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How “Class Not Race” Becomes Normalized

[ 424 ] March 7, 2017 |


I agree with nearly every point of this Cathy Kunkel piece in Jacobin about the decline of the Democratic Party in West Virginia. Kunkel is a West Virginia energy activist and has great knowledge about what is going on there. She details the disturbing collapse of the Democratic in West Virginia. She traces the close history between the Democrats and the coal miners, in particular the United Mine Workers of America (although she oddly doesn’t discuss the union by name). She rightfully notes the complete lack of a Democratic Party job plan for dislocated coal miners. She correctly discusses the lack of an economic diversification plan for the state, although to be fair, no one has one because there really isn’t any good alternatives. She notes that the Party has been too close to the coal industry at the state level. And she states that Bernie Sanders was a lot more popular among West Virginia Democrats than Hillary Clinton, winning every county in the state. I certainly do not disagree with her that Democrats running as economic populists in West Virginia might do a lot to rejuvenate the party at the state level. Certainly what the party is doing now isn’t working, even if it might mean that Joe Manchin and Jim Justice can still win there and even though I don’t think there’s much evidence that running away from the coal industry is going to suddenly attract the West Virginia masses to liberalism. Certainly, the fact that Sanders was more popular than Clinton in West Virginia does not then mean he would win the state in the general election. That’s not real tight reasoning. Whatever.

But this article has a huge yawning chasm and that is race. Kunkel literally does not mention race once in this article except a passing reference in the middle of one paragraph. That is amazing too me and it is indicative of an all-too common problem at Jacobin. You simply cannot understand the decline of the Democratic Party in West Virginia without placing race right smack dab in the center of your analysis. West Virginia is a state where open racism is largely accepted. In 2012, a convicted felon won 41 percent of Democratic primary vote. That was not because Barack Obama is too close to the coal companies. It was because of a combination of Obama being seen as pro-environmentalist and Obama being black. This was well-established at the time and nothing in the succeeding 5 years has led to any meaningful revision of these conclusions. He lost to Hillary Clinton by 41 percent in 2008. Why? Because he is black.

And yet Jacobin is fine publishing articles that completely erase race from the equation. Moreover, it isn’t just race–it’s homophobia, it’s misogyny, it’s Islamophobia, it’s environmentalism. West Virginia voters rejected Hillary Clinton and are turning hard right for a number of reasons. Some are those that Kunkel correctly enunciates. But some are racial, religious, anti-environmental. We simply cannot understand the decline of the Democratic Party in West Virginia without looking at racial divisions, Christian supremacism, anti-abortion politics, as well as the indifference of Democratic Party elites to the white working class in that state. All of these factors are important.

To be clear, people, as we too often see in the comments of this blog, that are Race Not Class are just as useless as Class Not Race people. Issues are complex and multi-faceted, including the election of Donald Trump. We need to understand clusters of issues, not try to isolate the reasons for Democratic Party failures to blame a bad candidate, to deny the impact of neoliberalism upon working-class communities because liberals don’t want to take responsibility for the collapse of working-class security and the return of virulent racism, or to ignore the religious, racial, and gender bias of voters because you don’t like Democratic Party centrists. Each of these approaches is more damaging than enlightening. Unfortunately, there’s an entire magazine dedicated to the last that has come to define socialism in 2017. That’s a big problem because if socialism is going to downplay non-economic factors to our problems, it isn’t going to go far in solving them.

But hey, there is a place in Jacobin for discussions of race. It’s accusing liberals of racism in this instant classic entry of the timeless “cringe-worthy review of art in a leftist magazine” genre, in this case of Get Out. Read at your peril with such classic parts as:

Still, this is a feature length film, not an agitational pamphlet. Like all artistic mediums, it is quite difficult to get nuance to adhere to 35mm stock, not least because movie-going audiences tend to want whatever it is they’re watching to entertain before all else. Attempting to use film in the service of complex political arguments has produced more than a few horribly boring failures.

As socialists, we shouldn’t be surprised that Get Out doesn’t articulate a political perspective aimed at mobilizing a mass, class-based, anti-racist struggle against capitalism. The best that we can hope for from mass popular culture is that it will on occasion provoke conversations that we can participate in with the goal of pointing people toward practical activity of some kind.

Oh, OK.


We Deserve Trump

[ 180 ] March 6, 2017 |


There’s plenty we could talk about this evening. The Republican health care “plan.” Muslim Ban 2: Racist Boogaloo. DHS Secretary Kelly talking about the Gestapo ICE splitting up parents from children when undocumented immigrants are caught. All kinds of fun times.

But we need to talk about something really important, an issue that demonstrates why this nation deserves Donald Trump. And that is Peeps filled Oreos. It’s a known objective fact that Peeps are the worst candy in human history. Sure, make an argument for those orange circus peanuts things if you want. But Peeps are utterly grotesque and probably what what you get when Sean Spicer dresses up at the Easter Bunny. I don’t really eat cookies, but if I was to eat a mass-produced major brand cookie, I might well eat an Oreo. Under normal circumstances, they aren’t hateable, even if the stuffing is scary unidentifiable material. So why would you fill it with a flavor that would actually be improved with a dose of ketchup? I recognize that industrial food manufacturers, like any other makers of consumer products, are constantly looking for new products. Sometimes even the craziest ideas, like the Dorito shell tacos, are big hits. So the issue here is not with Mondelez, the French-sounding name given to the megacorp that Nabisco became, even if that company is vile in their outsourcing labor practices. It’s with people who would see this and say, “I want Peeps-stuffed Oreos because I can’t get enough Peeps.” Who would say this? Trump voters, I assume. But at least they are getting their comeuppance:

Who would have thought the 21st Century would produce so many food items that turn people’s poop abnormal colors that the topic would require its own custom search tag on many an internet blog? Yet here we are. Barely a year after Burger King’s all black goth-burger had people shedding green turds and uploading the photo evidence to social media (NSFL), people are claiming the new Peep flavored Oreos are turning their poops pink.

This is the best possible result for this abomination. Certainly the experience of seeing your feces contaminated with colors never seen anywhere close to nature is a better fate than actually tasting this horror.

And now we see why we have elected a man who thinks that his shitty restaurant’s taco salad is a good way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and who eats his steak well-done and covered in ketchup is president of these United States.

Sexism on the Left

[ 222 ] March 6, 2017 |


Despite what sectors of the on-line left wanted to believe the Bernie Bro thing very real and very toxic. And of course we see this overtly sexist behavior come out continually from said bros. But this isn’t just an online thing. There’s huge problems with unexamined toxic masculinity on the left. Groups like the Black Bloc idolize such behavior. Other guys go to leftist meetings in no small part to get laid. These are real things and have been for a very long time. For just as long, women have had to deal with this behavior and have too often accepted or internalized it. Beginning with women such as Casey Hayden standing up to sexism in SNCC, we have seen women aggressively attack this overt sexism, but it continues. It can really tear organizations apart, as is happening right now on the radical left in Providence.

As the left grows as part of the resistance to Trump, we see a big boom in DSA membership. I haven’t gone down this road because it doesn’t seem a very good use of my time, but that’s an evaluation anyone has to make for themselves. Let a thousand flowers bloom. In any case, it’s hardly surprising that DSA meetings are also full of rampant sexism. This is a really good essay on combating sexism in the DSA that we can adapt for whatever organizations we work with.

1. Feminism is a socialist issue, and women’s issues should not be ignored in favour of more “serious” issues. It’s not unusual to watch people on the left dismiss action on simple issues. Why? Lord if only I knew. Maybe it’s to fulfil the left’s obsession with needlessly overcomplicating things. Maybe it’s latent sexism. I neither know nor care, the problem exists and the answer is simple: don’t do that. Simple issues are no less meaningful than complex ones and can often be a helpful recruiting tool. If women see that socialist organisations are getting involved in educational fights, or in women’s health fights, they will be more likely to see utility in joining those organisations.

2. Don’t let men dominate discussions. It sounds obvious, hell, it is obvious, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes I see socialist groups making. There are simple and effective fixes to this, that, when implemented correctly flow so fluidly it’s almost impossible to tell that the men in the room are being decentralised. Strategies like taking stack are helpful because they help minimize moments of tokenisation (instances like, “Are we sure there aren’t any female-identifying people who’d like to speak right now?”) but also help to put the wider group at ease with one another.

3. Create a community. While this applies to left organising in general, I cannot stress its importance enough in helping to make socialist spaces palatable to women. Providing a system of resources and support to your socialist organisation will help encourage not only women but also the less timid left-inclined folks to get involved. Minor adjustments, like providing free childcare at meetings, ample notice for events, and accessible systems of redress for sexual harassment or gender discrimination can provide women with the comfort and security they need to turn out to socialist groups.

4. Don’t overwork your non-male members. If I had a penny for every organisation I’ve seen with three severely overworked non-male members and 30 very relaxed male members, I would be a very rich woman indeed. Things like all women shortlists are good, and truly a wonderful way to engage women, but if it ends up that your all women shortlists are made up of the same few women over and over, consider abandoning some of those fights until you have more non-male members to fill the slots. It’s a controversial suggestion, but if you’d like to prevent all your female members from burning out, you’re going to have to make some sacrifices while you work on the gender balance.

5. Mentoring is more beneficial than most realise. If you just rolled your eyes at that because it’s such a feature of liberal groups, trust me comrade, I feel you. But at the same time, having more experienced women available to mentor younger women can make a difference in helping women stick around. There are a lot of unique challenges women face when they make their way into the world of activism and organising, and having someone who has faced the same obstacles before to provide guidance is invaluable.

This seems to be relevant to anything we do, DSA members or not.

The American Gestapo and Its Slave Labor Force

[ 15 ] March 6, 2017 |


Oh, just violating the 13th Amendment.

Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were forced to work for $1 day, or for nothing at all — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws — a lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014 against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained.

It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward.

“That’s obviously a big deal; it’s recognizing the possibility that a government contractor could be engaging in forced labor,” said Nina DiSalvo, executive director of Towards Justice, a Colorado-based nonprofit group that represents low-wage workers, including undocumented immigrants. “Certification of the class is perhaps the only mechanism by which these vulnerable individuals who were dispersed across the country and across the world would ever be able to vindicate their rights.”

At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court.

The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status.

Combine a fascist and racist police force with private prisons and a national indifference to anyone caught up in the nation’s injustice system and–VOILA!–you have the perfect conditions for people of color to have to engage in slave labor. I’m sure Steve Bannon and Attorney General Nathan Bedford Forrest are pleased.

Who Makes Your Clothing?

[ 22 ] March 6, 2017 |


Look at your clothing. Where did it come from? Who grew the cotton? Who put it together in the sweatshop? Here is an excellent photo essay to help you.

Now consider what is your duty to help these people live a dignified life. How did we create a situation where faraway workers are exploited to provide you with fashionable clothing? What can we do to give those people power? These are questions we need to answer.

Could the Greatest Neoliberal Sellout in Known Human History Be Good At His Job?

[ 255 ] March 6, 2017 |
Thomas E. Perez, during his nomination hearing to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.  April 29, 2009.  Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.

Thomas E. Perez, during his nomination hearing to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. April 29, 2009. Photo by Diego M. Radzinschi/NATIONAL LAW JOURNAL.

Mike Elk has a good summary of Tom Perez and his management style. The idea that the greatest Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins was some sort of horrendous neoliberal was always laughable on the face of it, but the more we know about Perez, the better he looks as DNC chair, leaving aside the fact that Keith Ellison probably would be just as effective.

Perez immediately attempted to assuage fears by pledging to be more inclusive. He appointed Rep. Ellison (D-MN) as Deputy Chair of the DNC. In an interview with the Minnesota Star Tribune, Perez said that he wanted to make Ellison “the face of the Democratic Party.”

While many may dismiss Perez’s appointment of Ellison as mere posturing, those who who know Perez say it’s genuine and indicative of something much deeper in Perez’s track record.

Supporters say that Perez’s appointment of Ellison follows the management style Perez has used throughout his career, as a board member of immigrant worker center CASA de Maryland, as the county councilman for the hippie enclave of Takoma Park in suburban Maryland, as the head of Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and, most recently, as the leader of the Department of Labor.

Many say that the low-key, bespectacled Buffalo native is poised to mend a fractured party, given his experiences turning around the conservative, Bush-era Civil Rights Division and achieving a record turnaround in employee morale at the Department of Labor, where he bent to progressive protests for the agency to do more for workers through executive action.

A deeper look at Perez’s career paints a picture of a leader who has gone out of his way to focus on inclusion and dialogue instead of infighting. People who know Perez portray him as a leader that is responsive to grassroots concerns, bringing ideas from the left into the Democratic center to reform policies or practices activists had long fought to change.

This sounds like hopeless neoliberalism to me! What are some examples of his Big Corporate Donor style?

However, it wasn’t easy to get the Administration to agree to issue these executive orders. For the first four years of the Obama presidency, Administration officials resisted labor’s pressure.

“They said it was illegal, they said we are gonna get attacked by the business interests,” says Joseph Geevarghese, the campaign director for Good Jobs Nation and Good Jobs Defenders.

A 2013 study by the labor-funded think tank Demos estimated that federal contractors employed nearly 2 million “low-wage” workers, defined as making less than $12 an hour or $24,000 a year. Labor groups pointed out that the federal government employed more low-wage workers than Wal-Mart or McDonald’s. Yet, they still found themselves frustrated when trying to get the Obama Administration to take executive action to fix the problem.

Groups like Good Jobs Nation and Change to Win began to organize workers at federal contractors to put pressure on the Administration. They even began to organize picket lines outside of federal buildings to draw attention to the problem. As co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Ellison quickly aligned himself with the movement and started attending picket lines.

“Mr. President, raise my people’s wages,” shouted Ellison at a rally for the group’s very first strike of federal contract workers during the Obama Administration in May 2013. Ellison would go on to attend dozens of picket lines in an attempt to ratchet up pressure on Obama to finally do something through executive action.

Instead of Perez shutting Ellison out, he invited him in.

“Once workers hit the streets and once people like Perez were in the Labor Department, people’s view changed,” says Geevarghese.

Nine months into office as Labor Secretary, Perez pleasantly surprised labor leaders when Obama announced in his January 2014 State of the Union that a new executive order would raise all federal contractor wages to $10.10 an hour.

“The Administration, and specifically Secretary Perez, worked closely with and listened closely with Mr. Ellison and the Progressive Caucus as we moved forward on initiatives [to help] federal contract workers and hold federal contractors accountable,” former Assistant Secretary of Labor for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs Adri Jayaratne told Payday. “Tom always made sure that everyone’s voices were heard on every issue whether or not they were in agreement. He felt that was a responsibility he had to have.”

Many in labor are hoping that the Perez-Ellison relationship at the DNC will follow a similar pattern.

“The Perez-Ellison combination could be a dynamic duo. The truth is that those two worked together to get the most progressive federal labor policy done in decades,” says Geevarghese. “It was Ellison, who stood on the picket lines to call attention to the need to raise standards for contract workers, while it was Secretary Perez on the inside who listened to the workers, who met with these workers, listened to these workers, and helped craft those executive orders.”

How can we trust this Big Money Plutocrat with his support from Neoliberal Obama and $Hillary?!?

However, those who saw Perez’s ability to turn around previously fractured agencies think he’s game for the challenge.

“As bad as the situation may be at the DNC, it can’t possibly be as bad as it was at the [Department of Justice’s] Civil Rights Division,” says Sasha Samberg-Champion, an appellate lawyer who worked as a civil servant during Perez’s tenure at DOJ.

Under the Bush Administration, the Civil Rights Division had declined to prosecute cases of police brutality abuses and predatory lending, and did not enforce the Olmstead decision, which barred segregation of the disabled. When Perez took office, many expected Perez to clean house of the lawyers from the Bush Era.

Instead of engaging in a costly purge of Bush holdovers, Perez tried to figure out creative ways to get everyone engaged in fulfilling the Department’s core mission of enforcing civil rights law.

“He went out of his way to make sure everything was fair and everyone was rigorously listened to,” Samberg-Champion. “All the line attorneys were being listened to very closely. That was the culture he had.”

Samberg-Champion said that this culture did not just extend to Obama-era newcomers like himself, but also to Bush holdovers.

“Somehow, he was able to get people to get on the same page and do really meaningful work,” says Samberg-Champion. “The culture at that time was that we will find a way for you to contribute.”

Effective as Secretary of Labor and in the Civil Rights Division? Looks to me like the only chance for progressive polices is Jill Stein in 2020! What has Perez done to stand up to Big Vaxx and Big Internet? Answer me that neolib!

I will also note that I know people in Perez’s circle, including one person who worked very closely with him in the recent past. Everyone I talk to absolutely loves this man in a way that you do not see often in the political world. I’m not saying this is anything more than anecdata, but it’s been quite striking to me in these conversations.

How Do You Celebrate the Selma March?

[ 29 ] March 5, 2017 |


If you are the Secretary of State for Alabama, well….

After Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill promoted the state’s voter ID law at a church service held Sunday to commemorate the anniversary of a civil rights milestone in Selma, patrons walked out.

The service at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Alabama was held to commemorate the 52nd anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march that erupted in police violence on Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, according to a video posted to Rev. William Barber’s Facebook page.

Barber, who is president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, and church patrons walked out after Merrill spoke in support of Alabama’s voter ID law, according to the video’s caption.

“We can’t be polite about this. We can’t be casual or cavalier,” Barber told a reporter. “We have more voter suppression in recent years than we’ve seen since Jim Crow.”

He said that Merrill’s promotion of the voter ID law was “another lie.”

Merrill seems like a nice guy.

In October 2015, Merrill insisted that the closure of 31 driver’s license offices — many in majority black counties — would not prevent residents from obtaining the government-issued photo ID required to vote in Alabama.

Before the 2016 election, he went on to blast automatic voter registration, saying that it would “cheapen” the work of civil rights leaders.

“If you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege,” Merrill said.

He then lashed out at criticism of Alabama’s registration process and threatened to prosecute a filmmaker who described registering to vote in the state as “complex and complicated.”

Merrill threatened to prosecute Brian Jenkins if he was registered in two states, even though Jenkins never claimed to be registered in Alabama.

In conclusion, I am shocked that Alabama has supplied the nation Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as Attorney General.

Muslim Ban 2

[ 114 ] March 5, 2017 |


It looks like Trump will issue Muslim Ban 2: Racist Boogaloo tomorrow, although of course it’s hard to say exactly when this clownshow will actually do anything. In any case, early reports show it perhaps being basically the same except taking Iraq off the list, which I guess makes it precisely 1/7 less horrifying, as well as exempting green card holders and not explicitly excluding Syrian refugees although still doing so in fact. Of course, we should be clear that this has nothing to do with anything concerning national security and it about Bannon and Miller’s desire to Make America White Again.

Whatever happens tomorrow or whenever this actually comes out, the lawsuits to stop it will instantly begin. The ACLU is ready and so are the teams of lawyers ready to demand access to those unjustly barred from the United States. The legal rationale for this is still extremely shaky and I hope the courts see it that way as well. That the administration has ordered Homeland Security employees to work from home on Monday suggests to me that a) this is going to be a really bad order and b) they are expecting massive protests. We should be ready for those protests. I’ve been a little bit concerned in the last couple of weeks that things seem to be going back to normal for a lot of liberals, who are horrified but moving on with their lives. And of course that’s OK but we also have to be ready to protest and shut down the nation when this happens. I do have a lot of faith in people to do amazing things, such as the JFK protest when the first order came out. I do think people will respond. But I would really encourage you to be personally ready to respond when this goes down. It will require a ton of fury to stop it, as it did a month ago.

Among the problems related to this is the actions of ICE, the American Gestapo, and its sister agency, Customs and Border Protection. These tinpot fascists have total control over the poor individuals with which they come in contact. They already showed themselves indifferent to the courts after the first executive order and they are excited to bar brown people from the United States. It seems pretty clear that ICE and CBP is littered with white supremacists and I imagine they are intentionally getting jobs there to maximize their power, as others have suggested is likely. Whether they are French historians or they are Afghanis who have worked for the U.S. government, permission to enter the United States ultimately resides almost entirely with some racist moron working the immigration desk at a given airport, regardless of whether said nations are on whatever Muslim ban Trump pushes. As many on the left who have worked on these issues for years have noted, there was hardly any attention paid to this thuggery during the Obama administration, but it was very real. Now with Trump having empowered ICE and CBP to do almost literally whatever it wants to, things are even worse. CBP and especially ICE are out of control agencies of the government that nee our full attention. It and its agents are the enemies of everything that liberals and the left should hold dear and until that agency undergoes massive reforms and we force it to take accountability for the racism of its agents, it won’t hardly matter who is president to a lot of the people attempting to come to the United States.

Buy American Lies

[ 29 ] March 5, 2017 |


The problem with politicians and corporations promoting their own Made in America campaigns isn’t that we shouldn’t have an industrial policy that promotes domestically made goods. It’s that their promises are almost always lies. Take Foxconn, best known for having to put up suicide nets in its Chinese factories so that workers don’t throw themselves to their death while making your computers and phones. It has claimed it would build a big factory in Pennsylvania. Got itself lots of good press, workers in the Keystone State thought they would be able to work industrial jobs again. And then?

But the factory was never built. The jobs never came. “It just seemed to fade to black” after the announcement, recalled a local official. It was the start of a mystery, created by a chief executive known to promise projects all over the world that never quite pan out. Yet few people seem to notice. Foxconn and others continue to get credit for deals that never take place. In December, Pennsylvania’s economic development staff was still touting the $30 million factory that never was.

What happened in Harrisburg provides a skeptical lens for viewing the waves of corporate investment promises being used by Trump as evidence that he is following through on his campaign pledge to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing. “I’m delivering on everything we promised,” Trump said last month during a meeting with manufacturing executives at the White House, noting how firms have announced new hiring and factories. “People are saying they’ve never seen so much happen in 30 days of a presidency.”

Foxconn, for example, announced shortly after Trump’s election that it plans to invest $7 billion and hire up to 50,000 workers in the United States. Such a hiring spree would catapult Foxconn from a couple thousand U.S. workers to a major employer on par with Chrysler.

Other companies, too, including SoftBank, Alibaba, Intel and IBM, have made an unusual display of loudly announcing their intentions to invest in the United States — all with price tags in the billions of dollars and the promise of tens of thousands of jobs — much to Trump’s delight.

“Foxconn is going to spend a tremendous amount of money on building a massive plant,” Trump said the day after the investment was revealed, “and probably more than one.”

But, as Harrisburg learned, the gulf between these eye-popping announcements and what takes place on the ground can be huge — and frequently overlooked.

But hey, I’m sure Trump is going to ensure accountability, right? We all know how much he values buying American!

The Keystone XL Pipeline will not be subject to President Donald Trump’s executive order requiring infrastructure projects to be built with American steel, a White House spokeswoman said today.

Trump signed the order calling for the Commerce Department to develop a plan for U.S. steel to be used in “all new pipelines, as well as retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipelines” inside the U.S. projects “to the maximum extent possible.”

Of course. Because it’s all show. He doesn’t care about this at all. The proximate cause might be TransCanada’s NAFTA lawsuit against the U.S., but of course this sort of thing is in all sorts of trade agreements, as opposed to any workers’ rights being protected in them, so between this and the frequent lies of corporations on these issues, there’s no reason to believe that any meaningful infrastructure investment using American-made steel will actually materialize.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 73

[ 50 ] March 5, 2017 |

This is the grave of Buckminster Fuller.


Born in 1895, in Milton, Massachusetts, Fuller became interested in design at a young age, tinkering with any number of ideas. He was a restless intellect and not a particularly serious student. He went to Harvard but was expelled twice. He wandered around in his early adulthood, working in a textile mill and a meatpacking plant, joining the U.S. Navy in World War I, editing the art section of a magazine, working as a shipboard radio operator, etc. He started a business with his father-in-law in the early 1920s to produce lightweight and fireproof housing. The business failed in 1927 and Fuller was left with nothing, although he did have family money. He was a 32 year old man who was an abject failure in life. He was a drunk who contemplated suicide as he walked the streets of Chicago. He eventually moved to Greenwich Village and became involved in the art scene there, engaging in his various projects, most of which led nowhere. He continued tinkering though, coming with the Dymaxion car that was displayed at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1933. This lightweight odd vehicle was actually road tested, but had a small problem of ending up in crashes, possibly because other drivers freaked out upon seeing it. He also produced his Dymaxion houses, one of which you can tour at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, and which I can tell you is pretty cool to walk through. This lightweight house designed for windy climates (it was originally developed in Wichita), was intended to be cheap to produce and easy to assemble, perfect for a nation on the move during World War II. This did achieve some interest, but the company went nowhere as orders proved difficult to produce.

In 1948 and 1949, he was teaching at Black Mountain College, the art school in the forests outside of Asheville, North Carolina. There, he came up with the idea of the geodesic dome. He wasn’t the first; an earlier version was created in the 1910s, but Fuller reinvigorated it and, most importantly, won the patent rights. This lightweight design had an immediate impact, as the U.S. military saw it as a valuable Cold War building technology, much like its cousin the Quonset hut. He created a firm based in Raleigh to produce them for the Marines. He continued to experiment in a form that could grow to nearly any size with few practical limitations. This invention finally gave him stability. He became a professor at Southern Illinois University and he took on projects around the United States and abroad, including Expo ’67 in Montreal, where he constructed an enormous geodesic dome. Being a mystic (in fact, he came from the transcendentalist Fuller family that includes Margaret Fuller), he saw this design as combining with solar and wind energy to save humanity from its excesses. Of course, he lived in his own geodesic dome in Carbondale, Illinois, pictured below:


What made the geodesic dome particularly famous was its adaptation by hippies. Communes such as Drop City adapted it for their experimental lifestyles in the rural American West. Stewart Brand became a particularly important follower, for it so well fit his ideas about appropriate technology that he evangelized in his Whole Earth Catalog. He believed that previous utopian schemes were inherently elitist, whereas his ideas, not only the domes and renewable energy projects, but his broader ideas of efficiency were inherently democratic and could save the planet precisely because they could be applied broadly. He continued in his weird experiments through the rest of his life. Some of these were architectural in nature, often produced with significant corporate support, such as the Otisco Project, an industrial form of the geodesic dome that was seen to have real potential by many corporations. Some were more like his experiments in sleep, attempting to copy cats by taking short naps but never long, deep sleeps. Of course, he called it Dymaxion sleep and claimed it worked and that he only stopped because it did not work well with his business partners’ sleep habits. He also invented long, compound words to create a new language for the future to go along with his homes, cars, and energy designs.

Fuller died of a heart attack in 1983 at the age of 88, while taking care of his wife, who would die two days later of cancer.

Buckminster Fuller is buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Today in Trump’s America

[ 92 ] March 4, 2017 |

Another day, another hate crime committed by a racist white Trump voter.

Kent police are looking for a gunman who allegedly walked onto a man’s driveway and shot him, saying “Go back to your own country.”

The victim, a 39-year-old Sikh man, was working on his vehicle in his driveway in Kent’s East Hill neighborhood about 8 p.m. Friday when he was approached by an unknown man, Kent police said, after talking with the victim.

An altercation followed, with the victim saying the suspect made statements to the effect of “Go back to your own country.” The victim was shot in the arm.

The victim described the shooter as a 6-foot-tall white man with a stocky build. He was wearing a mask covering the lower half of his face, the victim said.

Strikes Against Trump

[ 23 ] March 4, 2017 |


As I have stated, I am highly skeptical of (mostly) white radicals calling for a “general strike” against Trump because it feels like a bunch of privileged people asking workers to play the leading role in a drama that is not their own. I expressed the same to Bryce Covert in this piece she wrote at Think Progress. I think she does a great job here because she focuses on the variety of labor-based actions that are happening in response to Trump. It doesn’t matter whether they are a “general strike” or whatever you want to call them. What matters is that workers themselves are making choices to act against fascism, whether that is immigrants engaging in “Day Without an Immigrant” actions or whether the “Day Without Women” happens on March 8. The reality is that you never know what is going to lead the spark for massive change. Maybe none of this does. But maybe it does. And if you don’t keep trying to organize actions that empower yourself and your friends and family, the spark never happens.

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