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FDR at a Guatemalan Hooters

[ 20 ] October 18, 2013 |

Another classic, this time from Edge of the American West:

Gives the Good Neighbor policy a new meaning.

Native Americans and the Civil War

[ 36 ] October 18, 2013 |

C. Joseph Genetin-Pilawa’s piece on Seneca tribal member and Union officer Ely Parker is pretty interesting, but the real kicker is at the end. For we completely erase Native Americans from the memory of the Civil War experience.

Native communities and the Civil War share a curious history. Native Americans largely disappear from our recollection of those events, save for the marginal locations where they act as sidebars to the events happening on major battlefields and campaigns. Or, when native people do appear in the geographic center of the war, they are depicted as people thrust into daunting and precarious positions, such as those of Southern Indian nations — the Choctaw especially.

All of these stories are important, but others are, too. Although Parker’s wartime career may have been exceptional, owing in part to antebellum friendships with men who found themselves in positions of power during the war, Native American contributions to the war should be highlighted more often and in the same breath as those of men like Grant, Meade and countless others. Indigenous men from across the United States joined both Union and Confederate armies and participated in ways far more meaningful than most Americans have remembered. During these sesquicentennial years of Civil War commemoration, it is important to remind ourselves that it was more than an “affair between white men.”

America’s Worst Food

[ 384 ] October 18, 2013 |

Anyone is going to quibble with a list ranking state signature foods. And I have my quibbles too. First, lobster rolls are awesome. What a lobster roll means is that New England has such good seafood that it’s no big deal to eat lobster, so we are going to put it on a split roll with some lettuce and mayo and crappy fries on the side and the rest of you wish you could do that too. Also, what’s with ragging on Texas BBQ. Fail. On the other hand, New York pizza is the most overrated food in the country.

But we can all agree on the nation’s worst food:

For the mercifully unacquainted, “Cincinnati chili,” the worst regional foodstuff in America or anywhere else, is a horrifying diarrhea sludge (most commonly encountered in the guise of the “Skyline” brand) that Ohioans slop across plain spaghetti noodles and hot dogs as a way to make the rest of us feel grateful that our own shit-eating is (mostly) figurative. The only thing “chili” about it is the shiver that goes down your spine when you watch Ohio sports fans shoveling it into their maws on television and are forced to reckon with the cold reality that, for as desperately as you might cling to faltering notions of community and universality, ultimately your fellow human beings are as foreign and unknowable to you as the surface of Pluto, and you are alone and always have been and will die alone, a world unto yourself unmarked and unmapped and totally, hopelessly isolated.

But wait! This abominable garbage-gravy isn’t just sensorily and spiritually disgusting—it’s culturally grotesque, too! What began as an ethnic curio born of immigrant make-do—a Greek-owned chili parlor that took its “Skyline” name from its view of the city of Cincinnati—is now a hulking private-equity-owned corporate monolith that gins up interest in its unmistakably abhorrent product by engineering phony groups of “chili fanatics” to camp out in advance of the opening of new chains, in locations whose residents would otherwise see this shit-broth for what it is and take up torches and truncheons to drive it back into the wilderness.

Whatever virtue this bad-tasting Z-grade atrocity once contained derived from its exemplification of a set of certain cherished American fables—immigrant ingenuity, the cultural melting pot, old things combining into new things—and has now been totally swamped and consumed by different and infinitely uglier American realities: the commodification of culture; the transmutation of authentic artifacts of human life into hollow corporate brand divisions; the willingness of Americans to slop any horrible goddamn thing into their fucking mouths if it claims to contain some byproduct of a cow and comes buried beneath a pyramid of shredded, waxy, safety-cone-orange “cheese.”

Cincinnati chili is the worst, saddest, most depressing goddamn thing in the world. If it came out of the end of your digestive system, you would turn the color of chalk and call an ambulance, but at least it’d make some sense. The people of Ohio see nothing wrong with inserting it into their mouths, which perhaps tells you everything you need to know about the Buckeye State. Don’t eat it. Don’t let your loved ones eat it. Turn away from the darkness, and toward the deep-dish pizza.

Not sure what one can add to that. Also not sure how one could disagree.

Haitian Wage Theft

[ 81 ] October 17, 2013 |

I see the garment industry is up to the same tricks it’s been using since before the Triangle Fire, this time stealing wages from Haitian workers. And who could have guessed that it would be psychopathic corporations Gap, Target, and WalMart leading the charge?

The report, prepared by the Worker Rights Consortium, focused on 5 of Haiti’s 24 garment factories and found that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.”

The group said that the factories deprive workers of higher wages they are entitled to under law by setting difficult-to-meet production quotas and neglecting to pay overtime.

It said that offenders included the Caracol Industrial Park in northern Haiti, which the United States helped build and has cited as a centerpiece of reconstruction efforts, and factories that make products for prominent retailers like Gap, Target and Walmart.

Scott Nova, the consortium’s executive director, said in an interview: “What goes on here is not some occasional violations where most companies are in compliance and a few are not. You have across-the-board systematic, willful noncompliance with straightforward labor law by a large margin in a way that’s very destructive to workers.”

I have no problem with clothing being made in Haiti. Haitians really need jobs. But there is absolutely no reason that these apparel companies should legally be able to exploit the poorest workers in the world. Once again, the apparel industry tries to recreate Gilded Age America with the workers with the least power to resist. Why should these corporations not be liable in American courts for stealing wages from workers in Haiti? The only way to stop this behavior is to hold them legally and financially accountable. If you want to site factories in Haiti, fine. Even if you actually pay them only the average Haitian wage rate. But then engaging in wholesale wage theft? There has to be legal repercussions for this, and not in ineffective Haitian courts. Rich nations need to regulate this out of their corporations. Without law becoming as mobile as capital, effective labor reform is basically impossible. That means allowing these Haitian workers to sue Wal-Mart in American courts, not only for back wages but also for punitive damages. If Wal-Mart knows there is an actual cost to wage theft, they’ll stop employing contractors who engage in it.

Here’s the full Workers Rights Consortium report (PDF).

Siting Factories

[ 66 ] October 17, 2013 |

Why should a corporation be allowed to move its factories wherever it wants? Take General Electric, who is moving its Ford Edward, New York production to (ironically) Clearwater, Florida.

In response to this threatened closing, UE plans an extensive campaign of action and community outreach. “Solidarity Saturdays” send members out to solicit thousands of signatures from the surrounding communities that will be affected by the job loss. UE representatives have fanned out to meet with unions across the region.

At a picket last Thursday at the plant, every AFL-CIO central labor council was represented, despite the fact that UE is an independent union not affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Gene Elk, secretary of the UE-GE Conference Board, told the assembled workers and supporters that GE’s response to the union’s request for information was to call it “burdensome.” What the union got, Elk said, was “15 sheets of paper… and we had to sign an agreement pledging that we wouldn’t divulge much of that information to the public.”

Why shouldn’t it be “burdensome” for a powerful, profitable corporation like GE to close a plant? I asked UE Political Director Chris Townsend.

“It shouldn’t be easy to close a plant,” said Townsend, “or it shouldn’t be this easy to close this plant. The General Electric corporation has been shown every imaginable consideration—by the taxpayers, by the state government, by the federal government, by this community, by the environmental regulators, everyone.

“Our members have worked with this company to keep this plant profitable. Now the company decides to walk off, leave hundreds of people stranded with no jobs, no income, and leave this community and this state in possession of the nation’s largest Superfund site.”

I asked a young couple who work in the plant, Kim and Chris, about the local job situation. “Where do you go?” they said.

Upstate New York is littered with abandoned factories. State officials tout the massive GlobalFoundries chip fabrication plant south of Fort Edward, but production jobs there pay about $15 an hour, hardly a family-friendly wage.

UE is United Electric Workers. Townsend has a really good point here. Why should it be easy for corporations to move? You can talk about property rights, but why should the property rights of corporations supercede the property rights of homeowners, shopkeepers, small businesses, and others negatively affected by captial mobility? After turning the area into a Superfund site, GE is outta there, leaving another New York community decimated? Why should governments and people allow corporations to do this? These issues are almost never critically examined. The right of corporate mobility and the race to the bottom is seen as an obvious right. But it shouldn’t be. As I’ve said before, the only way to stop corporate mobility from destroying communities is to create standardized regulations, wages, and working conditions across states and nations. Only then will corporations be unable to play state against state, nation against nation, worker against worker, all in the service of concentrating wealth at the tippy top of society.

Byrd’s Fiddle

[ 67 ] October 17, 2013 |

If Robert Byrd and his awesome fiddling were still in the Senate, it seems we could solve most of our political problems.

Bipartisanship around mountain music is something I think everyone can get around.

Byrd actually was a quite a good fiddler.

Wirt in 32!

[ 77 ] October 16, 2013 |

Proceedings of the First United States Antimasonic Convention.

Looks like the House stenographer is about average in comparison to the insanity of the Republican side of the aisle
:

As the House finished their vote to reopen the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, the House stenographer decided it was a good time to let everyone know her feelings about God, Congress, and the Freemasons.

“He [God] will not be mocked,” the stenographer, apparently named Molly, yelled into the microphone as she was dragged off by security. “The greatest deception here is that this is not one nation under God. It never was. It would not have been. The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They go against God. You cannot serve two masters. Praise be to God. Praise be to Jesus.”

And yes, I have historical anti-Masonic images ready to go at any time.

For the title reference, see here. William Wirt won an electoral college vote on the Anti-Mason ticket despite the fact that he was a former freemason who had no objections to it. Yes, the Anti-Masonic Party’s coherency left something to be desired.

The Republican Fight Song

[ 16 ] October 16, 2013 |

Woody Guthrie summed up the 2013 Republican Party without knowing it.

You Get Who You Vote For

[ 313 ] October 16, 2013 |

While I sympathize with the South Dakota ranchers who are suffering from widespread cattle die-offs in the wake of this month’s unexpected blizzard, it’d be easier to feel sorry for them if they hadn’t voted in the very people who are the reason why the government can’t help them now. We see this all the time of course–angry white people voting for right-wing Republicans because of government waste, but where’s my paycheck/national park site/whatever part of the government I like.

Similarly, I really don’t care that the Houston Chronicle regrets endorsing Ted Cruz. C’mon. Everyone knew this what Ted Cruz would be like in the Senate. It’s not like he ever hid it. I guess the Chronicle publisher and editors thought he’d be the kind of Republican who talked crazy but in the end did what business wanted. Since he just talks crazy, he’s no good for them. But I’m sure they’ll continue endorsing Republicans who hold 99% of the same policy positions as Cruz.

Warren Harding, The Second Son of God

[ 27 ] October 16, 2013 |

I am going through my old blog and finding some classics that deserve reprint. Yesterday’s Pierce post was one. Another is the obituary of Warren Harding in the Eatonville (WA) Dispatch. I found this while going through the paper looking for interesting stories about logging. This was way better than anything else in there. From August 10, 1923:

The death of President Harding is a personal loss. He loved people. That is why he was loved. Even with the reams of ‘copy’ that have been written on him, one realizes the barrenness of adjectives to describe this man.

A person will follow the even tenor of his way until confronted by an emergency. It is then that the test comes. Warren G. Harding’s elevation to the highest office in the gift of man brought out the where all could see the true character he possessed.

There was a beauty about his life which won every heart. In temperament, he was mild, conciliatory, and candid;* and yet remarkable for an uncompromising firmness.** His life was an open sesame to the hearts of others. *** He followed in the footsteps of his Master by letting the sunshine of human sympathy and happiness into the dark places of life.

It is impossible to think of him in death’s cold shroud of sororw [sic] **** and despair, but rather smiling on us from the sunset halo that marks God’s farewell to the day–smiling with all the well remembered grace of his manhood, love and devotion, and saying to us:

“The sunset speaks but feebly of the glories of another day. All is well.”

*Improper semicolon use was off the charts in the Eatonville Dispatch.

** I heard Harding’s many mistresses said similar things about his uncompromising firmness.

*** I hope someone says that my life was an open sesame to the hearts of others when I die. I have no idea what this means of course.

**** To say the least, editing was not the Dispatch’s strong suit.

This Day in Labor History: October 16, 1859

[ 65 ] October 16, 2013 |

On October 16, 1859, radical Republican John Brown and a small band of followers, both white and black, launched a violent attack against the American system of slave labor at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia). While unsuccessful (and insane if one assumes he wanted something other than martyrdom), Brown’s raid did more than almost anything else in the 1850s to highlight the differences between northern and southern labor systems and the moral bankruptcy of the latter. Agree or disagree with his actions, he made it almost impossible for northern whites to claimed to be abolitionists to hide behind gradual programs or a vague hope for the future. For southern whites, it was a call to arms against increasingly radical anti-slavery forces in the north and the desires of slaves to escape. For African-Americans, at least the few who had the opportunity to take advantage of Brown’s actions, it was the deliverance from a hell of forced labor and degradation for which they had prayed.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time revisiting Brown’s famous raids here. Most readers here have heard of his 1859 attack and many are no doubt familiar with his 1856 murder of slaveholders in Kansas that put him on the run. Rather, I’d rather explore Brown’s positions and words about the United States’ slave labor system.

African-American women working in cotton field. Not sure of date, but typical of slave labor.

Brown had called for armed resistance to slave labor since at least 1851. Speaking to the United States League of Gileadites, a radical anti-slavery organization he founded to mobilize African-Americans, Brown talked about how to resist the Fugitive Slave Act. Brown told 44 attending free blacks that if one was arrested, “Let no able-bodied man appear on the ground unequipped, or with his weapons exposed to view; Let that be understood beforehand.” As we know from Harpers Ferry and Kansas, Brown had no problem putting this into effect. And we can certainly condemn his violence. But let’s step back and remember just how horrible slavery was. On December 20, 1858, Brown, who had briefly returned to Kansas, led a party into Missouri to free slaves. They liberated 11 slaves and killed a slaveholder. He then took them north, helping to deliver a baby from one of the ex-slaves, and got them into Canada after an 82-day trip. Were his actions justified?

This is from his letter to the New York Tribune, justifying his actions. “On Sunday, September 19, a negro man called Jim came over to Osage settlement, from Missouri, and stated that he, together with his wife, two children, and another negro man, was to be sold within a day or two, and begged for help to get away.” Brown and his friends gathered other slaves and helped them to freedom? If a slave holder was killed in such an action, is this a reasonable price? As Brown put it, “Now for a comparison. Eleven persons are forcibly restored to their natural and inalienable rights, with but one man killed, and ‘all hell is stirred from beneath.’” If one has the opportunity to free people from slavery, what is less moral? Saying no or killing a single white person in the process of saving eleven black people? For Brown, the answer was obvious.



John Brown in Kansas

When Brown launched his raid on Harpers Ferry, the South recognized it for what it was–a direct and violent attack upon their system of forced labor they had based their economy around for two hundred years. John Brown was their greatest fear and railroading him to the hangman’s rope was the obvious result (even if it also served the national political ambitions of the Virginia governor).

Frederick Douglass, who of course knew the horrors of the slave labor system first hand, lauded Brown’s ideology, if not his strategy. Douglass and Brown had known each other since 1847 and while they did not see eye to eye on many things, they were allies. While Douglass disagreed with the attack on the federal arsenal (he fully supported freeing slaves and starting a hideout in Appalachia), he was close enough to Brown that he had to flee after the raid. With an arrest warrant out for him, Douglass crossed into Canada. Douglass’ own assistant, Shields Green, joined in the raid. In fact, Douglass knew about the attack before it happened. Brown had directly recruited him, saying “I want you for a special purpose. When I strike the bees will begin to swarm, and I shall want you to help hive them.”

On the other hand, William Lloyd Garrison was outraged by the use of violence, calling it “misguided, wild, and apparently insane.” It took until the South seceded and ending slavery seemed possible before northern whites began embracing Brown as a harbinger of free labor. During the Civil War, “John Brown’s Body” became an anthem for the Union army and abolitionists who could not countenance violence in 1859 felt like they were honoring their fallen martyr by using the violent ends Brown died for to end slave labor.

For early African-American scholars of slavery like W.E.B. DuBois, Brown was nothing short of a hero for doing so much to free their people. Here is DuBois from his 1909 biography of Brown:

“Was John Brown simply an episode, or was he an eternal truth? And if a truth, how speaks that truth to-day? John Brown loved his neighbor as himself. He could not endure therefore to see his neighbor, poor, unfortunate or oppressed. This natural sympathy was strengthened by a saturation in Hebrew religion which stressed the personal responsibility of every human soul to a just God. To this religion of equality and sympathy with misfortune, was added the strong influence of the social doctrines of the French Revolution with its emphasis on freedom and power in political life. And on all this was built John Brown’s own inchoate but growing belief in a more just and a more equal distribution of property. From this he concluded, — and acted on that conclusion — that all men are created free and equal, and that the cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.”

For the words of John Brown and other primary sources on his life and attack on Harpers Ferry, see Jonathan Earle, John Brown’s Raid on Harpers Ferry: A Brief History with Documents. Tony Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War, is an excellent history of the events, with special attention paid to the issues I highlight here. I borrowed from both books to write this post.

This is the 79th post in this series. Other posts are archived here.

Tarred and Feathered

[ 67 ] October 15, 2013 |

Tarring and feathering has vague connotations of American revolutionaries standing up to Tory oppression or something. Well, here is what tarring and feathering is really like. John Meints, a German-American farmer, was subjected to this treatment during World War I for the heinous crime of not subscribing to a war bond drive.

That’s some patriotic American mob violence right there. Scary stuff. Good image for teaching.