without giving up his name. “I have a plan,” he said. “I’m going to run it by our compliance department.” If he wanted to go by DJ Takedown or MC Reversal, Bauman could promote his music on YouTube and sell his songs on iTunes. But why should he have to? If Bauman’s name is the price of a wrestling scholarship, the price is too high.

Today in Crazy Land

[ 91 ] February 21, 2013 |

Utah wins Crazy State of the Day, as a bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit–that’s right, without a permit–passes through a House committee. It’s real hard to see what could go wrong:

But Mathis also acknowledged — under strong questioning from Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City — that his bill would allow people to carry loaded firearms openly. Under current law, weapons cannot have a round in the chamber if openly carried.

“In my world, we use horses … we go fishing and it’s quite common to carry a gun on a saddle,” Mathis said. “If I didn’t have a concealed-weapons permit, I have to have the gun unloaded to carry with me.”

King said he feared the bill would encourage more people to buy guns and lead to a rash of accidental discharges of guns as well as having weapons present in escalating circumstances where tensions would run high.

Nope, no problems at all.

A Message to Khomeini

[ 16 ] February 20, 2013 |

Tonight’s exploration of American culture’s underbelly is brought to you by Roger Hallmark and The Thrasher Brothers, who I think had the most sophisticated response to Iranian Revolution imaginable.

History of Sex Work

[ 37 ] February 20, 2013 |

Melissa Gira Grant provides an excellent overview of the history of sex work in the United States before about 1920. Highly recommended read.

Saving Labor

[ 35 ] February 20, 2013 |

There’s been a lot of discussion about “saving” the labor movement in recent weeks. Two particular pieces to point out. First, Josh Eidelson hosted a forum at The Nation that included CWA President Larry Cohen, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, and a number of researchers and activists. Second, Jacobin interviewed Canadian labor activist Sam Gindin. The solutions for saving labor were along the lines of what you’d expect. There’s a lot of good ideas–focus on organizing over politics, organize immigrants, labor should think about class more than workplace, create a strong progressive coalition to retake the Democratic Party, etc.

I have no real criticism of these ideas. I think they are all solid and, taken together, might really change things. I do want to offer a couple of additional thoughts.

There are two fundamental problems organized labor faces. One, the history of American labor shows that it is never strong enough to create long-term concrete change, or for that matter just winning over workplaces and holding on to what they have, without supportive or at least tolerant federal and state governments. It’s hardly coincidental that the one big victory for Gilded Age labor came at Cripple Creek in 1894 when the governor of Colorado used the state militia to intervene on the side of workers rather than employers. For all the hard organizing over decades, it wasn’t until the New Deal legitimized unions that they had any real success. So we can talk about subordinating politics to organizing and there’s a very good argument to be made in that direction. But the political game can’t be given up entirely because without it, there’s just not much precedence for the success of organized labor.

What organized labor needs to do is to rethink its political actions. I’d argue for the necessity of shifting resources out of presidential and congressional politics and into local and state politics, where they can make a more concrete difference in their members’ lives and where they can foster and develop politicians that will eventually rise into Congress and reshape the Democratic Party into a working-class force. The current emphasis on Washington made a lot of sense in the 1933-1981 era, but it’s been a losing game for 30 years. The AFL-CIO is a very Washington-focused organization and shifting significant resources to the states and counties, not to mention giving locals significant power to engage in local politics, would be a hard task. But I think it is necessary.

Second, the changes in the workplace and workforce has put labor on its heels for decades. The big factory with the shopfloor that contained thousands of organized workers was a great space for building union power. How you do that with our decentralized workforce of the 21st century is a tough question. The old CIO industrial unions were built on the big factory model and making the institutional adjustments are as hard as the strategic adjustments. This is where you have people suggesting cross-class organizing and organized labor playing a central role in all sorts of progressive policies, including immigration, gay marriage, environmental issues, etc. That makes sense from a theoretical strategic perspective but I want to suggest a couple of problems that any serious discussion of labor’s future has to deal with. One, cross-class organizing is a great idea, but there’s a reason for paying dues. If labor is providing a broad definition of representation to workers who do not pay dues, how does it function as an effective organization? In the short term, that might work, but in the long-term you have to turn those people into dues-paying members.

Two, the ultimate job of a labor union is to represent the interests and desires of its membership. While organized labor can provide real leadership and push members to take more progressive stands, it can’t completely ignore its membership. So when you have a significant percentage of membership that might be strongly anti-immigrant, anti-gay, racist, etc., how do you deal with that? I’m not offering this as an excuse for organized labor not playing a progressive role in non-economic social issues. What I am saying is that talking about organized labor in the abstract in pretty easy, but organized labor is made up of working-class people who have a variety of opinions on issues and a lot of them are not going to be done with their unions becoming this broader progressive force on, say, climate change.

In other words, everything about saving organized labor is hard and complex. We should avoid anything that even looks like a simple answer.

Student-Athletes Indeed

[ 129 ] February 20, 2013 |

Heisman winner Johnny Manziel’s class schedule:

Johnny Football still finds time to be a college student too, even though the Texas A&M star doesn’t have to be on campus very often for classes. His schedule this semester consists of four online classes in sports management, and he just got done with a series of tests and other work.

“Had my first round of tests last week, so I’ve been kind of pushing that off as much as possible doing my online stuff, and all three tests and three papers hit me in a week,” Manziel said Monday night before accepting the Davey O’Brien Award that goes to the nation’s top quarterback. “It was good to feel like a normal student again, just a busy one.”

Manziel was initially enrolled in an English class on campus this spring with only 20 to 25 students before switching his schedule.

Don’t get me wrong–I have no problem with the kid taking advantage of the system and being as little of a student at Texas A&M as he wants. But the entire deal is a joke, both the idea that a student can be a legitimate student by taking a bunch of likely bogus classes in whatever sports management actually consists of outside of easy grades for bad students although one would never graduate with a schedule like that and the fact that the NCAA makes football players go to classes in a facade that allows universities to profit off their unpaid labor.

Can’t we find a way to pay these kids in some kind of minor-league football system? No doubt, with the NCAA such a paragon of integrity and all.

Climate Trolling

[ 27 ] February 19, 2013 |

Andrew Revkin of the New York Times continues his climate trolling, this time complaining about people just being so unreasonable about climate change:

But on the Keystone XL pipeline – which, if not blocked by President Obama, would carry the crudest form of oil from Canadian tar sand deposits to Gulf Coast fuel refineries — it seems there’s little room for varied stances, at least according to some protesters.

As I wrote in 2011 (here, then here), a tight focus on Obama’s decision over the pipeline could be counterproductive if the hope is to build policies that might someday reduce the need for oil, whether the source is Alberta oil sands, the floor of the Gulf of Mexico or the Niger River delta. (A solid review of the climate impact was provided by Raymond Pierrehumbert on in 2011.)

But Wen Stephenson, a former Atlantic and Boston Globe editor who has become a climate campaigner on behalf of his, and others’, children, sees little room for dialogue.

Imagine that–people actually believing that a project is just unacceptable and eschewing compromise over an issue that will only drive half the world’s species to extinction and make life significantly worse for most human beings. Revkin is the classic villager on climate, wanting nice conservative compromise on the issues, even before we actually get to the table with the powers that be that actually control the apparatus, like the oil and gas industry. What’s important for Revkin is the compromise.

David Roberts provides a more definitive response:

Revkin seems preoccupied with the fact that Keystone is part of larger systems and not particularly significant in light of that context. And it’s true: Everything is insignificant in light of some larger context. Climate change is a “wicked problem,” which means that everything passing as a solution will be flawed, partial, and impermanent. What to do? We are rapidly losing ground, on the verge of locking in a trajectory scientists tell us will lead to disastrous and irreversible consequences. We can sit around and fill our blogs with reasons why this or that solution is the wrong one, inferior to some better one that we’d already have, goldarnit, if those meddling pushers-of-other-solutions weren’t “distracting” from ours. We can fall in love with the ineffable intellectual tangle, as Revkin has, and accept that anything specific enough to build an activist campaign around will be meaningless in the context of global energy demand and emissions. We can read the Serenity Prayer and get used to the fact that it’s all out of our hands anyway.

But some people want to fight! Some people actually haul themselves out from behind their keyboards, call a bunch of friends, put on warm clothes, and go stomp around in public yelling about it. These are the folks throwing sand in the social gears, the ones trying to wrest the levers of power out of hostile hands. As a professional word-typer, like Revkin, I have come to believe that those people deserve a certain level of respect and forbearance. Maybe shouting advice down to them from the bloggy heights isn’t as helpful as we word-typers are inclined to think. At least we could refrain from pissing on them while they’re rallying.

I’m going to have a number of climate-related posts coming up, so I’ll save some of my thoughts for later. But I will say one thing. The last thing the climate movement needs is to listen to someone positioning himself as a David Broder of environmental issues. And that’s what Andrew Revkin is.

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