"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When the lines start falling

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States: 
You know why? Because they are very dishonest people. So I said, racism is evil. Now they only choose, you know, like a half a sentence here or there and then they just go on this long rampage, or they put on these real lightweights all around a table that nobody ever heard of, and they all say what a bad guy I am. But, I mean do you ever see anything -- and then you wonder why CNN is doing relatively poorly in the ratings. Because they're putting like seven people all negative on Trump. And they fired Jeffrey Lord, poor Jeffrey. Jeffrey Lord. I guess he was getting a little fed up, and he was probably fighting back a little bit too hard. They said, we've better get out of here; we can't have that.And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold true as Americans. Now let me ask you, can it be any better than that, in all fairness? And you know I mention that, but to the best of my knowledge when there was a big problem, Barack Obama never said it took place because of radical Islamic terrorists, he never said that, right.

If you don't follow too closely, you could almost imagine he's talking about white supremacists and Nazi.  But then he mentions CNN and goes off on some weird tangent about Jeffrey Lord (while conveniently leaving out why Lord was fired by CNN), and by the time he calls Nazis and the KKK repugnant you've forgotten what he's talking about or even that he ever said such groups were "repugnant" because kind of like the disavowal of the birther pursuit he followed so long and so viciously, he said it so begrudgingly, sandwiched between that horrific response to the incidents in Charlottesville the first time he spoke, and the completely bonkers press conference in New York three days after that which convinced tout le monde that our President had not only lost the plot, but couldn't even read the book.  I mean, he spends so much time condemning the press and calling them evil; but I'm getting ahead of him there.

And -- and I say it, and you know, we're all pros. [Racist narcissistic asshole is a profession?  Sorry,  I had to ask.] We're all, like, we have a certain sense. We're smart people. These are truly dishonest people. And not all of them. Not all of them. You have some very good reporters. You have some very fair journalists. But for the most part, honestly, these are really, really dishonest people, and they're bad people. And I really think they don't like our country. I really believe that. And I don't believe they're going to change, and that's why I do this. If they would change, I would never say it. The only people giving a platform to these hate groups is the media itself, and the fake news…These are sick people. You know the thing I don't understand? You would think -- you would think they'd want to make our country great again, and I honestly believe they don't. I honestly believe it. If you want to discover the source of the division in our country, look no further than the fake news and the crooked media...

The only thing missing at the beginning there is "many sides; many sides."  And again, more verbiage spewed about journalists who write about Trump, than about people doing actual evil in the world:  like the ones who chanted "BLOOD AND SOIL!" on the campus of the university founded by Thomas Jefferson, or alternated that with "JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US!"  And carried guns and baseball bats and body armor and pepper spray, and used the bats and the pepper spray liberally, until some guy finally went completely nuts and started running people over, an act others sympathetic to the people Trump says are not bad people, have said was the fault of the people in front of the car.

You know; many, many sides.

Words he left out, of course, because while he cutely courts controversy over the pardon of Sheriff Arpaio (and will the courts weigh in on that if Trump sends Joe the papers?  Inquiring minds want to know.), he doesn't want any more blowback over words he's learned not to say.  Yes, like a puppy, if you hit him on the nose often enough, he'll get the message.  He won't change his tune, but he will modify the message.

And it's the fault of the media for reporting what they racists said, and for reporting what Trump said; except it isn't, as any Trump supporter will happily tell you.  And since I get the transcript from Charlie Pierce, I'll incorporate his words as if they were mine if only because he gets to an essential point, although not THE essential point:

Before we get to the other stuff, and there was lots of other stuff, I'd like to address myself to those people represented by the parenthetical notation (Applause) in the above transcript, those people who waited for hours in 105-degree heat so that they could have the G-spot of their irrationality properly stroked for them. You're all suckers. You're dim and you're ignorant and you can't even feel yourself sliding toward something that will surprise even you with its fundamental ugliness, something that everybody who can see past the veil of their emotions can see as plain as a church by daylight, to borrow a phrase from that Willie Shakespeare fella. The problem, of course, is that you, in your pathetic desire to be loved by a guy who wouldn't have 15 seconds for you on the street, are dragging the rest of us toward that end, too.

A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you, and you cheered and booed right on cue because you're sheep and because he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three decades. Especially, I guess, people like me who practice the craft of journalism in a country that honors that craft in its most essential founding documents. The President of the United States came right up to the edge of inciting you to riot and you rode along with him. You're on his team, by god.
People are like this; there's no point in denying it, or covering over it, or pointing out we all have our faults, too.  We do, but our faults aren't always as deadly as faults this stupid and ignorant and steeped in self-concern and pure-as-gold selfishness.  This is the refined stuff, the mother lode, the craziest of the crazy:  and in a democracy, especially, it is deadly to the body politic.  There's no getting around that.

But it was ever thus, too.  Who do you think fought for Jim Crow laws and put up statues to Confederate "heroes" and cheered when dogs chewed black men on the streets of American cities, and were gleeful as water cannon rolled people down the streets like logs on a river?  Who do you think shouted vicious words with spit flying from their mouths at young black girls attending a school no young black girl had even been allowed to attend, who were held back from attacking them only because the President of the United States sent big men with guns to protect those small girls?  Did you think all those people went away when Obama was elected?  When King was shot down?  When business decided complying with the Civil Rights Act was better for business than not complying?  I remember the days of Walter Cronkite.  He wasn't that revered.  And he never joined forces with King and the armies of light, as we now think of them.  Journalism may be honored in our most essential founding documents, but only because journalism is so good at presenting and defending the status quo.

Not that these people are the status quo now, nor should they be.  But there weren't that many of them in the convention center, either.  The bleachers behind Trump were a small affair, holding maybe 50, maybe 100, people.  I've seen larger graduating classes.  Most left 20 minutes into his harangue, bored by his revisionist history of events they remember from two days ago.  The ones who stayed were desperate to have their prejudices and sympathies played to, and their basest desires for public power fed.

But there are as many groups for such gatherings as there are individuals to gather them.  If you want to hear two Trump supporters explain away Trump's inability to denounce racism as strongly as he denounces journalism, Here and Now offered two opportunities today:  one with an Arizona State Senator, the other with a GOP "strategist" who, like his hero Trump, managed to make it all about him.  Neither mentioned the statement of the United Nations:

Recalling its previous concluding observations of August 2014 on the United States of America (CERD/C/USA/CO/7-9) and its general recommendations No. 35 (2013) on combatting racist hate speech and No. 34 (2011) on racial discrimination against people of African descent:

1. Calls upon the United States of America to fully respect its international obligations and in particular those arising from the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to combat and eliminate all forms of racial discrimination;

2. Calls upon the Government of the United States of America, including the high-level politicians and public officials, not only to unequivocally and unconditionally reject and condemn racist hate speech and racist crimes in Charlottesville and throughout the country, but also to actively contribute to the promotion of understanding, tolerance, and diversity between ethnic groups, and acknowledge their contribution to the history and diversity of the United States of America;

3. Urges the United States of America to ensure that all human rights violations which took place in Charlottesville, in particular with regards the death of Ms. Heyer, are thoroughly investigated, alleged perpetrators prosecuted and if convicted, punished with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime, and provide effective remedies to victims and their families;

4. Recommends that the Government of the United States of America identify and take concrete measures to address the root causes of the proliferation of such racist manifestations, and thoroughly investigate the phenomenon of racial discrimination targeting in particular against people of African descent, ethnic or ethno-religious minorities, and migrants;

5. Recommends that the United States of America ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are not exercised with the aim of destroying or denying the rights and freedoms of others, especially the right to equality and non-discrimination, and that the Government of the United States of America provide the necessary guarantees so that such rights are not misused to promote racist hate speech and racist crimes.

There is a predicate to that which makes it clear the provoking incident is Charlottesville and the three responses of President Trump to that incident.

And by the way:  how many times since then has the President named CNN, and how many times has he named Heather Hayer?

Yeah, that's what I thought, too.  The most we can do is examine ourselves, and determine which side the angels are on, and get on their side, too.  The rest is not up to us, but ensuring things like that last recommendation are ensured and upheld, especially when it becomes a 1st v. 2nd Amendment issue, is something we can do without moral peril.

It's good to know where the lines fall.

"In Charlottesville there was only one victim...and it was not Donald Trump"

To me, this is the interesting part of Trump's rally in Arizona:

Three times, the crowd burst into chants of “USA! USA! USA!” And once, at the mention of Trump's former rival Hillary Clinton, they chanted: “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!” Several parents put their young children on their shoulders so they could get a good look at the president.

But as the night dragged on, many in the crowd lost interest in what the president was saying.

Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors. After waiting for hours in 107-degree heat to get into the rally hall — where their water bottles were confiscated by security — people were tired and dehydrated and the president just wasn't keeping their attention. Although Trump has long been the master of reading the mood of a room and quickly adjusting his message to satisfy as many of his fans as possible, his rage seemed to cloud his senses.

Which lines up with this:

For the next 15 full minutes, the president read selective passages from his remarks on Charlottesville, skipping the unflattering ones like “on many sides" to rewrite the history of the last two weeks in America. Every so often Trump would cut himself off from reading with asides like: “This is me speaking. Here's further. This is on Saturday. I did this three times.” Slowly the crowd behind him began to sit down because, more than anything, it was boring. “So I said based on event that took place over the last weekend in Charlottesville, I'd like to provide the nation with an update because that was right after the event, the first one, right?” Yes, right. It was only two weeks ago. We remember it.

It was as transparent attempt as any of Trump’s many gaslighting episodes. It’s tempting to say it’s more pathetic, but it’s not really. It was about par for the course. The only difference was the stakes creep ever higher as the president’s approval rating dips and his agitation rises. Trump went on to say other half-truths Tuesday night, but during his outrageous attempt to edit (recent) history, perhaps most importantly, Trump lost the crowd. As the energy in the auditorium wilted, Trump looked up at the press risers dutifully recording and transmitting his absurd and false statements around the country and the world and he recognized exactly what was happening. “That's so funny. Look back there,” Trump told the crowd. “The live red lights they're turning those suckers off fast, I'll tell you. They're turning those lights off fast. Like CNN. CNN does not want its falling viewership to watch what I'm saying tonight, I can tell you.” And for the first time all night, Trump stumbled upon on an absolute truth—he wasn’t worth watching anymore.
And the content of his speech more than justifies what Don Lemon said:

If you listen to the whole thing, Rick Wilson makes Lemon sound like a Trump apologist.  And sad truth, mentioned in that panel discussion:  Trump hasn't changed since the campaign.  This is what our system, which is supposed to save us from ourselves, has given us.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Idle speculation

Word comes, via NPR just now, (and then from TPM, after I post) that Trump won't mention the possible pardon of ex-Sheriff Joe Arpaio because the event in Tucson tonight is "political."

Of course, nothing could be more political than pardoning Arpaio for criminal contempt of court charges.

As I said earlier, I don't think the courts would recognize the validity of such a pardon, treading as it does on the inherent power of the court to enforce its orders, a power it must maintain if courts are to function at all.  Trump saying at the rally tonight that he has pardoned Arpaio would also be without any legal significance.    When Chief Justice Marshall said that a pardon was:

an act of grace, proceeding from the power intrusted with the execution of the laws, which exempts the individual on whom it is bestowed, from the punishment the law inflicts for the crime he has committed.

He also wrote, in the same opinion:

A pardon is a deed to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him.

It may be supposed that no being condemned to death would reject a pardon, but the rule must be the same in capital cases and in misdemeanors. A pardon may be conditional, and the condition may be more objectionable than the punishment inflicted by the judgment.

The pardon may possibly apply to a different person or a different crime. It may be absolute or conditional. It may be controverted by the prosecutor, and must be expounded by the court.
A pardon, in other words, is a legal document, not some words allegedly said by the President in public or private.

It is the private though official act of the executive magistrate, delivered to the individual for whose benefit it is intended and not communicated officially to the court.

It is a constituent part of the judicial system that the judge sees only with judicial eyes, and knows nothing respecting any particular case of which he is not informed judicially. A private deed not communicated to him, whatever may be its character, whether a pardon or release, is totally unknown and cannot be acted upon. The looseness which would be introduced into judicial proceedings would prove fatal to the great principles of justice if the judge might notice and act upon facts not brought regularly into the cause. Such a proceeding, in ordinary cases, would subvert the best established principles and would overturn those rules which have been settled by the wisdom of ages.

A judge can't take judicial notice of a Presidential statement, or even of a Presidential tweet, and call it a full pardon of the party before her or him.  It has to be presented to the court, and determined to apply to the party before the court, and to pardon the party for issues before the court.  As Arpaio is awaiting sentencing, this step would be crucial.

I cannot say that this is settled law, but I don't think it is controverted law.  Which brings up the matter of the pardon itself.  As I understand, Trump has not appointed a Pardon Attorney; the office still exists in the Justice Department, but it has no leader.  This would also be a case of first impression:  can the President pardon in a case of criminal contempt of court?  The answer would have to be:  that's up to the court, and that's not an answer Trump would want to, well....court.  Arpaio would insist the pardon was valid, the court would deny it in order to preserve its authority over its own rulings (Trump is not pardoning a crime, but a violation of a court order), and the whole thing would create publicity and legal questions Trump wouldn't want to be tied to (or ever understand, but that's another matter).  But first and foremost, the pardon would have to be reduced to writing, which means a lawyer would have to tell the President the pardon was valid, and there wouldn't be a problem.

I strongly suspect Trump has been told there would be a problem, and he's quietly backing away from Arpaio in another example of his mouth writing a check his Presidential ass can't cash.  Keith Olbermann asked the other day:  Whatever happened to North Korea?  The answer is: China, who said any attack on North Korea would be considered an attack on China.  The answer here is:  any pardon for criminal contempt would be considered an assault not just on the minorities Arpaio oppressed, but on the judicial system itself.

And even saving Sheriff Joe's bacon ain't worth that fight.

Fruit of the Poisonous Tree

As someone pointed out, it was no accident the statue of Lee was facing north.

It was seminary that radicalized me.  I know that, now.

Seminary taught us to exegete, but not to confine that concept to words alone.  We learned to exegete a space, to figure out why worship spaces were designed they way they are.  Some, notably Catholic (Roman) and Episcopalian (I haven't checked this in a Lutheran church.  The only one I attended worship in was a small neighborhood place, built more like the surrounding houses than a cathedral), are cruciform.  The nave (with all the redolent connotations of "naval" and "navy" held intact) is the long "leg" of the crucifix.  In true cruciform fashion there are sides extended like the cross-beam, visible and distinct even from the inside. These are also part of the nave.  The top of the crucifix is the focal point:  an altar should be central, emphasizing the sacrifice on the cross.  Here the eucharist elements are placed, blessed, and distributed.  The altar dominates, the pulpit and lectern are off to either side (usually right and left, respectively, as viewed from the nave.).  It is easy to exegete this space, especially if it is set off (as it often is) by a rail, convenient for kneeling and receiving the elements from the priest/celebrant.  That rail marks off what is accessible by the laity, and what is accessible only by the priests.  The distinction is not maintained by guards and bouncers, but the meaning is clear.

You can run this exegesis during Advent, too.  Some churches, usually Protestant, will put up a tree   next to the pulpit or the lectern; perhaps even a Nativity scene.  The tree will be covered with "Chrismoms," religious symbols almost no one recognizes anymore (many people, if they notice at all, think the "IHS" on the paraments is for the English "In His Service."  It's actually a confusion of Greek and Arabic alphabets, meant to be the first three letters of "Jesus."  There is a whole bestiary of Christian symbols, not to mention books worth of Christian symbols themselves.  Most of these have faded behind a curtain of historical ignorance.), because Batman and Spider-Man and Darth Vader, not to mention just glass ornaments, aren't really Christian.  More liturgical churches, like the Episcopalian church I attended, put a tree outside the nave, but never in the worship space.

Modern Protestant churches look more and more like Catholic churches, but there are distinct differences.  Protestant churches don't tend to be cruciform, and older churches de-emphasized the altar as much as possible.  More common is a table; sometimes prominently placed, sometimes pushed against a wall, and functioning more like a side-board for communion, than like a table for the eucharist.  I knew one old E&R church which had the pulpit set high in the wall at the back of the chancel (the space separated from the nave).  It was set high because it was from the days before sound amplification, and the nave had a balcony that ran around three walls.  The preacher had to be up high enough to reach those ears, as well as the ears below.  It was set in the center of the wall, because in Protestant theology worship is about the Word, not about the Sacrament.   There was a table against the wall below this pulpit; the hierarchy was clear for all to see.  In the Reformed tradition, communion (sacrament) is offered only a few times a year.  It was a radical shift when Reformed tradition churches began offering it once a month. That shift took place in my lifetime, and yet I know churches that only made that change a few years ago.  500 years is still not long enough to make everything change; or change back, as the case may be.

So it isn't unusual in Protestant churches of an older design to see the pulpit in the center of the space, rather than in front of one bank of pews or the other.  I once gave a sermon exegeting the worship space of my then-church.  It had a vaulted ceiling at least two stories taller above the space, with huge long exposed beams leaping up the meet at the pointed peak of the roof.  I pointed out the space the congregation sat in was the nave, a term referring to the part of the ship that held the passengers.  The idea of calling that the nave was to emphasize the journey of life on chaotic seas (the sea was a symbol of chaos to the land-bound desert dwelling people of Israel and Judah) traveled together by the people of God.  The beams, I said, resembled the structure of a wooden ship, albeit turned upside down.  I remember saying something, too, about the stone facade of the building, pockmarked with fossilized sea shells, about how much history the building carried in its materials, and in the memory of those present.  I don't remember it going over that well, but it was an expression of my training in reading spaces and understanding why they were as they were.

Now when I turn my thoughts to memorials to the Confederacy, I realize seminary taught me to exegete these things, and such exegesis makes me radical.  Not "radical" as in crazy and extreme and on the edge of the social order, but "radical" in the sense of looking for the root of what is, and why.

Why do we have statues of Confederate leaders, of Confederate commanders, of generic Confederate soldiers?  What do those mean?  That Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and Hood's Brigade and Terry's Texas Rangers deserve our respect and public honor, even if we don't remember who they were or what they did (Terry's Rangers claim to fame seems to be that they never surrendered.  Hmmmm.....).  Why are we honoring these people and when did we start doing it?

The new high school in my hometown was named for Robert E. Lee.  The first high school was named for John Tyler, a more obvious connection to the town of Tyler (10th U.S. President, and namesake of the town, which was established in 1846).  Is it any coincidence the second high school was named in 1958, a year before the plaque in the Texas Capitol was put up,denying that slavery was ever a reason for that war, instead of the prime motivating factor of a war made inevitable by the compromises necessary to get a Constitution in 1789?  It is rather hard, almost 60 years after the fact, not to exegete those two events and see a connection, a demand about history that wouldn't be made today, but less than 100 years after that war was so important to some people a school had to be named for a general of an army of traitors, and a plaque had to go up in that state's capitol to defend the war against its own racism.

Just about the time there was a resurgence of interest in the war, because of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and its actions in the south.  The Montgomery bus boycott was in 1955, the year I was born.  Three years later is long enough to see what's coming and to start objecting to it.   Certainly it's within the time frame of deciding to build, floating the bond, designing and building, what was probably a school named before it opened.  And why else pick the name of a man who otherwise has nothing to do with the town's history?  Jefferson Davis might have been a more reasonable connection; but Davis's name doesn't carry the resonance of respect and symbolism of the "lost cause" that Lee's does.  And the "lost cause" has been on the minds of the good people of Tyler, Texas since at least 1958; and the fact that students of Lee still fly "rebel" flags to recall the "good ol' days" of the Lee "Rebels" that only their grandparents could remember, shows that effort 60 years ago is still bearing fruit.

Which is as sad a thing as I can imagine.  Maybe it wasn't seminary alone that radicalized me.....

That horse ain't dead yet!

Arc de Texas; it's a winery, but I couldn't resist....

At this point, I'll stop when they stop: 
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday said he would rather build more monuments to “tell the whole story of America” than tear down Confederate monuments in public spaces.

On “Fox and Friends,” Pence said the decision to keep or take down the monuments “should always be a local decision, and with regard to the U.S. capital should be state decisions.”

“But I’m someone who believes in more monuments, not less monuments,” he said. “What we ought to do is we ought to remember our history. But we also ought to celebrate the progress that we’ve made since that history.”

Because Paris needs a massive monument to its ignominious defeat and occupation by Nazi Germany, to balance out the Arc de Triomphe and "tell the whole story of" France, right?

What if we surround every statue honoring the Confederacy (what else are statues meant to do?) with statues of African-Americans?  Statues of slaves breaking their chains, learning to read, voting.  So many statues you can't see the others because that, too, would "tell the whole story of America."

We had a civil war so people could continue to own other people, and those people lost.  And we've been rising from those ashes ever since.  Images speak louder than words, so maybe we should put up those images.  Right?

And when is England going to honor Guy Fawkes and Oliver Cromwell with statues across the countryside?  C'mon, what are statues for, except to be history lessons?  About the history we want to remember, v. the history we prefer to forget.

Where are our statues to Wounded Knee?  The Trail of Tears?  We've got a lot of history to catch up on!

Inglorious Basterd

President Trump has declared the business of the American military, and that business is killing', terrorists.  And brother, business is gonna be boomin'!

Yup; this is what we have:  a reality-TeeVee President who thinks he's now the star of a Quentin Tarantino movie.  And have you noticed the language stuck in the early '70's.  Trump loves to talk about the "inner city," the socially acceptable term 50 years ago for the "ghetto," by which all white people who used the word meant the hell-hole that blacks had made of their urban neighborhoods.  Also a very popular setting for cop shows in the '70's, where white cops dealt with black residents who all needed the police to enforce order in their "inner cities."

Now Trump is going to let slip the dogs of war and take the restraints off our military so they can get the job done.  Just like we shoulda done in Vietnam, as any apologist for that war will still tell you (I actually heard a retired military officer make just that argument in an interview a week ago.  He was talking about Afghanistan, but the only word missing that would have made it a completely anachronistic statement was "Vietnam.").  Because everybody knows if we'd just killed enough of those little brown men in black pajamas, we'd have won that war, too.

So, if we can just depopulate 2/3rds or better of Pakistan and Afghanistan: victory!

Although Trump says victory will look like this:

—“attacking the enemy, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaida, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terrorist attacks against America before they emerge”

As one commentator on NPR said, the Taliban is never going to take over the most densely populated portions of Afghanistan; but rooting it out of the mountainous country of the rural areas?  Ask Britain and Russia, and even ancient Rome, how well that works.  For the rest:  ISIS is on the ropes, causing al-Qaida is rather like crushing mercury, and stopping mass terrorist attacks before they emerge is right in Trump's wheelhouse.   After any period with no terrorist attacks on American soil, declare victory!  And when an attack occurs, blame Democrats!  Victory!

I'm a little curious, too, as to how a few thousand more troops, designated as trainers by the Pentagon, not "trigger pullers" (the Pentagon's phrase, not mine) are going to make a difference now, when at the height of the conflict we had 100,000 troops on the ground.  We will have, even after Trump's increase, less than 1/10th that many in country.

Victory!  Because it's not about the goal, it's about the process!  In fact, it's just about the talking points!  If Trump says it, it must be true!  And all that matters is that he says it! (although honestly, I think those people were just trolling CNN).

In the meantime, we'll be killin' terrorists.  And how do we know they're terrorists?  "Anyone who runs is a VC!  Anyone who stands still is a well-trained VC!"

Get some!

Monday, August 21, 2017

The tangled web we weave....

Something on your mind?

So, back to that question of 1st Amendment v. 2nd Amendment:

The ACLU’s apparent shift of position angered some of the civil-libertarians who’d been defending it most forcefully early in the week. “Until now,” lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield wrote, the ACLU has “never quite come out and announced that they will refuse to defend a constitutional right. This announcement says that when someone seeks to exercise two rights at the same time, the ACLU is outta there.”

I went to the post linked in the original article and didn't find an argument worth recounting here, or even rebutting.  Apparently Greenfield thinks the 2nd Amendment trumps the 1st, and by extension, all others.  I suppose you could make an argument for that, but I don't know what it would be (not a sound one, anyway), and he doesn't present one.  So discard his argument (which he doesn't have, as I say) and focus  on the issue of the ACLU and free speech.  And the question is:  when is there harm? As the article notes:

“Government may not censor speech because of its viewpoint,” says former ACLU director Nadine Strossen, “but it may censor speech because of its effects.”

Ah, but the question of "effects" is a thorny one for the courts.  There was one standard, says this article, until 1969:

the government could prohibit speech that had a “bad tendency” to result in lawless action down the road — a standard that was used to censor Communists and antiwar protesters, among other groups. 
I don't sympathize with silencing either group, so there's a problem.  But in 1969 the Supreme Court decided the KKK could hold a rally because:

“They were having a rally just for themselves. There was nobody else there, and nobody could see it,” so there wasn’t an imminent danger. (The KKK, in that case, was represented by the ACLU.) 
Change the context, change the outcome.  That, at least, is the basic legal standard for deciding when speech is allowed, and when its affects cannot be allowed.  Now, as the Vox article points out, the context has changed because of Heller and ALEC:  now people can walk around with guns.  And we're back to the conflict between the 1st Amendment and the 2nd.  And to say we haven't developed the law on this, is to put it mildly.  Here's the problem between one, and the other:

“I can certainly imagine if I were for example a counterdemonstrator, and I’m demonstrating against people who are there brandishing firearms, I think I would feel very frightened and I think that would be a reasonable fear,” says Strossen. “Even as I’m describing it, I think my imagination’s pretty good, because I’m feeling a little chill go down my body.”

But White is adamant that “carrying weapons isn’t in itself incitement,” and that someone can’t argue they face “reasonable fear” from a demonstrator simply carrying a weapon in a place where it’s legal to do so. “Combine open carry with a statement like ‘we are coming for you,’ and you've got something,” he says. “But you still need a threat.”

Now in Charlottesville no one was shot, but rather struck with a motor vehicle.  Boston didn't want that to happen, so they put up concrete barricades to keep cars on the streets, where they belong, and pedestrians off the streets, where the marchers didn't belong.  Yes, you can separate pedestrians from vehicles, and you can separate marchers from counter-protestors.  But a .22 bullet can travel up to a mile (the one bit of ballistic knowledge I have), so how far apart can you separate the groups to satisfy both amendments?  Must the government establish bullet-proof barriers?  Is that possible, much less allowed under Constitutional law?  Carrying a weapon becomes incitement becomes deadly illegal force in a heartbeat (it's the excuse police use today for shooting first and asking questions later).  So how, reasonably, is open carry at a demonstration NOT incitement, especially since carrying a gun (legal, under applicable state law) turns to using that gun (illegal, under applicable state law) in a heartbeat.  As I say, that's the defense the police use all the time; but will we grant that defense to protestors?  to Nazis, skin-heads, white supremacists chanting "Blood and soil!"?

The fundamental problem is the one the Warren Court opened:  when should the Court decide what is, and is not, Constitutional?  Just the other day a discussion of the redistricting case in Texas, the one where the 5th Circuit (!) found Texas had racially gerrymandered some districts, pointed out that redrawing those two districts means redrawing every district in Texas.  To mess with one is to mess with the one next to it, and next to that one, and so on to the borders.  Nothing wrong with that in this case, but it's a metaphor for Constitutional decisions.

Since the Warren Court the Court has gotten a bit free about handing down "constitutional" rulings.  The Rehnquist Court wasn't that big on them, but the Roberts Court enjoyed them and let Scalia off the leash, and Gorsuch wants to be Scalia on steroids (I don't think he has the legal chops for it, though).  The problem with such rulings, as in the Heller case, is how they affect other constitutional provisions.  The Warren Court didn't invade other areas of the Constitution with it's most famous decisions, but now, continuing to decide what the Constitution means TODAY, as opposed to, oh, yesterday, we seem to forced to redistrict the Constitution, so to speak.  But Constitutional jurisprudence doesn't work that way; except we're going to force it to, on issue the public thinks are most fundamentally their constitutional rights.

Hard cases make bad law, the old adage says.  This is not a reason for optimism.

Everything new is old again

The yearbook from my first year, oddly enough....

It was 47 years ago today....well, not literally "today," but as this is now the first day of school in Texas, and I can't remember when school started 47 years ago (after Labor Day, I'm pretty sure, but anyway), it was 47 years ago I entered Robert E. Lee High School in Tyler, Texas.   The campus was 12 years old at the time, built, as many schools I attended in Tyler were, during what I can only call the "greenhouse" craze.  One wall of every classroom was plate glass.  The elementary school I attended had plate glass on two sides of the room.  We practiced "duck 'n' cover" under our desks in those classrooms, oblivious to the fact that a nuclear blast or a tornado (the latter much more likely) would turn all that glass into flying shrapnel that our little desks and our little hands on the nape of our necks, would not protect us from.

All we knew was, they weren't air-conditioned.  Air conditioning for schools wasn't imagined in 1958 (when Lee was built), and frankly, I don't think it would have worked in those greenhouse structures (which were only saved from being true greenhouses by overhanging roofs).

I mention this because things are stirring again around my high school alma mater, when I think the real problem with the school is that it still stands.  Even my elementary school was finally replaced by a more reasonable (and tornado safe) building a few years ago.  Lee's sprawling modern-in-1958 campus still stands, housing far more students than it did in my day.

And it's still named for the Confederate General who lost the Civil War.

It was a bit worse 47 years ago.  The football team (the only athletes who really mattered; this is Texas) were the "Rebels."  A huge Confederate battle flag (the one you think is the "Confederate flag") was unfurled on the football field during games by a group of boys who existed only for that task.  There was a working cannon, fired for touchdowns (there weren't many, frankly, when I was there) painted Confederate grey, and attended by students in Confederate uniforms.

And in 1970, a federal judge's order shut down the "black" school in town, and forced the integration of Lee and the other high school in town (there are still only two).  It went better at the other school than it did at Lee, partly because the black students didn't want to lose their school and its traditions (who can blame them?), and partly because "Lee rebels" wasn't just the school mascot.  It meant a lot to a lot of people I learned that year to call "rednecks."  Yeah, like the Randy Newman song; he nailed it pretty well, IMHO.

There was a "riot" in 1972 over those symbols. White people (a few) treated them as inviolable traditions; blacks treated them as insulting and offensive.  Same as it ever was.  The event wasn't really as violent as a riot, and there really wasn't even a fight, as it turned out. I  don't recall anyone who was actually hurt, but the incident occupied half the campus around lunch time (there were four half-hour lunch periods, IIRC).  The campus sprawled so much half the campus didn't know what was going on, while the other half thought the school was burning down and anarchy had come to Tyler.  I was on that half of the campus.  There was a fire:  of a huge paper banner promoting the football team for a game that weekend.  I didn't even see it, just heard about it.  There was some chaos on that end of the school, magnified by teenage hormones and adolescents' sense of drama (and the times; you had to be there.  The '70's wasn't all about Saturday Night Fever.).  After that and much complaining by white students, the Rebels became the Red Raiders, and all symbols of the confederacy, save the name of the school, went away.

I think it was the next year I was sitting in the football stadium in December watching Earl Campbell (he played for the other high school) carry half the Lee football team on his back, literally, as he powered down the field.  It was like watching a living cartoon.  We had all returned to our places by then, accepting the new order and moving on with our lives.

But Robert E. Lee was still named for...Robert E. Lee.  Now, the news tells me, 50+ people have signed a petition to change the name, 4000+ people are opposed.  My sense is these are the same people who noticed the "fight" in '72.  Parents of kids there, people who lived near the school and had sent, or expected to send, their kids there.  Not the whole town, in other words.  But some things haven't changed, like the school song:

“Robert E Lee, we raise our voices in praise of your name. May honor and glory e’er guide you to fame. Long may your colors and their symbols recall faithfully that red is for courage and white for purity.” We used to laugh about the “purity” part. I don’t recall giving a second thought to what the symbols actually represented.

That's a report from someone who graduated from Lee long after I did.  She's in no position to recall the events of '72.    She also says the numbers are 100+ in favor of changing the name, v. 7000+ against.  So it goes.  But I stopped on this because she quoted the school song (set to a Mendelssohn tune, from "Midsummer Night's Dream," if memory serves).  She says her friends laughed at "purity."  We had a crowd who ignored the lyrics, except to shout "WHITE" as loudly as possible, for reasons obvious to everyone.  I presume that long ago changed.  Something else apparently changed, too, and this is disheartening:

When I sing it, I remember leaning side to side in the bleachers, pinky fingers hooked with my friends, the innocence of youth never forcing me to question what my school’s namesake really meant. I knew that REL was the “white” school and the school on the North side of town, John Tyler, was the “black” school. I saw the kids in trucks waving confederate flags during football season and while I knew the symbol was one that could be - for lack of a better word – “triggering” to my black classmates, I never stood up and said a single word.

Confederate flags were flown from trucks in defiance during football season in 1973, a declaration that it was still "their" school and "their" symbol.  I figured that had died out but, with the school still named for the Confederate general, why am I not surprised that it didn't?  What better way, after all, to keep it alive than to keep the school's original name, a reminder that old times there are not forgotten (even though they should be).  And "White" school and "black" school?  That's what Brown v. Board was supposed to eliminate.

The more things change, the more they remain the same; unfortunately.  Kuhn says paradigm shifts only occur when the old die off and leave the young to their new ideas.  Too bad culture doesn't work that way.

"Hauling darkness like plague behind it"

I saw a total eclipse, once.  From the 13th floor (!)* of an office building in downtown Austin, Texas.  I have a vague memory of watching the shadow, the wall, the darkness, racing across the landscape from the west toward us, the light not going out but....going strange, and then extinguished.  Street lights snapped on. Birds went quiet and still.  The mind reeled, rejected what it saw, panicked in some deep recess.  For a moment I wanted to bang drums and fire explosives and chase away the...thing...that had done this to the sun.

That was over 30 years ago (I left that job for school, another school, another degree, in the mid-80's).  I remember it better because Annie Dillard described it so well.  You'll have to hurry, though; that link goes dead in a day or two.  The Atlantic is stingy with their archives as nature is stingy with its most harmless, and most amazing, phenomena.

*there's a story behind that, too.  Perhaps another time....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

How Can We Miss Him If He Won't Go Away?

Signs of the times....

If everybody would just think like me, we'd all get along so much better!

“If the Republican Party on Capitol Hill gets behind the president on his plans and not theirs, it will all be sweetness and light, be one big happy family,” Bannon said in an interview with the Washington Post.

Bannon said he did not expect that rosy vision to come to pass at any point soon, though: “No administration in history has been so divided among itself about the direction about where it should go.”
Honestly, you can't slip a pice of paper between Bannon and Trump (no administration in history?  Do they always have to leap to the extreme?).   And Trump is the narcissist?  Bannon thinks there's only one right way to think:  his!  And if everybody just lined up with him, how much happier they would be!

I think the pundits misunderstood that declaration of "WAR!" that Breitbart issued.

And by the way, while you weren't paying attention:  richest country in the world, and people living here have to rely on diaper banks.  We aren't ashamed because we don't know and we don't care to know.  We're afraid of the poor.  Which is extremely odd for a "Christian nation."

Jerry Falwell, Jr. channels his inner Jeremiah

It's Sunday morning, why isn't he in church?

During an interview on ABC’s This Week, host Martha Raddatz asked Falwell, one of Trump’s top surrogates, to explain the president’s remarks.

“He has inside information that I don’t have,” Falwell opined. “I don’t know if there were historical purists there who were trying to preserve some statues. I don’t know. But he had information I didn’t have.”

“What made you think he knew that?” Raddatz wondered.

“I think he saw videos of who was there. I think he was talking about what he had seen, information that he had that I don’t have,” Falwell insisted. “All I know is it was pure evil. The media has tried to paint this as Republican versus Democrat, black versus white, Jew versus gentile, but it’s just pure evil versus good.”

“But when you say things like that, when you say it’s all evil, but you say you’re so proud of Donald Trump, that’s the message that resonated,” Raddatz observed. “It didn’t resonate that you think he might have some information.”

“I’m still intrigued by your idea that Donald Trump somehow knows there were some good people there,” she added.

“I don’t know that to be the fact,” Falwell admitted. “I just know that it’s totally true what you just said, there’s no good KKK, there’s no good white supremacist.”

Speaking truth to power doesn't mean what it used to mean.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Look away, look away, look away!

The "real" flag of the Confederacy

I've had to update my previous post on Texas history and Confederate monuments, and it made me think I should revisit the issue, taking as read what was said there and in comments.

Let me start with the complete selection of statements about secession that I found in the article at the SPLC website:

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”

Texas Declaration of causes for secession, February 2, 1861

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.”

Mississippi Declaration of causes for secession

“They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.”

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy
Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861

“Our new government is 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.”

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy
Cornerstone Speech, March 21, 1861

“A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”

South Carolina Declaration of causes for secession,
December 24, 1860

What prompts this review is not the discussion in the earlier post, but the comments on CNN I found at this article on RawStory.  Bill Starnes, a member of the Confederate Sons of America, asserted to Brooke Baldwin that no laws outlawing slavery nationwide were pending in Congress prior to 1861, a bit of a red herring to anyone who knows the history of America prior to the Civil War.  He lost her completely when he declared that Abraham Lincoln was worse than Adolph Hitler; which tells you the level of his historical acumen.

But the clear cause of the war was racism and slavery, as evidenced in the quotes above.  Almost any other argument, I humbly submit, is moonshine, promoted by schools in the South at least (I am, as I said, a product of that education), and bolstered by monuments to racism that we call statues of Confederate "heroes," be they merely the anonymous soldiers of the war (as in the case in Durham, North Carolina) or actual figures from that war, like Jefferson Davis, or the men of Terry's Rangers and Hood's Brigade.   Interesting that there is no similar monument to honor Texas soldiers or officers from World War I or World War II on the Capitol grounds.

Those statues honored a "lost cause" and a "noble effort" which was neither, and was itself entirely moonshine and fiction.  Those monuments normalized racism.  They idealized a conflict that was conducted on as vile and disgusting a basis as any imaginable in the 20th century, and sanitized it to a point people who think they have actually studied history imagine the war was for nobler causes than human enslavement and pure racism.  Were there other reasons for the war?  Well, probably; just as one could say there were other reasons for the Holocaust.  But is that really relevant in a general discussion about whether slavery was a cause or not? Besides, having personally experienced the kind of passion and even violence that racism can inspire, I think racism and slavery are ample reasons to prompt war, especially given the "hidden wound" that the "peculiar institution" was from the beginning of the republic (which is actually the root cause of the war, returning us to the issue of slavery).

Interesting that I grew up hearing about "revisionist" historians who were "distorting" history by shifting attention away from the cowboys on TV shows of my childhood, and brave pioneer settlers (always white) facing the "savage Indians" and toward the people who were here when Europeans got here; as well as away from the "lost cause" and towards the horrors of slavery (horrors that were recorded in American literature in the 19th century, too, but washed from memory in the tidal wave of revisionist historical romance of Gone with the Wind and even Faulkner's work, where black Southerners play little or no role).  The real revisionism were the lies my teachers told me.  My teachers, and public monuments to bad men whose only interest was their own gain.  We were told it was about liberty and integrity and independence.  It was actually about dependence on the stolen labor of others, the utter denial of their liberty as well as their humanity, and the destruction of our integrity so that system could be maintained for the benefit of a few.

Same as it ever was, in other words.  We just tried to gild it; but you can't shine up shit.*

*Editor's note:  this is a personal statement.  Please feel free to disagree with the generalities or the particulars in comments.  The author will keep his inner pit bull on a leash.

"We are Strong!"

Our President is a Paklid.  Who thinks his own tweet is so clever, he responds to it:

And then somebody takes his phone away:

Ein volk, ein reich,, that's unfair.  But does this mean Bannon left, and then returned, or never left, and then did?  Also, they do know we can see those first two tweets, right?  And does this mean Trump will hold a press conference on Twitter to reverse what he said on Twitter?

And meanwhile, back at the ranch, before this started:

Republicans in Washington are exhausted and in despair after President Donald Trump’s gross mishandling of the administration’s response to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, calling it a “f*cking disaster” and worrying that Trump has done permanent damage to the party.

The Hill reported Saturday that Republicans of all stripes are concerned that Trump’s combative press conference and unwillingness to denounce neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan has undone years of outreach by the GOP to nonwhite voters.

A “veteran Republican strategist” told the Hill on condition of anonymity, “I don’t know where we go from here” after Trump alienated millions of Americans by saying there were “many fine people on both sides” of the violence that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and left at least 19 others injured.
If we are smart and tough the healing will begin!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Giving Caesar what is Caesar's

Trump's "Evangelical council" consists of 25 individuals.  Whether they even meet as a body, hold discussions, vote on proposals, set an agenda, I don't know.  It's my understanding at least one of Trump's business councils that he's since disbanded never formally organized or even met, at all.  So maybe this is just for grandstanding purposes.  Still, the composition of it is interesting.

Of it's 25 members, only 11 are described as "pastors."  Another is the "founder" of a "chapel," so we can stretch the point and make it 12.  Almost half, then; but the others are leaders of organizations, with one former member of Congress.  "Focus on the Family," for example, is not a religious organization at all.  Liberty University was founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, but it's President now is almost more secular than an atheist:

Some of these pastors are "televangelists."  Some run "megachurches," which is merely televangelism without the TV audience.  All are responsible for upholding a brand (several are noted as authors of several books) more than upholding the Gospels.  I say that without rancor or judgment.  I don't see how you can uphold the gospels and be rich at the same time.  I mention this because none of these people fit the model of "pastor" as I understand it.  They don't counsel their congregations, answer to their membership, baptize their children, bury their family members, respond to their needs.  They have staff to do that.  They don't pastor; I dare say, they preen.  All of these people (save Bachman) have businesses to run and sustain.  What they aren't doing is "evangelizing," a term that goes all the way back to the koine Greek of the Christian scriptures.  The root of the Greek word is our English word "angel," which meant to the original Greek audience not shining perfect white male with wings, but simply "messenger."  To that we add, again in English, the prefix "ev-", to get "evangel."  The "evangel" is the messenger of the good news.  If they are spreading the "good news," they are separating that effort very clearly from their efforts on this council; at least if their public statements about the council and the President are anything to go by.

Interestingly, Christianity Today, itself a conservative publication, tried to find someone on Trump's "council" who spoke unequivocally against Charlottesville and Trump's defense of racism.  The headline describes what the article is supposed to contain:

Here are quotes from the article from all members of the Evangelical Council:

“If we’re going to denounce some racism, we ought to denounce all racism, and I believe that was the point the President was making,” Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, told CBN. South Carolina pastor Mark Burns has also defended Trump’s approach on multiple news networks.

Jerry Falwell Jr. praised Trump in his first mention of the Charlottesville incident on Wednesday: “Finally a leader in WH. Jobs returning, N Korea backing down, bold truthful stmt about #charlottesville tragedy.So proud of @realdonaldtrump”
Well, that's three.  Not much condemnation there.  Johnnie Moore, who is also on the council, spoke in general terms about who was responsible:

The way that some in the media and in the administration as well as other politicians and also activists—Republican and Democrat, liberals and conservatives—have handled the Charlottesville incident has at times been unhelpful, too emotional, and insensitive. We all must condemn bigotry and hatred in pursuit of national healing and unity without exacerbating further conflict.
But the sharp limits of his comments are illuminated by the next comment quoted in the article, from a seminary professor at Southern Baptist Seminary (and NOT a member of the council):

President Trump addressed the nation in a press conference in which he said that the white supremacist protestors were “very fine people.” His full remarks were more than disappointing. They were morally bankrupt and completely unacceptable. People who protest while chanting Nazi slogans are not “very fine people.”
Hard to mistake who is being addressed there.  A past president of the Southern Baptist Convention also speaks strongly against the protestors:

“These protesters do not represent in any form or way the Christian faith or the values followers of Jesus stand for,” said Ronnie Floyd, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention which passed a resolution condemning the alt-right in June. “In fact, white nationalism and white supremacism are anathema to the teachings of Christ, who called us to love and to serve our neighbor—regardless of skin color, gender, or religion—to give up our life for our friends and to even love our enemies.”
Tony Suarez defended the council this say:

But Christianity Today couldn't find one example of a member of the council speaking to Trump as Daniel, Jeremiah, Samuel, Nathan, or Isaiah did (and shame on him for daring to include himself and his fellow council members in such company).

I would say Trump truly does corrupt and destroy everything he touches, and everyone who tries to associate with him in any way at all.  But my concept of the doctrine of original sin won't allow me to let those individuals off the hook quite so easily.

"At long last, sir, have you no shame?"

Article II, Section One, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
The Constitution of the United States, in Article III, establishes a judiciary.   Preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution means holding that judiciary as a co-equal branch of government, not declaring it an enemy of the people.

Trump is not upholding his oath of office, he's demagoguing in ways that would appall the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  McCarthy was merely censured and removed from office by the voters of Wisconsin.  We cannot wait four years for the voters to act on the President.

If trampling the Constitutional oath of office isn't a "high crime and misdemeanor," I don't know what is.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Something like this, actually

I want to pick up this whole set of comments and bring it up to a new post so I can better explain what I was trying to say; not argue over it, just explain my reasoning.  You can start with the original post, if you want to.

rustypickup said...
This is a case where I language fails us. The media use peace and non-violent interchangeably, whereas they are not the same. Even our use of non-violence lacks a full meaning of the actual circumstances. Intimidation and coercion as you have noted are important to the context of the situation. A lack of violence that is predicated on high levels of intimidation and coercion is not peace, it is merely a lack of violence on one side that arises from a threat of violence on the other. Actual peace would require a lack of violence by all parties, and also a lack of threats, intimidation or coercion by all parties. (Let alone a peace that surpasses all understanding...)

There can be no peaceful protest when the protesters are armed. There is implicitly a threat of violence against counter-protesters or the police. I don't think we should even call these non-violent protests. We lack the language to adequately describe the situation and the media doesn't communicate the true nature of the situation.

We are constitutionally protected from intimidation of our speech rights by the state, but the state has no positive obligation to protect our free speech rights from intimidation by private actors. Oppression via Jim Crow and other avenues was a state sponsored oppression implemented by state actors. From Brown v. Board of Education (and yes, based on even earlier SCOTUS decisions) to the various civil rights and voting rights acts, overt state oppression was eliminated. The backlash as it has formed is to move that oppression to private actors. This is the intent of open carry and unrestricted hidden carry laws. It is the reasoning for now allowing with recent jurisprudence, private actors to discriminate in the work place, impose religion in ways the state could never impose. I don't think we are even at the middle of the wave of this empowerment of the private actor to take on the oppression and intimidation that used to be practiced by the state. For example, stand your ground laws allocate the power to judge and inflict punishment to the private actor. Previously the state retained this power, and only under the most exceptional cases of self defense. Now in some states we allow for the imposition of the death penalty by a private actor in the mere defense of private property.

Our constitutional system is inadequate to respond to the current situation. To go further then immediate situation in Charlottesville, when the constitution was created, there was the individual and the state. Other private actors, by which I mean corporate entities, were not seen as powerful actors and certainly weren't considered to have rights in the way they were intended for the individual. The rise of the limited liability corporation, and the power it can exert and its ability by design to avoid responsibility and accountability has altered the landscape of the allocation of power.

I have rambled, but as I am typing more has been bubbling up. I need to go think about this more. Thank you for the place to think out loud.

The Peace that surpasses all understanding...
Peace be with you.
3:32 PM

Rmj said...

And also with you.

We are constitutionally protected from intimidation of our speech rights by the state, but the state has no positive obligation to protect our free speech rights from intimidation by private actors.

Actually it does, else public schools would not be concerned with school bullies (always have been, so far as I know), and peaceful protestors would not be protected by police from violent counter-protestors (if it was simply a matter of keeping the peace, protests would not be allowed in the first place).

What we have lost is the idea that speech itself is a communal, not just an individual (i.e., personal) right. If I am intimidated by someone staring at me as I speak, that's my problem. If I am intimidated by someone carrying a gun and staring at me, that's the state's problem, and an abrogation of it's obligation by passing laws allowing such open carrying of firearms. (And imagine if black protestors had shown up armed. Huey Newton could tell you about that.).

As a group and as a person, I have the freedom to speak, and the state not only has to allow that, but protect it. If it only does the former, but not the latter, what right do I have?
4:07 PM
rustypickup said...

Thank you for your reply. I think where we differ is our confidence that the state has any positive obligation to protect my right to speak (other than some general preference for public order). A appreciate your mentioning schools having a positive obligation to protect the students from other students, I hadn't thought of that circumstance. The only one I could think of where the state has to positively protect rights was the state needing to provide counsel to the accused in a criminal proceeding. Of course the counter party in that circumstance is again the state.

But I think my point of the state having no positive obligation to protect rights still holds. Here is what occurred at a synagogue in Charlottesville this weekend. Synagogue Where is the freedom to practice religion if the city doesn't provide police? The congregation can't go to court to demand the city act. If the city was preventing their worship, they could bring an action. But since it's private actors, they have no recourse other than to appeal to the political process. (Now I do suspect there is in federal civil rights law an ability to seek recourse).
The law is, indeed, a blunt instrument; no blunter than when private parties have to seek redress in civil court for wrongs done in public, during actions over which the state can exercise authority.  Whether the state does exercise its authority is the question, and it's not a legal question.  Legal questions deal with what the state can, and cannot, do.  The Constitution lays down some limits on state action; laws lay down others.  But laws and even the Constitution can also create obligations on the state (federal or state governments, or even local (city, county) governments).  Whether those obligations are observed is, by and large, a political question.

So does the state have "any positive obligation to protect my right to speak," apart from some general preference for public order?  Yes, clearly.  Texas A&M University has just cancelled an appearance by a white nationalist associated with Charlottesville (one of the organizers of that melee, IIRC), on the grounds he directly connected his appearance at the college to the riot in Virginia (what else can it be called?).  Now, there's a lot of local speculation among law professors on local radio about how strong a legal case the university (a public university) has against this appearance.  That is a Constitutional question, but the state clearly is trying to exercise an obligation to protect the speech of opponents of this racist, because the state fears violence if he is allowed access to their property for a speech about his ideas.

The state fears violence because the state has a positive obligation to protect the right of others to oppose this speaker.   The state is concerned about public order, but also disgusted by what this man wants to say (efforts to get the speech cancelled came from members of the Texas Legislature, among others.  They acted as private citizens, but they didn't want this man to have a platform on state property for his hate.)

If the speech occurs, the University will establish areas where opponents and supporters can gather to speak, but where they will stay separated from each other.  The state has a positive obligation to protect the right to speech, and not to stand by and let the two sides have at each other, even if all that happens is screaming and yelling.

This gets to be a finer point because Texas has open carry laws, and allows guns to be carried on campus (but they can't be carried openly on campus).  But the question is not:  can the state do anything?  The question is:  will the state do anything?

The synagogue in Charlottesville that went unprotected by the local police is a disturbing example.  Was the police force overwhelmed and reallocated away from that building?  Did the police simply not care?  That they had an obligation to protect that building in particular, under the circumstances, especially for worshippers there on their Sabbath, is clear.  Did they undertake that obligation?

Ay, there's the rub.

The legal question is:  can the state act, given the circumstances?  The political question is:  should the state act?

There is no legal or constitutional impediment to the state protecting the rights of speech, or peaceful assembly.  The issue is not:  why can't the law do it?  The issue is:  can we use the law to do it?  Yes, we can.

A member of the Houston City Council was quoted on local radio this morning about the violence in Charlottesville and planned similar marches here in Houston.  He said we (meaning the city government) had an obligation to protect the citizens of the city from violence and efforts to incite violence.  He was right.  The mayor of Houston and the police chief have both said violence will not be tolerated.  They are right.

If we don't use the law to protect the public, it is entirely on us.  What happened in Charlottesville does not have to be repeated.  But the system won't save us; the system won't ever save us.  We have to use the system for us.  For all of us.

Fun with Numbers!

So, do these numbers:

Indicate a "partisan divide"?  That Americans are "sharply divided"?  Or just that there is a minority, and a majority, view?  And that the majority doesn't think much of Trump?

Yeah, that's what I thought, too.  Glass half-empty, glass half-full.  You know the drill.

Monuments erasing history

Texas, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has 66 monuments honoring the Confederacy.  At least four of those are on the grounds of the Texas Capitol, or in the building itself.

There is a monument to the Confederate soldiers, featuring five figures with Jefferson Davis in the center.  It was put up in 1903 by "surviving comrades."  There is a "Terry's Texas Rangers" monument, put up in 1907 by "surviving comrades."  It celebrates, not the iconic "one man, one riot" Texas Rangers, but the 8th Texas Cavalry which fought throughout the Civil War.  There is also a third, a monument to Hood's Brigade, erected in 1910 by "surviving comrades and friends."    It is:

A bronze figure of a Confederate soldier tops a gray granite shaft with hand-carved quotes by Confederate leaders. The monument stands as a memorial to the members of John B. Hood's Texas Brigade who fought in the Army of Northern Virginia between 1861-1865. Hood's Brigade participated in many of the Civil War's most famous battles including Sharpsburg (Antietam) and Gettysburg.
There are 21 monuments on the grounds of the Capitol.  Ten do not honor soldiers or specific wars.  Two memorialize World War II (one for the war, one for Pearl Harbor).  World War II is the only other war with more than one memorial to it.  There are three Civil War Monuments, all erected between 1903 and 1910.

There is also this curious plaque inside the Capitol Rotunda.  You have to search to find it; it is not prominently displayed.  It was put up in 1959, and rather undercuts any idea that these memorials are educational, or even "beautiful" (you can follow the links to the Civil War memorials specified above, and draw your own conclusion on their aesthetic value.  Personally, I find them ugly and uninspiring.)  The plaque, if you find it, looks like this:

Not surprisingly I couldn't find a picture of this on the State Preservation Board website; this comes courtesy of The Texas Observer.

If you can't read it, I've transcribed it:

Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army, and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united in an organization called “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm, and love of justice can exert its influence.

We, therefore, pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals:  to honor our veterans; to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion, nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and to always act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors.

Erected by Texas Division/Children of the Confederacy/August 7, 1959
If anything, it is the prior monuments, which led to the 20th century invention of the "Noble Cause" that was "Gone with the Wind" (written, it should be noted, in 1936, by which time such monuments had been up long enough to erase the true history and replace it with romantic fantasy).  The monuments themselves indicate to later generations there must have been something worth memorializing in the war of secession, and it couldn't have been anything so base as human slavery.  I have to confess I was taught this version of history in Texas schools:  that the War Between the States was about "states rights," not about slavery.  Which is a lie, of course.  The Battle of the Alamo was not about freedom from tyranny; it was about slavery, too.  Mexico outlawed it, and the Texican colonists wanted slaves so they could get in on that sweet southern plantation economy.  It's the same reason they left the union a few years after joining it.  Any other version of Texas history is simply a lie; as this plaque is.

Texas Declaration of causes for secession, February 2, 1861

"We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”*

Part of the argument against taking these monuments down is that they are educational; and that to remove them would erase history.  But it erases history to claim a monument with four Confederate soldiers on it and the President of the Confederacy are symbols of something honorable.  Jefferson Davis stood for the proposition that people should be owned by other people, and treated in a manner we wouldn't allow a dog owner to treat a dog, today.  "Terry's Texas Rangers" were not freedom fighters; they were traitors to the government they agreed to abide under; they were soldiers against the constituted order.  Hood's Brigade was not composed of honorable men who fought for liberty; they were rebels who turned against the government they had, a few years earlier, agreed to join, and did so precisely to keep Mexico at bay.  And this plaque, erected in 1959, is simply a series of lies meant to erase history and replace it with a more palatable white racist, white supremacist, version.  That there should be any controversy about removing it now, is what is shocking.  Kurt Vonnegut once argued that, instead of putting up the Ten Commandments in courthouses (and on state grounds; that's one of the 21 monuments on Texas Capitol grounds), we put up the Beatitudes.  In response to this plaque and the monuments outside, I'd at least like to see the Texas Declaration on secession posted in bronze, for all to see.  Might be educational, ya know.

Eric Johnson, a member of the Texas House, whose office is near this plaque in the Capitol, wants it removed.  Governor Abbott, in the mealy-mouthed nature we've come to expect from him, wants to sound like Trump lite:

"Racist and hate-filled violence – in any form — is never acceptable, and as Governor I have acted to quell it," Abbott said in the statement. "My goal as governor is to eliminate the racist and hate-filled environment we are seeing in our country today."

"But we must remember that our history isn't perfect," Abbott added. "If we do not learn from our history, we are doomed to repeat it. Instead of trying to bury our past, we must learn from it and ensure it doesn’t happen again. Tearing down monuments won't erase our nation's past, and it doesn't advance our nation's future. As Governor, I will advance that future through peace, not violence, and I will do all I can to keep our citizens safe."

The pediment of the Texas Capitol displays the "six flags" which flew over Texas (more properly, the six sovereigns of the state's history).  Reading from left to right, they are:  Spain; France (Austin still has the home of the French Legation to the Republic of Texas); Mexico; the Republic of Texas (the Lone Star); the Confederacy (the white man on the white horse.  Lee, I presume); and the American Eagle.  Which, technically, should bracket the Confederacy, since Texas joined the union then left 12 years later.  But that would destroy the symmetry and confuse the story.  Anyway, arguably, that display is educational.  It is certainly historical.

There is nothing historical about that plaque in the rotunda.  It's simply a series of lies.  It buries the past to leave it up,  as it does to leave up any of the other monuments to the Confederacy on the Capitol grounds.  That there are three of them says more about what we still honor than simply what they stand for.  This plaque explicitly, and those statutes and monuments implicitly, bury history beneath granite and bronze.  They are lies, and it is the truth that will make us free.

It says so right on the next big state building directly north of the capitol, where they removed their statue of Jefferson Davis:

*A correction; I misread my source and published a statement from the Mississippi Declaration of causes for secession.  I've replaced it with the language used for Texas.