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Dead Horses in American History (IV)

[ 61 ] February 8, 2014 |

Man sitting on dead horse, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, 1880

Sochi in History

[ 29 ] February 8, 2014 |

I suppose there aren’t a whole lot of places in Russia where horrible things haven’t happened. But still:

History has largely been kind to Alexander II, the Russian czar who freed the serfs in 1861, just two years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (the two world leaders even corresponded about their plans.)Modern historians refer to him as the “Czar-Liberator” and compare him to Mikhail Gorbachev for his willingness to engage with the West and reform Russia.

But on the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics being held in Sochi and the surrounding areas, it’s helpful to look back and remember that 600,000 locals died from starvation, exposure, drowning and massacres in a concerted campaign by the Russian Empire to expel the Circassian people, as they were called, from the region. The Circassians and the other inhabitants of the Caucasus region did not fit into the Czar’s reform program, because he viewed them as an inherent risk to the security of Russia’s southern frontier and the nation is still coming to terms with the consequences of the czar’s expulsion of the Circassian people today.

The czar’s approval of this rapid expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Circassians to the Ottoman Empire resulted in an ethnic cleansing through disease and drowning as overcrowded ferries crossed the Black Sea. The Ottomans were unprepared for the influx of refugees, and the absence of adequate shelter caused even more deaths from exposure. Those Circassians who attempted to remain in the Russian Empire and fight for their land were massacred. Sochi’s “Red Hill,” where the skiing and snowboarding events will take place during these Olympic Games, was the site of the Circassian last stand, where the Imperial Russian armies celebrated their “victory” over the local defenders.

Really, this is like holding the Olympics on the site of Wounded Knee.

Dead Horses in American History (III)

[ 37 ] February 7, 2014 |

“Horse-Meat ‘Worms’ Fool Frogs,” Popular Science, 1940

Republican Gods

[ 37 ] February 7, 2014 |

The only quibble I have with Waldman’s essay is that he doesn’t put the Republican deification of corporate heads in historical context. Republicans have ALWAYS deified business owners. During the mid-twentieth century they had to mask that rhetoric by talking about respect for organized labor and such, but that was always a sham only forced upon them by political realities. Today, the remnants of hiding their deification of plutocrats is by talking about “small business owners,” but again, this is a dodge for political reasons. Whether in 1865, 1915, 1975, or 2014, Republicans have always considered the whims of corporate leaders as far more important than people eating or having shelter.

Ambassadors

[ 89 ] February 7, 2014 |

I know that ambassadorships to comfortable nations of low to middling strategic importance have been used to reward friends of presidents for a long time, but it would be nice if the appointees had marginal knowledge of the nation of appointment. Or you know, had been there before.

I mean, does the fact that Norway feels insulted matter on a geopolitical level? No, not really. But it does reinforce stereotypes of Americans being insensitive clods who know nothing of the world.

Pregnant Worker Rights

[ 76 ] February 7, 2014 |

Good news for working women who become pregnant:

While New Jersey and New York City were the latest to pass workplace protections for pregnant workers, a new state has taken up the cause: West Virginia.

The state has long been mostly purple, but has’t voted for a Democratic president since 1996. Yet now it’s embracing a new requirement for its employers championed by progressives. Its Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers unless there is undue hardship, unanimously passed the House on Wednesday.

While there are some existing federal protections for pregnant workers, they can still suffer financial hardship or even health problems when employers refuse to accommodate them. One West Virginia worker, who wished to remain anonymous because she is still employed, found out the hard way when her employer in the chemical industry put her on unpaid leave when she showed a doctor’s note that she couldn’t work with a particular chemical. Her story had a positive outcome: after she hired a lawyer, the company came to the table and they came to an agreement. But as Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV Free, one of the organizations helping to propel the bill forward, told ThinkProgress, “This law will address those problems without having to have the resources to get a lawyer.”

Democrats need to push a federal bill on pregnant workers’ rights. It will either force Republicans to do something positive for workers and pass the bill or expose another front in their war on women. It’s both the right thing to do and good politics. A bill was introduced last May but hasn’t gone anywhere. Let’s hope that changes.

Next, Shaming People in the Stocks

[ 59 ] February 7, 2014 |

Debtors prison still exists, just under a different name of “not paying court costs.” Luckily, the ACLU is fighting this.

Today in Historical American Racial Atrocities

[ 181 ] February 7, 2014 |

The always useful Executed Today reminds us of another lovely event in American history:

On this date in 1902, two African-American U.S. Army privates were hanged before a crowd of 3,000 at Guinobatan, Philippines for deserting to the anti-occupation insurgency.

The 7,000 black soldiers deployed to put down Philippine national resistance against the American occupation faced an obvious conundrum: they were second-class citizens back home, fighting a savage war to keep Filipinos second-class citizens abroad.

Men in such situations have been known to square that circle by going over to join their fellow downtrodden.

Edmond† Dubose and Lewis Russell, whose firsthand voice we do not have, must have felt those unreconciled strivings, too. These two enlisted men slipped out of the 9th Cavalry‡ in August 1901 while that regiment was conducting anti-insurgency operations in Albay, and were next seen fighting with those same insurgents.

Captured, they were among approximately 20 U.S. soldiers death-sentenced for desertion.

General Adna Chaffee, a veteran of the U.S. Indian Wars and latterly fresh from crushing China’s Boxer Rebellion, approved the hangings — as did the U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt. (Roosevelt later announced that future desertion cases would not be capitally punished, so Dubose and Russell were the only two executed for that crime during the U.S. war against Philippine independence.)

So nice of TR to make that pronouncement after the black men were killed.

I would show a photo of this as well. But I don’t have one.

Dead Horses in American History (II)

[ 111 ] February 6, 2014 |

Dead horses after Battle of Gettysburg, 1863

The Wages of Coal

[ 35 ] February 6, 2014 |

Plumer has a good summary of one of the nation’s most underreported energy/environmental problems–coal ash storage. Storing this nasty stuff safely is a real problem. Environmentalists have pushed for new regulations, but the Obama Administration has moved very slowly. What’s the risk of coal ash?

One big worry is a sudden catastrophic spill like the one that happened in Tennessee. But there’s also the risk that ash could contaminate the water or air on a smaller scale, too. Coal ash often contains a variety of toxic elements like selenium, mercury, and lead — although the precise amounts vary. These heavy metals can pose health risks to humans and wildlife.

The big spills are somewhat rarer, with the 2008 Kingston disaster in Tennessee being the biggest to date. But it’s not impossible: The EPA has identified 45 wet ash ponds around the country that are “high hazard” — that is, if the encasing broke, it could lead to a loss of human life. (It would be as if a massive dam broke.) Two of those high-hazard ponds are located at Duke Energy’s Dan River site in North Carolina.

The risk of smaller contamination is also worth noting. In its 2010 proposed rule, the EPA identified a variety of ways this could threaten human health: If the coal ash was deposited in an unlined landfill or sand pit or quarry, some of those toxic elements could leach into the groundwater or migrate off-site. Or liquid waste could leak into surface water during a flood. Or dust from dry ash could become airborne.

The environmental group Earthjustice has found 207 sites in 37 states where coal ash has contaminated the water or air in violation of federal health standards. For example: Out in Prince George’s County Maryland, millions of tons of coal ash from a landfill leaked into a nearby creek after two recent hurricanes. Out in Nevada, the Moapa River Reservation has alleged that dry coal ash was frequently blowing into their communities from uncovered dumps, leading to a rash of illnesses.

Not surprisingly, the facilities where this stuff is stored tends to be in impoverished areas and so whether in big or small accidents, the poor are the one paying the wages of coal production. This is very much an environmental justice issue, as much as it is an energy policy issue.

AFL-CIO Coming Out for Keystone

[ 109 ] February 6, 2014 |

For quite awhile, the AFL-CIO has tried to tread a middle ground on fossil fuel development. Understanding that its constituent unions had differing feelings on the issue and finding itself between the knowledge that it desperately needs alliances with other progressive organizations in order to remain a politically potent force on one hand with the demand for immediate jobs on the other, it tried to remain relatively neutral on the Keystone XL Pipeline and other issues.

That neutrality seems to be slipping as Richard Trumka has recently started supporting the pipeline and other fossil fuel projects.

The nation’s leading environmental groups are digging their heels in the sand by rejecting President Obama’s “all-of-the above” domestic energy strategy—which calls for pursuing renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but simultaneously expanding oil and gas production.

But it appears the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, won’t be taking environmentalists’ side in this fight, despite moves toward labor-environmentalist cooperation in recent years. On a recent conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka endorsed two initiatives reviled by green groups: the Keystone XL pipeline and new natural gas export terminals.

“There’s no environmental reason that [the pipeline] can’t be done safely while at the same time creating jobs,” said Trumka.

In response to a question from In These Times, Trumka also spoke in favor of boosting exports of natural gas.

“Increasing the energy supply in the country is an important thing for us to be looking at,” Trumka said. “All facets of it ought to be up on the table and ought to be talked about. If we have the ability to export natural gas without increasing the price or disadvantaging American industry in the process, then we should carefully consider that and adopt policies to allow it to happen and help, because God only knows we do need help with our trade balance.”

The call came amidst a series of three speeches by the AFL-CIO leader pushing for more investment in energy and transportation infrastructure. Trumka did not specifically praise Keystone and natural gas exports during the first speech, at the UN Investor Summit on Climate Risk on January 15, and it is unclear whether he will in the remaining two. But the labor leader’s comments on the conference call were enough to peeve environmentalists.

I understand the need for jobs. But the AFL-CIO is just wrong here. Yes, members need jobs. And if the pipeline is going to be built anyway, then they should be union jobs. But there is also some moral component to the jobs that we create and actively supporting the jobs that are contributing to catastrophic climate change is not something the federation should be doing.

I’m sure that no small part of this is that unions like the Laborers who have most actively supported the pipeline are a lot more powerful than the opposing unions and they care more about it. So no doubt Trumka is feeling the pressure internally. But this just reinforces the belief that basically every other progressive organization in the country has toward American unionism–out of touch, inclined toward political reaction, clannish, and old-fashioned. Now, maybe unions shouldn’t care what anyone else thinks. Certainly that’s been the position of many of the building trades going back to their creation. But labor should also stop wondering why other progressive movements don’t take it seriously.

Lynched Black Women

[ 161 ] February 6, 2014 |

Laura Nelson

Black History Month isn’t just about MLK and the civil rights movement. It’s about remembering the horrible things that white people did to black people through American history. Here’s a good post detailing the lynching of black women. Some examples for your Thursday:

Laura Nelson
Laura Nelson was lynched on May 23, 1911 In Okemah, Okluskee, Oklahoma. Her fifteen year old son was also lynched at the same time but I could not find a photo of her son. The photograph of Nelson was drawn from a postcard. Authorities accused her of killing a deputy sheriff who supposedly stumbled on some stolen goods in her house. Why they lynched her child is a mystery. The mob raped and dragged Nelson six miles to the Canadian River and hanged her from a bridge.(NAACP: One Hundred Years of Lynching in the US 1889-1918 )

Ann Barksdale or Ann Bostwick
The lynchers maintained that Ann Barksdale or Ann Bostwlck killed her female employer in Pinehurst, Georgia on June 24, 1912. Nobody knows if or why Barksdale or Bostick killed her employer because there was no trial and no one thought to take a statement from this Black woman who authorities claimed had ”violent fits of insanity” and should have been placed in a hospital. Nobody was arrested and the crowd was In a festive mood. Placed in a car with a rope around her neck, and the other end tied to a tree limb, the lynchers drove at high speed and she was strangled to death. For good measure the mob shot her eyes out and shot enough bullets Into her body that she was “cut in two.”

Marie Scott
March 31, 1914, a white mob of at least a dozen males, yanked seventeen year-old Marie Scott from jail, threw a rope over her head as she screamed and hanged her from a telephone pole in Wagoner County, Oklahoma. What happened? Two drunken white men barged Into her house as she was dressing. They locked themselves in her room and criminally “assaulted” her. Her brother apparently heard her screams for help, kicked down the door, killed one assailant and fled. Some accounts state that the assailant was stabbed. Frustrated by their inability to lynch Marie Scott’s brother the mob lynched Marie Scott. (Crisis 1914 and 100 Years of Lynching)

I could go on.

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