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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 126

[ 28 ] August 12, 2017 |

This is the grave of John Chivington.

One of the most reprehensible loathsome Americans to ever live and yet a man representative of 19th century America, Chivington was born in 1821 in Lebanon, Ohio. He became a Methodist circuit rider in 1844, working in Illinois. He became a strong abolitionist and went to Kansas in 1853, at first missionizing the Wyandots and then becoming active in the Bleeding Kansas era after the Kansas-Nebraska Act. He was outspoken enough that his friends strongly urged him to leave Kansas as self-protection. He went to Nebraska for awhile.

So far, you are saying, sounds like a pretty good guy! Well, in 1859 gold was discovered in Colorado. This led to the second great gold rush in American history, after California. Chivington followed the masses west in 1860. He tried to start some churches in the mining camps but became more involved in the militia of what had become Colorado Territory. Chivington joined the 1st Colorado Volunteers as a major at the start of the Civil War and won victories in small western battles at Apache Canyon and Glorieta Pass that doomed the Confederate effort to take the western gold fields.

Chivington was also incredibly ambitious and he hated Native Americans. By 1864, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were in big trouble. Their hunting grounds of the Front Range overwhelmed by white settlers, the bison were in rapid decline and so was their independence. The Cheyennes especially were divided between the Dog Soldiers who wanted total war against the whites and compromising leaders such as Black Kettle who wished to keep their people alive. The Dog Soldiers and the whites engaged in raids on each other during 1864 while Black Kettle sued for peace. He was guaranteed that for his people so long as they stayed in southeastern Colorado. They camped along Sand Creek, about 140 miles east of what is today Pueblo. This was far off country from the gold fields. They weren’t bothering anyone. But that was not enough for Chivington.

We think of the U.S. Army as the villains of the genocidal wars against Native Americans. But the real villains were the everyday white settlers of the West. They wanted a war of extermination against Indians. Colorado’s territorial governor, John Evans, didn’t like the peace terms given to Black Kettle and neither did Chivington. Stoking anti-Native sentiment was good politics in Denver and the mining camps. Chivington wanted to build on this for his own political career. When the War Department gave Evans permission to create the 3rd Colorado Cavalry, the stated reason was to protect the mining camps but Evans and Chivington were lying. Chivington was named commanding officer. And he marched his troops to Sand Creek.

By late November 1864, most of Black Kettle’s warriors were out hunting. There were about 60 adult aged men in the camp and several hundred older men, women, and children. 675 men under Chivington’s command wanted nothing but genocide. On the morning of November 29, they attacked. Black Kettle and the camping Cheyenne and Arapaho had no idea why this was happening. They were doing everything they agreed to do in the earlier peace agreement. They ran up an American flag and a white flag immediately. Chivington did not care. The Colorado forces lost about 15 dead, mostly due to soldiers shooting each other. The number of Cheyenne and Arapaho who died remains unclear, probably 150-200. The Colorado troops went to raping and mutilating people before killing them. Said Robert Bent, who witnessed the attack:

I saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn sabre. She raised her arm to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her with out killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying by her side.

Stan Hoig:

Fingers and ears were cut off the bodies for the jewelry they carried. The body of White Antelope, lying solitarily in the creek bed, was a prime target. Besides scalping him the soldiers cut off his nose, ears, and testicles-the last for a tobacco pouch …

Major Anthony:

There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand. The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind, following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, travelling in the sand. I saw one man get off his horse at a distance of about seventy-five yards and draw up his rifle and fire. He missed the child. Another man came up and said, ‘let me try the son of a b-. I can hit him.’ He got down off his horse, kneeled down, and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up, and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped.

When Chivington and his men returned to Denver, they were greeted with a parade. Seen as conquering heroes, with the body parts of the Cheyenne and Arapaho, including fetuses and both male and female genitalia, hanging from their horses and decorating their hats, young women ran up and kissed the soldiers. But the revelry did not last long. Some were truly disgusted with what Chivington had done. Silas Soule had refused to obey Chivington’s command. His troops watched instead of fought. Chivington considered him a coward. Soule was a hero, at least in comparison to the other whites in Colorado. He publicized Chivington’s actions. This led to multiple investigations. After Soule testified, one of Chivington’s fans shot him in the face, killing him. The negative publicity Sand Creek caused as it became national news did not lead to legal action against Chivington. He had resigned from the military and was not subject to its courts because of the post-Civil War general amnesty that was not intended for actions in Colorado but nonetheless applied. No civilian charges were fired. In fact, no one suffered legal consequences for this most grotesque act of genocide. But it did make Chivington persona non grata in Colorado politics. Chivingotn became permanently associated with a mass slaughter so over the top that even in the era of the Civil War and largely genocidal campaigns, that he was perceived as a monster. An Army judge called him, “a cowardly and cold-blooded slaughter, sufficient to cover its perpetrators with indelible infamy, and the face of every American with shame and indignation.” The panel of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War declared:

As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the verist [sic] savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty. Having full knowledge of their friendly character, having himself been instrumental to some extent in placing them in their position of fancied security, he took advantage of their in-apprehension and defenceless [sic] condition to gratify the worst passions that ever cursed the heart of man. Whatever influence this may have had upon Colonel Chivington, the truth is that he surprised and murdered, in cold blood, the unsuspecting men, women, and children on Sand creek, who had every reason to believe they were under the protection of the United States authorities.

His purposes having blown up in his face, Chivington decided to become a freight hauler. He wasn’t any good at that. In 1868, his son died. In 1871, he married his son’s widow. Yep, you read that right. Even his former supporters were disgusted by this. He moved around, borrowed money from his daughter-in-law/wife’s relatives, didn’t pay them back, tried to run for state legislature in Ohio, lived in California for awhile, attempted to get money from the federal government for Indian depredations he claimed he suffered (this was a man who truly had no shame), and eventually moved backed to Denver, where he briefly became deputy sheriff before dying in 1894.

The fact that Chivington was an abolitionist who committed genocidal acts should not surprise us at all. This was not a contradiction, particularly in the West. Given that most abolitionists hated slavery more for how it threatened white male democracy than its impact on African-Americans and the general belief that the United States was destined by God for white conquest and domination, such a position was entirely consistent. Chivington was a horrifying person, but he was also all too typical of his time. The initial reception he received in Denver and the genocidal cynicism behind the whole action demonstrates just how popular the wanton murder of Native Americans was on the ground in these territories. Ultimately, Chivington isn’t a monster. He’s an all too typical American who just went a little farther than most of his colleagues were willing to go. In that, he helped create the white supremacist state that has never not oppressed Native Americans from its founding to the present.

As for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, the oppression of their freedom continued. Black Kettle survived Sand Creek but was killed in the Washita Massacre of 1868 in a similarly unjust action in western Oklahoma, this time led by George Armstong Custer.

John Chivington is buried in Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado.


Not that this would stop Trump, but….

[ 73 ] August 11, 2017 |

I mean, he’d probably enjoy it. But still.

Incidentally, driving around Montana yesterday, I stumbled across an ICBM launch site in the prairie. Don’t know if it’s still operational or not. Maybe we will find out!

How Republican Governance Has Crushed New Mexico

[ 19 ] August 11, 2017 |

Since 2011, the awful Susana Martinez has been governor of New Mexico. Her anti-tax, anti-regulation leadership has led to New Mexico lagging far behind the rest of the Southwest in every metric. And while some of this is not necessarily her fault–after all, it’s not as if New Mexico’s neighbors are bastions of liberalism–when a poor state doubles down on right-wing ideology, it really has a terrible impact that gives employers no good reason to locate there.

Between 2010 and 2016, about 53,000 more people moved out of New Mexico than moved in, according to U.S. Census estimates. But because there were more births than deaths, the state’s population grew nearly 22,000, or 1.1 percent, in the six-year time frame.

That’s far lower than the national average of 4.7 percent, and New Mexico experienced the weakest population growth in the Southwest: Neighboring Texas grew 10.8 percent, Arizona 8.4 percent and Oklahoma 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2016.

“It’s not surprising to me that we’re losing population,” says Democratic state Sen. Mimi Stewart, noting that the out-migration trend began in 2010, when Republican Gov. Susana Martinez took office. The two have often clashed on revenue-raising measures. “We’re not creating an atmosphere that makes people want to come to New Mexico through this governor’s policies.”

Of people who did move into the state, most were 25 to 29, or 60 or older. Rhatigan said he could not be certain why, but speculated that the state’s quality of life – spurred by its low cost of living and year-round sunshine – could be a draw for these groups. People in their mid-20s could be pursuing advanced degrees at one of the state’s universities or military installations, and older folks may be headed to New Mexico to retire or return to one of the state’s 22 tribal lands. He also says immigration from outside the U.S. could contribute to growth in the mid-20s cohort.

New Mexico’s recent population stagnancy is a first for the state – between 2000 and 2010, the state was among the fastest-growing in the U.S., increasing its population by 13 percent.

Before and during the recession of 2007 to 2009, New Mexico’s unemployment rate was lower than the national average. But as the state’s economy has struggled to recover as quickly as others, most of the major employers in New Mexico are facing budget cuts and constraints. Many of the state’s largest employers rely on government funding, including universities, hospitals and research labs.

But critics say the tax breaks have failed to recruit companies or bring jobs to New Mexico and have left the state with underfunded public services such as education and health care.

“This idea that cutting taxes for business is supposed to produce jobs — we are a state where that policy has failed miserably,” Stewart says, citing New Mexico’s teacher shortage in recent years.

Health care and social assistance was the fastest-growing industry between 2011 and 2015, accounting for nearly 17 percent of New Mexico’s total employment, according to a report released in June by the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions. But overall labor force participation rates dropped from 61 percent to 58.4 percent, well below the national average of 63.1 percent, during that time frame.

A recent uptick in the oil, natural gas and mining sector is the main reason for the state’s 2.8 percent growth in gross domestic product during the first quarter of 2017, according to U.S. Department of Commerce data. Martinez credited the growth to her economic reforms, but the volatile industry, a significant source of state revenue, has been unreliable in recent years. Explosive growth between 2011 and 2015 was diminished by sharp losses in 2016, the Department of Workforce Solutions report said.

“Right now we have some skilled workers sitting on the sidelines,” Rhatigan says. “So if a company invests in New Mexico, there are workers here. But as those workers continue to leave, in 15 or 20 years we will have a shortage of young folks and there will be no incentive for employers to invest in New Mexico.”

What’s striking is how a consistently growing state has just completely crashed to population growth levels of states such as Rhode Island. Basically, New Mexico is becoming a state that caters to retirees and is populated by young people who have no other options other than getting out. There has never been a great economy in New Mexico and now there is nearly none. Instead of building up an economy based upon both public and private sector employers, Martinez and New Mexico Republicans have turned away from public employment while erasing what might get private employers to locate there. A microcosm of Republican governance nationwide.

How Western Industrial Interests Are Relying on Trump to Eviscerate Decades of Environmental Protections

[ 36 ] August 11, 2017 |

In the West, legal decisions to protect animals instead of allowing for the unregulated exploitation of the natural world continue to outrage already profitable industries. Never mind that the protection of these species is also tremendously profitable for other groups, bringing a ton of money into states such as Oregon and Idaho. That money isn’t going to the right people–timber, mining, and agricultural capitalists. That’s why they are rooting for the Trump administration, which on these issues is no worse than any Republican administration, to repeal those protections and allow for profit at the price of extinction, just as God intended.

A group that represents farmers is calling the costs of saving imperiled salmon in the largest river system in the Pacific Northwest unsustainable and is turning to the Trump administration to sidestep endangered species laws.

The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association wants the government to convene a Cabinet-level committee with the power to allow exemptions to the Endangered Species Act. Known as the “God squad” because its decisions can lead to extinctions of threatened wildlife, it has only gathered three times — the last 25 years ago during a controversy over spotted owl habitat in the Northwest.

The irrigators association is frustrated with court rulings it says favor fish over people, claiming the committee could end years of legal challenges over U.S. dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers and bring stability for irrigators, power generators and other businesses that rely on the water.

Environmental groups call the request a publicity stunt and say it could hurt fishing companies and others that rely on healthy runs of federally protected salmon and steelhead.

The association sees hope in a series of pro-industry environmental decisions by President Trump. His administration has rescinded an Obama-era rule that would shield many small streams and other bodies of water from pollution and development, enacted policies to increase coal mining on federal lands and proposed giving Western states greater flexibility to allow development in habitat of sage grouse, a threatened bird.

To be clear, these rulings do not favor “fish over people.” They favor fish and the people who live in the Northwest because of its beauty and its animals over another group of people–agribusiness. I don’t have to explain which people will count in this administration.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 125

[ 17 ] August 11, 2017 |

This is the grave of Robert Wagner, Jr.

Born in 1910 to the famed senator Robert Wagner, young Bob graduated from Yale in 1933 and Yale Law in 1937. He followed his father into the family business, being elected to the New York State Assembly in 1938. He served there until 1942, when he resigned to join the Army Air Corps. When he returned to New York after the war’s conclusion, instead of going back into the Assembly, he became heavily involved in municipal politics. Wagner became the City Tax Commissioner, Commissioner of Housing and Buildings, and Chairman of the City Planning Commission. In 1950, he became Manhattan’s Borough President. Of course Wagner wanted higher office. He then became New York’s mayor in 1953. This was a reform candidacy. Despite his family’s long and deep involvement in New York politics, New York City’s Democratic Party was still Tammany controlled. Tammany head Carmine DeSapio disliked Wagner. But Wagner won anyway, with a great deal of help from major liberals such as Eleanor Roosevelt. He governed as a liberal as well, doing much to integrate the city’s government. He founded City University of New York. Wagner, rightfully given his lineage, signed a law to allow the city’s public employees to collectively bargain contracts. He barred housing discrimination as well, although meaningful enforcement of that principle remains elusive to the present. He helped bring the Mets to New York after the Dodgers and Giants left. He was central to creating Shakespeare in the Park and the Lincoln Center. Certainly on a lot of issues he was wishy-washy and unions sometimes found him frustrating, but in the larger trajectory of mayors of major American cities, Wagner is certainly among the most important.

He ran for the Senate in 1956. But he lost to Jacob Javits by a 53-47 margin. Instead, he redoubled on being mayor, running successfully for reelection in 1957 and 1961. He remained a liberal and pushed forward his agenda, but also unfortunately had the prejudices of far too many of that era. Among them was homophobia and in the run-up to the 1964 World’s Fair, which he went far to produce, he ordered the closing of all the city’s gay bars so that New York, already a mecca for gay men particularly, would not have a bad reputation or bad media.

In 1965, Wagner decided to not run for a 4th term as mayor. Lyndon Johnson named him Ambassador to Spain in 1968, which he left after Nixon took office the next year. In 1969, he wanted to run for mayor again, but he lost the Democratic primary to Mario Procaccino, who got defeated by John Lindsay running on a Liberal ticket. Wagner toyed with running again in 1973, this time as a Republican, but did not. Jimmy Carter named him Ambassador to the Vatican in 1978. Wagner died in 1991 of bladder cancer. He was 80 years old.

Robert Wagner, Jr. is buried Calvary Cemetery, Queens, New York, next to his father’s grave.

When Our Technological Futurism Fetish Really Misses the Point

[ 49 ] August 11, 2017 |

The inability to think the below the surface sometimes really amazes me, but no more than in this article arguing that automation will solve the problem of modern slavery.

Modern-day slavery has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, putting regulatory and consumer pressure on companies to ensure their supply chains are free from forced labor, child workers and other forms of slavery.

Almost 21 million people are victims of forced labor, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), with migrant workers and indigenous people particularly vulnerable.

But Ranganathan said there are new digital ways to stamp out exploitation, given humans have failed to end modern slavery.

“The technology can filter over 1 million articles a day using forced labor specific key words and highlight potential areas of risk in a supply chain,” she said.

Ranganathan works for information technology services company SAP Ariba, which helps companies better manage their procurement processes.

She said a new program could map weak links in corporate supply chains by culling data from a host of sources, from surveillance cameras to non-profits and other agencies.

“Artificial intelligence and machine learning can use these huge volumes of data and extract meaningful information,” she said.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. But isn’t this really about making western consumers of these products feel good? Not a single mention here of the root causes of slavery. Not a single mention of what happens to these people when they are no longer forced labor. Moreover, not a single mention of how automation will also take the jobs of paid laborers or what will happen to those workers.

It does seem to me that discussions of work, including technological advancements that replace exploitative work, also have to take poverty seriously, working toward an understanding of WHY people end up in these situations and trying to alleviate that. Thinking hard about the relationship between poverty, work, and global capitalism in the developing world would be tremendously useful.

Or just write yet another article about how technology will save the day, primarily by reassuring consumers the goods they buy have no negative impact. I’m sure that will make all the difference in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The UAW and Mississippi

[ 43 ] August 10, 2017 |

As I’ve been traveling and largely out of internet range/interest, I have not been able to read everything on the overwhelming defeat of the United Auto Workers election to represent Nissan workers in its Mississippi plant. I had high hopes for this campaign because the workers are largely African-American and less inclined to unite with employers over racial and cultural issues such as happened in the VW plant in Chattanooga. But they only won about 1/3 of the workers. We could blame the UAW here in cliched pieces about how LABOR IS DOING IT WRONG and needs MORE SOCIALISM, such as this ridiculous Joe Allen summary that could have been written before the campaign even began. That essay shows no understanding of conditions on the ground or the organizing campaign or Nissan’s counter campaign. Instead, it’s just boilerplate leftist critique of labor that’s been around for decades. If we get at people who know what they are talking about, we see what really happened. Dominique Briggins is a good place to start, exploring the intense anti-union campaign from Nissan.

According to employee reports, and complaints from federal authorities, the auto giant threatened, coerced, and retaliated against those who supported joining in union. Nissan issued salacious claims that a union would lower wages, harm benefits, or even cost jobs. Managers screened anti-union videos on a continuous loop in plant breakrooms and pulled individuals into intimidating meetings to pressure them to vote against their own interest. The company even fired one person for wearing a pro-union T-shirt, while supervisors wore anti-union shirts to work.

Operating in a state scarred by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and the struggle for civil rights, Nissan has a shameful record of oppressing its predominantly African-American workforce and suppressing their votes. It’s no accident that the Canton plant is one of only three Nissan facilities in the world where the corporation resists working people negotiating over the terms of their work. During the most recent presidential election, managers told some employees they could not make any accommodations for them to vote if they were scheduled for 12-hour shifts that conflicted with voting hours.

The New York Times referred to the union election as “racially charged.” African Americans working for Nissan say the company rewarded white employees with promotions, and outside the plant, race baiters used propaganda to sway votes. White supremacist groups distributed a racist anti-union flyer urging people to vote against joining in union.

History is not lost on this moment. Yesterday marked the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. The federal government prohibited discrimination in voting a century after the abolishment of slavery. It tamped down on laws in southern states designed to suppress the civil rights of African Americans and the poor. Nissan depriving thousands of southern, Black Americans of their freedom to vote and take part in democracy is an affront to all those who devoted their lives in the fight for voting rights in this country.

Mike Elk has also been covering this on the ground in detail.

The fight at Canton has pitted union activists against those who see unionization as antithetical to growth in a poverty stricken state.

“If you want to take away your job, if you want to end manufacturing as we know it in Mississippi, just start expanding unions,” governor Phil Bryant said last week.

All over town, businesses put up signs saying “Our Team, Our Future, Vote No August 3-4”. Local TV featured a similar message. Many workers reported pressure from friends, neighbors and others to vote against the union, so the plant would not close.

Then one-on-one meetings started. Thousands of workers were forced to sit alone with bosses and describe how they felt about the union drive. In such meetings, workers were told of the threat a union would represent. They were told unionization would make the plant more rigid and would lead to many workers not being able to get favors from bosses when they needed time off.

They were repeatedly warned that a union would make the plant a place of conflict.

“You feel threatened, and it’s a real fear,” said Mock. “If you want a day off, you want to spend time with your family, or you are too sick, you have to call this person and explain the situation is. It’s like, ‘If I don’t do it, then I am going to be treated differently.’”

This issue of capital mobility is a hugely important one. Nissan openly threatened to move the factory if it was unionized. Many workers want a union. They also fear for their jobs. Canton, Mississippi is a poor place. Many of these workers have a high school education, if that. They have few other economic options. They are scared. This is not different than the first attempts to organize the auto plants in the early twentieth century, with the exception of the very real threat of capital mobility. It barely matters whether Nissan would actually move the factory because so many unionized plants have closed that everyone knows it’s a real threat.

One of the biggest problems we on the left face in creating a nation where economic justice prevails is the ability of corporations to move production whenever they want, including if a union forms in their plants. That might be moving it overseas, or it might be moving it to Alabama. But until we make union representation something that does not end when a plant closes, but rather follows the company around, the rights of working people will almost certainly continued to be eroded and workers will remain frightened of the consequences of voting for what most know would help them if the factory does not close.

Meanwhile, the union members, who demanded the UAW hold the vote, claim they will be back. I believe they will. They see this as a long campaign. So long as the UAW will continue to back them, I do expect we will see future elections and hopefully, the fears of workers to vote for union representation will be ameliorated.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 124

[ 92 ] August 10, 2017 |

This is the grave of Max Roach.

Born in 1924 in Newland, North Carolina, Roach’s family moved to Brooklyn in 1928. Roach became a musician from a very young age, his mother being a gospel singer. He took up the drums as his primary instrument and played professionally from the time he graduated from high school in 1942. He became one of the first jazz drummers to play in the bebop style and became the go-to drummer for the top bandleaders of the day, from Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie to Charlie Parker and Thelonius Monk. In 1952, Roach and Charles Mingus established Debut Records as an attempt to develop an independent label and avoid having to work with the major record companies. It folded soon after but made several key records in its short life, including the legendary Jazz at Massey Hall album, which was the last recorded show of Parker and Gillespie and which included both Roach and Mingus, as well as Bud Powell. He made many, many, many great albums in the 1950s and 1960s. Among them are the amazing We Insist!, with his then wife Abbey Lincoln, an album melding the innovative music of the day with the spirit and militancy of the civil rights movement. He continued trying to innovative the rest of his life, even embracing hip-hop in the 1980s and 1990s, playing concerts with Fab Five Freddy. Roach died in 2007.

Among the albums with bands led by Roach I would most recommend are 1960’s We Insist!, mentioned above, 1958’s Deeds Not Words, and 1961’s Percussion Bitter Sweet. The of course there is the Massey Hall album. I am sure that commenters will have more recommendations.

Max Roach is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

One Day in America

[ 270 ] August 9, 2017 |

I write from Helena, Montana, in a very brief return to civilization from days of camping and hiking in our nation’s most beautiful places, all of which are in the West, because let’s face it, everything in the eastern half of the nation is pretty lame, including what passes for the nice parts where people travel. Yes, I love being stuck in endless traffic to sit on mediocre Cape Cod or Outer Banks beaches with bazillions of other people, most of whom have annoying New England accents. At least there are lobster rolls in the former and BBQ in the latter. Anyway, I hope everyone in the nation’s humid zones is sweating accordingly; dry heat is a real thing.

A few days ago, I drove from Badlands National Park to Buffalo, Wyoming. What I saw on this day summed up much about this country.

Let’s start with the Badlands. This is an amazing place within an amazing system of national parks that helps define what is best about the United States. Enough said.

Or is it? Because the second place on the day’s adventures was a site just south of Badlands–Wounded Knee. Site of probably the most remembered of the hundreds of horrifying incidents in the genocidal campaign by the United States to exterminate Native Americans, Wounded Knee, on the Pine Ridge Reservation, itself a symbol of the long-lasting consequences of this genocide, there is a tremendous, shocking, and incredibly depressing power to this place. It’s even more depressing to me as a college professor who is trained the study of the U.S. West. That’s true because, first, college students will rush to take a Holocaust course but will avoid courses on Native American history or the history of the slavery like the plague. That’s especially true of politically conservative students, who can see the Holocaust as a per evil that the U.S. had only a positive effect on eventually ameliorating through defeating the Nazis and supporting Israel while studying Native Americans and slaves is PC history. Second, it’s depressing because even among many historians, race and its impact in this nation primarily means African-Americans and whites, often leaving stories about Native Americans, Asians, and Latinos to the backburner. Such is also the public discussion of race in the United States, with the conquest of Native Americans a historical inevitably that we shrug our shoulders at, all while also shrugging our shoulders at the suicide rates and unemployment on reservations.

Then I headed to the mother of American bizarreness–Mount Rushmore. What the hell is up with that place? Why did we need to blast the faces of our presidents into perfectly beautiful mountains? And why does this attract people today? Everyone loves it–liberals and conservatives. You know who really loves Mt. Rushmore? Bikers going to the Sturgis Rally with patches on their jackets reading things like “This is America. Speak English or Get the Fuck Out,” which I saw many of that day. That Mt. Rushmore is right smack dab in the middle of the land stolen from the Lakota after gold was discovered in the Black Hills made it extra special after visiting Wounded Knee.

After Mt. Rushmore, it was off through the wastelands of eastern Wyoming. There is one thing out there: fossil fuels. By total chance, we drove past the Thunder Basin coal mine, i.e., the largest strip mining operation in the United States. Let me tell you, it is large. I liked the road signs saying that if you see an orange cloud in front of you after an explosion, you should avoid it. Seems likely while driving down the highway.

Next, I took a detour to the site of Teapot Dome. The classic case of government oil corruption that sums up the terribleness of the Harding administration seemed particularly perfect for the Trump era.

Finally, I was at a really cool old bar in Buffalo, Wyoming, festooned with the dead animals of the American West. And a cheetah, an animal that will probably be extinct in the wild in 20 years. At least there was tasty beer and a surprisingly excellent singer.

All in all, it was a pretty perfect day for understanding the American experience: incredible beauty and the public ownership of that, genocide, grandiosity and ridiculousness, overt displays of exclusionary nationalism, climate change, ecological disaster, and corruption. Yay America!

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 123

[ 24 ] August 5, 2017 |

This is the grave of William Pinkney.

Born in 1764 in Annapolis, he became a lawyer in 1786. He started his political career by being a member of the convention that ratified the Constitution in Maryland. He allied with the Jeffersonians as the first party system developed. He was in a number of different positions over the years, never for very long. He was briefly a member of Congress two different times, neither for a full term. He was Attorney General for Maryland for a whole year. Yet he rose in the Democratic-Republicans. He, along with James Monroe, was sent to London to negotiate a new treaty with the British to stop the impressment of American sailors that would eventually lead to the War of 1812. That was in 1806 and 1807, but they only accomplished a very weak agreement and Thomas Jefferson rejected it. Yet Pinkney remained Minister to Britain from 1808 to 1811. He briefly returned to Maryland and was elected to the state Senate, but was quickly plucked by James Madison to be his Attorney General. He remained there until 1814, even as he joined the Army in the War of 1812 and was wounded in the Battle of Bladensburg. In 1817, James Monroe named him Minister to Russia, but he only served a year, another in a career of very short appointments and positions. Perhaps his biggest contribution came when he argued, along with Daniel Webster, the case of the Second Bank of the United States in McCulloch v. Maryland, in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the bank in 1819. This may seem an odd move for a Jeffersonian, but by 1819, many of the old politicians of that ilk, James Madison included, had moved away from the old anti-bank mentality. That same year, he became a senator from Maryland. He served in that position until his death in 1822.

William Pinkney is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 122

[ 50 ] August 4, 2017 |

This is the grave of William Brennan.

One of the key liberal jurists in Supreme Court history, Brennan was born in 1906 in Newark to Irish immigrants. His father did something extremely rare in the Irish-American community of that era–something so rare that only an Irishman becoming a cop or firefighter were more rare–he became heavily involved in the local Democratic political machine. Between 1927 and 1930, he served as the city’s Commissioner of Public Safety. William attended Penn and graduated in 1928, which is really impressive at that time for an immigrants’ kid. He went to Harvard Law and practiced labor law in New Jersey for several years. In 1942, he volunteered for the Army and was commissioned as a major, doing legal work for the ordinance divison. When he left in 1945, he was a colonel. He rose in the New Jersey court system rapidly after the war and was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1951.

In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower had a Supreme Court appointment to make when the less than legendary Sherman Minton retired. He chose Brennan. Are you thinking, wait, the son of an Irish immigrant in the early 20th century became a Republican? No, of course not. But Eisenhower wanted to win European ethnic votes in northeastern states in the election that fall and thought naming an Irish Democrat would help with that goal. Such relatively prosaic and short-term considerations would be absolutely impossible to imagine in a Supreme Court appointment today. And I don’t think Eisenhower really needed these votes, assuming they even materialized, against Adlai Stevenson. But there it was–a Republican had named a Democrat to the Supreme Court. Part of the reason was that Eisenhower’s advisors believed Brennan was a conservative at heart, especially on criminal injustice issues. They were wrong. Brennan was easily confirmed. There was only one Republican who voted against him–a very nice man named Joe McCarthy, who was angry that Brennan had opposed his witch hunts.

Brennan became a leading liberal on the Court immediately and remained so for the rest of his very long career. He was a close confidant of Earl Warren, who assigned him to write several key decisions. Under the Burger court and then especially in the Rehnquist court, he became more isolated and allied with Thurgood Marshall in many cases where they were the only 2 dissenting votes. Not only was Eisenhower’s advisors wrong that he was a criminal justice conservative, Brennan became noted for his strong support for the rights of the accused and the convicted. He abhorred the death penalty and ruled with the majority in Furman v. Georgia. Of course he did the same in Roe and many other cases. At the end of his career, he was actively supporting the constitutional right for flag burning. He attacked the growing idea of “originalism,” which we all know is self-justifying bullshit for right-wing extremism, in harsh terms, calling Ed Meese’s articulation of this “arrogance cloaked in humility.” That might be the nicest thing anyone ever said about Meese, who is a toad and still pollutes us with his pronouncements today.

Brennan finally retired from the Court in 1990. He died in 1997.

William Brennan is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish

[ 184 ] August 3, 2017 |

West Virginia governor Jim Justice, once a Republican, then an opportunistic “Democrat,” and now a Trumpist Republican, can go do anatomically impossible things to himself.

Mr. Justice said he would officially change his voter registration on Friday. “I will tell you with lots of prayers and lots of thinking, today I will tell you as West Virginians that I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor,” he said. He imagined his mother, who has passed away, saying, “Jimmy, it’s about damn time you came to your senses.”

The governor initially received some boos from members of the crowd who seemed uncertain why he was there. But they applauded his announcement, and he quickly wrapped his arms around the president. “This man is a good man. He’s got a backbone, he’s got real ideas. He cares about us in West Virginia,” Mr. Justice said of Mr. Trump. He defended the president over the Russia investigation, saying, “Have we not heard enough about the Russians?”

After the announcement, Mr. Trump praised the governor: “Having Big Jim as a Republican is such an honor,” he said. “Fantastic man, fantastic guy.”

Say this for Joe Manchin–he will never, ever, ever do this. Moreover, for all that Manchin can suck on some issues, not only is he as good as it gets in the West Virginia cesspool of racism, but has he ever provided the critical vote that defeated a potentially good bill or passed a bad one?

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