February 5, 2016

The politics of bribery

Jimmy Carter recently referred to Citizens United as a form of bribery that has been legalized. I was struck by this because I have been using this term about campaign financing for over fifteen years, as in this speech I delivered at a rally in 1999 on the steps of the Capitol. 

Sam Smith, 1999 - I have three objections to our current system of campaign financing.

The first is literary. Being a writer I try to show respect for words, to leave their meanings untwisted and unobscured.

This is alien to much of official Washington which daily engages in an activity well described by Edgar Alan Poe. Poe said, "By ringing small changes on the words leg-of-mutton and turnip. . . I could 'demonstrate' that a turnip was, is, and of right ought to be, a leg-of-mutton."

For example, for centuries ordinary people have known exactly what a bribe was. The Oxford English Dictionary described it in 1528 as meaning to "to influence corruptly, by a consideration." Another 16th century definition describes bribery as "a reward given to pervert the judgment or corrupt the conduct" of someone.

In more modern times, the Meat Inspection Act of 1917 prohibits giving "money or other thing of value, with intent to influence" to a government official. Simple and wise.

But that was before the lawyers and the politicians got around to rewriting the meaning of bribery. And so we came to a time not so many months ago when the Supreme Court actually ruled that a law prohibiting the giving of gifts to a public official "for or because of an official act" didn't mean anything unless you knew exactly what the official act was. In other words, bribery was only illegal if the bribee was dumb enough to give you a receipt.

The media has gone along with the scam, virtually dropping the word from its vocabulary in favor of phrases like "inappropriate gift," "the appearance of a conflict of interest," or the phrase which brings us here today: "campaign contribution."

Another example is the remarkable redefinition of money to mean speech. You can test this one out by making a deal with a prostitute and if a cop comes along, simply say, "Officer, I wasn't giving her money, I was just giving her a speech." If that doesn't work you can try giving more of that speech to the cop. Or try telling the IRS next April that "I have the right to remain silent." And so forth. I wouldn't advise it.

My second objection to our system of campaign financing is economic. It's just too damn expensive for the taxpayer. The real cost is not the campaign contributions themselves. The real cost is what is paid in return out of public funds.

A case in point: Public Campaign recently reported that in 1996, when Congress voted to lift the minimum wage 90 cents an hour, business interests extracted $21 billion in custom-designed tax benefits. These business interests gave only about $36 million in campaign contributions so they got out of the public treasury nearly 600 times what they put in. And you helped pay for it.

Looked at another way, that was enough money to give 11 million workers a 90 cent an hour wage increase for a whole year -- or, to be more 1990s about it, to give 21,000 CEOs a million dollar bonus.

This is repeated over and over. For example, the oil industry in one recent year gave $23 million in campaign contributions and got nearly $9 billion in tax breaks.

The bottom line is this: if you want to save public money, support public campaign financing.

My final objection is biologic. Elections are for and between human beings. How do you tell when you're dealing with a person? Well, they bleed, burp, wiggle their toes and have sex. They register for the draft. They register to vote. They watch MTV. They go to prison and they have babies and cancer. Eventually they die and are buried or cremated.

Now this may seem obvious to you, but there are tens of thousands of lawyers and judges and politicians who simply don't believe it. They will tell you that a corporation is a person, based on a corrupt Supreme Court interpretation of the 14th Amendment from back in the robber baron era of the late 19th century -- a time in many ways not unlike our own.

Before this ruling, everyone knew what a person was just as everyone knew what a bribe was. States regulated corporations because they were legal fictions lacking not only blood and bones, but conscience, morality, and free will. But then the leg of mutton became a turnip in the eyes of the law.

Corporations say they just want to be treated like people, but that's not true. Test it out. Try to exercise your free speech on the property of a corporation just like they exercise theirs in your election. You'll find out quickly who is more of a person. We can take care of this biologic problem by applying a simple literary solution: tell the truth. A corporation is not a person and should not be allowed to be called one under the law.

I close with this thought. The people who work in the building behind us have learned to count money ahead of votes. It is time to chase the money changers out of the temple. But how? After all, getting Congress to adopt publicly funded campaigns is like trying to get the Mafia to adopt the Ten Commandments as its mission statement. I would suggest that while fighting this difficult battle there is something we can do starting tomorrow. We can pull together every decent organization and individual in communities all over America -- the churches, activist organizations, social service groups, moral business people, concerned citizens -- and begin drafting a code of conduct for politicians. We do not have to wait for any legislature.

If we do this right, if we form true broad-based coalitions of decency, then the politicians will ignore us only at their peril.

At root, dear friends, our problem is that politicians have come to have more fear of their campaign contributors than they have of the voters. We have to teach politicians to be afraid of us again. And nothing will do it better than a coming together of a righteously outraged and unified constituency demanding an end to bribery of politicians, whether it occurs before, during, or after a campaign.

Real economics

The US unemployment rate fell to 4.9 percent in January, the Labor Department reported on Friday. It's the first time the unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent since the 2008 financial crisis.

The fall of newspapers

Pew Research Center

France makes supermarkets give unused products to food banks rather than trashing it

Guardian - France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks.

Under a law passed unanimously by the French senate, shops will no longer bin good quality food approaching its best-before date. Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat.

The law follows a grassroots campaign in France by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. The campaign, which led to a petition, was started by the councillor Arash Derambarsh. In December a bill on the issue passed through the national assembly, having been introduced by the former food industry minister Guillaume Garot. French councillor calls on Europe to adopt 'food waste' supermarket law Read more

News notes

Causes of Selfie fatalities

What's it like to date a Trump supporter?

Stats: The latino vote

American Progress - More than 11.2 million Latinos voted in the 2012 presidential election. 12.1 million—52 percent—of the 23.3 million Latinos who were eligible to vote did not do so. Latino voters made up 8.4 percent of the 2012 voting electorate. This share is 15 percent higher than 2008, an increase of 1.5 million voters.

How corporations con citizens with binding arbitration

Via John Gear Law

Worst headline of the campaign

Hillary Clinton Is Again Put on the Defensive Over Perceived Ties to Wall Street  - New York Times

A career list of H Clinton's top donors.

You ought to have your press pass lifted if you think this sort of legal bribery only creates "perceived ties." 

A few actual - not perceived - facts from Gawker




You no longer have to fund portaits of Congress members

Artnet - There's a time-honored tradition of members of Congress and the executive branch sitting for portraits to hang on the walls of the United States Capitol. Thanks to an amendment to the federal budget, however, future politicians will be forced to pay for such artworks from their own pockets, rather than with taxpayer dollars, reports the New York Times. The Eliminating Government-funded Oil-painting Act, or "Ego" Act, is the brainchild of Republican senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who took umbrage with the practice despite the negligible cost—roughly $25,000 each, according to a report from the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Altogether, the ban saves the federal government under $500,000 a year.

Who's a progressive?

Since we helped to revive the little used term progressive when we renamed the DC Gazette the Progressive Review back in the mid 1980s, we are getting a kick as the media struggles with the term and Hillary Clinton pretends that she deserves it.

Here's a Review article - How to Tell a Progressive From a Liberal - that we published in 2010 that helps to clarify the matter.

Morning Line: Media misleading about Sanders

The corporate media not only played a major role in building the campaign for Trump, it continues to mislead people about the relative strength of Clinton and Sanders. In fact, based on recent polls, Clinton is in a statistical tie with Trump, Rubio, and Cruz.. Sanders would beat Trump by 9 and is in a statistical tie with Rubio and Cruz. Sanders does better against each of these candidates than Clinton by 5-7 points
Also based on the moving average of recent polls:
  • In New Hampshire Trump leads by 20 and Sanders leads by 16. Both are trending slighly downward
  • Nationally, with 39 points, Trump has a 11 point lead ahead of Cruz who has 20. Rubio has 17. Trump's best lead so far: 26
  • Clinton's lead over Sanders is 12. She's under 50% for the first time. This is the second time Sanders has come this close

Civil liberties links

Civil liberties & justice
Drugs: marijuana
Homeland Security
Clues your country may be becoming a fascist state
The militarization of civilian America
The true power of juries
Letter to a spook
How to stay free
Of pink suits, golf balls & civil liberties Letter to Thomas Jefferson Mississippi summer 1964
Backing off of hate
The biggest threat to America: ourselves
Final thoughts
September 12, 2001
Follow the limousines
An alternative 9/11 report


Gun talk
On guns
Firearm insurance
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Project on Government Oversight
Stand Against Spying



Drawing on my fine command of the English language I said nothing. -- Robert Benchley

Jazz Break

February 4, 2016

Georgetown University bans Sanders campaigning on campus

Hit & Run - Georgetown University is wildly confused about its free speech obligations: the law school recently barred students from campaigning for Bernie Sanders on campus, citing misplaced concerns that doing so violates IRS law.

A group of Georgetown law students attempted to set up a table and distribute pro-Sanders literature, but an administrator quickly shut them down because their actions threatened the university’s tax-exempt status, she said.

The administrator is wrong. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Georgetown’s tax-exempt status is not undermined by students engaging in political activity. Indeed, students have every right to express opinions and engage in speech—including and especially political speech:

Major retailers shutting down hundreds of stores

Popular Resistnce - Major retailers in the United States are shutting down hundreds of stores, and shoppers are reporting alarmingly bare shelves in many retail locations that are still open all over the country.  It appears that the retail apocalypse that made so many headlines in 2015 has gone to an entirely new level as we enter 2016.  As economic activity slows down and Internet retailers capture more of the market, brick and mortar retailers are cutting their losses.  This is especially true in areas that are on the lower portion of the income scale.  In impoverished urban centers all over the nation, it is not uncommon to find entire malls that have now been completely abandoned.  It has been estimated that there is about a billion square feet of retail space sitting empty in this country, and this crisis is only going to get worse as the retail apocalypse accelerates.

We always get a wave of store closings after the holiday shopping season, but this year has been particularly active.  The following are just a few of the big retailers that have already made major announcements…

-Wal-Mart is closing 269 stores, including 154 inside the United States.

-K-Mart is closing down more than two dozen stores over the next several months.

-J.C. Penney will be permanently shutting down 47 more stores after closing a total of 40 stores in 2015.

-Macy’s has decided that it needs to shutter 36 stores and lay off approximately 2,500 employees.

-The Gap is in the process of closing 175 stores in North America.

-Aeropostale is in the process of closing 84 stores all across America.

-Finish Line has announced that 150 stores will be shutting down over the next few years.

-Sears has shut down about 600 stores over the past year or so, but sales at the stores that remain open continue to fall precipitously.

Infrequently asked questions

Can anyone cite a case where a presidential candidate who "suspended" their campaign, reactivated it later?

National Archives & Obamadmin fighting disclosure of draft indictments of Hil Clin

Politico - The National Archives is fighting a lawsuit trying to force disclosure of several draft indictments of Hillary Clinton prepared by a Whitewater prosecutor in the 1990s.

In a brief, Justice Department lawyers and the Archives argue that disclosure of the draft indictments would lead to an unwarranted invasion of Clinton's privacy and violate a court rule protecting grand jury secrecy.

"Despite the role that Mrs. Clinton occupied as the First Lady during President Clinton's administration, Mrs. Clinton maintains a strong privacy interest in not having information about her from the files of the Independent Counsel disclosed," wrote Martha Wagner Murphy, chief of the Archives "special access" branch that stores records of former independent counsels. "As an uncharged person, Hillary Rodham Clinton retains a significant interest in her personal privacy despite any status as a public figure."

The conservative group Judicial Watch, which filed suit for the records in October under the Freedom of Information Act, is arguing that Clinton's ongoing bid for the presidency reinforces the public interest in records about her alleged misconduct.

"She's one of the most well-known women in the world, seeking the office of the presidency and her privacy interests outweigh the public interest in knowing what's in that indictment? It's absurd and it's shameful that the administration is proposing this," Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in an interview. "This is a political decision to protect her candidacy—because it is laughable, legally."

Law enforcement records about living people who did not face charges in criminal investigations normally are not released under FOIA, or the names are sanitized from the records before they're published. However, sometimes judges have ordered the release of such records in cases involving public officials.

Despite the usual practice, though, the Archives has released fairly detailed information about the independent counsel's focus on Hillary Clinton. Just last week, Judicial Watch announced it had received 246 pages of records describing the crimes some prosecutors believed were committed in connection with the Whitewater land deal and related matters. Some of the memos are from the "HRC Team" in the counsel's office—apparently a team focused on Clinton. One discusses the jury appeal or lack thereof of a case based solely on circumstantial evidence. One prosecutor put the chance of a conviction for Clinton at 10 percent.

The BMI myth challenged in new research

NPR - Employers are pushing workers to get in shape and become more fit through workplace wellness programs. But if employers use body mass index as a yardstick for health, then that could unfairly penalize millions of Americans, a study finds.

Doctors contend that BMI's usefulness ends at a rough indication that a patient should be checked for things like high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Pro athletes often have BMIs that could get them in trouble with a workplace wellness plan. Their muscle mass can boost them into the obese range, even though they're healthy and physically fit. Based on players' height and weight on the NFL website, there is no Denver Broncos player with a normal BMI, calculated at 18.5 to 24.9.

On average, the Broncos' BMIs falls into the obese range, at 30 or greater. Panthers players will want to avoid getting tackled by Sylvester Williams in this Sunday's Superbowl. At 6'2" and 313 pounds, he has a BMI of 40.

And that mismatch between BMI and health is true not just for athletes, according to the study, published on Thursday in the International Journal of Obesity. It looked at the proportion of healthy individuals by BMI and six other heart and metabolic measures like blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance.

Out of a national database of over 40,000 people, about 70 percent of people with normal weight BMIs were in the healthy range for all the other measures. So were 47 percent of people with an overweight BMI, 30 percent of those considered obese, and 16 percent of those labeled extremely obese.


Great moments in patents: A burgler alarm for deaf people

Futility Closet

How do you design a burglar alarm for people who can’t hear? Arnold Zukor came up with this solution in 1912 — when the burglar opens a door or window, a system of racks and gears opens a faucet and sprays the occupant through a nozzle mounted over the bed. “Alarm is thus given.” If you leave your house during the day, you can disable the door alarm and direct the nozzle outside. Then if the window is opened, the flow of water will be visible from a distance, “indicating thereby the entrance of unauthorized persons into the building.”

Morning Line

Based on average of recent polls: 

In New Hampshire Trump leads by 22 and Sanders leads by 27

February 3, 2016

News Notes

A 1970s interview with Helen and Scott Nearing

Amazon reported planning to open hundreds of real bookstores

The Democrats' generational divide

To raise a creative child, back off

Rubio sees nothing wrong with waiting six hours to vote

Ari Berman, Nation - Voting rights hasn’t come up in any of the 11 presidential debates so far, even though the 2016 election is the first presidential race in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

But individual voters have been asking the candidates where they stand on the issue. During a campaign stop in Des Moines on October 25, John Olsen, a 46-year-old substitute teacher from Ankeny, asked Rubio, “What about the six-hour long lines to vote in Miami?”

“That is only on Election Day,” Rubio responded.

It was a bizarre response from the Florida senator, seeming to suggest that long lines are okay if they occur on Election Day, when most people tend to cast a ballot. But it was also factually inaccurate. After Florida cut early voting from 14 days to eight days during the 2012 election, which Rubio supported, there were long lines throughout the early voting period.

Recovered history

From February 2015, uncovered by Shaun King


NYPD can't even reform itself right

John Vibes, Alternet - The NYPD recently announced that they are planning to stock more powerful and potent pepper spray, and they actually claim that this would be intended to prevent police from shooting people.

The potency that has been used by the NYPD and other departments previously is already highly dangerous with a concentration of just .21% capsaicinoids. The new spray will be concentrated at .67% which will undoubtedly be more dangerous and far more painful. The NYPD has already begun rolling out the new concentration and has equipped over 19,000 officers with the new mixture.

NYPD Deputy Chief Edward Mullen claimed in an interview with the Daily News that a higher concentrated pepper spray would help officers subdue unruly suspects more easily.

The new plan to stock high potency pepper spray has been opposed unanimously by activists and human rights organizations.

“Given that excessive force is all too common in the NYPD, we are concerned about officers having more powerful pepper spray,” Christopher Dunn, associate director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said.


From Brandon Weber

What's it like to date a Trump supporter?

Slate - Using data gleaned from its 2015 survey of 5,504 U.S. singles, Match compared the sex and relationship attitudes of Trump’s supporters to those of Hillary Clinton’s. Single Trump fans are 99 percent more likely than singles who support Clinton to film themselves having sex, and 1,104 percent more likely to expect sex on the first date. That’s 11 times as many Trump supporters as Clinton supporters who believe that they have the right to pout if their date doesn’t put out as well as the right to take America back from whomever’s currently in possession. Clinton’s base is 2,133 percent more likely than Trump’s to have no expectations for any physical contact at all on the first date.

About 84 percent of Trump’s fanbase is over 45; according to Match, Trump’s supporters are 54 percent more likely than Clinton’s to have five or more ex-partners. They’re 116 percent more likely to talk about their exes, too, which dovetails with the candidate’s “Make America Great Again” nostalgia.

February 2, 2016

More news

3 in 4 young black Americans say they’d feel like fleeing the country if Donald Trump is elected

One quarter of federal workers might quit if Trump wins

Legal pot sales soar

Bill that H Clinton supported will cut food stamps for one million

To raise a creative child, back off

Democrats' generational divide

It's not being talked about much but it's huge. Here are the Iowa stats:
  • Sanders won 84% of voters 17-29 and Clinton got only 14%
  • Sanders won 58% of voters 30-44 and Clinton got 37%
  • Clinton won 58% of those 45-64 and Sanders got 35%
  • Clinton got 69% of those 65 and older and Sanders got 26%

The Review's election results

Going all the way back to 2000, the Review has kept a moving average of the three latest election polls. Back then our error rate was 3 points in the national race (the same as ABC and the Washington Post) and 4 for the governor races, both within the statistical margin of error.

In Iowa this year we had a two point error for Trump, Cruz and Clinton, a four point error for Rubio and a 6 point error for Sanders. We had the Republicans coming in as a statistical tie, which they did but was off by 5 points for the Democrats. Note that the biggest errors were for Rubio and Sanders. Polls can't predict well when people show up who don't normally vote.

City links

City news




If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything. -- Confucius

Jazz break

February 1, 2016

Lowering age of Medicare: A good step toward universal healthcare

We have suggested for some time that a good way to move towards universal healthcare is to lower the age of Medicare. This new chart from the Guardian shows the cost per age of British patients and how the cost of health care incrsases dramatically by age.

More headlines

Dutch police training eagles to capture drones

Trump spends almost a half million on campaign hats

An hour with Buddy Cianci: recently deceased mayor of Providence

Seattle becomes 6th city to sue Monsanto over PCB's

France to paved more than 600 miles of highway with solar panels

Earliest memoir by a black inmate found

200 Italian academics call for Israel boycott

Soros gives $6 million to Clinton campaign

The downside of American exceptionalism

Recovered history: What a 5 megabyte hard drive looked like in 1956

History in Pictures:
A 5 megabyte IBM hard disk is loaded into an airplane. It weighed over 600 pounds, 1956.

Bi-polar pol of the day: Sarah Palin

Just a week after blaming President Obama for her son’s domestic violence arrest, Sarah Palin went on the Today Show to deny ever blaming President Obama for her son’s domestic violence arrest.

A new approach to the college admissions system

Washington Post -A new report  by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, takes a major step in trying to change the college admissions process to make it more humane, less super-human.

Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects of the admissions process, like the intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students. The report, entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions,lays out a blueprint for addressing three of the most intractable challenges facing college applicants today: excessive academic performance pressure, the emphasis on personal achievement over good citizenship, and the uneven opportunities available to students of varying income levels and backgrounds.

Many colleges have tried to address these concerns over the years but it takes a unified effort to make a big impact, says lead author Richard Weissbourd. More than 80 stakeholders, including admissions officers (like Harvard’s), deans, professors and high school counselors have endorsed the report.

“It’s the first time in history that I’m aware of” that a group of colleges is coming together to lay out what is and what isn’t valued in the admissions process, says Weissbourd.

Unpublished black history

Unpublished photos from the NY Times archives

Maybe this explains Donald Trump's popularity

NY Magazine - According to a recent Fortune article, adult coloring books are one of the biggest contributors to this year’s boost in print-book sales. With over 11,000 search results total, five of Amazon’s current top 15 best-selling books are coloring books.


Via Nick Hanauer

Morning Line

Based on the moving average of recent polls:

According to recent polls, the only main Republican Clinton or Sanders beat is Sanders over Trump. Al the rest are in a statistical tie. A GOP win would produce the worst president in our history: Trump, Cruz or Rubio.  

In Iowa Trump and Cruz are in a statistical tie and Clinton leads Sanders by 5

In New Hampshire Trump and Sanders both lead by 21

In Democratic Minnesota, Clinton would lose to Rubio by 8 and is in a tie with Cruz and Trump. Sanders would beat Trump by 15.

The gadfly thing

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 1994 - I was recently described in an otherwise kind article in Washington’s City Paper as a "political gadfly." This was neither the first time nor will it be the last. It has happened to me so often that I was able to tell the writer where the word came from (a fly that bites and annoys cattle). In fact, it has happened to me so often that I once had a dinghy called the Gadfly.

Gadflies are only barely further along in the evolutionary chain of things than maggots and slugs. They are frequently found resting placidly on a pile of excrement. As my readers well know, I never am at rest sitting on a pile of shit.

Being called a gadfly is a little like being bitten by one. It’s also, notes Jon Rowe, like Ralph Nader being called a "self-styled consumer advocate." Where, Rowe wonders, does one go to get a license to become an properly appointed consumer advocate? To the Washington Post Style Section?

People in Washington who call other people gadflies tend to be either players or people who wish they were. A player is someone trying to be Assistant Secretary of HUD, someone who represents a major polluter and claims to practice environmental law, someone who is paid large sums of money to shout down Eleanor Clift on national TV or who pays large sums of money to get politicians to wrestle with -- and ultimately defeat -- their own conscience.

Players are annoyed by gadflies because they won’t play according to the players’ rules. On the other hand, gadflies don’t clutter up the bureaucracy making dull speeches, and they don’t create toxic waste sites or corrupt the political system. They tend to eat Mr. Tyson’s chicken rather than fly on his planes. And at the end of the day, they have less explaining to do to their children.

Players tend to be quite insecure which is why they need such an elaborate support system, including the Washingtonian magazine, the Gridiron Dinner, the Washington Post Style section and the Diane Rehm Show. Players consider themselves serious; gadflies not.

Russell Baker, a serious man, addressed this matter best in a column in which he pointed out the difference between being serious and being solemn. Baker observed that children are almost always serious, but that they start to lose the trait in adolescence. Washington is the capital of solemnity and few of its elite are truly serious.

Gadflies, on the other hand, are usually serious. A gadfly tends to be someone with ideas, energy and a modicum of talent but who lacks a PR firm, ghostwriter and a proper flair for networking. A gadfly is someone who actually wants to get something done, but often can’t -- largely because of all the players in the way.

EF Schumacher once said, "We must do what we conceive to be the right thing, and not bother our heads or burden our souls with whether we are going to be successful. Because if we don't do the right thing, we'll be doing the wrong thing, and we will just be part of the disease, and not a part of the cure."

Gadflies would agree. They think for themselves. But in Washington thought is something players purchase, just like they purchase gas, condoms or political access. People who think are considered part of the service industry with commensurate compensation and social regard.

When gadflies feel like using a bovine analogy, they think of themselves as mavericks -- animals whose only sin has been to wander off from their colleagues. They also, as they say in Texas, drink upstream from the herd, which if you know anything about cattle is not a bad idea.

Take a run-of-the-mill gadfly such as myself and then some average players -- say the editorial board the Washington Post -- and compare their records over a couple of decades. The gadfly approach to freeways, urban policy, Vietnam, the environment and Bill Clinton will, I think, hold up pretty well. The problem gadflies face is not that they are irrelevant or wrong but that their timing is a bit off. The FBI used to categorize members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as "premature anti-fascists." Similarly, many gadflies are just moderates of an age that has not yet arrived.


I've decided to skip 'holistic.' I don't know what it means, and I don't want to know. That may seem extreme, but I followed the same strategy toward 'Gestalt' and the Twist, and lived to tell the tale. - Calvin Trillan

Black links

Black news
Film and facts: The Selma controversy
Making cities black & poor
Mississippi Summer 1964
!965 Mississippi civil rights hearings
Integration of Glen Echo amusement park
How affirmative action debate could have gone better
Marion Barry, Ronald Reagan and the rise and fall of black power
How to get along with other Americans
How minorities change America
Black Lives Matter 
Color of Change
Ferguson action
Urban League
Other groups
Black Agenda Report
Black Press USA
Bruce Dixon
Glenn Ford
Margaret Kimberly
Make It Plain
New America Media
Mark Thompson
Your Black World

Jazz break

January 31, 2016

Recovered history: The black migration from the south

Priceonomics -

Obama gets a little tougher on Israel

Global Research - In a step towards joining an Israel boycott, the U.S. is now requiring goods originating from the West Bank (also known as Judea and Samaria) to be labeled separately from products from the rest of Israel, following the European Union’s crackdown on products from the disputed territories.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection service, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, has issued new mandates requiring that West Bank products not be marked “Israel,” citing a notice from the year 1997 that offers such instructions.

The memo from DHS, titled, “West Bank Country of Origin Marking Requirements,” reads:

“The purpose of this message is to provide guidance to the trade community regarding the country of origin marking requirements for goods that are manufactured in the West Bank.”

According to the instructions, “It is not acceptable to mark” goods from the West Bank as having been from “Israel,” “Made in Israel,” or from “Occupied Territories-Israel.”

In its statement, U.S. Customs threatens: “Goods that are erroneously marked as products of Israel will be subject to an enforcement action carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.”

“Goods entering the United States must conform to the U.S. marking statute and regulations promulgated thereunder,” the statement adds.

Groups advocating “boycott, divestment, and sanctions” (BDS) against Israel have demanded separate labeling of Israeli goods from the West Bank and the Golan Heights as a step toward a total boycott of Israeli products.

Elizabeth Warren: Corporate criminals go free

Elizabeth Warren, Portside -  "Corporate criminals routinely escape meaningful prosecution for their misconduct." This is the damning verdict of Sen. Elizabeth Warren's (D-Mass.) report. Described as "the first in an annual series on enforcement," the 12-page booklet "highlights 20 of the most egregious civil and criminal cases during the past year in which federal settlements failed to require meaningful accountability to deter future wrongdoing and to protect taxpayers and families," according to a press statement from Warren's office.

A few things they didn't tell you about Flint's water

Michael Moore, Ecowatch - A few months after Gov. Snyder removed Flint from the clean fresh water we had been drinking for decades, the brass from General Motors went to him and complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line. The governor was appalled to hear that GM property was being damaged, so he jumped through a number of hoops and quietly spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water. Which means that while the children in Flint were drinking lead-filled water, there was one—and only one—address in Flint that got clean water: the GM factory.

Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. “How much would that cost?” came the question. “$100 a day for three months,” was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it—and as a result the state may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.

Every homeowner in Flint is stuck with a house that’s now worth nothing. That’s a total home value of $2.4 billion down the economic drain. People in Flint, one of the poorest cities in the U.S., don’t have much to their name, and for many their only asset is their home.

Snyder’s chief of staff throughout the two years of Flint’s poisoning, Dennis Muchmore, was intimately involved in all the decisions regarding Flint. His wife is Deb Muchmore, who just happens to be the spokesperson in Michigan for the Nestle Company—the largest owner of private water sources in the State of Michigan. Nestle has been repeatedly sued in northern Michigan for the 200 gallons of fresh water per minute it sucks from out of the ground and bottles for sale as their Ice Mountain brand of bottled spring water.


The Clintons' war against black power

Corey Robin, Salon  - It may be a generational thing—I was born in 1967—but this is what Hillary and Bill Clinton will always mean to me: Sister Souljah, Ricky Ray Rector, welfare reform, and the crime bill. And beyond—really, behind—all that, the desperate desire to win over white voters by declaring to the American electorate: We are not the Party of Jesse Jackson, we are not the Rainbow Coalition.

Many of the liberal journalists who are supporting Hillary Clinton’s candidacy are too young to remember what the Clintons did to American politics and the Democratic Party in the 1990s. But even journalists who are old enough seem to have forgotten just how much the Clintons’ national ascendancy was premised on the repudiation of black voters and black interests. This was a move that was both inspired and applauded by a small but influential group of Beltway journalists and party strategists, who believed making the Democrats a white middle-class party was the only path back to the White House after wandering for 12 years in the Republican wilderness.

But for me, it’s as vivid as yesterday. I still remember Clinton pollster Stanley Greenberg’s American Prospect article, which claimed that the Democrats were “too identified with minorities and special interests to speak for average Americans.” Black people not being average Americans, you see. This article, American Prospect co-editor Paul Starr proudly proclaimed last year, is “widely recognized for its influence on Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign” in 1992. Starr, incidentally, just penned a defense in Politico of Hillary Clinton as the only serious Democratic candidate.

The religious sin lost by the wayside

Nathan Schneider, American Magazine - In centuries past, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all shared an anxious opposition to usury. Sometimes “usury” meant any kind of interest-charging on loans, sometimes just lending under especially unjust terms. But in any case, these traditions regarded finance as an activity of supreme moral concern, one rife with opportunities for the abuse of power and unjust accumulations of wealth. Imagine bishops worrying about adjustable-rate mortgages the way they worry about abortion. That is the kind of concern we’re talking about.

Jacques le Goff’s pithy book Your Money or Your Life reconstructs the tenor of medieval attitudes. “Usurious profit from money,” Pope Leo I (d. 461) held, “is the death of the soul.” The French theologian Jacques de Vitry warned lenders that “the amount of money they receive from usury corresponds to the amount of wood sent to hell to burn them.” In some cases the vitriol was a form of anti-Judaism, since Jews often held a monopoly on lending to Christians. But Jews themselves denounced usury just as strenuously in dealings with one another.

St. Thomas Aquinas, representing the scholarly consensus of the 13th century, argued on the one hand that usury “leads to inequality which is contrary to justice.” Charging interest on money, further, is contrary to nature; “This is to sell what does not exist.” Interest-charging severs the economy from actual production or people’s actual needs.

Centuries of clerical coziness with financiers made such denunciations less and less convenient. As the modern period progressed, concern about usury faded, then all but disappeared. Some tried to justify interest theologically, but mainly the shift was a matter of omission. The influential economist Msgr. John Ryan began his pamphlet The Church and Interest-Taking (1910) by stressing, “The Church has never admitted the justice of interest whether on money or on capital, but has merely tolerated the institution.”

We now regard lending as principally a technocratic province of economics, computerized markets and swashbuckling self-interest. Even government regulators tend to be once-and-future bankers, as if no one else could or should be concerned with the matter. The result is a financial system whose most serious risks are borne by the most vulnerable. Foreclosure, eviction and eventual homelessness are part of a tolerable business model. Through international debt, lenders dictate policy to debtor governments with little oversight from the people who will be expected to obey. And, as Aquinas warned, financiers lavish on themselves money from out of thin air. These are moral problems, but without a concept of usury it can be hard to see that. It is hard to imagine a jubilee.

Pope Francis, for his part, spoke of usury against poorer countries when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly last year. And in Rome, at a general audience in 2014, he said: “When a family doesn’t have enough to eat because it has to pay off loans to usurers, this isn’t Christian. It’s not human.” As he began the Jubilee Year in Advent, he called for world leaders to forgive crippling debts or renegotiate them under more humane terms. For him, the meaning of jubilee remains rooted in its most ancient, tangible form.


Great moments in the theater

Futility Closet
Edward Falconer’s Oonagh, or, The Lovers of Lismona opened one evening in 1866 at half-past seven. By midnight most of the audience had left; by two o’clock in the morning only a few sleeping critics were still there. At three o’clock the stage crew brought the curtain down with the action still in progress and the play was taken off.
The Methuen Drama Dictionary of the Theatre, 2013

Italian government covers up art for Iranian presidential visit

Artnet - https://news.artnet.com/art-world/italy-iran-statue-censorship-416405Italian political and cultural commentators have come out in droves to bash the Italian government's censorship of nude classical Roman statues; reportedly to avoid offending Iranian president Hassan Rouhani during a state visit.

Rouhani was visiting Rome as part of his tour to meet European leaders to discuss various international business deals, after economic sanctions against Iran were lifted. The two leaders met at the Capitoline Museum for a joint press conference on Monday, where many member of the press in attendance noted that the nude statues on view in the museum had been encased in white, wooden boxes.

The New York Times pointed out that the encounter was always likely to result in a culture clash given Iran's culture of Islamic conservatism contrasted against Italy's Roman Catholic and secular society reputed for its indulgence.

However this assumption didn't stop the Italian media from speculating over who was responsible for the censorship of the artworks. Some reported the cover-up was requested by the Iranian delegation, whilst others blamed Italian government officials.

Massimo Gramellini of the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa accused the Renzi government of compromising Italy's secular values in exchange for lucrative contracts. According to the journalist's column, the statues were covered to stop the Iranian president from suffering “hormonal shock and rip up the freshly signed contracts with our Italian industries."

A conversation with God

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2004 - Encouraged by our presidential candidates I decided to also try to have a conversation with the Father Almighty. I got through without any trouble

SAM - Hey Pops, this is Sam down on earth just checking in.

GOD - Good to hear from you. I get so tired of those suck-ups at the Christian Coalition and the Republican National Committee. Like I told them, the deal was I work six days, take the next day off, and then get at least three millennia in comp time.

But, no, they keep calling me and saying stuff like "You're with us if we take down Fallujah, right?" and I tell them they're on their own but then they run it through the spin cycle and the next thing I know I got a bunch of dead or angry Muslims on my hands.

SAM - Got any thoughts on the race?

GOD - Well, I wish that Shilling guy wouldn't give me so much credit for his pitches in the World Series. I mean, where does that leave me with those born-agains on the Cards and the Yankees? I try to be fair, you know, but everyone keeps insisting I'm their God and then using it as an excuse to beat the shit out of somebody else. Besides, I've been a Red Sox fan since at least 1932 and it hasn't done them much good until now.

SAM - I didn't know you used language like that.

GOD - Where do you think Howard Stern learned it? I'm God to all people, after all, not just to George Bush.

SAM - I was actually asking about the presidential race.

GOD - Oh that one. Well, I got to say I'm pretty disappointed in how you all are handling your democracy. Kind of wished I had thought of that one a little earlier myself, but then when Tommy Jefferson and the gang came along I had real hopes that the earth might work out better than it seemed. Now it's only two centuries later and you folks are about to blow the whole deal. I don't believe in messing with things, but I did try to warn them with those Florida hurricanes and all. I guess I was too subtle. I'd hate to think I'd have to come back down there but I'm getting pretty pissed. . .

SAM - Sounds like you're backing John Kerry.

GOD - Well, I'm tempted but my basic rule is create and then stand back. But it's me damn tough, especially when you've got that Bush guy taking my name in vain every chance he gets and talking about sanctity of life and then going out killing a whole bunch of people. Thing I want to know is why does the sanctity of life expire after only nine months? It should have a longer warranty than that.

SAM - So you got anything less than an endorsement, say like a suggestion?

GOD - Me yes, here's my tip for swing states: vote Kerry and then gain absolution by voting for every Green elsewhere on the ticket. It's that old Catholic trick: sin and then say a few Hail Marys. I like those Catholics because they still sin. The trouble with the born-agains like Bush is that they think they're always right because they claim I said so. Never said no such thing. Ever heard of Bush admitting he was wrong after he found Jesus? I mean, my me, if that was the case I could close down this place and move to Texas. You don't need two heavens.

SAM - Didn't know you were a Green.

GOD - Well, I got to admit I prefer folks who try to do my will over those who claim I blessed them and then do whatever they want. Remember my man Frankie over at Assisi? He said, always preach the gospel and if necessary use words.

It was like I was telling my son the other day: you know, if you go back on earth you might want to think about registering Green. And he says, but Dad, I thought Bush was the Big Christian. And I said, my me, if Bush had been born in that manger instead of you he would have had cut some Enron type deal with Pontius Pilate, privatized miracles, outsourced charity, and give a big tax deduction to crucifix manufacturers.

SAM - Well, this is quite a different take on the election than I've been hearing from certain Catholic bishops and members of the Christian right.

GOD - So you think I'm going to go to all the trouble to create a world and then pass on my opinions through the likes of some pompous priest, Pat Robertson, or George Bush? I am the almighty after all. I don't have to use charlatans to get my word out. Hell, I'd rather use Jessica Simpson as my emissary.

SAM - Well, that raises a whole new issue, but I've taken enough of your time.

GOD - No problem, mate. Just answer me one question

SAM - Sure

GOD - I thought you didn't believe in me so how come we're having this conversation?

SAM - Well, you know what they say about us journalists. We'll do anything for a story.

GOD - Okay, but don't go soft on me. I get so tired of talking with phony true believers. Especially the ones who give big tax cuts to the rich and bomb the hell out of people they don't like.

SAM - If you want I could get you a list of states with same day registration

GOD - You tempt me but I think I'll stay here and wait to see how it all comes out.. 


When women understand that governments and religions are human inventions; that bibles, prayer-books, catechisms, and encyclical letters are all emanations from the brains of man, they will no longer be oppressed by the injunctions that come to them with the divine authority of 'Thus sayeth the Lord.' - Elizabeth Cady Stanton

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January 30, 2016


Morning Line

In Iowa Trump leads Cruz by 6 and Clinton and Clinton leads Sanders by 5


Barry Blitt, New Yorker

If you think ISIS is bad

Sam Smith - Watching the Republican presidential candidates go a bit berserk over ISIS during their last debate brought to mind something that is rarely mentioned by the corporate media: ISIS is roughly 1/12 the size of America's active ground forces, hardly a surprising reaction to a decade and a half of American invasion of the Mid East during which somewhere between one and two million citizens of the area have been killed.

It also occurred to me how fortunate we were not to have people like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio in power during the Vietnam War as we would probably still be fighting it. Incidentally, ISIS is about 6% the size of the active North Vietnamese Army.

A hidden economy in the Civil War

Futility Closet

During the American Civil War, enemy soldiers would sometimes meet to barter. Tobacco was hard to get in the North, and coffee was scarce in the South, so, where it could be done safely, soldiers would meet between the lines to trade. In some cases this was done across distances. If a river or lake separated the lines, a tiny boat would be laden with commodities and sent to the other side, where it would be unloaded and filled with exchange cargoes, as agreed on by shouting and signaling across the water. On the Rappahannock early in 1863 a group of New Jersey soldiers received a shipment “by miniature boat six inches long.” It carried this note:
Gents U.S. Army
We send you some tobacco by our Packet. Send us some coffee in return. Also a deck of cards if you have them, and we will send you more tobacco. Send us any late papers if you have them.
Jas. O. Parker
Co. H. 17th Regt. Miss. Vols.
Alfred S. Roe, who served in a New York artillery unit, recalled that near Petersburg in the winter of 1864, “a certain canine of strictly impartial sentiments” was “taught to respond to a whistle from either side. Thus with a can of coffee suspended from his neck he would amble over to the Johnnies, and when they had replaced coffee with tobacco he would return in obedience to Union signals, intent only on the food reward both sides gave him.”

(From Bell I. Wiley, The Life of Billy Yank: The Common Soldier of the Union, 1952.)

The American oligarchy began well before Citizens United

More support for our thesis that the First American Republic collapsed in the 1980s and that we have been living under a post-constituional oligarchic adhocracy since then.

Robert Reich, Truthdig - How badly is political power concentrated in America among the very wealthy? A study published in the fall of 2014 by two of America’s most respected political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page, suggests it’s extremely concentrated.

Gilens and Page undertook a detailed analysis of 1,799 policy issues, seeking to determine the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups and average citizens. Their conclusion was dramatic: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” Instead, Gilens and Page found that lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.

I find it particularly sobering that Gilens and Page’s data came from the period 1981 to 2002. That was before the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion, which opened the floodgates to big money in politics, and before the explosion of Super Pacs and secretive “dark money” whose sources do not have to be disclosed by campaigns. It stands to reason that if average Americans had a “near-zero” impact on public policy then, the influence of average Americans is now zero.

Drought causes 25% drop in South African corn production

Bloomberg - South Africa, the largest corn producer on the [African] continent, will probably reap the smallest harvest since 2007 this year after the country suffered the lowest rainfall since records began because of the global El Nino weather pattern.

Prices for white corn, used to make a staple food known as pap, rose to a record Jan. 21 as dry weather hurt supply. South Africa will probably need to import about 970,000 tons of corn in the year to April and 5 million tons of corn in the following 12 months as rainfall declined to the least since at least 1904, according to Grain SA, the biggest farm lobby.

The real economy: Unions vs. where the income goes

Deartment of Good Stuff; American Notes

American notes
Entropy updates
Finding new homes for the moral and the decent
Brain drain: the hazards of grad school politics
Normalizing failure
The war that never ended
When wrong becomes the norm
The collapse of the First American Republic
The end of treason
Top Rot
Love of trains
Elite emmigration
American beconing a corporate colony
How to get along with other Americans
What's new with me
Backing off of hate
Coming of age with "On the Road"
Eternal fundamentals of leadership (Rev. 8/14/11)
Football and American empire
Why hip is no longer hip
In technocracy we trust
Freedom as a local option
What's a humanities?
Global dumbing: the politics of entropy
Practicing anthropology without a license
The war of the terrified
Factories of fame
Notes on the end of the First American Republic
Notes from a lousy time
Why everything's so hard today
Quiet storm: blowin' in the wind of cultural decay
On the care and feeding of theories
Learning from Orwell & Mussolini
How minorities change America