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Birmingham

[ 120 ] August 22, 2015 |

Birmingham, Alabama is 73 percent African-American and of course a history of some of the nation’s most notorious racial violence. The Birmingham News now has 0 black reporters.

Trump and Wallace

[ 79 ] August 22, 2015 |

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Who do you think Donald Trump reminds Alabama voters of?

“Donald Trump is telling the truth and people don’t always like that,” said Donald Kidd, a 73-year-old retired pipe welder from Mobile. “He is like George Wallace, he told the truth. It is the same thing.”

That’s really what we are dealing with here–the early 21st century version of George Wallace. Trump has about the same chance of entering the White House as Wallace too but both also represent the phenomena of race resentment and fear of non-whites.

Strange Hellos

[ 0 ] August 21, 2015 |

A Friday evening link to one of my very favorite songs of 2015.

Suing the EPA over the Gulf Dead Zone

[ 5 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Good on the Gulf Restoration Network for suing the Environmental Protection Agency for not doing its job to regulate the fertilizers and other chemicals that have created the huge biological dead zone where the Mississippi River flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone knows this is a major problem but the power of agribusiness provides a lot of incentive for the government to not crack down. This is much like how greens had to sue the U.S. Forest Service for not protecting northern spotted owl habitat under the Endangered Species Act because the agency was operating as a tool of the timber industry. If the government isn’t actually going to protect the environment, lawsuits have proven a good way for environmentalists to make change. It’s not quite as clear of a case here as it was with the spotted owl, but it’s probably the only way to actually get the government to take the problem seriously.

It’s not an easy problem for sure. But while I really respect Obama’s executive orders on coal and climate change as a good start, it would be nice if he took these agricultural issues a bit more seriously than he has through his entire administration.

Children and Immigration in the 19th Century

[ 32 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Above: the ancestors of today’s anti-immigrant Republicans.

As this nation is going through one of its occasional freakouts about immigrants, it’s worth looking at how the nation has dealt with immigrants in the past. Specifically, how did the nation start dealing with American born children of people it wanted to deport? Hidetaka Hirota:

Upon the inspection, the Collector of Customs at the port of New York found that Nellie was “in destitute circumstances.” He then decided to detain Nellie and her children at an immigrant hospital on Ward’s Island on the East River as paupers who would be sent back to Scotland under the federal Immigration Act of 1882.

Nellie Wilkie could have been a simple addition to the list of excluded foreigners, but her American-born child made her case complicated. While denying Nellie and her children admission for the moment, the customs officer was not entirely certain if he could prohibit a native-born American citizen from landing in the United States and send the child to a foreign country. Nellie was an alien pauper who could lawfully be returned to Scotland, but could a citizen of the United States be banished with the immigrant mother? Realizing that the matter belonged to higher authority, the customs officer requested instructions from the Department of the Treasury, which was then charged with supervising issues of immigration to the United States.

In response, the Treasury Department reached a remarkable decision for Nellie Wilkie. In the first place, a native-born citizen could not be sent out of the country. If Nellie had to go back, her exclusion could be done only by “separating it [the citizen child] from its guardian by nature.” But it was not “the intention of Congress to sever the sacred ties existing between parent and child, or forcibly banish and expatriate a native-born child for the reason that its parent is a pauper.” Accordingly, the Treasury Department instructed the customs collector to admit Nellie and her children.

The case of Nellie Wilkie was not a one-time exception. A year later, the Treasury Department opposed the possible deportation of two Irish immigrant women on the grounds that they had native-born children who were “American citizens, under the natural guardianship of their mothers.” Considerations of the deportability of immigrant mothers, the department decided, “cannot affect the rights of their children since born on American soil and under the jurisdiction and protection of the United States.”

This and so many other cases also make me want to shake all the people today of Irish and Italian and Polish descent who are so worried about non-white immigrants and supporting Donald Trump. What about when your great-grandmother was the anchor baby?

The Wages of Trump

[ 201 ] August 21, 2015 |

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Donald Trump is so ridiculous and so destroying Republican chances to win in 2016, I’m almost convinced he’s some sort of Democratic plant produced by the most brilliant political strategists ever, people even Richard Nixon would bow to in their superiority for screwing over the other side. So it’s almost funny, right?

No, because the wages of Trump are real and they are felt in the bodies of those Trump inspires people to hate.

Police in Boston say that one of two brothers who allegedly beat a homeless Hispanic man cited Trump’s message on immigration as a motivation for their attack. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported,” Scott Leader, 38, told officers, according to a police report cited by The Boston Globe.

Leader and his brother, Steve, were arrested and charged with multiple assault charges after police said they urinated on and then assaulted a 58-year-old homeless man they found sleeping outside a T-station as they walked home from a Red Sox game. They allegedly beat him with a metal pole, breaking his nose and causing other injuries. According to the Globe, Scott Leader told police it was OK to assault the man because he was Hispanic and homeless. Both men, who have extensive criminal records, pleaded not guilty and said the homeless man started the confrontation.

We can expect to see more of this anti-immigrant violence from random people. But since terrorism is never caused by conservative whites, it’s not a systemic issue in the media.

Wolves in California!

[ 129 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Cue the right wing freakout in California that the wolves are going to eat our children.*

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has photographic evidence of five gray wolf pups and two adults in Northern California.

After trail cameras recorded a lone canid in May and July, CDFW deployed additional cameras, one of which took multiple photos showing five pups, which appear to be a few months old and others showing individual adults. Because of the proximity to the original camera locations, it is likely the adult previously photographed in May and July is associated with the group of pups.

“This news is exciting for California,” said Charlton H. Bonham, CDFW Director. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state and it appears now is the time.”

Big wildlife news. A wolf a few years ago was the first to cross into western Oregon and then into northern California since they were extirpated. That wolf has now been joined by a female and a pack has established itself in southwestern Oregon. Now California joins the ranks of states that again has wolves.

*I was at a conference on wolves at New Mexico State University in around 2005 and a woman from a ranching family actually claimed this would happen and we’d be sorry for supporting wolves. And yes that image is real.

Ban Private Drones

[ 185 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Will it take a plane crash that kills 200 people to lead to a crackdown against privately owned drones? Or are drones the new gun, with their use “personal freedom” no matter what the cost?

At 8:51 a.m., a white drone startled the pilot of a JetBlue flight, appearing off its left wing moments before it landed at Los Angeles International Airport. Five hours later, a quadcopter whizzed underneath an Allegiant Air flight as it approached the same runway. Elsewhere in California, pilots of light aircraft reported narrowly dodging drones in San Jose and La Verne.

In Washington, a Cessna pilot reported a drone cruising at 1,500 feet in highly restricted airspace over the nation’s capital, forcing the U.S. military to scramble fighter jets as a precaution. In Louisville, a silver-and-white drone almost collided with a training aircraft. In Chicago, United Airlines Flight 970 reported seeing a drone pass by at an altitude of 3,500 feet.

All told, 12 episodes were recorded Sunday of small drones interfering with airplanes or coming too close to airports, including other incidents in New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina, according to previously undisclosed reports filed with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.

That was Sunday. It’s only a matter of time, and not a very long amount of time, before these private drones lead to a real tragedy. They are too big of a public safety hazard for people to own as toys, hazards that will only become more extreme as the technology improves. And while you could say that they should just be banned from areas around airports, remember that aircraft flies a lot of places and these drones could take a down a fire fighting plane or a news helicopter easily.

And in case anyone wants to hear a scary story, when I flew back to Austin after defending my dissertation, my plane struck a flock of geese. It was just like the Hudson except no river to land in. We made an emergency landing in Albuquerque. A couple of birds killed an engine and put a hole in the wing. It doesn’t take much at those speeds to kill people.

Duggar and Cheater Shaming

[ 34 ] August 20, 2015 |

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I pretty much agree with everything about Amanda Marcotte’s discussion of the Ashley Madison hack and Josh Duggar. Like her, I felt really icky about the whole thing since, while it’s not easy to feel bad for people who cheat on their partners, why should this be public information? It should not. On the other hand, there’s Josh Duggar and for him, it’s totally different.

But cheating is about violating a deeply personal agreement between two people. If the person you’re with doesn’t care if you sleep with other people, it’s not cheating. It’s all about an agreement that you decide between yourselves, and like all such agreements, the only people who should care what you do are people who your behavior directly affects. It’s not the business of the world at large.

Unless you’re Josh Duggar, of course. Or anyone else who fights publicly to use government interference to mess with the private sexual choices of consenting adults. If you fight for the government to limit or ban gay people’s marriages or women’s reproductive choices, then your sex life is our business. If only there were a way to do a targeted search of Ashley Madison data for that, while leaving everyone else alone.

Margaret Sanger, Eugenics, and Abortion

[ 70 ] August 20, 2015 |

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Imani Gandy has a very useful run down of Margaret Sanger’s complicated racial, sexual, and medical politics, politics that the right are simplifying and lying about in order to attack Planned Parenthood as a scheme to eliminate black people through abortion. It’s long but allow me to just quote a couple of choice parts:

It is true that Sanger was a proponent of eugenics, and pro-choice advocates do themselves no favors by attempting to whitewash this fact and paint Sanger as some infallible feminist hero. Sanger was passionate about contraception—perhaps to a fault—and her fervor about promoting her birth control agenda led her to align herself with eugenicists, along with racists and an assortment of people of questionable character.

But it is simply untrue that Margaret Sanger wanted to exterminate the Black race. This is a flat-out lie. Yet it is one that is repeated ad nauseum, both by anti-choice activists and the politicians who support them, most recently Ben Carson.

In propagating this lie, anti-choicers infantilize Black women and strip them of their agency: They portray Margaret Sanger’s birth control agenda as something that was done to Black women, rather than something in which Black women and much of the Black community as a whole enthusiastically participated.

W. E. B. Du Bois, who was one of the first Black leaders to publicly support birth control and who worked closely with Sanger to advocate for it, even serving on the board of a clinic that Sanger opened up in Harlem, criticized the wider birth control movement because of its failure to address Black people’s needs as well.

It was this failure that gave birth to the sinister-sounding Negro Project.

Due to segregation policies in the South, the birth control clinics that opened in the 1930s were for white women only. Sanger wanted to change that. She sought to open clinics in the South staffed by Black doctors and nurses, and to educate Black women about contraception. In 1939, after she had been named honorary chairman of the board of Birth Control Federation of America (the precursor to Planned Parenthood), Sanger launched the Negro Project. The Federation’s Division of Negro Services, a national advisory council, which included prominent Black leaders like Du Bois, Mary McLeod Bethune, E. Franklin Frazier, Walter White, and Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, worked to manage the Negro Project.

The Negro Project had nothing to do with some nefarious plot to exterminate Black people or to “sterilize unknowing Black women,” as claimed by BlackGenocide.org—which is a widely read website seemingly dedicated to spreading false information about Margaret Sanger and Planned Parenthood. Rather, the Negro Project was a concerted effort by Sanger and Black community leaders to bring birth control to the South in a way that would assuage the deep-seated fears of Black birth control opponents like Marcus Garvey, who believed that the use of birth control in the Black community was tantamount to Black genocide.

….

Yes, she believed that the “reckless breeding” of the “feebleminded” was “the greatest biological menace to the future of civilization.” Yes, she believed that Americans were “paying for and even submitting to the dictates of an ever-increasing, unceasingly spawning class of human beings who never should have been born at all.” Yes she believed that “morons” should be forcibly sterilized to ensure that they could not breed. She also believed that these “morons” could not be trusted to properly use birth control. Frankly, Sanger was far more ableist than she was racist.

But she was also a product of her time. The terms “moron,” “imbecile,” and “idiot” were all medical classifications back then. And eugenics—the theory that intelligence and other traits are genetically predetermined—was very popular at the turn of the century. The concern that “inferior stock” was reproducing at a faster rate than “superior stock,” was widespread. Inferior stock included anyone not viewed as a descendant of good breeding: Black people, immigrants, mentally and physically disabled people, the poor, criminals, and the “feebleminded.”

It may seem bizarre and Orwellian to us now, but that was the United States in which Sanger lived. And given the enthusiasm with which ordinary Americans embraced eugenics, it is no surprise that Sanger eventually joined up with them.

Sanger didn’t begin her campaign for birth control as a eugenicist, though. She started out as a relatively hardcore feminist. She believed that women had the right to sexual gratification and the right to choose when to become mothers.

“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.” Those are Sanger’s own words.

But feminists at the time disapproved of Sanger’s insistence on women’s rights to sexual gratification. They largely believed that Sanger’s views were unchaste and immoral, and that a woman’s place was in the home, serving her husband and being virtuous. (Not unlike many anti-choicers today who believe that if you are unwilling to deal with an unplanned pregnancy, or as they like to call it “the consequences of sex,” then you should just abstain—forever, if necessary.)

In other words, all of this is extraordinarily complicated. Yes, there were black eugenicists. Yes, eugenics was widespread throughout basically all of American elite society during the early 20th century. Yes, that meant that scientific racism was popular and was shared by Sanger. No, it does not mean that Sanger was looking to exterminate the black race. No, it does not mean that Planned Parenthood is racist today. Yes, it means that history is really complex. No, it does not mean that conservatives will have any interest in telling the truth about this complexity.

This Day in Labor History: August 20, 1866

[ 8 ] August 20, 2015 |

On August 20, 1866, the National Labor Union, the first labor union federation in U.S. history, demanded Congress implement a national 8-hour day. It led to a partial and fleeting success, but the NLU story is an important moment in American labor history as it represents an early response to the onslaught of capitalism upon workers who suddenly found a class-based system developing in what was promised to be a white man’s democracy.

The trade union movement had roots early in American history but had never really taken off, in part because the system of American employment was still in the pre-Civil War years by and large artisan and farmer based. Where you did see large concentrations of industry, unions formed such as in the Lowell mills. But the nation was changing rapidly in 1866. The capitalist revolution of the Civil War was beginning to be felt by workers. Factories were growing and money was increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. Long hours, low pay, and dangerous working conditions in factories, railroad yards, and mines were becoming part of the everyday experience for workers.

Unions began to develop in these industries, but there was no national federation to organize and guide them. That’s what the National Labor Union intended to do. Founded at a Baltimore conference in 1866, it was a precursor to the Knights of Labor and American Federation of Labor. It wanted to bring together all of the current unions in its umbrella and take a political and bargaining approach to solving problems, as opposed to striking which was quite controversial even among workers at this time. It favored arbitration as its preferred labor action. It also wanted a Labor Party to challenge both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The NLU’s leader William Sylvis was an interesting individual. In 1846, at the age of 18, Sylvis became an iron molder, which was someone who poured hot slag into wooden patterns to shape the final product. This was hard, tough, dangerous work. He soon became active in Philadelphia’s union movement and was elected secretary of his local in 1857. In 1859, Sylvis called for a convention of all the iron moulders locals around the nation. He was elected president of what became the National Union of Iron Molders. He spent the Civil War building the union where he instituted a number of innovations, including creating the first ever national strike fund, through mandatory dues payments by members. Sylvis was also a major supporter of unions of female workers, particularly Kate Mullaney’s Collar Laundry Union. Sylvis would later invite Mullaney into a leadership role within the NLU, making her the nation’s first female union executive.

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William Sylvis

The NLU did invite all workers, including farmers into the organization. But as would be the case with the AFL, its core membership was the skilled building trades. Also like the rest of the labor movement of the time, the NLU held white supremacy as a central guiding point. It was segregated and while there was a black chapter, it was ineffective and small. Sylvis actually opposed this segregation; although he supported Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election, he believed that all workers had the same issues and would have preferred one integrated organization. It took years of fighting recalcitrant unionists to even allowed the Colored National Labor Union to exist alongside the NLU. The federation also called for the exclusion of Chinese workers from the United States, which would eventually be the first legislative victory for the American labor movement in history.

The major legislative aim for the NLU was the passage of the 8-hour day. As capitalism developed, the 8-hour day would become the ultimate goal for much of the American labor movement. It was the call to arms for the Knights of Labor in the 1880s, so much so that the Knights basically lost control of its exploding membership by 1886. Union after union would call for this over the next decades and it was not achieved nationally until the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, and even then only partially.

Amazingly the NLU actually achieved an early victory on the 8-hour day when in 1868, the government created the 8-hour day for federal employees. But this was a very limited win as most of the government agencies then reduced wages to go along with it, which was very much not what the NLU wanted. When President Grant ordered departments to stop reducing wages, most just ignored him and he did not press the issue. Ultimately, little concrete benefit came of the 8-hour day announcement.

Frustrations with the federal employee 8-hour day and loopholes in laws in New York and California that made similar statues unworkable combined with the growing concern in the post-Civil War period about monetary policy to turn the NLU in a starkly political direction. It focused its energy on electoral politics and monetary reform, specifically the issuance of greenbacks, as well as providing public land for settlers as opposed to the huge land grants given to railroads as an incentive to build transcontinental lines. This did not exactly excite workers. Many locals believed in “pure and simple unionism” that kept workers out of politics. Thus the NLU became increasingly divided as it prioritized politics over workers’ concerns. While Sylvis claimed the NLU had 600,000 members, he was exaggerating significantly. At its peak, it might have had 300,000. That number declined as the 1860s became the 1870s. Sylvis dying in 1869 at the age of 41 helped speed the decline as the federation lost its guiding light. The NLU dissolved in 1874 after its membership plummeted in the Panic of 1873.

So ultimately, we should see Sylvis and the NLU as an important ancestor of both the Knights of Labor and the AFL. The NLU was an early attempt for workers to collectively find ways out of the inequality arising during and after the Civil War and for all its limitations, was probably more successful than any other organization before the AFL.

This is the 155th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Upcoming Out of Sight Events!

[ 35 ] August 18, 2015 |

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Two upcoming Out of Sight events for you all
.

First, my Brooklyn book talk with Sarah Jaffe will be aired on CSPAN2 at 7:45 pm Sunday evening. I warn you, I gesticulate a lot. Don’t get too close to your television set. If you don’t have cable, it should be on the CSPAN BookTV website after it airs. Plus now Lemieux can’t brag anymore that he was the only LGM writer on America’s most popular network.

Second, all you Yinzers out there should be coming out to see me next Wednesday afternoon. That’s right, I am visiting exciting Pittsburgh, where I am giving a talk at Big Idea Books at 1:30 pm. Weird time I know. But who in western Pennsylvania has jobs anymore anyway thanks to our good friend capital mobility? So come on out!

Third, and this is a ways off, but I will be appearing in Cambridge at Porter Square Books on Tuesday, October 6 with the one and only Laura Clawson from Daily Kos interviewing me. All you Massholes and whatever they call people from southern New Hampshire should be there.

Fourth, I will be giving a public lecture at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York on November 10. So if you are in the Hudson Valley, mark your calendars for an evening of fun happy times about joyful events going on in the world today. And perhaps a random dead horse reference.

Please note my east coast friends that I am basically willing to go anywhere I can drive to do an event if you can help me set up a venue.

Also, if any readers want to write a review of the book on Amazon, I would appreciate it. That stuff helps move a few copies. The press told me they are pretty happy with the sales but there’s only 3 reviews there which could be better.

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