August 17, 2017

George Washington and Robert E. Lee

Sam Smith

One of the hazards of not studying history is that it can badly distort the present and the future as well as the past. This is a particular problem for younger Americans as, over the past three decades or so, there has been so little evidence of cultural progress in government, the arts, the economy, or America’s reputation in the world. Rare exceptions include cyber technology and, somewhat surprisingly, the declining death rate of war. For an older American like myself, on the other hand, history was an act of progress for nearly my first forty years or so – from the New Deal to the 1960s and up to Reagan. I didn’t have to study this history; I lived it.

And besides, history was a more important item in the curriculum when I was young. One thing I learned from it was that mankind in many ways improved through time, not just technologically thanks to things like the printing press but morally through such things as the abolition of slavery and the empowerment of women. One of the reasons post-1980s America has discouraged me so much is that this improvement seems to be determinedly fading away.

I was reminded of this by the argument, offered by Donald Trump’s lawyer among others, that George Washington was no better than Robert E Lee because the former also owned slaves. This ignores the fact that one of the aforementioned help to create the republic while the other attempted to destroy it.  And if we as a people had not improved in decency and other ways since the 18th century, what purpose was there for us to be on the planet at all?

In other words, the fact that those  in the past were flawed  in ways that we now soundly reject is a sign of human progress and our judgment should be based on the time someone lived not by the standards that have evolved. As Barbara Tuchman put it, “To understand the choices open to people of another time, one must limit oneself to what they knew; see the past in its own clothes, as it were, not in ours.”

And though I far prefer Benjamin Franklin or Frederick Douglass to George Washington, for all the latter’s flaws I greatly favor him over Robert E. Lee who, even by the standards of his own time, tried to destroy something great and good.

Remember further, before judging the past, that some day we will share responsibility for the planet’s climate and, perhaps, even for still believing in war, which may have become the abolition cause of another era.

But there is no way we can handle such issues by listening to the likes of Donald Trump’s lawyer. A Don Dileo put it once, “History is the sum total of the things they're not telling us.”

Trump was wrong about the Civil War long ago

“Many great American soldiers, both of the North and South, died at this spot. The casualties were so great that the water would turn red and thus became known as ‘The River of Blood.’ It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!” - Plaque at the Northern Virginia Trump National Golf Club 

Golf Digest - “No. Uh-uh. No way. Nothing like that ever happened there,” Richard Gillespie, the executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, told the Times. Gillespie went on to say the closest thing to what Trump was describing was a battle 11 miles up the river in 1861. “The River of Blood?” he said. “Nope, not there.” During his campaign, Trump questioned how historians could dispute the battle. "How would they know," he told the Times. "Were they there?"

How the Democrats lost rural America

Roll Call, November 2016 - Democrats in rural America have a blunt message for the rest of their party: We saw the electoral disaster coming — and it’s your fault.

Strategists and party officials say their warnings about the party’s lackluster outreach to rural voters went unheeded by Democratic leaders for years, culminating in [the] shock defeat to Donald Trump.

.... To these old Democratic political hands — many of whom hail from well outside the cities where most party professionals live — the outcome would have been preventable if the party had developed and sustained an effort to win over these voters. Instead, they say a Democratic Party that focused on only the urban and suburban vote either ignored rural America entirely or badly mishandled the outreach it did undertake.

...More than anything, these strategists say the Democratic Party simply needs to show up. According to some strategists, the party didn’t even bother to organize a voter outreach effort in rural America, they say, much less send candidates to hold rallies there.

...When Democratic officials did show up, Sadler and others said they were ill-equipped for the nuances of a campaign in rural America.

“When they do show up, it’s 22-year-old kids from the Ivy League,” Sadler said. “And they’re telling you what do, as opposed to stopping and listening.”

To these strategists, the Democratic Party has become captive by a set of city-dwelling political professionals who personally don’t understand the important differences of urban versus rural campaigns. It’s a blindness that led them to dismiss the results of successive midterm elections, electoral wipeouts that many Democrats believed was mostly a consequence of the party’s urban base failing to turn out.

“The brilliant ones at top know better,” said Nancy Larson, a member of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. “And they come down and say, ‘This is what you do, this is what you say, this is what you have your candidates do, and don’t stray from this.’”

Anti-depressant use soars

Web MD - The number of Americans who say they've taken an antidepressant over the past month rose by 65 percent between 1999 and 2014, a new government survey finds.

By 2014, about one in every eight Americans over the age of 12 reported recent antidepressant use, according to a report released Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be taking the medications, the report found, with antidepressants used by 16.5 percent of females compared to just under 9 percent of males.

Trump's Deutsche Bank support coming under investigation

Vanity Fair - The New York Times reports that banking regulators are currently “reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit . . . to [see] if the loans might expose the bank to heightened risk.” Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that executives at Deutsche are “expecting that the bank will soon be receiving subpoenas or other requests for information from Robert Mueller,” and that the special counsel’s investigative team and the bank have “already established informal contact in connection to the federal investigation.”

There’s certainly plenty to look into. Over the last 20 years, Trump has received more than $4 billion in loan commitments and potential bond offerings from the German lender, despite suing the company in 2008 when he fell behind on payments on the $640 million loan he was given to build Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago. Incredibly, in order to avoid paying the $40 million he had personally guaranteed, Trump and his lawyer argued that “Deutsche Bank is one of the banks primarily responsible for the economic dysfunction we are currently facing”—i.e. the global financial crisis—and therefore it should pay him $3 billion in damages under the extraordinary event clause in his contract. Naturally, the bank countersued, calling the real-estate developer’s claim “classic Trump.” In the end, after threatening to take his name off the building if he wasn’t granted more time to pay, the bank gave Trump extra time; when he did pay the money he owed to the firm’s real-estate lending division, it was with another loan he got from Deutsche’s wealth-management unit.

In addition to Donald, Ivanka Trump is also said to be a Deutsche Bank client, as is Jared Kushner and his mother, who, per the Times, have “an unsecured line of credit from Deutsche Bank, valued at up to $25 million.” In addition, the Kushner family business, Kushner Companies, got a $285 million loan from the bank last year.

Polls: 40% support impeachment

Political Wire - A new PRRI survey finds that 40% of Americans — including nearly three-quarters of Democrats but just seven percent of Republicans — back impeaching President Trump and removing him from office.

Schools, not statues, are the real problem

Removing Confederate statues does little to help our real history problem: the minimal role that history and civics play in our public school education. The rise of Nazism in the US can be attributed in part to our abysmal failure to educate our children about the past and what it means to live in a democracy. This problem has grown thanks to the new policies mistakenly known as school reform. 

Karol Markowicz, NY Post, January 2017 - A 2014 report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that an abysmal 18 percent of American high school kids were proficient in US history. When colleges such as Stanford decline to require Western Civilization classes or high schools propose changing their curriculum so that history is taught only from 1877 onward (this happened in North Carolina), it’s merely a blip in our news cycle.

A 2012 story in Perspectives on History magazine by University of North Carolina professor Bruce VanSledright found that 88 percent of elementary school teachers considered teaching history a low priority.

The reasons are varied. VanSledright found that teachers didn’t focus on history because students aren’t tested on it at the state level. Why teach something you can’t test?

A teacher I spoke with in Brooklyn confirmed this. She said, “All the pressure in lower grades is in math and English Language Arts because of the state tests and the weight that they carry.”

She teaches fourth grade and says that age is the first time students are taught about explorers, American settlers, the American Revolution and so on. But why so late?

VanSledright also found that teachers just didn’t know enough history to teach it. He wrote there was some “holiday curriculum as history instruction,” but that was it.

Arthur, a father in Brooklyn whose kids are in first and second grade at what’s considered an excellent public school, says that’s the only kind of history lesson he’s seen. And even that’s been thin. His second-grade daughter knows George Washington was the first president but not why Abraham Lincoln is famous.

As the parent of a first-grader, I’ve also seen even the “holiday curriculum” in short supply. First grade might seem young, but it’s my daughter’s third year in the New York City public school system after pre-K and kindergarten. She goes to one of the finest public schools in the city, yet knows about George Washington exclusively from the soundtrack of the Broadway show “Hamilton.” She wouldn’t be able to tell you who discovered America.

So far, she has encountered no mention of any historical figure except for Martin Luther King Jr. This isn’t a knock on King, obviously. He’s a hero in our house. But he can’t be the sum total of historical figures our kids learn about in even early elementary school.

For one thing, how do we tell King’s story without telling the story of the Founding Fathers, the Constitution or of Abraham Lincoln? King’s protests were effective because they were grounded in the idea that America was supposed to be something specific, that the Constitution said so — and that we weren’t living up to those ideals.

The Brooklyn teacher I spoke with says instructors balk when it comes to history: They don’t want to offend anyone. “The more vocal and involved the parents are, the more likely the teacher will feel uncomfortable to teach certain things or say something that might create a problem.” Which leaves .?.?. Martin Luther King.

She cited issues around Thanksgiving, like teaching the story of pilgrims and the Native Americans breaking bread together as one that teachers might sideline for fear of parents complaining. Instead of addressing sticky subjects, we skip them altogether.

As colleges around the country see protests to remove Thomas Jefferson’s statues from their campuses, it’s becoming the norm to erase the parts of history that we find uncomfortable. It’s not difficult to teach children that the pilgrims or Thomas Jefferson were imperfect yet still responsible for so much that is good in America.

August 16, 2017

Most Confederate statues weren't erected for decades after Civil War

A striking graphic from the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed that the majority of Confederate monuments weren't erected until after 1900 — decades after the Civil War ended in 1865. Notably, the construction of Confederate monuments peaked in the 1910s and 1920s, when states were enacting Jim Crow laws, and later in the 1950s and 1960s, amid the Civil Rights Movement:

Washington Post - In the Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection there are three times as many statues of Confederate soldiers and politicians as there are statues of black people in the entire Capitol complex, according to records maintained by the Architect of the Capitol.

Blacks 8 times more likely to be homocide victims than whites

Hit & Run - Black Americans are eight times more likely than white Americans to be the victims of a homicide...  In 2015, homicide rates were 5.7 deaths per 100,000 for the total population, 20.9 for non-Hispanic blacks, 4.9 for Hispanics, and 2.6 for non-Hispanic whites.

The good news is that U.S. homicide rates declined steeply over the past three decades. As the Bureau of Justice Statistics reports, the homicide rate increased from 4.6 per 100,000 U.S. residents in 1962 to 10.2 per 100,000 in 1980. The rate then fell to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1984, rose again to another peak in 1991 at 9.8 per 100,000, and then started plunging back down. It reached a nadir of 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014 before rising back to 5.7.

Trump plans weaker bridges and roads than Obama

NPR - The president [announced] a new executive order with serious repercussions. Among other things, he is rolling back an Obama-era order that infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, be designed to survive rising sea levels and other consequences of climate change.

President Barack Obama signed the order in 2015, but the changes have not taken effect; FEMA has been soliciting input and drafting new rules.

Now, the order has been revoked as part of an effort to "slash the time it takes" to approve new infrastructure projects, as Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao put it in a statement.

Supporters say the Obama flood rules would protect lives, by positioning new roads and buildings on safer ground, and protect financial investments by ensuring that infrastructure projects last as long as they were intended.

Why people vote against their interests

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2012

It is always sad to see large numbers of people engaged in a politics that opposes their true self interest.

It is one of the things that defined the American south for a century after the Civil War.

It was what allowed the Nazis to take power in Germany.

The reasons are numerous and varied but key to them is often a culture under great stress believing false promises being made to it by the powerful. White southern sharecroppers were taught to romanticize a plantation society they could never join and to blame blacks for their problems. For Germans the target was Jew.

While the scale and ultimate evil of these examples differ enormously, the strategy was the same: false stories, false demons and false solutions.

It is, however, the reality that America will face in coming months, so it may help to look at some other important factors affecting the outcome:

Money:. The right spent about $23 a vote to win in Wisconsin. Transferred to the fall election, that would mean - thanks to the despicable Citizens United ruling - any of the following could buy the election and still have  from 83 to 98 percent of their wealth left: Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, either of the Koch brothers, Geoge Soros, any of four Waltons, Michael Bloomberg or Mark Zuckerberg.

The media - Television remains the major source of information and misinformation for American families, who spend over six hours a day with their TVs on. The networks they are watching are overwhelmingly run by corporations whose bias is towards the right. To get a sense of how television affects our view of politics, notice how often TV journalists refer to a candidate's ads as opposed to their actual positions. TV has made political propaganda equal to or superior to actual facts in its coverage. This doesn't even have to be malicious. For example, last night Howard Fineman on MSNBC was pushing the Republican line that public employee pensions are a serious issue. If Fineman had bothered to look into the matter he would have found, as Robert Reich has reported, that "public-sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)" These days it is considered good journalism just to pass on the lies of politicians.

Extremist group culture - The secret of extremist groups is that they offer salvation with little demanded other than cash and loyalty. The Republican Party is increasingly sharing the characteristics of the KKK, the Church of Scientology or Skull & Bones, namely offering a safe haven without the need for thought.This has a powerful appeal to the troubled.

The collapse of civic education: One of the seldom discussed characteristics of corporate-driven school testing is that it takes major time away from those former activities in a school that made students good citizens able to function with others. The victims include not only civic education but joint activities - including the performing arts - that teach the young how to live in a community. Another victim is history. Where does a young person today learn about the role labor unions have played in making America the country it is? Or come to  understand the importance of a recall?:

Labor unions - Labor unions aren't what they once were, not because the problems that created them don't still exist but; like so many other American institutions. they have become more often iconic instruments of power rather than effective advocates and practitioners of their own cause.  Unions have been losing members for quite a while, yet - with a few notable exceptions - not much imagination has been applied to the problem. For example, the labor movement could have launched a workers' equivalent of the AARP, one of the powerful non profits in the country - creating its own constituency for organizing. Unfortunately, nothing like this happened.

The collapse of liberalism - In recent decades, liberalism has turned into a upscale social demographic rather than a political movement. As it has done so, its historic connections with the working class and labor have suffered badly. For example, Franklin Roosevelt's labor secretary, Frances Perkins, was central to more progressive economic legislation than the entire liberal movement has been able to come up with in the past thirty years. It's hard to get liberals excited anymore about issues like pensions or the minimum wage and eventually politics reflects this fact. Consider the example of the women's movement, which - with a few exceptions like the group Nine to Five - has been stunningly uninvolved with the most oppressed women in the country, those of lower incomes and social class. Further, treating those you should be organizing as just a bunch of  Bible thumping, gun toting idiots doesn't help much.

The case for municipal banks

Salon - A municipal bank is a city-licensed public bank that operates much the same way private banks do: providing regular checking and savings accounts, and making loans to promote policy objectives like affordable housing. There are a lot of ways one might do this: a city can create the bank (as a line-item appropriation) in a mayor’s budget; through an ordinance passed by a city council; or if the citizens vote for it.

Arguably the biggest benefit of municipal banks is that, unlike Wall Street, their priorities are in the community, not in profit. Indeed, municipal banks are one of the best ways to ensure a bank serves local interests and prioritizes community needs. Cities can hardwire economic and social equity goals into the charter of a municipal bank, which makes it a useful tool for ensuring a city serves its most vulnerable residents. People in need are often the most susceptible to budget cuts, so it’s valuable to have a public institution catered specifically to low-income residents.

Karl Beitel, director of the Public Banking Project, describes how municipal banks can play a significant role in creating affordable housing supply. By partnering with credit unions and community development financial institutions, municipal banks can be a major source of funding for city property acquisitions, which can be used to take housing off the private market to be converted into affordable housing. Municipal banks can also coordinate investment from public-sector unions, non-profits and socially responsible investment funds to support additional acquisitions and development.

Municipal banks can offer more competitive interest rates for student borrowers and lower-cost financing of public works. Rather than paying massive interest rates on bonds to individual financiers and banks, municipalities can issue their own loans — meaning the interest payments that would otherwise go to Bank of America or Wells Fargo can instead be reinvested in the city. Municipal banks have the added benefit of being more publicly accountable. Seattle City Council recently voted to cut ties with Wells Fargo over its role in financing the Dakota Access Pipeline. A city can narrowly define the scope of a municipal bank’s charter to make ethical investments that further the city’s policy goals.

Word: End Tuesday voting

Rep Louise Slaughter (D) and Norman Ornstein, American Enterprise Institute

President Trump’s faux commission on voter integrity is all about voter suppression. It is another sign of a disturbing trend in our broken politics and a move to restrict, rather than encourage, the most fundamental pillar on which our democracy has been constructed: the right to vote. At a time when our past strides to increase access to the ballot box are under siege, we must do more to encourage participation in our elections. Eliminating the obstacles Americans face when trying to cast their ballots begins with asking why we vote on Tuesday.

Voting on the first Tuesday after the first Monday is not enshrined in our Constitution. It is an arcane tradition enacted as a law in 1845 to help people in an agrarian society make it to the polls without interfering with Market Day on Wednesday. The challenges faced by Americans in 1845 are not the same as those we face today, and our laws should reflect this.

Long lines in recent elections kept voters waiting more than one or two hours. In some cases, during the rush hours in the mornings and evenings, that wait was much longer. Too often voters are forced choose between going to work, caring for their child or loved one, or voting. No one in a democracy should have to make that decision.

Elected representatives have an obligation to ensure our voting system makes it as convenient as possible for our friends and neighbors to exercise their right to vote. Our democracy will be best served when our leaders are elected by as many Americans as possible, with everyone eligible having a convenient opportunity to cast their ballots.

Weekend voting increases turnout. We don’t have to look far to see its effectiveness. Elections in France are held on a Sunday, and just this year the French saw a voter turnout of 75% of eligible voters going to the polls. In our 2016 presidential election, less than 56% of voters made it to the polls. In 2012, France’s voter turnout was 80%, while U.S. voter turnout was 54%. A Pew Research poll released this year ranked the United States 27th out of 35 of most developed countries in voter turnout. We can and must do better.

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Heatwaves of 131 degrees can be expected

Think Progress - In Europe, the recent heat wave was so extreme — with temperatures reaching 111°F, fueling wildfires and wasp attacks — it was nicknamed “Lucifer.” In the Middle East, as temperatures soared to 121°F, “birds in Kuwait have reportedly been dropping from the sky,” the International Business Times reported Friday.

But, new research says, we ain’t seen nothing yet. A new study by the Joint Research Centre the European Union’s science and research lab, finds that “if global temperatures rise with [7°F], a new super heat wave of 131°F can hit regularly many parts of the world, including Europe” and the United States.

...These are truly heat waves the likes of which have never been seen. Yet they will become commonplace around the globe. The Southeastern United States would be one of the hardest hit places

The summer hell of prisons

Mother Jones - All across the country, prisons and jails are not equipped with air conditioning, and when temperatures soar, inmates are often trapped in unbearable, life-threatening conditions. The southern United States faces the greatest risk of extreme heat in the future, and cities in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas are projected to see the greatest increase of dangerously hot days. All three rank in the top 10 of states with the highest incarceration rates and already serious problems have emerged.

In Texas, only 75 percent of state prisons have air conditioning.... Since 1998, 22 people have died in Texas prisons and jails because of heat-related issues.

In Florida, where most state-run prisons do not have air conditioning, Climate Central, a nonprofit climate science news organization, estimates that by 2050 the average number of days above 90 degrees in Miami will increase from 86 to 134. At Dade Correctional Institute, which lies within the Miami area, even the staff describe the prison as a “squalid, un-airconditioned, putrid hell.”

Why big ideas fail in schools

A remarkable analysis by Michael Hobbes iin Pacific Standard who says at one point:
 This is as close as I've come to a conclusion from the two weeks I spent at Nathan Hale [high school] and the two years I spent afterwards trying to understand what I saw there: Maybe when it comes to education reform, big ideas don't matter. There will never be a structure or a technology or a method that is more powerful than the environment in which it is applied. Big ideas are, at their best or their worst, simply a mirror—an amplified or diminished reflection of the leaders, the institutions, and the people expected to carry them out.

"You have to find out what every single kid needs and get it for them. There's no shortcut that's going to make that easy," says Ms. Sarah Smith, my old history teacher. ... Now she works for Rainier Scholars, a non-governmental organization that helps low-income students make it to college. Some of her kids need tutoring, she says. Others need SAT prep, or rides to school, or warm clothes or anger management or anxiety medications. "It's never one thing—it's everything."


August 15, 2017


Political Capital - New Jersey Governor:  (Marist) Phil Murphy (D) 54% Kim Guadagno (R) 33%
Virginia Governor (Monmouth) Ed Gillespie (R) 44% Ralph Northam (D) 44% Cliff Hyra (L) 3%

Iran may quit nuclear agreement if new sanctions are imposed

Daily Beast - Iran is prepared to quit its nuclear deal with world powers “within hours” if new sanctions are imposed by the United States, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tuesday. “If America wants to go back to the experience (of imposing sanctions), Iran would certainly return in a short time–not a week or a month but within hours–to conditions more advanced than before the start of negotiations,” Rouhani said at live-broadcast session of parliament in Tehran. “The world has clearly seen that under Trump, America has ignored international agreements and, in addition to undermining the (nuclear deal), has broken its word on the Paris agreement and the Cuba accord... and that the United States is not a good partner or a reliable negotiator.”

Missing in action

Any coverage of how North Carolina schools teach the Civil War.

Household debt at record high

Household debt hit a new record high in the second quarter of 2017, and credit card delinquencies are on the rise, according to a new report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Tuesday.

Tuesday's report marked the first time since 2009, when the country was still reeling from the financial crisis, that the economy saw a year-over-year rise in people falling behind on credit card payments. Economists at the New York Fed called the rise in credit card delinquency "potentially concerning, particularly in the context of a strong economy and low interest rates."

Record household debt isn't necessarily a bad thing. Researchers at the New York Fed noted that, unlike in 2008 when the level of debt first approached $13 trillion, there isn't a lot of questionable mortgage debt this time around.

But the rise in credit card delinquency, particularly a sharper uptick in the number of lower-credit borrowers more than 90 days behind on payments, is something to monitor because it should not be expected in a still-recovering economy that is adding jobs, the bank's economists said. A separate report released by the Fed's Board of Governors last week suggested that credit card debt hit a new record high in August.

Trump denied Australian casino because of alleged "mafia connections'

The Australian - Donald Trump’s plan to build and operate Sydney’s first casino was killed off in 1987 by the NSW government on the back of a high-level police report that warned against the now-US President’s bid because of his “mafia ­connections’’.

The secret report by the NSW Police Board into the suitability of tenderers for the inner-city ­Darling Harbour casino project cautioned that it would be “dangerous’’ to go ahead with Mr Trump’s joint venture with the Queensland-based Kern Corporation, headed by the late developer Barry Paul.

Documents show that the ­Unsworth Labor cabinet met in May 1987 to discuss the assessment of the four tenderers for the project, which also included a fin­ancial report that concluded Mr Trump’s consortium had overstated projected revenues from the ­casino.

Mr Trump had been ­approached by the Kern Corporation — a then successful developer of shopping centres, with strong ties to superannuation funds — to front and operate the casino.

Cabinet minutes from May 4, 1987, contain a summary of the Police Board’s position and show they considered the Kern/Trump bid to be unacceptable. “Atlantic City would be a dubious model for Sydney and in our judgment, the Trump mafia connections should exclude the Kern/Trump consortium,” the report concluded

California first state to sue Trump regime to protect sanctuary cities

Politico - California has become the first state to sue the Trump administration over its anti-sanctuary cities policy.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the state's suit argues that the Justice Department is violating the Constitution by trying to implement a new policy that would deny grants to jurisdictions that fail to give immigration authorities access to local jails or fail to give immigration officials 48 hours’ notice on the release of prisoners being sought on immigration charges.

California is joining two localities already suing over the policy change the Trump administration announced last month, Chicago and San Francisco.

Movie box office headed for lowest return in quarter century

Showbiz - If things continue as they have, this will be the lowest box office in a quarter century. While there have been bright spots (“Dunkirk”) and surprises (“Baby Driver”) the failures have outweighed everything.

Four years ago, at a USC symposium, famed and very successful directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg warned the film industry that reliance on blockbusters– tent pole movies that failed would cause an implosion. At first no one took them seriously. But now maybe we’re seeing what they meant.

Spielberg said at the time: “That’s the big danger, and there’s eventually going to be an implosion — or a big meltdown. There’s going to be an implosion where three or four or maybe even a half-dozen mega budget movies are going to go crashing into the ground, and that’s going to change the paradigm.”

Studios keep counting on international sales to bail them out. And it works a lot of the time. But continuing to send bad product from the US will eventually take its toll.

Trump regime demanding personal information of users of anti-Trump website

Washington Journal -Trump’s Department of Justice has requested personal information on 1.3 million visitors to an anti-Trump website that was used to organize protests against the President, according to Dreamhost, a web hosting provider.

Dreamhost, based out of Los Angeles, has apparently been working with the Department of Justice but has protested the government’s request as going “too far under the Constitution.” If the web hosting provider complied fully with the DoJ’s request, it would amount to handing over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses, as well as “names, addresses, telephone numbers and other identifiers, e-mail addresses, business information, the length of service (including start date), means and source of payment for services (including any credit card or bank account number), and information about any domain name registration.”

Manafort's big Russian connection

Daily Beast - Paul Manafort partnered on an $850 million New York real-estate deal with an ally of Vladimir Putin and a Ukrainian moneyman whom the Justice Department recently described as an “organized-crime member.”

That’s according a 2008 memo written by Rick Gates, Manafort’s business partner and fellow alumnus of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. In it, Gates enthused about finalizing with the financing necessary to acquire New York’s louche Drake Hotel.

Two former federal prosecutors told The Daily Beast that the hotel deal was likely to be an item of focus for special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

August 14, 2017

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Word; Jimmy Carter on North Korea

Jimmy Carter - The harsh rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang during recent months has exacerbated an already confrontational relationship between our countries, and has probably eliminated any chance of good faith peace talks between the United States and North Korea. In addition to restraining the warlike rhetoric, our leaders need to encourage talks between North Korea and other countries, especially China and Russia. The recent UN Security Council unanimous vote for new sanctions suggests that these countries could help.  In all cases, a nuclear exchange must be avoided. All parties must assure North Koreans they we will forego any military action against them if North Korea remains peaceful.

I have visited North Korea three times, and have spent more than 20 hours in discussions with their political leaders regarding important issues that affect U.S.-DPRK relations.

During all these visits, the North Koreans emphasized that they wanted peaceful relations with the United States and their neighbors, but were convinced that we planned a preemptive military strike against their country. They wanted a peace treaty (especially with America) to replace the ceasefire agreement that had existed since the end of the Korean War in 1953, and to end the economic sanctions that had been very damaging to them during that long interim period. They have made it clear to me and others that their first priority is to assure that their military capability is capable of destroying a large part of Seoul and of responding strongly in other ways to any American attack.

Civil rights substance and symbols

Sam Smith

On the civil rights front, in recent years there has been a shift in action from substantive improvements to symbolic cleansing.  While the two should not, in principle, be in conflict, as a practical matter people tend to cling to their favorite symbols long after a substantive battle has been lost.  And they can fight harder over them than they do with substantive change.

In fact Charlotteville’s Robert E. Lee statue was authorized some fifty years after the end of the Civil War, at a time when southerners were redefining the struggle.  As ABC reported:

After the Civil War, Lee resisted efforts to build Confederate monuments in his honor and instead wanted the nation to move on from the Civil War.

After his death, Southerners adopted "The Lost Cause" revisionist narrative about the Civil War and placed Lee as its central figure. The Lost Cause argued the South knew it was fighting a losing war and decided to fight it anyway on principle. It also tried to argue that the war was not about slavery but high constitutional ideals.

As The Lost Cause narrative grew in popularity, proponents pushed to memorialize Lee, ignoring his deficiencies as a general and his role as a slave owner. Lee monuments went up in the 1920s just as the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a resurgence and new Jim Crow segregation laws were adopted.

In fact, therefore, the statue was not to celebrate a Civil War general but a rewriting of the war he fought.

Back in 2008, I addressed a similar problem as it had come up during the election campaign:

The other day Howard Dean made his comment about wanting to get the votes of people who drove pickups with Confederate flag stickers. He was immediately excoriated but what he was doing was simply reaching out to a constituency that Democratic liberals have too long dissed, the less successful white male. 

In fact, the best way to change people’s minds about matters such as ethnic relations is to put them in situations that challenge their presumptions. Like joining a multicultural political coalition that works. It’s change produced by shared experience rather than by moral revelation.

Martin Luther King understood this as he admonished his aides to include in their dreams the hope that their present opponents would become their future friends. And he realized that rules of correct behavior were insufficient:

“Something must happen so as to touch the hearts and souls of men that they will come together, not because the law says it, but because it is natural and right.”
This doesn’t happen logically, it doesn’t come all at once, and it doesn’t come with pretty words. Tom Lowe of the Jackson Progressive voted a couple of years ago in favor of a new Mississippi flag without the confederate symbolism. But in retrospect, he wrote later, he realized that the voters’ rejection of the change was a honest reflection of their state of mind:

“Perhaps a time will come when we have truly put aside our nasty streak of racism. When that time arrives, maybe we will choose to replace the flag with something more representative of our ideals. On the other hand, when we reach that point, we may no longer care about the symbolism of the Confederate battle flag. Or perhaps we will keep it for another reason: to make those of us that are white humble by reminding us of our less than honorable past.”

Or perhaps do what the Southern Student Organizing Committee did at the beginning of the civil rights movement: seize the old symbol for a new purpose. The SSOC logo showed a black and white hand firmly clasped across a confederate flag. It is, within my extensive button collection, a favorite because it illustrates how symbols can be transformed and used for better purposes. Yes, the confederate flag is still there, but firmly in the background, reminding one of how hard won were the clasped hands in front.

 The decline of liberalism has been accelerated by the growing number of American subcultures deemed unworthy by its advocates: gun owners, church goers, pickup drivers with confederate flag stickers. Yet the gun owner could be an important ally for civil liberties, the churchgoer a voice for political integrity, the pickup driver a supporter of national healthcare.

We’ll never know until we try. Dean, coming off some successful approaches to black voters, has now turned to another group the establishment, including its liberal branch, doesn’t really give much of damn about: the struggling white male. A Dean bumper sticker next to a confederate flag on a pickup may not be utopia, but it would be sure sign of positive change which, these days, would be a pretty big change in itself.

It is also interesting to note, as William Saletan does in Slate, that Dean received quite a different reception before he was the frontrunner. Here’s what he told the Democratic National Committee last February:

“I intend to talk about race during this election in the South. The Republicans have been talking about it since 1968 in order to divide us, and I’m going to bring us together. Because you know what? White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals on the back ought to be voting with us because their kids don’t have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too.”
Writes Saletan: “I have that speech on videotape. I’m looking at it right now. As Dean delivers the line about Confederate flags, the whole front section of the audience stands and applauds. It’s a pretty white crowd, but in slow-motion playback, I can make out three black people in the crowd and two more on the dais, including DNC Vice Chair Lottie Shackelford. Every one of them is standing and applauding. As Dean finishes his speech, a dozen more black spectators rise to join in an ovation. They show no doubt or unease about what Dean meant.”

The Dean controversy is driven by several factors. One is the growing liberal preference for proper language and symbolism over proper policy. Thus confederate flags soar above such other possible issues as the drug war with its disastrous effect on young black males, discrimination in housing and public transportation, and the lack of blacks in the U.S. Senate. Further, while liberals are happy to stigmatize certain stereotypes, they are enthralled with others, such as the self-serving suggestion that they represent a new class of “cultural creatives” saving the American city. And from whom, implicitly, are they saving the American city? From the blacks, latinos and poor forced out to make way for their creativity.

Another factor has far deeper roots: our fear of public discussion of class issues. Although this has repeatedly been noted by both black and white observers, it has little effect on our politics or the media, both of which project the myth that ethnic conflict occurs independent of economic divisions.

One who understood otherwise was the black writer, Jean Toomer – who once described America as “so voluble in acclamation of the democratic ideal, so reticent in applying what it professes.” Writing in 1919, Toomer said, “It is generally established that the causes of race prejudice may primarily be found in the economic structure that compels one worker to compete against another and that furthermore renders it advantageous for the exploiting classes to inculcate, foster, and aggravate that competition.”

Dean’s real sin was that he got too close to that topic

In dealing with the current complexities of ethnic symbolism it Is useful to ask: what will become of our efforts? If the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue has energized white nationalists in a way that has been rarely seen in recent years, don’t we have to ask whether such an approach is pragmatically wise?

There is no easy answer, but we should at least consider the issue. For example, what if the city of Charlottsville let the bushes grow up around the statue and did nothing to preserve it? What if there was next to the statue an exhibit outlining the history of the town’s actual role in the war, in slavery, and in the subsequent segregationist south?  For many the statue would become a symbol of these evils rather than an honor. History doesn't disappear but it can be redefined.

It will cost $700,000 to remove the statue. Think of the true history exhibit you could have for half that price.

There are some 1000 Confederate statues still up in the south.  We don’t need 1,000 more reasons for white nationalists to exert their evil. Converting these statues into a true history of where they are located could educate everyone who came to them.