Sunday, March 28, 2010

Hateful Idiots Lacking Self Awareness: The Minutemen

Greg points out the stupidity:

The infamous Minuteman group has dissolved itself. Why? Because it sent out a call for wackos with big guns, and then was alarmed at all the wackos with big guns who responded.
On March 16, Mercer sent out an e-mail urging members to come to the border “locked, loaded and ready” and urged people to bring “long arms.” She proposed changing the group’s rules to allow members to track illegal immigrants and drug smugglers instead of just reporting the activity to the Border Patrol.

“We will forcefully engage, detain, and defend our lives and country from the criminals who trample over our culture and laws,” she wrote in the March 16 e-mail.

Mercer said she received a more feverish response than she expected — 350 personal e-mails she said — and decided the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps couldn’t shoulder the responsibility and liability of what could occur, she said.

People are ready to come lock and loaded and that’s not what we are all about,” Mercer said. “It only takes one bad apple to destroy everything we’ve done for the last eight years.”
With luck, this is a sign of some semblance of change since 2005, when the group formed amidst a frenzy of xenophobia. Even an extremist group begins to realize how extremist it is, albeit in a bizarrely contradictory fashion.
The only thing I'd add here is that this is just another example of what can only be either A) the right-wing's hypocrisy, or B) complete lack of self-awareness. The fact that they're calling people out "locked and loaded" and then shocked when people show up "locked and loaded" is about as sensible as a man getting $1300 from the government in disability checks railing against health-care as a "government handout." I used to be absolutely confident it was item "A," and I think with politicians it still may be, but item "B" seems increasingly possible when dealing with "real 'Mericans." The fact that the conservative movement has not been invested in deep thinking or philosophical approaches to conservatism in the way that somebody like a William Buckley or an Irving kristol seems to increasingly leading to the base being the party of un-think (and to be clear, I think both men's philosophies were pretty terrible from an ideological standpoint, but nonetheless, they thought through those positions and seemed a bit more consistent compared to your performance-art dimbulbs like Bill Kristol). Certainly, that lack of self-awareness doesn't strip many of these people of their sheer hypocrisy, but it's telling of a movement that for years has been waging war against education by vilifying universities as hotbeds of "liberal" thinking and dumbing down textbooks for political reasons also seems unable to realize just how stupid they sound when they express amazement at the outcome of their violent rhetoric or the total disconnect between what they expect for themselves and what they think others should have. The minutemen, like Vanderboegh, are symptoms of what the conservative base is becoming, and the saddest part is, they will probably continue to encourage violence and hatred through their language and then remain mystified when somebody actually acts on their words.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

If Spring Training Were the Determining Factor...

...and if it only came down to numbers, and if all of the realities of baseball suddenly vanished...


...I'd pick the Indians over the Rays in the ALCS, and the Giants over the Braves in the NLCS, with the Giants beating the Indians in the World Series again (after the 1954 debacle, which, coincidentally, was SF's last title). If only the old adage that "spring training means nothing" weren't true. *Sigh*


Oh, and incidentally, the Indians currently have 14 wins in Spring Training. I'm putting the over/under date on them getting 14 wins in the regular season at May 19, due in no small part to a brutal April that involves 15 road games (including a west coast road trip) and only 7 home games to start off the season.

More seriously, regular season baseball predictions (because I'm so good at these things) will be coming next week.

Remembering and Investigating Oscar Romero's Death

This past week (March 24th to be precise) marked the thirtieth anniversary of the murder of Oscar Romero, archbishop of El Salvador. Right-wing death-squads connected directly to eventual president Roberto D'Aubuisson were responsible for the murder, though exactly who pulled the trigger and how the plan was executed remains murky.

While there were many moving tributes over the past week, there was also a somewhat-overlooked translated journalistic investigation into Romero's death. Many have claimed former Air Force Captain Álvaro Rafael Saravia as the man responsible for the murder. Journalist Carlos Dada tracked down Saravia, as well as several other individuals connected to the assassination, and offered this intensive report investigating Romero's assassination, finding (among other things) that Saravia's claims to (relative) innocence (in that he didn't pull the trigger) may have some validity. It is a lengthy report, but well worth reading in its entirety due to its analysis and findings, the varying viewpoints on the murder, the conditions of appalling poverty and violence that Saravia (in hiding) and his neighbors live in, and the criminal networks that existed in right-wing death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s, squads that often had the tacit or explicit support of the United States. As we remember all that Romero did this week, it's also worth taking time to look at the broader terror-networks that impacted hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans.

Right-Wing Violence

A couple of weeks ago, a writer for a British magazine interviewed me about the potential of right-wing assassination attempts against President Obama. He had read a piece I wrote for Global Comment about the rise of right-wing terrorism in the U.S.

I told him that I thought a successful assassination of Obama was highly unlikely because of the Secret Service's effectiveness. Rather, I said that localized political murders seemed more plausible. Members of Congress are quite vulnerable, as are local politicians, judges, etc. And of course, there's always the possibility of a crazy right-winger just seeing a Democrat and losing it.

Such as what happened in Tennessee the other day. Near Nashville, a man picked up his 10 year old daughter from school and was driving home when he was rammed by a crazed minivan driver. Why did the guy lose it? The car had an Obama bumper sticker. No was was hurt and police charged the lunatic with reckless endangerment, but this is precisely the kind of localized violence right-wing radio and now even Republican congressional leaders have legitimized. It's only a matter of time before someone dies.

Vetoing Mountaintop Removal Permit

In another example of the game "Elections Have Consequences," the Environmental Protection Agency is likely to veto a previously approved mountaintop removal coal mining project in West Virginia. This project would have been the largest single mountaintop removal operation in history.

Of course, any reasonable application of existing environmental legislation should make these operations illegal. When the mountain is blown up and disposed of in the valleys below, it destroys the water, thus violating the Clean Water Act. Finally, the EPA is moving to enforce the regulations.

Now, this hardly means the end of mountaintop removal, but at least an emboldened EPA will at least halt the most egregious coal operations. 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Tension in Korea

Farley points us to the sinking of a Korean ship near the boundary waters between North and South Korea. 104 sailors were on board. The majority have definitely survived and it's unclear how many sailors died.

No one quite knows what happened yet, but given the long-time history between the two nations, it certainly seems likely that the North attacked the South.

Rob states:

If the sinking of Cheonan was intentional, it creates a serious crisis for the Koreas' neighbours and for the United States. None of the US, Japan, or China desire the threat of major military action on the Korean Peninsula. The US, still embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan, doesn't want another military confrontation on its plate. At the same time, it will be difficult for the US to restrain South Korea from some form of retaliation. Japan's patience with North Korea has similarly run thin, and it is unlikely that Tokyo could be relied on too heavily as a voice of caution. Beijing has only limited affection for its North Korean client, but certainly does not want war, or even the threat of war. North Korea's intentions remain mysterious; if it intended to signal its toughness and resolve to South Korea, it may have bitten off more than it can chew.
That's all true, but I honestly think the only thing South Korea can do is nothing. That's the best policy by far. Obviously, there has to be a point where the South strikes back. But assuming this is an isolated incident, the South's best policy is to talk tough but not do too much.

There are two major reasons for this. First, many South Koreans, particularly in the younger generation, don't see the North as a real threat. They want a truce with the North, or at least to forget it exists. Of course, actions like sinking a ship can change that. But the South very much does not want a flood of North Korean refugees. It might be best for everyone if the US, China, Russia, and Japan all decided to launch air strikes to destroy the North's nuclear weapon program, its major industry, and maybe even the government. But that would lead a massive movement of refugees. While in theory many South Koreans want reunification, they are also quite aware of what happened to West Germany after unification. The east dragged the economy for years, and still does today to no small extent. Knowing their economy has more vulnerabilities than Germany, Koreans worry what the collapse of the North will mean for their lives.

Of course, someday the North will collapse, so maybe it's better it happened sooner.

The other problem with striking back is the unpredictable nature of the North Korean government. They have nuclear weapons and they might well use them. After all, North Korea seems to operate under different presumptions than all the other nuclear powers, even Pakistan and India. Any strike might mean the North launches whatever weapons it has toward the South or even Japan, a massive, though no doubt futile invasion of the South, and high casualties. Taking direct action against the North has a whole lot of negative possibilities and not too many positive outcomes.

Obviously, if the North decides to make this just the first of a series of attacks, that's a different story. But right now, the best policy and the most likely policy is to hold steady.

The Crazy Is Out in Force Today

Quite the day in American insanity today.

First, we gave the neo-Confederates who want to list their national origin in the census as "Confederate Southern Americans."

I actually like this idea. It would give us a very precise figure on how many Americans are both morons and racist. I would find this incredibly useful.

Second, you have the California anti-immigration activist Barbara Coe saying that the supposed Mexican "Reconquista" is mandated in the Koran.

"Is there any argument that OBAMA is a Communist trained, devout Islamic Muslim whose ultimate goal is to comply with Koran mandates to a) torture/kill all 'infidels' and b) destroy America via his anti-American 'healthcare, illegal alien Amnesty, etc'?"

What's with the capitalization of Obama's name? Is it an acronym for the Maoist Nazi Socialist Masonic Leninist Zionist Anti-Christ organization which has successfully passed a facsimile of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health care plan to the whole country?

In any case, the connection between the Koran and the Reconquista (the idea that Mexicans are moving to the US to take back the Southwest) is pretty awesome not only because it makes absolutely  no sense at all and not only because Coe is completely insane (moving David Allen Coe out of his position as the most insane with that surname ever) but because it goes to show that for white racists, one brown race is the same as another brown race: all are conspiring to overthrow the white race.

And finally, we have this awesome Washington Post story about Mike Vanderboegh, a resident of Alabama who called for teabaggers to vandalize the offices of politicians who voted for health care.

"So, if you wish to send a message that Pelosi and her party [that they] cannot fail to hear, break their windows," Vanderboegh wrote on the blog, Sipsey Street Irregulars. "Break them NOW. Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats. But BREAK THEM." 
I would usually use this time to talk about this within the context of right-wing terrorism. But I'll let that go today. Because how does Vanderboegh make his living?

Vanderboegh said he once worked as a warehouse manager but now lives on government disability checks. He said he receives $1,300 a month because of his congestive heart failure, diabetes and hypertension. He has private health insurance through his wife, who works for a company that sells forklift products. 

Also, keep y'r gov'ment out of Medicare!!!!

A victory for students and tax payers alike

Past the din of the historic health care legislation debate, there is a bill moving through Congress (now having passed both the House and Senate) that would restructure the student loan industry by eliminating payments to private banks for making federally-backed student loans. As it stands, the government spends a great deal of money to pay private companies to originate these loans; under the proposed legislation, the government would simply make those loans directly to students. The savings-- about $61 billion, most of which would be rolled into increases in the Federal Pell Grant. $10 billion of these savings would be used to offset the federal deficit.

This is Economics 101. By cutting out the middleman, we save a lot of money. More of that money will go to lower-income students (in the form of increased Pell grant amounts) instead of banks. This should be a no-brainer, but Republicans pushed back in deference to their banking industry friends. In the old system, banks would make the loans and make a lot of money while taxpayers assumed nearly all of the risk. A sweet deal if you are a bank, but as taxpayer, it was a raw deal.

Republicans, in their usual hypocritical modes of reasoning, argued that it would cost the banking industry jobs. You know, the same Republicans who keep stalling jobs bills, unemployment, etc. Their cries of "Big Government Takeover" are sadly misguided; the government is already the major actor in the process, with banks serving as a well-paid but unnecessary ancillary party in the process. This isn't a takeover, it's a streamlining process-- and one that saves the tax payers a lot of money.

As California representative George Miller said:

“Why are we paying people to lend the government’s money and then the government guarantees the loan and the government takes back the loan?”

Exactly. This is a win for students, a win for higher education, and a win for tax payers. Get your pen ready, Mr. President.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asshat of the Day: Eric Cantor

Via Digby--House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has spoken out on the rash of threats and violence against Democratic members of Congress over our Maoist/Fascist healthcare reform but, not to worry, it wasn't helpful. His disgusting statements simply boil down to blaming the victim for the crime.

"That is why I have deep concerns that some, Chris Van Hollen and Tim Kaine in particular, are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon."

Nice, he even gives particular names, just in case the Tea Partiers are confused about who they're supposed to attack next. Apparently, reporting violence foments violence. How well did this work for the Catholic Church? Covering up child abuse clearly caused a decline in the abuse. The only kids who actually got molested were those who had previously reported molestation? What kind of sense does this make?

What happens if Cantor uses this argument about rape victims? There's no shortage of blame for rape placed on the victim, but he won't stay in office too long if he says, "Don't report the crime because you'll get raped again." Or on domestic violence, "Now, ladies, I know that abuse is wrong and terrible, but don't go to the police; you'll just make your husbands angrier. Do you really want that?" Absurd as all of this is on the face, he really is giving us the "I'll give you something to cry about" line. I guess that, because the threats, the violence, the blatant racism is happening to elected Democrats, it somehow makes it all excusable.

Cantor and the rest can try to deflect this stuff away from their party and onto crazy extremists, but who initiated the cries of Socialism? Whose media outlets discuss constantly the rising need for revolution? If Democrats became part of the axis of evil for questioning the veracity of WMDs in Iraq, I can hardly imagine the outrage and investigations if a Democrat faxed Michael Steele a picture of a noose, but I guess you deserve it if you have a D by your name and hold some crazy idea of justice. Up yours, Cantor, if the violence that appears to be coming happens, some of this blood will splash onto your hands, though you'll never accept that responsibility...asshat.

Morning in Amerika

It sure does feel good to live in a Maoist state. Health care reform centered around plans that largely originated with Shining Path members like Mitt Romney has fulfilled my dreams of destroying freedom.

Speaking of that, I have to engage in a self-criticism session, so I might be gone for awhile.

2016

If the health care bill is successful, a very high likelihood, it seems to reinforce Hillary Clinton as the likely Democratic nominee in 2016. Obviously, it's way, way too early to think seriously about this. But she won't be that old, she's done a fine job as Secretary of State, she has a huge set of supporters, and she's always been associated with health care.

Who knows what happens in the next 6 years, but I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Obama gave her his tacit support and let every insider know it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care Explainers



I'm collecting here the best explainer posts, widgets, and videos on the health care legislation that just passed. Immediately after the bill made it through, I started getting questions from friends who are politically aware enough to know it was happening, but not nearly as hooked-in as I am--and I couldn't even tell them what was in the bill. So, here's my attempt to help with that problem. Above is a video from GRITtv (yes, my place of employment) with Maggie Mahar of HealthBeatBlog.org and Jacob Hacker, the inventor of the public option (that we didn't get) explaining what's in the bill and when it takes place.

The Washington Post made this really great interactive gadget that should tell you how the bill will affect you.

The New York Times also has a gadget, though not quite as cool to my mind as the WaPo's, it is simpler.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has a handy subsidy calculator as well, just in case the last two widgets didn't tell you enough about your personal finances.

From CNN, a rundown on when different provisions kick in.

Nick Baumann at Mother Jones with a plain-English rundown of what happens this year.

MoveOn.org has Ten Things Every American Should Know, though frankly it's more like Ten Talking Points. Still, stats worth looking at.

CBS has a nice summary of the bill in bullet points.

Karoli at Crooks & Liars has ten immediate benefits of the bill and a rollout timetable.

This is just a start; I plan to keep collecting. Please leave your suggestions in comments, and feel free to steal this! Almost all of these suggestions came to me via Twitter, thanks to everyone who sent 'em.

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Thoughts on Health Care Reform

-It's more than a little understatement to say that it's great to see legislation that is actually designed to help people. In many ways, the fact that, even after all the amendments and tinkering, this was a progressive bill, just reinforces one of the broader divisions in politics, between those who are always seeking to improve the United States and are labeled progressive, in no small part because they are in favor of "progress"; and those who see the United States as already perfect and who believe tinkering or trying to improve will only lead to a fall from American perfection (which much better describes their view of the United States than "American exceptionalism" does). It's a sad-but-true fact that conservatives wish to preserve a status quo that leaves a lot of room for improvement.

-In all of this, the importance and greatness of Nancy Pelosi should not be overlooked or ever forgotten.

-To echo what Erik said, there has been no small amount of absurd hyperbole, and it hasn't even been limited to politicians. Acquaintances on facebook have made comments such as "we might as well take the Constitution out back and burn it right now," somebody being grateful John Boehner was their representative, and somebody even saying "Forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do," which was also apparently uttered by some guy named Jesus on a cross. Because, after all, the Jesus being crucified and wingnuts angry that a bill designed to help rein in insurance costs and aid families are totally the same thing.

In dealing with all this, I think Barney Frank hit it dead on, pointing out that the battle over health care became "the proxy for a lot of other sentiments. A lot of which are perfectly reasonable but some of which are kind of ugly. ... People out here today on the whole were, many of them, were hateful and abusive."

I couldn't agree more, and Republican efforts to disavow the hate-speech this past Sunday are as hollow as their objections to reform. When their supporters get ugly, Republicans are quick to try to disavow those supporters, but they've been encouraging this kind of language and these attitudes since the 2008 electoral campaign (remember all those crowds at McCain rallies calling Obama a Muslim and other names?). Republican representatives can't just hide from this language when it makes them look bad - it's as much a part of their movement as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, appeals to the Reagan years, and hawkish rhetoric. It's all part of the package, whether they like it or not.

-On that note, for those both inside and outside of Congress who claim to oppose the bill on Christian principles, I might recommend they go back and read that part about some guy named Christ. I believe he who recommended helping those in need, rather than continuing to deny them care and side with wealthy interests. If you aren't in favor of helping people, you can't really make any pretense to standing for a religion whose main figure preached helping people.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Poisonous Republican Rhetoric on Health Care

Finally, health care is going to pass.

It's not great, but it's a start. Most importantly perhaps, for the first time since Lyndon Johnson was president, we have important new progressive social legislation. I'd like to think Johnson could have done better than Obama in controlling the debate, but I'm proud of what we've accomplished anyway.

However, I am again reminded of the poisonous Republican rhetoric. In defeat, they are using incredibly divisive and even dangerous language in discussing this legislation. How can the nation function when one party holds such hatred in their hearts for the other? A few examples:

Tom Price (R-GA): If health care passes, "We lose our morality. We lose our freedom."

John Shadegg (R-AZ): "This bill will destroy freedom and do damage to the very fabric of our society."

Marsha Blackburn (R-MN): "Freedom dies a little bit today."

Devin Nunes (R-CA): By passing health care reform, Democrats "will finally lay the cornerstone of their Socialist utopia on the backs of the American people. For most of the 20th century people fled the ghosts of communist dictators. And now you are bringing the ghosts back into this chamber."

Really? Freedom just died? We've lost our morality? Obama is now Stalin?

While it's hard to know to what extent the legislators believe their own rhetoric, certainly  many of their constituents do. And it's very worrying.

Stewart Udall, RIP

I am saddened to learn of the death of Stewart Udall.

One of the most important environmental figures of the 20th century, Udall was the Secretary of the Interior  under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. During those years, Udall crafted some of the most important land-use legislation in our history. The jewel in his crown was the 1964 Wilderness Act, preserving millions of acres in the American West from development. Udall also helped slow the ridiculous dam-buildings projects proposed by the Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Army Corps on Engineers. Udall helped create 4 new national parks, 6 national monuments, and 50 wildlife refuges.

Udall also supported the findings of Rachel Carson. Carson, in her seminal book, Silent Spring, reported on incredible damage the unregulated spraying of pesticides had caused the environment. The chemical and agricultural industries attacked Carson in all sorts of nasty ways, but Udall's support helped turn Kennedy and Johnson to her point of view, eventually leading to the outlawing of DDT and other pesticides.

Stewart Udall was a national treasure and it is very sad to lose him.

Mauer Signs Deal

While it's bad news for my AL-Central-residing Cleveland Indians, this is excellent news for baseball. It goes well beyond the horrible possibility of Mauer being in a Yankee uniform (or even a Sox uniform, or Dodgers). The Twins absolutely needed to do this signing - Mauer is probably to Minnesota what Lebron is to Cleveland. What is more, It gives Minnesota ongoing chances to make playoff runs and keep the fanbase, which is always good when you consider how close contraction seemed for the team several years ago. And by signing Mauer, the Twins made the right financial decision; it will certainly cost them plenty, but they have a new outdoor park that they'll have to sell seats in, and either letting Mauer walk (or trading him before season's end) would have absolutely destroyed any chance of re-couping any money from ticket sales. In a sport in which it's increasingly rare to see hometown heroes stay for a variety of reasons (as much chasing money as their hometown teams being unable/unwilling to offer money), this is just a good story, and should keep baseball interesting and viable in Minnesota for years to come. And of course, at $184 million for the next 8 years, it seems pretty good for Joe Mauer, too.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Unusual Methods to Curb Rape in Argentina

This seems problematic:

Officials in Argentina's Mendoza province have authorized chemical castration for rapists after a significant increase in sexual assaults last year.

Mendoza authorities convened a scientific legal committee and authorized the voluntary chemical castration by decree.

"By using medication that lowers the person's sexual desire and with psychological treatment, the person can be reintroduced into society without being a threat," Mendoza Governor Celso Jaque said.

Eleven convicted rapists in the province have agreed to the treatment in return for reduced sentences.

Several members of the legal committee said the treatment must be voluntary or it would violate international law and Argentina's constitution.

On the one hand, it is voluntary, and the focus seems to be on actually rehabilitating rapists, which is (at least in theory) one of the functions of the sentencing system. At the same time, I'm not really sure how useful this will be, particularly given that the effects are reversible, meaning serial rapists could return to raping people over time. I'm not a legal expert (and I don't even pretend to be one on television), but I'm curious as to what, if any, other measures officials in Mendoza decided to try to curb the number of rapes in the state before turning to this particular approach, and how much research/examination of the "solution" has taken place. It may work, but right now, it sounds somewhat draconian, and I'm not sure if it will really accomplish much.

Around Latin America

I apologize for light blogging from me - professional and personal issues have been taking a lot of time. Fortunately, with regards to Latin America, several excellent posts around the webernets have covered a lot of great stuff for me.

-Plan Colombia breaks down the recent Congressional elections in Colombia, where parties allied to Alvaro Uribe won a massive number of seats, possibly indicating how the presidential election in May could go, while the Latin Americanist looks into the way the elections represent some of the more corrupt aspects of Colombia politics.

-For all the furor over Texan schoolbooks eliminating Thomas Jefferson, he's not the only casualty; Oscar Romero was also removed from the textbooks, and the Daily Show had the perfect takedown of Texas over the issue. Money line? "This is how Oscar Romero got disappeared by right wingers for the second time."

-I've talked about cotton subsidies and Brazil's efforts to take on the U.S.'s unfair practices before, and Randy has a great quick post on what Brazil's doing about it now. Suffice to say, the U.S. can't really just push Brazil around anymore like it once did.

-Two Weeks' Notice's Greg Weeks appears in a relatively good article (improved in no part by Weeks's informed participation) by Larry Rohter on how Chile's perception of the military has shifted in recent years.

-Speaking of Rohter, he spoke in New York last week, and he's still a grade-A idiot. He suggested (among other things) that Brazil is in its strong position now entirely because of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's administration, and that Lula has done nothing but sit idly by and let things work out (which is hardly connected to the reality of Brazil's current global status). And when somebody commented that Lula is leaving office as one of the most popular politicians in Brazil ever, while Cardoso's ratings were (and are) in the dumps, Rohter's response was that Brazilians could identify with Lula because he's illiterate, uncultured, and a drunk, while Cardoso is too cultured and learned for Brazilians to identify with him. Nevermind the complete and total disconnect from and bias towards reality in those comments, it's worth pointing out that Rohter straight-up implied through those comments that Brazilians themselves were uncultured, illiterate, alcoholic, lazy - all your good old-fashioned racist stereotypes. How this man has ever been employed by the New York Times, much less as a bureau chief for the country he has antagonized again and again, is beyond me.

-Finally, I for the life of me cannot figure out why on earth the U.S. (natch, U.N.) would find a total ban on the trade of polar bears' products objectionable, but apparently, it does.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Organizing the South

I am so excited to hear of University of Alabama bus drivers successfully winning a union contract with the university. The University of Alabama treated their bus drivers terribly. Like most universities, they subcontracted the work out. They paid the British corporation First Transit $55 a hour for each driver.

How much of that $55 ended up in drivers' paychecks? $9.50.

$9.50. That's a terrible wage. Just atrocious. The drivers organized themselves through the Amalgamated Transit Union and on March 1 organized a 1 day strike. This freaked UA out and the university caved. The workers didn't get a huge raise, but they will now make $12.48. That's a real improvement in their income.

Throughout the South, low wage work remains primarily African-American work. Most of these drivers are black. Racism, both institutionalized and personalized, pervades southern work. Their story is inspiring and the first step on a long road to living wages and collective empowerment.

I am particularly interested in southern organizing because of my own history as a founding activist of the University of Tennessee campus workers union, United Campus Workers-Communication Workers of America, Local 3865. Our union has grown significantly in the last decade, but it's a long struggle in the South, and we haven't yet achieved a contract. But knowing that the bus drivers forced UA to capitulate gives great hope!

More broadly, organizers have talked about organizing the South for a century. It was hard then and it's hard now. There are several reasons--right-wing politicians, spatially mobile capital, a lack of immigrant population with strong class sentiments (an underrated reason for the success of unions in the North), strong traditions of individualism in southerners, racism. The CIO attempted to organize southern textiles plants in the late 1930s, but they couldn't make it stick. The United Auto Workers strove to organize southern auto plants in the 1990s, and while they received significant support in each plant, they failed as well.

But organizing the South remains a key goal for labor and rightfully so. With the region's growth since World War II, it has become as important to the American economy as the union heartland of the Northeast. And while significant barriers remain, the success of the UA bus drivers shows that it can be done. Each brick builds a wall and we can hope that soon that wall will speak with a southern accent.

Album Regret

I was out picking up some music at this excellent Eugene record shop this afternoon. They had the greatest album category ever--"Celebrity Guest Vocals."

It was great. There was a Regis Philbin album from probably the late 60s that I should have bought. Then there was the Terry Bradshaw gospel album. It would have been a brilliant choice for a ridiculous album collection.

I wonder about the 60s and 70s record industry sometimes. Did they just let anyone with a name record whatever they wanted to? I was amazed that in that small collection alone, there were 4 different Walter Brennan albums! 4!!! Why? I don't know. There were also multiple Richard Harris albums. Why did this British actor decide to record a whole album with his children? Lord knows. There was also a great looking John Wayne patriotic music album.

But the real gem that I will always regret not buying is a political album by North Carolina Senator Sam Ervin. I think it was probably for his 1968 campaign, though I'm not sure. Was there a song entitled "Segregation Now, Segregation Forever"? I don't know. But there should have been.

That's a tiny bit unfair--Ervin was pretty good for a southern senator on non-race issues and how could he survive without supporting segregation. But I certainly find the genre of political campaign albums to be fantastic, both for its sheer existence and for its badness.

The Texas History Standards

I suppose I should say something about the newly adopted Texas history standards. But what I can do except express outrage? Obviously, it's horrible, but that's been said about 500 times across the progressive intertubes in the last few days.

I do have a few more general thoughts.

1. The real lesson here is not about the history standards themselves. It's to again remind me how much better conservatives are at organizing than progressives. Conservatives have always known that the way to change is to take over local political institutions. In the 1950s, they started taking over school boards and other local offices no one wanted. They built up from there, getting Goldwater nominated for the presidency in 1964, getting Reagan elected to the governorship of California in 1966, and then raising Grandpa Caligula to the presidency in 1980.

Meanwhile, progressives run Ralph Nader for president.

Texas has taken on extremist versions of history not primarily because the state is crazy (thought this is mostly true), but because conservatives have taken over the Texas Board of Education. They knew the way to make the changes they wanted wasn't to talk about it online, but to simply run for the board. And now we aren't talking about Thomas Jefferson in Texas schools anymore.

2. Do students actually learn from textbooks? I've never felt them to be effective. I don't even use them. I guess if I'm teaching high school, I'm going to have to assign the mandated textbook, but I'm certainly not going to follow it or even look at it. Ideally, all history teachers would know enough to teach the class without using the textbook. Obviously that's not the case. But it should be.

3. I'm pointing my real anger over this issue at myself. As for the standards themselves, I'm more resigned and depressed. But I knew 8 months ago that this would be a great issue for me to follow. I only live 30 minutes from Austin and I could attend the meetings. But I'm busy and teaching and applying for jobs and working on my book, etc., etc. And so I didn't really get as involved as I should of.

And then it became a super hot story.

It could have done a lot for me and for this blog. But I dropped the ball.

And that's why I'm the blogging equivalent of a 27 year old relief pitcher in the South Atlantic League.

Kucinich

I basically can't stand Dennis Kucinich. He's the worst kind of progressive--knee-jerk, espousing kooky ideas about aliens, homeopathic medicine and other absurdities, etc. He provides the conservatives a perfect example of what we are.

But at least Kucinich finally came off his health care high horse and is voting for the damn bill. Anyone who doesn't vote for the bill from the left should be primaried out--not because of their positions but because they are terrible politicians who don't understand how politics are played. The idea that this bill is not better than nothing is absurd and irresponsible. For all the eye-rolling moments Kucinich provides me, at least he gets the political game.

Chamber of Commerce

I'm presently in a Washington state House district targeted by the Chamber of Commerce for anti-health care bill ads.

First, these ads are absurd. They are all about how terrible the economy is and now Congress is trying to push through health care.

But if the economy is in the gutter, don't I want the government to give me a health care assist? I know the bill isn't great at this point, but it's still a heck of a lot better than what we have now. I have trouble seeing how these ads are effective, but then I don't understand why poor and middle-class people don't overwhelmingly vote Democratic anyway.

Moreover, wouldn't the Chamber of Commerce have to be in the top 5 of most reprehensible organizations in the country. What would that top 5 look like?

1. Republican Party
2. New York Yankees
3. Coal Industry
4. U.S. Chamber of Commerce
5. Everything to do with the country music industry in Nashville.

That's a workable beginning to a top 5 for me.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Most Prominent Politicians From Each State, VI: Massachusetts

How strong is Massachusetts' list of politicians? These guys didn't make the top 10:

Robert Kennedy
Tip O'Neill
Calvin Coolidge (almost certainly the only president not to make the top 10 from his respective state)
John Kerry
Samuel Adams

Massachusetts has had an unusually important role in American politics throughout its history for a state of its size.

1. John Adams--I don't buy into the whole rehabilitation of John Adams launched by David McCullough and continued by the people who saw the film. But Adams giving up power to Jefferson voluntarily is arguably the most important single action in the nation's history. Add onto that his role in the Revolution and I'll almost forget his signing the Alien and Sedition Acts.

2. John F. Kennedy--While Kennedy is vastly overrated as a president, he may have played the single biggest role in defining a generation. Perhaps only Andrew Jackson can also say that among American politicians. Plus, he probably would have pushed for some version of most of what Johnson eventually did sign, including civil rights legislation, environmental legislation, and expanding our role in Vietnam.

3. Daniel Webster--While we think of the 1820s through 40s as the Jacksonian Era, certainly Daniel Webster did nearly as much to shape the period as Jackson. Along with Henry Clay, he's one of the most powerful pre-Civil War politicians never to reach the presidency.

4. John Quincy Adams--Another Massachusetts president. Like his father, not a particularly effective president, but his career as Secretary of State under James Monroe and his post-presidency leadership against slavery make him a great man. Plus, if you look why his presidency failed, it's because he supported an activist government involved in education and economic planning, which is pretty hard for me to attack.

5. Henry Cabot Lodge--There are a number of Henry Cabot Lodges, but this is of course the Senate Majority Leader, friend of Theodore Roosevelt, imperialist, and the most important single individual in keeping the U.S. out of the League of Nations.

6. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.--one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever. Maybe second only to John Marshall.

7. Louis Brandeis--another massively important Supreme Court justice, crusader for social and economic justice, and the first Jew on the Court. A truly great man.

8. Charles Sumner--really not a great legislator, but probably the single greatest crusader against slavery in the history of the Senate

9. John Hancock--Revolutionary leader, President of the Continental Congress, and governor of Massachusetts. Provided extremely important leadership early in the nation's history.

10. Ted Kennedy--I shouldn't even need to explain the importance of the recently deceased Kennedy. One of the greatest senators in history. An amazingly effective legislator and did more than anyone else to stop much of the worst of Reagan's agenda.

Next: Maryland

Petraeus No Longer a Threat

Despite all that's happened, I remain confident that Barack Obama will be reelected in 2012. That's because I still can't see who on earth the Republicans have who can beat him. I was kind of worried about David Petraeus, but his ability to win a Republican primary are clearly compromised. A couple of times in the last couple of weeks, he's come out against Republican orthodoxy. Yglesias notes that Petraeus told the Senate that tensions between Israel and Palestine is a major problem for American foreign policy in the Middle East. While this might make perfect sense to you and me, and even for moderate Republicans, because it's not completely insane, it dooms Petraeus in the Republican primaries.

I still have trouble seeing anyone but Mitt Romney winning the nomination in 2012. No one really likes him, but in the upcoming Republican civil war, I don't see another legitimate candidate that all sides might agree on. I am at least curious about what former New Mexico governor might do, but since he's an actual libertarian who supports drug legalization instead of a fake one like most Republicans, I don't see him taking the nomination. Then there's Palin, Huckabee, Pawlenty, and the other expected customers, none of which seem to have much of a chance to garner enough delegates.

Dick Armey's Idiocy and How Americans Have Always Used the Founders For Their Own Purposes

Dana Milbank picks up this pretty hilarious gaffe from Dick Armey:

First, he said that Jamestown nearly failed in 1607 because it was "socialist."

But it actually gets better:

A member of the audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?

Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? . . . I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton." 

But of course, Armey knows nothing about Hamilton. Milbank:


Alas, for Armey, it was the case. Hamilton favored a national bank, presidents and senators who served for life and state governors appointed by the president. 

While this is unusually stupid, even for the modern Republican Party, the reality is that Americans have long used the Founders for whatever political aims they want. Progressive masculinity worriers constantly invoked the Founders as masculine specimens that current city boys could never match. Cold Warriors used the Founders to invoke right-wing patriotism. Even Jacksonian Democrats used distorted images of these men, and some of them weren't even dead yet. Both the Civil Rights movement and segregationists harnessed Thomas Jefferson to their purposes.

Of course, Armey is exceptionally dimwitted here. After all, I can see how one might use Jefferson to support or attack segregation, but all you have to do to know what Hamilton thought about government is to read anything he ever wrote.

Erick Erickson at CNN?

Good lord...

Just in case CNN didn't employ enough hacks, they just hired Erick Erickson to appear on John King's new show.

As a conservative, all you have to do to reach prominence is say increasingly crazy things. If someone as vapid as Erickson is working for CNN, isn't it only a matter of time before Confederate Yankee gets a major gig?

Pathetic.

He's also an embarrassment to my name.

Update: Steve M gets it right:


There's a lot of grumbling over here on the left because Eric Erickson, the chief honcho of RedState, has been hired as a commentator by CNN; it's been noted that he called David Souter a "goat fucking child molester"; that he attacked feminist critics of of Tim Tebow's Super Bowl ad by writing, "That's what being too ugly to get a date does to your brain"; that he suggested, in response to a piece of state environmental legislation, that it might be time for citizens to "march down to their state legislator's house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot"; that he attacked liberals byasserting that right-wingers "have families because we don't abort our kids, and we have jobs because we believe in capitalism"; and that he described Barack Obama's Nobel Prize as the fulfillment of "an affirmative action quota."

....


Erickson's the right guy for the job because he's the quintessential ugly-souled right-winger. With him you know you're getting the real deal.

I guess that's one way to look at it.

We'll Always Have Nixon to Kick Around

Kathy at Edge of the American West puts together some of the finest bits from the Nixon recordings. Some highlights of the highlights:


3.  On Jews and pot  (May  26, 1971)

You know, it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana are Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob? What is the matter with them? I suppose because most of them are psychiatrists. 

6.  On abortion: (January 23, 1973)
There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white. Or a rape.

10.  On the glorification of homosexuality in an All in the Family episode (May 13, 1971)
Nixon: I do not mind the homosexuality. I understand it. (14-second beep to hide personal information) But nevertheless, the point that I make is that goddamit, I do not think that you glorify on public television homosexuality… even more than you glorify whores. Now we all know that people go to whores. …we all have weaknesses. But, goddammit, what do you think that does to kids? What do you think that does to 11 and 12 year old boys when they see that? …You know what happened to the Greeks! Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo. We all know that. So was Socrates.
Ehrlichman: But he never had the influence that television had.

 
I would give anything to read that 14 second bit of personal information bleeped out.

Cold War Film Suggestions

Forgive the quietness on my end--I've been in the Northwest, visiting family, attending the American Society of Environmental Historians conference (where I told a lovely story about eye gonorrhea in my paper), and being interviewed for a couple of jobs (wish me luck, I need it!).

But while I won't be back full time until next Monday, I am having a quiet work day today.

And I have a question I could use some help with. This summer, I'm teaching a course on Cold War Film and History. I'm going to show about 12-14 films. What would you show for such a class? I am going to cover a lot of things in a short time, look at films of the time and films made later, and hopefully from all over the world. I am having a specific 4 film section focusing on Latin America.

Here's what I'm thinking so far:

1. One disc of the Animated Soviet Propaganda series, which is awesome.
2. Dr. Strangelove
3. Battle of Algiers
4. The Day the Earth Stood Still
5. Red Dawn
6. The Baader Meinhof Complex
7. I Am Cuba
8. Goodbye Lenin
9. 12:08 East of Bucharest
10. Some Bond film, but I'm not sure which one. Given that I've only ever seen 1 Bond film in my life (yes could can make fun of me for this if you want), I could use some specific suggestions here. 
11. Atomic Cafe

That's pretty heavy on German and eastern European films. And actually it's pretty weak on US-Soviet relations.

I'm probably forgetting some pretty obvious films, so help me out!

The Big Time

Make sure you check out our own Sarah J's first article (I think) for The American Prospect. It's a good one too, profiling a very promising South Carolina progressive.

I've been interested over the years how this blog has served as a bit of a farm system for the progressive major leagues. Of course, it's all about the hard work of Sarah (and Matt before) rather than the blog itself. I've been happy to host some really great new voices in the progressive movement.

To expand the baseball metaphor, any connections between myself and Crash Davis will be left to the reader.

Most Specific Business Name Ever


Seen in Ontario, California. That's a very specific price, though one has to question the wisdom of tying one's business name to a certain price point.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pacquiao/Clottey Tonight!!!

12:20--Lost coverage completely, but it was a great show. While Pacquiao won the decision, it was garbage. I had Clottey winning 7 of 12 and I would have been okay with a normal Pacquiao decision win, two judges had Clottey winning a single round. One douchebag had Clottey swept. Garbage. That's Pacquiao winning off his celebrity and, while that's indeed boxing, it doesn't make it right. I'll write more tomorrow when I'm able to use an honest keyboard.

9:24--Castillo quits on his stool after 5 rounds. So sad; please never fight again.

9:06--Gomez has the worst tatoo ever. www.hy3pad.com. I'm not kidding; it's huge and sprawled all across his back.

8:55--Lost coverage but, meanwhile, Duddy wins an extremely entertaining fight by split decision. Now, the fight that should not be. Alfonso Gomez is about to beat up a very old man, Jose Luis Castillo. Please retire, man, it's so hard to watch you now. Is 70 fights not enough punishment?

8:26--Halfway through the fight and I have Duddy up 3-2 (10 rounds). He's working a tough jab that's really bothering Medina.

8:03--Show has begun. First bout, middleweights Irish John Duddy vs. Michael Medina. Michael Buffer is making me mad as we speak (long story). Duddy has to win this fight if he ever wants a step up in class. Otherwise, he's little more than a St. Patty's special.

7:57--I don't know what the hell the trashy Cowboy cheerleaders have to do with boxing, but at least it means the ppv is starting.

7:25--They treated us to an extra bout; nice of them. Unfortunately, it lasted a grand total of five minutes, as undefeated Rodrigo Garcia knocks local sucker Chester Pitts down three times before the ref calls a stop. Now we wait....

7:11--I was gone, so missed the majority of the last fight. 2nd round KO, Dallas on Dallas violence, though, which is always nice. Now, a very long break before TV starts at 8:00.

6:42--"Seventies" Sanchez isn't so good, but makes villa quit in the 6th. Underwhelming fight; one more until the ppv starts.

6:26--iPhones are stupid. No cursor?! Anyway, gotta start from the top down now. This is not the most thrilling fight ever, but Sanchez is a fun throwback.

6:21--Sanchez sports one of histories greatest naturals.

6:13--Nope, not long at all. 2nd round clash of heads, a ton of blood, and a no contest. Too bad. Up next, more featherweights. Salvador Sanchez vs. Jaime Villa.

6:04--Featherweights Michael Farenas vs. Joe Morales in a huge mismatch for the latter fighter. Morales won't last long.

5:58--Eden Sonsoma KOs Maurico Pastrana, whose trunks appear to say pastrami, in brilliant fashion, with a minute left in the 8th and final round. Sweet stuff, indeed.

5:41pm--Okay, we're going to try this out. I'm working on my roommate's iPhone, and virtual keyboards are bullshit, so please forgive any spelling issues. In any event, Cowboys Stadium is nutty huge and, as a major plus, booze is everywhere. Seats are comfy, but the tv is such a fucking distraction. Still it doesn't look like there's a bad seat in the place. Yet, at the same time, you can smell plenty of hints of cowshit still left from season's end. The first fight is about over, this is going to be a hell of a good time. By the way, $8.50 Blue Moons. 12oz, naturally.

I am off soon to sit in attendance at the first boxing event of the monstrous Cowboys Stadium, with Manny Pacquiao taking on Ghana's Joshua Clottey in the main event. Seeing the fights will be fantastic; if I can find a choice piece of Cowboys history to relieve myself on, so much the better. This is my first time of seeing live boxing and, if my phone was smarter, I would have loved to live blog it. But I can't...so I'll return tomorrow with a report.

I have $10 on Clottey at 4 to 1, but he won't win. It won't be a landslide, though; Clottey's a game fighter, really tough and really skilled. Plus, the man is huge. It's going to be a good fight.

The FCC and Broadband

Without question, Steve Earle gave us the anthem for the Bush-era FCC:



All that time the FCC wasted on the prudish pursuit of punishing wardrobe malfunctions and profane speech on the airwaves would have been so much better spent actually policing the spectrum for the public good. The public good here would be access to and efficient use of the spectrum, rather than worrying about the delicate ears and constitutions of media consumers. And, despite my many misgivings about the Obama administration, I do want to point out that it appears the administration is doing good work in realigning the agency's priorities. The New York Times is reporting today that the F.C.C. is proposing a 10-year plan to realign the communications infrastructure of the US through massive support for broadbrand expansion. The plan includes mandates for the broadband equivalent of rural electrification, as well as the ambition to have 100 million homes wired with 100 megabit connections in the next decade. This comes on the heels last month of Google announcing a pilot program to connect between 50,000 and 500,000 to gigabyte fiber. Damn, I'd love to have that fiber connected to my house!

The distinction between the two goals demonstrates the extent to which the FCC has neglected the communications infrastructure of the US. Two years ago, the US ranked (pdf) 15th in broadband access, with average download speeds of just 4.9Mbps compared to the leaders South Korea (49.5Mpbs) and Japan (63.6Mbps). If you look at the other important number on the list there, household penetration, the US fairs even worse-- something like 20th.

In addition to pushing the spread of 100Mbps household connections, the FCC recognizes the need to expand mobile broadband, and is proposing to reclaim part of the spectrum from broadcast television to accomplish this. The US American public seems to have forgotten that the spectrum is a public resource granted/leased to radio/tv/internet companies. Recovery of a robust FCC willing to regulate the spectrum will be key to the future of the US economy, as well as maintaining net neutrality.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

8 Track Museum

Via Roger Ebert's invaluable Twitter account.

Really, an 8-track museum should just be a floor in the Worst Technologies of All Time Museum.

That's a Unique Urinal, There...

Regardless of the humorless right's response, this is really funny. (Though why a Bush urinal is only now making news when it's been around since 2008 is puzzling.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bob Corker and the Criminal Payday Loan Industry

The New York Times is reporting that Tennessee's Republican Senator Bob Corker has been successful in lobbying (every pun intended) the Senate Banking Committee and its Chairman Chris Dodd (CT) to remove draft language from new financial rules that would regulate the Payday loan industry. Without question, the scope of financial skeeziness that has afflicted the US in the past ten years or so has been startling - from the unconscionable excesses of AIG, the unregulated world of derivative trading, predatory and dishonest lending practices in the mortgage industry, the willingness of too-big-to-fail banks like Citigroup, Bank of America, and the rest to loot the US treasury, etc. And yet, for many Americans, the most egregious forms of financial exploitation have their origins directly in the willingness of the Payday loan industry's exuberance in profiting off of people's desperation.


Payday loan companies have thus far existed as unregulated territory, at least from the federal perspective. While it's true that some states have taken a harder stand against the exploitative practices of lenders charging, as the Times reports, as much as 400% annualized interest rate, its a mishmash of regulation. And, the payday loan companies exploit this reality by setting up shop in the states with the least regulations, and in the neighborhoods with the most people without access to reasonable credit. If you've lived, for example, in a city alongside a major military base, payday loan shops are ubiquitous just off base, targeting poorly paid enlisted men. It seems that transitions between "good" and "bad" parts of town are invariably marked now by the appearance of payday loan and check cashing businesses, even more so than moving sides of the track.

It's not just the truly usurious interest rates and predatory geographic practices of the industry that make it evil, but also other aspects of their loan terms. For example, usually one can't amortize repayment, and must redeem the loan in a lump sum. As evil as credit card companies can be (see the opening week on any college campus as the vultures descend to peddle cards to unsuspecting and newly-freed freshmen, all with the lure of a free soda), they can't even hold a candle to these predators.

Corker receives a fair amount of money from the payday loan industry in part because Tennessee's lax regulations make the state a welcoming home to the business. And now he's doing his state proud, standing up for the poor, threatened, unrepresented, and thoroughly reprobate interests of these exploiters of the true poor, threatened, and unrepresented.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Somebody Call the Waaaaambulancia

Porfirio Lobo Sosa is apparently unhappy that deposed president Manuel Zelaya, who is writing a book on the coup, is critical of Honduras. Greg puts it best:

I guess [Lobo Sosa's] complaint would go something like this:

Our military overthrew a democratically elected government, then the police killed a bunch of people, a coup government then did its best to bankrupt the country, the Congress faked a resignation letter, everybody lied about being willing to negotiate, the Supreme Court allowed violations of the constitution, and we all made a mockery of both horizontal and vertical accountability to make sure everyone stays poor. So why would Zelaya say bad things about us? As Robert Micheletti said last year, we're all just happy people!
Heh. Indeed.

Shorter Sarah Palin: "I'm Just Like God"

Seriously. Nevermind the offensiveness of the claim or its (unsurprising) irrelevancy. Palin simply (and unsurprisingly) doesn't seem to understand /chooses to ignore that the problem wasn't the hand-writing itself; it was calling out Obama for using teleprompters in speeches, and then having to refer to notes on her hand to answer prepped questions. Even God didn't ever demonstrate that kind of hypocrisy.

I'd ask if there is any end to the narcissistic, shallow, faulty logic of Palin, but the answer to that question was apparent from the moment she hit the national stage.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Historical Image of the Day


And to bring this week of great images full circle, back to Bayer Heroin. Advertisement circa 1900

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Facial Hair of the Weekend

José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, known as the Baron of Rio Branco, is perhaps Brazil's most famous diplomat (as well as its most famous mustache, one which could easily whip John Bolton's mustache in a fight). The son of the Viscount of Rio Branco, Paranhos was a monarchist who received his title (Barão do Rio Branco, by which he is most commony referred) just days before the end of the Brazilian empire in 1889. Although a monarchist himself, the Barão was the leading diplomat of the new Brazilian republic (1889-1930). In the early-1900s, issues of national territory were still fairly poorly defined in South America, as many countries simply did not have the institutional or financial ability (not to mention the population) required to establish a strong state-presence in its frontier regions. Serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1902-1912 (when he died, leading to Carnaval coming to a halt, a rather remarkable event itself), the Barão settled all of the border disputes involving Brazil.

While this seems relatively unremarkable, it is worth keeping in mind that Brazil is larger than the United States without Alaska, and Brazil borders every country in South America except two (Chile and Ecuador). Thus, through the Barão's efforts, the territorial borders not just of Brazil, but of almost all of South America, were defined through the Barão's efforts. As part of these efforts, he signed a treaty with Bolivia in 1903 that gave Brazil the modern Amazonian state of Acre, which had been settled by Brazilians but which Bolivia had tried to lease to American rubber companies. He also obtained the northern state of Amapá in a dispute with France regarding the Guianas, The treaty finalized Brazil's modern boundaries, which remain to this day. Indeed, to understand the effect of Rio Branco's efforts, one only has to compare the map of Brazil in 1889, when the Republic was formed, and a 1990 map; all of those states were a part of Brazil (albeit often in territorial form) by the 1910s.

In addition to these feats, the Barão was involved in negotiating an end to disputes between the United States and various European countries, always believing in the power of diplomacy. Thus, for his role in defining borders and for setting a tradition of excellence in diplomacy that remains in Brazil to this day, the Barão Rio Branco is one of the most famous and respected Brazilian politicians ever.

(And I apologize for the light blogging and dearth of facial hair - dissertation deadlines and some other unfortunate events have really distracted me, but hopefully by next weekend, facial hair and other blogging will be a little more regular on my part. Thanks to Erik for picking up the slack for me).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup, a morphine-based product for teething children. It seems that it may have soothed Mom as well. Advertisement from 1887.

Friday, March 05, 2010

More Right-Wing Terrorism

Not surprisingly, the lunatic who shot the police officers at the Pentagon subway station yesterday was a John Bedell, a right-wing terrorist, The Christian Science-Monitor notes

Alex Seitz-Wald follows up on this and finds out that the guy held extremist anti-government views, including believing the government perpetrated 9/11. Seitz-Wald links to one of Bedell's podcast, where he says:



The blatant violations of the Constitution’s limitations on the economic role of the government accomplished through many subtle usurpations over many decades are perhaps even more pernicious than and are certainly a key motivation for the violent seizure of the United States government. 

Luckily, no one died in this incident but Bedell. But two police officers were wounded and lives will never be the same. And Bedell could have killed many people. 

So again I ask, how many people have to die before the country takes right-wing terrorism seriously?

I predict that before the end of 2010, an assassination attempt against a major Democratic figure will either take place or come close to fruition before being exposed.

Neo-Fascist Thugs in Amarillo

Lee Fang links to some very important writing on the rise of a neo-fascist Christian hate group in Amarillo, Repent Amarillo.

One of the nation's most conservative cities (McCain won Potter County 69-30), Amarillo already seems like a really tough place to be gay, an environmentalist, or even a Democrat.

And it's gotten much worse.

The Texas Observer has a great piece about Repent Amarillo. It has targeted the underground swinger scene in Amarillo. Because no one in Amarillo really wants to defend the swingers, Repent Amarillo has been able to intimidate with fervor, gain credibility, and expand their targets.

What’s next for Repent? They’ve posted a “Warfare Map” on the group’s Web site. The map includes establishments like gay bars, strip clubs and porn shops, but also the Wildcat Bluff Nature Center. Repent believes the 600-acre prairie park’s Walmart-funded “Earth Circle,” used for lectures, is a Mecca for witches and pagans. Also on the list are The 806 coffeehouse (a hangout for artists and counterculture types), the Islamic Center of Amarillo (“Allah is a false god”), and “compromised churches” like Polk Street Methodist (gay-friendly).

The statement of future targets reads:

1. Gay pride events.
2. Earth worship events such as “Earth Day”
3. Pro-abortion events or places such as Planned Parenthood
4. Breast cancer events such as “Race for the Cure” to illuminate the link between abortion and breast cancer.
5. Opening day of public schools to reach out to students.
6. Spring break events.
7. Demonically based concerts.
8. Halloween events.
9. Other events that may arise that the ministry feels called to confront. These large events may involve both the intercessory prayer AND the soldier groups. Some of the smaller events that can be accomplished in between the larger events may be:

1. Sexually oriented businesses such as pornography shops, strip joints, and XXX-rated theaters.
2. Idolatry locations such as palm readers, false religions, and witchcraft. Many of the smaller missions listed above may be just prayer oriented missions for tearing down demonic strongholds or they may involve more aggressive use of soldiers and prayer warriors. Some other missions occasionally employed may be “undercover operations” where thegroups show up together but are not publicly visible together to effect the outcome of a public meeting such as city commissioners meetings, etc.

The group is also organizing a boycott of Houston because its voters elected a gay mayor. Repent Amarillo is using the term "sanctions" to describe what they are trying to do.

Repent Amarillo has already had a major impact in the community through their intimidation. Fang notes:

Repent has struck with some success at many of its enemies within the town. A community theater attempted to open “Bent,” a play about the persecution of homosexuals during Nazi Germany. But the day before opening night, Repent members helped shut down the play by calling in fire marshals to complain about the theater’s permit. Staffers at a nature preserve were featured on local news defending themselves against Repent accusations that their site represents something related to witchcraft.

I'm waiting for Repent Amarillo to attack breast cancer survivors on a Race for the Cure walk. Sadly, I see little reason that many in Texas and on the growing violent right won't support this.

Media Reading Way Too Much Into Texas Republican Primary

The media wants to read a national narrative into nearly every important state election. They did so when John Thune defeated Tom Daschle in 2004. They did so again when Scott Brown defeated Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy's vacant Senate seat. And they are doing it now in the Republican primary for governor of Texas. In each of these cases, local issues trumped national. But because those local issues don't feed into national narratives, no one talks about them.

Daschle lost primarily because he openly abandoned South Dakota as his home. That's a huge reason why Chris Dodd was going to lose if he ran for re-election (he officially  moved his family to Iowa to run for president). Now the Connecticut seat is safe for the Democrats. Is this because the state's people are glad a generic incumbent is out?  No, it's because Dodd pissed them off.

Martha Coakley lost because she was a horrible candidate and Scott Brown worked his ass off. On the state level, the combination of hard work on your end and incompetent overconfidence from your opponent can still win you elections.

With Rick Perry's victory in the Republican primary this week, the New York Times claims that Texas has sent a giant vote of no-confidence to Washington.

Even the usually astute Nate Silver is joining the act.

The media narrative is that "Washington is broken. Everyone wants to throw incumbents in Washington out of office."

Is this true?  Yes, but that's beside the point. If partisanship is the problem (which it really isn't, it's that one side gets how to game the system and the other side doesn't), the "solution" seems to be to replace the people from one party and replace them with the other. That's not going to fix Washington at all. Moreover, "Washington" is just a spectre in these individual elections. Rick Perry may have defeated Senator Hutchinson and talked about Washington in doing so, but his definition of Washington was specifically geared to Texas Republican primary voters--i.e. Kay Bailey supports abortion rights (sort of) and may not believe in nullification.

Voters may want to throw incumbents out, but they have no problem replacing them with new people who are going to institute the same strategies as the old. The appeal with the Tea Party people are so supposedly so anti-government seems to the gridlock. It's Tom Coburn bragging about holding up bills and Jim Bunning ending people's unemployment benefits. But I think the whole Tea Party movement is more a media narrative than a real changing force in American politics. And that Texas has so many of these people maybe says a lot about Texas but tells us very little about the nation.

Of course, national politics do play a role on the local level. Some of this media narrative is correct. Democratic voters are complacent and somewhat disenchanted right now. Republican activists are doing a good job of getting their voters out.

But the real reason for most of this anti-Washington feeling is the economy. It's always the economy, stupid. With the economy terrible, people are unhappy. Give us solid economic growth and no other changes to the electorate and the results are radically different.

Now, what does Rick Perry's victory tell us?

1. That the Republican Party in Texas is batshit insane.

2. That is all.

So, should anyone be reading national trends into the "who is craziest" vote this week? I don't think so. Texas Republican primary voters are not exactly the typical American. It's entirely possible that Rick Perry will lose to Bill White in November. If that happens, no doubt the media will spin this as part of a larger anti-incumbent narrative, but it'll probably have to do with the fact that a) Rick Perry is a moron and b) he has gone too far to the right for even a lot of Republicans.

Perry won the Republican Party by moving to the right. And that's a great strategy to win the Texas Republican primary. It's always a good strategy for that voting bloc. It doesn't matter what's going on in Washington, what the economy is like, who is president, or anything else. You can always win by going way right in a Republican primary in Texas. Debra Medina's rise only helped Perry because her hedging on whether the government caused the 9/11 attacks made him looked relatively sane.

That's why I can't take any of these larger narratives about the Texas Republican primary having meaning for national politics seriously. It says nothing except about how crazy the most motivated right-wing Texans are.

And even within Texas, that's hardly a majority of the electorate.

What Kay Bailey Hutchinson's supporters do probably determines much about the November election.  But that's local analysis, which no one on the national level wants to hear.

Historical Image of the Day


This alcohol and opium-based product was for all ages--but only 5 drops for the 5 day old!!! I don't have a date, but it's probably late 19th century.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Your Republican Party, Ladies and Gentlemen

Today, the House Foreign Relations Committee passed (by a vote of 23-22) a non-binding resolution classifying as "genocide" the Turkish massacre of over one million Armenians during World War I. While I agree that we need to call a spade a spade in this circumstance, I'm also sympathetic to Obama's protestations on the timing of the resolution, as the administration has made progress in reconciling relations between Turkey and Armenia (one of those little diplomatic successes of the administration that get drowned out by health care and other domestic issues). Basically, I agree with committee chairman Howard Berman that this probably won't affect U.S.-Turkey relations, but at the same time, I think Clinton and Obama are more than reasonable in their concern for their efforts on Turkey-Armenia relations.

However, Republicans were opposed to the measure (shocking, I know), and in their opposition, they once again revealed their true colors:

Republican Congressman Dan Burton opposed the resolution, pointing out that a U.S. Air Force base in Turkey is vital to American military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Knowing that we may have to take some kind of military action down the road against maybe even Iran, we need to have as many friends in that part of the world as possible," said Dan Burton. [my emphasis]
Aside from the risible fact that Republicans are suddenly worried about having "friends" in that part of the world, there's the standout issue of who we might go to war with. That's right - Republicans still have war on Iran on their agenda. It couldn't be any clearer here. The inclusion of "maybe even Iran" is about as subtle as saying "that's a nice car you got there-it'd be a shame if something were to happen to it..."

Of course, this is the party that continues to obstruct just about every bit of legislation, every diplomat, every appointee, that the Obama administration is putting forth. Helping 1.1 million Americans get their unemployment benefits extended for 30 days? Can't happen. Helping millions of Americans gain access to health care? Socialism! Spending money on another war that would send the United States even further into debt and result in the deaths of thousands upon thousands?

That's just the Republican way!

Historical Image of the Day


Cocaine Toothache Drops, circa 1885

I'd be more open to becoming a parent if narcotics and opiates were legal to give children at any time.

Tom Brokaw Reports: Boomer$: History's Wealthiest and Most Influential Generation

Hey, what's that you guys were saying earlier in comments about my characterization of Baby Boomers as self-centered and constantly self-referencing being unfair?

I mean, maybe you can argue that the Boomers are the wealthiest generation. You can chart that. Most influential? As described by themselves? Classic Boomer narcissism.

The cost of admission is one thing...

... but the cost of administration is another. Education cuts continue to brutalize both K-12 and higher ed in California, and there is little reason to hope for a turnaround any time soon. Next year's state budget is projected to have yet another shortfall, so I'm sure more cuts will be coming. Things are bad for private colleges as well; an institution that I am particularly close to has announced that 25 - 30 tenure-track faculty will be eliminated by the end of the term.

A recent editorial in the Sacramento Bee has some interesting figures about administrative cost, though. In the last ten years, the University of California system has seen a 40% increase in enrollment, and a 23% growth in faculty. Over the same period, senior administrative positions have grown by 97%. These are numbers, not dollars, which makes it even more problematic, given that a senior administrative position costs well over $100,000 year. The UC system laughably has 8,851 faculty and 8,470 senior administrators.

I'm really at a loss here. I won't pretend to know the administrative challenges that are present in higher education, but I'd wager my last dime (or my job) on the fact that universities, regardless of size, could function well and deliver a good education to students with a faculty to administrator ratio of less than 1:1 (okay, I'll be fair.. 1 : 0.97). Unfortunately, it is these same senior-level administrators that make decisions about what (or who) gets cut in a bad budget cycle; the conflict of interest is disconcerting, to say the least.

My guess is that this is related to a couple of things we've talked about here before: the cult of management and the trend to think of higher education as a business. Of course, this is doubly counterproductive because 1) higher education is not a business and the metaphor is problematic at so many levels of application and 2) the cult of management has driven our wider economic system to the precipice of destruction over the last ten years; i.e., it's one thing for the university to be run like a business if these people knew how to run a business, but it's something entirely different when it is apparently clear that few of these management types actually know how to run a business.

Of course, I have no faith that this administrative explosion will abate-- the proverbial crooks are in charge of the prison here, and it looks like students and faculty (particularly vulnerable groups like term, adjunct, and non-tenured faculty) will bear the brunt of the fallout for mistakes made at the top.

A Single Random Musical Observation, or "What I Would Do if I Could Time-Travel"

There are many shows in history that I would love to see if I could time-travel. Some predate my being born, such as the Who's live shows in 1971 (when they were using live shows to work on the material for Who's Next, the greatest straight-up rock'n'roll album ever, something others agree with); others, like Sonic Youth's 1988 Daydream Nation tour, occurred before I was old enough to go to shows (or even buy many cassettes, and those I could afford, well....the tastes of an 8-year-old are not the most refined). I'm sure we all have shows like that, that we wish we could warp the space-time continuum to witness live.

However, if there's one show I could probably go back and see, it would be when I was about to graduate high school. As I was taking my final exams for graduation, and Toronto was a 9-hour drive from where I lived, there was absolutely no way I could make it to see Spiritualize play live. At the time, they were riding high on what is unquestionably their best album, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and the live album from that time period demonstrates that actually seeing them live would have constituted a major religious experience. I absolutely adored (and still adore) that album. It was the second-most-frequently played album I listened to at that time. The only one I was listening to more was OK Computer.

The kicker? Spiritualized, on the Ladies and Gentlemen tour, was the opening band of that concert back in spring 1998. The main act?

Radiohead. On the OK Computer tour.

If there were a time-machine, forget about going back and killing Hitler, or talking Johnson out of getting involved in Vietnam, or anything else. I'm going to that show in Toronto in April 1998.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Twitter Feed

In case you didn't know (and I had in fact forgotten), Alterdestiny has a Twitter feed. Follow us at alterdestinyblg

I may start ranting there more frequently as well.

It's High-Time for a Moratorium on Comparing People to Muhammad Ali

The fact that Bill Simmons apparently seriously believes Tiger Woods faces a bigger uphill battle than Muhammad Ali ever did clearly demonstrates several things, including: A) Simmons has apparently dived headfirst into the pool of stupid so deeply he's never coming out; B) Simmons either completely ignores or has completely forgotten the landscape of racism in the 60s (when Ali was repeatedly attacked for his race) vs. the 90s and 00s (because clearly, the threats Ali faced were nothing compared to Fuzzy Zoeller's comments); C) obsession with the lives of celebrities in America has taken such a perverse turn that this is treated as front-page material on the biggest sports website in the country; and D) that it's high time comparisons of anybody to Muhammad Ali stop, unless those individuals are willing to give up their career to stick to their principles and fight for what's right politically.

But hey, having sex with a lot of women and insisting (correctly) that the Vietnam War was racist and that you were not going to participate for political and religious reasons? Totally the same thing. Just ask Bill Simmons.

Historical Image of the Day


Paperweight from a German company claiming to be the "largest makers in the world of quinine and cocaine." Don't have a date, but I assume it's around 1900. Also, this is the greatest paperweight ever made.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Around Latin America

-An eventual return to Honduras for exiled and deposed ex-president Manuel Zelaya may have gotten more difficult this past week. Honduran prosecutors are trying to attain a warrant to arrest Zelaya for "fraud, document forgery and abuse of power." No word yet on whether these same prosecutors are going to try to secure warrants against senator-for-life Roberto Micheletti for his own abuses of power.

-Even as we continue to ignore the violence in Mexico (and our role in it), there are daily reminders that it affects the entire border region, not just Juarez.

-Could a call for a "plurinational uprising" from Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador threaten Rafael Correa's administration and ability to remain in office through the end of his term?

-In appalling environmental actions, Argentina's army apparently is burning its garbage at a base in the Antarctic within 200 feet of penguin nesting grounds.

-Although there has been bad blood between the two countries for well over a century, Peru has put that aside in the face of the humanitarian crisis facing Chile in the wake of this week's powerful 8.8-magnitude earthquake by offering construction materials to help its neighbor and occasional rival rebuild.

-Speaking of the Chilean earthquake, it turns out there will not be a single person on the planet who is not affected by the earthquake. The tectonic shift was powerful enough that it shifted the Earth's axis, resulting in a day that was 1.26 microseconds shorter.

-Brazil's indigenous Yanomani population has been devastated by disease and encroachment from outsiders in the recent past, and one scholar has a novel solution: prosecute Senator Jose Sarney, who was president from 1985-1990, with genocide for his role in letting gold mining companies enter into Yanomani territory, bringing with them disease and environmental degradation that have killed the Yanomanis and destroyed much of their homeland.

-On the subject of Brazil, there's also a nice little article up talking about the little-known (outside of Brazil) role of Middle Eastern immigrants in shaping the country's culture and politics over the last 100+ years, and it's well worth checking out.

-Finally, a pair of farewells to important Mexican figures. Writer Carlos Montemayor, whose fictional War in Paradise did much to shed light on the forgotten Mexican "Dirty War" of the 1960s and 1970s, died last week at the age of 62 (and the fact that a fictional work is the foremost work on the "Dirty War" speaks volumes about the absence of scholarship on the subject). And this week, Ana Maria Zapata Portillo, the last surviving daughter of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, died at the age of 94.