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Category: General


[ 206 ] January 15, 2017 |


I find Dinesh D’Souza so confusing. The man clearly wants to return to the Jim Crow years. Or even slavery. But why does he think that if that was to happen, he wouldn’t be affected by it? Here is D’Souza on slavery:

Recently convicted felon and conservative columnist Dinesh D’Souza’s book, “The End of Racism,” provides some great examples of rewriting race. D’Souza says of slavery, “No free workers enjoyed a comparable social security system from birth until death.” Later, he writes, “Masters … encouraged the family unit which basically remained intact.” In a particularly appalling passage, he writes, “slavery appears such a relatively mild business that one begins to wonder why Frederick Douglass and so many other ever tried to escape.” And concludes, “In summary, the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

And then his tour de force tweet of yesterday:

I actually expect this from Attorney General Forrest. But, again, why does D’Souza think he would be excepted from the racist regime he fights for?


The Harvard Cross-Burning

[ 27 ] January 15, 2017 |


I was reading an academic article yesterday and came across a reference to a 1952 cross burning at Harvard, as white students protested 8 black students living in a dorm. One of those students was J. Max Bond, who would late become a leading architect, not to mention being the cousin of Julian Bond. I was curious to see if Harvard had done anything to remember this really horrible incident, as it was the first I had heard of it. Turns out, no.

Max’s widow, Jean Carey Bond, a writer, teacher, and activist, had prepared an 11-page recollection of his life. In it, she noted that Max entered Harvard at age 15, finished in three years, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Yet shortly after his fifteenth birthday, he was welcomed by the burning cross. Even more outrageously, wrote Ms. Bond in the handout, he was subsequently threatened by the Harvard administration (presumably to protect the University’s image) that any black student who reported the incident to the Boston media would be suspended.

But Max and Lou Sharpe, co-chair of the Harvard Society for Minority Rights, defied the threat, and a story or short account of the cross-burning appeared in The Crimson, the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, the New York Times, and elsewhere, in the U.S. and abroad. As someone (white) whose work and personal life are replete with anti-racism activities, I decided I’d try to get Harvard at least to apologize for their alleged threat (and the censorship that threat would have constituted). While this is a very different era in U.S. race relations and one hopes that such an event would not happen today, past incidents of racist behavior certainly deserve an apology, if only for its educational or symbolic value.

I first wrote a letter to the editor of Harvard Magazine. Next I went to the top: On Sept. 2, 2009, I wrote University President Drew Gilpin Faust, recently appointed as Harvard’s first female president, referring to my just-published letter, summarizing the history, and urging an institutional apology. Indeed, Brown University had just recently apologized for its own racial history. In return, Faust wrote me, essentially asking for documentation of the threat and clearly reluctant to accede to my request.

While I made some real effort to locate such documentation, attempting to contact the relevant deans at the time, such historical documents are essentially closed to researchers; contacting those of Max’s fellow black students whom I could find (some of whom—more than five decades later—had only dim memories of the incident), but who were unable to pass on to me any firm proof of who made the threat, to whom, and in what form.

President Faust’s response struck me as truly off-putting and defensive—no offer to search the archives (by me or someone else) for relevant documentation, no willingness to contact Jean Carey Bond or their children to find out what Max had told them of that incident, no trust that Jean was accurately reporting something Max had conveyed to her. President Faust’s words: “Unfortunately, in a university as old as ours there will be many regrettable incidents involving administrators whose values are different from ours, and not all of them are easily verifiable after much time has passed… [The] episodes described in your letter to the magazine are particularly egregious and make painful reading. I do appreciate your bringing them to my attention.”

Of course Drew Gilpin Faust, one of the nation’s leading Civil War historians, has been a general embarrassment as Harvard president to anyone who thinks historians should apply the lessons about injustice that they write about to the present. Really shameful. Harvard needs to do something to apologize for this and commemorate it on campus.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 66

[ 16 ] January 15, 2017 |

This is the grave of James J. Hill.


Born in 1838 in Ontario, Hill moved permanently to the United States in 1856, setting in Saint Paul, Minnesota, a few years before the good citizens of that state committed massive genocide against the Dakota people in the 1862 Dakota War. He quickly became involved in shipping and then banking, building a small fortune for himself. Railroads became his next target. He wanted to build a transcontinental line across the northern border of the U.S. to the Puget Sound. He starting buying up railroads and moving his lines farther west, into North Dakota and Montana. In 1893, his Great Northern Railway reached Seattle, connecting that burgeoning city to the east. As part of the railroad empires, the federal government deeded huge sums of land to the capitalists. They wanted to dump that land in order to turn a profit that was not always easy to get building into sparsely populated land. But how to turn North Dakota into a profit? Hill relied on schemes to convince Scandinavia farmers to come to the United States and buy this bucolic land of mild climate, where anything could grow and sure fortunes were to result. In other words, his agents lied to the poor of Europe to sucker them into buying land in the middle of North Dakota. Hill also was aggressive in finding new labor forces to exploit. Never comfortable actually paying workers enough to live, he originally wanted to use the Chinese but that was getting more difficult by the 1890s. He briefly turned to Italians and Greeks but found the Japanese more exploitable.

He then sold 900,000 acres of Washington to Frederick Weyerhaeuser in 1900, creating that state as a timber capital and allowing the southwestern part of it to become a permanent timber colony, subject to the whims of the global market and allowing it to remain in poverty, in many cases to the present, as massive deforestation, a lack of alternative economic options, and schemes to con the poor into farming logged-off lands created a semi-permanent Washington underclass today embodied in such areas as Aberdeen, Longview, and Centralia.

Hill of course was as steeped in shady dealings as any other Gilded Age capitalist, although he doesn’t seem to have stolen from his own companies like the California rail barons did. He sought to build his monopoly and found a ready ally in J.P. Morgan to help him do that. He wanted to take over most of the major railroad lines in the West. He first grabbed the Northern Pacific during the Panic of 1893. He and Morgan then made a play at the Union Pacific, but that railroad had Rockefeller money behind it. The ensuing chaos meant too much competition. So instead they came to a truce, but Hill and Morgan created the Northern Securities Company to tie all the lines together and come out on top. It was this monopoly that Theodore Roosevelt chose to take on in 1902 to acquire his undeserved reputation as a “trust-buster,” a reputation that, like everything else with Roosevelt, was a product of his own self-promotion machine that sought to play the press like a violin to promote his own agenda, a machine that still colors our view of Roosevelt, as well as people who he turned on like William Howard Taft, into the present.

In any case, the Supreme Court upholding Roosevelt’s actions in busting the Northern Securities monopoly did hurt Hill’s hoped for investments in Asia. He had to console himself with only taking over more American railroads and building himself a 36,000 square foot mansion. When Hill died in 1916, he was only worth $2.5 billion in today’s money. Hard out there for a plutocrat.

What kind of man was James J. Hill? The kind who is a hero to the Mises Institute and other purveyors of Austrian economics. The kind of man who would call William Jennings Bryan’s plan for government regulation of the railroads “revolution.”

Unfortunately, no one has ever played Hill on TV or in the movies. Maybe it’s time to create an HBO show on the vile doings of Gilded Age capitalists.

James J. Hill is buried in Resurrection Cemetery, Saint Paul, Minnesota

In Retrospect, Perhaps His Claims Should Have Been Treated With More Skepticism

[ 63 ] January 15, 2017 |


House Snipe-Hunter in Chief Jason Chaffetz wasted countless amounts of taxpayer-provided time and money generating pseudo-scandals out of nothing, and vowed to continue to do so if Clinton won. His conduct perfectly reflected the Clinton Rules: i.e. “We know the Clintons are guilty; the only question is what are they guilty of and when will we find the evidence?” But surely this is about the Checks and Balances and…sorry, I can’t go on:

Of course, Republicans could have left it at that. But Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House Oversight Committee, has decided that not only are blatant ethics and constitutional violations now OK but also that criticizing blatant ethics and constitutional violations is not OK.

On Thursday, Chaffetz opted to go full Salem on the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, attacking Shaub for having done his job. The Republican threatened to subpoena Shaub if he refuses to participate in an official transcribed behind-closed doors interview. The calculus here seems to be that if nobody sees this crooked behavior by supposed ethics guardians like Chaffetz, then it didn’t happen.

OGE, set up post-Watergate, is nonpartisan and advises executive branch officials on avoiding conflicts. Shaub’s five-year term expires in January 2018.

Chaffetz demanded in a letter that he appear before lawmakers in the aforementioned closed-door, transcribed interview, to answer questions in a deposition-style setting. Richard Painter, who served as the ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told the New York Times that this was “political retaliation” by Republicans against nonpartisan ethics officers for doing their basic duty.

Chaffetz is, needless to say, a risible hack. He would be an cartoonishly overbroad villain by the standards of House of Cards. And yet, the punchline is that he essentially dictated coverage of the Clinton campaign. And with the help of the ghost of the slave power, one of his pseudo-scandals ended up putting Trump in the White House, where Chaffetz can now ignore his unprecedented corruption and unfitness for office. Just superb work.

Incidentally, Chaffetz is also the perfect representative of another transparently obvious scam that the media eagerly fell for: #NeverTrump. Refuse to endorse Trump when he looks certain to lose, reap the rewards for your Great Integritude, and then quietly endorse Trump the second he has any apparent chance of winning. And, now, Chaffetz will not only allow Trump to do whatever he wants as long as he gets to kill people in exchange for upper-class tax cuts, he will try to silence people who believe the House should make some effort to fulfill its constitutional role.

There should be a lesson about refusing to take Our Benevolent Republican Daddies seriously, but instead I’m guessing we’re going to get another round the million of Paul Ryan, Impressive Policy Wonk Who Sincerely Cares About the Poor People He Wants To Take Health Care and Food From instead. Ooooh, look over there, Hillary sent some emails!

The Bush Brain Method

[ 134 ] January 15, 2017 |

I know most of you remember that Karl Rove was known for being someone who thought that going after pols’ strengths rather their weaknesses was sound political strategery strategy. It’s how we ended up with people at the 2004 RNC mockingly wearing purple heart bandaids on their faces and it seemed like a pretty successful–if disgusting–gambit at the time.

Yesterday I was talking to a tweep who made the case that these perceived strengths were actually weaknesses if they in effect functioned as weaknesses. That sounded really wrong to me, but as we talked it out, I became less and less sure of my position. It’s a subject that really interests me, so I thought I’d put the question to you all: Do people in fact have political “strengths” if they can be attacked effectively? And is the strategy of going after these perceived strengths a good one?


Does the changing, increasingly-more-polarized political climate affect this strategy? For instance, would R’s have worn the bandaids in 1994? Or would they have shown at least the perfunctory reverence for military service that R’s pretend to be about?

What a Glorious Time to be Free

[ 259 ] January 14, 2017 |



President-elect Donald Trump added one more insult late Saturday in his ongoing feud with Georgia Rep. John Lewis, urging the Democrat to “finally focus on the burning and crime infested inner-cities of the U.S.

So an institutional mechanism designed to overrepresent slaveholders, with a major assist from the FBI, installed an overt racist as president. I’d say American constitutionalism seems very robust right now.

The crucial question is not why John Lewis isn’t treating Trump as legitimate, but why other prominent Democrats are.

NFL Divisional Round Open Thread

[ 150 ] January 14, 2017 |


ATLANTA (-6) over Seattle Seahawks fans obviously can’t really complain about much in the Pete Carroll era; getting beaten up in the divisional round still puts you in the upper-middle class of NFL teams. (NOTE: offer void in Texas and Indiana.) And it’s not like the window is permanently slammed shut — the organization has the QB/coach/GM trinity you need to be successful. But today…lesse, and already somewhat declining defense without its most vital player going up against one of the best offenses in NFL history? With the QB far from 100% and missing his #2 receiver, playing behind an offensive line consisting of a college safety, Paul Allen’s most expendable bouncer, and three paper mache pylons? On the road? And Wade Phillips just took over the pass rush Tom Cable couldn’t figure out how to stop when it was being coached by Jeff Fisher and Greggggg Williams? [Dog in burning house “Everything Is Fine” gif]

TEAM TRUMP (-16) over Houston Would Houston beating New England be the biggest upset in NFL playoff history? It would certainly be up there. The famous Beast Quake game in 2011 involved the #19 team in DVOA beating #2, plus the former was at home. This involves #29 on the road against #1. The one negative I can mention about the Pats is that despite the points allowed junk stat, the New England defense is mediocre and has looked superficially better than that only because of favorable field position and a tomato can schedule. You know who’s not well-positioned to take advantage of that? Brock Osweiler and QB GURU Bill O’Brien. (Belichick must be almost as excited about going up against his coaching tree in the playoffs as he is about Inauguration Day.) Let’s just say I don’t expect to have to DVR the Flames/Here Have Yet Another #1 Overall Picks game that starts at 10.

Green Bay (+4 1/2) over Dallas: Now this is more like it — #7 DVOA and going up on the road against #2. The Cowboys are the slightly discounted version of the Pats — an offensive machine only a little bit less efficient than the Falcons and Trumps, and defensively — well, Rod Marinelli has done a hell of a job getting mediocre performance out of mostly replacement-level talent. Green Bay are in the same basic mold but, in 2016, not quite as good on either said of the ball. Having said that, and acknowledging that Nelson is a major loss, the Packers are getting more than a field goal in what looks like a last-team-with-the-ball wins shootout, and Rodgers has a much longer track record of elite performance than Prescott.

KANSAS CITY (-1) over Pittsburgh This game is an object lesson in why I make football picks on a lightly read political blog rather than betting actual money on them. The #5 DVOA team on the road against #6 — doesn’t get much tighter than that. One interesting thing about this matchup is that while the ultimate results were very similar the paths are very different — the Steelers have a higher ceiling but are more erratic, the Chiefs are more consistent but Captain Checkdown and their bend-but-don’t-break defense won’t beat the Steelers if they play as well as they’re capable of playing. Which Steelers team will we get? Beats me, but I’ll put my non-money on Andy Reid off a bye week at Arrowhead. Slow-but-steady will get to run an 8-minute 4th quarter drive down 10 at Foxboro next week.

Building International Solidarity

[ 13 ] January 14, 2017 |


With the overall attack on unions in the United States, the ability of the AFL-CIO to engage in international solidarity actions gets harder and harder, as does its ability to lead the way on working-class issues at home. This is of course the point of anti-union laws. But if we are to tame the horrors of the supply chain, with American companies moving jobs overseas to increase profit and undermine work at home, the American labor movement has to build solidarity with those workers overseas and figure out ways to tame the global exploitation of corporations. Of course for a long time the labor movement worked closely with the government to undermine international solidarity in the AFL-CIA days and it’s a sad irony that the labor movement has finally moved toward helping build social democracy in other nations at the same time it is losing its ability to do so at home.

Anyway, the AFL-CIO has an excellent set of ideas of working toward justice in Bangladesh, where American corporations have targeted workers for death in their supply chains.

Nearly five years after the torture and assassination of Bangladeshi labor leader Aminul Islam, the country’s garment-sector employers and the government continue to persecute workers who try to exercise basic rights. In the three weeks since a December strike to protest the paltry $68 per month minimum wage, garment employers and the government have again shown their hostility toward workers and their rights. At that wage, workers in Dhaka would need to spend 60% of their income solely to rent substandard housing in a slum, leaving little to live on in a city about as expensive as Montreal (where the minimum wage is more than ten times higher).

Initially, employers and the government responded to the strike by closing 60 factories on Dec. 20 and deploying hundreds of police to the area. After the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) ordered owners to reopen factories on Dec. 26, employers fired and suspended more than 1,600 workers for their alleged involvement in the unrest. Labor leaders and activists in Bangladesh and abroad demanded the reinstatement of all workers.

Instead, both employers and government responded with increased repression. Since Dec. 21, at least 15 union leaders and workers’ rights advocates have been detained or arrested and 11 individuals remain in police custody. At least two of these have been beaten, and at least one was threatened with death. Clearly, the BGMEA and the government have the power to end these abuses immediately. Instead, garment employers and their association, exercise their considerable political power (at least 25 members of parliament are garment employers!) to demand that the government repress any worker or labor activist attempting to organize or represent workers’ interests. And the government delivers quickly on this request.

American companies may not be pulling the strings on the repression of the Bangladeshi labor movement. But they are very happy about it and it’s happening with their clear consent. Here is the call to action:

The AFL-CIO calls on the following to act:

The U.S. government must maintain its current suspension of GSP benefits to Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh government must stop using national security/anti-terrorism laws to criminalize trade union activity and release arrested trade union activists.
The Bangladesh government must enforce its own laws with regard to registering unions.
The Bangladesh government must convene the minimum wage board and union federations with real representation in the garment industry and must negotiate on behalf of the workers.
The BGMEA and all garment manufacturers must actually negotiate collective agreements with the unions and workers in their workplaces to address wage and other issues.

Finally, the AFL-CIO urges the European Union to seriously review its current GSP program with Bangladesh since its market is the largest for garments from Bangladesh.

This is fine but it doesn’t go far enough. The AFL-CIO also needs to call for American law to restrain American corporate behavior in their supply chains, holding companies accountable for what happens in the production of their products and the creation of trade agreements and international law that allows workers access to courts to fight for their human rights.

Right to Work a Man to Death

[ 27 ] January 14, 2017 |


A key reminder that the intellectual founder of the right to work a man to death movement was Vance Muse, anti-Semite, racist, and anti-worker. Of course these things are not unconnected. Neither are they today as Kentucky destroys its unions and Missouri may well do the same, building on the many states to do so in recent years.

Muse had long made a lucrative living lobbying throughout the South on behalf of conservative and corporate interests or, in the words of one of his critics, “playing rich industrialists as suckers.” Over the course of his career, he fought women’s suffrage, worked to defeat the constitutional amendment prohibiting child labor, lobbied for high tariffs, and sought to repeal the eight-hour day law for railroaders. He was also active in the Committee for the Americanization of the Supreme Court, which targeted Justice Felix Frankfurter, a Vienna-born Jewish man, for his votes in labor cases.

But Muse first attracted national attention through his work with Texas lumberman John Henry Kirby in the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, which sought to deny Roosevelt’s re-nomination in 1936 on grounds that the New Deal threatened the South’s racial order. Despite its name, the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution received funding from prominent northern anti-New Deal industrialists and financiers including John Jacob Raskob, Alfred P. Sloan, and brothers Lammot, Irénée, and Pierre du Pont.

Among Muse’s activities on behalf of the Southern Committee was the distribution of what Time called “cheap pamphlets containing blurred photographs of the Roosevelts consorting with Negroes” accompanied by “blatant text proclaiming them ardent Negrophiles.” Muse later defended the action and the use of its most provocative photograph: “I am a Southerner and for white supremacy… It was a picture of Mrs. Roosevelt going to some n—-r meeting with two escorts, n—–s, on each arm.”

In 1936, on the heels of the Southern Committee’s failure to deny Roosevelt’s nomination, Muse incorporated the Christian American Association to continue the fight against the New Deal, offering up a toxic mix of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Communism, and anti-unionism. The Christian Americans considered the New Deal to be part of the broader assault of “Jewish Marxism” upon Christian free enterprise.

The organization’s titular head, Lewis Valentine Ulrey, explained that after their success in Russia the “Talmudists” had determined to conquer the rest of the world and that “by 1935 they had such open success with the New Deal in the United States, that they decided to openly restore the Sanhedrin,” that is, both the council of Jewish leaders who oversaw a community and the Jewish elders who, according to the Bible, plotted to kill Christ.

This “modern Jewish Sanhedrin” – which included people like Justice Frankfurter and NAACP board member Rabbi Stephen Wise – served as the guiding force of the Roosevelt Administration and the New Deal state. Vance Muse voiced the same anti-Semitic ideas in much simpler terms: “That crazy man in the White House will Sovietize America with the federal hand-outs of the Bum Deal – sorry, New Deal. Or is it the Jew Deal?”

By the early 1940s, Muse and the Christian American Association, like many southern conservatives, focused much of their wrath on the labor movement, especially the unions associated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The Christian Americans solicited wealthy southern planters and industrialists for funds to help break the “strangle hold radical labor has on our government” through the enactment of anti-union laws.

Muse and his allies continued to claim that Marxist Jews were pulling the national government’s strings, but the membership of this cabal shifted from the likes of Wise and Frankfurter to CIO leaders like Lee Pressman and Sidney Hillman. The Christian Americans, like other southern conservatives, insisted that the CIO – which had become shorthand for Jewish Marxist unions – was sending organizers to the rural South to inflame the contented but gullible African-American population as the first step in a plot to Sovietize the nation.

Nice guy. Perfect for the Republican Party of 2017.

Also, in case any needs a primer on the origin of my term for those laws.

Obama’s Climate Legacy

[ 30 ] January 14, 2017 |


Given the constraints of an extremist opposition, there’s probably not much more Obama could have done on climate change. He sums up his achievements and the need to move forward in an article in Science, written by him, although almost certainly not actually written by him. This is the first time a sitting president has ever published in the prestigious journal.

Of course one can argue that Obama’s biggest weakness is thinking that anyone cares what is published in a journal like Science instead of playing the dirty politics that actually leads to power in this country. It would be nice if this country could have nice things, but what a pipe dream.

Good Morning America!

[ 288 ] January 14, 2017 |


Just great:

President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday accused Rep. John Lewis of not doing enough for his district after the Georgia lawmaker and civil rights icon said he doesn’t see the “president-elect as a legitimate president.”

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to……mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!” Trump wrote in a series of two tweets.

Trump’s comments came after Lewis questioned Trump’s victory in the presidential race. Lewis also testified against Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Lewis has said he won’t attend Trump’s inauguration.

Personal to Jim Comey and Dean Baquet: Heckuva job, really.

Buy Me Arthur!

[ 47 ] January 13, 2017 |

wax presidents-246599431.grid-6x2

My birthday is coming up later this month. I think some presents are in order!

Politicians like to say they cannot be bought.

But this weekend, here amid the rolling Civil War battlefields and the kitschy souvenir shops, anyone can buy a politician — a president no less — deftly shaped by skilled manipulators of wax and other polymers.

At auction is the collection of the Hall of Presidents and First Ladies, a 60-year-old wax museum that has earnestly presented every occupant of the Oval Office — and their female counterparts — in varying degrees of accuracy.

“Franklin Pierce has the wrong color hair,” said Bruce Larson, a professor of political science at Gettysburg College, who had come to case the collection on a boreal winter day.

“And Taft, to me, looks too thin,” said John Tormey III, an entertainment lawyer who had driven from New York, and was nevertheless planning to bid on a figure for his home office. “I’ve already been told that if I take back more than one wax figure, the locks on my house will be changed.”

Do you think I care about accuracy in look? I want Chester Arthur or Benjamin Harrison in a corner, overlooking my students as they come to me begging for unwarranted grade improvements. How do you think a Gilded Age figure would consider your begging? Pathetic! Social Darwinism people! Chester Arthur for my office! Do it sheeple!

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