Monday, June 15, 2020

Causes and Effects

Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America.  ... Ignorance/hate → racist ideas → discrimination: this causal relationship is largely ahistorical. It has actually been the inverse relationship -- racial discrimination led to racist ideas which led to ignorance and hate.

- Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning

This week's featured post is "What's in a Slogan?"

This week everybody was still talking about policing

The featured post discusses the "Abolish the Police" slogan.

With the George Floyd protests still continuing, there's been a new police killing:

Rayshard Brooks, 27, was shot dead on Friday night after police were called to [a Wendy's in Atlanta] over reports that he had fallen asleep in the drive-through lane.

Apparently Brooks failed a sobriety test and struggled with police. He grabbed a police taser and was running away with it when a policeman opened fire. The NYT reconstructs the incident in detail from video.

In addition to the question of why it was necessary to shoot a man who was running away, the case illustrates some of the issues that abolish-the-police activists have been raising: Yes, falling asleep in a drive-through lane is a violation of public order. But why is sending people with guns the right response?

Demonstrations in the US have inspired anti-racism demonstrations overseas. Thousands of Germans formed a ribbon-connected "socially distant human chain" in Berlin on Sunday. And here's a quote that brings me shame: A German politician says the demonstrators have it wrong. "Germany is not the USA. We don't have a racism problem in the police." We're the nation other nations don't want to be compared to.

Charles Blow reviews the positive imagery we have seen since the death of George Floyd, images in which people of all colors and ethnicities seem united in their response to police brutality and racial injustice. But the police are not the cause of injustice, racial or otherwise. They are the enforcers of systemic injustices that continue.

This country has established a system of supreme inequity, with racial inequity being a primary form, and used the police to protect the wealth that the system generated for some and to control the outrages and outbursts of those opposed to it and oppressed by it.

It has used the police to make the hostile tranquil, to erase and remove from free society those who expressed sickness coming from a society which poisoned them with persecutions. ...

But just remember: These are not necessarily rogue officers. They are instruments of the system and manifestations of society.

They are violent to black people because America is violent to black people. They oppress because America oppresses.

The police didn’t give birth to American violence and inhumanity. America’s violence and inhumanity gave birth to them.

The point of books like The New Jim Crow and Slavery by Another Name is that systems for controlling black people and expropriating the value of their labor don't just morph from era to era, they morph cleverly. In Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram X. Kendi argues that new racist ideas don't bubble up from the ignorant masses, they are constructed by some of the most brilliant and educated minds of the time.

Any system of inequality requires justification and enforcement. If you have more than someone else or enjoy privileges they are denied, you crave an explanation that exonerates you from their resentment and protects your advantages. Some intelligent person will soon satisfy that craving with the justification and enforcement mechanism required. Like junkies determined to kick our current habit, we must be careful not to just shift to a new drug.

and the virus

Death totals continue to decline, while the number of new cases is at best flat and possibly increasing. The total number of US deaths is up to 117.9K, up from 112.6 last week.

The contrast between cases and deaths is even more pronounced in certain states. Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Florida, and a few other states now have more proven new cases each day than ever before -- more than double in Arizona -- but they had more deaths per day in early May.

I can think of a few possible explanations:

  • Even though there's still no sure-fire treatment for Covid-19, doctors are getting better at keeping people alive long enough for their immune systems to beat the virus.
  • Maybe we're getting better at protecting the most vulnerable. Perhaps the new cases are mostly young otherwise-healthy people, so they're dying at a lower rate.
  • Because there was less testing in early May, maybe there were more infections then than anyone realized.

In any case, unless there's some breakthrough in treatment, this pattern can't go on forever. If cases keep increasing, eventually deaths will start increasing too.

In case you're wondering how to stay safe when your office reopens, Mike Pence has provided us with a great don't-do-this photo.

Thanks to Trump campaign staffers in Virginia, we can see all the major no-nos in one picture: enclosed spaces, large numbers of people in one room, and standing close to people not wearing masks.

Trump intends to give us another bad example: A big indoor rally in Tulsa on Saturday. Originally the rally was scheduled for Friday, which is Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the end of slavery. Tulsa would be a particularly bad place to mark Juneteenth, given the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, where whites burned a prosperous black neighborhood to the ground and killed hundreds of African Americans.

Eventually, Trump backed off of the Juneteenth date. Instead, the rally will happen on Saturday, with crowds packed together indoors and probably very few masks. But the Trump campaign has thought about this and taken precautions to protect itself:

“By clicking register below, you are acknowledging that an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present,” the disclaimer reads at the bottom of the ticket page on the Trump website. “By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury.”

and the Supreme Court

I haven't had time to read the decision or even digest the news stories, but CNN is reporting this:

Federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender workers, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The landmark ruling will extend protections to millions of workers nationwide and is a defeat for the Trump administration, which argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act that bars discrimination based on sex did not extend to claims of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The 6-3 opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberal justices.

Gorsuch is the shocker here. I don't know what to think.

and symbols of the Confederacy

160 years ago, the white aristocracy of 11 states led them into revolt to preserve their mastery over millions of enslaved Africans. That revolt led to a war in which more than 600,000 soldiers died. Today, those wealthy traitors are honored in numerous ways, such as flying their flag, honoring their statues, and immortalizing their names by attaching them to military bases, schools, and other civic institutions. Descendants of the enslaved people are constantly reminded of the slavers who expropriated their ancestors' labor, and of the continuing legacy of white supremacy.

You'd think that changing all this would be uncontroversial, but you'd be wrong. Still, one result of the wave of protests that followed George Floyd's murder has been a further erosion of the honors devoted to the Confederacy.

  • Protesters in Richmond toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Governor Northam announced that a statue of Robert E. Lee owned by the state will also be removed.
  • The mayor of Birmingham pledged to finish removing a statue of Confederate sailor Charles Linn that protesters attacked. Birmingham has tried to remove Confederate statues in the past, but the state legislature passed a law blocking the city. The mayor is daring the state to enforce its law.
  • NASCAR announced: "The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.” The policy came in response to a request from the racing circuit's only African American full-time driver, Bubba Wallace. NASCAR has requested that fans not bring Confederate flags since 2015, but some have continued to do so.
  • Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved Elizabeth Warren's amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would give the Defense Department three years to rename the military bases that currently are named after Confederate officers. "The language, adopted by voice vote as President Donald Trump preemptively threatened to veto any defense bill that did just that, affects massive bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia. But it also goes further and includes everything from ships to streets on Defense Department property."
  • Democrats in Congress have introduced a bill to remove statues of 11 Confederate generals and officials from the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opposes the bill because the choice of statues belongs to the states. (Each state gets two.) Apparently no Georgian in history is a more appropriate choice than Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Confederate Vice President who gave the famous Cornerstone speech: "Stephens said the Confederacy was founded 'upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition'.”

I'm sure I missed some recent developments. The pro-Confederate (i.e., Republican) responses to these proposals has generally been that liberals are trying to "take away our history", or that next we will have to remove monuments to all slave-owning or otherwise objectionable figures.

My answer to the "rewrite history" objection is that there's a difference between marking history and making heroes out of the defenders of slavery. If "history" is the point of monuments, then there ought to be a gigantic monument to General Sherman in Atlanta: He was one of the Civil War's greatest generals, and his victory in Atlanta was a decisive moment in the war. There isn't such a monument because Atlanta's white population hates Sherman for his role in burning the city. And yet, the South's black population is supposed to tolerate monuments to men who fought to keep their ancestors enslaved.

Andrew Egger answers the next-they'll-come-for-George-Washington objection.

There's a world of difference between purging monuments to anyone with a complicated history (FDR, Wilson, Jefferson) and purging monuments to those who are *only deemed historical* for acts we now correctly deem shameful. What did Nathan Bedford Forrest ever do for America?

If, say, Robert E. Lee had never fought to preserve slavery, would anyone remember him today? Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. George Washington led the revolutionary forces and was a key figure in establishing a government that followed its constitution. But what accomplishment of Jefferson Davis is unrelated to slavery?

Vote Vets has this to say about military bases like Fort Bragg.

and Antifa

We're getting a lesson in just how far Trumpists are willing to go to justify his paranoid rants. The local news site Columbus Alive tells the wild story of how a busload of traveling street performers got "outed" by Columbus Police as Antifa provocateurs.

The police reported finding knives (kitchen knives), a hatchet (for the wood stove), and clubs (juggling clubs). The police social media post -- with a picture of the decorated bus -- got shared thousands of times, and the performers are now constantly being hassled by Trumpists who think they've found Antifa.

Another set of paranoid rants concerns the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (formerly the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone) in Seattle. It's a six-block area that has been taken over by protesters, and which state and local officials have decided to tolerate. Thursday, Trump tweeted this threat:

Radical Left Governor @JayInslee and the Mayor of Seattle are being taunted and played at a level that our great Country has never seen before. Take back your city NOW. If you don’t do it, I will. This is not a game. These ugly Anarchists must be stooped IMMEDIATELY. MOVE FAST!

Trump's propagandists have been working hard to demonize the CHOP ever since. The Seattle Times explains:

Fox News published digitally altered and misleading photos on stories about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ) in what photojournalism experts called a clear violation of ethical standards for news organizations.

In one photo of a gateway to the CHOP, Fox digitally inserted an image of a guard armed with a military-style weapon. After the Times called them on it, Fox took down the faked image.

In addition, Fox’s site for a time on Friday ran a frightening image of a burning city, above a package of stories about Seattle’s protests, headlined “CRAZY TOWN.” The photo actually showed a scene from St. Paul, Minnesota, on May 30. That image also was later removed.

After Trump promoted the notion that the elderly man assaulted by Buffalo police was actually an Antifa provocateur, the Washington Post's Alexandra Petri assembled the warning signs that your grandparent is a secret Antifa agent. The most telling:

She belongs to a decentralized group with no leadership structure that claims to be discussing a “book,” but no one ever reads the book and all they seem to do is drink wine.

Is always talking on the phone with an “aunt” you have never actually met in person. Aunt TIFA????

Always walking into rooms and claiming not to know why he walked into the room. Likely.

Suddenly, for no reason, will appear or pretend to be asleep.

Remembers things from the past in incredible, exhausting detail, but recent ones only sporadically? Cover of some kind.

Antifa is everywhere and nowhere. (Well, mostly nowhere, but never mind.) We can't be too careful.

but we should pay more attention to the International Criminal Court

The US has long had a problem with the International Criminal Court in The Hague. US officials don't want to give the ICC jurisdiction to prosecute incidents that it might see as US war crimes in places like Afghanistan or Iraq.

The Trump administration has just escalated that conflict considerably.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday sanctioning members of the International Criminal Court, the global judicial body investigating American troops for possible war crimes during the Afghanistan war.

The provocative move targets court staff involved in the probe, as well as their families, blocking them from accessing assets held in US financial institutions and from visiting America. Top members of the Trump administration — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper — made the announcement with surprisingly forceful language to make their point.

“We cannot allow ICC officials and their families to come to the United States to shop, travel, and otherwise enjoy American freedoms as these same officials seek to prosecute the defenders of those very freedoms,” Pompeo, a former Army officer, told reporters without taking questions.

and the Flynn case

Remember where we are and how we got here: Trump's then-National-Security-Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador during the transition period. He pleaded guilty to that crime, but his sentencing was delayed until he had assisted the government in other cases.

Somewhere along the line, he stopped cooperating and moved to withdraw his guilty plea. Then the Justice Department tried to drop the indictment -- after the prosecutors who had been on the case from the beginning withdrew.

The Justice Department has total discretion about who it decides to prosecute, but once a case goes to court, withdrawing the indictment requires "consent of the court", i.e., of the judge. The judge in this case wasn't inclined to rubber-stamp either the Justice Department's motion or Flynn's motion to withdraw his guilty plea. (It is highly unusual to withdraw a guilty plea after the sentencing process has started.) So Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a retired judge, John Gleeson, to argue why the charges should not be dismissed. That report is now in, and it is truly damning.

Gleeson argues that the Justice Department's explanations for wanting to dismiss the charges are just pretexts that are not credible. (For example, the Department now claims it doubts it can prove a charge that Flynn has already confessed to under oath.)

The reasons offered by the Government are so irregular, and so obviously pretextual, that they are deficient. Moreover, the facts surrounding the filing of the Government’s motion constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse. They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump. ...

The Executive Branch had the unreviewable discretion to never charge Flynn with a crime because he is a friend and political ally of President Trump. President Trump today has the unreviewable authority to issue a pardon, thus ensuring that Flynn is no longer prosecuted and never punished for his crimes because he is a friend and political ally. But the instant the Executive Branch filed a criminal charge against Flynn, it forfeited the right to implicate this Court in the dismissal of that charge simply because Flynn is a friend and political ally of the President. Avoiding precisely that unseemly outcome is why Rule 48(a) requires “leave of court.”

Flynn and the Justice Department have tried to get an appeals court to intervene and prevent Judge Sullivan from looking into the Justice Department's motives. So far, it looks like the appeals court wants to see the lower-court process conclude before weighing in.

Flynn, meanwhile, published a head-scratching op-ed in The Western Journal on Thursday. His opening line says America is at a "seminal moment" that will "test every fiber of our nation’s soul". He then has several paragraphs about God and prayer and freedom, and denounces the "tyranny and treachery" that are "in our midst". But through it all he never says anything specific enough to allow me to figure out what he's talking about. Then he concludes:

As long as we accept God in the lifeblood of our nation, we will be OK. If we don’t, we will face a hellish existence. I vote we accept God.

Digby pronounces it "batshit crazy", and I can't really argue. If you can make any sense out of it, leave a comment.

and you also might be interested in ...

Trump gave his West Point graduation speech. It was a boiler-plate graduation speech: You're great; your school's great; your parents and teachers have done a great job; you'll go on to do great things. Why this had to happen in person during a pandemic is still mysterious.

A couple of odd motions during his West Point appearance started speculation about Trump's health.

The Atlantic's David Graham reports on how much money -- campaign money and tax money alike -- is being spent just to make Trump feel better about his situation. For example, the campaign has been running ads on cable news shows in the D.C. area. This makes no political sense, since D. C. and Maryland are not swing states, and the northern suburbs of Virginia (which probably isn't a swing state any more either) aren't where Trump needs to turn out his voters. Obviously, the campaign is running those ads so that Trump himself will see them, and feel like his campaign is out there defending him.

If, like me, you've lost track of all the places the US has troops, it turns out that the President is supposed to keep Congress informed about that. Here's the latest letter, sent Tuesday.

and let's close with a Confederate general worth commemorating

The founder of Dogpatch: Jubilation T. Cornpone. If you want to know his legend, listen to this number from the 1959 musical Li'l Abner.

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