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Republican Lunch

[ 29 ] June 9, 2015 |


Above: How Jim Risch transports his Rocky Mountain oysters

What do Republican senators eat for lunch? Have you been dying to know this question? Well, lucky for you, the New York Times is on it! Does Dan Coats like pie? Oh yes! Does Jim Risch like to serve bull testicles to Susan Collins? You know he does and that it’s a really funny joke among Republican staffers!

Sad to say that this is actually improvement on the paper wondering if Hillary is going to appeal to the right kind of real American voters.


GOP Brilliance

[ 50 ] June 9, 2015 |

Boy, I wonder where these health care subsidies come from? Republican Jesus no doubt.

Idiocy Upon Idiocy

[ 103 ] June 8, 2015 |

Of course Ron Fournier would weigh in on the New York Times “the proper way for Democrats to win the presidency is to appeal to conservative white voters in Arkansas and West Virginia” article by not only saying that it was a good article but by saying that there’s a “right” way to win and a “wrong” way to win and of course appealing to your base, i.e., people who aren’t white, is the “wrong” way to win. He writes, “My problem with this approach is that it works only until Election Day, when a polarizing, opportunistic candidate assumes the presidency with no standing to convert campaign promises into results.”

Right, because if Hillary can somehow appeal to those Arkansas voters and 1996 comes back into existence in 2016, the Republicans will totally lower their guard. We all know how accommodating those Republicans were to Bill Clinton in his 2nd term after all. I mean really, what impeachment? I don’t remember that. I only remember a bipartisan love fest that would make David Broder hard from the grave.

What Should My Next TV Show Be?

[ 373 ] June 8, 2015 |


Above: The greatest television character in the medium’s history

I have a conundrum. I need a new TV show to watch. Now, I’m pretty behind on the TV revolution. Because of my commitment to film, I tend to go through TV shows slowly. Basically, I’ve watched the entire series or am caught up currently on Mad Men, Deadwood, The Wire, Better Call Saul, and Breaking Bad. I watched the first season of The Sopranos (finally) last summer and then set it aside to finish Breaking Bad and rewatch Deadwood, i.e., the greatest show in television history. I just finished Deadwood. So what to do next?

I ask because I am really torn on trying to watch Game of Thrones. Here’s the thing–I have an inherent dislike for anything revolving around fantasy or science fiction. Those genres of storytelling I find usually pretty uninteresting since I find the present and past more than interesting enough and generally more plausible in terms of storytelling. Even the science fiction I do like–Tarkovsky’s Solaris for instance, is not exactly the norm for the genre.

So I was initially inclined against it. But on the other hand, I like anything that is really well done. So I could watch Game of Thrones if it’s really that good. And I was leaning in that direction, despite not caring for the genre. But reading what people are saying about this season, it’s like there’s an abusive relationship between the show and its fans, with a lot of people recoiling in horror but continuing to watch (or not). I don’t mind violence on the screen. I do have a very limited, like pretty close to zero, tolerance to depictions of sexual violence. Especially if they are more than a one-time event.

So given all this, should I watch Game of Thrones, if for nothing else so I can understand what everyone is talking about? Or should I go back and finish The Sopranos? Or finally check out Boardwalk Empire, Treme, or another of the HBO dramas I haven’t seen? Or Orange is the New Black? I was really inclined toward Justified, but it’s not on Netflix and it’s hard to justify subscribing to yet another service.

I’m teaching as this comes up. I hope for 200 comments by the time I get home at 10.

….I also watched True Detective, which I thought was pretty good.

….Given that we are basically a Game of Thrones blog, I find it interesting that no one has really given a full-throated defense of the show telling me I must watch.

Minimum Wage in California

[ 23 ] June 8, 2015 |


Really glad to see California move toward a $13 hour minimum wage tied to inflation. It’s not nearly high enough, especially for a state as expensive as California. The minimum wage should be around $20. But it certainly beats the $9 that it is now. The California House seems more conservative than the Senate and it’s not yet clear if Jerry Brown supports this, although I have trouble thinking he won’t if it passes the House.

If I Reference Hiroshima in an E-Mail to a Student, It’s Because I Want to Nuke Their House

[ 71 ] June 8, 2015 |


Above: A clearly relevant threat to 21st century higher education administrators.

The administration war on faculty has reached a new low at Oakton Community College in Illinois.

Oakton Community College (OCC) is insisting that a one-sentence “May Day” email referencing the Haymarket Riot sent by a faculty member to several colleagues constituted a “true threat” to the college president.

Lawyers for the Chicago-area college argue that the email, which noted that May Day (May 1) is a traditional time for workers to remember the riot, threatened violence. Last month, OCC demanded that the now former faculty member “cease and desist” from similar communications in the future or face potential legal action.

May Day is celebrated every year on May 1 by the international labor movement to commemorate the fight for workers’ rights. The celebration is historically associated with the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago.

“Merely noting to one’s colleagues that May Day is a time when workers ‘remember’ the Haymarket Riot does not constitute a ‘true threat,’” said Ari Cohn, a Senior Program Officer and lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “The United States Department of the Interior has designated the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument a National Historic Landmark. If remembering the Haymarket Riot is a ‘true threat,’ the monument itself would be illegal.”

On May 1, Chester Kulis sent an email to OCC colleagues that read, “Have a happy MAY DAY when workers across the world celebrate their struggle for union rights and remember the Haymarket riot in Chicago.” The email, titled “May Day – The Antidote to the Peg Lee Gala,” was written in response to a reception hosted by OCC in celebration of the retirement of college president Margaret B. Lee.

This makes right-wing claims that I was calling for Wayne LaPierre’s assassination seem relatively cogent. How a mention of a labor action over a century ago is an actual call for violence against a person today is completely unknowable because it’s not. If he had said, “I would like to bomb the administration building like the anarchists threw that bomb at the police in 1886 and kill them all” I guess you’d have a case. This is just stupidity. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s part of the larger academic crackdown on left-leaning professors protesting the corporate university. University presidents and boards of trustees see themselves as corporate heads and want the ability to dispose of any employee for any reason, including talking back to power.

Why McKinney Happened

[ 141 ] June 8, 2015 |


The nation is once again focused on police brutality today thanks to the violent attack by a cop on black swimmers in the Dallas suburb of McKinney, Texas. Once again, the video capability of cameras has brought the routine police brutality people of color face in the United States into our sight. But it’s also worth noting why the cops were called to the scene anyway–the racist whites of McKinney.

Neighbors are defending police who chased black teenagers at gunpoint and tackled a girl wearing a bikini after breaking up a party at a community pool over the weekend in McKinney, Texas.

But one homeowner and her daughter say those neighbors confronted some teens when they went outside and began taunting them and their guests with racial slurs before starting a fight.

Tatiana Rose, who lives in the Craig Ranch neighborhood and hosted the party with her siblings, said a woman and man who live in the neighborhood showed up and called their friends “black f*ckers” and told them to return to their Section 8 housing.

The 19-year-old Rose said most of her friends who attended the party live in Craig Ranch — which sits along a golf course.

Rose said one of her younger brother’s friends — a white girl named Grace Stone — scolded the neighbors and told them it wasn’t right to use racial slurs.

“So then they started verbally abusing her, saying that she needs to do better for herself, cursing at her, and I’m saying, no that’s wrong – she’s 14, you should not say things like that to a 14-year-old,” Rose said.

She said the woman, who she identified as Kate, told her to go back to her government-assisted housing and smacked her in the face when she stuck up for the younger girl, and she said another woman also attacked her.

Police brutality isn’t just a police problem. It’s also a symptom of this nation’s endemic racism that reinforces white supremacy each and every day.

Women’s Suffrage and White Supremacy

[ 33 ] June 7, 2015 |


Frances Willard

This is from last year, but I just saw it so I am going to post about it anyway. Mallory Ortberg really presented the unfortunate issue of suffrage activists using white supremacy to press their case in the most effective way possible. Although given that it’s The Toast, Freddie DeBoer probably thinks it’s another example of feminists doing it wrong. Anyway:

Suffragette: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902 (Social activist, abolitionist, author)
Hooray: “The best protection any woman can have is courage.”
Wait, What: “What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?”

Suffragette: Laura Clay, 1849-1940 (Founder of Kentucky’s first suffrage group)
Hooray: “Religious intolerance just now is abroad in the land. It is an evil passion of the heart which dies hard…This campaign is a call to every true American of whatever party to stand firmly for the principle of religious freedom.”
Wait, What: “The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes.”

Suffragette: Frances Willard, 1839-1898 (Feminist lecturer, founder of the National Council of Women, anti-child abuse activist)
Hooray: “Politics is the place for woman.”
Wait, What: “Alien illiterates rule our cities today; the saloon is their palace, and the toddy stick their scepter. The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt.”

Suffragette: Carrie Chapman Catt, 1859-1947 (Founder of the League of Women Voters)
Hooray: “”There is one thing mightier than kings and armies”–aye, than Congresses and political parties–“the power of an idea when its time has come to move.” The time for woman suffrage has come. The woman’s hour has struck. If parties prefer to postpone action longer and thus do battle with this idea, they challenge the inevitable. The idea will not perish; the party which opposes it may. Every delay, every trick, every political dishonesty from now on will antagonize the women of the land more and more, and when the party or parties which have so delayed woman suffrage finally let it come, their sincerity will be doubted and their appeal to the new voters will be met with suspicion.”
Wait, What: “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.”

All of this is pretty well known to historians, but really isn’t stressed that much in public conceptions of the suffrage movement. It’s not unknown, but it needs to be more known. Expressing it in this way, cheering for feminists of the past and then being horrified by the same feminists, is well done.

The Worst Article of the 2016 Election Cycle: June 7, 2015 Edition

[ 174 ] June 7, 2015 |


Beltway elites love the myth of the undecided voter. By which of course they mean white voters who lean conservative. That Hillary Clinton is following Barack Obama’s path of understanding the American electorate and focusing on getting out the base rather than appeal to voters in West Virginia and North Dakota who are going to vote Republican anyway is the topic of this fretting New York Times article.

This early in the campaign, however, forgoing a determined outreach effort to all 50 states, or even most of them, could mean missing out on the kind of spirited conversation that can be a unifying feature of a presidential election. And it could leave Mrs. Clinton, if she wins, with the same difficulties Mr. Obama has faced in governing with a Republican-controlled Congress.

Yes, clearly a spirited conversation is going to convince heavily gerrymandered districts in Texas and Pennsylvania and Georgia to vote for Democrats! That’s clearly the ticket for Democrats to retake the House. How come no one has thought of that one before?

To the architects of the Obama strategy, Mrs. Clinton’s approach is not mere homage: It is unavoidable, given that there are few genuine independents now and that technology increasingly lets campaigns pinpoint their most likely voters.

“If you run a campaign trying to appeal to 60 to 70 percent of the electorate, you’re not going to run a very compelling campaign for the voters you need,” said David Plouffe, a top Obama strategist who has consulted informally with Mrs. Clinton.

Yes. That’s because the people who ran Obama’s campaigns were not stupid.

Mrs. Clinton has said repeatedly that she does not want a lonely victory in 2016; she wants to elect Democrats down the ballot. A group of her senior aides met recently with officials at the Democratic House, Senate and governor campaign arms to brief them on the aides’ research and plans for her message and organization. And Senate Democrats are hopeful that she will lift their prospects, because there is considerable overlap in crucial states: The results in Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin will almost certainly determine both who wins the White House and which party controls the Senate.

Oh, so this is a super smart strategy Hillary is using then?

“Go ask Al Gore,” Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said about the risk of writing off states such as his, where Democratic presidential candidates prospered until 2000. “He’d be president with five electoral votes from West Virginia. So it is big, and it can make a difference.”

Centrist Democrats also worry that focusing on liberal voters could lead to a continuation of the problems Mr. Obama has faced with a Congress elected by a vastly different subset of the nation.

“That’s not good for the country,” Mr. Manchin said, adding that he hoped Mrs. Clinton would “come to the middle” if she became president.

Of her campaign, he said, “If they get her too far over, it’s going to be more difficult to govern, it truly is.”

Other rural-state Democrats are sending not-so-subtle messages.

“I think that we always appreciate when people want to kind of talk to the whole country and listen to concerns, and I think farm country is critically important,” said Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota.

Yes, clearly Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp are the real Democrats Hillary should be listening to. After all, their states with a combined 8 electoral votes are clearly going to put Hillary over the top. I mean, sure Al Gore could have gotten over the top with West Virgina’s votes. And he could have also gotten over the top if Ralph Nader didn’t have an ego the size of Texas or if, I don’t know, the Supreme Court didn’t throw the election to George W. Bush. And note that none of this has anything to do with strategy. Manchin says “it’s not good for the country.” Why not? Heitkamp says “farm country is critically important.” To what? Certainly not to Hillary Clinton getting elected president.

“The president is the one person who potentially could be the unifying figure in the country,” said H. W. Brands, a historian at the University of Texas at Austin. “And if the president or a presidential candidate basically writes off 40 states, then how in the world do the people in those 40 states feel like they have a stake in that person or that election?”

I’m embarrassed for my profession there. Who was the last president that unified America? Eisenhower? This is just lazy and ridiculous.

The rest of the article just goes on in this way. In the end, for all that Beltway pundits want to believe that Democrats convincing white conservatives to vote for them is the only strategy to victory because they are the real Americans, it’s just not the case. Hillary (or hey, maybe Bernie!) wins by motivating the base, focusing on winning necessary close states where they have inherent advantages, and maybe pressing to expand the map to North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia while holding on to Wisconsin and Ohio and Virginia. If I thought Hillary campaigning in Louisiana would actually lead to Democratic downticket victories there, I’d support it. But I just don’t see it. Better to focus on high voter turnout among the base.

Corporate Control Over Museums

[ 10 ] June 7, 2015 |


I visited the Smithsonian U.S. history museum last week and was amazed at how corporate-controlled it has now become. I am working on a larger article on this topic that I’m hoping gets published somewhere with a larger audience, but in general, with major museums lacking the government funding they once had, the turn to corporate donors severely affects the stories they tell and undermines challenging visitors in any way. As the rest of the English-speaking world seems determined to follow the United States into a world of corporate-dominated right-wing government, it’s not too surprising to see corporate influence in those nations’ museums as well.

If you’d like to see how oil giant Royal Dutch Shell (one of the largest multi-national corporations in the world’s history) uses its corporate philanthropy to subtly change the core direction of potentially adversarial content at a renowned science museum educating millions, here’s your chance.

How Shell came to sponsor the London Science Museum’s “Atmosphere” program that, according to its director, emphasizes as much about what we don’t know about climate science as what we do know, is a story pulled straight from the well-established corporate public relations playbook.

When confronted with science, evidence and facts that aren’t especially helpful to your company’s bottom line – the playbook says to change the focus, or sow doubt about the certainty of the science. It worked for years for the tobacco industry. Big companies, like Shell, have clearly learned from its successes (and failures).


Science Museum and Shell officials talked about the need to agree on the “big changes” to the exhibit’s focus until it was finalized. “I’ve spoken to the (science) team and they will have a think about David’s comment,” a museum official wrote to Shell in one such exchange. “If there is a possibility of big changes, would you be in a position to indicate them now?” a museum official wrote to Shell in another instance.

In response to media coverage of its own internal documents on the Shell sponsorship, the museum’s director, Ian Blatchford, wrote in a blog post Monday that the public should be satisfied that it retained final editorial control over the exhibit. Shell made suggestions, yes, but museum officials made the final decisions.

But Blatchford’s response actually captures perfectly what Shell hoped it would achieve by paying for the exhibit. It talks about the science of climate change and what we know. But it also focuses on what we don’t know.

“Shell was a major funder of Atmosphere, our climate science gallery which provides our visitors with accurate, up-to-date information on what is known, what is uncertain, and what is not known about this important subject,” Blatchford wrote. “The gallery has been hugely popular since it opened four years ago and has now been visited by more than 3 million people.”

Naturally, if you are Shell, you are going to fund an exhibit that is beautiful and full of technology and over which you have editorial control that makes sure that visitors come away thinking there is so much we don’t know about climate change so why attack the oil companies. One can question how much influence museum exhibits have on shaping visitors beliefs, but for many visitors who do not follow the politics of climate change, this is one of the most intensive bits of exposure to the issue they will ever see. So of course Shell is going to target this exhibit to get its side of the story told.

Book Review: Michael Wolraich, Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics

[ 10 ] June 7, 2015 |


Robert La Follette

I tend to choose books for review here rather randomly, often picking something off the new book shelf at my university’s library. So when I saw Michael Wolraich’s new book, I knew nothing about it. I was intrigued and a bit worried I would dislike it. I had two basic reservations. The first is the all too common worry the professional historian has for the popular history: that it would be a hagiography focusing strictly on outsized personalities and ignoring the larger and complex context of the time that creates change. Second, the title worried me, as it could have turned out to be a partisan book making Republicans themselves out to be the inherent creators of positive change in society.

While my first concern was only partially allayed, the second certainly was. Unreasonable Men is a very good book. Yes, it is personality driven and doesn’t really get into much detail about the tumult for reform at the grassroots in this country. But given that, Wolraich gets at the right personalities in the right ways. The cast of major characters are as follows: First, Rhode Island senator Nelson Aldrich. The prototypical Gilded Age senator, Aldrich stood as a leader of the Standpatters, the group of conservative Republicans determined to let no reform change the era of corruption and corporate rule they presided over. The classic Aldrich move was the a provision he inserted into the Payne-Aldrich Tariff removing the tariff on imported art so J.P. Morgan could bring his art collection to the U.S. without paying taxes. Now that’s senatorial service!

Second there is Joe Cannon, the dictator of the House. Cannon became Speaker in 1903 and inserted himself as the head of the Rules Committee, granting himself complete control over everything that went on the in the chamber. As conservative as Aldrich, Cannon determined to not allow the growing reform movements to make any meaningful change in the country.

Third is Theodore Roosevelt. Wolraich accurately portrays Roosevelt as a conservative with an innate sense of shifts in public opinion and who could switch positions himself without even realizing it. Distrustful of Populism and distrustful of the other reformers in Washington, Roosevelt believed himself a true moderate, bringing just the right amount of change to the political system. His outsized personality made him a very popular figure through his highly publicized actions, but he frustrated most progressives by his close relationships with corporate leaders and his highly restricted ideas of how much change should happen.

Fourth is William Howard Taft. A member of the Republican Old Guard and a man deeply committed to law and order, on some issues like trustbusting he would prove more effective than Roosevelt, but Wolraich portrays him as completely out of his depth as president. An utterly inept politician who completely misread the times he lived in, he quickly became unloved soon after taking the Oval Office, not only alienating Roosevelt but making himself a nonentity for reelection, probably even before Roosevelt decided to run on the Progressive Party ticket.

Finally, the hero of the book is Robert La Follette. Fighting Bob was an iconoclast, willing to attack anyone who stood in the way of the reform he demanded. He began leading a group of Midwestern Republicans determined to stand up to Aldrich, Cannon, and the rest of the aging Gilded Age elite. With his opponents underestimating him in his early years, he managed to move from governor to the Senate, bringing the winds of reform to Washington.

Describing all the details of how the reformers led by La Follette transformed the Republican Party and the nation could make for a very long post. In short, La Follette’s uncompromising long game approach to politics meant that by not worrying much about the next election, he slowly built allies and took positions that appealed to the growing reform demands among the American people. His attacks on corporate power first divided the Republican Party, undermining hardliners like Aldrich and helping to lead to the ousting of Cannon by George Norris through creating space for reformist Republicans and Democrats to unite on certain issues. This moved the Republicans as a whole to the left, but by 1912 created a highly fractious party where conservatives like Taft and Elihu Root desperately tried to hold off Roosevelt and La Follette. These two had bitterly split over their mutual presidential ambitions, especially since even a popular figure like La Follette could in no way hold off the Roosevelt tide after he threw his hat in the ring.

La Follette helped create the atmosphere of 1912, when even Taft was relatively reformist compared to the Republicans of fifteen years earlier. Woodrow Wilson of course won that election, with Taft just giving up after Roosevelt left the party. Wilson’s own rise summed up the era, as  the New Jersey conservative Democratic establishment believed he was one of them and then the governor completely turned on them. Wilson was a Progressive in his own right, albeit one who did not really trust government much more than he did corporations. At least in Wolraich’s telling, 1912 is not possible without all the work La Follette accomplished over the previous decade. Not that the Democrats nominating a Progressive was inevitable. Wilson came quite close to losing the nomination to Missouri’s Champ Clark and only won on the 46th ballot when William Jennings Bryan threw his support to Wilson due to his disgust with Tammany Hall working for Clark.

Oddly, the only point I was ever really that unhappy with the book was in the last couple of pages. Wolraich gets Roosevelt’s death date wrong (he says it is January 5, 1920 when it is January 6, 1919). Not a big deal maybe but something that should have been fact checked somewhere along the line. Second, he claims that Aldrich “is the forefather of a progressive political dynasty” that includes Jay Rockefeller and Nelson Rockefeller. The claim for this rests not on policy grounds (as despite his somewhat unintended influence on major Progressive legislation such as the income tax, which he originally offered as a constitutional amendment to avoid it passing Congress and which he thought would never be ratified, and the groundwork he laid late in his life for the Federal Reserve, the man was a rock-ribbed conservative until the end), but that his daughter married John D. Rockefeller, Jr. I’m not sure that the random fact that his daughter married into the Rockefeller family gives him anything more than a family connection to later Rockefellers in public service.

Wolraich claims that “history offers a solution to our modern political dysfunction.” (x) If that’s true, which is arguable, what is the lesson here? I would argue that strident opposition to the current system combined with thinking about long-game politics, visualizing the change we want to see and working toward it through the political system but regardless of the next election, may be a useful lesson. That doesn’t mean elections don’t matter, but they don’t solve our problems and focusing only on that goal, as Theodore Roosevelt did and as a whole lot of progressives do today, can make creating long-term change much harder. Ultimately for Wolraich, that’s why La Follette is the more noble political leader, even if Roosevelt has his face blasted into a South Dakota mountain.

FIFA Labor Standards

[ 28 ] June 6, 2015 |


Minky Worden argues at Human Rights Watch that while corruption is a major issue, the new FIFA director needs to prioritize worker safety in building World Cup facilities.

FIFA’s (non-corruption) problems are legion. Migrant workers shouldn’t toil in deadly heat to construct monumental stadiums: no sports fan wants to watch from seats that workers died to build. Sponsors shouldn’t want to promote games in repressive countries that threaten and jail critics. Journalists shouldn’t be beaten and jailed for reporting on abuses tied to the World Cup. Women shouldn’t be banned from watching football matches.

Whoever takes over in FIFA’s top job should act fast to end the abuses against migrant laborers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, where workers are bound by an oppressive sponsorship system known as kafala. The new leadership should also insist that ahead of the 2018 World Cup, Russia prevents the rampant exploitation of migrant workers that the government tolerated for years before last year’s Sochi Olympics.

The recent trend of repressive leaders wanting to host mega-sporting events is one to stop. China, Qatar, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan want to host global contests because it brings the chance to burnish reputations and divert media attention from domestic problems.

As democratic states move away from hosting giant sporting events thanks to the enormous burdens they place on local infrastructure, taxpayers, and the everyday lives of those who live around them, repressive states are becoming more attractive to FIFA and the IOC. That portends a real risk of workplace deaths for those laboring on these sites. The international sporting community must make labor standards a priority in assessing the suitability of a nation to host these events.

Of course, not deciding on these sites by which nation gives voting members the biggest bribes wouldn’t hurt.

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