Monday, May 31, 2010

Decoration Day

While we remember our fallen soldiers today, I want to remember some true heroes--the approximately 364,000 American soldiers who died between 1861 and 1865 suppressing Southern treason, holding the Union together, and freeing the slaves. I know these men (and a few women) fought for different reasons. Some were more noble than others. Not everyone cared about slavery, though a lot did so. And I know that not everyone who fought for the Confederacy necessarily acted to preserve slavery. But I do know that for whatever reason they fought, the Union soldiers died defending a noble and just cause and the Southern soldiers died to defend the rights of states to commit treason and to enslave, rape, and murder black people. Too often we forget the real reason for Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was known in the late 19th century, when the South refused to recognize it as a national holiday.

BP Oil Spill Photo of the Day

Sorry for my lack of blogging for the past two days--I was in New Orleans at a hotel that said it had wireless but then did not. Very irritating.

Anyway, I am going to put up a photo of the BP oil spill every day until the well is shut off. Just to help us all remember this horror.

Worker shoveling oil, Fourchon Beach, Louisiana. 

Historical Image of the Day

Masonic Temple, Santa Fe, New Mexico. The city's most hated building by Santa Fe architectural traditionalists, which automatically makes it my favorite building in the city. Constructed, 1912

Sunday, May 30, 2010

NYT: Government Approves Assassinations of US Citizens

I managed to miss this article in the New York Times, which reports that the Obama administration has added Anwar al-Awlaki to its assassination-by-drone list. Awlaki is a radical muslim cleric who is apparently hiding in Yemen and is charismatic enough to have inspired a number of terrorist plots, including the attempted Times Square bombing. He's also a U.S. citizen. Actually, let me fix that. He's also a U.S. citizen who has now been targeted for assassination without any due process of law.

In Latin American history circles we have a name for this form of extrajudicial killing-- state terror. And, of course, political killings by the CIA and its contract agents on behalf of the U.S. government have been illegal since Gerald Ford signed Executive Order 11905 in 1975 in the wake of the Church Committee hearings. Jimmy Carter (EO 12306) and Ronald Reagan (EO 12333) strengthened and extended the ban on political assassinations. Of course, those proscriptions regulate CIA activity against foreign nationals. It's a given, at least to most sane people, that actual citizens of the United States are governed by constitutional rights of due process and equal protection.

The Bush administration routinely ignored U.S. law by claiming executive or special authority to circumvent treaty, statute, and constitutional guarantees. This very program of targeted assassination was justified by Bush attorneys on congressional authorizations following Sept. 11. The September 18, 2001 authorization included this language:
use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.
The wiggle room comes, I guess, with the word "aided". But, still, none of that matters relative to the rights to due process granted U.S. citizens. It is, of course, possible to lose one's citizenship for committing acts of treason-- but even that requires a conviction (ie, a legal process).

Add targeting U.S. citizens for assassination to the list of disappointments I have with the Obama administration.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Funny - He's Still Mediocre Even in a Bug-Free Environment

So I wonder who or what Yankee fans will blame for Chamberlain's performance this time; after all, there weren't any bugs out there today...

Dennis Hopper dead at 74

Dennis Hopper succumbed to his battle with prostate cancer this morning. He was in and directed some great films. As much as I generally share Erik's loathing of hippies, I have always loved Easy Rider. I don't know, may simply be my fondness for the landscape aesthetic of New Mexico. That said, Hopper was in a lot of excellent films including, Rebel Without a Cause, Cool Hand Luke, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, and Colors. He was also great in his scene with True Romance with Christopher Walken, race-baiting the gangster anti-Christ in a vendetta kind of mood.

Confused Notions of What Constitutes Classic Literature

I am a big fan of the mash-up culture. I think that Larry Lessig is right on when it comes to the stifling affect of the current copyright regime. But, please, can we recognize that when someone calls one of the recent zombie mash-up books classic, they're not using the term literally. Shot in the Classic Literature section of the Simply Books bookstore at DFW:

They also had, of course, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the same section. Speaking of which, can anyone explain to me what's behind the absolutely viral obsession with zombies the past two years?

Volcanic Eruptions in Guatemala and Ecuador

This has been a banner year for ash spew. My guess is that we will see a short term global temperature dip as a result of all of the recent activity. Cue climate change denialists... Now. Volcán Pacaya near Guatemala City and Volcán Tungurahua returned to active eruption this past week. Pacaya apparently emitted more than just ash on nearby communities, and the linked article includes a short but harrowing tale of one mother hiding with her kids under the bed as marble-sized hot rocks rained on her house.

I don't know either Pacaya or Guatemala City, but I do know Tungurahua and its nearby tourist haven Baños from years of traveling to Ecuador. Back in the 1990s Baños was a hopping backpacker's town, full of the retinue of Israeli, Australian, and Gringo shoestring travelers making the trip from Buenos Aires to Bogotá. Of course, this also meant there was a large ex-pat community running businesses catering to the travelers. I have fond memories of Baños, though I haven't been there in close to ten years. I spent part of my honeymoon there, including a day riding horses on the slopes of Tungurahua.

Baños's economy began to struggle in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to a series of eruptions from Tungurahua, which re-awoke in 1999. The latest major eruption, which sent ash to Guayaquil and on to the Pacific, will undoubtedly hurt the local economy again. In some ways, it seems that the precariousness of Baños's economy is analogous to the position Ecuador holds in the international economy-- dependent on outside dollars (both literally and figuratively), on the whims of natural phenomena beyond its control (be it volcanic eruptions, El Niño-induced droughts, etc.), and on the irrationalities of the international economic order. Baños is not only downstream from Tungurahua, it's also just upstream from a major hydroelectric dam project- the Agoyan Dam on the Pastaza River made famous again a few years ago in the opening scenes of John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hitman. It's a beautiful place, but its trapped, as Ecuador is more generally, between the grinding pressures of natural instability and international "development."

(Cross posted here.)

Historical Image of the Day

George Washington Masonic National Temple, Alexandria, Virginia

Friday, May 28, 2010

Valles Caldera

In a piece of good environmental news, New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman introduced a bill yesterday to allow the National Park Service to take over the 89,000 acre Valles Caldera Preserve. In the Jemez Mountains of northern New Mexico, the Valles Caldera was a remnant ranch from the days of late 19th century hunting preserves. This largely undeveloped piece of land has outstandingly beautiful landscapes. It was deeded to the federal government as a trust, with the understanding that a board of directors would develop a plan to make the ranch at least break even, if not turn a profit.

That process has been a disaster. Originally the board included a number of stakeholders, including many leading New Mexico environmentalists. Not surprisingly, the Bush Administration politicized the process, appointing figures to the board with little interest in running it or in turning it into a centerpiece of advanced land management.

Allowing the National Park Service to run the ranch, allowing limited access and continuing its historic mission, could be a boon to the place. It should not be overrun by tourists. New Mexico Hwy. 4 runs through the ranch's southern end, giving tourists views of the large elk herds on the property. For most tourists, that should be enough. Limited hiking, fishing, and hunting opportunities was always part of the Caldera's mission and this should continue.

In any case, this area is one of the few national jewels not in the park system and so this is very good news.


There's been a lot of talk about Newt Gingrich running for president in 2012.

He's an interesting candidate. He might be the only legitimate candidate able to unite the disparate elements of the Republican Party. He could probably keep the Teabaggers in line (in his mouth?), could convince the super-wealthy to play along, and appeal to the racists and social conservatives. Certainly he can raise a tremendous amount of money. He is charismatic enough to be in Obama's league. He has huge name recognition.

So Gingrich could be formidable. However, I feel there are 2 big strikes against him becoming the Republican nominee. First, he shares a big similarity with Sarah Palin--both have used their conservative credentials to become very rich. Does Gingrich want to give up the business side of his life in order to run for president? He's talked about running for president ever since 1996. And it's never happened. Why? You can't tell me the timing was never right--it was in 96 and it was in 08. So I'm not convinced he'll do it despite his frequent dropping of hints.

Second, Gingrich has no discipline. He makes Joe Biden look Obama-esque by comparison. Gingrich has remained in the public eye by saying a lot of outrageous things. If he does win the nomination, how will him calling Obama's administration "secular-socialist" go over? I'm not sure that kind of rhetoric is going to serve him well in a general election. Gingrich recently compared Obama to the Nazis, which not only makes no sense, but is greatly insulting to everyone who suffered under that horrible regime. Even Republicans called him out over it and now he's been forced to back down. I think we can all expect a great deal more extremist rhetoric coming from Gingrich's mouth before November 2012 that will make him unelectable, at least barring a second economic collapse.

There's also the fact that he was one of the most ineffective and disastrous Speakers of the House in history, but that's another story altogether.

You Can Combine Racism With Travel Too!

In case you can't read this travel advertisement created by a Columbus, Ohio radio station, let me block quote it for you:

610 WTVN would like to send you where Americans are proud and illegals are scared, sunny Phoenix, Arizona! You’ll spend a weekend chasing aliens and spending cash in the desert, just make sure you have your green card! Win round trip airfare to Phoenix, hotel accommodations, and a few pesos in spending cash — just register below! City employees encouraged to enter.

It's been awhile since this nation has so openly combined tourism and racism. I wonder what that looked like:

Ah yes. The good old days....

Travel Snark

My colleague in English, Elisabeth Piedmont-Marton, is currently in Vietnam working on some building projects in northern Vietnamese village. Her comments on how much she hates most travelers are pretty awesome:

I hate the fake raggedyness of the backpacker crowd, wearing their collection of tattered bracelets and “I went tubing in Laos,” t-shirts, but who never leave the safety of their movable cliques. I hate those stupid Hammer-Harem hybrid pants the women wear, imagining they’re dressing like some lost tribe (I’ve never seen a local person anywhere in Vietnam or Cambodia wear those things), the gesture of conspicuous authenticity illuminating their western privilege like white phosphorus. I hate the shirtless men with their dumb-ass tattoos and stupid hats and sunglasses (yes — precisely the kind of folks who should be given cheap beer and motorcycles!). I hate how rude they are to the Vietnamese people in cafes and hotels. I hate also their callowness and ignorance. The rudest of a pack of insufferable English women in Sapa, sat reading a Judy Blume novel in the lobby of the hotel while her friend occupied every other square inch of the place with her gear and yelled loudly into her cell phone to some hapless Vietnamese driver. If you’re old enough to travel in Southeast Asia, you are too old for Judy Blume: go home. And I hate myself because I can’t help but envy their youth and beauty and unfettered fucking fun and their easy ignorance of the responsibility to think more deeply and complexly about the world and their places in it.

You know who else I hate? The older richer tourists in search of some Asian Resortiana, some unholy spawn of Orlando-Vegas-Waikiki-Cancun, Canlandowaicun, if you will, with “such cheap prices” and “nice people.” A very angry woman from California with whom I shared a cab from the train station to the airport in Hanoi, yelled at a Vietnamese man (who was actually trying to rip us off, but not by much) to fuck off. Then she launched into her critique of the whole country: “Vietnam is too scammy. We’re going back to Thailand!” Because the combination of low-wage service workers, tourism, and wealthy business interests appears to be going quite well there, doesn’t it?.Here in Hoi An, the men have their suits made for them and while the women get spa treatments, then they eat steaks and sea bass with knives and forks in fancy restaurants. Soon the central coast will be lousy with these people, although the actual residents of Hoi An town need hardly worry that they’ll spend more than a few hours here in its hot dusty streets filled with actual Vietnamese people. The road from Danang that runs south along the coast, past the beach now named for an American television show, past the beach where decades ago American helicopter pilots sometimes dipped the bellies of their machines low enough in the shallow waves to wash out the blood and mud and body parts, that road now blocks the view of the beach and is lined on both sides by enormous walled golf resorts where people can experience the exotic world of Vietnam without getting any of it on them. When these places are all open, beautiful Vietnamese women will wear ao dai and serve tea and cocktails, and small, wiry men will carry huge bags of clubs over what used to be sand dunes, descendents of the men who carried artillery piece by piece up and down mountain paths more than 35 years ago. On the day I came in from the airport, I saw an old woman in a conical hat stooped over with a short handled broom sweeping the sand and dust from a small patch of St. Augustine grass outside the wall.

I pretty much agree with all of this. Although I haven't been to Vietnam, I've traveled fairly extensively in Asia and Latin America. Elisabeth's slam on both kinds of tourists is pretty accurate in my experience. The backpacker crowd amuses me. Certainly you meet some really cool, smart, culturally sensitive, and interesting people traveling around like this. But you also meet packs of drunken English stumbling from Irish pub to Irish pub, bemoaning the heat and the (delicious!) food, talking about whether Chelsea or Liverpool is the better football team, on holiday but not experiencing anything they couldn't back home except for a warm beach. You see western men and women of all nations who travel primarily to have sexual experiences with brown people. You see people treat the locals like garbage. You hear racist assertions about the superiority of white people (In Indonesia, I once heard a European guy state during some transportation confusion that this was evidence the climatic theory of race was true).

What's interesting is how few of these obnoxious backpackers are Americans. There's a reason for this--Americans are afraid to travel. So when most ugly Americans travel outside the country, they go to Cancun or some heavily guarded Caribbean beach. You just don't see a lot of Americans in Indonesia or Bolivia or Nicaragua. And when you do, more often than not they are pretty cool. But the ugly English and ugly Norwegians and ugly Italians--they are in Thailand and Vietnam and Brazil. It's not that Americans are somehow better travelers than Europeans (hardly!!!) but they are more self-selective, making it easier for me to avoid the ones I don't want to see.

The second variety of tourists however--the wealthy golfers--that's a different story. Rich Americans love this kind of tourism. My favorite grotesque example of the wealthy golfer space is the Costa Rican resort Los Suenos. The first time I traveled in Costa Rica, this place had ads and brochures everywhere. It was classic--it was all rich white people golfing and catching huge fish. The only Costa Ricans were service workers. Throughout Mexico and Central America, wealthy Americans are moving to exclusive communities, completely isolating themselves from potentially unpleasant interactions with locals, and essentially engaging in a new form of individualized and corportatized imperialism. I don't know who these people are in Vietnam, whether they are Americans or Australians or Europeans. All three probably. I do know that a lot of older Americans are interested and amused to visit the nation that caused them so much grief in their youth.

Am I a better kind of tourist? Who knows. I do try to respect local cultures, try new things, not get angry when things don't go my way, and deal with heat and mosquitoes and unpleasant toilets the same as local people. Does that mean I am not the member of some imperialist project by my presence in a La Paz or Kuala Lumpur market? Probably not. Tourism is weird. All I can say is that some tourists, and by some I mean a whole hell of a lot, really suck.

Writing this also makes me very sad that I am not traveling this summer, though I was at a conference in Dublin earlier this month. So I should stop whining. But I wish I was in Vietnam right now.

Historical Image of the Day

Proceedings of the First United States Antimasonic Convention, 1830.

Notes from a Minor League Baseball Game

Seeing your Round Rock Express play the Las Vegas 51s (those bastards!!!) last night, I was disappointed at the lack of major league washouts that you usually see in AAA games. When Yorman Bazardo is the biggest has-been you see, it's not much. Actually Las Vegas, which is Toronto's AAA team, has some pretty fair prospects, including Brett Wallace, who has the potential to be a power hitting corner infielder in the majors.

So given the lack of Timo Perez's and Rick Helling's to see, I was still impressed by 2 things (other than half-price beer night). Which do you think is better?

1. Seeing a guy in a Drew Bledsoe Cowboys jersey
2. Hearing the guy in front of me yell for another beer while he was drinking a Smirnoff Ice

I feel the answer is clearly #2.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism, 1956.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Badness of Field of Dreams

Via Lemieux, Charles Pierce reminds us why Field of Dreams sucks:

This is supposed to be a film about fathers and son, and the connective generational tissue that is baseball. As such, it can't even get Shoeless Joe Jackson hitting from the correct side of the plate? Nobody thought to check? And, even if you buy the conversion of the novel's J.D. Salinger character into the reclusive black-activist played by James Earl Jones, having done so, do you think that character wouldn't have noticed that there didn't seem to be any room for Josh Gibson, or Cool Papa Bell, or Buck Leonard out there beyond the cornfield? Heaven, apparently, is as segregated as the 1939 St. Louis Browns. Do you further think that a guy who seems at one point to be halfway between James Baldwin and LeRoi Jones would deliver that ghastly paean to the days of segregated baseball to an all-white audience? This movie is as false as blue money to its most fundamental premise. And it's a weepy fake, besides. Anyone who promises to turn the place back into good, productive farmland again gets my vote.


Will the 60s Never End?

Matt Bai's piece on current political debates STILL being stuck in the 60s drives home one of my biggest irritants--that almost 50 years after they grew up, the 60s generation still dominates American political discourse. The article points out 2 issues of the last week--Rand Paul's waffling on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Richard Blumenthal exaggerating his service in Vietnam. It ignores the biggest manifestation of 60s politics today--the rhetoric, tactics, and cultural references of the Teabaggers, who see themselves as the conservative response to 1968.

I don't necessarily agree with lumping the Rand Paul issue with Blumenthal. Paul is of a younger generation and what he's talking about is current political policy. While it does reference a key law of the 60s, Paul is talking about the role of the government today and using 1964 as an example. But that's nitpicking.

My real issue with the 60s generation is summed up in one sentence:

It is your classic self-fulfilling prophecy: the more the ’60s generation dominates the political discourse, the less that discourse engages younger voters, and the longer the boomers hold sway over our politics. 

Yep. The Boomers have created considerable damage to American political life. That they continue to do so today (and realistically will for another 20 years) is outrageous. They will fight 1968 over and over again until the day they die. And by that time, how many people will be willing to engage in politics, turned off the poisonous rhetoric and rehashing of ancient issues?

The Hands-Off Presidency

Lord knows I loathe James Carville. And people calling the BP oil spill "Obama's Katrina" is absurd and nothing more than a Republican talking point.

However, Carville is right to criticize Obama's handling of the oil spill:

Democratic strategist James Carville, who is also a resident of New Orleans, attacked President Obama's response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast today, saying: "You got to get down and take control of this, put somebody in charge of this and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here."

On Good Morning America, Carville said that "the political stupidity of this is just unbelievable," and that he has "no idea why their attitude was so hands-offy here."

"The President of the United States," Carville continued, "could've come down here, he could've been involved with the families of these 11 people" who died in the oil rig's explosion.

"These people are crying, they're begging for something down here. It just looks like he's not involved in this," he said.

I do slightly disagree with the point of Carville's analysis. While it might make political sense for Obama to go to New Orleans and see all of this for himself, as Lyndon Johnson did immediately after Hurricane Betsy in 1965, that's not really the biggest problem. It does show Obama's odd unwillingness to create political capital for himself outside of elections. Why not go down to New Orleans and show empathy? Why even allow yourself to be compared to Bush after Katrina?

The larger problem is Obama taking a back seat on the cleanup and trusting BP to do the right thing. Time after time we see Obama allowing others to take control. He seems so determined to not be a Bush-esque cowboy that he refuses to set an agenda. During health care he deferred to Congress with disastrous results. His Supreme Court nominees have been determined by his desire to not rock the Congressional boat. He's allowed Chris Dodd to shape financial reform instead of it coming from the White House. His reticent to take on immigration has allowed racists like Jan Brewer to set the agenda and now Obama responds to that by ordering troops to the border.

I feel that despite all the campaign rhetoric about change, what we elected is a cold technocrat who believes in expertise and consensus above all else. I actually feel Obama would have been an excellent cabinet member in the Kennedy Administration--one of the Best and the Brightest. I wonder if there's not a kindred soul in one Robert McNamara, who also put moral questions behind cold technical policy decisions. A bit harsh I admit and probably not quite true. But I can't believe I can legitimately make this comparison.

This reliance on expertise brings up big problems for Obama. First, it is in his nature to defer to corporations who can claim expertise on particular problems but who really just work for their own benefit. On the bank bailouts and now with BP, we see Obama in bed with corporations, protecting their interests rather than demonstrating the efficacy of a powerful and activist central government. For all the talk of climate change legislation, all Obama has done on energy is support increased nuclear power and allow more off-shore drilling. If he thinks this is going to get big energy on his side for climate change legislation, he's fooling himself. But he probably does think this. He'll allow BP and ExxonMobil to influence that legislation and little will come of the bill.

Back in the spring of 2008, my students asked me who I supported for the presidency. This was when the Democratic primary was still in doubt. I responded that I was ready to be disappointed by someone new. I knew Obama was a centrist. And I figured he would disappoint me. But I am surprised at the level of disappointment I feel. I could deal with a Clintonian-centrist because that's what I figured he was. But the cold, unfeeling technocrat surprises me.

Historical Image of the Day

Image from anti-Mason almanac, 1829

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

You Know What Would Really Teach the Kids About History? A Old-Timey Lynching


A north Georgia history teacher faces punishment after administrators say she let four students wear Ku Klux Klan-like robes for a historical reenactment.

Administrators say four students in Ariemma's advanced placement history class donned Klan-like outfits while filming historical reenactments. Moye says students saw them Thursday and parents of a black student complained.  

I wonder how far such actions could go. Nothing would teach the kids about early 20th century north Georgia race relations than actually lynching a black person! But then, I'm sure that here in Texas, we're now teaching our children how the KKK had to stop crazy black men from raping our white women....

In Defense of The Nature Conservancy

Joe Stephens has an interesting piece in the Washington Post about The Nature Conservancy's ties to BP.

While a lot of Nature Conservancy supporters and environmentalists are upset to hear this information, I don't really have a problem with it. There are many ways to create change. We tend to romanticize those who work outside the system. We certainly need radical groups who protest BP and other companies. That's absolutely vital to forming a successful environmental movement. But it doesn't hurt to have organizations who work within the capitalist system as well.

The Nature Conservancy does a remarkable job of protecting (often) small pieces of important habitat that is threatened by development. They don't focus on the southwestern deserts, sublime beauty, or highly touristed areas. Rather, they worry about biodiversity--which is really far more important to protect than more desert wilderness.

In order to protect these lands, they work with big corporations. As the article states, BP has helped The Nature Conservancy protect Bolivian forests and gave TNC 655 acres of land in Virginia for wildlife conservation.

Does this strategy allow BP and other corporations to greenwash their actions? Yes. Does the 655 acres make up for the massive damage caused by the oil spill? Of course not. But BP is going to drill for oil regardless of whether TNC exists or not. And those 655 acres have important meaning. It's a good thing TNC worked with BP to save this land.

There's no question that TNC gets a bit too cozy with its corporate sponsors. A few years back, there was a small scandal when it came out that TNC executives were working with corporations to get those companies big tax breaks on conservation easements. Groups like TNC or the Sierra Club or the World Wildlife Fund need watchdogs to make sure they stay true to their mission. But that doesn't mean they don't do good and valuable work.

Kermit's Wingnut Cousin

I guess Kermit the Frog has a wingnut cousin who supports Arizona's new immigration law and is a close of friend of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, who put together this absurdity:

I guess the habitat of this species of frog doesn't cross the border. He won't be cut off from others of his species like so many other animals.

The Finest the University of Oregon Has to Offer

When I graduated from the University of Oregon in 1996, I was dismayed that my graduation speaker was Today host Ann Curry. While my Mom was happy, I thought it was an exceptionally lame choice, particularly considering that the year before long-time Oregon Senator Mark Hatfield spoke and the year after it was Corazon Aquino, president of the Philippines.

But you see, Ann Curry is an alumni of the University of Oregon. And the quality of UO students isn't always the highest. So we have to celebrate what we can get I guess.

Curry hasn't given up her commencement addresses, despite the yawn-fest I sat through. In doing so, she demonstrated that awesome University of Oregon education:

When Ann Curry, news anchor of the Today Show, gave the commencement speech at Wheaton College in Massachusetts last Saturday, she listed several famous graduates -- Wes Craven and Billy Graham among them -- of the wrong Wheaton College.

Curry mistakenly listed the graduates of an evangelical school in Illinois rather than the secular, once all-women college in Massachusetts.


Historical Image of the Day

This week's theme is freemasonry and associated issues.

"A Meeting of Free Masons for the Admission of Masters," Thomas Palser, London, 1812

Sunday, May 23, 2010

It's Lima Time In Heaven

Jose Lima, RIP

Lima really wasn't very good. But he was fun. And certainly memorable.

Texas State History Standards

By now, you've all read about the Texas State Board of Education's history standards that eviscerate any reasonable interpretation of American history in favor of right-wing talking points. I should be talking about this more. But plenty of people are reporting on it. And I am not good at expressing outrage. I think that's because very little that happens in this country actually surprises me. We could whole-heartedly embrace fascism in 2020 and I would not be surprised in the least. Mostly, I feel resignation about these things and want to move on to analysis and problem-solving.

Anyway, I do think these right-wingers are way overreaching. I don't know if textbook companies will actually conform to these standards. I certainly don't know what self-respecting historians will actually write these books, except maybe for these bozos. Moreover, by moving so far to the right, the Texas BOE has drawn unwanted attention to their agenda. The extremists have been voted off the Board, though they get to serve until the end of the year. I wouldn't be at all surprised if some of this crazy stuff gets overturned, if other states choose not to adopt these textbooks (even conservative states, given just how embarrassing most of these directives are), and if liberals strike back at this hard, ensuring that textbooks are something we pay attention to going forward and working to ensure legitimate interpretations of the American past are taught to our students.

Also, I'd really like to see the American historical establishment take a harder line against the Texas BOE than it has. Major organizations like the American Historical Association and Organization of American Historians have been far too quiet.

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of sheet music for "The Fugitive's Song," antislavery song from 1845

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Zombie John C. Breckinridge: "Rand Paul Channels My Ideas"

Through me, Zombie John C. Breckinridge officially endorses Rand Paul for Senate. Zombie Henry Clay channeled himself through Farley, disapproving of Paul. Zombie Breckinridge simply couldn't stand for this. After all, Rand Paul completely approves of 19th century notions of how the government should regulate race relations. Paul may well even agree that the government has no place regulating the rape of enslaved black women by white men.

Of course, Breckinridge was a traitor and an all around loathsome human being. Any similarities between Breckinridge and Rand Paul are therefore completely coincidental....

Arkansas Police Officers Killed by Right-Wing Extremist

Yet another example of anti-government rhetoric empowering right-wing extremists to attack the government and its employees. In this case, 2 Arkansas police officers are dead. How long until militants successfully target a high-level official?

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of sheet music for "Get Off The Track: A Song for Emancipation," 1844

Friday, May 21, 2010

Are Anti-Immigration Activists Acting For Show?

As anti-immigration activists work to pass laws undermining the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, granting citizenship to people born here, I wonder how serious they are. There is almost no question that the recent Arizona anti-immigration is going to be thrown out of court almost immediately. While judges such as Sam Alito and Clarence Thomas vote for the Republican party line regardless of constitutionality, most judges at least have a semblance of respect for the Constitution.

Now, the same Arizona legislator who introduced the insidious legislation is coming back with a bill denying citizenship to babies born of undocumented people in the United States. This is blatantly and obviously unconstitutional. Anyone with even the slightest perfunctory knowledge of the Constitution can tell you this. So are these politicians just making a name for themselves by introducing racist legislation they know will never pass just to make a name for themselves? Quite possible.

Who Does This Sound Like?

Who said this?

History is bigger than you are. Politics and governing are much more like sailing than they are like operating a powerboat. You're at the whim of tides and of winds and of things that are so much bigger than you. You've got to take advantage every morning as best you can.

The answer is Newt Gingrich. But doesn't it sound like a line from The Battle of Algiers or some Marxist tract? The conservative movement has had a reverse-Marxism to it ever since the 1960s. Particularly when listening to the people who grew up during the 60s, they are taking the language and tactics of the leftist 60s and applying them to radical right-wing causes. The neoconservatives are the classic example of this. With several of their leaders coming out of New Left movements and most of the others, including Gingrich, from the tumult of the 60s, I guess this isn't surprising. 

The idea of History (capitalized because in their view it is a THING) as a propellant force with inevitable phases that we can shape and control to a certain extent but that which ultimately shapes and controls us more comes straight from Marxist vocabulary.

Pac-Man Google

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Pac-Man, you can play a special Google Pac-Man game today on the Google website. Not that I love to promote omnipotent corporations or anything, but Google is our lord and master anyway, so we might as well play Pac-Man

Historical Image of the Day

Lydia Marie Child, comp., The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843.

Not sure if this also included weather projects and planting information or not.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Delicious Oil Cake

It tastes just like environmental apocalypse...

Via Cake Wrecks

Animated Soviet Propaganda: Shooting Range (1979)

In 2 parts:


I barely know what to say. My first question is this: how much access did Soviets have to LSD in the 1970s?

While "Shooting Range" clearly fits into the broader themes of propaganda, with the evil American capitalist taking advantage of massive unemployment to exploit workers, the political message really seems beside the point. I guess that's not surprising. By 1979, who really believed in doctrinaire Marxism anymore? Were the Soviet people really buying the political messages at that time? I'm not a Soviet expert by any means, so I don't really know. But certainly the political message here is obscured by the artistry.

The animation here is really interesting. Great use of shadows, color, and other techniques to create a very interesting cartoon. The music is also fantastic. Again, we see the Soviets employing American music to make a point. As is frequent, these cartoons use jazz as a whipping boy. "Shooting Range" uses dissonant free jazz to hammer home the point of American corruption. But as is frequent in Soviet attempts to slam jazz, it backfires because it's an utterly compelling and effective soundtrack to this film. Given the relative popularity of experimental jazz and other out-music in eastern Europe, I suspect audiences definitely did not take the negative message about jazz with them.

Other notes:

The scene at the beginning of part 2 where they fall in love might as well come straight from some sort of counterculture animation. The rabbit spewing rainbows out of his violin, two of the Seven Dwarfs hitting an anvil, just complete random psychedelia.

The use of American products and corporate brand names strikes me throughout many of these cartoons. I guess this cartoon is saying Coca-Cola is a bad thing, but it's not really expressing that clearly, it's directly using the brand logo, and it's basically free advertising. You have to feel that this cartoon made Soviets want American products more, not less.

I actually would really like to own the soundtrack. 

Most of this just really leaves me speechless.

Historical Image of the Day

The Slave's Friend, an abolitionist children's book, 1836

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shorter Rand Paul: "The Civil Rights Act of 1964 Destroyed Our Freedom!"

Seems pretty clear that Rand Paul will fit right in with his potential future GOP colleagues in the Senate:

INTERVIEWER: Would you have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I’m all in favor of that.
PAUL: You had to ask me the “but.” I don’t like the idea of telling private business owners—I abhor racism. I think it’s a bad business decision to exclude anybody from your restaurant—but, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership. But I absolutely think there should be no discrimination in anything that gets any public funding, and that’s most of what I think the Civil Rights Act was about in my mind.
INTERVIEWER: But under your philosophy, it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworths?
PAUL: I would not go to that Woolworths, and I would stand up in my community and say that it is abhorrent, um, but, the hard part—and this is the hard part about believing in freedom—is, if you believe in the First Amendment, for example—you have too, for example, most good defenders of the First Amendment will believe in abhorrent groups standing up and saying awful things. . . . It’s the same way with other behaviors. In a free society, we will tolerate boorish people, who have abhorrent behavior.

Sadly, using this against Paul in Kentucky would probably backfire. I wonder if a majority of Kentucky whites would vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if it came up for a vote.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: Black and White (1933)

This extremely powerful piece of animated propaganda from 1933 attacks U.S. race relations. It's hard to argue with this--the Soviets were right about American race relations. Paul Robeson's voice adds great power to the message. The scenes with blacks lynched from the telephone wires like Sparatcus' army leaves a haunting image in the mind. The film does make some attempt to place race relations within the general corruptness of capitalism; after all, the overseer whips both the black and white worker. But given that African-Americans were almost entirely working class and the upper class almost entirely white, talking about race and capitalism made perfect sense.

During the Cold War, the Soviet analysis of American race relations had great importance. As the nations of Asia and Africa threw off their colonial chains in the 1950s and 60s, and as Latin American nations began to choose governments less tied to the United States, American treatment of black people proved a powerful tool in the Soviet arsenal. Why would a newly freed African nation side with the U.S? After all, their president would have to stay in a segregated motel when visiting Washington! I don't know if the Soviets sent these race-based cartoons to their allies in the developing world, but they certainly played up each racial incident. And as Mary Dudziak convincingly shows in her book Cold War Civil Rights, the knowledge that segregationist violence was hurting the U.S. in the Cold War helped move presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson to move more aggressively on civil rights than they otherwise would have.

Finally, the animation is pretty first-rate for 1933. Between the simple figures of lynched blacks to the expressive face of the man at the end of the film to the rich capitalist who kills the black man who won't shine his shoes, this is first-rate art as well as effective propaganda.

Rural Environmentalists vs. Urban Environmentalists

Environmentalism is a multi-faceted movement. It has many strains and they often disagree. Many of these disagreements fall on a rural-urban divide. Urban concerns have always driven environmentalism, from the creation of national parks and hunting laws to ensure leisure for the urban upper classes to the Sierra Club's expansion in the 1950s because suburbanites wanted forest playgrounds. That doesn't mean rural people don't care about nature. Today there are many rural environmentalists and though self-identified environmentalists might be a minority in rural communities, they can certainly build bridges with conservatives who also like to be in woods and deserts.

Not infrequently, the needs of urban and rural environmentalists diverge. Recent developments in Colorado are an excellent case study. Governor Bill Ritter, who is not friendly with Colorado's not insignificant coal industry, has allied himself with urban environmentalists and the natural gas industry to promote natural gas production in the state. Urban environmentalists support this because Front Range cities suffer from bad air pollution. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal.

But this upsets rural communities because natural gas production leads to air pollution in their communities.

What to do? Producing any kind of energy has negative consequences. The question is who pays the price? In this case, it does seem that the urban dwellers have the better case--their bad affects the health of millions. And burning coal is never a good idea for nature. But this also reinforces the strong belief in rural communities that their environments are nothing more than a playground and space for exploitation by urban people. It's hard to deny that reality.


I have a long piece up on the situation in Thailand at Global Comment. I conclude:

The United Nations has offered to mediate the situation, but the Thai government has rejected this. The government claims it doesn’t want to give legitimacy to the red-shirts, but of course, the government itself came to power through non-democratic means. It’s hard to say what leverage either the U.S. or the U.N. have in this situation and I believe violence will continue to mount.

William Barnes, writing at Asia Times Online, noted on May 13 that Maoist tactics are playing an increasing role in red shirt strategies. Were a large number of Thais to commit themselves to violent revolution, the situation could devolve into a more geopolitically important version of Nepal, which only recently ended its long and brutal civil war between the military and Maoist guerillas.

While we should condemn Maoist-inspired violence, it represents the desperation and poverty of rural Thais. They gave democracy a chance. They elected their leaders repeatedly and just as often their opponents threw their leaders out using non-democratic means. Unless the Thai military and middle-class accept democracy, understanding that they have to live with results they don’t like and that they will have to appeal to a majority of Thais in order to win power, political and social instability will result.

As the Thai elites have shown no inclination to respect democracy, I fear civil war will result that could lead to the destabilization of much of Southeast Asia.

The situation has worsened significantly in the last 24 hours, but however brutal the Thai military might act, it won't solve the problem of Thai elites not respecting democracy and poor Thais abandoning their commitment to democracy because they see it doesn't work.

Historical Image of the Day

Anti-abolitionist handbill, 1837

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Banning Books

I would think that if Elena Kagan believed the federal government had the power to ban books, as Mitch McConnell falsely claims, that McConnell would then support her.

Heck, if a Republican Supreme Court nominee actually did want to ban books, how many Republican senators would see this as a mark in her favor?

Animated Soviet Propaganda: We'll Keep Our Eyes Peeled (1927)

This very early piece of animated Soviet propaganda is great. The Soviets are facing down the capitalist threat (Britain, not the U.S.) and is calling upon its workers to join the cause.

Pre-World War II Soviet propaganda is particularly fascinating because the U.S. often plays a relatively small role. The Soviets saw the British as the real threat. In fact, Ford executives were working in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, helping spur its industrialization.

The artistry of the animation impresses me. For 1927, this is advanced animation. There are many things to love here--the capitalist's checkered pants, how he pops in the live-action shots of Soviet factories, how the Soviets turn the British ultimatum into fighter planes, how the capitalists cries at the end in the face of Soviet power.

It's also worth noting how little Soviet propaganda during these years differs from American propaganda. The call for Soviet citizens to buy government bonds could come straight out of the United States during either World War II. Much Soviet propaganda has mirrors in the U.S. Watch Alexsandr Dovzhenko's 1930 film Earth and then watch Pare Lorentz's 1936 state-sponsored film about the Dust Bowl, The Plow that Broke the Plains. They aren't that different in many senses, particularly in connecting nationalism to the land. In both, lots of plowing scenes, lots of fetishizing farm technology.

I'm also fascinated by the Soviets asking their citizens to buy government bonds. Isn't this an acceptance of the capitalist system the nation is supposedly fighting against?

Paging Ned Lamont

Jesus Christ....

Connecticut Democratic senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal has lied about serving in Vietnam. He said he did, he didn't, and now what was a very safe Democratic seat is quite open for Republican taking. Of course, Republicans would be a whole lot stronger if they had someone more creditable than Linda McMahon, wife of WWE founder Vince McMahon, as their likely candidate.

As I've argued time and time again, while national issues matter in local elections, we have to examine the local in order to understand why individual candidates win and lose. Lying about service in Vietnam is exactly the way to lose an election, even in a Democratic stalwart state like Connecticut.

Moreover, why would you lie about Vietnam in 2010? Who cares anymore? I know this is still a hot button issue for Baby Boomers, but it's only a problem in a Connecticut election if you make it a problem.

The only thing for Blumenthal to do is quit the campaign. He's now risking a safe seat. He needs to do what Chris Dodd did when it became clear he could not hold the seat--announce he will not run. Blumenthal was the savior for that mess. Luckily, Connecticut has a very deep Democratic bench. I'd say they should turn to Ned Lamont, who should be a senator from the state now, who has huge name recognition, and who has not a single black mark against his character. Of course, Blumenthal didn't either until yesterday, so that could always change.

God, politicians are weird and unpleasant people for the most part.

Finally, I know the big scandal story today is Indiana right-wing Representative Mark Souder resigning over an affair he had while defending marriage, etc. That's a good laugh. But it also has no bearing on the political landscape except to take a powerful and experienced Republican from the House. He'll be replaced by another hypocritical right-winger. Blumenthal's lapse of judgment is the lesser crime but will have far greater impact.

Historical Image of the Day

Cover of The Negro Woman's Appeal to Her White Sisters, by Richard Barrett, circa 1850.

Foreign Relations Thought of the Day

When the oil spill hits the Cuban coast, as now seems likely, it's really not going to help US-Cuban relations.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Animated Soviet Propaganda: Someone Else's Voice (1949)

Someone Else's Voice, from 1949, builds upon yesterday's discussion of the Soviets and music. In this tale, the little peasant birds are singing their traditional songs. So pretty, so Russian. But along comes a magpie from a long time abroad. While abroad, the magpie has learned foreign ways and bringing foreign music into the motherland.

This foreign music, of course, is jazz. The magpie makes fun of the traditional bird music, calling it old-hat and talking about how foreign birds sing so much better. The magpie then puts on a performance of modern music. The magpie squawks and squawks. Some of the stupider birds like it. But the good peasant birds reject this noise as cultural imperialism. They attack the magpie and kick it out of the forest in a stand against foreign intervention.

The idea that the Soviets respected local musical traditions is absurd. A hallmark of totalitarian socialism is to marshal art for state purposes. These cartoons are a prime example. It wasn't much different than music. The Soviets can claim they based their appeal in Russian peasant traditions, but first, the USSR was much more than Russia and as any Ukrainian can tell you, Stalin didn't exactly foster their contributions to Soviet culture. Second, they didn't respect those peasant traditions to begin with when they challenged the goals of the Soviet state. We can start with collectivization and go from there.

A word on the animation. I'll talk about this in upcoming days, but Someone Else's Voice uses far more traditional animation techniques than many Soviet cartoons. One of the fascinating things about Soviet art is how artists managed to remain ultra-modern, pushing the envelope in any number of artistic genres, while working in a Stalinist and post-Stalinist state. Someone Else's Voice doesn't really do this--this animation would make any American cartoon viewer in 1949 comfortable--but many others do.

Also, the idea that the Soviets promoted a bucolic environment is completely absurd. The least believable thing about this cartoon is that birds could even survive in much of the USSR. Where's the massively polluting factories, hillsides of dead trees, eroded landscapes, and dead seas?


Julia Whitty's long piece on overpopulation in Mother Jones is worth reading, but by and large makes the biggest mistake environmentalists are guilty of when talking about this problem--blaming the developing world.

Whitty focuses on India, talking about rapid population growth among rural people who then move to the cities, problems with topsoil depletion, water, growing consumption rates, etc. That's all fine and good.

Whitty however only pays lip service, buried in the middle of the article, to the real problem with overpopulation--first world people. Americans, Europeans and the Japanese may have far fewer children than mothers in India, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, but their impact upon the globe has far greater ramifications. To be fair to Whitty, this part of her piece has great value. As you can see above, she includes this useful graphic demonstrating that 2 American children have the global impact of 337 Bangladeshi children.

So why focus so much on India? Why not say that while we do need to lower birthing rates in the developing world, we are on a slow progression to success? Why not say that what absolutely MUST happen is that first world parents stop having kids? Because that's what must happen. If 2 American children=339 Bangladeshi children, then we absolutely have to not have kids. If we do choose to have children, we need a Chinese style population law, limiting children to 2 per couple. If you have more than two, then there is a real financial penalty to you for doing so.

Of course, making these kinds of policy decisions will never happen in the U.S. But that's a big reason why we are plunging into an abyss of environmental catastrophe.

Whitty also mentions how anti-immigration racists tried to take over the Sierra Club during the 2000s on a platform of population restriction. But her own piece doesn't repudiate those ideas to a necessary extent.  By making overpopulation an Indian problem as opposed to, say, a Utah problem, she doesn't focus enough attention on the real issues at stake with population growth.

Historical Image of the Day

This week's image consist primarily of documents either produced by abolitionists or documents urging resistance to abolition.

Title page of Jonathan Edwards, Jr's. sermon, The Injustice and Impolicy of the Slave Trade and of the Slavery of the Africans, 1794.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Marijuana--Becoming Like Every Other Product

I've been both fascinated and amused to read so many stories of how California's move toward legalizing marijuana has undermined the illegal economy of the northwestern part of the state. This NPR piece is a good example.

It's hard to feel sorry for the growers. People have this image of a bunch of hippies playing in the forest. That might be a fitting description of Humboldt County in 1976, but it's not in 2010. There are a large number of problems with clandestine grow sites. First, they cause pretty significant damage to the region's fragile forests, including redwood forests. Growers tear out the forest understory to clear land, they dam and divert rivers and streams to their operations, and without regulation, they are free to use whatever pesticides they want on the plants.

Moreover, violence is a significant problem in these operations. Growers are understandably defensive of their plots. Hikers can run across these operations accidentally, causing problems. More scary, the Mexican drug cartels have established operations in western forests. One of the biggest security issues in many national parks are unknown drug operations guarded by people with guns. While these are usually in isolated areas of the parks, backcountry hikers can and have run across these operations.

One of legalization's benefits will be to undermine the illegal economy and place marijuana growing under government regulation. First, legalization will destroy the Mexican gangs' presence in the forests. They'll have no reason to be there. It'll hardly destroy the Mexican gang problem, but legalization will severely undermine a major income source for the cartels. If Americans can get reasonably priced drugs from the U.S., the market for imported marijuana will fall apart. Of course, this still leaves cocaine, heroin, and increasingly crystal meth, but it makes a difference.

The environmental benefits of legal and inexpensive marijuana are a bit more complex. Certainly getting the growing out of the redwood forests and national parks is very important. Forcing growers to abide by pesticide regulations is extremely important as well. But what this all means is that marijuana is turning into tomatoes or corn or lettuce. People are developing a standardized expectation of what marijuana will look like and what it will do to them. From the NPR piece:

Indoor-grown marijuana is increasingly favored by dispensaries and consumers for its looks, consistence and potency. It costs more to produce than pot grown under the sun, but commands as much as double the price. That's one reason retail prices haven't hit the skids.
The consumer market is now shaping the marijuana industry. Whereas for years, producers ruled the roost because consumers would take what they could get, this is changing. Like consumers don't like tomatoes with black spots on them or corn with worms in the silk or spinach with small insect bites in the leaves, they now have a mental expectation of what they want. This could well mean a brief period of decentralized production followed by capitalists buying up production and working in enormous greenhouses, maximizing profits and providing drugs to consumers at prices that undercut individual operators.

The potential for industrialized marijuana production will mean the environmental and labor problems that come with any other agricultural product. It may be organic, but these giant greenhouses will have enormous energy requirements and will rely on cheap labor to keep prices down. Is that worth getting the pot out of the forests? Probably, but it's complicated.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: The Millionaire (1963)

This is a classic piece of Soviet animated propaganda.

Long before Leona Helmsley actually did leave her fortune to a dog, this cartoon follows the fortune of a dog whose millionaire owner leaves him all her wealth. He then leads the life of a rich capitalist, eventually using his money to become a senator.

Of course, for the Soviets, the difference between a bulldog and a capitalist is essentially nil, which is the less than subtle point to this exercise.

I'll talk about this again during this series, but I have to wonder about the efficacy of this propaganda. It assumes that the Soviet population actually doesn't want to live the high life of the capitalist. And I don't think that's true. Certainly the, how shall we say, less that subtle conspicuous consumption of the post-Soviet Russian elite suggests that the USSR didn't exactly kill materialism.

So it shows this capitalist dog riding around in a big Cadillac, drinking fine drinks, eating meat at every meal, seeing showgirls at clubs, etc. Are you telling me that the Soviet audiences in 1963 didn't want that as well? I have an awful lot of trouble buying that assumption. And how much meat was the average Soviet eating in 1963? Did they look at the dog with anger or with jealousy?

I consistently find these images of American capitalists missing their mark. Of course, I'm not the target audience, but who doesn't want to live the good life? The Soviets apparently assumed that their people didn't (never mind the obvious point that the same people approving this propaganda were also driving big cars, eating great food, and living in luxurious dachas on the Black Sea).

Another theme I want to discuss in these cartoons is that of music. It's very interesting how music and nationalism run together in these cartoons, particularly jazz. Here we see the jazz at the club represent the corruption and self-indulgence of the capitalist classes. As we'll see throughout these cartoons, the Soviets often used jazz to signify the evils of America.  Ironically, they also frequently discussed how poorly the U.S. treated African-Americans, completely missing or ignoring the fact that jazz was African-American music and was part of a long tradition of developing music in part to deal with or fight against racist oppression. We'll touch on this more later.

Finally, the dog drunk is pretty awesome, particularly when he pees on the policeman's leg while the cop salutes him. Second most awesome moment is when the dog and the capitalists are smoking cigars; the first image you see is just the tips of the cigars which look like missiles.

The Tea Party Calls for Repealing the Seventeenth Amendment

Much is mystifying about the Tea Party movement. The paranoia, racism, and anti-government extremism I can place into the larger context of right-wing lunacy that threads through American history. This I can more or less get a grip on.

What I can't understand is the seemingly innocuous constitutional amendments these people either want to rejuvenate or repeal. The 10th Amendment is the favorite of the Tea Partiers because they think they can use it to nullify any federal law they don't like. I'm sure they will believe in using the 10th Amendment precisely as long as a Democrat sits in the White House, but despite this hypocrisy they certainly have, um, interesting views on the relative power of the federal and state governments.

Even more bizarre is the attempt to overturn the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913. What is that? Direct election of Senators. Yes, the Tea Party finds you voting for your own Senator to be a threat to the Republic. Here's the text of this insidious amendment:

The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.

Wow, that is a threat...

Of course, the Tea Party activists didn't think of this themselves. It comes from high-ranking right-wingers. For example, in 1997 Bush hack and torture memo author Jay Bybee wrote "Ulysses at the Mast: Democracy, Federalism, and the Sirens' Song of the Seventeenth Amendment," arguing that the 17th Amendment vastly increased federal power at the expense of the states. 

Why was the 17th Amendment passed in the first place? Direct election of Senators was core to late 19th and early 20th century reformers attempts to make government accountable to the people. During the Gilded Age, large corporations such as U.S. Steel, Standard Oil, and the big railroads would basically choose their men to be senators. They would have the candidate they wanted, go to the individual state legislatures and buy off enough politicians to get their man ratified. This outright corruption happened time and time again. The Populists made this corruption central to their platform because even though they had the numbers to force the railroads to offer better prices for shipping agricultural goods to market, they could never vote for senators who represented their views. Progressives built upon this, not quite because of concern for rural producers, but because they saw corruption as undermining the government and the ability of reformers to push through much needed changes throughout American society.

There's a certain extent of fetishizing the states as the proper space for power in America going on here, particularly by the rank and file teabagger, but among the generators of these ideas like Bybee, Karl Rove, and Dick Armey, there's a conscious dislike of how the Progressive Era undermined corporations' ability to rule America unchallenged by a strong federal government. They want corporations to buy entire state legislatures. Imagine such a situation--Boeing needs some permits to expand their operations outside of Seattle and they buy the entire Washington state legislature. BP is receiving flack for its oil spill--time to write enough checks to Louisiana legislators so that BP can get their man elected Senator! (Note: given that it's Louisiana, those checks are probably already changing hands. But those corrupt politicians can't actually name a senator BP wants).

Repealing the 17th Amendment doesn't put government back in the hands of the people--it takes it out. What this would do is place power into the hands of the corporations. Along with the Citizens United decision, it is part of a broad Republican strategy to allow corporations to rule America like they did in 1890.

Turns out that Teabagger calls to repeal the 17th Amendment might not be so popular with the American people, or even the average Republican primary voter. Say what you will about average Americans, but they do at least like the right to vote for their politicians, rather than, say, have shady state legislatures choose for them. Several Republican congressional candidates answered Teabagger surveys asking if they supported a repeal of the 17th Amendment. It hasn't gone well for those who said yes:

In Idaho, Republican Vaughn Ward is in a similar pickle. Ward, the NRCC's choice to challenge Rep. Walt Minnick (D), is currently locked in a primary fight with state Rep. Raul Labrador. As happens so often in Republican primaries these days, the candidates are doing their best to appeal to the ultra-conservative vote. (And considering that Minnick is the lone Democrat to be called a Hero by the Tea Party Express, we're talking extra tasty crispy conservative here.)

On April 30, Ward told a TV audience in Boise that he, like Labrador, favored repealing the 17th Amendment. But after the issue drew some heat in the press, Ward thought better of the idea and changed his tune.

"I do not want to take away the power of people to elect senators," Ward told the Spokesman-Review newspaper. "What I do support is amending the Constitution and adding a two-term limit for U.S. senators."

Ward said "I'm not changing position, I'm clarifying," but reporters in Idaho called it like it was. One columnist put it this way: "Um, no."

Tea Party Boise President Brendan Smythe told me Ward's new take on the 17th Amendment is a "massive flip-flop." He said that Ward's change of heart "means a lot to us" and could have an effect on Ward's chances in Idaho's May 25 primary.

"It sounds to me like he's answering to the GOP machine," Smythe said. He said that most establishment Republicans in Idaho don't support repealing the amendment and he speculated that they may have influenced Ward's decision to change his mind on the issue.

"He probably got some advice from the incumbents," Smythe told me. "[Ward's reversal] is typical party before country behavior. That's all it is."

Incidentally, the following states either rejected or never bothered to pass the 17th Amendment. Given the right-wing nature of many of these states, I can't wait for the Tea Partiers to use 10th Amendment nullification to declare the 17th Amendment null and void in these particular states!

South Carolina
Rhode Island

Finally, I just need to say that I cannot believe it is 2010 and I am writing about fights to overturn the 17th Amendment. What crazy constitutional idea will the Teabaggers come up with next, overturning the 12th Amendment, changing the way the Vice-President is selected?

Historical Image of the Day

Portland, Oregon, 1890.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Animated Soviet Propaganda

I've been watching a great many Soviet propaganda cartoons this year. This week, I showed a set to my students in my Cold War film class. I think it'd be interesting to discuss them here. Many are on You Tube, which will make it easy. Each day next week I'll be discussing one cartoon. Please watch and discuss. Here's the trailer below.

To analyze this trailer a bit, one thing I consistently find interesting is the lasting power looking at the US-USSR rivalry in terms of good and evil. Certainly that was on both sides, which is understandable in the context of the time. However, we often slip into that language today. This trailer talks about the "disinformation" the Soviet state gave to the people. That may be true, but it's not like Americans were having open and free discussions of communism in 1950, 1980, or even 2010. If we are looking negatively at how the USSR blinded its people with propaganda, we should be honest and admit the U.S. was doing the exact same thing. The Cold War was a war of ideology, fought with great vigor on both sides, both internally and externally. These animated Soviet films are just one, albeit very interesting and sometimes extremely weird, aspect of this broader multinational media war.

If Not Now, When?

Michael Tomasky gleefully reports that in the summer of 2009, Rahm Emanuel urged President Obama to ignore health care for the time being in order to focus on jobs. Tomasky is gleeful because he believed the same thing.

I really disagree with both Emanuel and Tomasky. From a sheer political perspective, maybe they have a point. The economy was horrible in 2009 and its failure to improve rapidly has hurt Democratic chances in the 2010 elections. Some criticism of the Democrats does hit home, particularly that Obama acted to protect big banks and auto companies and not working people.

However, we can challenge these arguments both on their merits and on their political acumen. First, had Obama not bailed out the banks and the auto makers, would unemployment be 15% now? It's a clear possibility. Certainly Obama didn't channel populist anger toward big corporations. I would have liked to see a little more of that, but his moves helped stabilize the economy and begin to move it back on the right path. Now, I definitely believe that the nation has only touched the surface in dealing with the structural problems that led to the recession, but that's not strictly or even primarily Obama's fault. In any case, for the time being, his measures seem to have helped.

But more to the point, Obama's decision to plow ahead on health care makes a lot of sense. The idea that you can put off a social program or legislative platform until later makes no sense. Political capital gets spent very easily. If anything, Obama was not aggressive enough in spending it, letting a lot slip through his fingers. But he was elected on a platform that included major changes to health care. He made that his top priority and he got at least some semblance of his plan passed. This is a huge legislative achievement, particularly in today's political climate.

You can make choices about legislative and political priorities. But on issues you don't prioritize, you absolutely cannot assume that you can just get to it later. Obama wanted his legacy to rest on health care and indeed it will.