Friday, February 28, 2014

Why Gay Rights Victories in Arizona are Small but Important Steps to Greater Equality

by Nomad

Arizona has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. The state legislature under the thrall of the Tea Party Republicans attracted a lot of negative attention from the whole country.
But those events should be balanced by the good news from Tempe, Arizona. 
Altogether it highlights a larger question: Isn't it time that the federal government put a stop to this state-by-state nonsense once and for all? 

The Other Side of Arizona
After a couple of weeks of really bad press coming out of Arizona, it looks as though the cloud is lifting. After the GOP-led State Legislature drafted a controversial "religious freedom" law which allowed gay discrimination based on "sincerely-held beliefs," the eyes of the nation were focused on Arizona. Would the governor would actually approve of the law?

Human Rights and gay rights groups led calls for a veto, and later they were joined by corporations like tech giant Apple joined in calls to walk away from the bill. On the other side were various religious organizations, right wing pundits and of course, the Tea party.
With all that pressure, Governor Brewer wisely decided against the law.
Now there's a little more good news to report.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

TheTruth Behind Obama's Use of Ambassador Posts as Political Rewards 2/2

by Nomad

In Part One of this two-part series, I told you about the recent embarrassing confirmation hearing for one of Obama's ambassadors. The quality of the president choices has been called into question. More importantly some on the Right have been asking whether the president isn't simply rewarding his top dollar campaign contributors with these positions. 
It's a good question. In this part we will look at the more recent history of this practice and how it has evolved in the last forty years.

A Look Back: Carter, Bush and Son
Candidates that have run on a reformist platform - like Obama- have fallen into the same trap. President Carter, for example, came under fire in 1977 for exactly the same thing. An article in The Telegraph reported at the time that four top ambassadors were high dollar contributors to Carter campaign in the Georgia governor's race in 1970. 
But, of all the presidents, Carter holds the record for the most number of career appointees, meaning people who have spent their lives working for the Foreign Service- not friends or political contributors. 

In 1980 Congress actually attempted to restrict the practice with The Foreign Service Act. It stated that the Foreign Service, which of course includes ambassadors, should be operated on the basis of merit principles. Merit naturally requires some kind of career in the diplomatic service. More specifically, the Act states that ''contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.'' 
Upon signing of the bill into law in October of that year, President Carter said:
This bill provides the first comprehensive revision of personnel legislation for the United States Foreign Service in 34 years. It is an important step in the reform, simplification, and improvement of personnel administration in the Government, a top priority of my administration.
It didn't take too long for the Reagan administration to ignore that. According to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan tied for the number of political ambassadors they appointed, at 32 percent each, according to a 1983 study by the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA). That figure is just above an average of roughly 30 percent since World War II.

By the time George H.W. Bush became president, it was as if the reforms of 1980 had never been written . In 1989 one report found that half Bush's administration's 26 reported ambassadors-designate were President Bush's enthusiastic campaigners, or direct Republican campaign contributors or old friends of the family. At that time, President Bush had set a new standard for the spoils system. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Truth Behind Obama's Use of Ambassador Posts as Political Rewards 1/2

by Nomad

Confirmation hearings for President Obama's choice for the Ambassador position to Norway was, by any measure, a disaster. 
Critics of the administration immediately began asking questions about the process. Why has the President selected so many political campaign contributors for ambassadorial posts? To hear some of the president's critics, you might well think Obama invented this practice. The truth, however, is quite different. But that's not something you're likely to hear from the Republicans or from Fox News. 

Obama's Tsunis Embarrassment
A couple of weeks ago, Long Island property millionaire George Tsunis, Obama's choice to be the US ambassador for Norway made a bumbling mess of question put to him at a Senate hearing. All in all, the nominee seemed embarrassingly ignorant of the country with whom he would be conducting diplomatic relations with.

Tsunis' answers were so ill-informed that they nearly created a diplomatic incident even before the ambassador was confirmed. Norway's Progress Party was so upset by Tsunis labeling them a hate-spewing "fringe minority" group- when in fact, the party forms part of a coalition with the government- that a spokesperson for the party called upon Obama to apologize.
"[Obama] should apologize to the Norwegian people, not just the politicians, because you do not just send someone out who has no idea. You do not treat countries that way."
It appeared as if Tsunis was simply bluffing his way through the hearing without a clue of Norway or its political system. 

Senator McCain who quizzed Tsunis was clearly disgusted by the candidate's answers. He supplied the punchline by concluding his questioning with a classic McCain sneer, saying "I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group on nominees." 
(The other nominees under scrutiny had all of the finesse of university students at the first oral exam.)
Just listen:

Painful, isn't it? News organizations were quick to point out that Tsunis' appointment probably had very much to do with his past role campaign contributor for Obama. MSNBC noted:
Tsunis donated $50,000 to John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008, before switching sides and donating $988,550 for Obama’s 2012 campaign, according figure from the Center for Responsive Politics.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Gender Gap: Why Women Voters will Reject the GOP in the Midterm Elections

by Nomad

In red states like Kentucky, women voters may just turn these states to blue in the upcoming election.  If that state is any to go by, Republicans are going to be in big trouble. And when it comes with women voters, the party has nobody to blame but itself.

According to an article in the LA Progressive, a recent non-partisan poll shows that Democratic candidate Alison Grimes has a four-point advantage over Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader and long time incumbent. While four points may not make Grimes a sure thing, the poll also reveals something that must be even more disturbing for Republican strategists. Grimes has a 12 point lead among women surveyed. That's right, a full twelve points.
And women- as a voting block- make up a full 53 percent of all registered voters in Kentucky. 
The bottom line is: Losing women voters means losing an election.
That doesnt guarantee Grimes an easy victory, of course. Naturally, she has done her best to highlight McConnell's poor record on issues women care about.
Said a Grimes spokesperson Charly Norton,
“McConnell’s votes against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and the Violence Against Women Act appear to be a serious drag on his ability to win over Kentucky women. Unless McConnell explains why he has voted against women’s interests time and time again, he will fail to gain an ounce more of support.”
States like Missouri and Indiana have also shown that Republican candidates have lost women voters by a wide margin. 
It's hard not to see that when it comes to women voters, the Republican Party is still in disarray. They may know what the problem is but is it possible that the Republican Party cannot change? Is its attitudes toward women, toward gays and lesbians, toward the poor actually the cold heart of the GOP?  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Arizona Legislature Rejects Common Core Initiative for Tea Party Agenda

by Nomad

In a victory for the Arizona's Tea Party, the legislature has rejected the Common Core Standards Initiative. 
This nationwide program would have guaranteed that Arizona's high school students would be able to compete academically with students from any other state. Business leaders are warning that this decision would put students in the state at a disadvantage when seeking employment.

The Arizona legislature is, with argument, quickly becoming the nation's laughing stock. Only a week after approving of a bill to allow shop owners to discriminate against gay citizens under the name of religious freedom, lawmakers there have voted along party lines to drop out of the Common Core standards. Republicans voted 6-3 to bar Arizona from participating in the program.

The Common Core Initiative is a attempt to create a national educational standard, designed to prepare students with the information and skills they need to compete in the global economy. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and has been adopted by 45 states. Arizona approved of the changes four years ago.

Specifically, Common Core targets what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. While educators and business leaders hailed the program as a step forward, Arizona lawmakers want none of it.

Oklahoma Lawmakers Find Money for Capitol Renovation but Not for Programs for Poor

by Nomad

When it comes to social programs for the needy, the Oklahoma lawmakers are all about cutting programs for the poor and lowering taxes. However, strangely, they have still managed to find enough money to refurbish and repair the ostentatious Capitol building. 

Journalist Dylan Goforth, writing for TulsaWorld, reports how lawmakers in Oklahoma are faced with a delicate situation: how to justify the renovation of the Capitol building while making deep cuts to programs for the poor. 
Already renovations to three floors on the Senate side totaled $3.3 million. That's just the beginning.
The entire project has drawn some criticism. The two sides received a total of $7 million at a time when numerous state agencies were requesting money.
Seven of two-story drapes, each costing over $2500, and shutters, costing $2000 each, totaled to more than $30,000. That's just the window treatments, mind you. Add to this two large screen television, two credenzas from which the televisions rise, a projector and a video screen. The article lists other expenses such as a full kitchen, complete with dishwasher, ice machine, refrigerator and new cabinets, cost $14,542. 
It all adds up quickly and that just the beginning. 

Lawmakers complain about the sewage that's seeping and mold that's stenching and the toilets that (someday soon) will not flush. While they all might agree that the Capitol building  is in a dreadful state, it looks pretty snazzy from the "before" photos. Not true, say staffers.
Electrical wiring in the building is so bad that there are sections where plainly visible cables are knotted together in a jumble. Some of the wiring remains from the building's early-20th-century days, staffers said.
It might lead you to think that nothing has been done since the ornate building of the pink and gray granite and white limestone was completed in 1917. 
That's not the case. 
In fact, work was done in 1998. But not renovation. In that year, the legislature funded the construction of a grandiose dome crowned with a 22-foot-tall bronze sculpture called The Guardian. The cost? $20.8 million. That dome was completed on November 16, 2002. Instead of a swanky dome, the $20 million could have easily paid for all of the cost for today's work.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Blind Man, Acquitted for Murder by Stand Your Ground Law, Demands Guns Back

by Nomad

Sometimes you hear some thing on the news that makes you think the world has gone nuts. Here's a story I saw from Nebraska news.

A judge at the Seminole County Courthouse in Nebraska ruled that, despite his reservations, the law was the law. After the acquittal of John Rogers in a deadly shooting, Rogers sued the court for the return of his weapon. Rogers, it should be mentioned, is legally blind

The weapons were confiscated by police after Rogers was arrested in the shooting death of 34-year old James Dewitt in March 2012. 

The judge saıd that in the end, it was the law and that justice was done.

Abigail Adams' Words of Warning about Respecting Women's Rights

by Nomad

Abigail Adams Women's Rights

I long to hear that you have declared independency. And in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors... If particular and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.
From a letter written in 1774 by Abigail Adams, wife of one president and mother of another to her husband. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Promise of Meta-materials: A Glimpse at the Future under Construction?

by Nomad

If one professor's vision is correct, then the future may hardly be recognizable. The development of meta-materials has been evolving more quickly that anybody could have expected.  
One thing is certain. The technology will give rise to completely new materials with extraordinary properties and  will change the nature of construction. 
And it's just around the corner.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum,  Dr. Julia R. Greer,  a professor of Materials Science and Mechanics at California Institute of Technology, spoke about very small things which will soon make very big changes to our world.

In her fast-paced lecture, Greer explained how, by using a combination of techniques, scientists of the near future will be able to create new materials- meta-materials- with mind-bending properties. Building materials, for example, which can be strong or stronger than steel and yet weigh one million times lighter. That's not a random number pulled out of a hat.

"Imagine a world where the next generation of planes are just as powerful and just as efficient but weigh as little as a toy airplane? Imagine a world where the total amount of material used to construct a bridge the size of the Golden Gate is small enough to hold in the palm of your hand? We believe we have found a way to bring that world closer to reality."
So how is it possible? In Greer's lecture, she explains the process in detail. The fabrication technique is actually a synthesis of technologies, namely, architectural design, material science and nanotechnology, all working an incredibly small scale. It's like playing God with a molecular-sized 3D printer.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Controversial Arizona Bill Protects Homophobic Discrimination as Religious Right

Religion Crossby Nomad

New draft legislation in Arizona would give citizens the right to refuse service to gay customers based on their own religious beliefs. 

According to the sponsors, those with sincere religious beliefs are being denied their rights. Is discrimination based on religious values a constitutionally-protected form of free speech?

Arizona State Senators have voted to allow businesses to refuse service to gay citizens based on the owners’ “sincerely held” religious beliefs. An article in Arizona Daliy Star reports that the vote on SB 1062 was 17-13 with the Republican majority carrying the majority. No Democrats voted for the bill.

One of the sponsors of the bill, Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler explained:
“This bill is not about discrimination It’s about preventing discrimination against people who are clearly living out their faith.”
The bill approves of the right to refuse service based on religious beliefs, but fell short of requiring a business to post signs stating the fact. Critics of the bill sought to include this provision. As Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix stated:
“If there is an organization or a business out there that wants to use the defense of religious freedom, I believe that consumers have a right to know.”
The GOP rejected its inclusion. Perhaps that would have been too obvious. Like segregated drinking fountains.The Republicans would prefer a more discreet form of discrimination.
Gallardo  told reporters:
“We all have the right to our religious beliefs. But I do not agree that we have the right to discriminate because of our religious beliefs. I do not believe we have to throw our religious beliefs to others that don’t share our same beliefs.”
Supporters of the legislation are turning the tables on that idea, suggesting that by forcing business to serve homosexuals, it is they who are being discriminated against. Yarbrough said SB 1062 is “aimed at preventing the rising attempts at discriminating against folks because they are sincere."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Outback Outrage: How Rupert Murdoch's News Corp Helped Destroy Australian Budget

by Nomad

Through a special tax arrangement with the Australian government,  Rupert Murdoch's New Corporation- parent company of Fox News- became  the largest single factor in the shortfalls in the Australian budget.

The Australian Financial Review is reporting a story which will probably never appear on Fox News.
The single largest factor in the underlying deterioration of the federal budget announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in December was a cash payout of almost $900 million to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.
Despite Fox News and News Corp newspaper's near-constant drumbeat against government spending, it came right down to it, News Corp was just another corporation expecting special treatment. Documents last week revealed the company claimed a massive tax deduction- one of the largest cash payments- from the Australian Tax Office

When the Australian budget went south, it was not due to wild spending on foolish projects or due to the military appropriations but, if these reports are true, one main factor was a record-breaking tax deduction that the Tax Office allowed the media giant. 

The Guardian fills us in with other particulars:
The payment by a “foreign tax authority” was revealed in accounts published by News Corporation in the US earlier this month and related to a $2bn claim by News Corp for historic losses on currency transactions by its Australian subsidiaries.
The payment was estimated to be worth $600m to News Corp but the final figure grew to $882m after interest charges.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Way Forward: Corporate Culture or Employee-Owned Business?

by Nomad

Isn't  there any better alternative to the classic corporate business model? With union membership in free-fall, where can the America worker turn to find a decent standard of living, job satisfaction and a more equal voice in the capitalist system? Could the Employee-owned business model be an answer? 

Everybody- except perhaps the 1%- would probably agree that the Capitalist structure is in need of an overhaul or at least a serious reconsideration. Unions- which have in the past provided a bulwark against corporate exploitation of labor and yet, a political power, a return of a influential organized labor  movement seems fairly unlikely. We all owe a lot to the existence of the unions. As The Nation pointed out:
Capitalism was “civilized” thanks to the unrelenting pressure of gritty working-class movements and the ever-present threat of strikes and even revolutions.
However, that may all be in the past.  That system has broken down. 

As the New York Times noted last year,  the long decline in the number of American workers belonging to labor unions accelerated sharply last year, sending the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to a century. States like Wisconsin, Indiana and others, with the help of corporate-funded ALEC enacted new laws that rolled back the power of unions. 
While it may be a bit soon to announce the deaths of labor union movement altogether, some would say this decline might be passed the point of no return. But there are reasons why of the unions haven't magically dissolved. If anything the original reasons for unions- low pay, poor working conditions, profits above all other considerations- are nearly as bad as the time before the rise of unions.

What then are the alternatives to union labor- besides throwing up one hands and leaving it to overpaid CEOs? Progressives often seem paralyzed. and Conservatives appear intend on pacifying the outrage of an imbalanced system where economic inequality and entitlements for the upper crust is the norm.

One possibility is a completely different model based not on union-company confrontation but on a model of participation between workers and the company. No, not a Kumbaya moment by the campfire with workers and management and owners all holding hands. 
I am speaking of employee-owned business model.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Long Russian Winter of Vladimir Putin

by Nomad

Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be as popular as he once was. Of late his policies both internationally and domestically have raised more than a few eyebrows. 
While it may not be a return to the days of the Cold War,  many in the West might be thinking the present chill in relations seems much more like an awfully long Russian winter.

Putin's PR Problem
 recent Gallup poll suggests that a majority of Americans now take a negative view of Russia, more so that any time in the last two decades.
Only 34 percent of poll respondents have a favorable view of Russia, while 60 percent have an unfavorable view. This is quite a swing since 2012 when only 44 percent had an unfavorable view in 2012.
As we shall see, analysts have a barrel-full of reasons to explain this decline. Russia's handling of Greenpeace and Pussy Riot activists, anti-gay laws and the whole Edward Snowden affair  may all have played a role in the Russian public relations problem. 
Since politics in the former Soviet nation is too often a one-man arrangement, it's no great surprise that this dislike seems to be focused on  Russia's leader.

The poll also found that the 61-year-old Russian president, Vladimir Putin has also become an unpopular figure among Americans with a steady rise in unpopularity since 2002, starting at 18 percent to the present figure of a whopping 63 percent this year. 

Interestingly, Americans aren't alone in their view of Putin. Europe too might be a little less than pleased.
In particular, European leaders are growing concerned. Russian policy in Ukraine has created a serious rift with Europe, the tone of which we haven't seen since the days of the Cold War. When Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU, warned European leaders not to 'test Putin’s patience' it was hard to ignore that things had sunk pretty low.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Unfair Use: How Copyright Violation Claims are Used to Suppress Intelligent Debate

by Nomad

Online hosting sites like YouTube and others routinely chose to ignore the fair use provisions of of the copyright laws at the cost of online free speech.
When does one man's education and debunking through science become another man's propaganda?

Deconstructing the House of Numbers
The website TechDirt has an interesting article that caught my eye. Here's the story.
When a 2009 documentary called House of Numbers made the claim that HIV and the AIDS epidemic was part of a conspiracy theory, it - not unexpectedly- became the center of some fierce controversy. Supporters of the film said it provided "a number of challenging and disturbing thoughts" but the New York Times described the documentary as "a weaselly support pamphlet for AIDS denialists." The Portland Oregonian criticized its makers for "not being entirely honest with viewers," and the Wall Street Journal just wrote the whole film off with the words: "this season's fashion in conspiracy theories."

Conspiracy theories come in all varieties, from the absolutely nutty to the quite plausible. Some are based on opinion, some on facts and some on misrepresentations and lies. 

In fact this theory has been floating around for quite a long time but unfortunately, to some of the less discerning minds, it could sound plausible. So, even if the film's premise was 99 % irrefutable, the message of the film would still be more than a little irresponsible based only on that 1% of doubt. After all, believing in this particular conspiracy theory could have some serious consequences.

And the nature of the Internet makes things still worse. Once this kind of material gets online it can take on a life of its own. Such ideas can spread quickly on the Internet, and after being completely destroyed, it may re-surface over and over, "reinfecting" new victims.  

In this age of nearly unlimited speech, it is something most of us have reluctantly had to put up with. After all, the possible harm can only be mitigated by more free speech and science, right? 

It was for that reason, famous scientific debunker Myles Powers decided to put out a series of videos showing both why the claims in House of Numbers are rubbish and how the producers of the film had manipulated the evidence. Naturally in order to properly debunk the material in the film, he used excerpts of it. And why not? What other way can it be done?
However, producers (or those featured in the film) quickly filed claims of copyright violation against Powers and his videos. As soon as it received the copyright violation claims, YouTube immediately took down the debunking videos.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jefferson's Words to the 99%: You Were Not Born With a Saddle on your Back

by Nomad

ALL eyes are opened or opening to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Thomas Jefferson

Friday, February 14, 2014

Fox News Outrage About Shoddy Reporting: Ray Nagin was a Democrat

by Nomad

Whenever you have Fox News condemning other news channels for inaccurate reporting, it's worth a little attention. Coverage of former mayor Ray Nagin, they say, was grossly inaccurate because they failed to point out he was a Democrat. But how could so many upstanding journalists have simply forgotten Nagin's party affiliation? Here's why.

As you might have heard, former New Orleans mayor during the Katrina fiasco Ray Nagin has run into a bit of trouble with a capital "T" He has been found guilty guilty of 20 of the 21 counts of federal corruption charges after a two-week trial. Nagin, according to the verdict, took hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and other favors from businessmen looking for a break from his administration.
And this wasn't small potatoes.
A January 2013 indictment detailed more than $200,000 in bribes to the mayor, and his family members allegedly received a vacation in Hawaii; first-class airfare to Jamaica; private jet travel and a limousine for New York City; and cellular phone service. In exchange, businesses that coughed up for Nagin and his family won more than $5 million in city contracts, according to the .. indictment.
That wasn't the story that outraged Fox Nation. It was the reporting of the story. 
CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and ABC World News broadcasts gave brief mention to the conviction of former New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin Wednesday on 20 federal counts, including bribery and conspiracy, but all three omitted the fact that he was a Democrat.
In fact, journalists repeatedly called Nagin a "Republican." Fox News points out:
The mainstream-media has made a point of pointing out a 'Republican' party affiliation in various past scandals...
Let us skip over the rather hard to ignore fact that on any given day, Fox News does exactly what they are now castigating other news channels. Even given the shoddy state of journalism today, how could this mistake had been made? 

Academic Studies about Right-Wing and Tea Party Voters Reach Interesting Conclusions

by Nomad

Several   academic research studies about the minds of right-wing supporters, the power of fear to warp our thinking and the intelligence of the Tea Party offer some surprising insights to the present state of US politics. 

If accurate, the studies also provide some depressing news about the possibility that the great divide between left and right can ever be bridged.

Canadian Study: Are Right Wingers Naturally Less Intelligent?
newspaper article in the UK Daily Mail, has information, which might- or might not surprise you:
Right-wingers tend to be less intelligent than left-wingers, and people with low childhood intelligence tend to grow up to have racist and anti-gay views, says a controversial new study.
According to Canadian academics, conservative politics work almost as a 'gateway' into prejudice against others. The Canadian study reviewed large studies from the UK which made a comparison between childhood intelligence and political views in adulthood across more than 15,000 people.
Their conclusion? People with low intelligence gravitate towards right-wing views because these views make them feel safe. In addition to that, children with low intelligence tend to grow up to be prejudiced.

Both educational level and social status seem to play no role in whether a person is prejudiced or racist. It is, they insist, related to innate intelligence, rather than acquired knowledge.
The study, published in Psychological Science, claims that right-wing ideology forms a 'pathway' for people with low reasoning ability to become prejudiced against groups such as other races and gay people.
There are good reasons for this. Cognitive ability-that is, the ability to think - allows us to form impressions of other people and to be open-minded, say the researchers.
'Individuals with lower cognitive abilities may gravitate towards more socially conservative right-wing ideologies that maintain the status quo. The status quo is a more friendly environment to those with less cognitive abilities. 'It provides a sense of order.'
Those right-wing ideologies are all about order, not diversity. Such ideologies generally stress hierarchy and resistance to change, attitudes that can contribute to prejudice, said lead researcher Gordon Hodson, a psychologist at Brock University in Ontario.   

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Uncovered Evidence That Proves Abraham Lincoln was a RINO

by Nomad

On the 205th birthday of the 16th president of the United States, I wanted to look back at the man. Abraham Lincoln is, for many reasons, an iconic figure in American history. One thing is clear from the evidence found in the long-forgotten history books: Abraham Lincoln was a Republican in name only. 

By the magic of the Internet, one can find many archival books online about Abe Lincoln. For an amateur historian, it's like exploring the national attic. Most of the free ones have been written over a century ago and are filled with fascinating anecdotes about the man and his character. 

Many stories about the man have been lost over time. The tales for the most part ring with authenticity- being recorded so much closer to the events. Others are more of the "legend" variety. Here are a few lesser known stories and quotes and like the startling portrait above, they bring new life, a human quality to the man who has become something of a dry myth.

The Honesty of Abe
His famous nickname "Honest Abe" was given to Lincoln long before he ever became president or even before he ever thought of entering politics. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hollywood's Child Star, Shirley Temple Black Dead at 85

by Nomad

The BBC is reporting the death of one of Hollywood's most famous child stars:
Shirley Temple, who has died aged 85, was that rare example of a Hollywood child star who, when the cameras stopped rolling, carved out a new career.
With her ringlets, dimples and precocious talent, America's "Little Princess", charmed audiences during the 1930s Depression.
Here's one of her signature tunes: Animal Crackers

Tenn. School Features Drag Show to Pay for Field Trip to Washington

by Nomad

Heartland America may not be quite a narrow-minded and straight-laced as conservatives and the Religious Right would have us believe. Especially when it comes to a good cause. Here's an example from rural Tennessee.

Next Saturday Coker Creek Elementary School in Tellico Plains, Tennessee will be hosting a rather unconventional fundraiser. It will include familiar names in the community. The hope is to raise $1000 in order to send 27 of the school's sixth, seventh and eighth graders on a trip to the nation's capital next May. 
The event is called a "Womanless Beauty Contest." In other words, a drag show, ala RuPaul.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Gov. Rick Perry, Obamacare and The Morality of Rejecting Medicaid Expansion

by Nomad

Texas Governor Rick Perry's decision not to expand Medicaid, a provision of Obamacare that each state can accept or reject, will have serious consequences for the uninsured and the poor of that state. 

Here's a moral question for you:
Suppose you found that you possessed the power to save the lives of three thousand strangers, without doing anything except changing your mind, would you do it? Would you do it even if it required you to reverse a strong personal viewpoint or a core philosophy? Could any one of your personal beliefs really be so strong that you would allow the deaths of thousands and the suffering of many more? 

Those are the questions that the citizens of Texas should be asking their governor, Rick Perry.

The Cost of Perry's Resistance
In a recent article for the Dallas Observer, Eric Nicholson points out:
Governor Rick Perry's decision to opt out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion has been well-documented. Billions in federal funds are off the table. More than a million poor adults won't have access to health coverage. Texas businesses will wind up paying an estimated $400 million in tax penalties.
Useful numbers, but none really captures the human toll of Perry's decision. A better figure for that purpose is 3,035, as in the number of people who will die as a result of Texas' refusal to expand Medicaid.
Nicholson cites a study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and CUNY School of Public Health. Admittedly this is a worst case scenario but even the best case scenario puts the number of people who will die at 1,840. That's not all.
Even for those who don't die, the outcome won't be good. The researchers predict that 184,192 Texans suffering from depression will go undiagnosed, 109,307 diabetics won't get medication, 40,562 women won't get mammograms and 62,610 uninsured individuals will have catastrophic medical expenditures.
Critics of the study say the study cannot be taken to prove a causal relationship between Medicaid expansion and lower mortality rates.

When the ACA was passed back in 2010, a requirement in the law required states to expand Medicaid for all households whose incomes fell below a certain level. A fairly generous level too. However in June 2012, the Supreme Court decided that states should be given an option to decide whether they wish to expand the Medicaid rolls. It could not be forced on the states by the federal government.

The Lone Star legislators in their wisdom then decided that expanding Medicaid was in the the great state of Texas was simply not going to happen. No way, Jose.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

OSHA, Condoms and The Porn Industry: A Matter of Worker Safety?

by Nomad

A San Francisco porn company has been hit with a fine of nearly $80,000 for maintaining dangerous workplace conditions, among them allowing performers to have sex on camera without using condoms. spokesperson Michael Stabile said that performers themselves preferred not to use condoms. In reality, Stabile told reporters, the fine was simply an attempt to close down the porn industry by Cal/OSHA, a Division of Occupational Safety and Health agency.
The inspection was prompted by a formal complaint filed by AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles advocacy group, after two Kink performers - Cameron Bay and her then-boyfriend Rod Daily - tested HIV-positive last year.
In September, California lawmakers voted down a bill that would have required that porn actors use condoms.
These rules have been primarily aimed to healthcare workers. However, they can also apply to lifeguards, police, firefighters and members of medical emergency teams workers in dental offices, prisons, medical laboratories, mortuaries, schools, home health care operations.
In fact, wherever there is a possibility of exposure, the employer has a duty to protect his employees. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Bread and Roses Strike of 1912 : The History and the Song

by Nomad

Bread and Roses Strike 1912

The story of the Lawrence Mill Strike of 1912 has - like most of the history of the labor movement- received very little coverage in the mainstream media.  
With that in mind, I offer this summary of the events that occurred over one hundred years ago in in the mill town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.

History always provides both interesting parallels and contrasts to our own age. Before we look back, therefore, let's take a quick examination at our own times as a kind of reference.

Our Gilded Age

Wages Productivity Graph ComparisonToday worker wages have remained stagnant since the 1980s. while hourly productivity has risen to all-time high levels. The reason generally cited to justify this effect is the increased competition from third world manufacturing with low-income workers in countries such as China and India. As CNN reported back in 2011,
Incomes for 90% of Americans have been stuck in neutral, and it's not just because of the Great Recession. Middle-class incomes have been stagnant for at least a generation, while the wealthiest tier has surged ahead at lighting speed... Meanwhile, the richest 1% of Americans -- those making $380,000 or more -- have seen their incomes grow 33% over the last 20 years, leaving average Americans in the dust.

Top 10% Richest Americans share of Economy

For corporations and the super wealthy, this has meant boom times- even during the recession. The rich have gotten richer, but a whole lot richer. The working class, however, has seen a steady deterioration in their standard of living. The trickle-down hasn't trickled.

According to Harvard magazine:

The United States is becoming even more unequal as income becomes more concentrated among the most affluent Americans. Income inequality has been rising since the late 1970s, and now rests at a level not seen since the Gilded Ageroughly 1870 to 1900, a period in U.S. history defined by the contrast between the excesses of the super-rich and the squalor of the poor.
And same CNN article cited above gives us one reason for the problem:
One major pull on the working man was the decline of unions and other labor protections, said Bill Rodgers, a former chief economist for the Labor Department, now a professor at Rutgers University.

Because of deals struck through collective bargaining, union workers have traditionally earned 15% to 20% more than their non-union counterparts, Rodgers said.

But union membership has declined rapidly over the past 30 years. In 1983, union workers made up about 20% of the workforce. In 2010, they represented less than 12%.

"The erosion of collective bargaining is a key factor to explain why low-wage workers and middle income workers have seen their wages not stay up with inflation," Rodgers said.

Without collective bargaining pushing up wages, especially for blue-collar work -- average incomes have stagnated.
One hundred years ago, the textile mills in New England -which was the starting point for the industrial revolution in the US were in a similar position.  The strength of labor unions- to bring about better social conditions for workers was still in its infancy. The labor action in Lawrence was to be a major test of might against might.

The Stage of History is Set

If any one industry came to represent the industrial age it would probably be the textile industry. With its looms, its workers and the mill owners and the capitalists that profited from the industry, it was where the industrial revolution really began. In the United States, that new age started in the mill towns of Massachusetts back in the 1830s. By the turn of the new century, after seventy or so years, the industrial revolution had matured into something we might recognize today. 

According to the book about the strike, The Trial of a New Society, despite consolidations of mills, legislative tariffs to protect their industry and improved machinery to boost production, the wages and conditions of the textile workers remained the unchanged. In fact, the wages for mill workers were in steady decline. According to the census figures from 1890 to 1905, wages had actually decreased 22% to 19.5%.

One reason for the conditions was the stiff competition from Europe's low-wage economies. American mills simply could not keep up and were forced to increase production and cut wages. The number of looms had increased but the number of workers had not. For the textile industry, these were boom years. For their employees, it could hardly be much worse.
As one source notes:
Working conditions became unbearable. Social reformers documented the high mortality rate due to malnutrition, overwork and occupational illness.
A report at that time found that for the month of November 1911, the 22,000 textile workers in Lawrence, received an average of $8.76 per week. That average was for a good week only and included the wages to all grades of labor. Almost one-third of the work force earned less than $7. (Critics of that study thought even those numbers were exaggerated and that the figure was much closer to $6 a week.)

The fix was in, workers well understood. Survival came at a cost. For example, the rents in Lawrence were, on average higher than in New York, Chicago or Boston, without any of the social advantages of the big city. 
The mill workers claimed that over 50 percent of the workforce in Lawrence made up of women and children which added to the burden on family life for the mill workers. The workers were mostly Pole, Lithuanian, Russian, Irish and Italian immigrants- all willing to work at whatever wage they could find.

Or so the mill operators had long thought.

1912 Lawrence Mill Strike Editorial Cartoon

Breaking Point

Clearly, something had to give. Previous labor actions had failed and the long-standing grievances had been ignored by the mill operators. 

A crisis was building and, on January 11 1912, the final blow came when women workers of the Everett Cotton Mills in Lawrence, received their pay envelopes and found they had been short-changed by 32 cents. (Nothing for us, perhaps, but in that day, it would have bought three loaves of bread for working families whose wages were well below the poverty line.)

The reason for the pay cut was a new state law which, ironically had been considered the answer to the long hours. This law had just come into effect the week before and workers were extremely nervous about how the mill would apply the provisions of the law that reduced the work week by two hours.  
To help alleviate the distress, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law, effective Jan. 1, 1912, that reduced the workweek for women and children to 54 hours from 56. Lawmakers didn't anticipate that the mill owners would respond by cutting wages by 4 percent.
Although the wage reduction was small in amount, the workers of Lawrence realized from experience that the new wages would not be sufficient to live on.
Their position... was near enough to absolute starvation as to leave no doubt on that point. So rather than suffer a further weekly loss of six loaves of bread, a great part rose up en masses in spontaneous revolt.
As news of the short-changed wages spread throughout the factory, women began turning off their looms and walked out. The next day, workers at other factories joined them. Soon, some 25,000 workers were on strike. Every mill in Lawrence was closed down as a result of the labor action.
The events of Lawrence were to send shivers down the industrialized world.

Lawrence, with its exploitation and luxury for the benefit of a few capitalists on one side, and its slavery and starvation for the many workers on the other, was now enacting the worldwide drama of the class struggle- of the irrepressible conflict between capital and labor.

Strikers Army Lawrence Mill Strike


Men, women and children workers joined together in the revolt. It was one issue which encouraged true gender equality- a rarity in that age. As one source explains:
Women didn’t shy away from the protests. They delivered fiery rally speeches and marched in picket lines and parades. The banners they carried demanding both living wages and dignity—“We want bread, and roses, too”—gave the work stoppage its name, the Bread and Roses Strike.
Furthermore, the strike united the various nationalities within the labor force.
Although strikers lacked common cultures and languages, they remained united in a common cause. The social networks of the day—soup kitchens, ethnic organizations, community halls—stitched the patchwork of strikers together. And once news of the walkout went viral in newspapers around the country, American laborers took up collections for the strikers and local farmers arrived with food donations.
On the other side of the battle lines, the industrialists and political leaders joined together to put down the revolt. One common method to undermine the legitimacy of any strike is to plant provocateurs among the strikers. Even so, the feelings among the strikers were riding high and violence was always a possibility.
Mill owners and city leaders hired men to foment trouble and even planted dynamite in an attempt to discredit strikers. Lawrence’s simmering cauldron finally bubbled over on January 29, when a mob of strikers attacked a streetcar carrying workers who didn’t honor the picket line. That afternoon, as police battled strikers, an errant gunshot struck and killed Anna LoPizzo. The following day, 18-year-old John Ramey died after being stabbed in the shoulder by a soldier’s bayonet.
Children of Strikers Lawrence MIll Strike

The Exodus of the Children

In the following month, as the tension increased, the children of the strikers- 119 in all- were sent to New York to be sheltered by relatives or, in some cases, volunteer families. Most of these children, it was discovered, were suffering from malnutrition.

In terms of publicity "children's exodus" was a stroke of brilliance. When the children arrived in Manhattan, a cheering crowd was there to greet them at Grand Central Station. Another trainload arrived the following week. 

When Lawrence authorities, realizing they were losing the public relations battle, attempted to halt 46 children bound for Philadelphia, things went from bad to worse. At the train station, the city marshal ordered the families to disperse and take their children home.
When defiant mothers still tried to get their children aboard the train and resisted the authorities, police dragged them by the hair, beat them with clubs and arrested them as their horrified children looked on in tears.

The Public Takes Notice

Gradually, with the help of labor-friendly newspapers, the tide of public opinion was changing in support of the workers. Across the nation, the support continued to grow for the strikers. President Taft ordered his attorney general to investigate, and Congress conducted a hearing on the strike on March 2.

Testimony at those hearings from child workers age 14 or younger gave vivid descriptions of the working conditions and the pay inequities. Revelations from the hearings appalled the nation.
A third of mill workers, whose life expectancy was less than 40 years, died within a decade of taking their jobs. If death didn’t come slowly through respiratory infections such as pneumonia or tuberculosis from inhaling dust and lint, it could come swiftly in workplace accidents that took lives and limbs. Fourteen-year-old Carmela Teoli shocked lawmakers by recounting how a mill machine had torn off her scalp and left her hospitalized for seven months.
This turned out to be the final blow for the textile factory owners. Once the public became aware of the shocking conditions, the strikers had won. The capitalists quickly realized they had lost the battle of public opinion and any further resistance was pointless.

By the middle of March- nine weeks after the strike had begun- the mill owners and worker union representatives agreed to a 15 percent wage hike, an increase in overtime pay and an amnesty for strikers. 
On March 14, the strike was officially over.

However, the Bread and Roses Strike was a victory not merely for the workers in Lawrence. That same month, 275,000 New England textile workers received similar raises and workers in other industries had reason to hope for changes too.

Reflections on Today

The days of the great labor unions seem long gone but the conditions that gave rise to them still remain with us, here and all over the world. Fortunately, the work conditions have improved in the US for workers in general., However, the same cannot be said for the workers in other countries- countries that American workers must compete with. 

A Bangladeshi or Sri Lankan woman or a child worker in India, Vietnam, Indonesia or Brazil would have a lot in common with the Lawrence mill worker of 1911. Instead of raising the working standards for these countries, American workers are somehow expected, as part of globalization, to return to the days before the "Bread and Roses."
*    *    *
The Lawrence events is often called "The Bread and Roses Strike." In fact, the name originated from a poem, which appeared a year before the labor action began, published in American Magazine and written by James Oppenheim. Here are the words:
Bread and Roses

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!
The poem was later set to music and sung as a protest song in the 1970s. Although it commemorates a long-forgotten episode in labor history, the song has become an anthem of sorts, especially for the rights of working women in America and all around the world.
Here is that song as sung by Judy Collins: