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Jack Rollins, RIP

[ 38 ] June 18, 2015 |

The legendary producer of Woody Allen’s 70s films and incredibly influential figure in the comedy of that era has died at the ripe old age of 100. Among his many achievements was working with Woody Allen to make him into the brilliant comedian and director he became.

The Most Glorious Sight I’ve Ever Seen

[ 113 ] June 18, 2015 |

Burn baby burn.

What Are the Odds That a Symbol of Treason in Defense of Slavery Would be Associated With A Racist Nut?

[ 68 ] June 18, 2015 |

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Via gocart mozart in comments, this is priceless:

We reached the national spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans just moments ago, just after he had been told that early reports out of South Carolina suggest that the man police have arrested in connection with last night’s massacre at a historic black Charleston church had a confederate plate on the front of his car.

Ben Jones, a former Georgia Congressman made famous for his role as Cooter in Dukes of Hazzard, reacted bitterly to the news.

“Now to hear that this son of a b**ch had a Confederate plate,” Jones said in an interview with The News moments ago. “That said it all for me. Those people are the ones who are defining this issue and not the millions and millions of good people who see it as a symbol honoring their ancestors. It’s a crying shame. Symbolism is a power thing. Carl Jung said that. And it’s the winners who write the history. There’s nothing we can do about it. You can’t appeal the Supreme Court.

“But it won’t make me feel any differently [about his ancestors}. Except to make me more angry at the bigots and racists who desecrate the Confederate symbols,” he said.

Admittedly, this puts Jones one up on Nikki Haley, who asserted that we can’t possibly know what motivated Dylann Roof. Right, trying to determine Roof’s motives is impossible, like trying to determine why South Carolina started flying the Confederate flag at its capitol in 1962.

Speaking of which, I think Coates deserves to be linked twice.

Moral cowardice requires choice and action. It demands that its adherents repeatedly look away, that they favor the fanciful over the plain, myth over history, the dream over the real. Here is another choice.

Take down the flag. Take it down now.

Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.

Charleston: The Latest Example of White Terrorism against African-Americans

[ 54 ] June 18, 2015 |

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Ku Klux Klan rally, South Carolina, 1951

Heather Cox Richardson places the Charleston shooting in its proper historical context:

Congress stood against Klan terrorism with an 1871 law making their political intimidation a federal offense, a distinction that enabled President Grant to stop the depredations of the Ku Klux Klan by imposing martial law in parts of the South and by having federal courts, rather than local courts, try offenders. For the next twenty years, white southerners controlled black political voices by finding ways either to work with black voters or to silence them. This was imperative, they insisted, for black voters were only interested in social welfare legislation that would cost tax dollars and thus “corrupt” the American government.

In 1889, the threat of a new Republican administration to mount a federal defense of black voting brought a new construction to the idea of the corruption of government. A new generation of white Democrats worried far less about political than about social issues. They insisted that black men must not vote because if they voted, they would take local political offices. This would give them patronage power, for in the nineteenth century, local positions depended on the goodwill of local politicians. Black men would, for example, become school principals. There, they would use their power to hire teachers to force young innocent white girls to have sex with them in exchange for jobs. This political exchange very quickly turned to the idea that black political power meant widespread rape. By the early twentieth century, lynching black men was almost a civic duty for white citizens: only by purging the government of black voices could the nation be made safe.

When Roof said: “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he was echoing the fear of black political power laid down in the aftermath of the Civil War, when white American men had to face the reality that this nation is, in fact, made up of far more women and people of color than it is of white men. That fact inspired terror – and terrorism – among white men in the late nineteenth century. It did so again after 1954, when Brown v. Board warned white Americans that they would again have to share their country with African Americans. Then, as in the late nineteenth century, white Americans turned to terrorism against black political voices as, for example, when four Ku Klux Klan members bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and murdered four little girls.

South Carolina could at the very least take steps to undermine this white supremacist terrorism. First, it could take down the Confederate flag from the statehouse. Second, it could pass hate crimes legislation. It is highly unlikely to do either because white supremacy is still deeply embedded in the moral compass of much of the state’s population.

The Pope, Climate Change, and American Conservatives

[ 92 ] June 18, 2015 |

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It’s very interesting to watch American conservatives, including conservative Catholics, freak out over the Pope talking about issues that are not their own. With the pope deemphasizing the fight against abortion and gay marriage and talking about poverty and, now, climate change, one can almost feel conservative Catholics wanting to call Pope Francis illegitimate. We should hardly be surprised that American conservatives are only interested in institutions that reinforce their current policy positions, i.e. Rick Santorum saying “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.” Theology and morality. Right. Because poverty and climate change is not moral issues to Santorum, but are to the leader of his church, they are not moral issues.

Given how often these very people threw terms like “cafeteria Catholic” at pro-choice Catholics who were unhappy with the direction of the church, one wonders if we might see a move the other way, with conservatives temporarily distancing themselves from the Catholic Church because the Pope doesn’t want the world’s environment transformed in catastrophic ways.

Confederate License Plates and the First Amendment

[ 53 ] June 18, 2015 |

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Today was probably not the ideal day for four members of the Shelby County majority to find that Texas was constitutionally required to issue a specialty license plate with the Confederate flag. Unlike Shelby County, Alito’s dissent is not unreasonable.  But I think the majority (the 4 Democratic nominees + Thomas) drew the line in the right place. 

Essentially, the question in this case is whether specialty plates are private speech or government speech.  If the former, then Texas’s refusal to print the Treason In Defense of Slavery plate is plainly unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.  If the latter, refusing to endorse white supremacist symbols is certainly within the state’s discretion.  There’s a companion pending case about whether North Carolina can offer a “Choose Life” plate but not a pro-choice one that allows one to focus on the speech issue rather than the flag per se.  I remain inclined to think that the Court is right that this is government speech and while states can celebrate lawlessness in defense of apartheid on government IDs if they choose to, I don’t think they are required to.

Alas, this does mean I won’t be able to start a campaign arguing that Virginia is constitutionally obligated to issue a license plate featuring Sherman and Grant burning the Confederate flag.

The Horror in South Carolina

[ 290 ] June 18, 2015 |

EP-141009948.jpg&MaxW=520&q=85Above: a state capitol. In 2015.

 

I don’t think I have anything to tell you about the killings in South Carolina that you don’t already know. I can tell you that the Charleston Post and Courier has been doing absolutely remarkable work, and that Jamelle Bouie’s piece on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is essential.

How the Obama-McConnell-Boehner Coalition Moves Forward

[ 48 ] June 18, 2015 |

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This how Obama and his Republican trade friends are going to try and pass fast track.

The process is likely to begin in the House Thursday, when the chamber plans to vote to give Obama fast-track trade authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest trade agreement in history. If it passes, McConnell would then take up the measure next week, hoping to win the support of at least a dozen Senate Democrats to send it to the president’s desk. The Senate would then amend a separate trade bill with Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program to aid workers who lose their jobs due to trade deals.

The convoluted process is needed to surmount opposition from House Democrats, who last week blocked a program they support — TAA — in order to stop the larger trade package from getting to Obama’s desk. The Senate had passed a bill last month that included both the worker aid and negotiating authority, but further changes in the House have forced senators to take up the proposal again, prompting a whole new round of negotiating and posturing ahead of decisive votes in the coming days.

The entire process hinges on support from Senate and House Democrats who support free trade but insist that the government also provide aid and job training to help workers hurt by foreign trade. House Democrats, led by veteran Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, were eager to get the trade deal done, and were looking for assurances from their Senate counterparts. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, wanted a pledge from McConnell that he would clear TAA before they commit to voting for the fast-track bill.

In a joint statement Wednesday afternoon, McConnell and Boehner began to provide some of those assurances.

“We are committed to ensuring both TPA and TAA get votes in the House and Senate and are sent to the President for signature,” the leaders said in a joint statement. “And it is our intent to have a conference on the customs bill and complete that in a timely manner so that the President can sign it into law.”

At the White House Wednesday, pro-trade Democrats and Obama discussed the possibility of sticking together as a bloc so they can get TPA, TAA, a customs enforcement and perhaps an extension of the Export-Import Bank charter, which lapses at the end of the month.

“I and all the other members there are looking for a guarantee … for a deal to be good it’s got to have enforcement, TAA, I think it’s got to have Ex-Im reauthorization,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). “A lot of [the meeting] was to talk about that very question of: What is a sufficient assurance?”

Yes, there’s a lot of votes that need to be delivered and yes a lot of Democrats don’t trust Republicans. But this feels like a familiar script, where Republicans are able to bring just enough votes with Democrats who really do want to support the president’s position and are more comfortable with supporting their corporate funders than American workers. I do have trouble seeing this many votes flipping today though.

The best move the anti-TPP coalition has is rewarding its friends and punishing its enemies. It’s considered the latter, by seeking to primary Democratic congressman Jim Costa, who comes from a district that should support workers but instead he is a pro-corporate and pro-TPP. If labor and greens want to express political power, punishing enemies who can be defeated is an important way to do it. Let’s see how it goes.

This Day in Labor History: June 18, 1954

[ 26 ] June 18, 2015 |

On June 18, 1954, the CIA-trained coup against democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz began, an event that crushed Guatemalan labor, happened with the complicity of the American labor movement, and significantly destabilized Guatemala, helping to create the violence that afflicts that nation and the large-scale undocumented migration to the United States today.

Born in 1913, Jacobo Árbenz became a top military officer under the leadership of the United Fruit (and thus U.S.) supported dictator Jorge Ubico. Árbenz was forced to escort chain-gangs of prisoners, which disgusted and radicalized him. In 1944, he assisted in a coup against Ubico and was offered the position of Minister of Defense from the democratically elected new president of the nation, Juan José Arévalo. After Arévalo died in 1950, Árbenz won the election to replace him.

United Fruit had a significant presence in Guatemala from the first decade of the twentieth century, using its power over that poor nation to suppress any labor activity on its banana plantations. For example, in 1923, UFCO had the strong support of the current military dictatorship to violently repress a strike; said dictatorship had come to power with the company’s support after a government opposed its interests. In 1928, Guatemala nearly went to war with Honduras on UFCO’s orders over a disputed region on the Honduran border, with the latter nation doing the bidding of UFCO rival Cuyamel Fruit. By the mid-1940s, Guatemala had around one-fourth of the company’s Latin American operations. United Fruit had been major supporters of Ubico, who effectively followed its orders. Ubico and other presidents gave significant concessions to United Fruit, robbing the nation of both its land and tax revenues that could have built infrastructure and social programs for the nation’s poor. In fact, Ubico actually asked UFCO to lower its wages to 50 cents a day as to not cause other employers to have to pay workers more. You can guess UFCO’s response to that request.

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United Fruit plantation in Central America

Árbenz’s primary goal was modernizing Guatemala. To do so, he needed to wrest control of his nation’s future from the single corporation that controlled it: United Fruit. So Árbenz made his number one priority land reform, which through much of Latin American history has been the major goal of left-leaning movements against the church, conservatives, and outside corporations. He issued Decree 900, giving the government the right to expropriate unused land from agricultural corporations, compensating the owners. That included United Fruit, which had a lot of land now out of production thanks to banana monocultures leading to diseases that kill trees. During the 18 months of the program’s existence, 1.5 million acres were distributed to 100,000 families.

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Jacobo Árbenz

Árbenz had significant support from labor unions in Guatemala for his reforms. He had started forging links to the Guatemalan labor movement early in his rise. The Guatemalan labor movement had significant ties to the Communist Party and the CP supported Árbenz, thus helping to deliver that rank and file labor support. With United Fruit and conservative elements of the Guatemalan industry shouting that Árbenz was a communist, even though he was just a nationalist, he embraced the idea of it since the policies the U.S. supported in his nation were so awful that being a communist could not be all bad.

United Fruit had urged the U.S. to overthrow what it claimed were communist-led governments in Guatemala going back to 1945. Those calls were heard when the Eisenhower administration took power in 1953. United Fruit had very close connections to Eisenhower’s foreign policy team, especially Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and CIA head Allen Dulles. The Dulles brothers had both done legal work for United Fruit before joining the administration. They and Eisenhower were aggressive about using the CIA to undermine left-wing movements in the developing world and quickly moved to eliminate Arbenz. The CIA went so far as to personally select his replacement, Carlos Castillo Armas. The initial CIA-funded invasion was pathetic and made little impact, but Árbenz was afraid that an overwhelming victory over these forces would provoke direct American action. That happened anyway through airpower and the use of napalm against ships exporting goods out of the nation. By June 27, the CIA won through creating a crisis of confidence against Árbenz in the military, who forced him to resign.

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Castllo Armas entering Guatemala City. CIA agent at wheel.

Always vociferously anti-communist at home, the American Federation Labor happily worked with the CIA during the Cold War to undermine left-leaning labor unions in the developing world and foster politically conservative unionism that would promote the goals of American foreign policy. Shortly before the coup, the AFL’s Latin American Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT) established an organization in Mexico called Guatemalan Workers in Exile. Effectively, it was an operation to create a right-wing labor movement for the post-coup government. Ten days after the coup, Serafino Romualdi, the AFL’s ambassador to Latin America, was in Guatemala City with the figurehead of ORIT and the leader of the right-wing labor movement in Batista’s Cuba to take over the former Guatemalan trade union building and reestablish the labor movement on lines friendly to the U.S. government and United Fruit. This attempt to create a moderate anti-communist trade union that would be a respected member of a U.S.-friendly government failed completely as the new military regime didn’t care less about the roots of unions and sought to crush all organized labor.

Guatemala suffered under decades of military dictatorships supported by the United States and its corporations, culminating in the rule of Efraín Ríos Montt, the Reagan supported military leader in the early 1980s who engaged in a genocidal campaign against the nation’s indigenous population, defining them as communists for being indigenous.

For years, Árbenz floated around Europe, trying to find a place to live. The CIA muscled western European nations to deny him. The Czechs didn’t want him because they were nervous he would seek financial remuneration for the shoddy guns they sold him before the coup. The Soviets took him for awhile but he wanted to return to Latin America. He eventually ended up in Cuba after the Revolution. Later he moved to Mexico. Over all this time, he sunk into desperation and alcoholism before drowning in a bathtub in 1971.

Today, Guatemala is one of the world’s most violent and dangerous nations thanks in no small part to the destabilization caused in 1954. The U.S. continues to engage in a post-colonial relationship with Guatemala and its workers, including the exploitation of the poor by apparel industry sweatshops who will just jump 20 miles to Honduras or El Salvador if the nation enforces labor regulations or allows its workers to form strong unions. Repression of labor has been the hallmark of Guatemala governments in the 21st century.

I borrowed from Deborah Levenson-Estrada, Trade Unionists Against Terror: Guatemala City, 1954-85 and Stephen Schlesinger, Stephen Kinzer, and John Coatsworth, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala in writing this post.

This is the 147th post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

The Astro Bustout

[ 66 ] June 17, 2015 |
Base Wars

“Base Wars cover”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

Seems like we need a thread for this:

On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the FBI and Justice Department officials have evidence that Cardinals officials — who were not identified — allegedly tapped into the Astros’ database and had access to statistics, scouting reports and internal discussions about players, trades and other proprietary information.

Yahoo! Sports reported that one source familiar with the investigation said the FBI connected the breach to a house in Jupiter, Florida, the city in which the Cardinals conduct spring training. The house was used by a number of Cardinals employees, according to the report, so pinpointing the culprit of the breach is complicated.

According to the Times, the FBI believes that Cardinals officials gained access to the Astros’ database by using a list of passwords associated with Houston general manager Jeff Luhnow dating to his tenure with the Cardinals from 2003 until he left for Houston after the 2011 season.

It’s hard for me to see how MLB avoids significantly sanctioning the Cardinals over this. It’s unlikely that the stolen data will provide the Cards with a huge advantage, or that it will prove a major detriment to the Astros, but it’s clearly beyond the bounds of what teams should be doing to seek competitive advantage.  It’s a much bigger deal, I think, than a few deflated footballs.  See also 538.

Today in the American Meritocracy

[ 58 ] June 17, 2015 |

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Mark Penn apparently brought the same quality of ideas to Microsoft that he did to the Clinton campaign:

Another key departure sees Mark Penn leave Microsoft in September. Penn was the main driving force behind Microsoft’s highly criticized Scroogled campaign. Penn says he is leaving Microsoft to form a private equity fund, but his departure could see him rejoin the political world ahead of the the upcoming presidential campaigns.

1)The list of investors willing to invest in Mark Penn’s equity fund would be one of the most valuable collections of leads in sales history. 2)If he goes the “rejoin the political world” route, I recommend that he try his more natural ideological allies in the Republican Party.

Billy Possum

[ 51 ] June 17, 2015 |

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You all are familiar with the Teddy Bear, designing after Theodore Roosevelt’s love of shooting animals. It was a big hit during his administration. You can imagine how toy owners would want to capitalize on this. You can imagine the troubles TR’s utterly uncharismatic successor William Howard Taft would provide in said capitalization.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. And that leads us to Billy Possum:

That story starts, unsurprisingly, with Taft at the dinner table.

In January 1909, the president-elect was honored at a banquet in Atlanta. At Taft’s request, the main course was “possum and taters”—a toasty pile of sweet potatoes topped with an 18-pound whole cooked opossum. (Taft gobbled up the roasted marsupial so quickly that a nearby doctor advised him to slow down.) When Taft’s belly was stuffed, local boosters presented the president-to-be with a small plush opossum. The toy, they told Taft, was destined to be the next big thing—it was going to replace the teddy bear.

They dubbed it “Billy Possum.”

The gift pleased Taft—as did the dinner. The next day, he told reporters, “Well, I certainly like possum … I ate very heartily of it last night, and it did not disturb in the slightest my digestion or my sleep.” But what Taft saw as food, his supporters saw as money. The teddy bear boom had been profitable, and Taft’s supporters were confident the new toy could become the next fuzzy fad. They imagined America’s children tossing away their teddies, flocking to the closest storefront to get their hands on a plush opossum.

It failed miserably. But lord knows the toy companies tried:

The market flooded with Billy Possum postcards, pins, and posters. Marketers introduced Jimmie Possum—Billy’s running mate—named after Vice President James Sherman. Supporters could join a group called the “Possum Club.” Composer J. B. Cohen and lyricist G. A. Scofield even wrote a ragtime tune called “Possum: The Latest Craze,” whose last verse goes:

Ole Teddy Bar’s a dead one now
Sence Bill Possum’s come to town.
An’it taint no use to make excuse
Or raise a fuus an’frown.

Jes get in touch wit’de President
Eat possum when you dine.
Den ask a Job of de Government
An’ you’ll cert’ly be in line.

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