Monday, May 29, 2006

A field trip for David Awbrey and the KBOE

David Awbrey, former editor for the Wichita Eagle, was hired earlier this year as press secretary for the Kansas Board of education. Earlier this month, Awbrey put his foor in his mouth at a Kansas City Press Association event. Awbrey argued that evolution proponents are practicing a religion. Supporting evolution, he said, is metaphysical speculation.

“Anyone see the origin?” he said. “Anyone see the Big Bang? Anyone see the dinosaurs? These are metaphysical speculations.”

Awbrey and the KBOE ought to make a trip to the Sternberg Museum at Fort Hays.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Springsteen and Jesse James--and Seeeger

Tom Watson disapproves of one song on Bruce Springsteen's much praised Seeger Sessions CD.

Being both a careful producer and a careful liberal, Springsteen is always controlling about both his musical releases and his statements. But this record is sloppy, haphazard. So is the message, but the results are less joyful. Because there in lineup is that old folk warhorse, the Ballad of Jesse James - and because of it, the calliope crashes to the ground.

Everybody knows the song, and perhaps in its inherent long-standing myth, there's an innocence that calls for forgiveness to actual history, at least for aging rock musicians:

Jesse James was a man
And he killed many men
He robbed the Glendale train
And he took from the rich
And he gave that to the poorer
He'd a hand and a heart and a brain

History tells a different tale. Skip the heart - in history, Jesse James had a hand, and a gun, and a brain - that brain belonged to the lost cause of the Confederacy, to race hatred, and to revenge. And the gun belonged to American terrorism.
It's worth reading the whole thing.

I do have one problem with Watson's critique, leaving aside the most common objection that to sing a song is not to endorse its lyrics. Watson writes "Bruce Springsteen should know better. This pining away for the Confederate past and its post-war terrorist followers shouldn't make his latest record - no matter how traditional the tune is. The hero myth should die."

In doing so, Watson lets Pete Seeger off the hook. According to the fan-site Songs of the Seeger Sessions, Seeger recorded Jesse James on several ocassions, while Allmusic lists five . (Which may well include some recycled items.) Since Springsteen presents his latest project as a tribute to Seeger, it is unfair to criticize him for doing song perfomred by Seeger as Seeger performed it.

If Springsteen is an "aging rock star" who should know better, how about Seeger a long-time political activist? Indeed, Seeger, in fact, was a member of the Communist Party, which prided itself on its advanced views on race.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Bush plays politics with the border

Marc Cooper

Let’s get a couple of things straight about the immigration speech President George W. Bush unreeled Monday night from the Oval Office.
His address had nothing to do with actual border policy and everything to do with domestic electoral politics.

The real mission of the 6,000 National Guard troops he has called out is to quell the rebellion on the President’s right flank, the flaring mutiny of his own conservative base. Indeed, if the President were being honest, the newly mobilized troops would be taken off the Federal payroll and moved onto the books of the 2006 national Republican campaign.

They certainly aren’t going to be stopping illegal immigration. Most of the Guard will be unarmed. They will be barred from patrolling the border itself, as well as from confronting, apprehending or even guarding the undocumented. The troops will be given solely behind-the-scenes, low-profile, mostly invisible tasks of pushing paper, driving vans, and manning computers. Bush could have saved the taxpayers a load and sent a few battalions of Boy Scouts to do this job.

House Democrats have a release showing that the GOP has oppposed increased spending for border security.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Egyptian blogger arrested

Egypt has arrested the blogger Alaa for protesting corruption of the country's judicial system.

Sandmonkey provied the basic facts

Egyptian Blogger Alaa Abdel Fatah has been arrested alongside 10 others while demonstrating in support of the independence of the Judiciary in Egypt and the release of previous demonstrators who were detained 2 weeks earlier. The Police entrapped them, cordoning off their peaceful protest and then proceeded to handpick the demonstrators that they wanted to detain, beat them, and then arrested them. ... This is by no means a co-incidence. Government agents handpicked people to arrest from amongst the protesters. They have been wanting to get Alaa for a long time now, precisely because he is high profile, and because he helps organizes the protests and spread the information through the blog aggregat

Here's the email for the Egyptian embassy in Washington

Better, here's an on-line petition to support Alaa by sending emails to

* Egypt's Ambassador to the US Nabil Fahmy
* Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif
* Egypt's Interior Minister Habib El Adly
* US Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone
* US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Black String Band Tradition

Scott McLemee

Hurrying from one appointment to another on Thursday, I heard the sound of bluegrass in the air at Grand Central Station. Drawing closer, I saw that it was a couple of African-American guys. Not old men, let's say, but not youngsters either. They were into the flow of what they were playing, just tearing it up on the banjo and fiddle. In other words, this was music they knew and knew well.
That there was once a large black audience for country music (and that hillbillies were sometimes good bluesmen) is one of those realities that's been forgotten, or covered over, by a certain dumbass essentialism that has both reactionary and "leftist" forms. I was really glad to see these guys, and shelled out the money for their CD immediately. It would have been good to stick around and listen some more, but I had to run.
It turns out they are called the Ebony Hilllbillies -- a trio, with a bass player, who wasn't there at the time. They have a website, where you can buy the CD via PayPal. Strongly recommended -- it's a good record.

I haven't bought the CD yet, but there are three selections on-line and they sound great.

Elijah Wald's superb book Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues makes much the same point as does Bill Malone, the dean of country music scholarship, in his Don't Get Above Your Raisin': Country Music and the Southern Working Class.

Afro-pop World Wide devoted at leat one program to the African-American string band tradition.

Sankofa Strings is a Carolina-based group that keeps the tradition alive.

There's been a on-line group under the name of Black Banjo Now And Then which organized a "gathering of black banjo and traditional string players in 2005. They've now organized An Association of Traditional Black String Players.

It would be nice if the folks at Winfield's Walnut Valley Festival would reach out to the Ebony Hillbillies, Sankofa Strings, and other African-American traditional string players.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

More on the Anthem: Bush hypocrisy

Think Progress has this

But Bush’s highly-scripted 2001 inaugural ceremony actually featured a rendition of the national anthem sung in Spanish by Jon Secada. From Cox News Service, 1/18/01:

The opening ceremony reflected that sentiment. A racially diverse string of famous and once famous performers entertained Bush, soon-to-be First Lady Laura Bush, Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, who watched on stage from a special viewing area.

Pop star Jon Secada sang the national anthem in English and Spanish.

Apparently, Secada singing the anthem in Spanish was a regular feature of the Bush campaign. From the 8/3/00 Miami Herald:

The nominee, his wife Laura, erstwhile rival John McCain and his wife Cindy joined Bush on a platform where children sang the national anthem - in “Spanglish,” Secada explained.

This morning, ThinkProgress revealed that, according to Kevin Phillip’s book American Dynasty, Bush himself sang the national anthem in Spanish. Looks like Bush’s conviction that “the national anthem ought to be sung in English” was something he acquired very recently.

Senator Lamar Alexander, along with Senator Frist, Senator McConnell, Senator Stevens, Senator Isakson, and Senator Roberts has introduced a resolution affirming that statements of national unity, including the National Anthem, should be recited or sung in English. In the press release for Alexander states that never before has it [the national anthem] been rendered in another language."

This, of course, is false. See my previous post on this.

Meanwhile, in Germany

A Green politician has triggered a debate by calling for an official Turkish translation of the German national anthem to symbolize how multicultural Germany has become.

Fun with TABOR

From the KNEA's "Under the Dome"

TABOR light gets debated; sent back to committee

The “TABOR-light” bill in HCR 5043 – a constitutional amendment requiring a 2/3 majority vote to enact any tax increase – was brought to the floor this afternoon where it was amended up before being referred back to committee, an action that essentially dooms the bill for this session (although, like Lord Voldemort, bad ideas rarely die completely).

The bill had been held in committee where it was apparent it did not have the votes to be sent to the floor. House Speaker Doug Mays, a TABOR supporter, used his position to bring the bill out of committee to give it a floor vote. This action is another “more politics than policy issue” since it simply means that anti-government, anti-tax ideologues can have a recorded vote to put in campaign literature.

The first person to take the bill on was Rep. John Edmonds who offered an amendment to make passage of any bill contingent upon a 2/3 majority vote. Edmonds argued that really great ideas would naturally get a 2/3 majority vote and if an idea had more that 1/3 of the body against it maybe wasn’t such a good idea. The Edmonds amendment passed on a voice vote.

Next up was Rep. Jerry Williams who tacked on an exemption for tax increases to pay for Medicaid. It passed on a vote of 96-24.

Then Rep. Tom Holland did the same thing for highway improvements. His amendment passed 84-32.

Rep. Sidney Carlin’s motion exempting tax increases for higher education passed on a vote of 82-33.

Rep. Bonnie Sharp tacked on an amendment requiring a 2/3 majority for tax decreases or giveaways. It passed on a voice vote.

At that point Rep. Bill Feuerborn moved to refer the bill back to committee; a motion that passed on a 63-57 vote.

The amended bill goes back to the Appropriations Committee where it does not have the votes to be passed out for further floor action.

The House then adjourned for the day.

Monday, May 01, 2006

May Day: The Workers’ Day!

[Here's a really nice column on May Day from the Center for Popular Economics. I couldn't find it on-line, so I'm posted the entire column]

By Gerald Friedman, CPE Staff Economist
May 1, 2006

For over a century May Day has been celebrated throughout Europe, Asia, and Latin America, as a day of labor celebration marked with strikes and with parades flying red flags and waving revolutionary banners. In Europe, May Day has been celebrated in this way since 1890. Answering a call by the newly-formed Socialist International, labor rallies were held throughout Europe on May 1, 1890 to demand the 8-hour day. A quarter million people marched in London’s Hyde Park, joining workers throughout France, Germany, and other countries who joined together in the world’s first international day of labor protest. Two French militants, Raymond Lavigne and Jean Dormoy, suggested May 1, 1890 as the date for this campaign because that was the date chosen by the American Federation of Labor (AFL) for its campaign for the 8-hour day. It might seem odd, but this international celebration of labor’s power was inspired by the American labor movement; May Day, the revolutionary holiday, began in the United States.

The AFL’s call for demonstrations on May Day 1890 was the second time the organization had launched a May Day campaign. The first, the world’s first May Day, was in 1886, and it led to disasters from which the American labor movement has never fully recovered. At the 1884 convention of the AFL’s ancestor, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU), the 18 delegates in attendance voted a resolution declaring simply that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day's labor from and after May 1, 1886.” The FOTLU was a poor candidate to inaugurate this movement. Formed in 1881 as a counterweight to the more militant Knights of Labor (KOL), the FOTLU had few resources to commit to the campaign; and the KOL jealously refused to join. But the idea of a united national campaign to win a shorter work day was so attractive that it inspired local activists throughout the country. Rallying to the banner of labor unity, workers throughout the country rushed into unions and joined strikes. Union membership almost tripled in 1886, including new unions among African-American sugar workers in Louisiana, migrant timber workers of the Pacific Northwest, and female office clerks in the urban Northeast. The number of strikers in 1886, over 500,000, almost equaled the total for the preceding four years. Half of these strikers were in the first week of May alone. On May 1st, 11,000 Detroiters marched, 5,000 paraded in Troy, New York, 10,000 in Milwaukee, 6,000 white and black in Louisville, Kentucky. The epicenter of the Mayday events and the radical labor movement, Chicago, was nearly closed by the Mayday strikes.

So powerful was the May Day movement that some commentators warned that the Labor Movement would soon transform America. But such forecasts had not counted on American business. In Chicago, employers and the police adopted an aggressive stance against the strikers. On May 3, police killed several strikers while clearing a path for strike-breakers to enter the McCormick Reaper Works. Labor leaders called a protest meeting for the following evening (May 4) was to be held in at the Haymarket Square. Just as the meeting was dispersing, someone threw a bomb at the police, killing seven officers; surviving officers charged the crowd with guns blazing, killing at least seven workers, maybe more.

Hysteria about anarchist bombings went national, provoking the nation’s first red scare. Police and employers took license from the events to arrest and beat up labor activists. The Chicago labor movement was devastated. Public meetings, the life blood of an active labor movement, were banned and police raided union offices, seizing documents and rounding-up activists. Eight Chicago movement leaders were arrested and tried for murder for involvement in the bombing. The trial was a farce--the state never produced evidence directly linking the defendants to the bombing but it still secured convictions of all eight and sentences of death for seven. A travesty of justice, a judicial murder, the convictions were appealed to no avail to the Illinois Supreme Court and then the United States Supreme Court. Four defendants, Albert Parsons, August Spies, George Engel, and Adolph Fischer, were hung on November 11, 1887.

The hanging of the Haymarket martyrs provoked a wave of international indignation. But among practical minded labor activists in the United States, it provoked a reconsideration of the martyrs’ radical political agenda and union program. Instead of labor radicalism and solidarity, American unions learned that to survive in a hostile environment they needed to adopt a more conservative politics and narrow craft-union orientation. European observers noted that the AFL called for another May Day demonstration for 1890; what they missed was that the 1890 demonstrations were to be confined to a single craft, the carpenters, in hopes of avoiding a general strike like 1886 and the subsequent repression.

Today, Haymarket and the events in Chicago 1886 still resonate. The Haymarket rebels left an enduring memory of martyrdom embedded in labor lore around the world. This was predicted by one of the martyrs, August Spies, whose last words are remembered long after his accusers are forgotten: “The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today.”

Paul Avrich, The Haymarket Tragedy (Princeton, 1984).
Henry David, The History of the Haymarket Affair: A Study in the American Social-Revolutionary and Labor Movements (New York, 1958).

Philip Foner, May Day: A Short History of the International Workers’ Holiday, 1886-1986 (New York, 1986).
Gerald Friedman, State-Making and Labor Movements: France and the United States, 1886-1914 (Ithaca, New York, 1998).

James Green, Death in the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement, and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America (New York, 2006).
© 2006 Center for Popular Economics
Econ-Atrocities are the work of their authors and reflect their author's opinions and analyses. CPE does not necessarily endorse any particular idea expressed in these articles.
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Some Other May Day stuff