Men. With guns.
In the early 20th Century, the coal companies ruled West Virginia as a fiefdom. In those hollows, where people or information could not easily come in or out without the companies knowing, miners lived as it if were the Middle Ages. Little schooling, shoddy housing, high-priced company stores, debt, mining accidents, and black lung disease defined people’s lives.
The United Mine Workers of America, founded in 1890, had fought for decades to organize these workers, but in such remote areas, far from eastern cities and the attention newspapers would bring, the mine companies had no problem beating and murdering union organizers, blacklisting union supporters and throwing them out of their homes, and doing everything possible to keep the miners under their thumb. The coal companies controlled politics throughout the region but nowhere more so than West Virginia, where they completely ruled the state. Workers had resisted repeatedly, but faced overwhelming state power to crush their strikes.
In January 1920, the United Mine Workers of America had a new president: John L. Lewis. Lewis, who would become one of the most powerful labor leaders in American history, wanted to organize the miners of southern Appalachia. Miners from across the region rushed to get charters from the UMWA when Lewis announced the new campaign early in 1920. The UMWA had a complex interest in organizing the miners of West Virginia.
Lewis had just won major victories in other coal areas around the nation. Not only did he force the companies to recognize the UMWA as the bargaining agent for coal miners and sign contracts, but they agreed to pay raises of up to 27 percent. However, as part of the contracts, the coal companies forced Lewis to agree to organize miners in West Virginia and Kentucky in order to keep the union companies on a level playing field with nonunion companies. As Lewis already wanted to organize these workers, it had great potential for the UMWA. But mining was not as monopolized as it is today and operators in Illinois or Pennsylvania were not always gigantic multinational corporations with interests around the world. The UMWA might have support from companies far away, but in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, that meant nothing.
Among the areas to acquire a charter from the UMWA was near Matewan, a tiny town in the western part of the state, on the border with Kentucky. In 2023, as in 1920, you have to really want to get to Matewan. This area was famous in American culture as the home of the famed Hatfields and McCoys feud in the 1880s that captured the American fascination with outlaws and riveted stereotypes about Appalachia in American minds, although this feud was in fact grounded in the Civil War, when the Hatfields were Confederates and the McCoys fought for the Union. In any case, the mine owners knew this history and responded to unionization there with maximum violence. They hired the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency to deal with the union.
The thugs had a lot of union members to deal with, for the UMWA saw immediate success in the area around Matewan. By May, more than 3,000 miners had joined the union, desperate to improve their lives. Unlike in many towns, the local political structure supported the miners, including the chief of police, Sid Hatfield, and the mayor, Cabell Testerman. Hatfield attempted to keep the Baldwin-Felts agents out of his town, but the mine owners quickly saw him as their open enemy. On May 19, 1920, Baldwin-Felts thugs, including the three Felts Brothers, arrived in Matewan to evict miners from company housing. Hatfield attempted to intervene and miners from around the region rushed to the town to protect the workers.
That afternoon, Hatfield attempted to arrest Al Felts for illegally kicking people out of their homes. Armed miners were stationed around the town, ready to fight the thugs. As the two sides faced off, someone fired a shot. No one knows who or which side that person was on. A firefight raged. Mayor Testerman and Al Felts were both shot and killed. When it ended, seven detectives, including two of the three Felts brothers, as well as the mayor and two miners were dead.
The Matewan Massacre is one small piece of the larger story of Appalachian resistance to the coal companies in the early 1920s. In 1921, the companies had Sid Hatfield murdered for his actions at Matewan on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse in Welch. This murder sparked the Battle of Blair Mountain, the largest workplace insurrection in American history. Ten thousand miners walked off their jobs and went to war against the coal companies. Over five days, 30 thugs and 100 miners died in pitched battles before President Warren Harding called in the Army to crush the strike. The UMWA attempt to organize West Virginia failed, but Lewis would eventually lead his union to victory, at least reducing if not ever ending coal corporation control over miners’ lives.
Most of us might only know about Matewan because of John Sayles’ excellent 1987 film, which brought him a good deal of attention and began a decade where Sayles was arguably the most vital and important American filmmaker working (sadly, the quality of his films fell off after this and he has almost faded back into obscurity). Without Sayles telling this story, Matewan is just another forgotten incident in the history of American labor, another attempt for working-class people to take control over their lives erased from our collective memory.
Michael P. Roller, An Archaeology of Structural Violence: Life in Twentieth Century Coal Town
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Rural utilities won't even have to teach CRT, so it's quite the deal.
The Biden administration is rolling out another part of its effort to speed up America's transition to renewable energy, announcing Tuesday that $11 billion in grants and loans are now available to rural areas to ditch old inefficient fossil fuel plants and replace them with affordable clean energy.
The aid comes in the form of two Department of Agriculture programs: The "Empowering Rural America" or “New ERA” program will provide $9.7 billion in grants for rural electric cooperatives to "deploy renewable energy systems, zero-emission and carbon capture systems," and the "Powering Affordable Clean Energy" (PACE) loan program that will provide another billion dollars in partly forgivable loans to a range of rural and tribal energy entities to "help finance large-scale solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower projects and energy storage in support of renewable energy systems."
The administration has been very diligent in pointing out that this is the biggest federal investment in rural energy infrastructure since Franklin D. Roosevelt's Rural Electrification Act in 1936, although the announcements have also been fairly careful not to put the words "green" and "New Deal" anywhere near each other.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release,
The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to cleaner energy provides rural communities with an affordable and reliable power grid, while supporting thousands of new jobs and helping lower energy costs in the future. These investments will also combat climate change and significantly reduce air and water pollution that put children’s health at risk.
The funding for the two programs comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and is just one of a series of interconnected strategies to finally get the USA off the fossil fuel teat and transition to a clean energy economy. The two programs start accepting letters of interest in June and July, and once the grants start going out to help build clean energy projects, count on a whole bunch of press releases from Republican members of Congress who'll brag about how they're helping their communities, even though they voted against the infrastructure bill.
The New ERA program for rural electric cooperatives, Vilsack told reporters on a press call,
will help rural electric cooperatives reach parity with private utility companies who have already begun significant investment in clean energy. [...]
"We have a climate crisis that requires all of America to participate in reducing emissions to get to the net-zero future," Vilsack said.
Rural electric co-ops, which currently serve about 42 million Americans, get about 22 percent of their power from renewable sources, so the new funding should help boost that. At a White House event announcing the new programs, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), who chairs the Senate Ag Committee, said the clean energy funding is
"an important piece of how we commit to rural America."
"This is really about saying to people in rural America, we want you to stay there, we want your kids to come home there, and to have a quality of life there," she said.
In the Ag Department news release, the administration notes that the PACE loan program is in keeping with Biden's "Justice40" initiative, which is aimed at making sure 40 percent of the help from climate spending goes to "disadvantaged communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution."
That's been a running theme in Biden's climate policy, because disadvantaged communities have historically been hit the hardest by fossil fuel pollution, and continue to be disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change. While we're at it, let's give props yet again to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who made environmental justice a central part of his 2020 climate plan, which Biden adopted and has stuck with from the start of his administration.
Also too, this is a good place to remind you all that the Wonkette Book Club is back, and for this Friday, we're going to read the first chapter of Kim Stanley Robinson's 2020 climate novel The Ministry for the Future. You can read more about the book club right here. If the UN ever does establish an agency similar to the novel's imagined ministry, we'd want Jay Inslee running it, please.
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That's weird that they said no!
Since Republicans are pretending to be Very Concerned About the Deficit — as they only are when a Democrat is president — the White House offered Republican leaders in Congress a list of ideas that would help reduce the deficit, primarily by closing tax loopholes that cost the federal government billions in lost revenue.
You will absolutely guess what happened next: The Republicans, who have been demanding massive (but mostly unspecified) cuts to non-defense spending as the price of raising the debt ceiling, "rejected every item" on the list, according to three anonymous "people familiar with the matter," as the Washington Post reports (free gift link):
On a phone call last week, senior White House officials floated about a dozen tax plans to reduce the deficit as part of a broader budget agreement with House Republicans, including a measure aimed at cryptocurrency transactions and another for large real estate investors, two of the people said. They were all swiftly rejected by the GOP aides on the call, the people said.
This is because Republicans don't actually care about reducing government debt; they care about telling people they want to reduce government debt. Debt limit negotiations continue this week, as Democrats work to find a way to prevent the disastrous economic consequences of defaulting on the US national debt, and Republicans work to find a way to force Democrats to accept wholesale dismantling of successful Biden policies by threatening to force a default on the debt.
Previously! On Wonkette!
Two people who are "familiar with the matter," and may or may not be entirely different from those familiar with the loophole thing, said that some kind of budget agreement might include "new limits on federal spending, a clawback of unspent pandemic aid funds and a package of permitting reforms designed to unleash domestic energy production." Those sound at least slightly more plausible than the initial Republican hostage note, which demanded hacking much of nondefense discretionary spending by more than 20 percent. Biden made clear that notion (it was never a "plan") would go nowhere.
The Post also says that the negotiations are being held up by several details, such as how long any spending limits going forward would last. The White House wants only two years of such "caps," while Republicans want to freeze spending for between 10 years and forever and ever. Biden remembers damn well that the last time Republicans threatened to crash the economy for the lulz in 2011, Barack Obama agreed to "sequestration" spending cuts that slowed the recovery from the Great Recession, so damned if Joe wants that again.
Further, while Republicans "appear to have dropped their demands to block student debt relief" (cautious "yay"), they're dead set on ramping up work requirements for federal antipoverty programs, even though most able-bodied working-age adults getting federal assistance are already working and the main effect of work requirements is to kick otherwise eligible people off programs because of paperwork problems, all while making the programs cost more to administer. As with pretending to care about debt, Republicans want to be able to say they got tough on "welfare cheats," and that's all they care about.
The Post says that Biden
told reporters on Sunday that he was open to the GOP’s work requirements proposal, but White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa said in a statement that the president “has also been clear that he will not accept policies that push Americans into poverty.”
Not surprisingly, House Republicans are claiming that the White House proposals amounted to "tax increases," although their actual effect would be to close tax loopholes affecting some investments in cryptocurrency and real estate, as the Post 'splains:
The cryptocurrency proposal would ensure that investors could not claim a loss on an asset that they then quickly repurchased — a rule that already exists for stocks and other assets. Similarly, the real estate proposal would prevent investors from deferring taxes on swaps of property — similar to a rule for stock trades.
The two changes would increase federal revenue by about $40 billion, but treating such investments equally under the tax code would magically make them "tax increases," because words mean nothing and time is a flat circle anyway. And for all the GOP complaints about how the problem is " too much spending," the Post story also points to a recent study by the Center for American Progress showing that were it not for tax cuts forced by the George W. Bush and Donald Trump administrations, the US would be bringing in enough revenue that "the debt ratio (debt as a percentage of the economy) would be declining."
Why yes, two Republican trifectas in government since 2020 not only gave huge tax cuts to the wealthy and to corporations that didn't result in an economic boom and which they don't want to pay for now; they also deepened the very federal debt that Republicans profess to worry about so much.
Add in the 1981 Reagan tax cuts, and for the first time since 1946, the debt ratio began rising, not falling. The Bush II and Trump tax cuts have so hobbled the government's ability to pay its debts that
federal debt as a percentage of the U.S. economy is on a path to grow indefinitely, with increased noninterest spending due to demographic changes such as increasing life expectancy, declining fertility, and decreased immigration and rising health care costs permanently outstripping revenues under projections based on current law.
It ain't spending that's doing that, either: The study notes that "relative to earlier projections, spending is down, not up. But revenues are down significantly more."
On the other hand, billionaires are making out like bandits, so we should probably tighten your belt to sustain that, the fucking end.
Yr Wonkette is funded entirely by reader donations, so if you can, please help out with a monthly $5 or $10 donation.
Also, speaking of shit we need to fix, don't forget to grab a copy of Kim Stanley Robinson's climate odyssey The Ministry for the Future and read the first chapter by Friday for our first Wonkette Book Club discussion of the novel, coming Friday.
While ABC, NBC, CBS, and CNN all had panel discussions focused strictly on presidential politics on the Sunday shows, "Fox News Sunday" veered into a topic that shouldn't be political but the rightwing is going to make it: the murder of Jordan Neely at the hands of Marine vet Daniel Penny.
According to reporting from CNN, Penny applied a rear naked choke to Neely. That report also says Daniel Penny wrestled and had Jordan Neely in the choke for seven minutes. The video that was recorded by fellow passenger Juan Alberto Vazquez shows the death of Jordan Neely with the exception the initial three to four minutes of the choke.
After laying out the latest development and playing a clip of the Neely family's attorney Donte Mills, "Fox News Sunday" host Shannon Bream turned it over to her panel where syndicated conservative radio clown Cal Thomas rushed to spit out dog whistles and defend an (alleged) murderer.
\u201cFox News Sunday panel tried really hard to stack the deck against the victim instead of the murderer.\u201d— M3Writer (@M3Writer) 1684162688
THOMAS: Yes, well, that never stops anybody from speculating. You have the RINO, Al Sharpton, reverend in name only, out there. [...] This was a man, clearly, as you indicated, who had mental troubles. He has a history of harassing, especially women, on the subways. And it's interesting though that the crowdfunding amount of money now has exceeded $1 million for his [Daniel Penny's] defense.
There is nothing "interesting" about a man who kills a Black person (or, in a separate case, a man who kills someone protesting on behalf of Black people) being funded and defended by rightwing scumbags. Even those who pretend to "serve and protect" while endorsing violence perpetrated against Americans.
But this has been a political escalation of violence in the rightwing circles for years. Whether it's George Zimmerman or Kyle Rittenhouse or Daniel Perry or now Daniel Penny (yes, it's confusing), conservatives get a vicarious thrill from being able to see people they hate murdered in the name of "self-defense." Ron DeSantis, who tweeted in support of Penny and called him a "Good Samaritan" (last we checked, the biblical Samaritan didn't kill anyone), also passed laws to make it easier to kill protesters in light of Rittenhouse's case.
Cal Thomas, not satisfied enough, tried to invoke Penny's former service as some shield for his actions.
THOMAS: A United States Marine veteran against a guy who had serious behavioral and mental problems, with a history of harassing women, and 40 other charges against him. And Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, who likes diminishing felony charges to misdemeanors. I think the Marine has got everything on his side, even with a New York jury.
Thomas isn't the only one to use Penny's service to shield him from accountability.
\u201cDaniel Penny\u2019s next court date is July 17. If the #Marine vets (all vets, really) of the local VFWs, American Legions, etc in the NYC area can\u2019t even show up in solidarity at that courthouse to support him, they can take all that Semper Fi bullshit and flush it down the toilet.\u201d— BKactual (@BKactual) 1684026609
So let's talk about Daniel Penny's service.
An overview of his service provided by the Marine Corps to Military.com seems eerily similar to mine. Penny served a single tour from 2017 to 2021 (mine was 2000 to 2005), he did one deployment to the Mediterranean (mine was Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003) and left as a corporal but was promoted to sergeant while in the Individual Ready Reserve. We both received instruction on the Marines' version of martial arts (the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program or MCMAP). Which is why as a Marine, I hold Daniel Penny's actions to a higher standard than some conservative radio asshole.
Part of that is Penny's misuse of his MCMAP training.
The rear naked choke Daniel Penny used is called a "blood choke" in the MCMAP manual and is performed by cutting the oxygen-enriched blood by squeezing the carotid arteries located on both sides of the neck. A "blood choke" is the preferred method because it is the fastest way to "stop the fight" according to the manual. How fast? From page 60 of the MCMAP manual, a blood choke versus an air choke:
When executed properly, a blood choke takes between eight to thirteen seconds for the aggressor to lose consciousness. [...] When executed properly, an air choke takes between two and three minutes for the aggressor to lose consciousness.
The air choke is not recommended because of the length of time it takes to stop the fight.
Again, Daniel Penny had Jordan Neely in a rear choke for approximately seven minutes, twice as long as it would take for an air choke and over 100 times longer than a properly applied blood choke.
Penny, as a trained Marine who served (and more recently than me) knew better. But Marines are not just taught how and on whom to use these techniques but also when, where, and why. These techniques are meant as a last resort of survival when you are unarmed and in a grappling situation with a person intent on killing you. No reports indicate that Jordan Neely did anything more than be loud and disruptive when Daniel Penny decided to abuse these techniques and disregard key parts of Marine training.
Based on these similarities, it is why I find Penny's actions disgraceful and unbecoming of a Marine. Penny's actions were wrong even if he felt he was not intending to murder Jordan Neely. Jordan Neely deserved better.
Semper Fi, the Marines' motto, means "always faithful." But that faithfulness is meant for what we stand for and are meant to represent. Part of that duty is also calling out and holding accountable those who disgrace that. Daniel Penny disgraced the Marine Corps through his actions and should be held accountable.
Have a week and Semper Fi.
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