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America’s Favorite War Criminal

[ 40 ] April 20, 2015 |


The fact that Henry Kissinger continues to not only be given a pass for his many crimes but is feted as the elder statesmen of American foreign policy on the most exclusive stages is infuriating.


The Three-Fifths Compromise

[ 7 ] April 20, 2015 |


As this essay suggests, the Three-Fifths Compromise was a terrible deal for the North from the very beginning and would establish that slaveholders would use their slaves to make money and go the mat to enforce the return of their property, but then would say they weren’t property at all when it was in their interests to do so, i.e., be taxed on it.

You Thought You Loved Monsanto Before?

[ 34 ] April 19, 2015 |

Monsanto. Everyone’s favorite chemical corporation. This is the first national advertisement ever placed by Monsanto, a 1939 campaign in Fortune.


Good times.


[ 13 ] April 19, 2015 |


This is a pretty intense story about how Phil Ochs was caught up in the repression of artists and leftists in Latin America in the early 1970s and how closely he came to being disappeared in Bolivia like many other leftists of the time.

The Republican Party: By and For the Koch Brothers

[ 46 ] April 19, 2015 |


Republicans are paying back their megadonors:

The House on Wednesday with little fanfare passed legislation that would protect major donors like the Koch brothers and Tom Steyer from having to pay gift taxes on huge donations to secret money political groups.

The legislation, which now heads to the Senate, is seen by fundraising operatives as removing one of the few remaining potential obstacles to unfettered big-money spending by nonprofit groups registered under a section of the Tax Code — 501(c) — that allows them to shield their donors’ identities.\\

Critics decry such groups as corrupting, but they have played an increasingly prominent role in recent elections, and they’re expected to spend huge sums in 2016.

And, while fundraising operatives say most donors do not pay taxes on their donations to so-called 501(c) groups, the law is somewhat ambiguous on whether gift taxes could be assessed. That’s left donors fearing that such gifts could bring scrutiny from the Internal Revenue Service — which, in fact, has launched probes of major groups’ donors in recent years to determine whether they improperly avoided paying gift taxes.

I guess the advantage of buying a house of Congress means that you can dictate legislation that will protect your future investments in buying the rest of the government.

Is Sullivan’s Travels a Reactionary Film?

[ 54 ] April 19, 2015 |

Annex - Lake, Veronica (Sullivan's Travels)_01

I really object to this analysis that calls Sullivan’s Travels “reactionary” toward the poor and poverty. Evidently the writer actually wanted to see “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” or that film Sullivan shows at the movie’s beginning about capital and labor fighting and dying on the train. What Preston Sturges did was make the depiction of poverty and its horrors palatable enough for the public that people would actually watch it. Laughing through poverty for the actual people suffering through the Depression meant Sturges was touching their lives. As the studio executives point in the film, the people who watch hard political intellectual films are politicized intellectuals. And that’s fine–I love Salt of the Earth and I Am Cuba and The Battle of Algiers as much as anyone (in fact, the latter is one of my top 5 all-time favorite films), but there’s no doubt that Sturges represented a truer version of poverty to popular audiences than any of those films. And not just through Sullivan’s Travels either, but in Christmas in July and in Easy Living, which he wrote but did not direct. These are all really sad stories that resonated with people. If they didn’t have the explicit goal of turning people into socialists, that doesn’t mean no viewers thought about their lives in new ways after seeing them. There were several such films in the 1930s. You could say much the same about Gold Diggers of 1933, which might be an absurd fluffy film but which also legitimately portrays poverty and has an entire final scene about the Bonus Army. I guess by these standards because it wasn’t calling for explicit class battle, it’s a reactionary film, but I don’t see it. The author clearly wants a certain kind of political film (he’s writing a book on anarchism and film) but that doesn’t mean a film that doesn’t have an objectively leftist agenda is a reactionary film.

While We’re Young

[ 129 ] April 19, 2015 |


I saw Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young and found this Molly Lambert piece on the film really good. Like her, I feel myself in this sort of time warp where everyone I know has children and their lives, naturally enough, revolve around them, whereas I don’t and have absolutely no desire to ever do so. So it makes social relationships slightly odd sometimes, even if most of my friends are not like characters in the film and talk about their children constantly. I basically live the life I always have ever since college, with really relatively only slight changes. Lambert is a few years younger than I am so she feels herself somewhere between Gen X and a millennial. I graduated from high school in 1992 so I am prototype Gen X but I hated that whole culture at the time (even if I have later embraced some of it; after all not listening to Pavement is a bad decision). There’s a lot more about millennial culture I find appealing than I did my own at the time. So I’m kind of stuck in the middle as an old man still trying to follow new young rock bands. For example, I’m a technophobe who has become relatively well known by embracing the kids’ technology. However, I will not go down the road of creating value for crap pop culture when it doesn’t exist as they often do. There is about as much good about Meat Loaf or Journey as there is about ketchup.

The movie is pretty good outside of making the aging childless viewers think about their own positionality within the world. I know some people don’t like Ben Stiller, but his schtick works pretty well with Baumbach’s directing. Naomi Watts is always great. Adam Driver is very good at playing annoying hipsters that you want to punch in the face. Charles Grodin is always welcome. There’s lots of good scenes of a couple in a stale relationship, the absurdity of hipster culture, and the excuses people find to never finish anything they start. And while the film doesn’t really end on a high note, by and large it’s a pretty funny satire of both hipsters and somewhat older people like myself who like a lot of the same things as these younger people but who are surely, aggressively even, not one of them. Pretending one is one of them is ripe material for satire and humor. And if Noah Baumbach films are always about immature people dealing with growing up, well, lots of good directors mine the same type of material over a whole career.

Fast Track

[ 36 ] April 18, 2015 |


Above: President Obama’s trade policy.

Sadly, on Thursday the Senate gave President Obama fast track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

This despite the opposition of American unions, as once again the Democratic Party ignores the needs of the organizations that provide a huge amount of money and GOTV efforts every election.

Obama keeps claiming that this will have real protections for labor and the environment.

President Obama embraced the legislation immediately, proclaiming “it would level the playing field, give our workers a fair shot, and for the first time, include strong fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet.”

“Today,” he added, “we have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.”

To say the least, I do not believe this. This was the same stuff we heard in 1993 around NAFTA. At least today, the fluff around environmental and labor regulations is being put in before the final passage rather than as a last-second add-on. But none of this is actually in the deal as it now stands. This is the U.S. unilaterally saying that these restrictions will exist. As I argue in Out of Sight, we need real international law protecting labor and nature from the exploitation of multinational corporations. But that only happens if workers and green advocates are at the table crafting the agreement and have real legal options. I will be watching this very carefully to see how any of this develops once Obama’s negotiators take it to the rest of the nations as they finish crafting an agreement. But an agreement written by multinational corporations and their representatives in governments that is intended to promote the global race to the bottom while creating international law to protect corporations from government regulation? Well, color me really skeptical.

I am curious to see how Hillary Clinton responds, although I have absolutely zero doubt in my mind that she would also support these trade deals as president and I have seen no evidence in her long career in public service to think otherwise, however she is hedging now that she is running for president. I suppose this theoretically could create a wedge issue for some candidate like Martin O’Malley to take her on from the left, but I just don’t think enough average Americans care or understand trade policy to make this a meaningful primary topic. And if labor couldn’t stop NAFTA in 1993, a far weakened labor movement is unlikely to defeat Hillary in 2016, assuming that a) she made a strong statement in favor of it and b) labor actually united to get rid of her over it. Both are unlikely.

Like on health care, Ron Wyden decided to get his bipartisan hat on here and make a deal with Orrin Hatch and other Senate Republicans. I guess if the bill was going to pass anyway, Wyden’s additions are at least a bone to throw at displaced workers, but that’s a pretty mild improvement on something terrible for the American working class.

And as for who this benefits, I think Timothy Lee sums up the very real problems with Obama saying “Americans” will all benefit.

And this system for setting global rules has some serious defects. We expect the laws that govern our economic lives will be made in a transparent, representative, and accountable fashion. The TPP negotiation process is none of these — it’s secretive, it’s dominated by powerful insiders, and it provides little opportunity for public input.

The Obama administration argues that it’s important for TPP to succeed so that the United States — not China — gets to shape the rules that govern trade across the Pacific. But this argument only makes sense if you believe US negotiators are taking positions that are in the broad interests of the American public. If, as critics contend, USTR’s agenda is heavily tilted toward the interests of a few well-connected interest groups, then the deal may not be good for America at all.

This is an agreement by the corporations, for the corporations. If you believe in intellectual freedom, in low drug prices around the world because of relatively short monopolies for the pharmaceutical companies, in countries have the sovereignty to pass new labor and environmental regulations without being hauled before the World Trade Organization or other new trade body like is happening to Australia over tobacco regulations, in people having stable jobs, and in global environmental justice, opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an absolute must.

Once again, the only real hope here is progressive Democrats aligning with anti-Obama fireeaters to defeat the thing. And that probably only temporarily unless this becomes a really divisive political issue that makes a vote for it toxic. I’m pessimistic.

Early Modern London

[ 15 ] April 18, 2015 |


Who else is spending the day playing around with this interactive map of Shakespeare-era London?

More info here.

Jefferson’s Vegetable Market Charts

[ 5 ] April 18, 2015 |


There is evidently no trend in American history historians won’t connect to Thomas Jefferson and that includes the recent emphasis on food. This is an interesting piece on the vegetable market charts Jefferson kept while in the White House that are useful windows into early 19th century food, albeit from a rare gourmand in a nation with an international reputation for horrible, inedible victuals.

The chart also provokes a question about where early nineteenth-century Washingtonians got their food. Before there were trucks and trains to transport food from country to city, with refrigeration to preserve it on the way, suppliers of perishable foods often lived very close to cities, sometimes in them. Market gardeners, many of them women, trundled their produce into urban markets on carts early every morning. Cows and pigs wandered around city streets; milk often came from the cow around the corner. (Frances Trollope, a British visitor to the United States in the late 1820s who lived mostly in Cincinnati, described the “republican cow” who, after being fed and milked “at the door of a house,” wandered away “to take her pleasure on the hills, or in the gutters, as may suit her fancy best.”) Farmers, fishermen, hunters, bakers, and butchers, carried in their goods and displayed them for sale in city markets. The Georgetown market where Etienne Lemaire did his shopping opened in 1796 when Washington was still under construction and the federal government was still in Philadelphia. The Center Market on Pennsylvania Avenue was authorized by Jefferson himself soon after he took office; it opened in December, 1801.

Today in Historical Sex Toys

[ 27 ] April 17, 2015 |

If you ever wanted to read about the discovery of a rather sizable 18th century dildo in Poland, here’s your chance.

Another Attack on Faculty Unionism

[ 64 ] April 17, 2015 |


The Ohio legislative decided to stick a measure in a funding bill that would redefine all faculty as supervisors since they play some role in university governance. This would make them ineligible to have a union. I’m not at all confident that John Kasich won’t sign this.

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