Category Archives: History

In Memory, Emmett Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955):

U.S. Came Close To Unleashing Nuclear Chaos in Vietnam

Fallout_shelterNHK Newsroom Tokyo, has broken a story about the United States’ operation of a secret experimental nuclear reactor in South Vietnam during the war. By itself this revelation is big enough news, but it turns out there is more, much more. According to the story, which includes an interview with a mission participant, in the waning days of the war Henry Kissinger, then Secretary of State, ordered the site dismantled in a frantic attempt to keep the technology out of communist hands. Here is the big news: in the event of failure, Kissinger allegedly ordered that the radioactive core be blown up as a last-ditch measure!

Watch: NHK Report – Vietnam War Nuclear Mission

The Man With The Movie Camera (1929)

Frequently included in top ten lists of greatest films of all-time. Directed by Soviet director Dziga Vertov, the film is famous for its range of cinematic techniques — double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations — many of which appear here first. In 2014 Sight and Sound named it the top documentary film ever made. Watch it here:

Hello Michelangelo- Your Conference Call ID# is MDXII

800px-Michelango_Portrait_by_VolterraMichelangelo, master creator of great works of art like the Pietà and David and the Sistine Chapel, was also apparently far ahead of the curve when it came to telecommuting. Here’s how he put it, in a letter to his boss, Pope Julius II, making his case for the privilege of working from home:

“Now you write to me on the pope’s behalf, so you can read the pope this: let His Holiness understand that I am more willing than ever to carry on with the work; and if he wants the tomb come what may, he shouldn’t be bothered about where I work on it, provided that, at the end of the five years we agreed on, it is set up in St Peter’s, wherever he likes; and that it is something beautiful, as I have promised it will be: for I’m sure that if it’s completed, there will be nothing like it in the world.

“I have many marbles on order in Carrara which I shall have brought here along with those I have in Rome. Even if it meant a serious loss to me, I shouldn’t mind so long as I could do the work here; and I would forward the finished pieces one by one so that His Holiness would enjoy them just as much as if I were working in Rome — or even more, because he would just see the finished pieces without having any other bother. ”

The folks at Forbes Magazine announced in 2014 that “telecommuting is the future of work.” Little did they know that Michelangelo had beaten them to the punch by over a half millennium!


Selected Poems and Letters
by Michelangelo (Author), Anthony Mortimer (Editor, Translator, Introduction)  (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 18, 2007

Portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra

Chamber of Commerce – The Wages of Sin

Skull MoneyElections are just around the corner again and one thing is certain– we’ll be hearing plenty from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After all it has a cozy, some might even call it incestuous, relationship with every mainstream media outlet. Big money buys big access and the Chamber is one of the biggest spenders on the planet. In fact it is the largest lobbying group in the U.S., spending more money than any other organization on a yearly basis. It is also one of the most conservative.

The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 by Taft as a firewall against what was seen by business interests as an increasingly powerful federal government (remembering Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting administration) and a surging labor movement (Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party won 6 percent in the 1912 election). From the beginning the Chamber’s raison d’etre was to undermine organized labor. It schemed in concert with another extreme anti-union outfit called the National Association of Manufacturers, which opposed efforts to expand workers’ compensation and ban child labor. They were quite successful (with an assist from politicians and police who dutifully ginned-up the Red Scare in 1919), leading to previously unparalleled business prosperity in the roaring 20s. But the party came at the expense of the working classes, the fortunes were made by speculators, corporation owners and bankers, not by those who produced and bought goods. We all know how that ended, with the stock market crash and the Great Depression.  

Unfazed after helping run the country aground, the Chamber then tried to block the rescue boats from entering the harbor. It despised the New Deal, accusing Franklin Roosevelt of attempting to ‘Sovietize’ America, lobbying heavily against the president’s entire legislative package. Later, with the onset of war in Europe, these folks were so wrapped in ideological hatred for FDR that, incredibly, they opposed the Lend-Lease program, designed to supply the allies with critical material to fight the Germans (and which ultimately made their business constituents millions). Here is a question worth asking: had it not been for the devastation of U.S. industry in the Depression, and had not so many of the nation’s factories been laying fallow, would the Chamber and its allies have allowed FDR to so easily transition the industrial base to create the “arsenal of democracy” to fight and win WWII?

In the 1940s, as the nation’s economy recovered, so did the Chamber of Commerce. In 1947 it was instrumental in passing the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, the first major blow in the fight to emasculate a newly emboldened organized labor. In addition, the Chamber established itself as a permanent source of funds for America’s Cold Warriors. In the 1950s, learning from earlier successes, the Chamber was instrumental in bringing us the second Red Scare by lending critical financial and political support to Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt to root out communists in the trade unions, schools and government, ruining countless innocent careers and lives in the process; in the 1960s it lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the killing of Medicare; in the 1980s it campaigned against regulations on nuclear plants and mine safety rules. The list goes on, and on, ad infinitum (ad nauseam). But that’s the price of doing business, right?

Throughout its existence the Chamber of Commerce has consistently fought against healthcare reform, unionization, living wages, workplace safety, progressive taxation, progressive education and environmental action. In the fight against global warming poll after poll shows that a large majority of Americans believe the climate science, they understand that the planet has never faced a bigger challenge, but nearly all attempts at remedial action have been completely blocked in Washington, and the U.S. Chamber is a major reason why. It has lobbied against every effort to cut carbon emissions, most recently celebrating a SCOTUS decision allowing coal plants to continue to foul the air with mercury. Enormous amounts of Chamber of Commerce electoral contributions go to climate change deniers. The NAFTA and TPP trade deals, bad news for American workers and the environment, were practically authored by Chamber lobbyists.

One agenda where the Chamber of Commerce has failed miserably at home in recent decades has been in its effort to support big tobacco. But has that stopped these assassins? Nope, the Chamber continues to see no evil in killing people for profit, it has just pointed its death-ray at new targets:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures

So next election season, when I see those campaign ads sponsored by the innocuous sounding Chamber of Commerce, it will be my tipoff to vote for the other candidate. Easy!

You can bet the farm it won’t be bankrolling Bernie Sanders….

Related: How the Chamber of Commerce Established Libertarianism and Milton Freidman

Remembering the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the East Bay


It was  thirty years ago, May 1985, when Bishop Tutu spoke so eloquently at the Greek Theater, I was there. When students took over Sproul Plaza, leading to UC Berkeley’s divestment of $1.7 billion from South Africa, I was there. When Nelson Mandela came to the Oakland Coliseum in 1990 to thank us after decades in South African jails, I was there. Divestment movements and boycotts can and do work.


Lost San Francisco: Embarcadero and Central Freeways

As a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the city lost two iconic freeways– the Embarcadero freeway, aka California route 480,  ran along the eastern edge of the city from Broadway to the Bay Bridge; the Central Freeway still exists but has changed significantly since the earthquake, with the northern extension that ran beyond Fell street up to Turk demolished shortly after the quake. Further extensive modifications since have produced a very different structure and route. Here is what they used to look like (note that the folks on the Embarcadero trip have KALX on the radio):

Embarcadero Freeway:

Central Freeway:

Drive Around SF in 1955 (nothing about the Embarcadero or Central, just fun to watch):


Forward Into The Past: Utah Governor Signs Bill Allowing Firing Squad

BatistaFireSquadA notable philosopher once wrote: “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice… the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

The tragedy: occurred in November 1915 when labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill was convicted on uncorroborated circumstantial evidence and executed by a Utah firing squad. Hill’s case, appearing to be clearly rigged against him, became a national cause célèbre, with many personalities of the day weighing-in on his behalf. President Woodrow Wilson even tried to intervene to stay the execution. But in the grand tradition of states rights Utah would have none of it. After all, the after-party was set and invitations already printed. For his part, Joe Hill had already come to the conclusion (correctly as it turned out) that he was more valuable to the labor movement dead than alive. In a last letter to labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, Hill asked to be buried across the state line, indicating that he wouldn’t want to be caught dead in Utah.  His last word, shouted while standing blindfolded, was “Fire!”  

The farce: who better to relay the story than America’s most trusted purveyors of farce, Fox News?:

Watch Fox and Friends Report

Let’s bring the execution process into the 21st century. Why not just put the prisoner’s name on the Military’s High Value Target (HVT) hit list and send a drone to kill him one day while out exercising in the prison yard?

Listen to Ohio State’s own rebel songwriter Phil Ochs sing “The Ballad of Joe Hill”: