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Category: General

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 105

[ 16 ] July 16, 2017 |

This is the grave of Elbridge Gerry.

Born in 1744 in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Gerry grew up in a Massachusetts elite merchant family. He gradated from Harvard in 1762 and received an M.A. from the same institution in 1765. He was an early supporter of anti-British sentiment, working with Sam Adams, John Hancock, and others by 1770. He used his business contacts to help fund the American Revolution, served in the Second Continental Congress, and supported the Declaration of Independence. He served at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and to his credit strongly opposed the Three-Fifths Compromise. He actually was only of only 3 delegates to vote against the Constitution as it was written, fearing the lack of individual liberties in the proposed government. He fought hard for the Bill of Rights to amend the flawed document, especially the inclusion of freedom of assembly in the First Amendment and for the Fourth Amendment. He really tried to stay away from the developing political party system after the Revolution, holding very strongly the antipathy to political parties common among the Founders. He supported Alexander Hamilton’s financial plans but disliked the monarchical inclinations of the man and his supporters. He was chosen by John Adams to be a representative to France in what became known as the XYZ Affair because he was so known for his impartiality. Finally, in 1800, he joined the Democratic-Republicans as a response to his discomfort with Federalist centralization of power and because Federalist partisans had attacked him over his role in the XYZ Affair, claiming he was pro-French, which was proven not true when he published his correspondence with Talleyrand. He then served as governor of Massachusetts for a couple of years.

But let’s quit beating around the bush. There is one reason why Gerry is important today, and that is what became known as gerrymandering. The overall connection to him for this is a bit unfair. He was governor in 1812 and the state legislature adopted new electoral boundaries that were highly partisan. He signed the bill. Federalists protesting their exclusion from power called it “gerrymandering” and the term stuck. It also contributed to his defeat for reelection in 1812. No matter, as James Madison chose him to be Vice-President. He served in that role until 1814, when he died.

In conclusion, this fellow’s signing of that 1812 bill has caused us no problems in the present.

Elbridge Gerry is buried in Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C.


This Day in Labor History: July 16, 1931

[ 9 ] July 16, 2017 |

On July 16, 1931, a white mob murdered the black sharecropper organizer Ralph Gray in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. This murder demonstrated both the very real communist organizing among black sharecroppers in Alabama and the extent that whites would go to keep control of their rural labor force, eight decades after the Civil War.

Gray was born into a family with a long history of fighting for black rights. His grandfather had served in the Alabama state legislature during Reconstruction. Gray was born in 1873 and had fought for his own personal survival through the terrible oppression that defined his life. He moved to Birmingham for awhile before returning to Tallapoosa in 1895 to get married and become a tenant farmer. In 1919, he set out again for a better life, but ended up sharecropping in Oklahoma and New Mexico over the next decade, unable to get ahead. He returned home in 1929. He managed to scrape together a small amount of money, bought a little land and even an automobile. He took out a federal loan in 1931 to rent a farm from a local white farmer. The check was supposed to be split between the two men. The white landowner stole Gray’s half. Gray took the case to the Agricultural Extension Service. The landowner was outraged and attempted to beat Gray. But Gray fought back and did the beating himself.

By this time, the Depression was decimating southern farmers and the worst of it was among sharecroppers. Gray began reading the Communist Party’s southern paper Southern Worker. He declared himself a communist and wanted to start a sharecroppers’ union. The Communist Party, probably the most important majority white organization in the United States fighting for racial equality, even if it had its own form of racial blinders, was attempting to organize southern workers no matter the race. Gray and his brother wrote to the CP, requesting an organizer come help them. That organizer was Mack Coad, an illiterate Birmingham steelworker and communist. He came at a good time. Tallapoosa County white landowners, having all the crops planted by mid-May, decided to withhold credit and food from black farmworkers to force them to work in a new sawmill. The outrage over this led to significant interest in the Communists from these black workers, as was happening in many places in Alabama during the early 1930s. Gray and Coad started a local branch of the Croppers’ and Farm Workers Union (CFWU), which soon had 800 members.

The sheer idea of black organizing outraged the local white elite and they acted with the brutality all too typical of the South. On July 15, the CFWU held a meeting to discuss the Scottsboro Boys’ case, the famous trial against nine African-Americans for raping two white women on a train, a charge for which they were completely innocent and which became a major cause on the left in 30s. The Scottboro Boys had been sentenced to death five days earlier and the movement to support them was beginning. About 80 people showed up to hear Coad discuss the case. Sheriff Kyle Young created a posse to violently eliminate this growing threat to the white political, economic, and racial power structure in Tallapoosa County. They went to the meeting house and brutally beat many of the people there, scattering everyone else. They then went to the home of Tommy Gray, brother of Ralph. There they beat him and his wife, breaking her skull. Ralph Gray ran in armed and dispersed the posse. Showing incredible bravery, the next evening about 150 people gathered for another meeting with Coad. Armed sentries guarded the building. Ralph Gray was among those standing guard. When Young and his deputies showed up to the meeting, they confronted Gray. Shots rang out. Gray had shot Young with buckshot in the stomach while Gray laid on the ground with wounds to his legs.

Coad and others carried Gray back to his home and barricaded themselves inside. A new posse developed led by police chief J.M. Wilson. The exchange of fire lasted for some time and gave everyone but Gray the chance to escape. He evidently told his comrades to leave him. When the posse walked in to his house, someone put a gun down his throat and fired. They then burned his house and dumped his body on the steps of the courthouse in Dadeville. Armed whites then used his body for target practice. In the repressive aftermath, between 34 and 58 African-American men were arrested over the next few days. Most were charged with conspiracy to murder and carrying a concealed weapon, but 5 union leaders were charged with assault to murder. White mobs roamed the countryside murdering blacks and burning their homes. Dozens were killed or wounded.

Coad escaped to Atlanta. After a local black minister accused her of hiding ammunition, the police broke the back of Estelle Milner. These local mobs were whipped up by the white power elite in Alabama. The Birmingham Age-Herald ran a story titled “Negro Reds Reported Advancing” with claims that eight carloads of black communists were heading for Tallapoosa to help the sharecroppers. Of course, these stories were accompanied with fears of black men raping white women and all the usual race-baiting. None of this was true but whites created a mob to stop traffic entering the county.

Local black leaders and white liberals blamed white communists for all of the violence, saying that sharecroppers were docile and would never start such a thing. Moreover, they said Ralph Gray was contaminated with foreign ideas from his time in Oklahoma and New Mexico, as if those states were somehow less politically nightmarish than Alabama. Walter White and the NAACP went so far to accuse the communists of using the NAACP’s name to organize the sharecroppers after white Alabama blamed that organization as well. The Communist Party planned to go all-in to defend their members in prison. Alabama elites, already feeling the pressure over the Scottsboro Boys, wanted the charges dropped and after several delays, they were released and their hearings postponed indefinitely.

None of this had led to any concrete gains for the sharecroppers but it also did not stop the organizing. On August 6, 55 communist sharecroppers, including Ralph Gray’s brother Tommy, met in Tallapoosa and reorganized. The Communist Party would continue seeing success in organizing rural black workers in the Alabama through the rest of the decade.

I’m sure it will shock everyone that Tallapoosa County went 70-28 for Donald Trump in 2016.

I borrowed from Robin D.G. Kelley’s seminal Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists during the Great Depression in the writing of this post. You should read this book.

This is the 231st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Chimpan-A to Chimpan-Z

[ 50 ] July 15, 2017 |

A deep exploration on what might be The Simpsons’ finest moment.

The upper middle class sandwich

[ 139 ] July 15, 2017 |

David Brooks got a lot of mostly deserved flak for his latest adventures in culinary ethnography, but Richard Reeves’ argument about opportunity hoarding by the “upper middle class” deserves attention. I’ve never liked the phrase “upper middle class,” because it’s a classic weasel term. For instance it’s subject to almost endless elasticity, as it’s used by people who have a lot of servants, but somehow still consider themselves in some sense part of the actual middle class. A better term, I think, is “lower upper class,” which describes people who are sort of rich but not, to echo the inimitable Swifty Lazar, currently in possession of fuck you money.

Where does the lower upper class start? This is by nature a question that will have a fuzzy answer, depending on lots of categories (Income isn’t the same as wealth; cultural capital is real, etc.). Reeves suggests in his NYT piece that the top 20% of household incomes represents a useful general category, but let’s look at some numbers:

Cut points for household income percentiles, USA 2015, in current dollars, rounded to nearest thousand

80th 117,000
85th 135,500
90th 162,000
95th 215,000
99th 400,000
99.9th 1,117,000

I suppose you can make an argument for the rough floor of the lower upper class anywhere in this range, but I would put it somewhere between the 90th and 95th percentiles, more or less, subject of course to lots of caveats about the differences between Manhattan NY and Manhattan KS and so forth.

Anyway this post is intended as a platform for opinions/discussion of the question, rather than providing an answer to it.

Elections Have Consequences: Sex Education Edition

[ 52 ] July 15, 2017 |

Jane Kay, of the Center for Investigative Reporting, reports that the Department of Health and Human Services has abruptly cancelled funding for a number of ongoing scientific studies and programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.

The Trump administration has quietly axed $213.6 million in teen pregnancy prevention programs and research at more than 80 institutions around the country, including Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and Johns Hopkins University.

The decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will end five-year grants awarded by the Obama administration that were designed to find scientifically valid ways to help teenagers make healthy decisions that avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top Trump appointees are outspoken opponents of federal funding for birth control, advocating abstinence rather than contraceptives to control teen pregnancies.

Among the programs that lost their funding: the Choctaw Nation’s efforts to combat teen pregnancy in Oklahoma, Johns Hopkins’ work with adolescent Apaches in Arizona, the University of Texas’ guidance for youth in foster care, the Chicago Department of Public Health’s counseling and testing for sexually transmitted infections and the University of Southern California’s workshops for teaching parents how to talk to middle school kids about delaying sexual activity.

During the Bush Administration, shifting resources into abstinence-only education was one of the ways that the White House rewarded its Christian conservative base. The Obama Administration shifted toward an evidence-based approach to teen health and pregnancy, which required programs to meet scientific standards. By the end of the Obama presidency, the result was a proposal to eliminate funding abstinence-only programs entirely. It should come as no surprise that the Trump Administration wants to undo not simply programs that involve contraception, but efforts focused on producing sound policy interventions. Nor that it views this area as one to give its base free reign. Kay again:

In May, Congress approved $101 million for the third year of the 81 grants. But Trump’s proposed budget did not include any funding for fiscal year 2018.

Huber, the new chief of staff for the office of the assistant secretary for health, previously was the president of Ascend, which used to be named the National Abstinence Education Association.

In a 2014 paper on the history of sex education, Huber criticized Obama for creating comprehensive sex education programs at the expense of focusing on abstinence.

“Pro-sex organizations used every opportunity to attack abstinence education,” Huber wrote with co-author Michael Firmin. “This agenda was (and is) at least as much about destroying abstinence education as it is about supporting ‘comprehensive’ sex education. … The current Obama administration has used its fiscal scalpel to eliminate the growth of abstinence education within America’s school systems.”

Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon who was a U.S. representative from Georgia, was confirmed by Congress as health secretary in February. He has been vehemently opposed to federal programs involving contraception.

DHHS intends to return to failed policies while reducing the ability of the government to assess what makes interventions successful. In the process, it will waste millions of dollars on programs on pseudo-scientific programs. Indeed, the abstinence-only industry often looks like, swims like, and quacks like conservative rent-seeking, and it’s likely to get a lot more of your money going forward.





Global Kleptocracy and Luxury Real Estate: the World of Donald Trump

[ 3 ] July 15, 2017 |

Given recent developments in Trumpland, I decided to interview my friend and sometimes collaborator, Alex Cooley, for an episode of Foreign Entanglements. We discuss matters related to his recent co-authored bookDictators without Borders: Power and Money and Central Asia. These shed light on Trump’s business dealings, Trump-Russia connections, and some of the concerns that experts have about how Trump’s administration could damage the rule of law—not just in the United States, but globally.

I really encourage you to watch it, or listen to it in the background. Alex really knows what he’s talking about.

“I probably like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz, and I hate Ted Cruz”

[ 56 ] July 15, 2017 |

The Cruz amendment has caused the one major medical-industry interest who could live with BCRA into staunch opponents:

Two organizations representing the U.S. health insurance industry just called a new provision of the Senate Republicans’ health care proposal “simply unworkable in any form” and warned that it would cause major hardship, especially for middle-class people with serious medical problems.

The organizations, America’s Health Insurance Plans and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, speak for the businesses that would be responsible for making the new system work ― or at least attempting to do so.

That may help explain why, with a vote on the bill planned for next week, they are letting loose with what, by Washington lobbying standards, sounds like a primal scream.

In a publicly posted letter to Senate leaders, the two groups focused their attention on an amendment that would undermine the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The amendment, crafted by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), would allow insurers to resume sales of policies that leave out key benefits, such as prescription drugs or mental health. More important, it would allow insurers to discriminate among customers based on medical status, charging higher premiums or denying policies altogether to people with existing medical problems ― from the severe, like cancer, to the relatively mild, like allergies.

Krugman had a good column about the naked fraud behind TrumpCare, most notably promises to protect Medicaid turning into a bill that cuts it 35%. But in a way the fraud behind the Cruz Amendment is even more telling. Obviously, the Republican conference want to end the ACA’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But the public hates the idea, and there are a few “moderate”* Republican senators who need to convince themselves that they’re not ending these protections. So Ted Cruz came up with an idea: effectively end protections for pre-existing conditions, and indeed essentially ending any insurance being made available on the individual market that isn’t a massive fraud, but in an direct, chickenshit way. Worse, many consumers will buy into the fraud and probably won’t realize, for example, that buying junk insurance won’t count as maintaining continuous coverage. It’s just unbelievably disgusting. It may not work with the public, but the real target is “moderate”* Republicans, and what’s scary is that it might work.

While we’re here, shorter Erica Greider: “People say Ted Cruz is bad, but he created an amendment that means that the BCRA will destroy not just Medicaid but insurance exchanges too! And he makes this bill that will take insurance from more than 20 million people and make insurance for people who have it to pay for present and future upper-class tax cuts worse-to-useless more likely to pass. Where’s his parade?” I rate this take 100 Baylesses on a scale of 1 to 5.

*”Moderate” Republicans, an illustration:

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 104

[ 198 ] July 15, 2017 |

This is the grave of Omar Bradley.

I don’t have indifference to military history, I have open hostility to it and to the people who find interest in utterly pointless details of military operations. I suppose military history could be theoretically interesting, but it’s purveyors are so hidebound that it’s become a complete backwater of the historical profession, filled with people who are hostile to the historiographical and theoretical innovations that have transformed the writing of history in the last half-century. So let me see how quickly I can get through this.

Born in 1893 in rural Missouri, Omar Bradley was an important general. He led some big battles in World War II as the commander of ground forces in Europe. He became head of the Veterans Administration in 1945 and did a lot of quality work on health care for returning veterans. Then he became Joint Chief of Staff under Harry Truman in 1949 where he was the chief policy maker for the military during the Korean War. He openly rebuked Douglas MacArthur’s craziness during that war, perhaps the most important he ever did given the bloodlust MacArthur and other lunatics had to take the war into China. He retired in 1953 but remained active in military policy until his death in 1981. He was a strong hawk on Vietnam and advised Lyndon Johnson to pursue the war with vigor. That worked out great.

That seems like enough on Bradley to me. Those of you who care about World War II battles can tell me why I’m not only wrong, but a jerk too.

Omar Bradley is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Little Donald Is Probably Still Lying

[ 170 ] July 15, 2017 |

The raspberry road that led to Abu Ghraib was paved with bland assumptions that people who had repeatedly proved their untrustworthiness, could be trusted. There is much made by people who long for the days of their fourth form debating society about the fallacy of “argumentum ad hominem”. There is, as I have mentioned in the past, no fancy Latin term for the fallacy of “giving known liars the benefit of the doubt”, but it is in my view a much greater source of avoidable error in the world. Audit is meant to protect us from this, which is why audit is so important.

There has been a consistent pattern in which Little Donald denies something, the truth is revealed, and then he admits to what has been proven while making more easily disprovable lies. Has the pattern now stopped? As Yglesias says, anyone who believes this has probably already paid the $100,000 nonrefundable charge for a Ph.D from Trump University:

But there is still such a thing as common sense. I don’t believe Trump Jr.’s account, and neither should you. He’s a man with negative credibility on this matter, and despite his father’s talismanic invocation of the word “transparency,” he’s been anything but transparent about it.

It’s certainly conceivable that he’s telling the truth and no valuable information changed hands. But when you are caught lying over and over again about a meeting — first by saying it never happened and then slowly being caught out in lie after lie — a reasonable observer is going to doubt you when you claim that this time you’ve fully come clean.

Until Trump Jr. answers a lot more questions and produces a lot more information, there’s no reason to assume good faith on his part. The benefit of the doubt is a valuable commodity, and it’s one that those at the highest levels of Trumpland have squandered.


But as the old saying says, fool me twice, shame on me. Trump Jr. has already tried to fool us four or five times about this meeting, and there’s absolutely no reason we should trust him. Fox News, tellingly, has in part already moved on to justifying collusion, showing little faith from Trumpworld that the denials of collusion will hold up over the long run. Those of us who aren’t in the tank ought to muster at least the same level of skepticism.

As a couple of commenters has observed, the most likely Trump endgame is “sure, we collaborated with the Russians to beat Crooked Hillary, we won, fuck you.” The fact that Fox News is already there is pretty telling.

As a counterpoint from an anti-anti Trump “left” that is considerably slower on the uptake than Fox & Friends, let’s consider this particularly derpy illustration of the “Hitchens Pinciple” — that is, when someone preemptively describes their argument as being “contrarian” there is a 95% chance this means “idiotic”:

This is risible from soup to nuts, obviously, but I especially like the chickenshit qualifying “the Russian ratfucking scandal is like Birtherism” line with “not with his claims of his foreign birth.” Since the analogy is intelligence-insultingly false if it has any actual content, back away just enough so that if anyone calls you on it you didn’t really mean it. And the “actually Trump collaborating with the Russians is excellent political news for the Republican Party” punchline — perfect.

The rot

[ 162 ] July 14, 2017 |

Jennifer Rubin (yeah that one) has awoken:

The key insight from a week of gobsmacking revelations is not that the Russia scandal may finally have an underlying crime but that, as David Brooks suggests, “over the past few generations the Trump family built an enveloping culture that is beyond good and evil.” (Remember when the media collectively oohed and ahhed that, “Say what you will about Donald Trump, but his kids are great!”? Add that to the heap of inane media narratives that helped normalize Trump to the voters.) We now see that, sure enough, the Trump legal team (the fastest-growing segment of the economy) has trouble restraining its clients, explaining away initial, false explanations and preventing self-incriminating statements. (The biggest trouble, of course, is that the president lied that this is all “fake news” and arguably committed obstruction of justice to hide his campaign team’s misdeeds.)

Let me suggest the real problem is not the Trump family, but the GOP. To paraphrase Brooks, “It takes generations to hammer ethical considerations out of a [party’s] mind and to replace them entirely with the ruthless logic of winning and losing.” Again, to borrow from Brooks, beyond partisanship the GOP evidences “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code.”

Let’s dispense with the “Democrats are just as bad” defense. First, I don’t much care; we collectively face a party in charge of virtually the entire federal government and the vast majority of statehouses and governorships. It’s that party’s inner moral rot that must concern us for now. Second, it’s simply not true, and saying so reveals the origin of the problem — a “woe is me” sense of victimhood that grossly exaggerates the opposition’s ills and in turn justifies its own egregious political judgments and rhetoric. If the GOP had not become unhinged about the Clintons, would it have rationalized Trump as the lesser of two evils? Only in the crazed bubble of right-wing hysteria does an ethically challenged, moderate Democrat become a threat to Western civilization and Trump the salvation of America.

Indeed, for decades now, demonization — of gays, immigrants, Democrats, the media, feminists, etc. — has been the animating spirit behind much of the right. It has distorted its assessment of reality, giving us anti-immigrant hysteria, promulgating disrespect for the law (how many “respectable” conservatives suggested disregarding the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage?), elevating Fox News hosts’ blatantly false propaganda as the counterweight to liberal media bias and preventing serious policy debate. For seven years, the party vilified Obamacare without an accurate assessment of its faults and feasible alternative plans. “Obama bad” or “Clinton bad” became the only credo — leaving the party, as Brooks said of the Trump clan, with “no attachment to any external moral truth or ethical code” — and no coherent policies for governing.

We have always had in our political culture narcissists, ideologues and flimflammers, but it took the 21st-century GOP to put one in the White House. It took elected leaders such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and the Republican National Committee (not to mention its donors and activists) to wave off Trump’s racists attacks on a federal judge, blatant lies about everything from 9/11 to his own involvement in birtherism, replete evidence of disloyalty to America (i.e. Trump’s “Russia first” policies), misogyny, Islamophobia, ongoing potential violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause (along with a mass of conflicts of interests), firing of an FBI director, and now, evidence that the campaign was willing to enlist a foreign power to defeat Clinton in the presidential election.

Out of its collective sense of victimhood came the GOP’s disdain for not just intellectuals but also intellectualism, science, Economics 101, history and constitutional fidelity. If the Trump children became slaves to money and to their father’s unbridled ego, then the GOP became slaves to its own demons and false narratives. A party that has to deny climate change and insist illegal immigrants are creating a crime wave — because that is what “conservatives” must believe, since liberals do not — is a party that will deny Trump’s complicity in gross misconduct. It’s a party as unfit to govern as Trump is unfit to occupy the White House. It’s not by accident that Trump chose to inhabit the party that has defined itself in opposition to reality and to any “external moral truth or ethical code.”

When Trump falls, which at this rate could happen by the end of the All-Star break, there’s going to be a massive attempt to reinterpret what’s been going on as some sort of one-off cult of personality freak show. As Scott has pointed out many times, Donald Trump’s presidency and Trumpism itself are both completely predictable if not inevitable consequences of the nature of the contemporary Republican party.

Russian spy at meeting with Trump Jr. not formally trained as a spy

[ 150 ] July 14, 2017 |

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s son, marking another shift in the account of a discussion that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican’s White House campaign.

Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation to The Associated Press on Friday. Akhmetshin has been reported to have ties to Russian intelligence agencies, a characterization he dismisses as a “smear campaign.” He told the AP he served in the Soviet military in a unit that was part of counterintelligence but was never formally trained as a spy.

Okey dokey Boris.


During the meeting, Akhmetshin said Veselnitskaya brought with her a plastic folder with printed-out documents that detailed what she believed was the flow of illicit funds to the Democratic National Committee. Veselnitskaya presented the contents of the documents to the Trump associates and suggested that making the information public could help the Trump campaign, he said.

“This could be a good issue to expose how the DNC is accepting bad money,” Akhmetshin recalled her saying.


This plot line could have spewed forth from the MacBook of the laziest Hollywood hack.

Flashback Friday: Summer Vacation Auto-Response

[ 7 ] July 14, 2017 |

The Girls go on vacation

It’s the height of summer and I’m hard at work with family in town playing tour guide. I also have a birthday I need to really party hard for. Unfortunately, I don’t have a whole lot of time for a serious analysis of a 90’s pop song this week. Hopefully many of you are also on vacation and can’t be buggered.

So I will leave you with one of my favorite cheesy TV birthday moments from one of my favorite shows of all time. The original Sex and The City: The Golden Girls!!


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