Monthly Archives: July 2018


(posted on DAILY KOS, July 28, 2018)

In the comments on an editorial, one struck me in particular. I’m am posting it here because it is a look at the US from the outside, and it possesses a clarity that America seems to have lost. I’m putting it in large type, the better for it to be seen.  Memphrie et Moi, writing from Betwixt Gog and Magog, has this to say:

It has been thirty two years since the anti-American Antonin Scalia was given a seat on the Supreme court.

I am a 70 year Canadian who knew the USA when it was committed to the values and ethics of the founders. I have read Jefferson when he warned about the corporate take over of your country.

Back in 1980 if you had told me that in 38 years the average Canadian would be wealthier, healthier, better educated, happier and more secure than the average American I would ask you what you were smoking.

The conservatives were right about one thing neoliberalism would provide maximum economic growth. Low taxes and small government would make the richest most powerful country in the world richer and more powerful. The conservatives never told you that for most Americans conservative economics would do exactly the same thing it did in the 19th century. Most Americans would see less opportunity, stagnant income and a dramatic drop in their personal security.

Nafta saw your GDP grow at twice the rate as ours but as we invested in the health, education of our citizens. Your citizens became consumers and those that could afford to consume the most became the new aristocracy.

The Canadian historian, writer and philosopher John Ralston Saul says America is the most European country on the planet. Saul is an historian and he means 18th and 19th century Europe like the Europe that saw three million Irish starve to death or deported from a land where food was plentiful except for potatoes.

(Note from Kilroy: 18th, and well into the 19th century Europe was “owned” by the hereditary aristocracies running each country–to the point that working people could not imagine owning land–subsisting as tenants on vast estates. Escaping one’s fate as a laborer or craftsperson–usually following several generations at the same tasks, was only a fantasy for most. “Safety nets” for the unfortunate or diseased, barely existed. No wonder then that revolutionary ferment or migration was so popular, despite the perils of being on the losing side or chancing sea voyages on “coffin ships” to unfamiliar lands.)

‘Nuff said? Let’s make this go viral.

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Michael Pierce

Michael Pierce, associate professor at University of Arkansas, is working on a book project examining the rise and fall of New Deal-style liberalism in Arkansas. He is the author of Striking with the Ballot: Ohio Labor and the Populist Party

View all posts by Michael Pierce »

As Kentucky legislators pass a measure outlawing the union shop and Missouri’s General Assembly contemplates doing the same, it is worth remembering that so-called Right-to-Work laws originated as means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations and to beat back what was seen as a Jewish cabal to foment a revolution. No one was more important in placing Right-to-Work on the conservatives’ political agenda than Vance Muse of the Christian American Association, a larger-than-life Texan whose own grandson described him as “a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, and a Communist-baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”

The idea for Right-to-Work laws did not originate with Muse. Rather it came from Dallas Morning News editorial writer William Ruggles, who on Labor Day 1941 called for the passage of a United States Constitution amendment prohibiting the closed or union shop. Muse visited Ruggles soon thereafter and secured the writer’s blessing for the Christian American Association’s campaign to outlaw contracts that required employees to belong to unions. Ruggles even suggested to Muse the name for such legislation—Right-to-Work.

But Muse first attracted national attention through his work with Texas lumberman John Henry Kirby in the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution, which sought to deny Roosevelt’s re-nomination in 1936 on grounds that the New Deal threatened the South’s racial order. Despite its name, the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution received funding from prominent northern anti-New Deal industrialists and financiers including John Jacob Raskob, Alfred P. Sloan, and brothers Lammot, Irénée, and Pierre du Pont. Among Muse’s activities on behalf of the Southern Committee was the distribution of what Time called “cheap pamphlets containing blurred photographs of the Roosevelts consorting with Negroes” accompanied by “blatant text proclaiming them ardent Negrophiles.” Muse later defended the action and the use of its most provocative photograph: “I am a Southerner and for white supremacy . . . . It was a picture of Mrs. Roosevelt going to some nigger meeting with two escorts, niggers, on each arm.”

Vance Muse, who would later lead the fight for Right-to-Work, and Texas lumberman John Henry Kirby organized the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution in 1936. The Southern Committee—funded by northerners like John J. Raskob, Alfred P. Sloan, and the du Pont brothers—insisted that the New Deal threatened the South’s racial order and sought to defeat Franklin Roosevelt’s reelection effort.

In 1936, on the heels of the Southern Committee’s failure to deny Roosevelt’s nomination, Muse incorporated the Christian American Association to continue the fight against the New Deal, offering up a toxic mix of anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Communism, and anti-unionism. The Christian Americans considered the New Deal to be part of the broader assault of “Jewish Marxism” upon Christian free enterprise. The organization’s titular head, Lewis Valentine Ulrey, explained that after their success in Russia the “Talmudists” had determined to conquer the rest of the world and that “by 1935 they had such open success with the New Deal in the United States, that they decided to openly restore the Sanhedrin,” that is, both the council of Jewish leaders who oversaw a community and the Jewish elders who, according to the Bible, plotted to kill Christ. This “modern Jewish Sanhedrin”—which included people like Justice Frankfurter and NAACP board member Rabbi Stephen Wise—served as the guiding force of the Roosevelt Administration and the New Deal state. Vance Muse voiced the same anti-Semitic ideas in much simpler terms: “That crazy man in the White House will Sovietize America with the federal hand-outs of the Bum Deal—sorry, New Deal. Or is it the Jew Deal?”

By the early 1940s, Muse and the Christian Americans, like many southern conservatives, focused much of their wrath on the labor movement, especially the unions associated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The Christian Americans solicited wealthy southern planters and industrialists for funds to help break the “strangle hold radical labor has on our government” through the enactment of anti-union laws. Muse and his allies continued to claim that Marxist Jews were pulling the national government’s strings, but the membership of this cabal shifted from the likes of Wise and Frankfurter to CIO leaders like Lee Pressman and Sidney Hillman. The Christian Americans, like other southern conservatives, insisted that the CIO—which had become shorthand for Jewish Marxist unions—was sending organizers to the rural South to inflame the contented but gullible African-American population as the first step in a plot to Sovietize the nation.

The waves of anti-Semitism emanating from Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany and the prospects of American involvement in the war in Europe convinced the Christian Americans to tone down their anti-Semitic rhetoric by the early 1940s. As Vance Muse’s co-worker and wife, Maria, confessed in 1943, “Christian Americans can’t afford to be anti-Semitic outwardly, but we know where we stand on the Jews, all right.”

Muse and the Christian Americans initially had little luck selling their Right-to-Work amendment but did have success peddling a pre-packaged anti-strike law to planters and industrialists first in Texas and then later in Mississippi and Arkansas. This law made strikers, but not strikebreakers or management, criminally libel for any violence that occurred on the picket line. For a fee, Muse and his organization would lobby legislators and mobilize public support through newspaper advertisements, direct mail campaigns, and a speakers’ bureau. In Arkansas, Muse and the Christian Americans portrayed the anti-strike measure as a means to allow “peace officers to quell disturbances and keep the color line drawn in our social affairs” and promised that it would “protect the Southern Negro from communistic propaganda and influences.”

The Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation and allied industrialists were so pleased with the Christian American Association’s success in passing the anti-strike measure that they agreed to underwrite a campaign in 1944 to secure a Right-to-Work amendment for the Arkansas constitution. This placed Arkansas alongside Florida and California as the first states where voters could cast ballots for Right-to-Work laws. While Muse and the Christian Americans consulted with the campaigns in California and Florida, they led the one in Arkansas.

During the Arkansas campaign, the Christian Americans insisted that right-to-work was essential for the maintenance of the color line in labor relations. One piece of literature warned that if the amendment failed “white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes . . . whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.” Similarly, the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation justified its support of Right-to-Work by citing organized labor’s threat to Jim Crow. It accused the CIO of “trying to pit tenant against landlord and black against white.”

In November 1944, Arkansas and Florida became the first states to enact Right-to-Work laws (California voters rejected the measure). In both states, few blacks could cast free ballots, election fraud was rampant, and political power was concentrated in the hands of an elite. Right-to-Work laws sought to make it stay that way, to deprive the least powerful of a voice, and to make sure that workers remained divided along racial lines. The current push for Right-to-Work in Kentucky and Missouri (along with the fueling of nativism) does something similar—it is an attempt to persuade white working people that unions and racialized others are more responsible for their plight than the choices made by capital.

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Why Don’t Americans Care More About Their Society Imploding? This is not normal!

Why are we not surprised? Does it have something to do with the person depicted?
heads in the sand humans


wisdom from Umair Haque, courtesy of  MEDIUM

Journalists being massacred…after a President declares the press the enemy of the people. Infants being tried…alone. Government agents knocking down a door during an interview about…their abuses.

This is not normal, my friends. No, not just that part — but also the next part. The response of Americans to all the above. Forgive me. I want to point out what seems to me an inconvenient truth. They just don’t seem to care. At least not enough, or genuinely, often, or intensely. You’ll protest, I’m sure. “How can he say we don’t care?!” So let’s consider it. I don’t mean it in a judgmental or angry way. Just in the way of quiet understanding.

Even in poor countries, when, for example, journalists are massacred, do you know what tends to happen? Their fellow journalists, often, together with civic organizations, professors, lawyers, and just regular people, protest. Sometimes for days. They mass in front of parliaments or supreme courts, and demand some kind of justice — or justice cannot be done, at least some kind of reform, attention, interest. Yes, really. The very next day, usually. In other words, people do three critical things. They stand together, when they are harmed. They demand accountability for those harms. And they call attention to those harms. They do this even when there is a steep price to pay — they’ll be beaten, go on watchlists, be shunned, and so on.

But Americans just don’t do any of this — even though they won’t face those consequences (yet, anyways). They have a moment or two of shared lamentation — and then, a day or two later, go back to the long forgetting. That endless cycle of make-believe, the numb denial that characterizes life now. Or maybe, once or twice a year, there is a big march. But that is the same thing as saying: there is no real reaction except detachment, or maybe resignation, mostly. Do you even remember where the last school shooting was? How about what happened last month? What about the last scandal, outrage, transgression — can you even name it? It’s just one long, endless grey haze now, isn’t it? Ah, but that haze — what is it made of?

The name of that haze is indifference. So the question is this. Why don’t Americans care, enough of them anyways, even at this bleak point, about the dismal fate of their own society? Really care? Not just tap out mournful tweets? To care isn’t just that, because it costs nothing. To care is to pay a price, isn’t it? We say “self-sacrifice”, often, but that hides a deeper truth. To care is to invest in something greater than yourself, which is why you must pay a price to really care — just like those poor journalists protesting will.

When I think about all that carefully, what it really means to me is this. Americans think caring for another is morally wrong. Not just dangerous, or risky — but wrong. Bad. Unhealthy. Toxic. It might make people less well off if I care about them, therefore I mustn’t — that’s what the American mind’s fundamental idea appears to be (even if it doesn’t know it). But how could that be? How could it be wrong to care — not wrong not to?

It makes perfect sense, if you think about it.

The American ideal is rugged self-reliance, independence, but in a curious and hypocritical way. The ruggedly independent person isn’t making his own bullets, axe, or gun. He didn’t build the road into the woods, or blaze the trail into the forest, or even read the book about engineering the road. He is just pretending at independence and self-reliance. But he is pretending precisely because he can. He does not have to care, because he is at the top of a hierarchy. Being at the top, and not having to care, is another way of saying that one does not have to invest in anyone else, because one has the power not to. And in that way, the American ideal, therefore, is about having a very specific kind of power — the power not to invest in anyone else at all.

What do we do in American life? We compete to fulfill this ideal, don’t we? We don’t think of ourselves as “successful” anymore because we have invested in anyone or anything else — whether with money, time, ideas, attention, energy, thoughtfulness, gentleness, support. I would go so far as to say we never did. For us, success is the precise opposite. It is reaching the position at the top of the hierarchy that I just discussed — the one that the patriarch occupies. The place of not having to care, where one can feign self-reliance. Then one thinks to one’s self, in modern American life, that one has made it. One can relax and rest easy now. One has fulfilled one’s self as a moral being.

Make that concrete, if it helps. If I say, “ a successful life”, what does it mean? Probably a big mansion, maybe a big loft, a fleet of fine cars, designer everything, a partner many people envy you for having, and so on, even if I exaggerate a little. What all this means to you, psychologically, though, is just that ideal: “self-reliance” is what your unsaid thoughts say, and you probably think, wistfully — “ah, if I just had all that! Then I could finally relax! I would be fulfilled!!” So you are contesting a position in a hierarchy made of individualist materialism — where success is precisely reaching the point of not having to care about anyone or anything else. That is your moral aim in life — or at least the one you’re told to have.

A successful life to us isn’t one in which we become full human beings, capable of intensely and genuinely caring for anyone or anything beyond ourselves. In other words, we paint success as material — not moral. But if that’s the way that we’re living our lives, then it’s no great surprise that caring about anyone else — which means investing in them, paying a price of some kind to stand with them — is felt as morally wrong.

(The key word is felt. Moral rights and wrongs are mysterious things to us. We feel about things, quite often, precisely the opposite way that we think we should, hope we will, or believe we do. What do you feel when I say: “you don’t care about society enough?” You probably feel angry, don’t you? You want to lash out at me, a little, somewhere, deep inside. Go ahead — it’s OK. We’re just trying to understand ourselves, I’m not judging you. And adding to your anger, I’d bet, there is a sense of shame. What do those two emotions, anger and shame, tell us? You’d only feel those emotions if my image of you was in conflict with your self-image. So they tell us that you are repulsed by the idea of genuinely caring for society — not that you are failing to live up to your own ideal. Thus, you feel that my ideal, that the definition of a “successful” human being is someone who can genuinely care for another, is morally wrong. It’s unbearable for you to hold that thought. “I’d be weak if I cared!”)

Deep down, I think, Americans, whether they know it consciously or not, subscribe to a theory of human life that goes like this. Everything is a hierarchy — and the aim of life is to claw your way to the top. At the peak lies the luxury not to have to invest in anyone or anything else, which is what the great myth of “self-reliance” really is. A myth, because there is not a soul in human history, nor will there ever be, who can fulfill all their own wants, needs, and desires, but only pretends to. Hence, unconsciously, there is the belief that it is profoundly and deeply morally wrong to really care about anyone. It’s a sign of weakness. It makes people lazy and helpless. It corrodes the self and society both to care about anything but one’s self.

But it’s no surprise that Americans have been left impotent by this unconscious belief, either — because if you can’t care about anyone else, what are you? You are a narcissist. Empty inside — always looking for admiration and validation, never able to give love and warmth. (I don’t mean you, of course. I just mean in the general way we are talking about life.)

And perhaps that’s no great surprise. After all, all that is exactly what predatory capitalism, supremacy, and patriarchy tell us to be. Narcissists, incapable of investing in anyone else. These three ideologies, which have always defined American life, have, I think, molded the American unconscious into a perfect vessel for them. You must never care, each one says. Capitalism says: you must never care for anyone, period — only use them. Patriarchy says: you must never care for the weak, only trample them. Supremacy says: you must never care for the inferior, only despise them. All of them say: you are just an insatiable appetite — an emptiness to be filled up, with nothing to give.

And so here we are. With nothing left to give. At precisely the time we need each other most.

But that, my friends, is not normal. Not the collapse. The collapse is perfectly normal. Societies collapse every day, in history’s eyes. What’s not normal is how Americans seem to feel about the collapse of their society. Somewhere between indifferent, aloof, resigned, and detached. How little Americans seem to care, in a genuine way, about each others’ lives falling into the hands of tyrants and monsters. And sadly, funnily, that is, if you ask me, because they have been taught, all their lives long, to think that it’s morally wrong to.

June 2018

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