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  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2018/03/11 Permalink
    Tags: Citizens United, corporate personhood, , , , , , , politics, The Kingfish,   

    “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one”*… 


    Louisiana Senator Huey Long announcing his presidential candidacy to members of the press in 1935

    Since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, the reality that corporations in the U.S. are afforded the same rights as individuals (even if they do not have the same responsibilities) has been on the minds of many.  But corporate personhood has a much longer history.  It began to take shape in that late 19th century when one of the drafters of the 14th Amendment convinced that courts that the Amendment is not limited to natural persons.

    Then, as Adam Winkler explains, the “endowment” of corporations caught fire in the 1930s– perhaps ironically, when newspaper publishers had to sue a politician to protect freedom of the press…

    When the Supreme Court first began to breathe life into the First Amendment in the early twentieth century, the speakers who inspired the newfound protections were politically persecuted minorities: socialists, anarchists, radicals, and labor agitators. Today, however, in the aftermath of the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which held that corporations have the same right as individuals to influence elections, the First Amendment is used by wealthy and powerful business interests seeking to overturn food-labeling laws, securities disclosure laws, and campaign finance regulations. Yet the seeds of this transformation were planted decades ago in a different Supreme Court case—though one eerily evocative of the Trump era—involving a blustery, dough-faced politician who railed against “fake news.”

    Huey Long was Trump before Trump. The fiery populist governor elected on the eve of the Great Depression had an aggressive agenda to make Louisiana great again—and little tolerance for dissent. Long set up a state board to censor newsreels and another to decide which newspapers would be allowed to print profitable government notices. When the student paper at Louisiana State University published an unflattering editorial about him, an outraged Long—referring to himself, as autocrats often do, in the third person—sent in the state police to seize copies, saying he wasn’t “going to stand for any students criticizing Huey Long.”

    After Louisiana’s larger daily newspapers came out against him, “the Kingfish” declared war. “The daily newspapers have been against every progressive step in the state,” Long said, “and the only way for the people of Louisiana to get ahead is to stomp them flat.” To do so, in 1934 Long’s allies enacted a 2 percent tax on the advertising revenue of the state’s largest-circulation newspapers. Long said the tax “should be called a tax on lying, two cents per lie.”

    Led by the Capital City Press, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, the newspaper companies challenged the advertising tax in court. They claimed the tax was an effort to silence those who questioned Long’s policies. Long had said as much, promising he was “going to help these newspapers by hitting them in their pocketbooks. Maybe then they’ll try to clean up.” As an editorial in the Morning Advocate warned, if the government can impose special taxes on newspapers that oppose the party in power then “the guarantee of a free press, written in the Constitution of the United States, is at an end.”

    One problem for the newspaper companies, however, was that they were newspaper companies. They were corporations, and it was not at all clear that for-profit business corporations had free speech rights. Indeed, the prevailing law was on Long’s side…

    The fascinating story in full at: “How ‘the Kingfish’ Turned Corporations into People” (excerpted from Winkler’s new book).

    See also: “How Corporate America Won Its Civil Rights” and “‘Corporations Are People’ Is Built on an Incredible 19th-Century Lie.”

    * Robert Reich


    As we contemplate unintended consequences, we might recall that it was on this date in 1818 that Mary Shelley’s epoch-making tale of a man-made monster, Frankenstein, was published.  Shelley had begun writing the story two years earlier, when she was 18 and on vacation near Geneva with her husband (the poet Percy) and their friend Lord Byron.  The house party set itself the task of each writing a gothic story; only Mary finished hers.  The first edition was published anonymously; Shelley was first publicly identified as the author on the title page of the 1823 second edition.

    The work has, as Brian Aldiss argues, a strong claim to being the first true science fiction novel.  As the sub-title– “The Modern Prometheus”– suggests (and like all great sci fi), it treats the philosophical, cultural, and psychological ramifications of scientific and technological progress.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:50 on 2018/03/02 Permalink
    Tags: Chateaubriand, , , , , , memoir, Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, politics, ,   

    “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”*… 


    Chateaubriand’s tomb, Saint-Malo, France

    Because history “belongs to the victors”– is shaped, both consciously and preter-consciously by writers looking back through the lens of their often very different presents– memoir can be an especially valuable as a vehicle for understanding a time in its own terms.  François-René (Auguste), vicomte de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave are especially precious.  His autobiography helps us as readers locate ourselves in a time of tumultuous transition– from the ancien régime to the modern era: the Revolution of 1789, the downfall of the monarchy and the execution of the king, the advent of Napoleon Bonaparte and the empire, the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty after the definite defeat of Napoleon by the powers that joined in the Holy Alliance, its overthrow by the Revolution of July 1830, the inauguration of Louis-Philippe and the establishment of the July monarchy, and finally the birth of the short-lived Second Republic.

    But more, Memoirs helps us understand the psychological reality of living through– and in Chateaubriand’s case, playing a series of engaged roles in– that social and political sea change.

    Chateaubriand was attached to the past and its centuries-old traditions, but he was also a liberal, open to modernity: this is one thing that sets him apart in the history of ideas. He had been repulsed by the discourse and the violence of the French revolutionaries and was deeply impressed by the powerful composure of George Washington, “the representative of the needs, ideas, intelligence, and opinions of his epoch.” He had a vision of social transformation that did not entail the obliteration of the past, and was proud to declare himself “Bourboniste by honor, royalist by reason, and republican by inclination.”…

    Anka Muhlstein on the significance of the Memoirs: “A Passionate Witness“; get the book here.

    (Literature can play a similar role: consider the Prince in Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Tom Doniphon (John Wayne) in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.)

    * newspaper reporter Maxwell Scott (Carleton Young), in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence


    As we struggle to understand, we might send tasty birthday greetings to the culinary genius behind green eggs and ham, Theodor Seuss Geisel, AKA “Dr. Seuss”; he was born on this date in 1904.  After a fascinating series of early-career explorations, Geisel settled on a style that created what turned out to be the perfect “gateway drug” to book addiction for generations of young readers.

    The more that you read,

    The more things you will know.

    The more that you learn,

    The more places you’ll go.

    I Can Read With My Eyes Shut! (1978)



  • feedwordpress 09:01:24 on 2017/12/15 Permalink
    Tags: , Bill of Rights Day, , , , , politics,   

    “When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie”*… 


    Internet censorship is a growing phenomenon around the world (c.f., here), perhaps the most severe form of which is the “disconnection” of a country from the global internet altogether…

    In January 2011, what was arguably the first significant disconnection of an entire country from the Internet took place when routes to Egyptian networks disappeared from the Internet’s global routing table, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. It was followed in short order by nationwide disruptions in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria. These outages took place during what became known as the Arab Spring, highlighting the role that the Internet had come to play in political protest, and heralding the wider use of national Internet shutdowns as a means of control…

    After these events, and another significant Internet outage in Syria, this question led a blog post published in November 2012 by former Dyn Chief Scientist Jim Cowie that examined the risk of Internet disconnection for countries around the world, based on the number of Internet connections at their international border. “You can think of this, to [a] first approximation,” Cowie wrote, “as the number of phone calls (or legal writs, or infrastructure attacks) that would have to be performed in order to decouple the domestic Internet from the global Internet.”

    Based on our aggregated view of the global Internet routing table at the time, we identified the set of border providersin each country: domestic network providers (autonomous systems, in BGP parlance) who have direct connections, visible in routing, to international (foreign) providers. From that data set, four tiers were defined to classify a country’s risk of Internet disconnection…

    Read ’em and weep at “The Migration of Political Internet Shutdowns.”

    * Yevgeny Yevtushenko


    As opt for open, we might recall that today is Bill of Rights Day: on this date in 1791, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution were ratified and came into effect.



  • feedwordpress 08:01:59 on 2017/09/14 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , politics, post-truth, , tutti frutti,   

    “All that is solid melts into air”*… 


    The end of ‘The End of History’ arrived together with the end of belief in reality. The Cold War world was a world of warring ideologies; in the twenty-first century, both American capitalism and post-Soviet oligarchy employ the same public relations specialists catering to gangsters with political ambitions. As Peter Pomerantsev described in Nothing is True and Everything is Possible, in the Russia of the 2000s, distinguishing between truth and lies became passé. In this world of enlightened, postmodern people, ‘everything is PR’.

    Reality television has rendered obsolete the boundary between the fictional and the real. Truth is a constraint that has been overcome; ‘post-truth’ has been declared ‘word of the year.’ In Washington, the White House shamelessly defends its ‘alternative facts.’ At the beginning, American journalists were taken off-guard: they had been trained to confirm individual pieces of information, not to confront a brazen untethering from empirical reality. The New Yorker captured the desperation with a satire about the fact-checker who passed out from exhaustion after the Republican debate. He had to be hospitalized; apparently no one replaced him…

    Postmodernism was conceived largely by the Left as a safeguard against totalizing ideologies. Yet today, it has been appropriated on behalf of an encroaching neo-totalitarianism of the Right. Is French literary theory to blame? And can a philosophy of dissent developed in communist eastern Europe offer an antidote?…

    (Some of) the ironic roots of the situation that we’re in: “A pre-history of post-truth, East and West.”

    * Karl Marx


    As we consult the Wayback Machine, we might recall that it was on this date in 1955, at J & M Studio in New Orleans, that Richard Wayne Penniman– better known as Little Richard– recorded the song (that he co-wrote with Dorothy LaBostrie) that became his first hit: “Tutti Frutti.”

    A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!


  • feedwordpress 08:01:30 on 2017/08/13 Permalink
    Tags: city government, , Left-Handers Day, Libertarianism, political philosophy, politics, , , Von Ormy   

    “Libertarians sometimes prove that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, and that there is a difference between logic and wisdom”*… 


    Art Martinez de Vara, the architect of Von Ormy’s incorporation as a liberty city

    For the last few years, Von Ormy has been in near-constant turmoil over basic issues of governance: what form of municipal government to adopt, whether to tax its residents, and how to pay for services such as sewer, police, firefighters and animal control. Along the way, three City Council members were arrested for allegedly violating the Open Meetings Act, and the volunteer fire department collapsed for lack of funds. Nearly everyone in town has an opinion on who’s to blame. But it’s probably safe to say that the vision of the city’s founder, a libertarian lawyer whose family traces its roots in Von Ormy back six generations, has curdled into something that is part comedy, part tragedy.

    In 2006, fearing annexation by rapidly encroaching San Antonio, some in Von Ormy proposed incorporating as a town. But in government-averse rural Texas, incorporation can be a hard sell. Unincorporated areas are governed mainly by counties, which have few rules about what you can do on private property and tend to only lightly tax. There’s no going back from what municipal government brings: taxes, ordinances, elections and tedious city council meetings. Still, the fear of being absorbed by San Antonio — with its big-city taxes and regulations — was too much for most Von Ormians.

    Enter Art Martinez de Vara. At the time, Martinez de Vara was an ambitious third-year law student at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, a local boy with a penchant for Texas history and right-wing politics.

    Martinez de Vara suggested a compromise of sorts. Von Ormy could become a “liberty city” — a stripped-down, low-tax, low-government version of municipal government that’s currently en vogue among the tea party in Texas.

    Initially, the city would impose property and sales taxes, but the property tax would ratchet down to zero over time. The business-friendly environment would draw new economic activity to Von Ormy, and eventually the town would cruise along on sales taxes alone…

    * Molly Ivins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (7 September 1996)


    As we seek the middle way, we might recall that this is International Left-Handers Day.  Celebrated since 1976, it promotes awareness of the inconveniences faced by left-handers– 7 to 10% of the world’s population– and celebrates their uniqueness and differences in a predominantly right-handed world.




  • feedwordpress 08:01:35 on 2017/07/31 Permalink
    Tags: Charles Elmer Hires, cheese, , Dairy Management Inc., , Got Milk?, , politics, , ,   

    “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese”*… 


    Americans eat 35 pounds of cheese per year on average—a record amount, more than double the quantity consumed in 1975. And yet that demand doesn’t come close to meeting U.S. supply: The cheese glut is so massive (1.3 billion pounds in cold storage as of May 31) that on two separate occasions, in August and October of last year, the federal government announced it would bail out dairy farmers by purchasing $20 million worth of surplus for distribution to food pantries. Add to that a global drop in demand for dairy, plus technology that’s making cows more prolific, and you have the lowest milk prices since the Great Recession ended in 2009. Farmers poured out almost 50 million gallons of unsold milk last year—actually poured it out, into holes in the ground—according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. In an August 2016 letter, the National Milk Producers Federation begged the USDA for a $150 million bailout…

    There exists a little-known, government-sponsored marketing group called Dairy Management Inc.(DMI), whose job it is to squeeze as much milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt as it can into food sold both at home and abroad. Until recently, the “Got Milk?” campaign was its highest-impact success story. But for the past eight years, the group has been the hidden hand guiding most of fast food’s dairy hits—a kind of Illuminati of cheese—including and especially the [Taco Bell] Quesalupa

    Amid an historic glut, a secretive, government-sponsored entity is putting cheese anywhere it can stuff it: “The Mad Cheese Scientists Fighting to Save the Dairy Industry.”

    * G.K. Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions


    As we opt for the stuffed crust, we might spare a thought for Charles Elmer Hires; he died on this date in 1937.  A Quaker pharmacist, introduced root beer to the world at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876.  A committed member of the Temperance Movement, Hires saw his drink (the original formula included sarsaparilla, sasafras, ginger, pipsissewa, wintergreen, and juniper, among other flavoring ingredients) as an alternative to alcohol, and dubbed it “the temperance drink” and “the greatest health-giving beverage in the world.”  Hires was inspired by root tea, but thought that “beer” would be a more attractive name to “the working class.”




  • feedwordpress 08:01:36 on 2017/06/27 Permalink
    Tags: , Fred Perry polo, Gibbon, hate, , History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire, politics, , skinheads, ,   

    “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs”*… 


    When brands get highjacked…

    At far-right rallies across the U.S., an English tennis champion named Fred Perry hovers, invisible to the men unwittingly representing him. For the last two years, members of the Proud Boys cult of masculinity have worn Perry-branded striped-collar polo shirts with a Wimbledon-inspired laurel insignia as they shout at anti-fascist protesters and take rocks to the head. In blog posts and tweets dating back to 2014, their patriarch Gavin McInnes has instructed them that this — a Fred Perry cotton pique tennis shirt, always in black and yellow — is the proper armor for battling multiculturalism.

    The Proud Boys at most have a few hundred active members, but they are a fixture at fascist “free speech” events like this month’s anti-Muslim marches, where they mingle with white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. McInnes is eager to point out that the Proud Boys accept people of color, Muslims, and Jewish people — so long as those members also “accept that the West is the best” and reject non-Western immigrants to America (McInnes is Canadian). But McInnes insists his followers are not themselves white supremacists, a clarification he has to make partially because Fred Perry polos have a history of popping up at racist skinhead punk shows and rallies across Europe and the Americas. The shirts have been a fixture in some form or another, in all their two-dozen-plus colorways, in both fascist and anti-fascist politics for fifty years, here in the States but especially in England, where both the brand and the skinhead subculture that co-opted it are from…

    The whole sordid story at “How Fred Perry polos came to symbolize hate.”

    * “Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”
    ― Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms


    As we cull our wardrobes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1787 that Edward Gibbon completed last lines of his monumental (and instructively cautionary) History of the Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (nearly 25 years in the writing) between 11 o’clock & midnight in Lausanne.  He called it the “hour of my final deliverance.”

    (In 1897, precisely 110 years later, Thomas Hardy visited the same spot and wrote his “Lausanne.”)

    Edward Gibbon, portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds



  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2017/06/21 Permalink
    Tags: , Constitutional rot, , , Jack M. Balkin, , politics, ,   

    “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves”*… 


    When you think about politics these days, it’s hard to avoid focusing on Donald Trump’s remarkable rise to power and his even more remarkable presidency. It’s even harder to avoid thinking about the scandals swirling around him day to day. It’s not that I don’t think these are important. But they are not the subject of today’s talk.  In this talk, I want to look at the big picture. In this picture, Trump is merely a symptom. He is a symptom of a serious problem with our political and constitutional system.

    Because Trump’s method is to provoke outrage and fluster his opponents, many people have wondered whether we are currently in some sort of constitutional crisis.  We are not. Rather, we are in a period of constitutional rot

    Yale Law professor Jack Balkin on the importance of not missing the forest for the trees: “Trumping the Constitution.”

    [image above, sourced here]

    * “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves ; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”   – Thomas Jefferson


    As we batten down the hatches, we might recall that it was on this date in 1788 that the eleven states voted to adopt the new U.S. Constitution, and it was formally ratified; it went into effect on March 4 of the following year.  The two remaining states ratified by 1790.

    Page one of the original copy of the Constitution



  • feedwordpress 08:01:55 on 2017/05/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , politics, , , ,   

    “We are homesick most for the places we have never known”*… 


    It is fascinating to note that from the early modern era to the twentieth century, the word nostalgia primarily indicated a disease, whose causes, symptoms and cures were debated. Nostalgia’s test-case was Swiss soldiers abroad who missed their home and were depressed. (It is not an ancient Greek term at all.) Immanuel Kant in particular was much vexed by the supposition that going home could somehow satisfy the longing for a lost past, which, he insisted, must remain unsatisfied by definition. Nostalgia in those days was a technical term used and discussed primarily by specialists. In the twentieth century, however, the word has become fully demedic­alized. It now means little more than a sentimental attachment to a lost or past era, a fuzzy feeling about a soft-focus earlier time, and is more often used of an advertising campaign, a film or a memory of childhood than with regard to any strong sense of its etymology, “pain about homecoming”. Victorians talked with passion about their feelings for the past, longed for lost ideals, and, as one would expect in an imperial age, often talked about travelling home, in overlapping physical and metaphorical senses. They also theorized such feelings and dramatized them in poetry, art, music and novels. But “nostalgia” is a major term for us, not them. In this sense at least, nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

    I can’t help wondering whether this shift in usage does not betoken a broader shift in politics too, or perhaps in cultural self-understanding…

    Mosey (carefully) down memory lane at “Look back with danger.”

    * Carson McCullers


    As we agree with Proust that “remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were,” we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra; he was born on this date in 1925.  Berra played almost his entire 19-year baseball career (1946–1965) for the New York Yankees. Berra is one of only four players to be named the Most Valuable Player of the American League three times; according to  sabermetrician Bill James, he is the greatest catcher of all time and the 52nd greatest non-pitching player in major-league history.  Berra went on to manage the dynasty of which he was a crucial part, the Yankees, and then the New York Mets; he is one of seven managers to lead both American and National League teams to the World Series (as a player, coach, or manager, Berra appeared in 21 Fall Classics). He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.

    Berra is also remembered for the “unique”  observations on baseball and life with which he graced reporters during interviews:  e.g., “Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical,” “It’s déjà vu all over again,” “You can observe a lot by watching,” and “The future ain’t what it used to be.”  In The Yogi Book, Berra explained, “I really didn’t say everything I said. […] Then again, I might have said ’em, but you never know.”


  • feedwordpress 08:01:17 on 2017/04/09 Permalink
    Tags: , emancipation, , Interference Archive, , , politics, resistance, , ,   

    “The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance”*… 


    Interference Archive was founded in 2011 by Kevin Caplicki, Molly Fair, Dara Greenwald, and Josh MacPhee. Our initial collection grew out of the personal accumulation of Dara and Josh… through their involvement in social movements, DIY and punk, and political art projects over the past 25 years…

    The mission of Interference Archive is to explore the relationship between cultural production and social movements. This work manifests in an open stacks archival collection, publications, a study center, and public programs including as exhibitions, workshops, talks, and screenings, all of which encourage critical and creative engagement with the rich history of social movements…

    The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

    Through our programming, we use this cultural ephemera to animate histories of people mobilizing for social transformation.  We consider the use of our collection to be a way of preserving and honoring histories and material culture that is often marginalized in mainstream institutions…

    Visit the Archive online, and if you’re in the New York area, visit their current exhibit.

    [TotH to the always-inspirational Ganzeer]

    * Thomas Paine


    As we question authority, we might recall that it was on this date in 1864 that the U.S. Senate passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, declaring “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

    The House passed the Amendment January 31, 1865, and it was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865.  On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption.

    Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865


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