Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Enslavers built this country with the whip

If you care about how white supremacy came to be the unhealed wound in this country's body and soul, I suggest two history books that provide a grounding through which to interpret that evil's current manifestations. The first was published four decades ago, Edmund Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. (The link is to my short discussion of it.) Morgan describes how adopting slavery made possible early colonial Virginia's tobacco economy and how maintaining slavery by violence warped the intellectual world of the U.S. founding generation. Last year, Cornell historian Edward E. Baptist's The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism extends analysis of slavery to the frontier states where cotton became king and U.S. capitalism accumulated its foundational wealth.

What Baptist has done is simple, if laborious and painful: he has studied many, many slave narratives and post-slavery interviews with the institution's survivors and discerned patterns of horror which render a story quite different from what we may have learned in school. Then he has woven this material into a powerful narrative of the pre-Civil War United States.

His central assertion, which I would say is unlikely to be refuted, is that southern planters in the then-southwest (Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and so on) invented a new system for exploiting bound human labor that yielded previously unimagined productivity. Enslaved African Americans literally created the wealth of the emerging United States, under the lash. Here's a longish, but I hope understandable, set of quotations that summarize Baptist's case:

The kind of slavery that [the slave Charles] Ball was encountering and that was emerging on the frontiers of the early nineteenth-century South was inherently new. For centuries, slavery in the New World had expanded by a process of extension: adding new slaves, clearing new fields ... By 1820, whites had already transported more than 200,000 enslaved people to the South's new [southern and western] frontiers in the years since 1790. ...

What made this forced migration truly different was that it led to continuous increases in productivity per person -- what economists call "efficiency." ... The first slavery [in Virginia and on the east coast] had not yielded continuous improvements in labor productivity. On the nineteenth-century cotton frontier, however, enslavers extracted more production from each enslaved person every year.

The source of this ever-rising productivity wasn't a machine like the ones that were crucial to the textile mills. In fact, you could say that the business end of the new cotton technology was a whip. ...

... The best known innovation in the history of cotton production, as every high-school history student knows, is the cotton gin. It allowed enslavers to clean as much cotton for market as they could grow and harvest. As far as most historians are concerned, the gin is where the study of innovation in the production of cotton ends ... But here is the question historians should have asked: Once enslavers had the cotton gin, how then did enslavers produce (or have produced, by other hands) as much as the gin could clean? ... [E]nslaver-generals took land from Indians [think Andrew Jackson and Sam Houston], enslaver politicians convinced Congress to let slavery expand [most prominently South Carolina's John C. Calhoun and such Presidents as Polk, Pierce and Buchanan], and enslaver-entrepreneurs created new ways to finance and transport and commodify "hands." And, given the finite number of captives in their control, entrepreneurs created a complex of labor control practices that enslaved people called "the pushing system."... Innovation in violence, in fact, was the foundation of the widely shared pushing system.

... "Their plan of getting quantities of cotton," recalled Henry Bibb of the people who drove him to labor on the Red River, "is to extort it by the lash." In the context of the pushing system, the whip was as important to making cotton grow as sunshine and rain. ...

[And the whip, squeezing productive creativity from the enslaved pickers, worked.] From 1805 ... to 1860 in Mississippi, the amount of cotton the typical "hand" harvested during a typical day increased three, four, six, or even more times over. In 1801, 28 pounds per day was the average from several South Carolina labor camps. ... by the 1840s, on a Mississippi labor camp, the hands averaged 341 pounds each on a good day ... To alienate one's hands and rewire them for someone else was torment. Enslaved people, however, discovered how to do it.

Southern planters could sell any amount of cotton to English mills; their riches rapidly increased. Northern financiers and budding industrialists got in on the bounty by buying up securitized shares of slave "hands" who worked on the plantations, financing yet further geographical spread of the system. This financial tie-in, in turn, meant that in the Panic of 1837, Northern bankers ended up owning the debt of some of the the biggest planters. Now it was their system.

From the perspective of the Southern planter class, the means by which their slave-enabled boom could be revived and made to last forever was through expansion to new lands. They sought (and obtained) Texas and yearned to seize the entire U.S. Southwest, Mexico, Cuba, and Central America for the slave production system.

African Americans had been saying for years that slavery's power built on the acquisition of new territory. On the frontier, enslavers could destroy the old standards of production, disrupt families, securitize the individuals extracted from them as commodities, sell the financial instruments thus created on financial markets around the world, and ride the resulting boom of excitement.

So why did resistance emerge in the North to extension of slavery? Baptist makes a solid case for the North's complicity in the profits of slave production, but is less clear on how countervailing forces emerged. Certainly most Northerners were not abolitionists until perhaps the middle of the Civil War and even then their abolitionism did not extend to sympathy with enslaved African Americans.

My understanding is that a critical fraction of Northerners came to resent being impeded by the "Slave Power" from developing the country in a different direction. The South's insistence on its "institution" stood in the way of "free labor," of "internal improvements" like railroads aided by the federal government, of a Homestead Act offering public land to settlers, and of the launching of land grant colleges. This vision had significant popular force behind it; Congress enacted much of it within a year of Confederate secession. Meanwhile, the South saw Lincoln's election by northerners with these ideas as a sign that they and their system had lost. Hence the wild throw of the dice that was the Confederacy and the Great Rebellion.

Baptist insists that we misunderstand how defining slavery was to the mid-nineteenth century United States.

It has been said that the Civil War was "unnecessary" because slavery was already destined to end, probably within a few decades after the 1860 election. Yet this is mere dogma. The evidence points in the opposite direction. Slavery yielded ever more efficient production, in contrast to the free labor that tried (and failed) to compete with it, and the free labor that succeeded it ... Forced labor that is slavery in everything but name remained tremendously important to the world economy will into the twenty-first century. [See this for example.] And the lessons the enslavers learned about ... forcing ordinary people to reveal their secrets so those secrets could be commodified, played out in unsteady echoes that we have called by many names (scientific management, the stretch-out, management studies) ...

I think Baptist would question, as we all must, whether the rebels of 1860 have even yet definitively lost their war to retain driven, powerless labor. This is what Harold Meyerson questions this month in How the American South Drives the Low-Wage Economy. The country is still fighting it out; at least some of the time, the contemporary "we" is a broader, more inclusive one than in 1860.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mission District cultural artifact

I complain a lot about how San Francisco is losing its soul. We mostly all do around here. And we're not wrong. The big tech money is sanitizing the place.
But we do still encounter improbable reminders of some decidedly non-standard cultures. Let's take apart this snippet of a poster I noticed not far from my Mission home this morning.

If you are not familiar with the genre, you may not recognize this as the effluent of one of two competing Trotskyist sectlets that hang on in the city. They use very similar typography, so are instantly recognizable to those of us who've been afflicted by them for years. I'm not going to link or tell you which one.

In case the Spanish is not understandable, it reads roughly "Marriage Equality -- how was it won? what does it mean" and advertises a public meeting about this topic at which "all are welcome." Whoever tore off the bottom of the poster spared us any further information.

This is still a neighborhood where a significant number of residents speak Spanish, so the language is not inappropriate. Apparently our sectarians are looking to attract Spanish speakers. Good for them.

On the other hand, very few people around here look like the lovely Black lesbians in the photo (more's the pity.) And somehow I doubt that people who are attracted by the topic are looking for a friendly, affirming clerical-collared pastor to marry them (though there are such persons available in the 'hood if that's someone's thing.)

Finally we get to the response someone has scrawled: "I want to marry my dog..." This might be an expression of hostility -- or, then again, perhaps not. Maybe someone really does want a movement that would enable her to marry her dog? If this is the coming thing, you saw it first on a poster in San Francisco's Mission.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dickhead of the week

Mr. Dickhead has been in temporary retirement around here for too long. It is time to pull him out again as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is trying to reinvigorate his sagging presidential campaign by going after Planned Parenthood's funding for women's health. Like all the Republican clowns, he's latched on to some hoax videos claiming to show that PP sells fetal tissue for research. (They don't, but if women are willing to donate, they will pass such material on, at their cost, to scientific labs.)

According to Reuters, Paul

plans to push Congress to cut federal funding for the non-profit reproductive healthcare organization Planned Parenthood in a debate over its treatment of aborted fetal tissue. ... Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has started a fast-track process to bring Paul's legislation for a vote soon, McConnell's spokesman told Reuters on Sunday.

...Paul has urged cutting the nearly $500 million in annual taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood in the latest Republican effort to limit government support of the group over its abortion services.

... Abortions comprise 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's health services, according to the organization's website. About 40 percent of the non-profit's funding comes from government sources, including Medicaid managed-care plans.

Planned Parenthood is the medical provider of last resort for millions of women who fall through the cracks of our crazy quilt healthcare system.

Paul doesn't give a damn about them. He just wants to strut his stuff for the crazy Republican electorate that wants to force unready women to bear (and care for) unwanted children.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Not so long ago, she was among us

This morning she smiles at the streets of the City as the annual marathon flows by.

Rumors of war over the South China Sea

As I walk around San Francisco, I often bemoan how soaring land values are transforming this peninsular city. There's construction everywhere and it sure doesn't look as if there will be room for immigrants and workers as it gets done. But there are still an astonishing diversity of people and concerns. Not infrequently, I come home from walking a precinct and rush to the web for answers: what are these residents so stirred up about?

Allow me to share what I learned from my superficial research into that sign. The Paracels look to be off Vietnam, but were taken over definitively by the People's Republic of China in 1974 after a naval battle. Though there's not much to the islands, including no reliable fresh water, the Chinese are developing them as a tourist destination. Meanwhile both Taiwan and Vietnam maintain the Paracels are part of their countries.
Via Wikimedia Commons
The Spratly Islands seem even less likely to be objects of international strife: no people, no arable land, and little water. All that's there would seem to be fish and guano, all that is except the possibility there is undersea oil.

That last presumably explains why six nations claim these isolated reefs: Brunei, the PRC, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. All of them maintain some military presence on the islands and there have been several skirmishes among the claimants since 1946. Most recently, China has been dredging and building an airfield which the other claimants consider evidence of aggressive intent. The U.S. and China engaged in some classic jockeying for position over the region this spring. Presumably the U.S. Navy is being deployed to protect the possibility of U.S. oil operations.

Just as the Quemoy and Matsu crisis was scary background noise for those of us who grew up in the 1950s, the Paracels and Spratlys are simmering hot spots today for those aware of these remote atolls.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Get arrested; end up dead

Leah Libresco at FiveThirtyEight ran the numbers.

African-American arrestees are at a considerably higher rate of arrest-related death by homicide than whites. Those homicides are overwhelmingly likely to be committed by law enforcement personnel, not other jail inmates. The U.S. Justice Department counted 2,958 arrest-related homicides between 2003 and 2009; 99 percent of those were committed by law enforcement.

The Justice Department notes in both its report on deaths in jail and on arrest-related deaths that its numbers are likely to underestimate the true rate of deaths, because of underreporting, but that they have more confidence in the relative rate of different causes of deaths.

My emphasis. #Blacklivesmatter

Saturday scenes and scenery: snapshots in and around the loo

Here in parched California, we take saving water seriously. Still this sticker inside a portapotty seems self-servingly didactic, given its captive audience.

Somebody has been making art inside this portapotty door.

There seems to be a movement in upscale San Francisco neighborhoods to encase the temp toilets at construction sites within enclosures like this. We are living in a new gilded age!

Meanwhile this excellent facility occupies several parking spaces on one of our still seedy downtown streets.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Lust for more war is looking like a partisan issue

And that is not a good thing.

As the Times reported yesterday, Senate Republicans seem to be working themselves up to repudiate the Iran nuke deal.

... the vast majority of Republicans appear to have made up their minds before a single classified briefing, hearing or visit with administration officials.

Fortunately, they can posture all they like and hold symbolic votes against the agreement, but unless they can bring a lot of Democratic Congress members to join them, they can't stop it.

But in general, at this moment, the closest thing we have to a bulwark against more stupid shit -- against another on-the-ground U.S. adventure in the Middle East -- is that Democrats still oppose throwing masses of soldiers into the meat grinder. A new Pew Poll shows strong ongoing anxiety about the Islamic State. Hey, we're still suckers for beheading propaganda. But 49 percent of us still don't want to send U.S. troops, while 44 percent think that would be just the thing.

What's scary about these numbers is that 63 percent of Republicans are panting for a ground war while the same percentage of Democrats are saying no way. Independents break more evenly, though slightly against.

If there is any good news in this survey, it is that young people under 30 are far more suspicious of any drive toward war than their elders. White men are the most likely to want to attack the Islamic State, while women across races and people of color are a little more cautious.

Facing the 2016 election, it is important to point out loudly and clearly that Republicans seem to be awfully casual about leading the U.S. into a hornet's nest. Republicans -- both the politicians and most of their constituents -- are currently a war party.

But probably even more important, Democrats need to push Hillary Clinton to commit to using international diplomacy to advance U.S. policy aims instead of sending in the Marines (or more likely JSOC). Why she's even got the background to do it. We rarely get a President with that experiential skill set.

Friday cat blogging

I thought that was my pillow, but apparently Morty thinks different(ly).

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Whatever the weather, it's too damn hot!

The first six months of 2015 were the hottest, ever.
Good visual summary of the condition our condition is in.

From the Carbon-Freeze campaign.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Nightmare for anti-militarists


Kevin Drum makes a plausible prediction about next year's presidential race (once we get through the foolishness and the Republicans settle on someone):

Right now, everyone thinks the Iran treaty is going to be the big foreign policy issue of next year's election. Maybe. But I think interest will fade after it's a done deal. Instead, ISIS will probably dominate the conversation, and Republicans will have to put up or shut up. If President Obama's limited strategy of training and airstrikes isn't working, are they willing to commit to a large-scale intervention using ground troops? That's likely to be the big foreign policy issue of the election.

He's riffing off Professor Stephen Walt's sensible observation that the entity called ISIS, or ISIL, or Islamic State or Daesh seems to be successfully establishing itself as the effective government of a goodly swath of Sunni Muslim former Syria and Iraq and isn't going to be dislodged by U.S. bombing and ineffectual, fragmented enemies. As Sarah Chayes would highlight, at present it has banished a humiliating, exhausting culture of corruption from its conquests and that would give any governing authority a novel legitimacy. Even the New York Times documents this:

... its officials are apparently resistant to bribes, and in that way, at least, it has outdone the corrupt Syrian and Iraqi governments it routed, residents and experts say.

“You can travel from Raqqa to Mosul and no one will dare to stop you even if you carry $1 million,” said Bilal, who lives in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, and, out of fear, insisted on being identified only by his first name. “No one would dare to take even one dollar.”

... increasingly, as it holds that territory and builds a capacity to govern, the group is transforming into a functioning state that uses extreme violence — terror — as a tool.

I hope we can be confident that, whatever provocations the aspiring caliphate may pull off before next year, the outgoing Obama administration is unlikely to dump U.S. troops into the fray. The Prez seems determined as I write to go out without "doing stupid shit", an admirable policy framework we could use more of.

But Drum may be right that an argument about whether the U.S. should go crashing into another war could become a central issue next fall -- and the idea has disquieting implications.

For Hillary Clinton, this will require some fancy footwork. Aside from her Wall Street ties, distrust of Hillary over her hawkishness is probably her greatest liability among Democratic voters.

On the other hand, we can count on any Republican to promise to (re)establish imperial dominance by maximum force and violence. Anything less would unmanly, un-exceptional, unAmerican. And just consider, that nominee could be named Bush ...

People who care about peace can't allow this horror show to develop without loudly raising up a picture of a more peaceable posture. Otherwise we'll be as organizationally enfeebled as we found ourselves after the 9/11 attacks.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Choosing life


In Kansas City, Missouri, there's a blogger who calls herself "Blue Girl." Blue Girl is seriously pissed off with the dickheads who released a heavily edited video of a Planned Parenthood doctor discussing how to transmit donated fetal tissue to research facilities. She used to work in just such a lab and she has lived what she is writing about.

The morgue is downstairs, connected by tube and elevator.

So we do the autopsies.

Sometimes, that autopsy is on a stillbirth, and sometimes it's on a neonate that was born alive but didn't survive.

Those are the really quiet ones.

We have in front of us a perfectly healthy full-term infant.  Except it's dead.

... I have stood at that table and searched for the elusive cause of death to give a family grieving the greatest loss imaginable an answer to the question they must have an answer to. "Why me? Why my baby? Why???"

... The causes of fetal demise are varied, but that doesn't matter to the family going through the loss. To them, no one has ever hurt this bad, felt this much pain, been this mad at God...

And that is what pisses me off so bad about the latest attack video on Planned Parenthood.

And guess what, pro-lifers? If you get the fuck out of the way and stop playing "gotcha" and setting up front groups with no other purpose than to entrap a Planned Parenthood (only 3% of their work is abortions) official discussing a topic that is inherently unpleasant on hidden camera so they can heavily edit the footage, research can happen and less wanted children will die. These people are so monomaniacally stupid it makes me want to scream.

Let's talk about organ transplants for a second.  Everyone knows someone who got a new-to-them-organ.  That is really icky if you think about it...taking organs out of one dead person and putting them in several other live ones, and I bet most pro-lifers check the box on their license anyway. Well, guess what? if we harvest a heart in KC that goes to Denver and two kidneys that go to Des Moines and Wichita and corneas that go across town to KU Med and a liver that goes to someone here in town at another hospital, part of that processing includes a shipping and handling fee. I'm trained in this shit, you don't get the butcher from Hy-Vee to process organs for shipment.

I know what the doctor was talking about is a topic that makes people uncomfortable, and makes people squirm, but the tissue and organs she talked about preserving as doomed fetuses were aborted were shipped to labs -- much like, hell, EXACTLY like -- the one I used to work in, those tissue samples, those intact defective organs, allow for medical advances in the fields of perinatology and neonatology, and those advances mean the pathologist and the technologist have a lot fewer opportunities to clasp hands and say a silent prayer before beginning an autopsy on a stillbirth or a dead neonate.

As Blue Girl says -- do read it all -- the practice of medicine is ICKY! But all that icky stuff saves lives. Having just seen a friend brought back to life by a donated kidney from a grieving family, I'm touchy about this.

H/t Ed Kilgore.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A head scratcher post: now what?


Every time I turn around, a new study pops up suggesting that people in this country are deserting their historic Christian religious affiliations. Here's a recent one if anyone needs one.

There are now approximately 56 million religiously unaffiliated adults in the U.S., and this group – sometimes called religious “nones” – is more numerous than either Catholics or mainline Protestants, according to the new survey. Indeed, the unaffiliated are now second in size only to evangelical Protestants among major religious groups in the U.S.

... More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall.

The "nones" -- some fraction of whom identify as "spiritual but not religious" -- tend to think Christianity is about guilt, condemnation and hypocrisy. They are not fans of claims that churches are being denied liberty.

Fr. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit and a senior analyst for the National Catholic Reporter writes about the concerns of Douglas Laycock, a professor of law and religious studies at the University of Virginia. Laycock thinks that religious leaders who claim "religious liberty" -- though unspecified he clearly is talking about Catholic bishops and the evangelical Christian right -- are effectively delegitimizing and marginalizing themselves and their institutions.

"For tens of millions of Americans, conservative churches have made themselves the enemy of liberty." He fears that more and more Americans are coming to perceive claims of "religious liberty" as a cover for believers who are trying to impose their views on others.

This is more interesting coming from Laycock than it would be from me, because he was one of the drafters of the federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, a version of which brought infamy on Indiana last spring amid accusations that it would legalize homophobia.

"One of the ironies of the culture wars is that religious minorities and gays and lesbians make essentially parallel demands on the larger society," he writes. "I cannot fundamentally change who I am, they each say. You cannot interfere with those things constitutive of my identity; on the most fundamental things, you must let me live my life according to my own values."

Each side of the sexual revolution sees itself as opposing a grave evil and protecting a fundamental human right.

... Laycock quotes Colorado State Sen. Pat Steadman as telling those who wanted a religious exemption to a bill he authored, "Get thee to a nunnery and live there then. Go live a monastic life away from modern society, away from people you can’t see as equal to yourself, away from the stream of commerce where you may have to serve them."

Laycock grounds his perception of what is happening in this country by looking at the history of established religion in France. In that country, religion was the enemy of the anti-monarchical revolution, of democracy, of liberty and equality. So liberty is identified not with protecting religious expression but with tamping down religious power: France has regulations against wearing Muslim headscarves, against some kinds of evangelism, and has tight controls on religious schools which are funded by the government.

We don't have to look across the ocean to see what can happen when religion becomes identified with repression. The Mexican government is officially secular, despite the religiosity of the country. Does anyone still read Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory? It's potent, in a somewhat horrifying way.

In this country, religion has largely lost the power to dictate personal morals. (Yes, abortion access is a partial exception to this generalization; it's not yet clear where the country will come out there.) If anything is going to save "religious liberty" amid the secular tide, it is probably going to be religion's perceived weakness as much as the enumerated guarantee against governmental interference in the Constitution's First Amendment.

Yet societies do need some kind of moral compass. Whatever we use for that function is not going to be traditionally Christian or even religious. Where do we find it?
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