Civil War 2.0

Red States in 2016 – From a Google Image Search – Washington Monthly

When the Civil War was won and the Confederacy surrendered, feelings of resentment ran high in former slave states. The fires may have been slowly banked after the war, but underneath all they still burned white hot and are still easily stirred to conflagration. A war that never really ended now confronts us once again as Civil War 2.0.

In those long ago days, former slaves believed that freedom was real and that they would be permitted to enjoy the full freedoms of the American republic. They wanted to own land and run for public office, go into business, and put the past behind them. 

But many Southerners believed that these former slaves were inferior to white folks right down to their genes and that they should not be allowed to become fully accepted citizens of a postwar South. They were still beaten by their former owners who were joined by southerners who could never afford to own slaves, their land was stolen from them, and they were kept under firm control by white authority figures. They were rounded up and killed if they gathered in a group that might take revenge for the ways they were treated under slavery. Fear of retribution was a big motivator for the slaughters, the lynching, the KKK intimidation which I found graphically described in Ron Chernow’s book Grant

Southern whites put pressure on Grant who became the President after the war. They insisted that no Federal troops would be tolerated to defend black folks against white backlash in Southern communities. Posse Comitatus laws were passed to give local sheriffs control over local matters. Rachel Maddow (MSNBC) showed us that these laws are still cited today, as they were in the Cliven Bundy matter when the Department of the Interior sent armed Federal employees to stop Bundy from grazing his cattle for free on government land. The ‘Feds’ were sent packing by armed militia, even though they were acting on Federal land, because this rule, which says Federal troops cannot operate in a state, is still valid. 

(This Posse Comitatus rule has some value, we don’t want Federal troops storming into our states every time there is a confrontation, but giving local law enforcement carte blanche to deal with situations where their biases might affect their reactions was harmful in the case of the aftermath of the Civil War and could be/is harmful again.)

One result of Grant’s decision to pull Federal troops out of the South was to allow a beaten Confederacy to vent all its frustration on their newly freed slaves. You would think all the hate expressed in such disgusting displays of violence, bloodletting, and hate would have led to decades of shame, bowed heads, and white remorse. However, as we all know, that is not what happened.

The Confederacy has been romanticized and any white remorse is “Gone With the Wind” as somehow a whole nation came to mourn the end of the Plantation system in the South (with its now-invisible companion, slavery). The nation somehow felt sorry for the losers, and the South’s private belief that they would “rise again” (as signaled by the ubiquity of statues to Confederate “heroes” throughout the South, and by the equation that said that the Confederate flag equals patriotism, and by the fact the Confederate flag is often allowed to fly alongside the American flag) went basically unchallenged for one hundred and fifty years. But alongside the misplaced sympathy and the desire to give the losers time to lick wounds, alongside this tendency to allow a group that rebelled against the government and lost to continue to take pride in a now defunct way of life, Grant’s decision made it hard for the Federal government to step in against the KKK and other hate groups. Freed slaves died by the thousands.

No actions were really taken to fight the hate until 100 years after the war was over. “Jim Crow” bought a dishonorable peace to the South. And although the North should have been a haven for freed slaves, we know it wasn’t. These days Confederate flags wave from truck beds even in states in the North which opposed slavery and fought the army of the South in the Civil War.

We are constantly reminded by modern Republicans that the Democrats were the party of slave owners before and during the Civil War. There were rabid segregationists in the party who argued that the “races” should be kept separate, and that black folks are inferior to white folks. But the parties switched ideologies after the Civil Rights Act was passed in the mid-sixties. A few segregationists hung on in the party because, perhaps, they thought they could fight integration more successfully from inside the party, but they were reviled and were an embarrassment to the party. 

Who knows if the Civil Rights bill would have ever become law if it wasn’t for Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and the four children who lost their lives when the 16thStreet Baptist Church was bombed, if it wasn’t for the fire hoses, and the mirrored sunglasses, and the buses that brought white and black people in from Northern states to show solidarity and to bear witness. 

Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Bill we see the old hatreds flare up again, the Confederate flags – adopted by militia folks who are white supremacists, and now Trumpists, still interested in living separate from black and brown Americans. Sometimes it feels like the Civil War never ended and that we are fighting it once again under the direction of Trump, Mitch McConnell, and the Freedom Caucus. All those Southern accents once again reincarnating the Old South, as the anger that has simmered for a century is reflected outwards each and every day from the Senate floor.

And Trump, just a white supremacist, no legacy in the Confederacy, smiles on it all as if the reasons for his behavior don’t matter, as if he is finally one of the “good ole boys” Look at the map. Red states and Blue states clearly parallel the old Union and Confederate divide, with Red States actually multiplying. Losing the war may have ended the very profitable Plantation system  (which depended on slavery) but these men, resentment stored up in their hearts, will be damned if we take away their millions, their factories, and their fossil fuels and spend money on ‘deadbeats’. 

The Civil War is not over. It is being fought by a Republican Party, bloodlessly, through an organized strategy of suppressing votes, of districts which are drawn so that they will reliably elect Republicans, of obstructing legislation in the Senate, of stuffing the courts, of building pipelines, of making public lands private, of drilling in the Arctic, of refusing to credit climate change even if it threatens their own homes, of unfettering an already empowered Capitalism.

Just think of Mitch McConnell as the new Robert E. Lee, although he hardly can be said to have any nobility or charisma. If the Democrats lose this continuation of the Civil War, this Civil War 2.0, the loss could be as devastating, or even more destructive than winning the war was in 1861. Republicans do not mind disregarding our Constitution and our norms and they have turned religion into a bizarre anti-religion which sounds nothing like the beliefs I learned about in Sunday school. If they win, our future slips away into some segregated, divided Conservative state for who knows how long.

“Spanking” Social Media: Donald Calls a Summit

From a Google Image Search – The Daily Beast – Known invitees to Summit

Spanking Social Media: Wrong President, Wrong Reasons

A conference/investigation/summit is being convened at President Trump’s request to accuse social media of being biased against him and his peeps. This is patently ridiculous. Although there are a number of issues to discuss about the unexpected outcomes of having free speech on social media platforms that are open to global participation, this President will not explore any of these valid topics. That is why no major social media representatives are invited to this summit, only Conservatives. Even some Trump allies on the right are excluded from the list of invitees. 

President Trump does not like, cannot tolerate, dissent. Trump has filled his administration with “yes” men and women, who do not oppose even his most undemocratic wishes but rather help him find creative ways to get his wishes fulfilled, no matter how damaging they might be to the form of government we inherited from the nation’s founders. Now the President wants a nation full of only affirmation of his every whim, full of “yes”. When has any leader had this kind of support from a nation without using the fear of death to inspire it?

Whenever the media, in any form, criticizes Trump, which thank goodness it still does, Trump lets us all see that if he had his druthers he would ruin that particular media outlet or make life so existentially difficult for them that they would have to get in line and praise his “very stable genius” every day and in every article. That would be fun, wouldn’t it. (I am sticking my finger down my throat in that don’t make me puke gesture.) How many media outlets could survive such toadyism? We would only need one state newspaper, one TV station, etc. We would be Russia.

Every book I have ever read about how to succeed in business warns against the danger of surrounding yourself with only those who agree with you (or pretend to). Eventually your ideas will become stagnant and there will be no infusion of new energy and you begin to lose your market share to companies that encourage more diversity and fresher ideas. This can happen to countries also. Once again look to the example of Russia which seems to exist on a sort of perpetual mobius strip, going forward and yet doomed to go backward in an endless loop. So not only are Trump’s tendencies unconstitutional in a republic such as ours, but to require the constant stroking, and the absolute acceptance that he alone knows what is best for America, is also counterproductive. 

What Trump intends is to punish social media for allowing people to dissent. He wants to claim victimhood again. He wants social media to create algorithms that will send comments that say negative things about Trump and his policies to the trash and to take membership on social media away from individuals who post dissenting opinions. 

Although he should be trying to be sure there is no foreign meddling in the 2020 election and that fake accounts, bots, and memes that are offering false information do not get into the social feed, that is not his main concern in this meeting. Instead he is whining about the unfair coverage he gets, this time from some of the American people, and he is blaming social media for letting this happen. 

Free speech is a difficult thing. When, if ever, does free speech step over a line? Is using a bot a free speech right or, in the case of elections, is it a cheat? Do we really want hidden foreign intervention in our elections? Aren’t we producing enough home-grown propaganda? The issue of what constitutes free speech on social media is complex and it will be on-going because as one clever attempt is banned, new techniques, cleverer ones, will pop up. Can we ever “clean” the web the way Panera says it cleans food? What will we lose if we are able to stop bad actors from abusing social media? Will good things be lost also? Will the whole world find free speech curtailed to the detriment of the thing many call “the liberal world order”. A lot of people are very concerned about the answers to those questions. 

The world seems to have devalued democracy these days and “illiberal” democracies (dictatorships) seem all the rage. Will America throw away 243 years of relative freedom to join the ranks of those who put their trust in one person only. If we follow where Trump seems to lead and where the GOP functions as his wing man then we will find our freedoms disappearing one by one. Trump sees the media as the enemy and thinks he can kill all media opposition to his authoritarian style and his thuggish policies, his style that uses lies and distractions to manipulate the media and the people until it sounds like he rules, oops, governs by affirmation. Then he will be the most popular President ever – or else! Social online media is replacing print media and is currently in a position of power. It probably will not be so easily “spanked”.

Blame the Stock Market for Income Inequality

From a Google Image Search – Wall Street Journal

Sometimes when you sit in the cheap seats, up in nosebleed territory, the world below seems far away and small. Although the individual actors may lose definition, the view offers compensations in terms of seeing overall patterns, movements and strategies. Watching the economy from the cheap seats is very different because all the action is above where all the rich folks are, and the cheap seats are below, sometimes far below. When doom befalls those in the pricey seats, the fallout reaches to the cheap seats, and although the impact is less, it makes already difficult lives tougher. But in the pricey seats there can be mayhem – some win – some lose – some topple back to the cheap seats. When those in the expensive seats, the box seats, win, the people in the cheap seats can watch the celebration but they are not invited to the after-party.

What my analogy says is that you don’t have to be an economics major to know about the ebb and flow of money in the world. And you don’t have to be an expert to draw some interesting conclusions. Listen to the news. Pundits quite often point out that people at lower income levels do not own stocks, but most economic decision-making must consider how bills, laws, regulations, taxes, all things economic (even tariffs) will affect the stock market. That means that the economic needs of folks who do not own stocks don’t matter much in decisions that affect the economy. Even so, the whole economy, top-to-bottom is affected by whatever economic measures are taken. The poor can get poorer, or there may be times when a flourishing economy at the top temporarily lightens economic stresses at the base.

Progressives blame Capitalism for the economic inequality that has become increasingly apparent both in American and globally. But if you listen from your cheap seat you eventually understand that a lot of the blame belongs with the stock market. Capitalism can and did exist without stocks or stock markets, but once the stock market turned investment into a game that anyone with money could play, it was as if Capitalism went on steroids. 

In order for the partnership to work, industry and business have to keep the investors happy with ever-bigger profits, rising stock values and higher dividends (if they are offered). This means that workers only get higher wages after owners and stock holders get paid. Since businesses get more investments when profits go to stock holders than when they go to workers guess who gets robbed?

When there were strong unions, workers could demand a share of the pie and then stop working (walkout, go on strike) if they were ignored. Conservatives have always opposed unions, but in the past decade they have managed to weaken unions by passing right-to-work laws which have stripped workers of much of the power they once had to act as a balance against the demands of stock holders. The market is doing well, worker incomes are not.

The profits that go to shareholders keep making those who have stocks and those who own businesses richer, and since money equals power, these particular citizens are able to exert a lot of pressure in Washington and can keep getting laws passed that favor those who are already wealthy. Lobbyists, PACS that fund elections, laws like the Supreme Court decision that gave free speech (and votes) to dollars (money equals speech, corporations are people) have expanded the power of wealthy Americans who own stock. And because those who cannot afford stocks know that everyone is hurt if the stock market tumbles they are afraid to oppose even the most outrageous legislation (like the Trump tax cuts) because they don’t know how their opposition will affect the overall economy and their own everyday lives.

The stock market becomes a rocket that delivers more and more money to those who already have it and turns workers into statistics in a global worker market where American salaries already seem too magnanimous. 

If it is the stock market that is responsible for a lot of the economic inequality that exists then do we do away with the stock market? Well, good luck with that. And although this conclusion was reached in the cheap seats, when the question was put to the “Google” it was clear that there are already expert articles which show that economists were ahead on this. It can take longer to draw valid conclusions about money when you have always been in the cheap seats. 

With income, the story is a familiar one of rising inequality. In 1989 and 2016, the poorest fifth had 3 percent of pre-tax family income. But the top fifth of families saw their share of income rise from 57 percent in 1989 to 64 percent in 2016. Put another way, the bottom group’s share remained miniscule, the top group’s share rose by 9 percentage points (or one-sixth), and middle America saw its share diminish.

For corporate equity, we find that the lowest-income fifth of families had 1.1 percent of corporate equity in 1989, and 2.0 percent in 2016 (over the same timespan, the second-bottom quintile share went from 3.5 percent to 1.6 percent, so the total share of corporate equity of the bottom 40 percent fell). By contrast, the highest-income quintile had 77 percent of corporate equity in 1989, and 89 percent of corporate equity in 2016. Hence, corporate equity is considerably more skewed than expenditure or income, and has become considerably more skewed over the past three decades.

Even if the shares had remained unchanged at their 1989 levels, excess market power would have exacerbated inequality, because stock holdings were considerably more skewed than consumption. But because consumption inequality remained little changed, while inequality in stock holdings worsened, the effect of market power on inequality was even more substantial in 2016 than a generation earlier.”

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0304387817300858

https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/uer/vol15/iss1/7/

A solution I like better than trying to close the stock market (which would be even harder than passing sensible gun laws) is for everyone to “inherit” some stocks when they turn 18, or 25, or, even better, at birth – and not risky stock, good solid stock, in accounts they cannot cash in until a real need arises (college, training, buying a house, starting a business) that also will serve as an investment. Medical emergencies would be handled in another way. Then everyone would have a reason to follow the market, to wish the economy well, to learn about investing and to experience an opportunity to have an economic goal and to reach that goal. This would also go far to lessen economic inequality, and reparations could be managed by giving those who have been held back by racial discrimination a larger share in the market.

You can start laughing now – but it could work and it would be so much more peaceful than a revolution.

From a Google Image Search – Giphy.gif

2020 Citizenship Question: Wrong Time, Wrong Administration

From a Google Image Search – KOMO

2020 Census Citizenship Question: Wrong time, Wrong Administration

As it turns out questions about citizenship have apparently been included on many census questionnaires throughout the decades, but it is not a mandated question, and sometimes it does not appear on a particular census. Deep in the first term of the Trump administration, and as we head toward a Presidential election, however, seems like a particularly suspicious time for the President to be so intent on including a citizenship question that he would be willing to defy a ruling by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in June 2019, upon learning that information found on hard drivesof a late Republican consultant named Thomas Hofeller, had shown the Republicans the way to use a citizenship question to their advantage decided against adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census. The information specifically revealed to the Court the Republican plan to use the citizenship question to “rig” the vote by creating paranoia among immigrants “both legal and illegal” which would result in, it is estimated, at least 6.5 million Americans avoiding the census altogether. 

The hard drives also revealed why Republicans thought this plan would achieve two cherished goals on their list of strategies for winning elections. 1) Including a citizenship question would result in an undercount of Democratic voters, which would allow for redistricting, and change the number of votes in the electoral college in states with large numbers of immigrants (and Democrats) – New York, Florida, and California for starters. 2) It would affect federal budget appropriations to the states because appropriations-math involves population figures, which would then be distorted by low participation of minorities in the 2020 Census (affecting the same states and, hopefully, other blue states). 

Because the hard drives clearly laid out an underhanded partisan political strategy to “rig” votes in an election the Supreme Court turned down the citizenship question until a better rationale could be provided. 

But, we should be aware that there could be far more disturbing reasons to ask a citizenship questions in a year when the President wants to deport a million undocumented people. Usually the names on individual census forms are not revealed, although census records do keep track of where census completers live. If you have worked on your family tree you may have benefited from the fact that a census saves such information. Lots of other data is mined from the census without naming the respondents individually. 

Trump once asked every state to turn over to him their voter rolls (Jan., 2017).He said he wanted to prove that there are people voting more than once, or that “illegal” immigrants vote. Since Trump cheats constantly he sees cheating all around him and he seems to have always believed that there are thousands of illegal votes cast in American elections, although studies suggest this is not so. Voter rolls would have given Trump names and addresses of every voter in America. Who knows what kind of “witch hunt” he might have gone on if so many states had not declined. However, the census gives him another source for the information he seeks.

It is also not impossible to conclude that a census that includes a citizenship question strikes 45 as something that may help him ferret out and arrest immigrants who may be too fearful not to obey a government decree and will fill out the census to their detriment. Then it becomes a matter of “I know where you live”.

Given the attempts to end legal asylum practices, the separation of children and parents, the appalling conditions in the detention centers and the fact that time constraints in the law are being ignored – given the all-consuming nature of the President’s passion to evict immigrants – to allow only highly-skilled Christian, Europeans (or Norwegians) to come to America, it hardly seems far-fetched to fear that Census information about whether someone is a citizen or not could be abused for either taking away voting rights or in a “witch hunt”. A lawless President does not, by definition regard or follow our nation’s laws, as we have seen so often. Will Trump defy the Supreme Court or will the Supreme Court cave? Will Trump’s chaos strategy inspire enough fear to keep many Americans, who are already paranoid about government, from filling out the Census?

If you need more proof try this article from the NYT:

July 4th 2019 – Celebrate or Mourn?

Tanks on the Mall – From a Google Image Search – Getty Images (News and Guts)

July 4, 2019 – Celebrate or Mourn

Some of us want to celebrate July 4th this year as we do every year because it marks the birth of this nation we love. But we can’t. We think we may have to mourn the demise of the government our forefathers bequeathed us. We’re too sad to celebrate (although we do love fireworks). I feel sadder today than I did during the Vietnam War. The opposition to the war split America much as it is split now. In fact, this divide may date all the way back to the days of that unjustifiable war – which we lost. However the opposition was so energetic then and the war was only one issue, not a complex Gordian Knot of conflicting ideas and behaviors as we are faced with this Independence Day.

Republicans wanted to take us backwards, but they just wanted to take us to a past before contraception, before the end of the peak of the Industrial Age, to a time when Americans went to church, to a time when we could burn all the coal, gas, and oil we pleased,  to a nation where the South won the Civil War (it sounds more sinister as the list grows, doesn’t it).

Well, we are going backwards, but to a time we never had to experience in America, not the way Europe did. We have a lawless authoritarian President and so this July 4th, because of him, we have “camps” at our Southern border and a President who ignores a ruling of the Supreme Court so he can suppress the vote of Democrats, who he sees as enemies. These awful facts (and many more) make this July 4th feel more like any of the years when Europe fell under the thrall or the tanks of a mad, racist dictator – and he almost won.

NPR

Now there is opposition to our own leader who we are reluctant to see in quite such desperate terms, but Americans seem too sad, too dispirited and exhausted to call forth any of that old sixties energy. On this Independence Day we have tanks on the mall in Washington. Is this display of power just for our President’s ego, is it supposed to impress other nations, or is it perhaps seen as a bonus that it might serve to intimidate Americans who oppose this president?

We can celebrate and ignore Trump’s rally because, for now, we still have our democracy/republic, but it is in greater danger every day. So, many of us will prepare to mourn the end of our legacy of freedom until we see the white supremacist, the man who tramples on our Constitution, that person who currently occupies our White House, led away in handcuffs.

 

Faked picture – The Washington Standard

Cheers to the home of the brave and the land of the free, for now.

From a Google Image Search – The Verge