Posts Tagged ‘Mississippi’

A Real Steampunk Monorail Train

July 5, 2017

This is another piece of real steampunk technology I’ve found in yet another book on the weird inventions of 19th century, Victorian Inventions by Leonard de Vries, trans. by Barthold Suermondt (London: John Murray 1973). Along with illustrations and contemporary depictions of dirigible balloons and other flying machines, submarines, ships, steampunk carriages and electric trams, bizarre prototypes and version of the telephone and typewriters and other strange devices, there’s also series of very unusual trains and railways. One of these was a proposed monorail, which was the idea of the American investor, E.S. Watson.

The piece of text for the pic reads

Mr E.S. Watson of Water Valley, Mississippi, has been granted a patent for an elevated railway with only one rail. This rail may consist of normal T-Section and is supported at regular intervals by wooden poles or concrete columns. Figure 2 shows how the locomotive and coaches rest on the rail. The major part of their weight, and hence their centre of gravity, are at a lower level than the rail. Consequently, the train can never be derailed or overturn. Another advantage of this method is that road traffic can pass below the rail and no level-crossings are required.

(p. 33)

I can remember when waaay back in the 70s the monorail was being described in books on popular science as the railway of the future. Now it’s clear that it’s another invention that the Victorians produced, or at least thought of, long before. Despite being hailed as the future of rail transport, it has never really caught on, except in one or two particular attempts to create the town or urban environment of the future. It’s thus very ‘steampunk’ in that it’s a vision of an alternative future that never happened.

Advertisements

How the ‘White’ Race Was Invented to Divide the American Working Class

April 10, 2017

There was another, very interesting piece in Counterpunch last week by Richard Moser, ‘Pawns No More: Ted Allen and the Invention of the White Race’. This discussed the work of Theodore W. Allen’s classic analysis of the origins of racism and racial oppression in America, The Invention the White Race: Volume I Racial Oppression and Social Control and Volume II: The Origins of Racial Oppression in Anglo-America. Allen was a White working class writer and political activist, who spent 20 years working in the Virginia state archives to amass an impressive amount of evidence to support his view: that the ‘White’ race was invented by the colonial authorities to divide the bonded poor, both Black and White, and stop the formation of a united working class opposition to slavery.

Allen noted that when the first Africans arrived at Jamestown in 1619, there was no special status attached either to them or to people of European origin. Indeed, Whites, as a special demographic category, did not exist, and would not exist until after Bacon’s Rebellion 60 years later. Moser writes

What Allen discovered transformed our understanding of race in America and can transform our organizing practice and activism.

He shocked readers with a startling finding:

“When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no “white” people there; nor according to colonial records would there be for another sixties years.”1

Oh, yes, there were English and Irish, but nowhere in the colonial record is there evidence that law or society granted special privileges to people based on European origin.

The white race and white identity were “invented,” Allen argued, by the ruling elite of Virginia, in order to divide laboring people in the aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. The white race was constructed and used as a political instrument to divide and conquer.

How did this come to be?

By 1620 or so, a system of unfree labor became the dominant labor system in Virginia. The system was essentially slavery, some “bond-laborers” had time-limited contracts, but most servitude was open to interpretation by custom. A majority of these bond-laborers were Europeans.

The archival evidence is clear, as well, that the role of African and African Americans was “indeterminate.” From 1619 to the years following Bacon’s Rebellion, the status of black people was contested in the courts and in the fields. Africans held a variety of social and economic positions: some were limited term slaves, some free, some endured lifetime bondage, while others were property holders, even including a few slave owners.

It was not until after Bacon’s Rebellion, or the second phase of Bacon’s Rebellion to be precise, that law and society created a new custom of racism, and for that to happen, the white race had to be invented.

What was the trigger?

“[I]n Virginia, 128 years before William Lloyd Garrison was born, laboring class African-Americans and European-Americans fought side by side for the abolition of slavery. In so doing, they provided the supreme proof that the white race did not then exist.”3

The Rebellion occupied the capital of Jamestown and pointed the way toward freedom for everyone, by contesting the rule of the oligarchs who had grown rich on slave labor and land stolen from the natives.

“[I]t was the striving of the bond-laborers for freedom from chattel servitude that held the key to liberation of the colony from the misery that proceeded from oligarchic rule…” 4

After the rebellion was suppressed, law and custom began to shift. Europeans were increasingly designated as “white” in the historical record, and given privileges that conferred a “presumption of liberty” while blacks were increasing subjected to legal and cultural limits to their freedoms. Whites were encouraged to view blacks with contempt and see their inferior social positions as proof of innate inferiority.

Conditions for working class Whites continued to be appalling throughout the US, both in the North as well as in the South, but there was a major difference between White and Black. The law presumed Whites were free, and so they had the ability to improve their conditions, and even such basic rights as the right to basic literacy – which were denied enslaved Africans.

Moser’s article is written not just as a piece of interesting historical analysis, but as a piece of factual ammunition for the campaign against the neoliberal rule of the rich elite in Trump’s America. He concludes

Here is Allen’s legacy and challenge to us: racism is historical, it is the product of human activity. If it was then, it is now. Racism was founded on a system of privileges designed to win working class white people’s support for slavery. And so it is to white privilege that we must look if we want to free ourselves from being the tools and fools of the rich and powerful.

We must be pawns no more.

The article’s at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/04/06/pawns-no-more/

This is important. American progressives have repeatedly pointed out the way the corporate elite are using working class White racism to bolster their own dominance, while at the same time doing everything they can to deny working and middle class Americans of their rights and ability to make a decent living, regardless of race. Bernie Sanders recounts in his book, Our Revolution, how he asked a local union leader in Mississippi how the Republicans got so many poor Whites to vote against their own interests. The union leader told him: racism.

Trump, Bush senior and junior, and Reagan all used White working class fears of Blacks and Black empowerment to get Whites to vote for them and policies that favoured only the rich in a policy that goes all the way back to Nixon’s ‘Southern Strategy’.

And the corporate elites over this side of the Atlantic have also used the same approach. It isn’t as blatant as it is in America, because British laws banning the promotion of racial hatred makes some of the overtly racist rhetoric of some American politicians illegal. But it’s there, nonetheless. You think about the way the Tories have constantly harped on the dangers of immigration, and the way that shaded quite quickly into racism with the vans Cameron sent round into mostly Black and Asian areas, which encouraged illegal immigrants to hand themselves in. Or asked the public to snitch on illegal immigrants. And then there’s UKIP, which again tried to attract White working class support through opposition to immigration, which at several times crossed over into real racism and Islamophobia, attracting members, who were very definitely part of the Fascist right. All the while also promoting policies that would hurt the very working class White voters they pretended to want to protect, such as privatising the health service, destroying the welfare state, as well as employment rights and rights for women.

Moser’s right in that this strategy, and the people behind it, need to be shown for what they are: a wealthy, corporate elite, who don’t care about the White working class, only about their own rule and power. A wealthy elite, who are using them to divide and rule working people. An elite that fears Whites and Blacks coming together to break their power and improve conditions for all working and middle class people, regardless of race. Theodore Allen’s analysis of the origins of the ‘White’ race is an important part of that ideological struggle.

Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution – A Future to Believe In

April 2, 2017

London: Profile Books 2016

Bernie Sanders is the ‘democratic socialist’ senator for Vermont, who ran against Hillary Clinton last year for the Democratic presidential nomination. He didn’t get it. Although he had more grass roots support than Killary, he was cheated of the nomination through the intervention of the Democrat superdelegates, who massively favoured her. He is the man, who should now be occupying the White House, rather than the gurning orange lump of narcissistic Fascism now doing his best to drag the country back to before the Civil War. The polls show that Bernie could have beaten Trump. But he wasn’t elected, as Bernie’s far too radical for the corporate state created by the Republican and mainstream, Clintonite Dems.

How radical can be seen from this book. It’s part autobiography, part manifesto. In the first part, Sanders talks about his youth growing up in Brooklyn, how he first became interested and aware of politics as a student at Chicago University, his political career in Vermont, and his decision to run for as a presidential candidate. This part of the book also describes his campaigning, as he crisscrossed America holding rallies, talking at town hall and union meetings, appearing on TV and social media trying to get votes. A strong feature of the book is Bernie’s emphasis on his background as one of the country’s now threatened lower middle class. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Poland, who worked as paint salesman. He and his family lived in a rent-controlled apartment in Brooklyn, where conditions were cramped so that they often slept on couches. He freely admits that his parents were also relatively affluent and had more disposable income than others.

After having left uni, he began his political career in Vermont in 1971 when he joined and campaigned for the senate in the Liberty Union party, a small third party in the state. During the same period he also ran a small company producing educational films on the history of Vermont and other states in New England. Finding out that none of the college students he spoke to had ever heard of Eugene Victor Debs, he went and brought one out on the great American labour leader and socialist politician. On the advice of a friend and college professor, Richard Sugarman, Sanders ran for election as mayor of Burlington. He won, introducing a number of important welfare, educational and municipal reforms he called ‘socialism in one city’, a play on Stalin’s slogan of ‘Socialism in One Country’. He was strongly opposed by the Democrats. A few years afterwards, however, he was elected to Congress as an Independent, where, despite some resistance from the Democrats, he was finally admitted to the Democratic Caucus. In 2006 he ran for senator, contested the seat vacated by the Republican, Jim Jeffords, who had retired. By 2013 he was being urged by his supporters to campaign for the presidential nomination. To gauge for himself how much support he was likely to receive, Sanders went across America talking to ordinary folks across the country. After this convinced him that he had a chance, he began to campaign in earnest.

At the beginning of his campaign for the nomination, Sanders was very much the outsider, getting 15 per cent of the votes polled to Clinton’s 60 per cent. Then he started winning, climbing up the ladder as he took something like seven out of eight states in a row. The corporatist wing of the Democrats did everything they could to block his rise, culminating in the theft of the nomination through the intervention of the superdelegates.

Sanders is a champion of the underdog. He garnered much support by going to communities, speaking to the poor and excluded, often in very underprivileged neighbourhoods where the police and security guards were worried about his safety. He spoke in a poor, multiracial community in New York’s South Bronx, and to poor Whites in rural Mississippi. The latter were a part of the American demographic that the Democrats traditionally believed were impossible to win. Sanders states that actually speaking to them convinced him that they were way more liberal than the political class actually believe. During a talk to a group of local trade unionists, Sanders asked why people in such a poor area voted Republican against their interests. This was one of a number of counties in the state, that was so poor that they didn’t even have a doctor. The union leader told him: racism. The Republicans played on Whites’ hatred of Blacks, to divide and rule the state’s working people.

Sanders makes very clear his admiration for trade unions and their members, and how frequently they know far better than the politicians what is not only good for their members, but also good for the industry, their customers, and their country. He praises the nurses’ unions, who have endorsed his campaign and backed his demand for a Medicaid for all. He similarly praises the workers and professionals maintaining America’s infrastructure. This is massively decaying. 25 per cent of American bridges are, according to surveyors, functionally obsolete. Towns all over America, like Flint in Michigan, have had their water poisoned by negligent water companies. The electricity grid is also unspeakably poor. It’s ranked 35th worst in the world, behind that of Barbados. Yep! If you want to go to a country with a better electricity network, then go to that poor Caribbean country.

He describes how the poor in today’s America pay more for less. Drug prices are kept artificially high by pharmaceutical giants like Pfizer, so that many poor Americans can’t afford them. In one of the early chapter, he describes leading a group of women from Vermont over the Canadian border, so that they could buy prescription drugs cheaper. These same companies, like the rest of the big corporations, do everything they can to avoid paying tax. In some cases, these big corporations pay absolutely none. This is because of the corruption of American politics by donations from big business. As a result, the country’s politicians don’t represent the ordinary voters. They represent big business. He makes it clear he respects Hillary Clinton, but ran against her because you can’t combine representing ordinary people with taking money from the corporate rich. And at the heart of this corruption is the Koch brothers, oil magnates with a personal wealth of $82 billion and a corporate wealth of $115. They are not, explains Bernie, small government conservatives, but right-wing extremists. Their goal is to dismantle taxation completely, along with Medicaid and what little the country has of a welfare state. All so that the 1 per cent, who own as much as the poorest 90 per cent of the American population, can get even richer.

Sanders goes further to describe the massive inequalities that are now dividing American society, including the racism and sexism that ensures that women, Blacks and Latinos are paid less than White men. The notorious drug laws that have ensured that more Blacks are jailed for marijuana and other drugs than Whites. The crippling debt that faces more and more Americans. 48 million Americans are in poverty. 24 million have no health insurance. Many of these are people, who are in work, and frequently working their rear ends off just to make ends meet. He describes talking to a charity worker, who purchases just out of date food to give to the local food bank. According to the young man he spoke to, 90 per cent of the people using the bank are working Americans, whose jobs pay so little that they literally can’t afford to eat. In this section of the book he quotes a letter from a woman, who states that she and her husband are work 2 and 3 jobs each, but still can’t make a living. As a result, the young can’t afford to buy their houses, or go to university. He contrasts this with the situation in the 1950s. It wasn’t utopia, and there was still massive inequalities in wealth according to race and gender. But the economy was expanding, more people had the prospect of good, well-paying jobs, owning their own homes, and sending their children to college. This America is disappearing. Fast.

Sanders has given his support to women’s groups, and is a very staunch anti-racism campaigner. Amongst those who backed his campaign were Harry Belafonte and Dr. Cornel West, among other Afro-American intellectuals, performers and politicians. He also received the support of a number of Hollywood celebrities, including Seth MacFarlane and Danny DeVito. And comic book fans everywhere with genuinely progressive values will be delighted to here that his campaign manager ran a comic book store in Vermont. Presumably this guy is completely different from the owner of the Android’s Dungeon in The Simpsons. Sanders talks about his support for the Civil Rights movement, and Selma march, paying due tribute to its heroes and heroines, including Dr. Martin Luther King. He’s also a keen supporter of Black Lives Matter, the Black movement to stop cops getting away with the murder of Black people. As part of his campaign against racism, he also actively supports the campaign against the demonization of Muslims and rising tide of Islamophobia in America. When he was asked whether he would support this by a Muslim American, Sanders replied that he would, as his own father’s family were Jewish refugees from Poland.

Sanders is also strongly opposed to the current wars in the Middle East. He was not in favour of Gulf War 1 in the 1990s, and has attacked the invasion of Iraq under Bush for destabilising the country and region, and causing massive carnage. But he was no supporter of Saddam Hussein, and is also a staunch supporter of veterans, adding his political clout to their campaigns to stop the government cutting their benefits. He points out that the blame for these wars lie with the politicos, not the soldiers who had fight.

Bernie also takes worker ownership very seriously. Among the policies that he recommends for saving and expanding the American middle class are strengthening workers’ cooperatives and allowing workers to purchase their companies. One of the measures he states he will introduce will be to establish a bank to lend funds to American workers so that they can buy their own companies. He also wants to end the ‘too big to fail’ attitude to the big banks and start regulating them again. And as part of his campaign to strengthen and expand American democracy, he is a very harsh critic of the various laws the Republicans have introduced in states across America to stop Blacks, Latinos, the poor and students from voting. He also asks why it is that European countries can afford free medical care, but America can’t. And why Germany can provide college education free to its students, while Americans are faced with a mountain of debt.

Sanders is a genuine American radical in the tradition of Eugene Debs. It’s no wonder that the rich and the powerful now trying to pull the country back into the colonial era, when it was ruled by coterie of rich White men. He states that his country is now an oligarchy, and even a ‘banana republic’. He’s right, and right about the ways these issues can and should be tackled.

The Republicans have also tried to deter people from voting for him based on his apparent lack of interest in religion. They couldn’t attack him for being Jewish – although with those monsters Spencer and Gorka in the White House, I don’t know how long that will hold – so insinuated that he was an atheist. Well perhaps. But Sanders does have religious supporters. His friend and support Richard Sugarman is an Hasidic Jew and Sanders himself several times states how impressed he is with Pope Francis’ support for the global poor. He also made it clear in a speech he gave to the very Conservative Liberty University that he was impressed with the good in all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, whatever. So he’s secular, but not anti-religious. Just anti-bigotry, and the way the right is trying to use religion to divide America.

It’s also remarkable that Sanders was the focus of a popular phenomenon far beyond his own campaign team. He states in the book that he wanted to control the campaign, and not have a SuperPAC telling people what he didn’t or didn’t believe. But he also found that up and down America, people at the grassroots were organising independently of his campaign team to support him. Unlike the astroturf fake populist campaign the Republicans and Libertarians have set up, Bernie’s genuinely popular with a growing number of American working people.

America desperately needs him. And so do we in Britain. The predatory, parasitical capitalism at the heart of American society has also been exported over here by the Conservatives. Just like the Americans need Bernie, we need Corbyn. And we need the two together, because if Bernie can do anything to stop the current political degeneration in America, it will also help stop the process over here.

Incidentally, Bernie has a personal connection with Britain. His brother is a member of the Green party in Oxfordshire, and campaigns against the privatisation of the NHS. Sanders also has a strong interest in protecting the environment and promoting renewable energy.

I also recommend this book to aspiring young politicos because of the chapters in which he talks about running a campaign, funded by your own supporters, not corporate backers, and what you need to do when running about the country. Like making sure you can get there in time and aren’t double-booked. It’s good advice, and although the latter seems obvious, he talks about a number of incidents in which he disastrously failed to follow it.

Sanders talks about the way people are being turned off politics in America, thanks to the massive corporate corruption. This also reaches into corporate media. Sanders also has a few ideas how they can be reformed. He himself was the subject of a media blackout, as the TV and news companies definitely did not want to cover him, and very much favoured Killary. Hopefully Bernie’s book will reach more of the alienated folk now being excluded from American politics, and show them that there is someone actively fighting for them. And so encourage them to get involved for themselves.

Emma Thompson: Trump and Nigel Farage are white Nationalists

August 27, 2016

Earlier this week Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP until he sort of resigned, but didn’t quite, appeared at a Trump rally in Mississippi to give his support to Trump. Sort of. He never actually told the assembled crowd that he would vote for Trump. Rather, he said that if he were an American, he wouldn’t vote for Hillary ‘if you paid me’. He then told the assembled Trumpists that they could defy the polls and win, just like Britain defied the polls and won with Brexit.

Amy Goodwin, one of the main anchors with Democracy Now!, discussed this with the veteran British thesp, Emma Thompson. Thompson had been in the arctic, and so hadn’t been around when Farage made his pronouncement. Asked for her reaction, Thompson declares that it was frightening, because Farage and Trump were both ‘nationalists- White nationalists’. She was shocked that Trump didn’t accept the reality of global warming, and declared that she was amazed that anyone who had anything between their ears didn’t believe in it, when 98 per cent of the world’s climate scientists did. This included that IPCC, which usually offered only mild criticism. Even they realised we were in serious trouble. She stated that one good reason for voting for Hillary was because she did believe in climate change.

It’s quite a messy little interview. When challenged by Goodwin over what she meant by ‘White nationalist’, Thompson doesn’t answer the question and carries on talking. She’s still talking when the titles start rolling and Goodwin has to cut her off.

I think she’s right about Trump being a White nationalist. He does have very strong racial views against Mexicans and Muslim immigration, even if he tries to camouflage it with claims that Blacks and Hispanics really love him. A similar racism did fuel the Brexit campaign and is evident in much of Bilious Barrage’s party, UKIP, despite its repeated claim that it won’t tolerate members, who have been members of the Fascist Right.

The reference to the arctic I think refers to a film Thompson has been making on the effects of climate change on the environment in that region. About this, I doubt, however, that Shrillary will be much better than Trump. She accepts the reality of climate change, but my guess is that she’s too much of a corporate shill beholden to the big energy companies and Wall Street ever to want to do much to curb their depredations on the environment. Anyone seriously interested in Green issues and tackling climate change would probably be better voting for Jill Stein and the Greens.

And finally, there’s Farage’s presumption in telling Americans how to vote. Talking about this with Mum the other day, she reckoned it was ‘a bit of a cheek’. It is. No nation likes being told which way to vote by foreigners. I remember the time over a decade ago when the Guardian – or was it the Observer – was so horrified by the prospect of Bush winning the election that they organised a mass letter writing campaign to voters in one of the counties in Ohio, on the grounds that this district had just the right number of voters to swing the vote. This had the opposite effect. Good patriotic Americans were duly royally annoyed at being told what to do by the Limeys again, 200 years after throwing us out. The result was a landslide for Bush, and much hilarity on Have I Got News For You when they covered the story.

Secular Talk on Alex Jones’ ‘Libs Are Demonic Villains Who Want Blood’

March 4, 2016

This is yet another piece from Secular Talk, and I’m reblogging it because it answers some of the accusations the American far right throw at anything even vaguely liberal or left-wing, as well as showing just how peculiar their opposition to Obamacare is.

Kyle Kulinski is here commenting and taking apart an interview on Alex Jones’ Infowars programme with a right-wing documentary film maker, Joel Gilbert, who has produced a movie, No Such Thing as Utopia, attacking the left and its economic and social doctrines. Jones and his guest accuse liberal policies of devastating the economy and deliberately attacking the family, leaving millions of families without fathers. Deprived of paternal guidance, the boys from these broken homes turn to crime. It was liberal policies, of course, that has left Detroit the wrecked, dying city it now is. They claim that liberals are all secret Marxists intent on a entering and corrupting mainstream political parties, like the Democrats. And then Alex Jones goes off on a mocking sneer about how liberals are like ‘gangster-type felons’, extremely bloodthirsty wanting to inflict a genocide, but in public affect a simpering attitude of ‘But I’m so Liberal!’

As for Obama, they claim that his intentions were ‘never good’, and that he only intended to cut the deficit in half.

It’s rubbish, of course. Kulinski challenges them to name one Marxist policy the Democrats have. There isn’t one. They are, in his view, centrist corporatists. As for the devastation of Detroit, that’s often been claimed by the right to be due to ‘socialist’ policies and the trade unions. The simple fact is that it was wrecked by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The corrupt, corporatist system destroyed middle class, factory jobs that kept people employed. This meant that all the jobs were exported abroad. It wouldn’t have matter, who the people of Detroit would have voted for – Democrat, Republican, Fascist, Centrist, Communist. And the economy’s going to remain like that until another industry comes into to revive Detroit.

He also tears into the Republican accusation that Obamacare is a Marxist policy. In no way is it. This may surprise you – it certainly did me – but it was first suggested by – wait for it! – Richard Nixon. It was also supported by Bob Dole. Newt Gingrich supported it during the Clinton administration. Even the far right, all-American Heritage Foundation made notes on it.

Obama himself has honoured his promise to halve the deficit. Bush left the country with a staggering debt of $1.4 trillion. Under Obama, it’s gone down to $480 – $460 billion. As for Obama’s supposedly evil intentions, Kulinski states that it’s ridiculous, but the stance is also shared by people on the left. Everyone rationalises that what they’re doing is good for the country.George Bush, with whose policies Kulinski radically disagrees, thought he was doing his best for the country. Even Joseph Stalin rationalised his monstrous crimes against the Soviet people and the countries he conquered in this way.

And if you want to point to Detroit as an example of what liberalism does, how about Mississippi as an example of the effects of Conservatism. It is the poorest, most obese state in America, with the lowest levels of education and the highest rates of Sexually Transmitted Diseases. He also adduces the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland. They have the best middle classes in the world, best standards of health care, best social safety nets and they’re people all self-report that they are the happiest. And they’re incredibly liberal.