Monday, February 19, 2024

The Carceral State of Florida

 The Nickel Boys” by Colson Whitehead, 2019

This is a true fiction story based on a state boys 'reform' school in Marianna, Florida in the Florida panhandle. The place was called the Arthur Dozier School for Boys at the time, but here it is named the Nickel School. It was established in 1900 and closed in 2011 due to overwhelming problems. Like the Christian/Canadian Govt. indigenous boarding schools in Canada and the U.S., or the Catholic/Irish Govt. Madeleine Laundries / Asylums in Ireland, bodies and bones were found in unmarked graves on the school grounds. You can still look at the remains of the school on Google Maps, see it's most notorious building and locate its official cemetery off in the woods. 

The key character is Elwood, a 17 year old high school student. He's a bright, dark-skinned boy from Tallahassee who gets caught in a stolen car while he's hitch-hiking to attend a college course. He's sent to Nickel as a car thief even though the driver was the thief. It's 1963 or so and the U.S. legal system, especially in Florida, is racist and ridiculous. So what does Elwood learn in his time at Nickel?

He meets a street-smart friend, Turner. He learns that the education there is a joke. After he tries to break up a fight, he learns that vicious corporal punishment is administered in a small storage shed called the 'White House.' The White House is where torture and beatings are administered under the loud whir of an industrial fan. He is beaten bloody. He learns that medical care consists of aspirin and aspirin only. He finds out that state goods for the school are sold to local businesses by the managers of the school and that kid's labor is loaned out to various local big-wig business people for free. He understands that several are killed for standing up to the top boss or escaping and later, secretly buried after being taken 'out back.' He learns that some boys are raped in closets by staff or other boys; some stuck in sweat-boxes as punishment – one dying. Tiny rooms at the top of the dorms become isolation cells. He finds out that the schools' products – bricks, harvested food and a print shop – are profitable for the state, while the boys are paid nothing. He learns how to hide his feelings and curb any visible instinct to rebel or help.

The 'white house' at Dozier / Nickel

At the time Elwood attends, the school is segregated by skin color, as its still Jim Crow time. 600 boys are incarcerated there, of all skin colors - but the darker got it worst. After his ordeal, Whitehead tells the supposed story of Elwood in New York where he meets and hears about some other former boys from Nickel or places like it. They are dead in Vietnam or former army, alcoholic and drugged, unable to hold a job, violent or troubled in many ways. Elwood seems to be doing the best.

How does Elwood try to get out? He rejects 'loving thy enemy' preached by Dr. King. Instead he writes to the Chicago Defender and takes notes of all the goings on – especially the embezzling of food. He believes the white Florida state inspectors will take heed and he won't get caught. After all, it's the civil rights movement and he's inspired by letters like the one from King's Birmingham jail cell. But inspiration isn't enough. Hey muthafucka, it's the Jim Crow South, as (Nat?) Turner might have told him.

Eventually, after reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, the school becomes a national scandal full of gruesome discoveries. It is perhaps worse than a Dickensian orphanage and work house, but also a commentary on the incarceration state in the U.S. that is still going on. It is important that this story is not just located in the distant past, but was uncovered somewhat recently. So many current historical anti-racist novels only center slavery or Jim Crow without touching the present. After all, the 'present' is the thing that we deal with now and ignoring it is a form of safely historicizing social reality, of shoving it into the past, of distancing. This is a riveting personal story of two boys, based on historical truth. It will keep you glued to your reading chair.

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “The South – Jim Crow & It's Afterlives” (A. Reed); “The New Jim Crow” (Alexander); “Caste” (Wilkerson); “Rustin,” “No Name in the Street” (Baldwin); “Are Prisons Obsolete?” (A. Davis); “Selma” (Duvernay); “Prison Strike Against Modern Slavery,” “Just Mercy,” Slavery by Another Name.”

May Day Books has many leftish fiction books and books on Jim Crow.

Red Frog / February 19, 2024

Friday, February 16, 2024

Who Do You Owe?

 Debt, Prices & Credit:

The U.S. Blue Collar Recession

  1. Auto loan debt: $1.607 Trillion - Q4/2023

  2. Avg. auto loan outstanding: $23,809 - Q3/2023

  3. Avg. New Pickup Truck price: $60,000 - Q3/2023

  4. Avg. New Car price: $49,388 - Q2/2023

  5. Median U.S. House price: $387,600 - Q4/2023

  6. Mortgage debt: $12.252 Trillion - Q4/2023

  7. Derivatives held on Wall Street & elsewhere: $268 Trillion - Q3/2023

  8. Student debt: $1.601 Trillion - Q4/2023

  9. Credit Card debt: $1.129 Trillion - Q4/2023

  10. Total household debt: $17.3 Trillion - Q3/2023

  11. U.S. Government debt: $34.233 Trillion - February 14, 2024

  12. U.S. Corporate debt: $3.1 Trillion - Q3/2022

  13. Medical Debt: $195 Billion, Q4/2019 - 22% over $5,000 2023

  14. Avg. insurance price for houses: $1,678 yr. - Feb, 2024

  15. Avg. insurance price for cars: $1,982 yr. - Feb. 2024

  16. Avg. Rent: $1,372 mth. - Q2/2023

  17. Median House Price: $417,700 - Q4/2023

  18. Home Foreclosures: Up 9% from 2022, up 193% from 2021

  19. Commercial property foreclosures: Data? A 'bad outlook.'

  20. Car Debt Delinquent: 7.7% - Q4 /2023

  21. Car repossessions: Up 20.4% - Q4/2023

  22. Credit Card Debt Delinquent: 8.5% - Q4/2023

  23. Commercial Chap. 11 Bankruptcies: 6,569 - Q4/2023

  24. Personal Bankruptcies: 419,550 – Q4/2023

The Debt Bomb

Note the number of derivative debts and bets – 10 times larger than the whole world GDP economy. This is also part of the 'Snowball' crash in the Chinese stock markets, the shadow banking shortfalls, as well as the severe real estate recession in China.  This is a crisis for the large capitalist sector in the Chinese economy.  The Snowball crash is explained by Ellen Brown in Scheerpost: Chinese Market Crash  5 large investment banks hold most of these derivative bets here in the U.S. according to Wall Street on Parade.

Even buying a new car now is prohibitive, and that has always been a key 'American right.' Nearly all of these numbers are at all time highs except house prices, which have fallen in some areas due to high interest and insurance rates. Government CoVid and recession funding slowed debts like medical and student for awhile. Some figures are delayed or hidden. Yet now trying to buy a new or used car, rent, buy a house or get sick is going up again. The debt levels on some items will never be re-paid – like derivatives, federal, corporate debt or even mortgage, credit card, medical and student debt. I suspect the 'corporate debt' figure is a great undercount.  It all adds up to a very shaky capitalist economic structure, but also a vast burden on the working class in all its aspects – the low-skilled, youth, minorities, women, old people. This can't be fixed by some patchwork legislation or tweaks. Debt is how workers have afforded to buy things in the U.S. - but this kind of spending has limits beyond which capital has no plan except immiseration.  

Open the books, social control of the Federal Reserve, cancel debts, nationalize the banks, outlaw derivatives, social ownership of land, introduce a real 'sharing' economy, limit and control interest rates, free education, public ownership of housing, bring back Glass-Steagall, revoke Taft-Hartley and CFMA 2000, fight climate change.

Sources: Investopedia, Federal Reserve, Wall Street on Parade, Cars.com, Kelly Blue Book, BLS, Federal Debt Clock, Bankrate, Moodys, Reuters, Guardian, Statistica, Car Price.com

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “The Debt System,” “Debt & Capital,” “Debt – the First 5,000 Years” (Graeber); “The Debt Trap,” “J is for Junk Economics” (Hudson); “Modern De Facto Slavery,” “The Deficit Myth”(Kelton); “Liar's Poker” (M. Lewis); “Bad Money” (K. Phillips).

Red Frog

February 16, 2024

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Substitution of Individual Justice for Social Justice

 “True Detective,”Season 1” by Nic Pizzolatto, 2014

Much ink has been spilled this year on True Detective, (Night Country),Season 4 because Jodi Foster and other women star in a cold, dark Alaska town haunted by the murders of indigenous women and a bunch of ostensible scientists. The Tuttle Corporation and the spiral symbol carry over from Season 1 in this season. So far I think it's weaker than Season 1 and a chunk too full of shamanic, magical bullshit. It's just not enough to stick woman cops into the mix, put some black lines on chins and sprinkle it with Inuit mysticism. The series Alaska Daily and the film Wind River actually made a better case about the frequent murders of indigenous females.  The last episode is a disaster of disconnected horrors, topped by a wishful bucket of revenge.  At least Alaska natives get in on Season 4.  That's its only plus. Anyway ...

Rust drinkin' Lone Star

True Detective, Season 1 featured Woody Harrelson as Marty, a violent, lazy good 'ol boy cop that cheats on his wife but is at bottom a decent guy. The standout is Mathew McConaughey, hard as that is to say given the scene chewing he's done in so many films. This time he plays Rust, a depressed philosophic loner who's an expert at solving murders and getting real confessions. His switch to being a long-haired alcoholic part way through is riveting.

There are the usual amount of cop/detective tropes in this series, designed to get us to identify with or feel for the cops: 1. A troubled marriage for Marty and too much alcohol for Rust – i.e. flawed cops. 2. Dead, mutilated or kidnapped women & children. 3. In the key chase scene Rust goes it alone – of course. 4. Obstructive cop bosses trying to derail the investigation. 5. Rust is the typical TV genius cop, like no real ones. 6. Murders staged in lonely, rural places – in this case Louisiana swamps, bayous, fields or woods. 7. Fraught buddy cop relationship that gets better between Rust and Marty. 8. Overly lengthy, too complicated case that wears on itself.

This one introduces another familiar cliché – the creepy, barefoot swamp peon with mental problems.  It also highlights the most common cliché – a rich family, in this case the Tuttles - one of whom is the governor, another running the top fundamentalist sect and schools in the state, and behind it all their large capitalist Tuttle conglomerate. The Tuttle clan have massive pull among politicians, press and police, and are also evidently ritualistic abusers and perhaps killers of children. It is as if their exploitative and corrupt authoritarianism gets translated into secret murderous pedophilia - their picture of Dorian Grey. They get off scot free behind their symbolic animal masks like the rich nearly always do, while the peons pay. The masks might remind one of Squid Game where the rich killers also wear animal masks.

Of most interest is Rust's atheism and the connection between religion and child abuse. Given the Southern Baptist, Catholic Church and Boy Scout child sex abuse waves, this is not fiction. But I do not recall a chief character making atheism such a central part of his point of view. “Sentient meat” is Rust's term for humans – i.e. we're just conscious animals. Characters in other series briefly mention they don't believe in God, or don't go to church, or something like that. Then this comment competes with scenes of conservative, overdone religious marriages, funerals and churches like everyone in TV U.S.A. is in the Sicilian Mafia living in 1950. Rust pounds his atheism to the point where Marty cautions him over and over not to offend the Bible Belt sensibilities of the rubes. Rust is a 'pure' atheist who does not link religion to class or oppression, as most of the believers we see are poor, working-class folks. He treats them kindly nevertheless, but not the preacher head of the fundamentalist schools. This considerate treatment of hated atheism is rare in the conventional zone of cop shows. This season ranks above other 'detective' stories if only for the characterizations, Rust's weird circular philosophy, his atheism and the embedded anti-rich politics that allow it to rise above the Louisiana tropic of tropes.

What is not rare is the repetition of the 'evil corporation' theme in so many movies and streaming series. It seems to have almost no impact on the actual political situation either because only a select class, 'liberal' or educated group watches this stuff or the divide between culture and actual politics is canyon-like, with viewers segmenting the two in their experience. It becomes more like an 'in group' wink of shared knowledge. It clearly implies that 'cultural struggle' is nearly always inadequate to actually changing anything. Will Season 4 change anything about male chauvinism, racism, murdered tribal members or toxic mining? No, not in the real world.

Trope Bingo for your next detective screenplay or viewing:

1. A conflicted lead cop or detective, preferably divorced, with alcohol, drug or emotional problems.

2. Or perhaps he/she is near retirement, but needs to make 'one last case.'

3. The lead cop is always a kind of genius, no matter what.

4. If with children, a problematic teenage daughter who never listens.

5. If married, a bad relationship, partly due to the job.

6. If female, a hard-bitten but kind feminist.

7. Dead, kidnapped, imprisoned or mutilated women or girls or children are the victims.

8. Murders preferably located in lonely areas or rural communities - 'exotic' locations preferred.

9. Nearly all witnesses lie or omit key information repeatedly.

10. Witnesses that are always too busy to answer questions.

11. Many red herrings and suspects.

12. A boss who obstructs the investigation for either political or CYA reasons.

13. A forced police partner relationship that is fraught but gradually gets better.

14. There will be autopsies with victims lying on tables with a 'V' cut.

15. Always send the lead detective out alone on perilous assignments.

16. There can never be too many complications.

17. The crime is many times connected to money or a sociopath of some kind.

18. The actual killer is revealed in the last minute

19. A round at the bar is required.

20. The substitution of solving an individual murder for broader social justice.

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “detective,” “Squid Game,” “Trapped and Detective Series in General,” “This Rancid Mill,” “Streaming Run-Down,” “Redbreast,” “Gorky Park” (Smith); “Comrade Detective,” “Blood Lake,” “Karl Marx, Private Eye,” “Red Harvest” (Hammett).

Some of the books listed above are available at May Day.

The Cultural Marxist / February 13, 2024

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Ride to the Sea

 Silent Cavalry – How Union Soldiers From Alabama Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta and Then Got Written Out of History” by Howell Raines, 2023 - (Part 2 of 2)

Confederate and neo-Confederate sources repeatedly claimed the U.S.A. First Alabama Cavalry was undistinguished. Raines shows otherwise. He tries to liken their role to the 20th Maine on Little Round Top in the battle of Gettysburg but they're different situations. The Alabama Federal unit was quickly created by Union General Buell, and some soldiers were loaned to the budding spy system of General Dodge. They helped as spies in the siege of Vicksburg, the seizure of Chattanooga and the siege of Atlanta, as well as providing cavalry screens for the armies. Their local knowledge and accents helped immensely, as well as their courage. Dodge had spies inside southern cities and roaming the roads looking for Confed units and northern Alabama men were key. 1,000s of black freedmen went north and were used and recruited by the Union too – 13 were even on the roster of the 1st Alabama.

Nearly every Union general had good things to say about the regiment and for a few who didn't, they were said out of temporary ignorance or CYA. The regiment was eventually split into 3 parts. They became outriders for garrisons in major cities combating sabotage; patrolling all along the Tennessee River valley in places like Florence against units of Secesh cavalry under Morgan, Wheeler and Forrest; and with Sherman's march through Atlanta to Savannah, then to Virginia. Constant brushfire guerrilla battles between Union and Confed units went on for most of the war in northern Alabama too, so you might say that area never really seceded. Like eastern Tennessee and the rest of mountainous Appalachia, Confederate control was nominal to non-existent. This extended to the swamps of western Florida and southeast Georgia and the farms of eastern Texas, which became no-go areas for Confederate parties trying to round-up recruits and hogs to butcher.

The loyal Alabamians participated in the key battles of Stones River, Brice's Crossroads, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Atlanta and on Sherman's march. Upon leaving Chattanooga Sherman made a group of 1st Alabama his personal bodyguard for the headquarters group! Above Resaca near Dalton, Georgia they were running point. They had a chance to help destroy the Confederate army when they and others penetrated Snake Creek Gap on the Confederate western flank, but were erroneously ordered to stop by McPherson. According to Raines, at the battle of Allatoona Pass above Atlanta they, along with a Kansas cavalry unit, rescued a Union garrison force besieged by Hood. This battle is where the phrase 'hold the fort' comes from, though there is disputation about this.

While Raines mentions the burning of Atlanta in his title, he has no evidence cavalry soldiers were burning rail roundhouses and the like in the city. That's just 'click-bait.' However one of his themes is how aggressive these southern Unionists were against the slave forces. They could have burned Atlanta and would have enjoyed it!

Marchin' & Ridin'

For their skills, the First Alabama were chosen by Sherman to ride point in the right, southern column of Sherman's 'march to the sea' – Blair's XXVII Corps. They swept away Confederates, secured bridges, towns and ferries, did recon, appropriated or destroyed military hardware and enjoyed decimating some plantation properties. They were part of a rowdy group that occupied the former Georgia state capitol in Milledgeville. Prim and proper Blair tried to tell them to back off in a letter to Sherman, but Sherman did nothing. After all, gleeful foraging was part of the drill. Confederate raiders back home were abusing the people of north Alabama, their kin, at the same time and they knew this. Southern-fried historian Shelby Foote noted that not one instance of rape was reported on the whole march, so there's that.

Sherman on the road to Savannah

Their behavior reminds me of a character from the modern South, Madalyn Murray O'Hair. The way to raise the most prominent atheist in the U.S. is to stick them in some Bible-thumping state like Texas. So in this war. An anti-slavery Georgia Unionist, George Snelling, born near Milledgeville and Sherman's liaison with the First Alabama, directed Sherman to the plantation of a general in the Confederate Army, Howell Cobb. Cobb was a pompous politician in the U.S. House, a main speaker for secession in Montgomery and an advocate of Andersonville. His plantation was completely looted by Union soldiers and slaves. If you find no justice in this, you're not paying attention. Maybe Ted Cruz, Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Greg Abbott will someday suffer this fate if they secede.

The First Alabama's role in Kilpatrick's U.S.A. cavalry was to block Joe Wheeler's rebel cavalry along the route to Savannah. They succeeded in keeping him at bay in constant skirmishing. They forded the major Oconee River at Ball's Ferry in southeastern Georgia and attacked Confed forces, then were forced back across the river. But the Union took the crossing that day, constructing bridges and the army moved on. After the easy reduction of Fort McAllister south of the city, they led the victory parade down Savannah's main street due to their service, contradicting the Lost Cause myth that they had no role in the fighting. Heading north, they routed Wheeler at Barnwell, South Carolina, sending his cavalrymen into a desperate scatter. At Monroe's Crossing, South Carolina their small command repulsed a night attack by Johnston massive forces, turning it into a victory with the help of a well-placed cannon. Reaching Raleigh and the surrender of Johnston's army, Sherman ordered them home because of the constant fighting still going on in north Alabama.

1900 Reunion of 1st AL Cavalry USA

The Lost Causation

Raines goes into the Lost Cause bastion of Tuscaloosa, AL, home to the University of Alabama, its 'crimson tide' and its 'Bama Rush,' a college now full of rich frat and sorority brats from Atlanta and Dallas-Fort Worth. The local post-war Tuscaloosa paper was run by a sociopathic aristocrat, Ryland Randolph, who did more to promote Klan Klaverns than Forrest. Later the University was a hotbed of Lost Cause historiography, which Raines defines as not asking obvious questions and ignoring information that opposed their thesis - and sometimes outright lying or destruction of documents. He analyzes various Lost Cause journalists, politicians and academics across the South - men like Richmond's Edward Pollard and General Jubal Early and places like Vanderbilt in Nashville and Polk's University of the South in Sewanee, TN.

Pollard, a vicious aristocratic imbecile, wrote the book “The Lost Cause” in 1866 and set the tone for 100 years of historical fiction. For Raines it consists of 3 theses: 1. The “culturally superior, racially homogeneous white” South lost because of northern industrial might and the crude 'mongrels' of the North. 2. The need to win the continuing war by maintaining white dominance through “recalcitrance, legal trickery and political deals.” 3. The South didn't lose so much as was misled by the incompetent Jeff Davis. Attach the Robert E. Lee cult and you've got yourself a real shit-story.

Early, an incompetent Confederate general on the first day of Gettysburg, a hesitator of the first order in his raid on D.C. and the loser of the 1865 Shenandoah Valley campaign, continued pushing the myth. His blame was on Longstreet, the most competent of Lee's generals. According to Raines Early was actually the central, drunken figure in solidifying this racist, nationalist Southern story. Raines has found evidence that Dunning worked with the disorganized Alabama archives to make it “a Rebel Shrine.” Raines makes hilarious fun of a broad array of rich and powerful locals here, so its an enjoyable romp – but still perhaps a too-deep dip into Alabama politics for most. Raines describes the refutation of William Dunning's Lost Cause mythology by recent historians Vann Woodward, John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner, and the rediscovery of W.E.B. Du Bois.

In 1909 at the Waldorf Astoria the 'American' Historical Association met and both Dunning and Du Bois were there. Du Bois wrote a paper about the benefits of Reconstruction; the Dunning side presented their racist, Jim Crow angle about the terror it inflicted on rich white people, a period of “Negro misrule.” Du Bois spoke of the vast increases in education, advances in public transportation, fairer taxation and economic development, not to mention the spread of democracy in ethnically diverse southern legislatures. Dunning chose to ignore Du Bois, as did the idiot NY press, while printing the vilifications of “an unreconstructed crank” from Alabama named Chisholm. Birmingham's steel money and the Walker Percys paid for the Lost Cause for another 60 years and this included a long family friendship with Shelby Foote. As a 30-year old Foote wanted to blow up the first Union memorial he saw, in Arizona. And there we have it – later delivered right to your TV screen by Ken Burns. While still disdaining blacks, Foote finally rejected segregation around 1963. But these are reasons why Foote didn't tell Burns about the First Alabama, a fact Raines uncovers after years of research.

The Afterlives of the First

Coming back to a vicious, racist state government full of Confederate sympathizers for many years, the men of the First Alabama USA were re-tormented after the fall of Reconstruction in the 1870s.  They were not just read out of history or forgotten.  Raines spends no time on this part of the story however. He's more interested in his family story, the bastardization of history by shabby academics, the violent clowns of Alabama, a detailed semi-history of Birmingham, the reactionary literary aristocracy of the Nashville Agrarians and the Fellowship of Southern Writers and lastly the Lost Causeite Dixie Brahmins who looked down on Negroes and white 'red necks' alike. All in all a book that takes many colorful and chatty detours in its story of a legendary Union regiment from the South.  

The basic impact of this book is the manifest number of characters in the South - through history - who promote idiotic, violent, untruthful and corrupt ideas on a regular basis, up to and including present Trump supporters. The South will rise again all right - under proletarian, progressive and socialist groups who remember the First Alabama's resistance to racism and planter capital.

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use the blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these words: “Silent Cavalry – Part 1,” The South vs. South” (Parts 1&2); “The Civil War in the United States” (Marx-Engels); "Why the South Lost the Civil War," "Lincoln" (Spielberg); "Struggle & Progress" (Jacobin); "The Neo-Confederate States," "Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands," "The Bloody Shirt," "Guerrillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front," "The Free State of Jones," "Andersonville Prison," "James-Younger Gang," "Southern Cultural Nationalism," "The Civil War in Florida," "A Blaze of Glory," "The State of Jones," “Monument,” "Drivin' Dixie Down," “A Confederacy of Dunces,” “U.S. Army Bases Named After Confederates” or the words Civil War,” "John Brown" or slavery."

For May Day Books - where every month is black history month

And I got it at the Athens, GA library.

The Cranky Yankee  / Feb. 10, 2024


Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Alabama Unionist 'Hillbillies'

 Silent Cavalry – How Union Soldiers From Alabama Helped Sherman Burn Atlanta and Then Got Written Out of History” by Howell Raines, 2023 - (Part 1 of 2)

This book is one of a large number of 'revisionist' histories that overturn the “Lost Cause” mythology that was prevalent in Alabama and the U.S. until the '60s and '70s. Evidence of the mostly white Unionist First Alabama Cavalry was hidden by local Alabama state historians and William A. Dunning, the leading Lost Cause historian in the 1920s. He taught and wrote at that bastion of 'Yankee' egg-headedness - Columbia University in New York City. Dunning's American Historical Society's version blocked W.E.B. Du Bois' accurate take on civil war history for many years. Columbia finally apologized for their 'white supremacist historiography' (their words) in 2019. They might have been talking, in part, about Dunning.

The Jim Crow Alabama State Department of Archives & History expunged Unionist Civil War, along with Reconstructionist 'scalawag' and populist Alabama history too. Even in 2018 Raines couldn't find anything useful there. Ken Burns and Shelby Foote never mentioned the 1st Alabama Cavalry U.S.A. in their conservative, 'nostalgic' 1990 documentary series on the Civil War.  Foote, a "semi-closeted Lost Causer," as Raines calls him, had time to call former slave dealer, future leader of the KKK and butcher Nathan Bedford Forrest a 'genius' equal to Lincoln.

Raines is here to set the record straight as he eviscerates the self-pity of the “Alabama inferiority complex.” He names the names of the various twisted characters, thugs and intellectual frauds in Alabama who protect the state from outside influences. As he puts it: “...intellectual dishonesty of a particularly flagrant sort is a thematic feature across the decades of public life in Alabama...” Much of the book is his deep search through documents, books and interviews trying to piece the story together - in the process combating Dunning, Wallacite and Trumpist neo-Confederates. He zig-zags between the home front and the war, which is at times irritating. Raines spends time on the many characters involved, along with the illicit cotton trade between northern and southern military units. The book is littered with colorful insults from both sides. The Confederates denigrated the Alabama mountain folk as disloyal low caste anti-war 'hillbillies.' You see, 'white trash' is not just a classist northern insult.

Raines instead seeks his own anti-racist, anti-slavery roots, sometimes to excess. Some of his extended 'hillbilly' family lived in northern Alabama. One ancestor worked with the First Alabama U.S.A. and walked all the way back from South Carolina after a Johnston's army surrendered in Raleigh. One more distant relative died in Andersonville while others were killed in battle fighting for the Union. Raines tells stories of his youth, his father, mother, grandfathers and grandmothers in the northern hill country and steel town of Birmingham. His family and area were influenced by “Jeffersonian Democracy” and the Church of God, which operated integrated churches and revivals in Birmingham and northern Alabama even during Jim Crow. They had been in north Alabama during the Civil War too, which shows how religious ideology influences communities, not just economics. The non-segregationist Primitive Baptists played the same role for “The Free State of Jones” in southeast Mississippi.

In the 1890s this northern Alabama area between Florence on the Tennessee and Birmingham supported Populist Party politicians who appealed to all skin colors and were for 'sharing the wealth' and ending convict leasing. Their candidate was defeated statewide by a famous example of vote fraud – stuffed ballot boxes in mostly black southern counties where some African-Americans could still vote. In 1902 all black voting was basically made illegal in Alabama. Raines as a child experienced the area's rural poverty. The TVA finally got electric power to Winston County in 1937. But it continued with mule-driven plows and the lacks of electric light, telephone service, sewage systems and paved roads even into the 1960s.


First AL Cav.USA led by Genl. Spencer

The 1st Alabama Cavalry U.S.A

79 of 100 delegates to the Alabama secession vote were slave-owners, as a popular vote for secession would have lost. The vote 'for' was just 61 to 39. After these delegates voted to secede in 1861, many men in northern Alabama were 'lying out' to avoid conscription, or heading north to find Union soldiers. Some found the beginnings of the 1st Alabama Cavalry like Raines' ancestors.

Across north Alabama an organizer named Chris Sheats roused Unionist and anti-war feeling, with big meetings held at Jim Looney's tavern in Winston County. The first rally drew 2,500 people, one of the largest in the South. 2,066-2,678 men were recruited into the 1st Alabama and other units from these mountainous and wooded counties unsuited to slave plantation agriculture. His family's Winston County wanted to secede from Alabama when Alabama left the Union, so some called it 'The Free State of Winston.' The unit recruited from 18 Appalachian counties, a thing Raines says was hidden by local Lost Cause historians. The cavalry gathered at Huntsville and Corinth after these cities were taken by the Union in April and May 1862. There are still graveyards in several counties where the dead are listed, not as 'C.S.A.' but as 'U.S.A.' This movement spread so at one point Unionists in northern Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee suggested a 'Nickajack' Republic, named after a lake in the Tennessee River valley just west of Chattanooga. The First Alabama fought alongside units from Missouri, Kansas, Tennessee and Kentucky, not just from farther North.

In 1862 the local secessionist authorities in Montgomery, basing themselves on Richmond's Partisan Ranger and Conscription laws, instituted a reign of terror against north Alabamians to either impress draft resistors, arrest refusers or kill them. A first local sweep of the Home Guard was repulsed by armed Unionists. The second, larger military sweep drove locals north into the arms of the Union Army or draft dodgers farther into the hills and caves. Known Unionists were pointed out by a prominent local informer and assassinated, arrested or forced into the C.S.A. Horses, cattle, pigs and chickens were seized from known Unionists and their families left destitute and starving.

Murders even happened long after the war as part of political feuds engendered by the UnCivil War when neighbor killed or informed on neighbor. This campaign of murder and intimidation of Unionist draft dodgers, deserters and resistors occurred throughout the South, as documented by the Southern Claims Commission, an arm of Reconstruction. Mountain people later responded to the Confederate violence in kind. Raines suggests that Northern units under General Grenville Dodge developed the tactic of attacking civilian infrastructure useful to the Confederacy – factories, bridges, rail, secessionist plantations and crops. He thinks this strategy was later adopted by Sherman in Georgia and secessionist South Carolina to make the Confederacy 'howl.' 

End of Part 1 of the review.

P.S. - If you think Civil War history is irrelevant to today's political situation, 'bless your heart.' States Rights Constitutional nonsense is still one of the key motivators of anti-labor reaction and racism in the U.S. It was also the legal claim made by the Confederacy. “States' Rights” are embedded in parts of the archaic U.S. Constitution, the Senate, the electoral system and the court system. It has created a ridiculous patchwork of states, counties, cities and towns, laws and powers benefiting reactionary and depopulated areas.

P.P.S. - A book recommended is 'Hammer & Hoe” about Communist organizing among black and white workers in the steel industry and farms around Birmingham during the 1930s – a newer subject Raines doesn't bring up in his discussion of censorship in Alabama.

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use the blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these words: The South vs. South” (Parts 1&2); “The Civil War in the United States” (Marx-Engels); "Why the South Lost the Civil War," "Lincoln" (Spielberg); "Struggle & Progress" (Jacobin); "The Neo-Confederate States," "Blockaders, Refugees and Contrabands," "The Bloody Shirt," "Guerrillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front," "The Free State of Jones," "Andersonville Prison," "James-Younger Gang," "Southern Cultural Nationalism," "The Civil War in Florida," "A Blaze of Glory," "The State of Jones," “Monument,” "Drivin' Dixie Down," “A Confederacy of Dunces,” “U.S. Army Bases Named After Confederates” or the words Civil War,” "John Brown" or slavery."

For May Day Books - where every month is black history month

And I got it at the Athens, GA library.

The Cranky Yankee / February 7, 2024

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Riot Beta Data

 Who Were the January 6th Rioters?”

The University of Chicago (UofC) has published data on who was arrested on January 6, 2001. The data shows some confirmation of what the Left has been saying. Several things are obvious – they were mostly 'white' male Trumpers. The UofC data from May 2021 shows 420+ arrestees. In their present database there are 824 arrestees. Of the 824 in the present DB, almost 86% are male and nearly all white, at around 96%. As of 1/04/2024 there have been 1,265 arrested, so their database still contains a partial count. Over 800 people entered the Capitol, a small fraction of the overall crowd.

Of special interest to leftists is their class standing. Traveling to Washington D.C. is a somewhat expensive undertaking, so this will scew the figures, especially from distant locations. No one from South or North Dakota or Nebraska was arrested for instance, but at least one person from 47 other states was. How the survey considers class position is unclear, but here they are. In their figures 149 were blue-collar and 47 unemployed. By their figures 147 were business owners, 153 were white-collar, 66 were 'self-employed,' 20 were students and 17 were retired. What this shows is a serious majority were not blue-collar but small business, well-off types not fitting the stereotype of a simple blue-collar 'hand' worker. What the 'retired' used to do is unclear, but evidently they had the time, energy, money and perhaps age to show up. Maybe they retired early.

It shows that about 28.5% were college or graduate school attendees. About 46% were high school or less. This shows that the common 'class' analysis of journalists and bad politicians that education = class is mistaken. Business owners might be less educated, as might white collars or the self-employed – but they earn their living differently, so their class standing is different.  They might be wealthier or run some kind of 'gig' business. These aren't people obviously in desperate straights, although their businesses might be failing. Certainly most of the unemployed were not unemployed willingly. Or the unemployed lied to hide their employment or were well-off, which is why they weren't working.

The majority – almost 63% - were married. Their age range centered in the middle range – from 26 to about 55. These are not kids but neo-liberal Reagan babies. The 7 top states which supplied the most rioters were in descending order: Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas, New York, California, Ohio & Virginia. All but Texas and California are on the east coast, which figures given D.C.'s location. But it does confirm that both Florida and Texas are hotbeds of reaction, which is not news, while Cali has reactionary pockets like Orange County.

In an interview with Amanpour & Co. UofC professor Robert Pape, talking about the first 420+ arrests, claimed that the main driver motivating these people was “the Great Replacement” theory. He said they are worried their rights as light-skinned people are disappearing compared to darker-skinned individuals. So a form of racist fear is at the heart of their politics according to Pape. He 'proves' this by looking at the counties these people came from, which were losing white residents. He then consults a different survey that showed 1., a disbelief in Biden's victory, 2., a willingness to use violence and 3,. a belief in the 'Great Replacement' idea were all linked by 4% of the U.S. population. However he never interviewed the arrestees, so this conclusion is iffy as to the arrestees. Instead he lays these surveys on top of his data and makes a parallel assumption. In addition, sometimes people say one thing in surveys but are really motivated by something else.

In this interview Pape describes the data. Owners and white collars in the database were CEOs, business owners, mid-level managers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, bureaucrats.” This gives us a bit of insight into how the data considers white-collar and business owner categories, seeming to combine them with professionals. This all seems somewhat accurate. We've heard of a millionairess that chartered a plane and claimed she wouldn't get arrested because she was a white blonde lady. Ashley Babbitt, the 35 year old woman shot by Capitol police, ran a failing business in California. She was not counted in this data.

Pape in his May 6, 2021 interview, downplays the militia involvement based on their lower numbers. He does not include violence outside the Capitol, which seems significant to any theory. However, militias act as leaders and it takes only a few to break windows and doors, to lead people to locations, to coordinate. The later 824 figures show that 57 Proud Boys, 28 Oath Keepers and 2 Bogaloo Boys were arrested inside the Capitol – 89 total or 10.8%. They have no listing for the 3%ERS, but I've seen news reports that at least 6 were also indicated.  These numbers are not insignificant. These groups function as shock troops and actually aspire to that role. 18% of total arrestees were ex or present military and police. This gives leftist confirmation to the role these institutions play in birthing ultra-right & fascist groups throughout history.

The Marxist Left via Zetkin, the Third International and later Trotsky warned that the despairing petit-bourgeois (small businessmen) are the main base of fascism. They turn to racism and nationalism as some kind of defense. Anti-democratic groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and 3 Percenters are an organizational form of this. Even though small businessmen are really being crowded by large capital they are unable to see an alternative to the capitalist system. In fact most do not WANT an alternative to the capitalist system. So they seek other enemies to preserve their livelihoods and in the process drag workers behind them. This also accounts for their hostility to big capital sometimes.

The actual U.S. Left is too weak to attract many workers with a real alternative, which is the main, crushing failure of the Left in the U.S. This is why Trumpers, like their forebears in the KKK and John Birch Society, think the neo-liberal, capitalist Democratic Party is 'Communist.' They need to create powerful Commies out of nothing, as fascism needs that bogeyman too. In fact this is their main propaganda thrust - this while the real 'commies' have little influence except sometimes in the street. The press never goes into the Trumpist's anti-communism and anti-socialism, as the press itself shares those ideas.

The UofC should update their figures to reflect the recent 1,265 figure and see if this changes anything significantly.

References: 824 Data and 420 Interview

Prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left, to investigate our 17 year archive, using these terms: “The Undertow” (Sharlet); “Anti-Fascist Series #7: It Was Predictable,” “Anti-Fascist Series #,” “It Can't Happen Here,” “The Ultra-Right,” “Hungary,” “Blackshirts and Reds” (M. Parenti); “Impeachapalooza,” “A Confederacy of Dunces?” “The Not So Secret,” “Antifascism, Sports & Sobriety.”

Red Frog

February 4, 2024

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A 'Good Rail'

 Comrade David Riehle, a 'Good Rail'

Another long-time Twin Cities comrade has died. David Riehle died of stroke complications on January 21, 2024 at the age of 77. He was a life-long socialist activist, joining the SWP in the late 60s and later became a member of Socialist Action in the 1980s. He was a member of the United Transportation Workers (UTU) for many years as a train brakeman, conductor, engineer, then a union retiree. He held a position in UTU Local 650 as local chair where he dealt with contracts, grievances, hearings, investigations and strike work. One person said he was a “brilliant hearing cross-examiner” and saved many workers' jobs. This was one of his many areas of concern.

David grew up in White Bear Township just north of St. Paul, Minnesota, then lived in St. Paul most of his life. His father was a printer and because of that David learned how to run a printing press, probably a Linotype. He put out a high school underground broadsheet called The Informer so he was a boat-rocker even in high school. He was interested in piano, able to read notes and arrange, so he attended Berklee College of Music for a while playing piano. He left quickly though he still played keyboards at home. Earlier he made a short visit to the Merchant Marine, but rejected military life as he did academic life. He had no children of his own but is survived by his sister Carla, his brother Jeremy, his wife Gladys McKenzie and her two children, Abby and Kevin McKenzie, along with their children.

David was 'central' to the Young Socialist Alliance's Vietnam anti-war work in the 1960s in the city, attending the University of Minnesota for about a year. He subsequently left to work as a machinist at 3M. He joined the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the late 1960s. At one point he was sent by the SWP to Houston, Texas as a machinist, working at Houston Tool for 4 years. In 1980 he got hired at the Chicago & Northwestern railroad, a UTU outfit, as rail was an SWP industrial concentration. He stayed with the railroad for the rest of his life and sometimes wrote for The Militant about rail issues. After being pushed out of the SWP in the early 1980s he joined the Fourth Internationalist Tendency, which published Bulletin in Defense of Marxism, later joining Socialist Action (SA). In SA he was on the National Committee and Political Committee and played an internal educational role in Minneapolis until the end of his life. One person noted that he liked his rail and union jobs and didn't want to retire, but he finally did.

David was chair of the “Remember 1934” committee that worked for many years to get a public memorial to the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster strike placed in the city. With support of local Teamsters, a plaque was finally erected in 2015 in the Minneapolis warehouse district near the site of the killing and wounding of strikers by police.  The plaque was done by fellow member Keith Christensen. Dave worked with people like Linda Leighton and David Sundeen – whose family members participated in the '34 strike - on the plaque and on Teamster strike commemorations every 10 years. He started this activity in 1994, bringing historical documents to the 60th year event. He was a tour leader at the various 1934 sites in the Twin Cities, giving historical talks at each one. He interviewed and researched SWP and 1934 labor leaders Carl Skoglund and Shaun/Jack Maloney to get their stories, knowing Jack well. He interviewed Harry Deboer too, and knew Jake Cooper, two others involved in the 1934 struggle. He gave educationals at unions halls on the strike and other labor history, as he was part of the Labor Speakers Club of the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly. Recently he attempted to help with preparations for the 2024 1934 Memorial Picnic, which will be held on July 27 at the Wabun Picnic Grounds in Minnehaha Park.

Dave in center on chair at 2023 summer rededication of plaque 

David was an autodidact who learned local labor history in detail and shared it with the movement. Some have called him the preeminent local labor historian. He published in and for the Minnesota Historical Society, Ramsey County History Magazine, St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission, Friends of the St. Paul Library, Workday Minnesota, the Labor Education Service, the East Side Freedom Library, the Minneapolis Labor Review and many articles in The Union Advocate. He did research on issues like Dakota walking paths and the workers who originally built the Minnesota state Capitol in the 1800s. For two films he researched a Cuban revolutionary uprising in 1912 and Cuban nuns in the early 1900s. His history interests were broad.

David was greatly inspired by the 1970s insurgent Sadlowski campaign in the Steelworkers. He was a long-time activist in the Meeting The Challenge cross-union formation in the Twin Cities with Peter Rachleff, which formed in 1985. It inherited the work of the TC P9 Support Committee that closely aided and supplied the UFCW Local P9 Hormel strikers. He worked on a benefit concert for P9, which drew some famous musicians like Holly Near. He was also a member of the LPA / Labor Party in the 1990s. In his long involvement in the labor movement, one of his kindest actions was to bring food to the 2003 strike line of AFSCME 3800 clericals at the University.

His constant and wide-ranging activity made him a unique comrade for many labor leftists in the city.

P.S. - There will be a memorial for David on February 17 at the East Side Freedom Library.  3 P.M., 1105 Greenbrier St., St. Paul.

Information from: Carla Riehle, Gladys McKenzie, Phil Qualy, John & Karen Schraufnagel, Anonymous and C.G. Gibbs.

Prior local leftists profiled on this blog, use blog search box, upper left, using these names: “Tom Dooley,” “Jeff Miller,” “Earl Balfour” and “Budd Shulte.”

Red Frog

February 1, 2024

Monday, January 29, 2024

Si Se Puede!

 “On the Line – A Story of Class, Solidarity and Two Women's Epic Fight to Build a Union” by Daisy Pitkin, 2022

Successful union organizing might be moving the balance between anger and fear, between human solidarity and isolation, between a hope for the future and the bad smell of the present. This book shows how that plays out among a group of low-paid toilers in Arizona. Any union member, supporter or organizer would benefit by reading it, as the events, details and tricks used by both sides are blazingly real.

Union membership in the U.S., in spite of recent successes, changes in leadership and organizing drives, has now dropped to exactly 10.0%. This is the lowest since BLS records started in 1983. It is at 6% for private corporations. One reason for the drop is because the workforce is growing and this book is pretty clear about the other reason. The National Labor Relations Act legalized unions, collective bargaining and the establishment of the NLRB in 1935. Those were heroic days for labor in the U.S. The NLRA was immediately followed by the 1938 MacKay decision allowing the permanent replacement of workers by scabs, the 1947 Taft-Hartley law that heavily constricted union power and allowed 'open' shops, up to the present day with the 2018 Janus Supreme Court decision making all public sector employment an 'open shop.' This has been true for private employers for years in the South. The open shop essentially individualizes union membership in a worksite and is designed to weaken union power. The NLRA itself has huge loopholes and weak enforcement. The conclusion here is U.S. law and practice dislikes labor. It's not just the employers who are the problem. It's the capitalist state, their police, their courts and conflicted administrative bodies and their political parties.  However this story has a sobering victory at the end.

This book is an illuminating, on-the-ground inside look at a 2003-2005 struggle in Phoenix by Latino industrial laundry workers for a union and contract. The book has to use the word 'epic' because that is many times what it takes. Why should having a union be so hard? Because it begins to hit at the essence of capitalism – profits, power and private property - PPPP. The large Sodexho plant cleaned laundry, but not from private homes – for hospitals, hotels, restaurants and other large operations. The sheets, tablecloths, clothing, napkins, cloth and blankets are sometimes covered by food, urine, vomit, shit, blood, with occasional body parts, needles and medical waste included. The workers make $7.25 an hour, working 10 hour days over 3 shifts, with forced overtime and occupational injuries. Safety methods are demobilized, the line is sped-up and there is no air-conditioning. Nearly all the workers have Mexican backgrounds, so its racist capital at play. Sodexho/Sodexo is a French-owned conglomerate operating in 55 countries. It has deep pockets, a skilled PR department and lots of lawyers.

The book is not fiction. It is addressed to a Latino worker on second shift who was one of the leaders within the plant, Alma Garcia. It also has chapters on labor history – Triangle Shirtwaist, French silk weavers, moths' role in textiles, labor law and the Patterson textile strike that reflect on the Sodexho effort. It is written by a real UNITE union organizer Daisy, a young, somewhat naive European-American woman from Tucson in her first union struggle. She and Alma form a working pair. The author went on to become a veteran organizer with UNITE-HERE, a union descended from a long line of garment worker struggles. Alma herself helps the staff of UNITE in its attempt to organize all Phoenix industrial laundries, joins the Local's staff for awhile, then goes back to the factory.

It describes in detail the tactics involved in establishing a union used by UNITE. It first means finding workers and then quickly signing union cards in a 'blitz;' preparing workers for the lies and fight ahead; warning them about bad bosses, 'good' bosses and 'sad' bosses; resisting the illegal anti-union violations that inevitably crop up; reaching out for support to the community and finally getting a signed contract. This is not how it really goes. In the scum-bucket U.S. version of labor freedom there are firings, arrests, police, strike actions, vicious supervisors, bogus and hidden voters, surveillance cameras and NLRB Section 8 filings and legal process. In other unionization efforts there have been bribes, deportations and beatings. Pitkin claims that more than half of all union elections, if held within 2 weeks of card signing, win. On the other hand this story descends into 2 years of legal decisions and appeals, and a final 'card check.'

Between 200-500 anti-Union meetings were held at the plant by the company, many times making illegal statements or committing illegal acts. But labor law violations and 'unfair labor practice' (ULP) charges are like confetti – even if violations are overruled at some point, they delay the process, intimidate the workforce, muddy the waters and increase the 'no' votes.

In this book there is nothing that rises above traditional unionism, hard enough as even that is. Pitkin describes the bureaucratic issues in the merger of UNITE and HERE, competition over turf and methods, and shows an awareness of the differences between middle-class union staffs and local proletarians, between top-down organizing and bottom-up organizing, but that is it. She mentions no transitional program for union power of any kind, reflecting present U.S. unionism. She admits she was too busy to think about anything but the immediate situation. The book is class conscious, but that consciousness is limited to the endless struggle by women and immigrant workers for labor dignity and standards, for solidarity and unity, for human closeness and kindness. The subtext is that it expects the working-class to be Promethean, noble and endlessly patient in the eternal class struggle. It comes out that we are to resemble Sisyphus, forever pushing a rock up a hill in the pursuit of labor justice.

To hell with that.

Prior reviews on this issue, search our 17 year archive using the search box, upper left, using these terms: “Fighting Times” (Melrod); Reviving the Strike” (Burns); “Rebuilding Power in Open-Shop America,” “Tell the Bosses We're Coming,” “Breaking the Impasse” (Moody); “In and Out of the Working Class” (Yates); “Class Action,” “Class Against Class” (Matgamna); “Prison Strike Against Modern Slavery,” “Sick Out Against the Shut Down!” “Save Our Unions” (Early); “Living and Dying on the Factory Floor,” “On New Terrain” (Moody); “Autopsy of an Engine,” “Factory Days” (Gibbs). 

And I got it at the Athens, Georgia Public Library!

Red Frog

January 29, 2024