Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Policy & Good Politics

The National Journal headline:

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

And, for all those who want to consider themselves as centrist, or serving the interests of moderation... remember that the master of centrism, Bill Clinton, repeats over and over that what a President decides to do must be both good policy and good politics. The Wisconsin GOP has suffered some disastrous public relations... and the Mass Speaker just made them look a little better.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

NFL Draft Live Blog

Are you ready for the biggest waste of time of the year? I know I am. I'm also ready to watch the yearly ritual of rich white men buying and selling athletic young black men. Amazingly, we are not talking about 19th century slavery, but rather the NFL Draft.

Despite all of this, I can't help but write about this stuff. Mostly, I just hope the Seahawks don't draft Jake Locker.

7:04--(DL)Hope all is well in the Land of Depressing Sports. So far, I'm happy about the audience chanting at Goodell.

7:05 (EL)--God, Goodell is a schumuck

7:05--(DL)The Panthers "can't miss" on this pick, yet they pick Cam Newton.

7:09 (EL)--Welcome to the new Alex Smith! The NFL has an iron rule--"new regimes equals new quarterbacks." Even if the new quarterbacks suck. Fail, fail, fail.

7:12 (DL)--Denver has a ton to choose from here, but it'll clearly be Von Miller at this point.

7:13 (DL)--That should be fine. Xanders looked at a computer!

7:14 (EL)--I hope Miller punches Goodell in the face.

7: 19 (EL)--I like the Dareus pick. However, I want to again point out that the Buffalo Bills have far and away the worst name in professional sports.

7:20 (DL)--Who's going to throw to him? Palmer's out. Jordan Palmer to AJ Green!!

7:25--(EL)--How does Marvin Lewis still have a coaching job? AJ Green off to irrelevancy land. Also, you'd think that for all the high draft picks Georgia has had over the years, they'd win some important football games. You'd be wrong. Same goes for Clemson and UCLA.

7:29 (DL)--I know that "best player available" is valuable, but that's only a minor need for Arizona.

7:31 (EL)--Daryl may be right about this, but what the Cardinals need is a QB and they are smart enough not to waste their pick on one of these crappy QBs this year. Might as well take a potential shutdown corner and kick returner.

7:34 (EL)--Julio Jones is rocking that fucking bow tie

7:37 (DL)--Wow...what an awful trade for the Falcons

7:37 (EL)--Julio Jones had better be the next Jerry Rice for the Falcons to give up that much. Did the Browns also demand Matt Ryan's first born son? Great trade for Cleveland.

7:40 (DL)--How many weeks do they deal with Jones' drops before declaring him a bust. A total snowjob for Cleveland.

7:41 (EL)--This could be the greatest thing to happen to the Cleveland Browns since 1987! Oh, wait....

7:42 (EL)--I don't know anything about Aldon Smith, but I do know that the 49ers made a really good move by not picking one of these crappy quarterbacks. Blaine Gabbert=Alex Smith. They already have that guy. Take someone who is going to help you.

7:45 (DL)--Wow...disaster.

7:48 (DL)--Locker is a least eight times in college. Gruden should really shut up.

7:49 (EL)--Tennessee saves me from the indignity of the Seahawks drafting Jake Locker. I think Bud Adams has been hanging out with Al Davis a lot lately. Jake Locker is a terrible, terrible pick. And now Chris Berman is comparing Locker to Brett Favre.

7:51 (DL)--Locker is the anti-Vince Young? Because he's white? They're the fucking same...good lord....

7:53 (EL)--I was going to make the same comment as Daryl above. Love the coded racism of professional sports. Locker--white and safe, Young--black and scary. As Daryl says, they are the same quarterback.

8:00 (EL)--Jacksonville trades up for Blaine Gabbert? The 3rd crappy QB goes! That ought to continue the utter irrelevancy of Jacksonville Jaguars for another several years. Also, Gabbert has dumb hair.

8:02 (DL)--And Blaine Gabbert is one of the worst possible names.

8:06 (DL)--Who knew that a teal hat could make you look less like a douche?

8:08 (EL)--The Wonderlic probably doesn't have a whole lot more value than other standardized intelligence tests. But it's worth pointing out that Jake Locker had the lowest score of any leading QB this year, including the supposed dumb Cam Newton. But somehow he is the anti-Vince Young. He's dumb as a rock! But hey, he's white! Don't you understand--he's WHITE!!!!!

8:09 (EL)--I think the last black player to play for the University of Wisconsin was Ron Dayne.

8:15 (EL)--Nick Fairley just made Julio Jones' bow-tie look chumpish.

8:17 (DL)--Tavarias Jackson will still start for the Vikings next year. Ponder will be terrible.

8:18 (EL)--Kiper just compared Ponder to Chad Pennington. And that's the upside. Horrible pick. Horrible. My Packer fan friends are very happy right now.

8:20 (DL)--Oh, Bill Musgrave is the QB coach. It's like looking in a weak-armed mirror.

8:21 (DL)--Fairley and Suh is scary as hell.

8:22 (EL)--Here's why I don't like this Fairley pick (bow-tie notwithstanding)--the Lions always pick the best player available. OK they have sucked for a long time and have a lot of holes, though less than they used to. But--the OL sucks. And Matthew Stafford is always hurt. So why not pick the best OL available. Don't you have to do this at some point? I don't like this at all. Plus the highlights of Fairley dominating the Oregon offensive line is making me want to break my television.

8:28 (DL)--How is it that Gruden can both look and move like a marionette puppet?

8:28 (EL)--So far, this draft is refreshingly Todd McShay-free.

8:31 (DL)--I'm certain they're drafting Dalton.

8:37 (DL)--I was wrong. Pouncey is a solid pick.

8:42 (DL)--I still laugh every time #8 comes on the ticker. Tennessee, you fools....

8:45 (DL)--Apparently, according to the commentary team, no team has made a bad choice yet, only surprising ones. Clearly nobody does wrong in the draft...ever.

8:46 (EL)--It seems that Daryl doesn't understand the level of whiteness Jake Locker brings to Tennessee.

8:50 (DL)--Is there a way to make moneyed Tennessee any whiter than it already is?

8:53 (EL)--If there was a way, it was accomplished tonight.

8:53 (EL)--Will anyone really miss Chris Berman when he retires? The verbal puns got old 20 years ago.

9:06 (DL)--I think that what is shocking me most is how normal and banal this draft has been.

9:08 (DL)--Aside from, of course, what will go down as "The Cleveland Boondoggle."

9:15 (DL)--How many times in his life has Chris Berman uttered the phrase, "Fill that Jolly Roger!"?

9:17 (DL)--Kiper's right, and I'm positive that Gruden is drunk.

9:21 (DL)--Oh, fuck you Peyton Hillis. Number one, button up your shirt. Number two, being voted in by Cleveland does not make you a star.

9:22 (EL)--Peyton Hillis thanks his Lord Jesus Christ for the ability to wear that unbuttoned shirt. This is literally the most exciting thing that's happened in the last hour of the draft.

9:30 (DL)--The Hangover II looks like the most unnecessary sequel of all time.

9:31 (DL)--Even Hardbodies 2 had harder bodies; this just looks more expensive.

9:32 (EL)--And now it's time for the ritual festishization of the military, reminding me why I should hate football but can't get away from it.

9:33 (EL)--If Roger Goodell wraps himself in the flag tightly enough, will the public forget what a complete fucking douchebag he is?

9:36 (DL)--That's all so disgusting...just yuck....

9:38 (DL)--Ladies and gentlemen...your heroes.

9:42 (EL)--Cameron Jordan completely shut down Oregon this year. Great pick for the Saints.

9:46 (EL)--Given the quality of defensive linemen left, I am going to be very irritated if the Seahawks don't draft one, unless they trade down.

9:51 (DL)--Drafting, Pete Carroll style.
9:52 (EL)--Sigh. The Seahawks absolutely need an interior offensive linemen, but I also feel they could have traded down and still picked up James Carpenter. Still, the interior OL really sucked last year. Ever since Steve Hutchinson left for Minnesota, Seattle's had no running game. So maybe this will work out. Still, I'd like to see good value at the pick and this is not that.

9:54 (EL)--To be clear, Pete Carroll drafted very well last year with Okung, Earl Thomas, and Golden Tate. Other than the Whitehurst trade, the personnel moves have been good. We'll see about this. Maybe it'll be worth it. Would like to see former Duck Max Unger get healthy and work with Carpenter to provide solid guards and open up some holes for the lame-ass running backs.

9:57 (EL)--I think Jimmy Smith is trying to get over his character issues by surrounding himself with white people on TV. Knowing the NFL's racial politics, this might actually work.

10:08 (EL)--I really like that Jimmy Smith pick by the Ravens. The whole character thing has gotten out of control. If you have someone totally crazy like Pac-Man Jones, OK. But LaGarette Blount didn't get drafted last year because he punched a guy. Then he ended up the top rookie running back. Jimmy Smith is a stud corner and a top 10 talent. With the level of mentoring he's likely to receive in Baltimore, this is very good.

10:15 (EL)--My only concern about the Saints drafting Mark Ingram is the likelihood that they are going to dump Reggie Bush and Pete Carroll throws a ton of money at Bush to come and suck in Seattle.

10:38 (EL)--And there ends one of the most boring 1st rounds in history. This is what I learned tonight: Peyton Hillis demonstrated that each team should pick its douchiest player to announce the picks. I totally want to see Tim Tebow present Denver's picks. Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to hear Deion Sanders present picks back in the day? This would make things so much more interesting!

Maybe the College of Wooster Can Cut Down All Its Trees and Offer Me The "Weyerhaeuser Chair in Logging History"

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett ties Rick Perry's rain prayer for the greatest governor move of the day by suggesting that the state's public schools pay for themselves by fracking the land underneath them to bring up natural gas. This technique is widely believed to have caused a rash of earthquakes in Arkansas earlier this year, so it's hard to see what can go wrong.

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of Captain America, May 1954

Song of the Day: Doc Severinsen, "In the Court of the Crimson King," 1970

If you can figure out why Doc Severinsen chose to cover King Crimson, you know more than I.

Phoning It In

Anthony Hopkins is at least honest:

Mr. Hopkins said that, as an actor, “I phone it in a lot as I’m getting older,” but seeing the aura of his old mentor in Mr. Branagh stirred him to invest himself more fully in “Thor.” 

I mean, he really fooled me with his titanic performances in The Wolfman and Beowulf....

Rain Dances

Rick Perry's now official pray-for-rain policy really marks him as an effective governor.

Shorter Massachusetts House Democrats: Scott Walker is Our Prophet

Are you fucking kidding me?

Union supporters had a rude awakening on Wednesday with news of the Massachusetts state House vote to slash collective bargaining rights for municipal workers. Democratic-controlled, and among the bluest of the blue, Massachusetts is not the place where most expected to see the next battle in the nationwide organized labor fight with state legislatures crop up.

The state House bill, which passed with overwhelming support in the Democratic-controlled state legislature, would "strip police officers, teachers, and other municipal employees of most of their rights to bargain over health care," as the Boston Globe reported Wednesday. The goal, according to proponents, is of course to "save millions of dollars for financially strapped cities and towns."

Why should labor even involve itself in the Democratic Party anymore?

Of course, Redbeard has more below. He's on the ground and this affects him personally. Still, I'm shocked they went through with this.

Your Morning NIMBYism

New Jersey is collectively freaking out because the energy company is putting up solar panels on telephone poles. Oh, won't someone think of the property values!!!

2 notes:

1. When the panels are everywhere, they aren't going to affect your property values, unless the entire nation decides to abandon New Jersey because of solar energy.

2. Do solar panels look worse than telephone poles? Of course not. But those are naturalized into the landscape and solar panels are new.

Can't we just double-down on energy sources that destroy Nigeria, Kuwait, and other counties Americans will never have to see?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Historical Image of the Day

This week's images will be of the Cold War within the nation's borders.

Nuclear test, Nevada Test Site, 1951

Massachusetts House Threatens Labor Rights

The Speaker of the Massachusetts House wants to take away some collective bargaining rights for municipal workers. Claiming that healthcare costs are too high for towns, Speaker DeLeo wants to give town managers the ability to completely design the healthplans of the town workers, no matter what contract was agreed to.

Massachusetts labor unions have rounded up support from 50 House lawmakers, including six members of House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo’s leadership team, in a push to fend off the speaker’s plan to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers, firefighters, and other local government employees.

DeLeo has pitched his effort as a high priority to help curb escalating municipal health care costs, saving jobs for government employees and services for residents.

In one sense this is not nearly as bad as Scott Walker's attempt to pulverize unions. But in another sense, when one considers how Massachusetts bucked the Red Tide of 2010 with Democratic wins in all State & Congressional races, and it has a House that is 80% Democratic, it is surprising to see a Mass. Democratic Speaker fall in line with the Republican idea that public employee unions can't be dealt with, and should not have a say in what their healthcare benefits should be.

This only goes to show that it is not enough to have Democrats in office, nor just strong union membership. A political atmosphere needs to be created and maintained to protect the right of people to have a say in their working conditions and healthcare.

More can be read about it here.

I For One Can't Wait for Humboldt Redwoods State Park Brought to You by Viagra

California is moving toward what the anti-environmental browns have always wanted: privatization of state parks. What could possibly go wrong?

The Lockout

Yesterday court ruling lifting the NFL lockout might well be the end of the road for the NFL owners' attempt to screw over their players. Ed Valentine persuasively argues this and notes how utterly evil the owners are:

The NFL owners are still in denial, as evidenced by their stubborn refusal to get back to work and stop their appeal of Judge Nelson's decision. But the truth is, it's over. In fact, it's probably true that it was over from the moment when Smith rallied his players, won their confidence, and got them to go along with the gutsy move to decertify the union after months of non-negotiation.

From the beginning the sports media has been quick to note that neither side was willing to compromise, but what Smith did was make it clear to the players that they had no reason to compromise. They were, after all, being asked to give up revenue they had fought hard for as the starting point of any negotiations. The central facts leading to the lockout were not in dispute: the National Football League pulled in more than $9 billion last season, and the owners wanted the players to give back one billion of their share from the first snap. Not because the owners were suffering any economic hardship -- certainly none that they were ready to open up their books to reveal -- but because they wanted the players to pay for new stadiums.

In case you're wondering who has been footing most of the bill for these new stadiums over the years, the answer is: you, or rather, us. For the most part, the NFL, largely by threatening to move franchises to new cities, has always been able to snooker local politicians into forking over the taxpayers' money for new venues -- you know, the ones with the luxury boxes that you can't afford.

After years of preaching the virtues of the free market while profiting on municipal and state money, the public teat, it appears, has run dry. The owners' response was to turn to the NFLPA and say, in effect, we need some new suckers to foot our bills.

The players' reaction, expressed through DeMaurice Smith, was "Does Ford demand that autoworkers pay for the cost of new factories?"

Far less valuable, as per normal, is Gregg Easterbrook, who takes the classic "sure the owners are bad but the players are super greedy and although I claim to be a liberal I have no problem busting an athlete union" line. 

Visit the Boreal Forest Now Because It's Not Going to Be There in 30 Years

Another extremely depressing bit of environmental news. Goodbye Canadian boreal forest.

Song of the Day: Billy Bang Quartet, Live at the Knitting Factory, 2000

The second great musician to die recently is Billy Bang. The wonderful jazz violinist became something of a sensation in the early 2000s with the release of his phenomenal Vietnam: The Aftermath, his attempt to deal with his experiences in the Vietnam War through his music.

I also met Bang once at a wedding, although I never saw him play live. He was very nice to me in our brief conversation. It's one of only 2 conversations I've had with relatively big-time jazz musicians. The other was, oddly enough, another violinist, Eyvind Kang.

Texas Burning

Texas Republicans are always coming up big to destroy their state. As you have probably read, Texas is burning. A horrendous drought and very hot temperatures have created ideal fire conditions. In 2011, 1.8 million acres of Texas have burned. The record is 2 million. It is April 26. This is not good.

The Texas Republican response--cutting funding for volunteer firefighting departments (and in rural areas, these are the first responders for many wildfires) from $30 million a year to $7 million.

On the other hand, Rick Perry has a pretty effective program for dealing with the fires: pray.

Deep Thought

Didn't my ancestors fight and die in a war so that I wouldn't have to hear endless and insipid coverage about royal weddings. This makes me want to dump some English products in the water or something.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Historical Image of the Day

Coal mining, near Richlands, Virginia, 1974.

I had originally intended this series of images to last a week or so, but with the sporadic posting, I've kind of kept it going. I'll close it here. This set of images I've used recently comes from the Environmental Protection Agency's amazing Documerica program. Between 1971 and 1977 (though mostly in 73 and 74), the EPA hired photographers to document environmental degradation, work conditions, and everyday life around the nation. You can check out the whole collection here, which I highly recommend.

Song of the Day: Hazel Dickens, "A Few Old Memories"

Since I haven't had time to blog much at all lately, I've missed mentioning the deaths of a couple of my favorite musicians. My next couple of posts, which should come in consecutive days I hope, will address this.

The first is the great bluegrass singer Hazel Dickens. One of the first women to break through the extremely patriarchal bluegrass music scene, her band with Alice Gerard in the 1960s was amazing. She went on to record several excellent solo albums with powerful songs about the people of Appalachia. Some of these songs were deeply political, either pro-feminist or anti-coal. Others, such as "A Few Old Memories" are timeless songs of loss, a topic particularly relevant to the people of Appalachia who have moved to other parts of the country for work since at least the 1920s. Here is her Times obituary. 

The Party of Fiscal Responsibility!

Your modern-day Republican Party, as represented by Bobby Jindal wants to privatize the excellent state employees health insurance fund so that Jindal can spend its significant surplus in other ways. This will hurt state workers, but it's not like Republicans in 2011 could possibly care about that.

Civil War Memory

The Times' Disunion series has created repetitive but, to me, endless interesting comment sections. Over and over again, people debate the causes of the Civil War. Of course, there's no real debate about this among historians--it's slavery, slavery, and slavery. And while that's seeped into much of the population, there's a whole lot of people with a whole lot of money who don't want to believe that. Some companies are taking advantage of this population, as Virginia Heffernan shows in her discussion of mobile apps related to the War. That's fine and all I suppose, even if slavery disappears from their narratives. After all, maybe it's not the companies' fault that a large swath of Americans want their own version of the war that erases slavery. Because it the war isn't about slavery, then it can still be evoked today for conservative ends. Southern Republicans are doing this very thing:

In Georgia 47% of Republicans are content with the Union victory, while 31% wish the South had won. Democrats (58/17) and independents (54/19) are both strongly supportive of the North, making the overall numbers 53/23.
In North Carolina GOP voters are almost evenly divided on the outcome of the war with 35% glad for the North's victory, 33% ruing the South's loss, and 32% taking neither side. Democrats (55/15) and independents (57/14) have similar numbers to Georgia but due to the greater ambivalence of Republicans about the northern victory, overall less than half of Tar Heel voters (48%) are glad the Union won to 21% who wish the Confederacy had.
In Mississippi no group of the electorate seems all that enthused about the North having won. Republicans, by a 38/21 margin, outright wish the South had won. Democrats (39/22) and independents (49/15) side with the North but compared to those voter groups in North Carolina and Georgia they're pretty ambivalent. Overall just 34% of voters in the state are glad the Union prevailed to 27% who wish the rebels had been victorious.

While I don't doubt that some of this is directly related to southern race relations, I'd be curious to see similar polls of northern Republicans, as I believe that much of the Republican Party regardless of region has devoted itself to viewing the Civil War as a battle against a tyrannical central government looking to crack down on states' rights that, in their minds, had little to do with the enslavement of blacks. After all, it's not just in Texas that right-wing governors have been talking about nullification.

Can Environmental Compromise Work?

There's something particularly uncompromising about environmentalism. If you believe that special places need preservation, it's hard to cut a deal. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. So I understand why radical environmentalists would refuse compromise. I respect that. But it's also a political dead-end. At best, it leads to victories over often widespread opposition from local communities and long-term resentments. At worst, it takes you down the road of political irrelevancy.

So it's interesting to read of the often radical Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance taking on a new, much more conciliatory tone to get deals done to protect at least some of the region's land. I don't quite know what to make of it, but it could lead to land preservation returning to the agenda in canyonlands. And that's probably a good thing, even with the losses that compromise entails.

Wisconsin Labor Leaders Dropping the Ball

Sadly, but not all that surprisingly, Wisconsin labor leaders are really dropping the ball on the mass movement that developed to protest Scott Walker's union busting bill. Matthew Rothschild has a compelling and depressing piece on this:

But then, just as the crowds were swelling, all of a sudden the labor leadership seemed to lose interest in mass action.

It may be that the labor leadership in Wisconsin, which didn’t know quite what to do with all those people in the streets, has now missed its main chance.

“You’ve got to make hay when sun shines, and we soon will be paying the price for not making hay. We blinked,” says Bill Franks, a senior steward for AFT-Wisconsin. “It was a lost opportunity. We had to shut this motherfucker down.” (AFT-Wisconsin was formerly the American Federation of Teachers of Wisconsin, but it has broadened its membership to include other professionals).

Franks believes that when organized labor had 100,000 people marching in the streets, it should have called for some direct action and possibly a general strike. “You can’t put 100,000 people in jail,” he says. “When you have those numbers, the math is all of a sudden on your side.”

Franks says the labor leadership didn’t grasp the power that the outpouring represented. “At the moment when we had some general strike potential,” he says, “the bureaucrats of labor backed off and effectively got in lockstep with the Democratic Party.”

Recall efforts are fine and good, but massing 100,000 people in the streets really scares those in power and emboldens the citizenry.

Why didn’t the state AFL-CIO call for a mass protest the moment that Waukesha County clerk Kathy Nickolaus all of a sudden found 14,000 missing votes in the state supreme court race to throw it to David Prosser, whom she used to work for? Pro-labor and pro-Kloppenburg people were outraged and ready to express that outrage, but the leadership provided them with no outlet.

Why didn’t the state AFL-CIO call for a mass protest when Sarah Palin came to town?

And what plans does the state AFL-CIO have in store if the Republicans try to pull a fast one and intimidate those doing the recall efforts, or out-lawyer the Democratic challengers?

Or, God forbid, when Walker’s anti-union bill finally is allowed to be implemented either by the state supreme court or after a legislative do-over?

I’m afraid the labor leadership in Wisconsin is underestimating the power there is in numbers.

All very true. I remain upset that after the bill passed, the AFL-CIO did not call for a strike. Like Barack Obama after the 2008 election, you had a huge number of motivated and inspired people ready to take the next step and retake the government. And like Obama's response, you have the big liberal institutions, now uncomfortable with mass movements tearing it down in exchange for incremental change and legal challenges. Of course, legal challenges are hardly incongruous with mass protests.But once you blow that momentum, how do you get people back on the streets again? This is what Obama is about to find out in his re-election campaign and this is what the Wisconsin AFL-CIO faces.

What's particularly outrageous is that of all movements, labor should know the power of mass movements. After all, that's what built their movement. But this was so long ago now that it is beyond anyone's personal memory. Replacing mass-action protests is institutional conservatism. That this institutional conservatism has helped lead to labor's decline over the last 40 years has not woken up AFL-CIO leaders blows the mind.

I previously stated that the Wisconsin fight is one of the biggest fights in U.S. labor history since World War II. I absolutely continue to believe that. And by dismantling one of the biggest protest movements of the last two decades, the Wisconsin AFL-CIO is doing all the can to lose the long-term war, even if they win the short-term battle in the courts.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Robert E. Lee, Traitor

In probably my favorite Disunion piece so far, Elizabeth Brown Pryor takes to task the myth of Robert E. Lee taking the natural stand to defend his state against Union tyranny. Like much about Civil War mythology, this has little to no truth.

Lee was not brave nor honorable in refusing to serve his country. We've long known that many southerners fought for the Union, including George Thomas.

But as Pryor points out, a recently discovered letter from Lee's daughter shows that Lee actually countered the wishes of most of his own family in committing treason. Two of his own cousins served the Union, including Admiral Samuel Phillips Lee!!!

So I have even less respect for Lee than I did yesterday. Here is a man who refused an order to protect Washington, D.C., outraging his fellow Virginian Winfield Scott, who basically kicked him out of the army. Here is a man who turned his back not only on his nation, but on the military tradition of his own family and the desires of his own wife and children in order to protect slavery.

And while I don't want to trivialize Lee's decision, because it was a hard one for him to make, he was also completely wrong.

Robert E. Lee is not a hero. He was not a good man. He was a traitor to his country. And he should be remembered as such.

Brandon Roy

I feel terrible for Brandon Roy, the late great TrailBlazer guard. I say late great because his terrible knees have already robbed him of his skills. He missed 2 months this year, came back, and was terrible. And he's been almost completely ineffective all season. After doing absolutely nothing in a major role in Portland's Game 1 loss to the Mavericks, he played only a few minutes last night.

Upset, he told of wanting to cry. And frankly, I want to cry with him. Brandon Roy had the potential to be one of the greatest players in Portland history. Maybe he is, even if he is finished after 4 seasons. I desperately want him to be good, to bring Portland back to greatness. But it ain't happening. Any team has to play its most effective players in the playoffs. And Brandon Roy is no longer effective in any way.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Around Latin America

-Uruguay has successfully overturned the amnesty law that pardoned military torturers and assassains during the military regime of 1973-1985, making prosecution of military officials possible. The congressional overturn was made possible in 2009, when Uruguay's Supreme Court declared the "Expiry Law" unconstitutional.
-In another case of military regime leaders finally paying for their blatant human rights violations, Erwin C. has a good write-up of the case of Reynaldo Bignone, the last president of the military regime of 1976-1983, which oversaw the murder of at least 30,000 of its own citizens during the so-called "Dirty War." Bignone had originally gone to trial early last year, and was convicted and given a life sentence for his role in the military regime.
-It is not just military leaders who are increasingly facing pressure for their ties to human rights violations. A Rio de Janeiro politician has been arrested under suspicion of leading a paramilitary group responsible for murdering citizens in Brazil's second-largest city.
-Chiquita is also under scrutiny for its ties to paramilitary groups. New court documents reveal that the banana producer voluntarily paid Colombian paramilitary and guerrilla groups for "protection," suggesting the company's claims that they were "extorted" are hollow. Families in both Colombia and Panama already sued Chiquita for its involvement in violence in the two countries, and these court documents seem to suggest that Chiquita's economic contribution to violent movements was more voluntary than the company had suggested.
-The Brazilian government continues to try to move forward with the Belo Monte dam. The dam, which would be the world's third largest if it were to go through (behind China's Three Gorges dam and Brazil's/Paraguay's Itaipu dam), would also flood hundreds of square miles of Amazonian forest and displace indigenous peoples. However, in spite of the government's determination, a broad coalition of forces is forming (including high-profile supporters like James Cameron) to oppose the dam's construction, and human rights groups have now gotten involved, making the dam's completion far from a certainty still, in spite of recent governmental victories in the court system.
-The Belo Monte dam isn't the only environmental concern in Brazil, as a new report suggests that farming to fuel the meat industry is causing catastrophic damage to Brazil's cerrado, or savannah.
-As today marks the 50th anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion and Raul Castro's recent proposals of limited reforms in Cuba, Boz has an interesting piece up regarding the bureaucracy of authoritarian regimes. The nuance he suggests between top-most positions (in this case the Castros) and the bureaucracy beneath them is an important and oft-overlooked component of military goverments, especially those in places like Chile or Egypt, where dictatorial rule is associated with a particular name/face (Pinochet, Mubarak, etc.). Although his post is just a brief reminder of the complexities of rule, rather than an intense analysis of how such relations between technocrats and autocrats work, it's always worth keeping in mind when discussing modern military regimes, be it in Latin America or elsewhere.
-Finally, there is an article up on the progress of scientific research and study in Brazil that is fascinating for many reasons. The growth of scientific R&D in Brazil is yet another indicator that Brazil's ascension in the international arena most likely is not fleeting.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

On DeFazio

My favorite member of Congress, Oregon's Peter DeFazio (and I'm not saying this because I'm hoping to interview him for my book, though I am indeed hoping for this), says he'll "make the president act like a Democrat."

Well, for Christ's sake someone has to do that. At this point, I just don't care about Obama's insiders whining about criticism from the left; when you have a Democratic president with policies well to the right of Richard Nixon, that's fucked up.

Today's Edition of the World Getting Worse

Sometimes, it's just hard to have hope for this country. Democrats continue to give and give and give on increasingly extreme Republican budget demands. The budget "compromise" was yet another huge win for Republicans, with the vast majority of cuts coming from traditionally Democratic programs. Obama has now embraced the absurd Simpson-Bowles budget proposal. Republicans are already demanding more cuts to raise the national debt limit, which I am sure they will receive.

Is there anything to be optimistic about in this country? Anything at all?

Meanwhile, here in Ohio, John Kasich and the Koch Brothers' budget begins to have its desired effect of impoverishing working people. In Pickerington, somewhere between 50 and 120 teachers will be laid off next year. I'm sure that those left will still be blamed for our kids not learning. And it seems that about 30 workers at the Job and Family Services Department in struggling Stark County (Canton) will lose their jobs. 1/6 of Stark County families receive food aid from Job and Family Services.

This is kind of liberal way of thinking about the country's past, but I wonder what things were like to live in the 1940s-60s, in the sense that people like me saw the country improving day by day. Of course, "people like me" means white dudes and I realize the complex history of that period and the problems of postwar liberalism.

But today, each and every day, this country gets worse. Everything I value in this nation, at least when it comes to economics, labor, environment, protection for women, etc., is falling apart. And it makes me want to cry.

Song of the Day: Theolonius Monk, "Evidence," 1963

Historical Image of the Day

The city dump of Moab, Utah, 1972

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Wondrous Food of Mexico

Alma Guillermoprieto on the glories of Mexican food, in my opinion one of the world's 3 great cuisines (along with Italian and Thai). I have been lucky enough to eat some of those jaw-droppingly amazing hand-patted tortillas. What I wouldn't give for one right now.

David Gordon Green

There was a time when I loved David Gordon Green. I thought George Washington was a fine, fine debut film that dealt with interracial friendships in a mature and complex way, largely by realizing that race isn't always a big deal anymore. All the Real Girls is one of my favorite films of the last decade. I love this. I wasn't a huge fan of Undertow, but I respected it.

And then Green ran out of stories to tell. I haven't seen Pineapple Express, but I heard it was alright, nothing more. Now we have the execrable-looking Your Highness. Roger Ebert lets him have it:

Now comes “Your Highness.” The movie is a perplexing collapse of judgment. Assume for the sake of argument that David thought the time had come for him to direct a farce. Fair enough. One with a severed cyclops head, an emasculated minotaur, damsels in distress, crowds of witless extras, castles, hydras and ... mechanical bird? OK, they come with the territory. Not so much the bird. But why this screenplay? What did they think would be funny? They're satirizing a genre that nobody goes to see when it's played straight. It's sad when good actors dress funny and go through material more suitable for a campfire skit on the closing night of summer camp.
Of course, this is hardly the first indie director to collapse once Hollywood comes calling. But does anyone really think Green has another masterpiece left in him? Or even a good movie? I hope I'm wrong.  But I'm extremely skeptical.

Marijuana Production and Energy Consumption

This is a fascinating report on the massive use of electricity for marijuana production. Approximately 1% of Americans use of electricity goes toward growing marijuana.

Not sure that this will really affect drug policy either way. But these are facts to be reckoned with by both sides of the debate.

Historical Image of the Day

Effluent flowing from the International Paper Company Mill into the Androscroggin River, Maine, 1973

Song of the Day: The Mekons, "Heaven and Back"

Friday, April 08, 2011

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Historical Image of the Day

Cemetery for workers at the Asarco smelter (seen in background), El Paso, Texas, 1972

Song of the Day: Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Your Precious Love"

Are Progressives Fucking Retarded?

This was the famous question Rahm Emanuel asked in 2009 when progressives questioned Great Leader Obama's capitulation to conservatives.

The answer is, of course, no.

But Steven Hill makes some really good points in his review of the question and why progressives put so much hope in a clearly centrist Obama.

During the presidential campaign, while Obama deployed the lofty rhetoric and vision in his speeches that became his stock in trade, some of us were pointing out that there was nothing in this former state senator and then-U.S. Senator’s unremarkable record that indicated he was a strong or reliable progressive. Sometimes he had progressive tendencies, other times not. A friend of mine from Chicago who had Obama as a law professor presciently predicted that an Obama administration would be characterized by “ruthless pragmatism,” not progressive idealism.

But many progressives believed, quite fervently, that in the course of finding that ruthless pragmatism, Obama would cleverly figure out how to lean strongly progressive. There was always a nod and a wink coming from the Obama movement that seemed to say, “Don’t worry, he’s more progressive than he’s revealing. That’s what you have to do to get elected president in the United States.” When some of us continued to express doubts, these Panglosses got upset. Very upset. “It’s time to get on board,” they said. And I felt like Bongo, the one-eared rabbit in Matt Groening’s Life in Hell cartoon, shut up and gagged in a detention room.
How can so many brilliant people have fallen for so much hokum? That question is not an easy one to answer. Perhaps at some point Arianna Huffington, Robert Kuttner, Michael Moore and other left-ish pundits will engage in a bit of self-criticism and enlighten us as to how they were hoodwinked so easily. Because here’s my fear: Progressives don’t seem to be learning from their mistakes. Right before Obama’s inauguration, Huffington wrote, “Now, more than ever, we must mine the most underutilized resource available to us: ourselves… It is not just the Bush Years that should be over on January 20, but also the expectation that a knight in shining armor will ride into town and save us while we cheer from the sidelines. Even if the knight is brilliant, charismatic and inspiring. It’s up to us—We the People.”

Yet that’s exactly what so many did—they invested their hopes and aspirations, their passion, activism and money, in a shining knight for whom there was scant evidence of his progressivism or legislative accomplishments. Was it their desperation to see the GOP run out of town and the Bush legacy overturned? And the Clintons too? Was it their desire to see an African American elected president? Kuttner, author of Obama’s Challenge: America’s Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency and co-founder of The American Prospect, wrote about a friend who said, “I so wanted to be supportive of a great progressive president this time instead of being back in opposition.”

I've probably shared this story before on the blog, but in during the 2008 primaries, my students asked me who I supported. I said, "I'm ready to be disappointed by someone new." Quite clearly, there was little in the way of policy difference between Hillary Clinton and Obama. I thought Obama would be a little better than Hillary on foreign policy, though that difference has been heavily mitigated by her appointment as Secretary of State and the bizarre Libyan action. I figured Hillary would be better on health care. I was worried that Obama wouldn't do as good a job fighting against the Republicans as Hillary. I knew she would disappoint me and that 4 more years of Clintonism would not be a good thing.

So I voted for Obama in the primary. And I drank a little bit of that kool-aid as well. But its effects wore off very quickly. Obama is as disappointing as Clinton ever was. That's not Clinton nostalgia--Clinton sucked. But so does Obama.

And I am very unenthused for Obama's reelection. Obviously, I'll vote for him. I have no doubt that the next 18 months is going to create a Nader-nostalgia movement, when we again hash over whether Nader did the right thing in 2000 and whether we need a similar movement today. Of course, that was a complete disaster. Whoever wins the Republican nomination will be dangerous for the country. The only other option is to vote for the ever-rightward shifting Obama.

That's obviously distressing. And we need to have discussions about how we can escape this horrible cycle of evil Republicans and caving Democrats. But I do want to make one thing very clear--there is no progressive out there who should expect anything at all from Obama at this point. Anyone who thinks he will advance a progressive agenda on any but the most noncontroversial issues is completely delusional.

And this leads to what will be one of Obama's biggest challenges in 2012--the people who worked the hardest for him in 2008 are almost all totally disillusioned. They'll come out and vote. But will they give money? Will the volunteer? I doubt I will.

Change? Forget About It

A year ago yesterday, the Massey Energy owned Upper Big Branch coal mine caved in, killing 29 miners.

One might think this disaster would cause a change in how government agencies regulate coal mines, if not behavior by the evil coal companies.

Of course, you'd be wrong in thinking that.

In this climate, corporations are creating change, not responding to it. With regulatory agencies underfunded (and Obama has done little to alleviate this problem) and staffed by ex-industry people, regulation is as weak and demoralized as ever.

There could be another 29 dead miners tomorrow. It would get attention for a few weeks. And then things would go back to normal.

Rinse and repeat.

Inhofe Hearts Gbagbo

Jim Inhofe continued his run as America's Worst Senator with a speech yesterday defending Ivory Coast dictator Laurent Gbagbo against the attacks by U.N. supported and fairly elected Alassane Ouattara. Why would Inhofe do this?

Because Gbagbo is an evangelical Christian and Ouattara is Muslim.

The right conducts its foreign policy in no small part based upon their comfort with the religion of the individual they are talking to. Right-wing evangelical Christianity has had no problem supporting murderous dictators who have converted. Guatemala's Rios Montt is possibly the most famous example of this. Gbagbo is a more recent example.

In the 1960s, the entire foreign policy establishment operated this way. Powerful American Catholics such as John Foster Dulles and Mike Mansfield supported Diem in Vietnam because he was a member of the Catholic elite in a Buddhist nation.

This was a tremendously stupid way to run foreign policy. Democrats and some Republicans have moved on from this myopia. Neoconservatives and the evangelical right very much have not.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Meek's Cutoff

Kelly Reichardt's "Meek's Cutoff" looks very exciting. Interesting review at GreenCine.

Plus Reichardt is already the best Oregon-centered filmmaker in history I think.

A New Low

Darrell Issa hit a new low when it comes to Republican union-busting efforts. For the first time in memory, a member of Congress has inserted himself into a labor agreement. Issa accuses the United States Postal Service of not cutting costs enough in their new agreement with the American Postal Workers Union, even though said agreement freezes wages for 2 1/2 years and forces employees into significant increases in their health care contributions.

But anything sort of destroying public sector  unions is too moderate for the Republican Party. We all know this, but we can expect more and more vociferous anti-union spewing to come out of Republican mouths. It's only a matter of time before we have supposedly responsible politicians calling for the outlaw of public sector unions. No doubt Very Serious People like David Brooks will approve.

Texas Beer Distribution

Texas brewers are lobbying to be able to sell their brews in stores.

Texas needs a lot of new laws. And while this isn't the most important, it certainly needs addressing. The linked article from the Austin American-Statesman notes that you can find 1000 different beers (though I'm not sure this is true) in Whole Foods. But most of us don't shop at Whole Foods. When I lived in Texas, I went to the HEB in my town. There, as in most Texas stores, the beer selection was abysmal. Your top beer in a Texas grocery store might be Fat Tire, if you are lucky. Texas brewers were almost totally locked out, outside of Lone Star (awful), Shiner Bock (too sweet and massively overrated, even if a unique and old product from a small Texas town), and, for some reason, Real Ales (a pretty solid brewery out of Blanco, of which I recommend the Pale Rye).

To put this in perspective, when I moved to Ohio, I was overwhelmed and delighted at the beer selection in stores. And Ohio is hardly Oregon.

Of course, the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas are opposed because it might cut into their profits by like 0.5%. And this powerful lobby may kill the bill in corporate lapdog Texas.

The Republican Party Hates Veterans

Republicans love to wrap themselves in the image of veterans. After all, we lefties hate our troops. We like to spit on them when they come back from war (though there is not a single documented case of this ever happening in Vietnam or any other time). And for some reason, we don't like to use them to kill brown people in random wars where the U.S. has no clear interest. Clearly, we hate America and our veterans.

But get past the rhetoric and you see that again and again, Republicans only love the image of the troops. Actually supporting them with more than ribbons, well that's big government liberalism! Troops have to buy their own uniforms. They don't get the necessary body armor that would keep them safe. They don't get documented with PTSD or concussions. The Veterans' Administration is underfunded. And now, as Kevin Fagan of the San Francisco Chronicle documents, programs for homeless veterans are being slashed in the new Republican budget

The fiscal 2011-12 budget proposed in the House of Representatives by the Republican majority would eliminate funding for all 10,000 vouchers that the government plans to issue for veterans next year. The program that generates the vouchers, a joint project of the departments of Veterans Affairs and Housing and Urban Development, is the only one of its kind.
It's also considered a linchpin of President Obama's goal, announced last year, of eliminating homelessness among vets by 2015. In places such as San Francisco, which hosts the most ambitious housing program in Northern California for homeless veterans, the prospect of losing the vouchers has counselors and veterans advocates blanching.
They say it would be a damaging blow to recent advances in housing homeless vets.
Since the voucher program started in 2008, federal figures show, homelessness among veterans nationally has fallen 18 percent to 136,000 - a drop that Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki attributed partly to the housing vouchers. Thirty thousand vouchers have been handed out in that time.
"The momentum is on our side," said Roberta Rosenthal, coordinator of homelessness programs for the VA's Western region.
"This is no time to stop doing what has been working," she said. "We need more vouchers, not less. The train is on the track and moving along - for it to hit a brick wall right now would be very sad."

Republicans don't care about our troops. We need to say this over and over again.

Republicans don't care about our troops. Republicans don't care about our troops. Republicans don't care about our troops.


Will the malignancy on the labor movement known as the Hoffa family ever end?

Our Representatives Are Very Serious People

Allen West's proposal to cut waste in the defense budget by slashing color copies passed the House. As Alan Weinstein points out, color copies make up 0.00357% of our defense budget, or 2 1/2 hours of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Historical Image of the Day

The World Trade Center, New York, 1973

Song of the Day: Television, "The Fire"

The New Nixon?

Given how well things turned out the last time the U.S. elected a president who was "secretive and mistrustful," this certainly serves as one more feather in the hat of arguments against a Huckabee administration (and reinforces just how terrible the pool of candidates for the Republicans has become, given that he's considered "a frontrunner").

Monday, April 04, 2011

Obama's Band

Nancy Scola asks an interesting question, wondering whether Obama can put the band back together again, by which she means the media team that created the stellar 2008 online campaign.

It's worth reading, but I don't think it's the most important question. This kind of article places credit for Obama's victory in the hands of him and his campaign workers. And that's important. Certainly in the primary, they deserved tremendous credit.

But the "band" here is not the media team. It's the broader support Obama received in 2008. Obama's grassroots support came from millions of Americans seeing him as the personification of their hopes for change. And while it was unfair for any of us to put that much weight on Obama from the beginning, he certainly has disappointed virtually every progressive in the country.

I have no doubt that Obama will have a first-rate media team surrounding him. But how much will it matter? While I'm sure a lot of progressives will end up voting for Obama, the idea that the media team created his fanatical support completely misunderstands the relationship between media and people. All the geniuses in the world aren't going to recreate 2008, not because they aren't skilled but because very few people are going to be super excited about voting for Obama. He's no longer the face of our hopes and dreams, partly because such a thing is impossible in the long-term and partly because he openly rejected a lot of those hopes and dreams.

That's then the biggest question we can ask about Obama and his media team in 2012--can they even vaguely recreate 2008? If they can, then they truly are brilliant. Because I think it's just not going to happen.

Wingnutty Deliciousness

The new front in the culture war: postage stamps!

Have you looked at U.S. postage stamps recently?  They are childish, silly, and racist.  Growing up I remember that for years we would use stamps with the figures of Lincoln, FDR, Washington represented.  You'd send a letter and you could not help but be reminded of to whom we were indebted and what it was that they did. 

A 5 minute cruise of the USPS website shows that these kinds of men have been erased.  Here is the line-up as of today:

Polar bears, lots of women and blacks no one has ever heard of.  There's Julia de Burgos (who?), Mother Teresa (an Albanian saint), Oscar Micheaux (a black guy I never heard of), Kate Smith, Katharine Hepburn, Love, Pansies in a Basket, the Year of the Rabbit (Forever, a Navajo necklace, Anna Julia Cooper (a black woman I never heard of), Adopt a Shelter Pet, Butterfly, Tiffany lamps, Chinese bracelets, Kwanzaa,  Mary Lasker (who?), Richard Wright (another black guy), playing cards, balloons, daisies, cherries, all the NFL Teams, Hollywood personalities, the Simpsons, and don't guessed it...the all-important-never-thing-that-one-cannot-know-too-much-about...wait for it... Negro Baseball Leagues.

My God! There are black people Alan Fraser hasn't heard of? I am shocked, SHOCKED by this development!

Also, Richard Wright is "another black guy."

In other news, the next rise in stamp prices is clearly going to pay reparations for slavery.....

Song of the Day: Lucinda Williams, "Lake Charles"

Historical Image of the Day

Sign in gas station, Lincoln City, Oregon, reflecting gas shortages during oil crisis, 1973