Has “The American Experiment” failed?

SECESSION

american experimentUthaclena is asking:

Do you think that “The American Experiment” has failed? How likely do you think it is that the United States is headed for a breakup?

I am increasingly concerned about this. The single item that most triggered this worry is the 2022 Texas GOP Platform. It runs about 40 pages, with 275 paragraphs of positions. It also includes two resolutions, one against the gun bill brokered in part by their own Republican senator John Cornyn. I thought the bill was weak tea, though better than nothing. But they have discerned that gun control is a violation of their “God-given rights.”

The other resolution indicates that Joe Biden isn’t actually president. If we can’t agree on the manner in which we operate and oversee our elections, the whole process falls apart. I mean, I DESPISED Biden’s predecessor, but I never believed he wasn’t president, no matter I wanted it to be otherwise. And this isn’t some blowhard commentator saying this, it’s a major political party in our second-most-populous state.

Among the other positions taken by the TX GOP:

The repealing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had already been gutted by the Supreme Court back in 2012.
Leaving the U.N.; check out paragraph 273
Banning income tax (repealing the 16th amendment) and ending the direct election of US Senators (repealing the 17th Amendment, return to the appointment of Senators by the state legislatures).
Disallowing same-sex marriage
Banning sex education – search the document for the word sex
SECESSION (paragraph 33)

BTW, Kelly covers some of this same territory.

SCOTUS

I’m of the generation where the Supreme Court EXPANDED the rights of those who were minorities and/or less powerful, less fortunate. This court has decided that the state’s right to control guns within its own borders (10th Amendment) is superseded by the right to have guns (2nd Amendment).

Some commentators suggested that we ought not to worry that other rights might be abrogated, as Clarence Thomas suggested in his concurring opinion striking down Roe. The votes in SCOTUS aren’t there, presently. But several others pointed out, including the SCOTUS guy for ABC News, Terry Moran, an opposing view that makes more sense to me. Thomas’ opinion questioning same-gender marriage and contraception, et al. is actually more consistent with Alito’s flawed argument that there is no Constitutional right to abortion.

I came across this Neil Gaiman tweet of an NPR piece, Throughline’ Traces Evangelicals’ History On The Abortion Issue by By Rund Abdelfatah. You should read the whole thing; it’s not long. It totally surprised me.

“The Southern Baptist Convention… actually passed resolutions in 1971, 1974, and 1976 – after Roe v. Wade – affirming the idea that women should have access to abortion for a variety of reasons and that the government should play a limited role in that matter… The experts we talked to said white evangelicals at that time saw abortion as largely a Catholic issue.” It was desegregation that started the sea change.

What a country!

Look at maternal mortality rates by country (per 100,000 live births). The US stands at 17.3, worse, FAR worse than any industrialized country. Or child poverty, where the US is well above average. Rare among industrialized nations: no paid maternity leave.

The notion that the US is saving lives by overturning Roe is laughable. Quoting the late George Carlin: “No neonatal care, no daycare, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn you’re fine; if you’re preschool you’re f###ed… And then they turn around and say, ‘we’re pro-life.'”

How does each of the states’ anti-abortion laws apply, anyway? As I heard or read from multiple sources, ambiguity is a design, not a flaw. How do interstate companies respond?

Vanity Fair states the decision was “a result that was born not of careful decision-making and analytic rigor, but of power.” Despite the majority of Americans feeling otherwise.

My buddy Greg Burgas thinks the Republicans have overplayed their hand; that’d be nice, but I remain unconvinced.

Thus

 We have Americans who believe the President who was elected in 2020 wasn’t elected. Many others now find the Supreme Court to be an illegitimate entity. And of course, everyone hates the do-nothing… OK, do very little… Congress. It’s not as though these issues will be resolved if we just vote in November.

Alan Singer, who I have met, incidentally, writes about fascism in Russia, the US, and elsewhere. “The United States now has a significant bitter Ethno-nationalist white Christian movement that considers itself aggrieved by Jews, Blacks, Latinos, and immigrants who they claim to want to replace them as the dominant group. It has a political party and cult-like figures who manipulate this group to hold onto power and block any attempts to address major social and economic issues…

“Corporate interests support the cult figures and their efforts to stir up mass support because it is in the interests of these wealthy capitalists to cut taxes and eliminate government regulations… It includes armed groups that threaten military action in the name of 2nd Amendment rights.”

Book bans in K-12 schools have escalated recently. Many “of the books on the list were written by Black or LGBTQ authors.”

So a breakup isn’t inevitable. But I think it’s way more likely now than I did in 2019. Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor of Vanity Fair, who I’ve known for years, has had his journey into “the far-right world of January 6 insurrectionists, QAnon-ers, and Trump cultists—who they are, what they’re saying, what they believe, and what their still-growing movement might portend (including the specter of civil war in America). Such a prospect, says Sharlet, is ‘scarier than it’s ever been.'”

Add inflation, crime, and global warming influenced extreme weather, and who knows? Of course, it would be an ugly, difficult breakup. The 1947 partition of India and Pakistan along religious lines was extremely costly, monetarily and in terms of about two million lives lost. Since we’re the USA, it’d be even worse.

SCOTUS justice Clarence Thomas turns 70

Among the many dreadful aspects of Clarence Thomas becoming a member of the US Supreme Court is that he succeeded Thurgood Marshall. Marshall founded and served as executive director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, arguing several cases before SCOTUS, including the landmark “Brown v. Board of Education, which held that racial segregation in public education is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.”

Thomas, on the other hand, served as chair of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and “halted the usual EEOC approach of filing class-action discrimination lawsuits, instead pursuing acts of individual discrimination,” which are much more difficult to prove. He had little judicial background when George H. W. Bush nominated him to the high court.

The confirmation hearings were reopened after “an FBI interview with lawyer Anita Hill was leaked… Hill, a black attorney, had worked for Thomas… She testified that Thomas had subjected her to comments of a sexual nature, which she felt constituted sexual harassment or at least ‘behavior that is unbefitting an individual who will be a member of the Court.'”

Thomas denied Hill’s allegations, and famously said: “From my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves… and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”

In the #MeToo era, The Boston Globe asked in 2018, Why is Clarence Thomas still on the Supreme Court? New York magazine suggests impeachment.

And the grounds wouldn’t just be over sexual harassment. Back in 2011, we learn that Thomas doesn’t just do unethical favors for wealthy right-wing donors — they also do expensive favors for him. Both he and his late colleague Antonin Scalia probably should have recused themselves in the toxic Citizens United case.

And this from 2013: “Common Cause uncovered that Virginia Thomas earned over $680,000 from the conservative think tank, Heritage Foundation, from 2003 to 2007. Justice Thomas failed to include it on his financial disclosure forms… Once he was caught, Thomas amended 13 years’ worth of disclosure reports to include details of his wife’s income.”

A couple yeas ago, an article from Oyez painted a picture of the justice: “Clarence Thomas is known for his quiet, stoic demeanor during oral arguments and his conservative viewpoint that challenges, if not surpasses, even Scalia’s originalism.

“While many justices use questions to show their opinion on an issue or communicate with the other justices as to their feelings on a case, Thomas remains silent… He has shown his opinions to lean farther right than any other justice on the bench today.”

Birthday is June 23

Charleston

It is difficult to acknowledge that racism still exists in the “post-racial” United States,

Charleston.victims
Once and future blogger New York Erratic asked a timely question:

Was the attack at the South Carolina church terrorism?

OK, I guess I should answer that. But I have to work through the whole incident, because, save for the school shootings in Newtown, CT in December 2012, the story of nine people murdered in their CHURCH for being BLACK has overwhelmed me more than any other story not involving me personally in over a decade.

Actually, I tried greatly not to write about it at all, but here’s the thing: I spent the first 72 hours after hearing about the event alternating between tears and rage. While putting down my thoughts doesn’t solve the problem, it helps ME try to make sense of the senselessness.

I grew up in an AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Zion Church, an offshoot of the AME church that was targeted. There might not have been an AME church at all had it not been for the racism of the Methodist church back in the 1780s – a trait no doubt shared by other churches.

I belonged to a United Methodist (UM) church in the 1980s and 1990s when there was a desire on the part of the shrinking Methodist connection to create a Pan Methodist union. After all, if Sunday morning was the “most segregated time of the week,” ought the church be a reconciling agent? The AME and AMEZ are members of the connection, but the merger that some UM members wanted at the time I don’t think is the cards. The black church has quite often been at the forefront of social change, and its white allies more than occasionally were slow off the mark.

Those folks in Charleston, at the Emanuel AME Church, I knew them. I don’t mean personally. But I understood how they operated. The church community surely celebrated their recent college graduate, Tywanza Sanders, 26. They had pride in their professionals, such as high school coach/teacher Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, and librarian Cynthia Hurd, 54, whose name will appear on a local library branch. But they also respected the hard-working folks such as custodian Ethel Lance, 70. They honored the wisdom of their older members, such as Susie Jackson, 87.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, was a minister at the church, while Daniel Simmons, 74, was a retired pastor. Myra Thompson, 59, received her license to the ministry the VERY NIGHT SHE WAS KILLED. And lead pastor Clementa Pinckney, 41, was not only preaching since he was 13, but was also the youngest African American state legislator in South Carolina’s history, elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1996, at the age of 23, and to the state senate four years later.

Once the story goes from “nine people murdered in a church” – the headline partially blocked in the Charleston paper by a gun ad – to those particular individuals killed, there’s a new wave of grief. Watching the relatives of the family members forgive Dylann Roof was extraordinary, and it brought me to tears yet again.

Thus, when certain people started saying what I can only describe as stupid stuff regarding their deaths, I became infuriated.

Probably most toxic: NRA board member Charles Cotton blamed Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the shooting, for his own death and the deaths of the others, because “as a state senator, Pinckney supported tougher gun regulations and opposed a bill that would have allowed people to carry concealed guns in churches.”

Another thread is that the nine people shot multiple times was NOT about racism, despite a wealth of evidence, from Roof himself to the contrary. Dylann Roof wrote in what appears to be his manifesto, filled with pictures of him with the Confederate battle flag:

“I have no choice. I am not in the position to, alone, go into the ghetto and fight. I chose Charleston because it is the most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

The resistance to acknowledging that this is racism – hey, Roof has at least one black friend! – is, I suspect, because it is difficult to acknowledge that racism still exists in the “post-racial” United States, especially in one so young, 21. Many had comforted themselves to think the old segregationists would eventually die off, and that equality would be achieved. Frankly, I never quite believed that, though I don’t know if that was a function of cynicism or realism.

Speaking of that Confederate flag, I’ve listened, REALLY listened to the argument that the flag symbolizes “Southern heritage” and “tradition,” and I even believe that some of the people spouting this really mean it. But whose heritage? It does not, and will never, represent black Americans. It is a reminder of an oppressive system designed to maintain wealth by owning human beings. And subsequent to the Civil War, it’s been used as a symbol to incite terror, mostly on black people.

Yes, I support removing the Confederate flag from the South Carolina statehouse, from the design of the Mississippi state flag, and from other government functions. Obviously, I am pleased that South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has reversed her position and called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol.

As Ta-Nahisi Coates put it, “Take down the flag. Take it down now. Put it in a museum. Inscribe beneath it the years 1861-2015. Move forward. Abandon this charlatanism. Drive out this cult of death and chains. Save your lovely souls. Move forward. Do it now.”

This is interesting: in June 2015, in the case of Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc., black conservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas provided the decisive vote to allow the state of Texas to refuse to print a specialty license plate bearing the much-loved and hated Confederate battle flag.

Yet, I don’t have confidence that banishing the symbol to museums will rectify the racism that, for so many, it represents. The Wall Street Journal says institutionalized racism no longer exists in Charleston, a dubious claim to say the least, given the death of Walter Scott in April 2015; filmed evidence suggests he was unarmed and shot in the back by a policeman.

My great fear is that all the talking points will be rebutted and nothing will change. President Obama talks about “someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun,” and it becomes “Obama’s trying to take our guns.”

If the massacre in Charleston – or any number of similar events in recent U.S. history- had been committed by a foreign invader, we would practically go to war. “How many billions will we spend fighting the terrorist organization known as institutionalized racism? How many American lives are we willing to risk to protect America?”

So yes, NYE, it was a terrorist act. Per the FBI, the definition of “domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law [CHECK];
Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; [CHECK] and
Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S. [CHECK]

Americans, on American soil, are being radicalized by ISIS to carry out threats against police and other domestic targets. Likewise, Dylann Roof, who had to repeat the ninth grade, had been radicalized by right-wing, white supremacist rhetoric, probably online as well.

It’s also possible that he is crazy or evil or the Manchurian Candidate. Truth is, I don’t much care what they label it. BTW, if you haven’t seen it, watch ‘I got nothin’ for you’: An emotional Jon Stewart puts the jokes aside to discuss racism in America.

One last thing: I tend to agree with Larry Wilmore about the religious aspect of this. “Four black girls were murdered in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. Back then, no one pretended to wonder what the motivation was. If you tried to say it was about religion, even the perpetrators back then would have corrected you.”

If anyone would like to help the families of the shooting victims, the City of Charleston has set up the Mother Emanuel Hope Fund to help the families pay for funerals for their loved ones, counseling services, and other needs as they continue to heal from the tragedy.

You can give to the fund at its website, http://www.motheremanuelhopefund.com.

Or by mailing a donation to:
Mother Emanuel Hope Fund
c/o City of Charleston
P.O. Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402

Curiouser and curiouser: 20 questions

Donald Trump, because he’s a twit. Planned Parenthood, because it’s constantly under attack.

There’s this website Curious as a Cat, and it asks one to three questions each week. Here are some from 2006 and 2007 I deigned to answer.

1. What is the one experience in your life that has caused the most pain?
Physical pain. Tie between a broken rib and oral surgery. Emotional, surely an affair of the heart.

2. If you had to pick one thing, what would you say is the single thing that can destroy a soul?
Telling so many lies that you start thinking it’s the truth.

3. What one thing always speaks deeply to you, to your spirit, no matter your mood or what else is going on in your life?
Music, always. I hear it all the time. Sometimes it’s something I’ve heard recently, but more often it’s a tune suitable for the moment.

4. What is the least appropriate thing to pray for?

Actually, the harm of someone else. But I get most irritated when sports figures seem to think that God was on THEIR side after a victory; I was reading a Guideposts magazine article recently, which said, and I agree, “God doesn’t care.”

5. If you could remove one of the current Supreme Court justices based on their moral positions, whom would you choose?
Tough. Clarence Thomas is SO awful, and ought to be impeached for ethical violations. But Antonin Scalia (pictured) tends to steer Thomas’ voting compass, so I guess I’ll say him; he ought to be checked out, too.

6. Name one event that changed your relationship with your family the most.
I think it was the rapprochement of my two sisters in the past few years, who used to argue a lot. They would (especially one of them) call me up and vent about the other. Now that that’s no longer the case, I get fewer calls.

7. If you were to make a collage to describe yourself to others, what sorts of pictures or symbols would you include?
Clearly, it would have a picture of red sneakers; I used to have a Christmas ornament of red sneakers, but it broke. A racquetball racquet, the picture of me as a duck, the cover of the Beatles Revolver album, the cover of a Howard the Duck comic book, a caricature of me singing several years ago, the front cover of the World Almanac, a picture of my two sisters and me when I was a kid, a picture of my parents, a picture of my wife & daughter & me.

8. Which year was the best of your life? How old were you? Would you want to live it again?
1978, when I moved to Schenectady, got a job I liked, had my first steady girlfriend in over two years. I was 25. Absolutely not.

9. What is your favorite way to travel?
By train. I like the light rail in San Diego a lot as well.

10. What spiritual concept, from any religion, is the hardest for you to understand? Is it something you have studied, or something you have only observed from the ‘outside’?
I think Christianity has a lot of difficult concepts: the virgin birth, the resurrection of the dead. But nothing seems to mystify as much as the notion of the Trinity, God in three persons. I’ve studied it a lot, but couldn’t explain it adequately if I tried. St. Patrick used to say it’s like the three-leaf clover, three flowers in one, but that falls short for me.

11. What is your earliest memory? Why do you think you have remembered that particular event or thing?
Trip to the now-closed Catskill Game Farm when I was three, which I remember because there were pictures. So it may be the pictures I recall, not the trip.

12. What position in any team sport is the hardest to play? Why? Have you played that position?
Catcher in baseball, and yes, I played it in a pickup league.

13. Imagine you could redesign your hands. Whose hands would you remodel yours to resemble?
Or would you keep the hands you’ve got?
I like my hands. I like the length of my fingers, the shape of my fingernails. I do which they didn’t have the vitiligo on the back.

14. What bothers you most in other people, generally?
Impatience. People four cars back beeping because the line isn’t moving, and it isn’t moving because some considerate driver’s actually letting an older pedestrian cross. Or the surge of shoppers at the front door on Black Friday openings, which is why I avoid that day like the Plague.

15. What one thing have you done that pleased your parents the most?
Graduating from college. Took five years. My one sister and I actually graduated on successive weekends, she from SUNY Binghamton and me from SUNY New Paltz, and my parents, who were by then living in Charlotte, NC, came up to both.

16. You have to choose one rich person to be forced to give all their money away to a cause or charity. Whom would you choose, and to which cause or charity will the money go?
Donald Trump, because he’s a twit. Planned Parenthood, because it’s constantly under attack.

17. Is there an emotion that you think has gotten stronger as you’ve aged? If so, why do you think that has happened?
I’m more of a sentimental sap, where songs or TV movies might make me a bit misty-eyed. I think it’s a function of the experiences, and the fragility, of life.

18. What kind of cowardice do you most despise?
Lack of conviction. I may hate Rick Santorum’s politics, but I believe he believes what he says (and that’s scary.) Whereas I think Mitt Romney will say just about anything to appeal to whomever he is speaking at the moment.

19. If the U.S. had to give up one state, which one would you pick? Why?
Texas. It was briefly its own country and still acts like it.

20. When were you most moved by a ceremony?
I’m often moved by ceremony – communion, weddings, a US naturalization. The funeral of a 20-month old, though…

The Supreme Court has firmed my resolve

But the Supreme Court, in a decision written by Clarence Thomas, “tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor.

In case you missed the story:

In 1985, John Thompson was convicted of murder in Louisiana. Having already been convicted in a separate armed robbery case, he opted not to testify on his own behalf in his murder trial. He was sentenced to death and spent 18 years in prison—14 of them isolated on death row—and watched as seven executions were planned for him. Several weeks before an execution scheduled for May 1999, Thompson’s private investigators learned that prosecutors had failed to turn over evidence that would have cleared him at his robbery trial. This evidence included the fact that the main informant against him had received a reward from the victim’s family, that the eyewitness identification done at the time described someone who looked nothing like him, and that a blood sample taken from the crime scene did not match Thompson’s blood type.

A jury awarded Thompson $14 million for this prosecutorial misconduct, this civil rights violation, “one for every year he spent wrongfully incarcerated.” Thompson…successfully sued the prosecutor’s office in New Orleans, arguing former District Attorney Harry Connick showed deliberate indifference by not providing adequate training for assistant district attorneys. Yes, it’s the singer’s father.

But the Supreme Court, in a decision written by Clarence Thomas, “tossed out the verdict, finding that the district attorney can’t be responsible for the single act of a lone prosecutor. The Thomas opinion is an extraordinary piece of workmanship, matched only by Justice Antonin Scalia’s concurring opinion…[They] have produced what can only be described as a master class in human apathy.”

This was not the first recent violation of the Brady ruling in Louisiana; it was at least the fifth. “In 1963, in Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court held that prosecutors must turn over to the defense any evidence that would tend to prove a defendant’s innocence.”

I find this all oddly comforting. I wrote here concerning a recent conversation I had discussing the death penalty with a work colleague. But I didn’t get much into WHY I oppose it. I admit that much of it is the fact that I am generally queasy about the state as an agent of death.

But even if that were not the case, it’s clear that the state gets it wrong sometimes, and this ruling, making prosecutors seemingly exempt from suffering any consequences of their malfeasance, makes me more resolute in my opposition to capital punishment. If people can literally die from such horrific prosecutorial sloppiness that receives no consequence, then it makes virtually all capital trials inherently suspect to my mind.

 

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