Thursday, April 30, 2009

Redbaiting Like It Was 1957

Dear National Review,

Redbaiting Pete Seeger as he turns 90 is super classy
. If only the blacklist still existed, you all would be so happy.

Souter Retires

This may be the greatest non-election week for Democrats since, well, before my political lifetime. First Specter, now Souter.

Of course, Souter is fairly liberal. So this isn't a game changer. But a) it allows the seat to remain liberal for a long time; b) given Stephens' age and Ginsburg's health, Obama has the potential to completely reshape the court, maybe even by 2012; and c) what are Republicans going to do? If they try to block the pick, they will look even more obstructionist than they already do? Ha!

What are the odds Cass Sunstein will be nominated for the seat? 50/50? From Chicago, close to Obama, brilliant. Progressives are rightly uncomfortable with some of his thoughts, but this also creates a moderate rhetoric for him.

A bunch of what?

This morning I received a fundraising e-mail from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; this one was from James Carville, and the subject line of the e-mail was "Eddie Haskells". The gist of the e-mail was that Republicans in the Senate "are a bunch of Eddie Haskells; acting 'bipartisan' one minute, then marching to the beat of Master Limbaugh once the cameras go off".

Eddie Haskells? I know that Leave it to Beaver has a kind of iconic status in American television mythology and is present in the cultural ether, but come on-- the show went off the air 46 freakin' years ago. I'm on this DSCC list because of being on the Obama list; the demographic collision between the armies of the under-40 Obama supporters and the reference to a TV show that was cancelled before they were born is somewhat amusing.

I think Eric Cartman would be a better analogue for the GOP-- white, fat, ignorant, prejudiced, and slightly more contemporary.

Historical Image of the Day

Officers of Cannery Workers' Farm and Labor Union Local 18257, 1933. This was an almost all-Filipino union of cannery workers in the Seattle area.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thinking about meat (or: that pork chop is not a graham cracker)

Erik's post earlier has me thinking about meat. I am most certainly on board with decentralizing meat production and reverting to a more immediate, local, and sustainable model for meat production and consumption. Obviously, we should do this for the environmental, economic, and health reasons, but I've been thinking about the cultural and pyschological ramifications of this as well.

Meat, as a commodity in its current state, has little to do with animals. The supermarket has endless little plastic packages of neatly aligned pieces of meat, most already carved up so that people can forget they came from animals at all. The best example of this is boneless, skinless chicken breast. These amuse me. Think about it-- they've taken the least flavorful cut, pulled off the skin to ensure that it dries out when you cook it, and mark up the price. Often, four feet away, you can buy a whole chicken for a fraction of the price. I've had this conversation with a ton of people, and a lot of them just can't handle cutting up a whole chicken, or can't even deal with the "yuckiness" of the bone and skin in a split breast. For many people, meat has to be sanitized and made to seem un-animal. Seriously, how else can we explain the otherwise most inexplicable popularity of the boneless, skinless, chicken breast?

Buying meat in bulk is widespread where I grew up; one purchases a side of beef or a hog-- it really does make a difference that the language used reflects the fact the meat came from an animal.

The economics of a local, sustainable meat production chain would not only entice people to eat less meat and discover other fantastic sources of protein (culinary evolution is inevitable and welcomed), but perhaps would force them to come to terms with cutting up a dead chicken, too. I think this is a good thing. It is easy to be uninterested in how the animals you eat are raised and slaughtered when you don't think about them as animals; suddenly, when you are eating the chickens from down the road, you do care. Beyond that, people would be more aware of their general environment and its effect on animals they consume. If you see the cow, suddenly the cleanliness of the water and air matter a little more. Raising, slaughtering and eating animals ought to be a meaningful experience-- humane and respectful, almost religious even.

Most Endangered Historic Sites

The National Trust for Historic Preservation released its annual list of the 11 most endangered historic sites yesterday.

As always, this was a great list reminding us both of the fragility of our physical history and of the importance of remembering less revered moments of our past. Previous lists have included the motels on Route 66, including many in Albuquerque that today are basically hourly establishments; Blair Mountain, the labor battle in West Virginia that was the site of the largest insurrection in U.S. history since the Civil War and which is indeed under major threat from coal developers; the old Filipino community in Stockton, California; the Lower East Side of New York City, where rapid redevelopment has stripped the area of its incredibly important history; and Daniel Webster's farm in New Hampshire.

This year's list is really great. It includes the hanger in Utah where the Enola Gay started its journey to drop the atomic bomb upon Japan, the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles, one of the nation's most important modernist structures; the old South Dakota insane asylum in Yankton, which is supposed to be architecturally amazing; the cast-iron architecture of Galveston, Texas; and New Mexico's Mount Taylor, a holy site for many native peoples and under threat from uranium mining. None of these places capture the public imagination, but all are important pieces of our past. Since the National Trust for Historic Preservation started these lists in 1988, only five sites have been destroyed. No doubt we would have lost more without them. Without public attention, what would save buildings like the South Dakota insane asylum. Who's even been to Yankton? Yet these are amazing places.


Remember back when Ben Stiller was a respectable comedian?

Yeah, those days are long, long past.

Not to mention Robin Williams.


While I don't understand why someone serious about bourbon would stop at the Jim Beam or Wild Turkey distilleries, Jason Wilson's piece on bourbon is pretty good and worth reading.

I thought this bit especially interesting

That's not to say anyone needs to understand esoterica to enjoy bourbon, easily the most accessible and affordable premium spirit in the liquor store. It always surprises me that mixologists or other spirits "educators" so often steer newcomers directly toward Scotch or Irish whiskey or, these days, to trendy ryes. Often the newbies' only experience has been with white spirits, such as flavored vodkas, or with bad cocktails. I've seen it happen many times: The newbie takes one sip of smoky Scotch or spicy rye and doesn't take a second.

Bourbon, on the other hand, is too often dismissed by misguided whiskey snobs as "sweet," which has become the euphemism in food and drink circles for "less sophisticated." This is a shame.

Why would someone steer a newcomer toward scotch? That's a very difficult drink and in my view, unpleasant. I like a good Irish whiskey and I'm glad to see rye come back into fashion. But for my money, there's no better whiskey than a good bourbon. That snobs have decided that bourbon is uncool for the time being because of its sweetness is indeed a shame--if it is a bad thing to enjoy the taste of my drink, I guess I'm just unsophisticated. I know those newbies having a scotch thrust upon them probably would have enjoyed something else and now they probably won't come back to good whiskey for a long time.

Totally Unhinged

It's hardly news, but the Republican Party has really become totally unhinged. Amanda Terkel reports on the Kent County (MI) Republican Party canceling a speech by Utah's Republican Governor Jon Huntsman. Why? Because Huntsman is too moderate!

The Republican Party reminds me of a perverse version of Students for a Democratic Society circa 1969: a once influential and powerful organization falling apart over issues of ideology with each era of leadership demanding increasing radical ideological purity and purging those who do not follow the party line with proper rigor. That one was a group of radical students and the other has been the dominant political party in the United States for the last 30 years makes the comparison seem ridiculous, which reinforces just how insane the Republicans have actually become.

More on Swine Flu and Animal Farms

Ann Friedman does a nice job reiterating some of the points I made yesterday about pig farming and swine flu.

And it's worth noting that the last this "H1N1" virus popped up, in 1998, it was found in a North Carolina industrial pig farm. (I'm from Iowa, which isn't as hog-heavy as North Carolina, but I've certainly smelled a poop lagoon. Pig products are no longer part of my diet.)

So no, you don't have to give up your bacon because of the immediate swine flu threat. But if you want to actually diminish the risk of getting this or other potential animal-waste-borne illnesses, giving up factory-farmed meat might be a good idea.

Definitely. Of course that might also mean slightly higher priced pork and I'm not sure that's a tradeoff Americans are willing to make.

Historical Image of the Day

Ku Klux Klan wedding, Sedro Wooley, Washington, 1926

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Can We Learn from Swine Flu?

Mike Davis suggests one important lesson--the worldwide meat industry is far too powerful.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Mexico lacks both capacity and political will to monitor livestock diseases, but the situation is hardly better north of the border, where surveillance is a failed patchwork of state jurisdictions, and corporate livestock producers treat health regulations with the same contempt with which they deal with workers and animals. Similarly, a decade of urgent warnings by scientists has failed to ensure the transfer of sophisticated viral assay technology to the countries in the direct path of likely pandemics. Mexico has world-famous disease experts, but it had to send swabs to a Winnipeg lab in order to ID the strain's genome. Almost a week was lost as a consequence....

But what caused this acceleration of swine flu evolution? Virologists have long believed that the intensive agricultural system of southern China is the principal engine of influenza mutation: both seasonal "drift" and episodic genomic "shift". But the corporate industrialisation of livestock production has broken China's natural monopoly on influenza evolution. Animal husbandry in recent decades has been transformed into something that more closely resembles the petrochemical industry than the happy family farm depicted in school readers.

In 1965, for instance, there were 53m US hogs on more than 1m farms; today, 65m hogs are concentrated in 65,000 facilities. This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates.

When you treat animals like inanimate objects rather than like animals, when you concentrate them into inhumane conditions, and when you turn animal husbandry into an industrial operation, nature is going to strike back. Despite our endless faith in technology to solve all our problems, disease evolves too rapidly to keep it under control. We rely on antibiotics to keep these animals alive, but alive and healthy are two very different things. The amazing ability of viruses to adapt means that if we create conditions that allow viruses to flourish in meat production, they will likely mutate and enter humans. Swine flu is just one of many horrifying possibilities.

Moreover, Davis suggests a major problem in fighting this will be the huge power of the meat industry. This is true. Meat has become an industrial operation on farms owned by very few companies. These companies, including Tyson and Smithfield Farms, operate in nations all over the world, using their massive political and financial might to fight environmental regulations. Rumors abound in Mexico that this latest bout of swine flu started on a Smithfield operation near Veracruz; the reality is that Smithfield's power to halt, stall, or at least influence investigations in Mexico means that we are unlikely to ever find out for sure.

What is the solution? First, eat less meat. Yes, your consumer choices matter. These industrialized meat factories exist to supply the huge and growing demand for meat around the world. Until that demand goes down, there's not a lot of incentive to change these conditions. Second, we need American companies operating abroad to adhere to American environmental (and labor) laws. I've always thought this was the answer to many problems concerning globalization--since these companies were leaving the U.S. to escape labor and environmental legislation and regulations, force them to maintain those regulations, with inspections from the U.S. government, and penalties for violations. Third, and possibly more realistically, is for a popular and government push to clean up the worst problems with these factories, to treat animals humanely, and to come up with ways to mitigate the enormous problems with waste and other environmental issues in these operations.

However, given how poorly we have adapted to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, I find it dubious that we will learn any lessons at all from swine flu.

Dismayed, Not Surprised

Last night, I showed Red Dawn for my survey class. As the film was starting, I mentioned to my students that Walter in The Big Lebowski was based on John Milius, the director of Red Dawn. Then I realized that my students had no idea what I was talking about. I asked them if they had seen The Big Lebowski. One said she had, but "it was a long time ago."

One thing about teaching is that you are constantly reminded of your age. In history this is even more so because we are talking about the past, but the slow but inevitable distance between your own age and those of your students always has to be on your mind because they never get any of your cultural references. I'm usually really aware of this, but I figured people still watch The Big Lebowski because it is so hilarious. I guess not.


Historical Image of the Day

United Construction Workers Association rally, early 1970s. The UCWA was dedicated to fighting hiring practices in Seattle's segregationist construction unions.

Fair Pay Day

I meant to blog this earlier, but today is Blog for Equal Pay Day. Specter kind of took over the news cycle, but I do have a few things to say about this.

Women still make only 78 cents to every dollar men make. From the National Women's Law Center via

Women are far more likely to live in poverty than men. Women working full-time, year-round are paid only about 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. African-American women earn 69 cents and Latinas earn 59 cents for every dollar paid to men. This wage gap cannot be dismissed as the result of "women's choices" in career and family matters. In fact, authoritative studies show that even when all relevant career and family attributes are taken into account, there is still a significant, unexplained gap in men's and women's earnings. Thus, even when women make the same career choices as men and work the same hours, they still earn less.

You can sign the petition for the Paycheck Fairness Act, blog about this, call your congresscritters, do whatever. You can also remember that unions are one of the best ways to raise the wages and benefits of working people, and that, as I wrote not long ago, the Employee Free Choice Act is a feminist issue.

From the Center for Economic and Policy Research:
*”On average, unionization raised women’s wages by 11.2 percent – about $2.00 per hour – compared to non-union women with similar characteristics.”

Finally, to tie all this back in with Specter and breaking news, even though Specter said his vote on cloture for EFCA would not change, in reality, winning a Democratic primary in Pennsylvania without union support will be tough--and apparently Specter had a meeting with Teamsters President Hoffa yesterday before deciding his party switch...

So. Support paycheck fairness for women, particularly women of color, and support the Employee Free Choice Act. Damnit.

Specter switches parties!!!

I have two Democratic senators for the first time since I lived in Massachusetts (and was too young to appreciate Kerry & Kennedy). Arlen Specter has jumped the fence--and not only ditched the GOP, but joined the Democrats.

I'll have more on this later, but here's the dirt:

"Since my election in 1980, as part of the Reagan Big Tent, the Republican Party has moved far to the right. Last year, more than 200,000 Republicans in Pennsylvania changed their registration to become Democrats. I now find my political philosophy more in line with Democrats than Republicans."

His full statement is here. Some more juicy bits:

It has become clear to me that the stimulus vote caused a schism which makes our differences irreconcilable. On this state of the record, I am unwilling to have my twenty-nine year Senate record judged by the Pennsylvania Republican primary electorate. I have not represented the Republican Party. I have represented the people of Pennsylvania.
My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.

Whatever my party affiliation, I will continue to be guided by President Kennedy’s statement that sometimes Party asks too much. When it does, I will continue my independent voting and follow my conscience on what I think is best for Pennsylvania and America.

Now We'll Have a Health Secretary to Help Deal With the Swine Flu

Shorter handful of Republican senators: "unlikely death by swine flu is a much greater threat than forcing abortions on Americans against their will." But hey, at least an actually legitimate potential health crisis like swine flu is a bigger concern to at least 60 senators than stonewalling over somebody's stance on abortion for political purposes. So there's hope yet for politicians....

Monday, April 27, 2009

It Was Torture When Practiced on Americans 60 Years Ago; It's Not Torture Now

I recently read Shawn C. Smallman's excellent Fear & Memory in the Brazilian Army & Society, 1889-1954. Smallman does a great job of tracing shifts in military politics and memory, and the implications for the 1964-1985 dictatorship (though it is outside of his focus). One of the recurring themes is military leadership's use of torture against opposing factions or uprisings. One of these uprisings, the 1935 uprising of communists in the Brazilian Northeast, resulted in extreme repression and the establishment of the Estado Novo dictatorship, and many participants and leaders were tortured when the uprising failed. One of the participants was an American, Victor Allan Barron. Smallman writes of Barron's fate on page 53:

Victor Allan Barron, an American who had formerly been a member of the Communist Youth, underwent horrible tortures after his arrest. [...] A naval captain (and doctor) supervised Barron's torture, as he was beaten, shocked, and had his testicles squeezed until he fainted. [...] According to Brazilian authorities, Barron committed suicide by jumping from the second floor of the central police station. It is unclear if he was dead before he went through the window or if he died in the hospital after the fall. In the U.S., Congressman Vito Marcantonio denounced Barron's torture and murder before the house of representatives. He read a statement from Joseph R. Brodsky, Barron's lawyer, who claimed personal knowledge of his client's torture: 'They beat him with belts and rubber hose; they burned and shocked him with live electric wires; they punched and kicked him around constantly and did not let him sleep for days." (emphasis mine)

It's worth pointing out here that, when an American was forced to sleep deprivation (among other horrors) in another country, a U.S. Congressman took to the floor to denounce the actions. Yet 67 years later, Bush administration legal counsels suggested that "sleep deprivation does not constitute" torture when we were using it on foreigners.

Many other people (including myself) have commented already on the double-standard of the U.S. under Bush, as acts that other countries previously committed that we called "torture" suddenly became legal when we were employing the same methods. Smallman's study (published in 2001, well before we'd even begun torturing people) offers just one more documentary piece of evidence into the hypocrisy of making "legal" the torture methods for which we have previously condemned others.

Tampa Bay Trying to Spread the Good Word of Baseball in Brazil

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a tenuous start to organized baseball in Brazil's favelas and the inclusion of a Brazilian baseball team in the Pan-American games as two signs of hope in the spread of the sport.

Well, there's another "ray" of hope that baseball may be spreading, slowly but surely:

The Tampa Bay Rays are breaking new ground by sponsoring an academy in Brazil, according to The Associated Press.
The Rays are investing $6.5 million over the next five years to promote the game in the South American country with over 190 million people and will offer free after-school training to up to 4,000 young people. [...] The Rays [...] will operate the Brazilian academy in Marilia, a city in the state of Sao Paulo. Mario Bulgareli, the mayor of Marilia, told the AP that the city will provide transportation to and from the school and the Rays will provide the equipment and administration.

From the strict standpoint of a baseball lover, this is awesome news. I think the biggest obstacle to the spread of baseball in Brazil is the need for equipment and space. If one kid has a ball and a few friends, then anybody can start a "pickup" game of soccer; it's more difficult (though not impossibly so) to do that with baseball. The fact that the Rays are making the investments in terms of space, equipment, administration, and transportation is outstanding, and an essential step if baseball is to gain any traction at all in Brazil.

At first, I was a bit dismayed by the rhetoric of the article and the Rays in painting poor kids' options to get wealthy as either A) play soccer or B) play baseball. Things like decent education, infrastructural improvement, and social programs to reduce the widest income gap in the country would go a lot further to giving these kids a chance. However, the Rays certainly have absolutely nothing to do with the state of Brazil's education or poverty. Would I like to see those opportunities arise? Of course, but it's more than unfair to expect that of the Rays, and the fact that they're willing to spend $6.5 million over the next 5 years to give low-income Brazilian children better access to baseball is nothing but wonderful news.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's theme is race and labor in Washington. I am using images from the fantastic website of the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project.

Sikh men, Bellingham, Washington, 1907. A race riot against Indian immigrants that year drove most of this community out of town.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

From Colony to Superpower, Part XIX

This is the nineteenth installment in the 20 part series Rob Farley and I have commenced to review George Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776. See the Herring Review tag below for previous entries.

This week we will discuss Herring's chapter on the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. This is one of the book's better chapters. I like Herring's analysis of both presidents. He puts Reagan in the proper context without mythologizing him. In fact, Reagan comes across looking pretty bad. As Grandpa Caligula should. Reagan certainly was an important person. He represented what Americans of the 1980s wanted to see in themselves and in doing so, he restored national pride after Vietnam and the Iran hostage situation. The Reagan administration did incredible damage to this country and the world--in foreign policy, in the War on Drugs, in attacking welfare, in cutting domestic programs, in destroying labor unions, and in ignoring the AIDS epidemic because it was considered a gay disease. But ultimately, does Reagan deserve the blame or does the American people? It's not as if these policies were unpopular. At least until Iran-Contra, Reagan had a pretty consistently high approval rating. Why did Americans have so much hate in the 1980s toward people of the world and toward minorities, gays, and the poor in this country? I'm not prepared to offer a useful answer, but it's a sad period of American history.

However, the idea that Reagan won the Cold War has no basis in reality. In fact, most of Reagan's policies were terrible. He unnecessarily ratcheted up Cold War tensions in the early 80s, accusing the Soviets of knowing the Korean Air plane they shot down in 1983 was a civilian plane (not true), pushing Star Wars, and using dangerous rhetoric. His obsession with Central America led to disastrous results for the people of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. None of these places threatened the United States, but Reagan promoted horrible policies in each of these places. That he did so illegally, at least in the case of Nicaragua and El Salvador, is even more reprehensible. Where I can let earlier presidents off the hook a bit for their Latin American policies because both parties basically treated these places the same, by the 1980s, there was clear opposition to hardcore Cold War policies in the area. Congress refused to fund aid to the Contras. And Reagan's minions went around Congress. This was a crime and Reagan should have been impeached. The invasion of Grenada was even more absurd. The idea that Grenada, an island approximately the size of my office, could become the next Cuba was completely ludicrous. Nonetheless, invading the island was really popular with Americans looking for an unequivocal victory.

Reagan's policy toward the Middle East was even worse. Sending U.S. troops into Lebanon without a clear mission was a bad idea, pulling them out after the bombing of the Marine barracks made us look as weak as we had in 1973. Demonizing Iran and then dealing with them to fund the Contras was arguably the most hypocritical move in the long sordid history of American foreign policy. Reagan did a poor job of dealing with the rising tide of Middle Eastern terrorism; bombing Quaddafi's Libya was not an effective response. Virtually nothing the Reagan administration tried here went right.

One thing I thought interesting was that in the 1980s it was still possible to have a foreign policy toward Israel that was different than yes. Reagan was pro-Israel, but Begin caused him endless headaches. I guess latent anti-Semitism, especially in the State Department, was what led to a lot of hostility in the U.S. toward Israel, but at least in the 80s you could formulate an opinion about American relations with them. Today, everyone has to fall over themselves vocalizing fealty to Israel; even pointing this out, as Walt and Mearsheimer did, is cause to be accused of anti-Semitism (or self-hatred if the person involved is Jewish). I don't see how this reflexive relationship to one nation is good for the country.

What positive characteristics we can ascribe to Reagan come from the fact that he wasn't as crazy as he sounded when dealing with the Soviet Union. Although I'd like Herring to go into a bit more detail on what caused the Soviet Union to collapse, it's clear from his narrative that Gorbachev deserved most of the credit for leadership. It was his enterprise that thawed the Cold War and liberalized eastern Europe. Reagan just happened to be there. But to the chagrin of the hard-liners in his foreign policy team like the loathsome Richard Perle, Reagan softened considerably toward the Soviets once he realized what Gorbachev was doing. He stayed out of the way for the most part, and agreed to significant deals with Gorbachev over arms control during their frequent summits. Given his harsh anti-communistic rhetoric of his first term, not only was this change in heart unexpected, but also the best thing he could have done.

As for Bush, it seems that China and Iraq are the most important areas to discuss. Yes, he was president for the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, but little he did mattered to this process. He wasn't particularly prepared to deal with this sudden change, but I'm not sure that most presidents would have done better. I do think Bush faced a pretty tough situation after Tiananmen Square. It was horrible, but what was Bush supposed to do? China was too powerful to act strongly against in any meaningful way. We could have completely ended all relations with them, but I remain unconvinced that this would have accomplished much for the Chinese people. As for Iraq, it's hard to argue that we should have let Saddam Hussein take over Kuwait. You really can't sanction nations swallowing their neighbors. The question of whether to leave Saddam in place is pretty tough. Obviously, Bush Jr. taking Saddam out didn't exactly work well. On the other hand, the HW Bush foreign policy team was far more competent than W's, there were active uprisings against Saddam that we might have piggybacked upon, and, for what it's worth, the times were different and the same result might not have happened. On the other hand, this is all speculation. Regardless, promoting internal rebellions and then letting Saddam brutally crush them was pretty terrible and it fits into a long history of Americans promoting democracy and freedom through their rhetoric and then hanging the freedom fighters out to dry when they take it seriously.

Sometimes the long term effects of foreign policy decisions can't be known for years. In 1989, Congress rejected Bush's first choice for Secretary of Defense, John Tower. His second choice: Dick Cheney. Tower might have sucked and maybe Cheney would have been just as powerful in the W administration. But maybe without his term as Secretary of Defense he would have remained a more peripheral player in the latter administration. Certainly the world would be a much better place now had that happened.

Historical Image of the Day

Ouray and other Ute chiefs, 1870s

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Rick Perry, Hypocrite

Rick Perry, avowed secessionist governor of Texas, has asked the CDC for help in fighting swine flu, which has spread to one town here. 

What? I thought Texas could be its own independent country! Texas doesn't need those big government disease control programs. The unregulated market will totally handle swine flu. 

NFL Draft Live Blog

Again, Lyrad and I will be live blogging this throughout today at least. So feel free to join in comments.

LYRAD 8:57--Yes, very strange. Tomorrow will tell us more and, until then, I'm out.

ERIK 8:54--Very strange draft for Denver. That safety they took was pretty marginal and then taking a TE. 5 picks and they only deal with their defensive front seven once. I don't understand what McDaniels is doing here. Anyway, I'm done for the evening. Thanks for commenting! It was fun!

LYRAD 8:54--Goddamn it, a TE. I guess that pretty well solidifies the trade of Tony Scheffler.

LYRAD 8:50--Denver gives me one more pick...please be on defense...please.

LYRAD 8:47--This first day has gone by really fast. A very good draft, overall.

LYRAD 8:25--These guys can't get enough of calling guys "the poor man's...." Apparently, Vollmer is a poor man's Loadholt, despite the fact that both are fairly rich.

ERIK 8:12--Phil Loadholt is the best name for an offensive lineman ever.

LYRAD 7:58--Wade Phillips looks as stupid right now as a man possibly could.

ERIK 7:53--Seahawks have actually had a great draft. Curry, Unger, trading the 2nd this year and getting a 1st next year. Really quite nice. They gave up a 3rd and 4th for Unger, so they don't have a lot of picks left this year, but those are 2 very solid players.

ERIK 7:48--Oregon center Max Unger to the Seahawks! A perfect match. Hopefully it works out a little more satisfactory than the last time Seattle selected a Duck in the 2nd round, Maurice Morris. Morris is OK, but clearly a 3rd down back is not what you want to get out of your 2nd round pick.

LYRAD 7:47--You gotta be happy with that, Erik.

ERIK 7:47--So the Raiders are just pulling names from a hat, picking a safety out of Ohio U. that was expected to be a free agent. They did this in the 2nd round. Can the NFL just take a franchise away from an owner? God, I'm glad I'm not a Raiders fan.

LYRAD 7:32--Nothing says NFL like the Navy. This is stupid.

ERIK 7:31--I just took a look at the history of Seattle drafts. The best QB they have ever drafted is Rick Mirer. I am completely serious. Second might be Seneca Wallace.

ERIK 7:30--That's an interesting pick for White. Will they run weird formations with Pat White and Ronnie Brown both lining up somewhere under center?

LYRAD 7:28--A massively early selection for Pat White, but he could be really good at Miami. He's scary in their"Wildcat."

ERIK 7:20--I like Byrd, but that's a reach. He's really a 3rd round pick in my view. There are questions about his speed and I just don't think you draft a CB with marginal speed at that point. Still, the Bills have really stocked up on decent prospects early.

LYRAD 7:17--More Ducks! Byrd should flourish in Buffalo.

ERIK 7:14--The Patriots, recognizing that this is a deep draft that wasn't great at the top, have moved into having 4 2nd round picks. So far they've used the first 3 to rebuild their defense. This is a really good move, though they also haven't improved themselves at linebacker, which they desperately need.

LYRAD 7:11--Great value in Ron Brace. More great drafting from the stupid Pats. I'd have loved to have seen Brace on the Broncos.

LYRAD 7:00--Good value pick for the Bengals. It's shocking that Maualuga lasted so long...Laurenitis, as well, but I thought Maualuga was the best of the three Trojans.

ERIK 6:52--Normally I'd be uncomfortable with Seattle (my team) trading with Denver (Lyrad's team). But anytime they can fleece the Broncos by trading a 2nd this year for a 1st next year, and then the Broncos taking a cornerback they probably could have had 7 or 8 picks later is great! Let's do it again next year!!!

LYRAD 6:51--That's a weird trade and a weird pick. A high second for next year's first?! That seems pretty crazy. We'll see; we need help in the secondary, but jeez.

ERIK 6:37--I'm totally biased, but Chung is pretty awesome. Great pick for the Patriots. He can really hit and was the leader of the Oregon defense. Expect Duck linemen Max Unger to go soon as well. Ducks!

LYRAD 6:36--First Duck taken! Patrick Chung should be good on the Pats.

LYRAD 6:30--I like the Wells pick. He won't have to touch the ball too much, so he should remain effective and healthy, one of the big cuts on him.

ERIK 6:27--Not sure about that Beanie Wells pick. I know the Cardinals can't run the ball, but I'm not sure how a big power back works in more of a spread offense.

LYRAD 6:22--I'm really glad they cut the time between picks down to ten minutes. Only three hours and change for the entire first round.

LYRAD 6:10--Ahhhh, that's a refreshing Moosehead, buddy! I feel like Alex Trebek drinking this beer.

ERIK 6:01--I guess the Colts are giving up on Joseph Addai.

ERIK 5:59--Just like baseball and God Bless America, I guess the NFL decided they needed to break up the fun with some pointless patriotism. Awesome.

ERIK 5:55--So every year the Patriots trade down and stock picks in future drafts. OK, but in the end, why? If you just keep doing this, what's the long term gain? I do like the Packers trading up for Matthews. Solid guy, though they just drafted AJ Hawk a couple of years ago. Kind of missed there, but 2 first round linebackers in 3 or 4 years is not ideal.

LYRAD 5:54--This is a live blogger who needs beer. I'll be back in a few.

LYRAD 5:48--If Davis can stay out of trouble, he's a great pick for the Dolphins. They lost a lot of their secondary in the off-season, so this shores up a big hole. He should have an immediate impact, assuming he's not suspended.

LYRAD 5:37--No surprise about the Patriots trading away their pick, and the Ravens got good value out of the pick. Shoring up the line is always a solid idea.

LYRAD 5:35--I'm really surprised Wells has fallen this far. Minnesota's not going to take him, but somebody has to think that he'll be successful. Is it a reputation issue?

ERIK 5:28--So the Vikings take Percy Harvin. A poor man's Reggie Bush. And I mean that as a pejorative. Now they have a super-athletic wide receiver who isn't a real wide receiver with their super-athletic but crappy receiver. Adrian Peterson must be thrilled....

ERIK 5:25--Very interesting pick by the Browns. I like Alex Mack a lot--he was dominant in the Pac-10 this year. Thing is, I don't know that couldn't have traded down yet again because I didn't think that many people were interested in Mack before Pittsburgh at 32.

LYRAD 5:23--Good pick from the Lions in Pettigrew. He looks like he could be a very successful tight end. The Lions haven't had a good TE in years.

ERIK 5:21--I wonder if the Browns keep trading down, intending on drafting Beanie Wells. He's still available and they are up.

LYRAD 5:15--Who will the Roy Williams pick be? I'm waiting with baited breath to see the extent of the Cowboys' fuckup.

LYRAD 5:13--Fuck Steve Young and Keyshawn Johnson. They're bitter and stupid.

ERIK 5:08--Steve Young and Keyshawn Johnson are taking every chance to slam on Josh McDaniels and the Broncos. Both picks, Young and Johnson have ignored the actual person picked and talked about how stupid it was to trade Cutler. Useful commentary here. Where's Tom Jackson? Meanwhile, the Broncos drafted Tennessee Volunteer Robert Ayers, which is a pretty obvious pick at this time. Probably the best guy out still available for the 3-4.

LYRAD 5:06--Great pick. They really needed a guy like Ayers. Good call, Karthika!

ERIK 5:05--Why did the Bucs trade up for Freeman? Did they really think Denver was going to take him? I know they only gave up a 6th, but still. Also, the Browns are having a great draft for having not picked anyone yet.

LYRAD 5:01--Thank goodness. Please draft a D-Lineman, McDaniels. I'm thinking they're taking Boston College's other DT.

LYRAD 5:00--The Broncos had better fucking not draft Freeman or I'm calling Bowlin personally.

LYRAD 4:57--Trading madness. I have no idea what's what right now.

LYRAD 4:45--Jenkins to the Saints and Cushing to the Texans are both great picks. The Texans are turning into one of the toughest defenses in the league. It's too bad they're in such a hard division, because they'd be near the top of any other division in the league.

LYRAD 4:37--I hope they're planning to deal J.J. Arrington for low round draft picks now. That's shores up a hole, but I think on the wrong the side of the ball.

LYRAD 4:31--Knowshon?! A crazy pick!

LYRAD 4:31--Another good D-lineman taken...go Broncos, they're picking now.

LYRAD 4:21--It's about damn time. It's just too bad there's nobody throwing to him in SF.

LYRAD 4:14--Damn it, 2 of 3 of my hopes are gone. Who will the Broncos draft? Raji, however, will get his fair share of brats up in Green Bay, so good for him on that.

LYRAD 4:12--My god, are John Gruden and Steve Mariucci the worst duo ever? I miss Terrell Davis.

ERIK 4:05--Eugene Monroe has the biggest and most sparkly watch I have ever seen. Also, how has no one selected Michael Crabtree yet?

LYRAD 3:59--That's the classic Davis pick. He's fucking senile and I'm so glad. 2-14 this year, Oakland, good luck with the fast, just keep in mind that this is football not a track meet.

ERIK 3:56--Jesus, the Raiders are stupid. Al Davis should be institutionalized. I think he just looks at the 40 times at the Combine and then picks the fastest. I could do a better job. Of course, given that it's the Raiders, I love it! JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden, Darrius Heyward-Bey--a whole lot of skill position fail there!

LYRAD 3:53--Ah, Smith got a bum rap at the combine. He'll bust faster than Jason Smith, probably, but I think this is a good pick.

ERIK 3:51--I guess the Bengals didn't have enough guys with questionable character on their team. So they drafted Andre Smith. Their team chemistry is so great as it is. Marvin Lewis does such an effective jobs of molding these guys and keeping them under control. I think only like 13 guys got arrested last year. Bengals=Fail.

ERIK 3:44--Just in case Eric Mangini hadn't destroyed the Jets franchise enough while he was in New York, now he cons them into trading a 1st, a 2nd, and three players for Mark Sanchez. Wow.

ERIK 3:43. Fuck you Marshall Faulk. What USC QBs have had great NFL careers? Leinart? Carson Palmer for like 12 games? Rodney fucking Peete?

LYRAD 3:41--"Kellen Clemens just has to sit there and take it. Once again, an SC quarterback trumps an Oregon quarterback." Fuck you Marshall Faulk

LYRAD 3:39--Jets=Fail...forever.

LYRAD 3:36--Why does Deion continually ask about players' relationships with their mothers? It's creepy...stay away from my mom, Primetime!

ERIK 3:34--Excellent! Go Seahawks! Aaron Curry with Lofa Tatupu, that's a mean linebacking corp. If it wasn't 85 degrees out, I'd put on my Seahawks sweatshirt I've had since 1988 to celebrate.

LYRAD 3:32--You're lucky, Erik

LYRAD 3:30--Jackson at 3 may be too high, but he's going to be a really good player. Get ready Erik, with the fourth pick in the draft, they will be drafting Sanchez.

ERIK 3:26--Now that the Chiefs stupidly took Tyson Jackson way too high at #3, please Seattle, please take Aaron Curry. Or at least not Mark Sanchez. Please.

LYRAD 3:22--What! We should now switch and live blog our memories of Bea. This is devastating news.

ERIK 3:20--I think the draft should be dedicated to the late great Bea Arthur. RIP.

LYRAD 3:15--St. Louis picks Baylor's Jason Smith. That's a great pick. Bulger may not have what he used to, but this guy's going to step right into Orlando Pace's shoes. This is a pick for the future...and a good one.

LYRAD 3:03--Roger Goodell...oh, how I hate you

LYRAD 2:56--Deion is such a loser. The guy still gets off on being booed. I swear that's the only reason he's still on TV. Stafford's going to be terrible on the Lions. Didn't they already do this with the great Joey Harrington? How does nobody learn that, while the QB may be the "most important position on the field," he's worthless on his back.

ERIK 2:53--Glad to see Detroit flush more money down the toilet with Matthew Stafford. Quarterbacks have a 50% failure rate. Yet, coaches can't resist getting a new one as soon as they take a job. Given the terrible odds, why do GMs allow this to happen? Why isn't there a Billy Beane in the NFL that thinks about player personnel is a somewhat rational way?

What Texas Secession Looks Like

Now that we know that a majority of Texas Republicans think secession is a good idea, what would secession in Texas look like? Specifically, how have treasonous Texans treated dissenters in the past? I already discussed what happened to Juan Seguin, a hero of the Alamo who was forced out when he fought against the white supremacy at the core of the Texas revolution.

But of course, Texas committed treason in defense of slavery twice. I've been talking about their first rebellious period, but what about the Civil War? Not all Texans wanted to secede. Like in most of the Southern states, there were pockets of unionists. Usually these were people who did not identify with the planter elites who controlled their state's economy and political life. These people tended to live in mountainous regions that did not lend themselves to plantation agriculture--western Virginia, east Tennessee, north Alabama, etc. One of these places was the Texas hill country. In the 1840s and 50s, German immigrants flooded into the hills west of Austin and San Antonio. They had little interest in slavery and were loyal to their new home. But they identified that home as the United States, not Texas. That was a fatal mistake.

When the war started, these Germans opted out. They wanted nothing to do with treason or secession. This quickly raised the ire of English-speaking Texans who did not tolerate dissent from the slave power. This dissent reached a tipping point in the spring of 1862, when the Confederacy instituted a draft. The non-slave owning poor would have to fight a war for the slaveholding elite. The hill country Germans actively resisted. Texas declared martial law in the resisting countries. In response, some of Germans decided to cross the border into Mexico and sit the war out.

The Texans had two choices at this point--let them go and forget about it, or go after them. They decided for the latter. As the Germans neared the Rio Grande, on August 10, 1862, the Texans caught up with them. The Texans opened fire. As their victims lay dying in the sands of the Nueces River, the Texans began executing the prisoners. Overall, 34 German immigrants died that day, fleeing the treasonous and murderous Texans.

After the war, the German community of Comfort, about 20 miles south of Fredericksburg, put up a monument to the dead. Today, it is one of only two non-battlefield monuments to dead Union supporters in the ex-Confederacy (I believe the other is in Tennessee). In German, and with the U.S. flag flying at half mast over it, it's an interesting document to the immigrant history of the United States, the loyalty to their new nation many immigrants felt, and the horrible evil at the soul of the Confederacy.

One might think that a modern day secessionist movement in Texas would treat its dissenters with less violence. But if actual secession broke out, I'm not confident that we nationalists would be treated any better, particularly once the yahoos down here realized that Fort Hood and NASA and Fort Bliss and all the other huge government installations down here would leave. Once they realized their desperate situation, anything would be possible. Including massacres of loyal Americans.

Historical Image of the Day

Native American soldiers in World War II

Friday, April 24, 2009

Liveblogging the NFL Draft

Lyrad and I are going to liveblog tomorrow's NFL Draft. Large numbers of snarky comments will no doubt ensue. Who will throw their franchise's future out the window by drafting Mark Sanchez? Which speedy receiver will disappear into oblivion after being drafted by the Raiders? What kind of crazy things will the talking heads on ESPN and NFL Network say?

Feel free to join us in comments!

An Example of Good Legislation

A bill is circulating through the Oregon state legislature to prohibit the distribution of phone books unless someone specifically requests one. I think this is a good idea. Who uses phone books anymore? I don't want to say that everyone is on the internet, not only because it's not true, but because it is a class-blind argument. But that's why you can call and request one.

At the very least, the competing phone book companies should go away. At the most, one is plenty. But I haven't used a phone book in years. They waste an astronomical amount of paper. Getting rid of them is the right thing to do.

Historical Image of the Day

Native Americans (I do not know which people) near Laramie, Wyoming, 1870s.

More Texas Insanity

Yeah, this is bound to work:

On the House floor today, Rep. Joe Moody had a perfectly reasonable bill that added people conspiring in prison and jail escapes under the organized crime statute. But the freshman Democrat accepted a "friendly" amendment from Rep. Dwayne Bohac to define graffiti offenses, of all things, as "organized crime" if committed by three or more people in combination.

Bohac said he wants to target criminal street gangs, but as written the amendment would allow prosecution of any three high-school kids who spray paint an underpass as "organized crime," enhancing Class A misdemeanor graffiti offenses to a third degree felony.

Because criminalizing non-violent youth behavior has proven to be so effective in the past. (See, Drugs, War on).

I should go sit in on a session of the state legislature sometime, just to witness the insanity for myself. Maybe live blog it. I don't know how much I could stand though.

The Texas State Capitol Building: Where Nothing Bad Has Ever Happened

H/T Lindsay

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I'm not really qualified for this kind of work

In a few weeks, California's love affair with direct democracy will be rekindled with a special election featuring six budget-related propositions.

I'm no fan of the annual (this year, semi-annual) Propapalooza; in fact, I don't really like voter referenda very much at all. Most of the issues (like the budget) are really too complicated and too interdependent for me to actually evaluate the effect accurately. The text of the propositions is beyond obfuscatory; I'm still trying to decipher sections like:

(h) If the Supplemental Education Payment Account is established by subdivision (a) on October 1, 2011, and on October 1 annually thereafter, the Comptroller shall transfer from the Budget Stabilization Fund to the Supplemental Education Payment Account the lesser of the following:

(1) A sum equal to 1.5 percent of General Fund revenues for the current fiscal year
(2) The amount of total supplemental education payments set forth is subdivision (a) of Subsection 8.3 remaining to be allocated

Byzantine language aside, once one decodes the legalese, there is still the question of the actual impact of these propositions. For example, take Proposition 1E-- it would redirect mental health services funding earmarked by Prop 63 to other kinds of mental health services not included in Prop 63 (namely, the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Program for children and young adults). What to do? What is really going on here, and what is the real impact going to be? I can imagine that it is entirely possible that Prop 63 and Prop 10 (voter-approved budget earmarks and funding rules) are somewhat inflexible, and some retooling of the language or flexibility is needed to ensure that some necessary programs actually get funded instead of axed. I could also imagine that Prop 1E is intended to gut mental health services funding as a cost-reducing strategy-- maybe it does fund the children's Early and Periodic Screening program, but only nominally, while cutting funding for the majority of programs. It is really hard to tell what is going on.

This Prop 1E conundrum highlights the problem, though-- the budgeting process for a large, complicated government entity (like the State of California) should not be left to direct democracy. It isn't a question of voters not being informed or smart enough; we, as voters, can't contextualize these proposals and we can't make even educated guesses about the true impact vis-a-vis the entire hundred billion dollar state budget. We elect professional legislators to read, learn, debate, and understand these issues in context. Someone thinks we need Prop 1E to retool the budget requirements of Prop 10 and Prop 63; later on down the line, maybe we need another to fix 1E. I'm sure most people that attempt to put propositions on the ballot are well-meaning (except for the Prop 8 asshats); having a voter-approved ballot measure that directly requires the state to fund certain worthy causes feels good-- but it isn't, in practice, a good system by which to create a good budget. Let the legislature work out the budget; it's not a perfect system, but it works a little better than creating constitutional mandates for certain projects and programs over less popular and less financially powerful issues. While we're at it, we could also stop crushing the civil rights of a portion of our population by a statewide up-or-down vote.

NFL ’09 Off-Season/Pre-Draft: The Denver Broncos

It was the biggest story involving the Broncos since Elway retired and I was remiss in not blogging about it. Now, with new coach Josh McDaniels set with two first-rounders for the next two years as a result and, with a little time to mull over the situation at a mile high, the day has come…to be followed by a more general, division-based off-season/draft talk in the days leading up to the finest day of the non-regular season.

After Shanahan was fired and McDaniels was brought in, I felt like the new coach would be perfect for Jay Cutler, which would be perfect to retake the AFC West. I had no way to realize that, however, that trouble sat some five thousand feet above me. The firing of QB coach Jeremy Bates (now at USC) angered the petulant quarterback and, within days and while down, McDaniels slapped his franchise player across the face.

I’m inevitably a fan of the team over the player, but McDaniels was stupid to think that a Bruce Campbell lookalike in Matt Cassel was worth trading Cutler away. Who to believe in the scenario is impossible to know; the only certainty was the ridiculously immature stance Cutler took in the wake of these trade talks. He’d already made motions toward a traded after Bates left, but now that all he could talk about. The whole thing seemed so ridiculous that I thought it would blow over, especially after the lack of word in the two weeks after the talks began. My ambivalence about Cutler remaining in Denver, however, was waning with each passing day. All of a sudden, with no word for days, Cutler was a Bear and Kyle Orton was a Bronco. Much to my surprise, my most powerful reaction was a shrug of the shoulders. Football is a team-oriented game more than most; if one player, no matter where they line up, doesn’t to the job, the whole team crumbles. Cutler is aloof and, if he doesn’t want to play for the Broncos, where is the guarantee he’ll give everything each game? Good riddance, Jeff George, Jr.

The reality, whomever was to blame, is that the trade was a boon for the Broncos and probably not so great for the Bears. Granted, the team takes a big loss in the switch to Orton. Orton is going from a smashmouth team with no receivers to a spread offense. Cutler, on the other hand, has Devin Hester to throw to. Wow, hot stuff. It’s hard to compare their relative performances with their former teams; Orton should perform a little better and Cutler a little worse. The real story comes in the draft picks. Denver’s holes are almost exclusively defensive so, this year at picks twelve and eighteen, they have a golden opportunity to add two defensive starters in the first round. My guess is two of the following three: Boston College DT BJ Raji, LSU DE Tyson Jackson, and USC LB Brian Cushing.

Next year is when it gets good. Let’s give a best-case scenario of 11-5 for Chicago in 2010 and a worst-case of 5-11 for Denver. Cutler plays phenomenally and Orton sucks it up. Denver has something in the neighborhood of the fifth and twenty-fifth picks in the ’10 draft along with a dire need at QB. In that draft, two quarterbacks are leaps and bounds better than the top two this year in Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Texas’ Colt McCoy. Denver will easily be able to snag one of these two. Neither one may be Jay Cutler; both may be better. Either one, certainly, will outshine Matt Stafford or…snort…Mark Sanchez.

In spite of the turmoil in Denver, I still find this off-season the most productive in recent years. The 2009 Broncos are a team I barely recognize but, for now, a team I find beautiful. If, in the draft, they can pick up a DT and a middle linebacker, the words of Michael Stipe will finally come true: “I’ve got my spine; I’ve got my orange crush.” More will come clear after the weekend and, until then, go Neckbeard Orton, go Josh McDaniels, and go Broncos!

Oklahoma: Arguably Even Crazier than Texas

In what has turned into a major political event in Oklahoma, Governor Brad Henry overruled the legislature's rejection of the Flaming Lips' "Do You Realize" as Oklahoma's official rock song. And really what else are you going to go with? The state's voters chose the song in a recent poll. But for the Oklahoma legislature, those crazy kids are too out there:

Why? Well, certain House Republicans don't care for the band's wardrobe, or their cursing. The Oklahoman reports that Rep. Corey Holland didn't like when "one of the band members wore a red T-shirt with a yellow sickle and hammer on it when the Flaming Lips came last month to the Capitol." "I was really offended by that," Holland said. Also, Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma City) argued that "the band has a reputation for using obscene language, recalling band members used offensive language several years ago when the city of Oklahoma City named an alley after the band."

Reynolds delivered this amazing quote, according to The Oklahoman: "Their lips ought to be on fire."

Give Texas this--at least we celebrate our famous musicians even when their tour buses get pulled over with a ton of weed and mushrooms (Willie!). This place is crazy, but Oklahoma might be even more insane. Although they haven't talked about secession, so maybe not.

Historical Image of the Day

Boarding school for Native American girls, 1870s

Random Musical Observations (VIII)

-Maggot Brain is still the greatest guitar solo ever.

-Joe McPhee in the late-1960s/early-1970s was as great as, if not better than, latter-day John Coltrane.

-Even though Moon Pix and You Are Free are amazing, I’m really glad Cat Power cleaned up.

-Gillian Welch needs to release a new album, now.

-Willie Nelson's Teatro is one of the three most underrated albums of the 1990s.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Shoter Josh Trevino: I Don't Have the Skills to Handle the First Year of Graduate School

Also, he can take quotes out of context to make it seem like he knows something.

I have no interest in continuing this line of argument except to say the idea that I have changed my thoughts about Texas and slavery at all, particularly in the context of anything Trevino had to say, is ludicrous.

In case it's not clear to our intellectually challenged, graduate school failing friend, at the core of the Texas revolution was the desire to continue enslaving black people. Link

Justice for Angie?

While I was at school today, the verdict in the Angie Zapata trial came in--guilty on all four counts.

From Questioning Transphobia:

* Count 1: First degree murder - guilty
* Count 2: Bias motivated crime - guilty
* Count 3: Aggravated motor vehicle theft (1st degree) - guilty
* Count 4: ID theft - guilty

Sentencing for the first count: mandatory life without parole.
Sentencing on the remaining three counts will take place on May 8th at 3PM MST.

To me, the most important part of this verdict isn't just the conviction for murder. Great, we're admitting that a transgender woman IS fully human--is not a thing or a monster, killing her is in fact murder.

But what matters to me is the "bias motivated crime" charge. The fact that a jury convicted Andrade of a hate crime, that they not only didn't buy his argument of "victimization" but they saw that killing Angie because she was transgender is a hate crime, pure and simple.

Like several bloggers and others that commented on Twitter, I know "justice" can't ever really be done in cases like this. Angie isn't back. Her killer will go to prison, but the prison system is itself horribly screwed up. Will this actually change the treatment of transgender women by the media, the legal system, the world at large?

I suppose all we can hope for--and work for--is at least a small improvement.

A Tendentious Revisionist

That's what Josh Treviño calls me for saying that slavery had a lot to do with Texas secession from Mexico in 1836. If by tendentious revisionist, he means that I'm like the majority of academic historians and scholars more broadly who don't take myth as reality, who use the work of other historians to build upon for new work, and who think race, class, gender, and sexuality are important categories of analysis, then that is what I am.

There's little of value in Treviño's rebuttal. He makes broad statements with lots of names and events, but his source base extends no further than Texas websites and Wikipedia. Meanwhile, I've cited a half dozen major historians, some of whom have written prize winning work, and I could have done a lot more. So you all can judge for yourself--believe the historical community of which I am just one small part or the blowhard right-winger.

As for the substance of Treviño's post, well, again there's little to actually rebut. He notes that I don't like conservatives. I don't know how he could tell that. He starts with an a priori assumption that Santa Anna was an unspeakably bad guy who Texas was more than justified in revolting against, but shows no evidence that he actually knows the first thing about him or about the Mexican context in which Texas existed. This is a curious thing about Texas history--everyone just assumes without the first bit of reflection that Santa Anna was the bad guy. In the Texas State History Museum for instance, any thought that Santa Anna could be justified in keeping his nation together is completely dismissed out of hand.

He claims that I am saying that the Texas revolt was only about slavery when I directly say that it is complex and that not every factor was about slavery--again, there was also the distance between Texas and Mexico City, religious differences, white supremacy over Mexicans, and the fact that most of these men always intended on making Texas part of the United States. Many of these things have something to do with slavery, but it isn't always direct link. Again, Treviño shows little ability to think in complex ways.

Treviño also shows limited ability to use evidence. Whereas I bring in several pieces of strong evidence to support my claims, including direct quotes in private correspondence as well as the actions of leading heroes of the Texas revolution that furthered the slave cause, he simply relies on the public statements of Texans, which while not without importance or value, were also published for public consumption. The Declaration of Independence is an important document but it provides far from a complete understanding of the American Revolution. However, these are connections that if Treviño makes, he doesn't talk about.

And while I'll be the first to admit that comparisons through time and space are often of limited value, Treviño's dismissal of my comparison of the United States in 1786 and Mexico in 1836 is absurd. First, I'll bet Treviño loves to use Munich analogies for every U.S. foreign policy action. It's always 1938 and it's always Hitler vs. Chamberlain. Now there's an analogy that is crazy! But in this case he says that my comparison is silly because he can name lots of ways they are different too. You think? Wow, that takes some deep historical thinking to come up with that. Obviously, there are a million differences between the two nations 50 years apart. However, there are some important similarities too that one cannot simply dismiss.

The United States, 1786:
1. A new nation that had recently thrown off its colonial leader.
2. A nation with a weak central government and ineffective mechanisms to deal with that problem.
3. A nation facing internal threats with little contact between regions or a strong sense of nationalism.

Mexico, 1836
1. A new nation that had recently thrown off its colonial leader.
2. A nation with a weak central government and ineffective mechanisms to deal with that problem.
3. A nation facing internal threats with little contact between regions or a strong sense of nationalism.

The major differences were in leadership--Washington and Santa Anna were very different. And for all the differences that Treviño may claim between the two nations and times, these three factors are striking and suggest that a comparative look is of value. If Treviño can't deal with even thinking there might be two sides to this story, well, there's a right-winger for you. Unable to deal with complexity, holding onto national myths out of some deep psychological need, and making bold arguments with little to no evidence. With these kinds of skills, how did he not get a job in the Bush State Department?

Again, if all of this makes me a tendentious revisionist, I'll wear that badge with pride. Because what I'm really doing is acting like a professional historian should act, using evidence to make reasonable arguments about the past in ways that are useful to the present.

Also, if anyone has any particular questions regarding his rebuttal that they want me to answer, like his bringing up of the lack of violent events around slavery in Texas in 1836, let me know. I'd be happy to go into more detail, but it seems that the post is long enough as it is. But I also don't want anyone to think I am shying away from any point of his argument.

"It began with a simple handshake..."

Now THIS is breaking news:

Caracas-on-Potomac, DC—Moving to consolidate his recent annexation of the government of the United States, former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez announced today that the country would be renamed the “United States of Chávez” and that select groups of Chávezian citizens would be invited to participate in “training programs” designed to make them happier and more productive members of the new society.

Read the rest of what has to be one of the best bits of satire of the media, the right, teabaggers, and others that I've seen in years - and all while writing about Latin American politics and history!

Compromise on EFCA

Via Ezra, SEIU president Andy Stern says that unions need to be willing to compromise on the Employee Free Choice Act and card check. That's true because this bill is probably dead on arrival. With so many Democratic senators afraid to support it, it's possible it won't get 50 votes, not to mention the 60 needed to break the inevitable Republican filibuster. As I said earlier, unions haven't done a lot of groundwork to build political capital backed up with the ability to enforce their will over the last decades. Lincoln, Bennett, Feinstein, and other Democrats caving on EFCA know they have little to be scared of. What are unions going to do? Strike? Support Republicans? Both are unlikely. Stern is a savvy political player, even if Change to Win has not worked out like he hoped. He knows the score and understands that unions do have enough power to start making progress against 6 decades of anti-labor legislation, even if they can't get it all back yet. Work for some real gains now, get that filibuster-proof majority in the Senate in 2010, and then we can really start talking, especially if unions use aggressive political tactics to demand the attention of centrist Democrats.

Historical Image of the Day

Arapahoes posing with whites, Fort Robinson, Nebraska.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Slavery and Texas Secession

For those of you who have been reading blogs for several years, you may remember that at one point Tacitus was supposed to be the conservative site you needed to take seriously. Pretty laughable, I know. Among their writers was Josh Treviño. Treviño attacks my take on the Texas Revolution as treason in defense of slavery. He calls the Texan Revolution "a good and just cause in defense of genuine liberties. If lefty bloggers wish to criticize Texas now, they might at least get its history right."

Hmmm...let's look at the evidence. I know conservatives aren't big on actual evidence, but as a historian, I am. When Mexico became a country and invited the Austin family to start a settlement, slavery was legal. But Gerald Horne, in his 2005 award winning book, Black and Brown: African Americans and the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, succinctly discusses in his introduction how Mexico tried to abolish slavery, first through the Colonization Law of 1824, which emancipated all slaves on their 14th birthday and then through an 1832 law that forbade importation of slaves into Texas. He argues that Texas slaveholders saw the first law as a threat and the second as worthy of secession.

Southerners always saw Texas as an extension of their economy and wanted to bring the institution there. Alamo hero Jim Bowie (a notorious wife beater among other things) and his brothers used Texas as a way to smuggle slaves into the United States. In 1808, the importation of slaves into the United States became illegal because of the clause inserted into the Constitution. Slaveholders desperately wanted to get around this and they came up with various ways to smuggle human beings into the country. The Bowie brothers smuggled around 1500 Africans into the United States through Galveston between 1818 and 1820. Texans continued these activities throughout the 1830s; while the Texas constitution outlawed the importation of slaves, this was not heavily enforced and was a sop to international opinion rather than a heartfelt condemnation of the practice. Paul Lack, in his work, The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History, 1835-1836, writes "In the summer of 1835, many Anglo Texans concluded that Mexico had acquired the will and power to implement an antislavery strategy." Nothing scared Texans more than this and they acted accordingly.

I'm not going to go into all the details about the events leading to the Texas Revolution. But John Quincy Adams and northern antislavery activists spoke what everyone knew in 1836--that the Texas Revolution was about slavery. Adams said in Congress that "the war now raging in Texas is a Mexican civil war and a war for the re-establishment of slavery where it was abolished." Texas historian William C. Davis says that "you have the same contradiction [that you do in] the Civil War, when you've got several million Confederate citizens and soldiers preaching all the rhetoric of liberty while owning 3 million slaves." Randolph Campbell, in his book An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821-1865 writes "As the revolution developed in 1835, Texans saw the situation as a threat to slavery, and, ironically, as an attempt to reduce them to the status of slaves." Horne says "slavery--or rather the "freedom" to engage in slavery --was a "primary cause of the Texas Revolution."

African-Americans certainly saw the rebellion as about slavery. Slaves looked to rise up across east Texas and whites cracked down hard, including diverting troops away from fighting the Mexicans in order to stay at home and guard against slave revolts. Like in the Civil War, slaves fled to the Mexican lines whenever they could. I can go into much more detail about these revolts if anyone wants to hear about it. Moreover, when Santa Anna was captured and forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco, granting the Texans their independence, key to the conditions for his freedom was that he return all runaway slaves.

William Davis and Randolph Campbell also say that slavery wasn't the only reason for the Texas Revolution. That's true. White supremacy over Mexicans also played a role, as did religious differences, the isolation of Texas from Mexico City, that Mexico was an incredibly weak state during the 1830s, and that most of the white Texans always intended for the place to be part of the United States. But Treviño's argument does not include this complexity; rather, like Confederate apologists, he claims that slavery played virtually no role. It's not as if Santa Anna was marching to Texas to take away all the Texans' slaves. But ending slavery was the greatest threat Texans faced. Campbell argues, "Texas could not...have protected slavery had they lost their war with Mexico. Defeat almost certainly would have meant the end of the institution."

Lincoln wasn't going to take away slaves either, but the South saw his election as a threat and seceded rather than live under an anti-slavery government. When Texans revolted against both Santa Anna and Lincoln, they took the opportunity to try and end slavery. The desire for a slave republic led Texas to commit treason in defense of slavery twice, first in 1836 and again in 1861. The differences between the supposed oppression Texas faced from Santa Anna and Lincoln are slight. Also like Treviño, Confederate apologists say the Civil War wasn't about slavery--it was about westward expansion or tariff policy or capitalism vs. agrarianism. But none of these things could have broken apart the nation without slavery at the center of the issue. Similarly, there were several reasons that Texas wanted to be rid of Mexican control and most of them had slavery at their heart.

This leads me to another question I'd love Treviño to answer--do you think defending slavery caused the South to secede from the union? And how do you feel about the Confederacy? Were they also engaging in a "good and just cause?"

Treviño's discussion of Santa Anna and the Mexican government is just absurd. He's right that the Mexican government faced many rebellions during the 1830s. That's because Santa Anna was trying to create a centralized nation that would in fact be a nation. His situation is not dissimilar to the United States in 1786: weak, divided, and on the verge of collapse. Saving his country by suppressing regional rebellions did not necessarily make him a tyrant, it made him a strong leader. Yes, he was a dictator, but the conditions Mexico faced in 1836 were extremely grim. Remember, there were many in the United States who wished George Washington would also make himself ruler for life. That Washington resisted is to his credit; Santa Anna was certainly no George Washington.

The equivalent American Revolution event to the Texas Rebellion is not the American Revolution itself, it's Shays' Rebellion, where in 1786, a group of Massachusetts farmers revolted over debt issues, threatening the Republic; or the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, when Pennsylvania farmers attacked government agents and threatened rebellion over the federal excise on whiskey, their major product.

Treviño no doubt wouldn't criticize Washington and Alexander Hamilton for crushing the Whiskey Rebellion, yet he claims that Santa Anna was a despot worse than King George III. What precisely were these depredations Texans suffered under the oh so hideous Santa Anna? I'm not saying Santa Anna is someone to admire today, but it's completely insane to talk of him oppressing the Texans. That he claims the Texans were right in revolting because they based their revolt on the Constitution of 1824 is analogous to using the Articles of Confederation to say that Shays' Rebellion was right--both documents were dumped by centralizing federal governments because they weren't working.

What a two-faced argument Trevino throws out there--Texans were fighting for their liberties guaranteed in the 1824 Constitution. What rights had changed for Texans since 1824? The legality of slavery!

Finally, I expect Treviño to note that there were Tejanos fighting at the Alamo. That's true, there were a few, though not a lot. But many of them were also fighting for slavery! It's not like slavery was only something white people did. Moreover, the history of these pro-Texas Mexicans in the years after 1836 puts the lie to the idea that Texas was not about white supremacy. Juan Seguín is the most famous Mexican supporter of the Revolution. It was Seguín who William Travis sent through the Mexican lines at the Alamo to get help. But in 1842, when the Mexicans briefly retook San Antonio, all prominent Mexicans were suspect and suffered discrimination. Seguín, a supposed hero of the Alamo, was forced to flee to Mexico, charged with aiding the Mexican army. What really made Texans angry though was that Seguín was fighting for Tejano rights. Forced to "seek refuge among my enemies" as Seguín said, he was arrested upon his return to Mexico and forced into the army as an officer, where he served against Texas and the United States in the Mexican War. I can provide any number of white supremacist quotes from Texans of the times; Texans such as Travis openly talked of the spectre of Mexican men raping white women. David Burnet wrote to Henry Clay about races and the revolution, saying "The first [race] are primarily Anglo-Americans; the others a mongrel race of degenerate Spaniards and Indians more depraved than they."

What's really disgusting is that in the video about the Texas Revolution in the Texas State History Museum, they tell the story through Seguín's eyes. They do this to undermine the (correct) idea that the Texas Revolution was about white supremacy. They make it seem like a biracial battle against tyranny. That there were slaves at the Alamo that Santa Anna set free is never mentioned. But in order to find out what happened to Seguín in 1842, you have to read every small word of text on one display far away from the video screen. Texas, where half-truths and lies run wild. Though one could say the same thing about the conservative blogosphere, with Treviño as Exhibit A.

A Rare Moment of Political Activism (Rather than Political Theorizing) from Mr. Trend

I almost never do this (and feel a bit embarrassed doing it now), but.... light of the release of the torture memos, Jay Bybee's central role in their awful, (il)legal logic, and his current status as a member of the Ninth Circuit of the Federal Court of Appeals, I'm asking any and all of you who are interested and have the time to write your Senators and Congresspeople and ask them for his impeachment. For those who are interested or don't have the time to include their own message, I included mine below (though I recommend changing the bit about being a Latin American historian, unless you actually are one). The more people that make their voice heard, especially on Bybee, the better the court system and the country will be for it.

Dear Senator Schumer,

I am writing to ask you to please join efforts to impeach Jay Bybee. I know that you were one of the 79 senators to approve his original nomination to the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, and you no doubt had your reasons and your own information. However, in light of the recent declassified torture memos that President Obama released, including the 18-page memo by Mr. Bybee himself, that offered a logic for why torture that the United States conducted was legal, make clear that Mr. Bybee should in no way be responsible for major legal decisions.

I am a historian who studies Latin America, and my focus is on military dictatorships, all of which used torture themselves in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Throughout those years, numerous politicians, including President Jimmy Carter and senators like Sen. Ted Kennedy, openly declared methods like those mentioned in Mr. Bybee's memo (including "walling" and confinement in small spaces for extended periods of time) to be torture. Yet, as I'm certain you are aware, upon the U.S.'s performance of similar deeds, Mr. Bybee was at the forefront of defending these same methods that had been "torture" for other countries when it came time for the Bush administration to defend its use of the same practices.

Mr. Bybee's appointment to the Federal Court system has put American citizens like myself at the risk of having our fates decided by his legal logic, a logic that has already defended the use of torture. This kind of behavior and these legal positions cannot and should not be allowed on any court bench, much less a Federal Court bench.It is for this reason that I am asking you, as one of the two Senators from the great state of New York, to please join the efforts to impeach Mr. Bybee, so that his legal reasoning can never affect the lives of American citizens in the way it has already affected the lives of those who were tortured in Guantanamo. Thank you.

Respectfully yours,

Mr. Trend

[OK, I actually didn't sign off w/my pseudonym. But there it is.]