Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Rape at University of Texas / Trump goes down in defeat / Granddaughter, grandfather both remember war / Selena fans / Great television sagas

This week: Rape at University of Texas / Trump goes down in defeat / Granddaughter, grandfather both remember war / Selena fans / Great television sagas

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. This is what I thought war was supposed to look like
By Tara Copp | The Dallas Morning News | March 2017
This is the first of four excerpts from Copp’s new book The Warbird: Three Heroes. Two Wars. One Story
Also see: Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

2. Selena super-fans celebrate her in song, dance, likeness
By Julie Garcia | Corpus Christi Caller-Times | March 21
“With blunt cut bangs, long brown hair and a spectacular red shade of lipstick, Nadia Garcia is the image of a young Selena Quintanilla Perez. Garcia twirled on a stage in the center court at La Palmera mall to “Baila Esta Cumbia” dressed in a white bustier and matching white pants in front of a crowd of people who came to celebrate the late Tejano songstress.”

3. 15 percent of female undergraduates at UT have been raped, survey says
By Lauren McGaughy | The Dallas Morning News | March 24
“The study was comprehensive, surveying 28,000 students during the 2015 academic year at 13 UT academic and health campuses. A project of the School of Social Work’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, this survey is just the first round. A second one will be repeated in two years …”

4. How The Americans Became the Best Show on Television
By Matt Brennan | Paste | March 24
“No longer limited to marriage and espionage, The Americans is now the evocative saga of a family that just happens to have two spies in it.”

5. ‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care
By Robert Costa, Ashley Parker, and Philip Rucker | The Washington Post | March 24
“Shortly after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) unveiled the Republican health-care plan on March 6, President Trump sat in the Oval Office and queried his advisers: ‘Is this really a good bill?’ And over the next 18 days, until the bill collapsed in the House on Friday afternoon in a humiliating defeat — the sharpest rebuke yet of Trump’s young presidency and his negotiating skills — the question continued to nag at the president.”

6. The Art of Paying Attention
By Michelle Dean | New Republic | March 20
“Why we need critics to think about power and how it works.”

7. ‘Sometimes I laugh at this farce’: six writers on life behind bars in Turkey
By Kareem Shaheen and Maeve Shearlaw | The Guardian | March 23
“Six persecuted writers describe the mental and physical toll of living in the country that jails more journalists than any other”

8. How Many Books Will You Read Before You Die?
By Emily Temple | Lit Hub | March 22
“It depends, of course, on how you’re counting, but for our purposes here, it’s down to two primary factors.”

9. Life with migraines: ‘It feels like a creature is pushing itself through my skull’
By Anna Altman | The Guardian | November 2016
“When I was 26, I started suffering from dizziness, brain fog, fatigue and chronic pain. I’d had migraines since childhood, but these felt different”

10. Jackie Robinson and Nixon: Life and Death of a Political Friendship
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | June 2014
“In 1968, furious over Nixon’s courtship of Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who had once led the segregationist ‘Dixiecrats,’ Jackie backed the Democratic nominee, Hubert Humphrey.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.

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This week: The Associated Press and The New York Times offered special reports on Obama’s legacy. Here are a few selections from their analysis series.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. The Obama Era
The New York Times | 2016 and 2017
“The Obama Era [explores in six parts] the sweeping change that President Obama has brought to the nation, and how the presidency has changed him.”
Also see: Obama enters the final weeks of his presidency

2. Obama racial legacy: Pride, promise, regret — and deep rift
By Sharon Cohen and Deepti Hajela | Associated Press | Jan. 4
“[H]is presidency did not usher in racial harmony. Rather, both blacks and whites believe race relations have deteriorated, according to polls. Mounting tensions over police shootings of African-Americans prompted protests in several cities and the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Also see: Some key moments related to race during Obama’s presidency

3. As Obama accomplished policy goals, his party floundered
By Lisa Lerer | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“The leadership of the one-time community organizer and champion of ground-up politics was rough on the grassroots of his own party. When Obama exits the White House, he’ll leave behind a Democratic Party that languished in his shadow for years and is searching for itself.”
Interactive: The Obamas’ legacy in race, civil rights, social media, and more

4. Michelle Obama: A first lady who charted her own course
By Darlene Superville | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“As she navigated her way through, the woman who grew up on the South Side of Chicago discovered a talent for television and a comfort with Hollywood A-listers, haute couture and social media. And she used all of those elements to promote her causes — childhood obesity, support for military families, girls’ education — with at least some success.”
Also see: For girls, Michelle Obama is an empowering example
Also see: Michelle Obama: Life’s ‘greatest honor’ was being first lady

5. Michelle Obama loved fashion and the fashion world loved her
By Jocelyn Noveck | Associated Press | Dec. 26
“[U]nlike some past first ladies who favored one or two big-name designers, Mrs. Obama has spread her fashion choices among a huge stable of them — often promoting lesser-known names, and taking care to promote American designers at such high-profile events as inaugurations, conventions and state dinners.”

6. Obama makes his mark as first ‘social media’ president
By Kevin Freking | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“Obama’s two terms in office played out like a running chronicle of the trends of our times.”
Also see: President ending reign as pop culture king

7. 8 ways the US job market has evolved over Obama’s 8 years
By Christopher S. Rugaber | Associated Press | Jan. 6
“The unemployment rate is 4.7 percent. Jobs have been added for 75 straight months, the longest such streak on record. But many other trends, not all of them positive, have reshaped the job market over the past eight years. …”

8. In realist foreign policy, Obama found limits
By Bradley Klapper | Associated Press | Dec. 24
“Over eight years, Obama ushered in a new era of diplomacy, re-establishing the United States as the driving force behind fighting climate change and reducing the threat of nuclear weapons.”

9. Handing Trump a broad view of war powers
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | Dec. 5
“After eight years as a wartime president, Barack Obama is handing his successor an expansive interpretation of the commander in chief’s authority to wage war around the globe. And that reading has continued to grow even as Obama prepares to pass control to Donald Trump.”

10. A quiet mission to export gay rights oversea
By Josh Lederman | Associated Press | October 2016
“The U.S. has deployed its diplomats and spent tens of millions of dollars to try to block anti-gay laws, punish countries that enacted them, and tie financial assistance to respect for LGBT rights. … Yet the U.S. encountered occasional backlash, including from some rights groups that said public pressure by the West made things worse.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

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This week: The best pieces on Cuba, the United States, the Castros, and what the future holds.

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. No word yet from Fidel amid historic US-Cuba shift
By Anne-Marie Garcia | Associated Press | Dec. 19
“Everyone in Cuba is talking about the startling turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro.”

2. Without Washington as its enemy, what will define Cuba?
By Tom Gjeten | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“Both governments are gambling that this new world will suit their respective political interests. In this negotiation, however, there is no win-win: One government or the other is likely to lose.”

3. Cuba’s cash boon for GOP
By Kenneth P. Vogel and Tarini Parti | Politico | Dec. 19
“[W]hile polls show that most Americans favor normalization, wealthy donors for whom the issue is a top priority overwhelmingly oppose engaging with the Castro regime. …”

4. Why Congress Hates Your Cuban Rum
By Tim Mack | The Daily Beast | Dec. 19
“Havana Club or ‘American’ Havana Club? How untangling decades of Washington’s embargo politics could start a rum war among the world’s most powerful alcohol companies.”

5. The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother
By Damien Cave | The New York Times | Dec. 18
“At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro … spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.”

6. A Historical Perspective on the Cuba-U.S. Relationship
By Jason Steinhauer | Insights :: The Library of Congress | Dec. 19
“Let’s start with this: soon after Fidel Castro’s rise to power, the U.S. viewed Cuba as a security threat. What was the basis for that viewpoint?”

7. Detente Scrambles Political Calculus in Latin America
By Reed Johnson, Ezequiel Minaya, and Kejal Vyas | The Wall Street Journal | Dec. 18
“The Detente Between the U.S. and Cuba Has the Potential to Redraw Political and Economic Alliances Across the Hemisphere”

8. Cha-Cha-Cha: Obama’s On a Roll
By John Cassidy | The New Yorker | Dec. 19
“If you doubted that President Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba was a political and strategic masterstroke, you only have to look at the reaction it has engendered to see otherwise.”

9. A Cuban who sold his beachfront home says he might regret that move
By Marco Werman | The World :: PRI | Dec. 19
“Yuro is part of the generation of Cubans known as the ‘lost generation.’ The ones who came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union — and the loss of all those Russian oil for sugar subsidies.”

10. The US Breaks Ties with Cuba
Witness :: BBC | Dec. 18
“It was in January 1961 that the USA first broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Wayne Smith was one of the last diplomats to leave the US embassy in Havana.”

11. Cuba: A Reading List
By John Williams | ArtsBeat :: The New York Times | Dec. 18
“[W]e asked editors at The Times to suggest books that offer the best looks at Cuba’s history and its relationship to the United States. Here are a few of their recommendations:”

12. Americans, here’s what you’ve been missing in Cuba all this time
GlobalPost | Dec. 19
“A new era in US-Cuba relations could see a travel ban lifted. Here are some of the sights US citizens could be visiting soon.”

13. U.S.–Cuba Agreement: Diplomacy At Its Best
By. John Parisella | Americas Quarterly | Dec. 18
“Just as Nixon went to China and Truman set up the Marshall Plan for Europe in the post-World War II era, Obama knew that he had to do something different with a nation just 90 miles off the U.S. shore.”

14. Pope Francis bridged gap between U.S. and Cuba during secret talks
By Paul Richter and Tom Kington | The Los Angeles Times | Dec. 18
“The pope’s secret role in the back-channel talks was crucial because, as a religious leader with the confidence of both sides, he was able to convince the Obama and Castro administrations that the other side would live up to the deal. …”

15. Topic: Cuba
By Ted Piccone and Richard Feinberg | The Brookings Institution | Dec. 2014
“See what they and other Brookings experts have to say about the measures and their impact on the two countries moving forward.”

16. Baseball in Cuba: A looming brain drain
By D.R. | The Economist | Dec. 18
“Cuban veterans represent the last remaining loophole in MLB’s regulation of players’ entry to the league, which helps to maintain competitive balance between rich and poor clubs.”

17. Opening Cuba and Closing Gitmo?
By James Stavridis | Foreign Policy | Dec. 19
“Havana will be pushing hard to shut the naval station at Guantanamo Bay — but Washington shouldn’t give in.”

18. Cuba’s Christmas Surprise for Caracas
By Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez | Foreign Policy | Dec. 18
“Despite Maduro’s self-serving rhetoric, future U.S. tourism dollars, increased remittances, and access to foreign markets could easily replace the resale value of Venezuelan oil. Cuba’s wily leaders have made it clear that they’re more willing to offend Maduro than to risk being left standing when the salsa stops.”

19. The Democrats’ risky Cuba bet
By James Hohmann and Kyle Cheney | Politico | Dec. 17
“Will Florida’s changing demographics offset a backlash among older Cuban-Americans?”

20. As Obama opens to Cuba, China experts remember benefits from U.S. engagement
By Simon Denyer | The Washington Post | Dec. 19
“China has become a partner with the United States in some ways but also a powerful rival, geo-strategically and economically. Its leadership remains deeply suspicious of Western values, even as it pursues a deeper relationship with the United States.”

The Disco Pall

The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.

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The mirage inspired the working class and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:

Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class. By Jefferson Cowie. New York: The New Press, 2010. Pp. 464. $19.58

*****

Jefferson Cowie illustrates in Stayin’ Alive a sad era of American labor’s political and economic strife. The book recounts 40 years of corporations, political figures, and labor’s own leaders undermining, defusing, or ravaging the postwar economic opportunities of working-class Americans, who gradually lost every ally gained during the New Deal era. The working-class identity at the beginning of his story captures their pride and belief in a better future. Their identity at the end is strangled, stabbed, and ground down into a pitiable symbol of social irrelevance, political isolation, and self-absorbed psychic catatonia.1

Cowie divides his story into two sections: “Hope in the Confusion, 1968-1974” and “Despair in the Order, 1974-1982.” He begins with vivid accounts of labor’s role as “junior partners” in a New Deal coalition to re-engineer American capitalism and of a younger generation’s struggles against calcified labor leaders in the 1960s to improve their economic standing. He then moves into the chaos of the 1968 presidential campaigns. Public uproar over the Vietnam War left President Lyndon B. Johnson exhausted. He refused to run for another term, leaving the desiccated corpse of the presidency for Democratic contenders to rip apart like starved hyenas. Vice President Hubert Humphrey emerged from the violent Democratic nominating convention as the last man standing, with only the labor machinery at his side, Cowie writes, making labor the “big boss in the Democratic Party.”2

Labor’s support of the Vietnam War, Cowie explains, meant no alliance with anti-war Democrats. Patriarchal labor leaders rejected civil rights and social movements, which poisoned any relationship with social liberals, women, and minorities. Humphrey’s nomination triumph and labor alliance amounted to little more than a Pyrrhic victory when Richard Nixon, leading a Republican resurgence against divided Democrats, won the election. The cracks in the Democratic lines would also lead to complete political failure in 1972 when Democrat George McGovern challenged then-President Nixon and was obliterated.3

The tragic and foreboding theme of division overshadows every working-class ambition, and Cowie highlights its importance at every turn. The compromised aspirations of the 1935 National Labor Relations Act and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are two of his best examples. Both aimed for “occupational justice.” The former enabled union formation and opened economic opportunities to immigrants. The latter ensured non-white, non-male, and non-Christian workers would not face workplace discrimination. The former was rooted in the hopes for economic equality. The latter was rooted in the hopes for cultural and gender equality. Some victories required the exclusion of black rights.

Others required the exclusion of women’s rights. Inherent tensions between the governmental and political forces that achieved both victories doomed the unity needed to face foes in the 1970s and 1980s, who exploited “an unbridgeable chasm” between allies fighting over race or over class. Cowie is at his best when he explores these key flaws in the coalition the unions depended upon throughout the postwar decades.4

Nixon cynically targeted that central cultural-vs.-material dichotomy in the workers’ outlook. He lured them into his New Majority, his own coalition of Republicans, conservative Democrats, and white workers disgusted by the civil rights or other social movements. He emphasized his empathy with their frustrations, and he shared their disgust for “effete” Northern elitists and antiwar protesters. He anesthetized their doubts or shame over their support for a Republican with dazzling themes of shared patriotism. Once working-class Democrats were numbed to their own political transformation and suffocated by the rhetorical American flags in which he wrapped them, Nixon added their votes to his victorious totals, laughed at their seeming blindness to his manipulations, and then subsequently did little to justify their support.5

Cowie ends the book’s first half with the convincing contention that in 1973, after years of high earnings and low unemployment, labor’s prospect for further prosperity began to fade. That year was a turning point, he writes, when “a troika of disasters” began to unfold: an oil embargo, the spread of suffocating stagflation, and the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation in 1974. Nixon, Cowie argues, “was the last [postwar president] to court labor seriously.” Instead of playing on the old New Deal chessboard, Nixon simply invented a new game with new rules. After 1974, labor faced threats it was no longer armed against, on battlefield on which it had no effective allies, and fought for a place in an economy that no longer valued its contribution or importance.6

If the book’s first half sees the working class feel the unstable shoreline crumble under their feet, the second half sees them slide helplessly into the shark-infested water. Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, defeated Ronald Reagan for the 1976 presidential nomination. Democrat Jimmy Carter then defeated Ford in the general election. Nixon’s and Ford’s defeats emboldened Democratic liberals, and their triumph blinded them to Carter’s limitations as a labor ally. At first, liberals and labor saw new hope in the new president, who could potentially fuse old George Wallace supporters, Southern Democrats, Northern workers, and minorities into a new coalition. Cowie points to hopes for new legislation that would generate more jobs, improve labor laws, and begin a national health insurance. But Carter had little regard for liberal dreams, and his career was not beholden to labor’s support. His narrow and principled vision focused only on particular priorities, and his stiff rudder rarely moved to accommodate labor’s needs.7

Labor needed help more than ever before. Companies laid off workers and moved production overseas. Plants closed. Industries gravitated to regions that rejected union activism, instituted right-to-work laws, and promised tax incentives and low regulation. The general economic malaise acted like a drought, drying up what little hope remained for labor to find economic or political rejuvenation in the Democratic Party’s empty and neglected fountains. By 1980, Cowie explains, “a unionized manufacturing job … had become a rare and coveted source of security” -– a stale scrap from the corporate table crowded with conservative allies.8

Cowie’s pursuit of working-class identity throughout the postwar decades is a powerful intellectual feature of the book. He also argues that working-class identity found itself reflected in TV shows like All in the Family, in ballads from Bruce Springsteen and Devo, and in films like Saturday Night Fever. But the musing quickly turns into bloviating and regrettable tedium. Much of what he wanted to say could have been condensed from two chapters into one, or incorporated into the photos section with enriched captions. The attempt to casually expound on entertainment diminishes the power of Cowie’s serious and informative history.9

Republican Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980. By then, Cowie laments, the “redefinition of the working class beyond its New Deal form” had failed. Postwar attempts to maintain workers in the middle class failed. Conservative enemies torpedoed their legislative and policy accomplishments. Carter and a new generation of liberal Democrats had no shared history with labor and little inspiration to court their rusted and scarred loyalties.10 The working classes had nowhere to go but inward in their search for a credible identity. Ironically, that desperation left them open to another round of Nixonian seduction. Reagan’s New Right vision promised a return to a revitalized America built on the rubble Carter and his Eastern elites had left behind, one nation under God, ruled by white Christian men just as they ruled in their own communities.

The potent, sickening sweetness of Reagan’s nostalgic platitudes — Cowie calls it “symbolic sanctuary” — mesmerized workers who hungered for a time when they mattered to American society. Reagan swung the final major blow to the remnants of the labor movement when he shattered the Professional Air Traffic Controllers (PATCO) union strike in 1981. Cowie calls Reagan’s decision “one of the boldest acts of his administration.” Cowie could have added details of the administration’s decision-making process, internal debates, or recollections from Reagan advisors. Instead, the incident, which signaled to the corporate world how weak and vulnerable the union community truly was, is barely explored in a rush to finish the second half of the book, which ends in 1982. By the 1990s, a globalized economy of union-free service workers emerges, ruled by a conservative coalition descended not solely from conservative victories, Cowie argues, but also from liberalism’s failures and shortsighted divisions.11

Cowie’s sad and fascinating story points to the “internal weaknesses” of the working class when explaining why labor movements failed to sustain cohesion and strength long enough after the New Deal to pose a significant challenge to “[m]arket orthodoxy.”12 Perhaps, he argues, their noble alliance was little more than a “conceptual unity” that never truly existed. The mirage inspired the working class – enthused by their New Deal identities — and their tenuous allies toward distant horizons of hope, unaware that only predators awaited them in the night.


1. Jefferson Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New York: The New Press, 2010), 9-11.
2. Cowie, 9, 29, 83.
3. Cowie, 41, 84.
4. Cowie, 236-237.
5. Cowie, 122-124, 132-133.
6. Cowie, 12, 164.
7. Cowie, 14, 266.
8. Cowie, 15.
9. Cowie, 209-210, 357-369.
10. Cowie, 366.
11. Cowie, 362-364.
12. Cowie, 18.