In defense of equality

In a review of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality, by Danielle Allen, Gordon S. Wood writes: This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view — historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual — but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us — not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people — can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.

Allen, who is a professor of social science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, came to this extraordinary conclusion when she was teaching for a decade at the University of Chicago. But it was not the young bright-eyed undergraduates whom she taught by day who inspired her. Instead, it was the much older, life-tested adults whom she taught by night who created “the single most transformative experience” of her teaching career.

As she slowly worked her way through the 1,337 words of the Declaration of Independence with her night students, many of whom had no job or were working two jobs or were stuck in dead-end part-time jobs, Allen discovered that the document had meaning for them and that it was accessible to any reader or hearer of its words. By teaching the document to these adult students in the way that she did, she experienced “a personal metamorphosis.” For the first time in her life she came to realize that the Declaration makes a coherent philosophical argument about equality, an argument that could be made comprehensible to ordinary people who had no special training.

By reading and analyzing the words of the Declaration deliberately and with care, her night students

found themselves suddenly as political beings, with a consciousness that had previously eluded them. They built a foundation from which to assess the state of their political world. They gained a vocabulary and rhetorical techniques for arguing about it.

The entire experience with her students “re-gifted to me a text that should have been mine all along. They gave me again the Declaration’s ideals — equality and freedom — and the power of its language.”

Allen is most interested in the idea of equality, and rightly so. Equality has always been the most radical and potent idea in American history. [Continue reading…]

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Why racists target black churches

Sarah Kaplan and Justin Wm. Moyer write: Since at least 1822, when the first recorded burning of a black church occurred in South Carolina, church arson has been the default response of racists frustrated with progress — or even the faint specter of progress — on civil rights. More than even lynching, burning houses of worship remains a go-to weapon in hate groups’ arsenal. Torching churches such as Mount Zion persisted decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, 100 years after Booker T. Washington dined at the White House and 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

What’s the enduring appeal of this very specific act of terror for those who wish to express hate?

The reason black churches remain a target? Because they have always remained a symbol of hope in the darkness of American racism and a source of leadership, political and religious, in the African American community.

Though it may seem the black church has always been a part of American culture — as essential as the Fourth of July or “The Star-Spangled Banner” — it was not always so. When human beings were held in servitude and meetings among slaves were banned, founding a black church was considered an act of rebellion.

Case No. 1: The founding of the church that would became Emanuel AME, the church targeted allegedly by Dylann Roof last month.

“The formation of the African Church in Charleston was a rebellious act of revolutionary proportions,” historian Bernard Powers wrote in “Black Charlestonians: A Social History.” “… The city authorities recognized the full import of the initiatives taken by this group of slaves and free blacks and responded with harassment.”

Like many black churches, Charleston’s African Church saw a tragic end; it was razed by city authorities in the 1820s after a purported slave plot and was not reborn until Reconstruction. Though such churches remained a constant target, they persisted, weaving themselves not just into the fabric of African American culture but into the social fabric of the United States.

During the early years of the black church in the South, when most congregants were enslaved and the rest still subject to the restrictive racism that was then the law of the land, Christianity offered solace and inspiration to African American worshipers. In the introduction to the award-winning digital library collection “The Church in the Southern Black Community,” professor Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explained how black Americans converted to Methodist and Baptist traditions around the turn of the 19th century.

“Clergy within these denominations actively promoted the idea that all Christians were equal in the sight of God, a message that provided hope and sustenance to the slaves,” she wrote.

Among enslaved people, religious gatherings were called “hush harbors” — a phrase evoked by President Obama during his impassioned eulogy for the slain pastor of Emanuel AME last week. These secret meetings were the birthplace of African American spirituals, which always carried a double meaning of religious salvation and freedom from slavery, and of the inextricable link between black spirituality and black liberation. [Continue reading…]

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Gary Younge reflects on 12 years in America

Gary Younge writes: For the past couple of years the summers, like hurricanes, have had names. Not single names like Katrina or Floyd – but full names like Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown. Like hurricanes, their arrival was both predictable and predicted, and yet somehow, when they landed, the effect was still shocking.

We do not yet know the name that will be attached to this particular season. He is still out there, playing Call of Duty, finding a way to feed his family or working to pay off his student loans. He (and it probably will be a he) has no idea that his days are numbered; and we have no idea what the number of those days will be.

The precise alchemy that makes one particular death politically totemic while others go unmourned beyond their families and communities is not quite clear. Video helps, but is not essential. Some footage of cops rolling up like death squads and effectively executing people who posed no real threat has barely pricked the popular imagination. When the authorities fail to heed community outrage, or substantively investigate, let alone discipline, the police, the situation can become explosive. An underlying, ongoing tension between authorities and those being policed has been a factor in some cases. So, we do not know quite why his death will capture the political imagination in a way that others will not.

But we do know, with gruesome certainty, that his number will come up – that one day he will be slain in cold blood by a policeman (once again it probably will be a man) who is supposed to protect him and his community. We know this because it is statistically inevitable and has historical precedent. We know this because we have seen it happen again and again. We know this because this is not just how America works; it is how America was built. Like a hurricane, we know it is coming – we just do not yet know where or when or how much damage it will do.

Summer is riot season. It’s when Watts, Newark and Detroit erupted in violence in the 1960s, sparked by callous policing. It’s when school is out, pool parties are on and domestic life, particularly in urban centres, is turned inside-out: from the living room to the stoop, from the couch to the street. It’s when tempers get short and resentments bubble up like molten asphalt. It’s when, to paraphrase Langston Hughes, deferred dreams explode. [Continue reading…]

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America’s embattled Christian majority?

In America, 72% of the adult population identify themselves as Christian.

That, to my mind, makes this demographically (though of course not constitutionally) a Christian country.

And yet, among white evangelical Protestants, 70% believe that discrimination against Christians has become as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups!

The persecuted majority?

Do Christians get harassed by the police? Get discriminated against by landlords or employers? Get harsher jail sentences? Suffer any of the other forms of discrimination experienced by many minorities in this country?

Or, do some Christians simply resent living under a democratic constitution that separates Church and State?

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How many lives will be saved by flag control?

John Cassidy writes: After living in this country for almost thirty years, I confess I find it hard to write about gun massacres. They are just too familiar, and too depressing. An alienated post-adolescent, almost always white, gets a gun, or guns, and exorcises his demons by killing as many people as he can. Then follows an equally predictable media outpouring, with round-the-clock coverage on cable, lengthy accounts in the serious papers, harrowing profiles of the victims, and why-oh-why editorials aplenty. Flags are flown at half-mast. Politicians, especially those who represent the area in which the massacre occurs, say that something needs to be done about gun control.

Nothing much happens, of course, and, after a while, we move onto the next incident. Back in the nineteen-eighties and -nineties, for some reason, fast-food restaurants and post offices were the sites of some of the deadliest incidents. Then came a series of school massacres, including at Columbine, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed twelve high-school students and a teacher, and at Virginia Tech, where Seung-Hui Cho killed thirty-two people before taking his own life. In Newtown, Connecticut, in December, 2012, a twenty-year-old misfit named Adam Lanza murdered twenty elementary schoolchildren, and six of their teachers, before taking his own life, too. Then there were the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado: twelve people gunned down at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Which leads us to Charleston, and the latest atrocity. In this case, of course, we have the complicating and insidious factor of racism to consider. The suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, didn’t choose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church at random. The evidence suggests that his alienation took the form of embracing white-supremacy claptrap, and that he wanted to kill black people specifically. When Roof reached Emanuel A.M.E., which is one of the oldest and best-known black churches in the country, on Wednesday evening, the members of a prayer group he encountered were so nice to him that he hesitated to go through with his “mission,” he has reportedly told police. Sadly, he managed to overcome his humane impulses.

President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and many others, including my colleagues David Remnick and Jelani Cobb, have pointed out how this tragedy reminds us that, in Obama’s words, “We don’t have to look far to see that racism and bigotry, hate and intolerance, are still all too alive in our world.” Did we really need reminding, though? The United States was partly built on racial cleansing and slavery: racism, and racist violence, have long been a part of its social fabric, as have efforts to root out these evils and eradicate them.

In the wake of last week’s events, attempts to confront racial bigotry need to be renewed and intensified, with particular attention being paid to right-wing groups that propagate hatred on the Internet and elsewhere. But the historic battle against racism and racial subordination shouldn’t distract from the other pressing policy issue at hand. On the death certificates of eighty-seven-year-old Susie Jackson, seventy-year-old Ethel Lance, and the rest of the victims, the cause of death won’t be listed as racism: it will be gunshot wounds. Roof’s despicable views didn’t kill anybody: the weapon he used was a .45 mm Glock handgun, which, according to the police, he bought at a local gun store. [Continue reading…]

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Nomi Prins: Jeb! The money! Dynasty!

Money, they say, makes the world go round. So how’s $10 billion for you? That’s a top-end estimate for the record-breaking spending in this 1% presidential election campaign season. But is “season” even the right word, now that such campaigns are essentially four-year events that seem always to be underway? In a political world stuffed with money, it’s little wonder that the campaign season floats on a sea of donations. In the case of Jeb Bush, he and his advisers have so far had a laser-focus on the electorate they felt mattered most: big donors. They held off the announcement of his candidacy until last week (though he clearly long knew he was running) so that they could blast out of the gates, dollars-wise, leaving the competition in their financial dust, before the exceedingly modest limits to non-super PAC campaign fundraising kicked in.

And give Jeb credit — or rather consider him a credit to his father (the 41st president) and his brother (the 43rd), who had Iraq eternally on their minds. It wasn’t just that Jeb flubbed the Iraq Question when a reporter asked him recently (yes, he would do it all over again; no, he wouldn’t… well, hmmm…), but that Iraq is deeply embedded in the minds of his campaign team, too. His advisers dubbed the pre-announcement campaign they were going to launch to pull in the dollars a “shock-and-awe” operation in the spirit of the invasion of Iraq. Now, having sent in the ground troops, they clearly consider themselves at war. As the New York Times reported recently, the group’s top strategist told donors that his super PAC “hopes to ‘weaponize’ its fund-raising total for the first six months of the year.”

The money being talked about$80-$100 million raised in the first quarter of 2015 and $500 million by June. If reached, these figures would indeed represent shock-and-awe fundraising in the Republican presidential race. As of now, there’s no way of knowing whether they’re fantasy figures or not, but here’s a clue to Jeb’s money-raising powers: according to the Washington Post, his advisers have been asking donors not to give more than a million dollars now; they are, that is, trying to cap donations for the moment. (As the Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote,“The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt.”) And having spent just about every pre-announcement day for months doing fundraisers and scouring the country for money, while preserving the fiction that he might not be interested in the presidency, Jeb, according to the New York Times, bragged to a group of donors that “he believed his political action committee had raised more money in 100 days than any other modern Republican political operation.”

Let’s not forget, of course, that we’re not talking about anyone; we’re talking about a Bush. We’re talking about the possibility of becoming number three (or rather Bush 45) in the Oval Office. We’re talking about what is, by now, a fabled money-shaking, money-making, money-raising machine of a family. We’re talking dynasty and when it comes to money and the Bushes (as with money and that other potential dynasty of our moment), no one knows more on the subject than Nomi Prins, former Wall Street exec and author of All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. In her now ongoing TomDispatch series on the political dynasties of our moment, fundraising, and the Big Banks, think of her latest post as an essential backgrounder on the election you have less and less to do with, in which Wall Street, the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and the rest of the crew do most of the essential voting with their wallets. Tom Engelhardt

All in
The Bush family goes for number three (with the help of its bankers)
By Nomi Prins

[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Powerrecently out in paperback (Nation Books).] 

It’s happening. As expected, dynastic politics is prevailing in campaign 2016. After a tease about as long as Hillary’s, Jeb Bush (aka Jeb!) officially announced his presidential bid last week. Ultimately, the two of them will fight it out for the White House, while the nation’s wealthiest influencers will back their ludicrously expensive gambit.

And here’s a hint: don’t bet on Jeb not to make it through the Republican gauntlet of 12 candidates (so far). After all, the really big money’s behind him. Last December, even though out of public office since 2007, he had captured the support of 73% of the Wall Street Journal’s “richest CEOs.” Though some have as yet sidestepped declarations of fealty, count on one thing: the big guns will fall into line. They know that, given his family connections, Jeb is their best path to the White House and they’re not going to blow that by propping up some Republican lightweight whose father and brother weren’t president, not when Hillary, with all her connections and dynastic power, will be the opponent. That said, in the Bush-Clinton battle to come, no matter who wins, the bankers and billionaires will emerge victorious.

[Read more…]

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How the embracing of violence destroyed the American left in the 1970s

Rick Perlstein writes: The terrorists attacked their target in New York on a sunny Tuesday in autumn — but not the sunny Tuesday we now commemorate. The year was 1981 — a year in which, as Bryan Burrough observes in Days of Rage, his sprawling history of America’s post-’60s radical underground, the country had suffered the greatest number of fatalities from terrorism in that era of radical violence. That figure would not be surpassed again until the year the World Trade Center was bombed.

The 1981 attack is one of dozens of acts of cinematic violence narrated in Days of Rage, and it encapsulates some of the book’s key themes. A leader in the group that staged the attack was a man named Sekou Odinga. Born Nathaniel Burns, he had returned from Algeria, where he’d worked as a deputy for Eldridge Cleaver, who had established the Black Panther Party’s “international section” there (and was accorded official diplomatic recognition from Algiers). “We have a solidarity group in China,” Cleaver told a writer visiting his lair, which had a giant electrified map with colored lights that could be flicked on and off to represent revolutionary battlefronts all over the world. “Its chairman is Chairman Mao.” Cleaver also informally directed a new group from Algeria: the Black Liberation Army, a collection of terrorist cells that crisscrossed the United States, ambushing cops in cold blood. Upon its dissolution, Odinga helped start an even more shadowy and brutal organization, so informal that it went nameless, although its members referred to it as “the Family.”

The Family had an advantage over the Black Liberation Army, what its leaders called a “white edge”: a band of worshipful white fellow travelers who provided cover by renting cars and forging IDs. What the disciples didn’t know was that in the New York action, Mutulu Shakur and his comrades were going to carry out a “revolutionary expropriation” in order to buy cocaine. While two white accomplices, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, waited in a U-Haul truck, Shakur and two other men leaped out of a nearby van, shot a Brink’s guard to death, loaded $1.6 million in cash into the van, and sped off. Police officers intercepted the U-Haul vehicle and were about to release its white occupants — eyewitnesses had said the criminals were black — when Shakur’s crew sprang out of the rented truck and raked Rockland County’s finest with machine-gun fire, killing two. Boudin and Gilbert ended up holding the bag, which had been the plan all along.

If the attack proved anything, it was the extraordinary resilience of “revolutionary” violence in the United States long after it had any conceivable chance of bringing about social change (assuming that such a chance existed in the first place). It also drew attention to the cultish behavior of the Family, their systematic exploitation of revolution-besotted acolytes, the incompetence of law-enforcement agencies in tracking them down, the underground network that assisted them, and the blood — barrels of it.

No less noteworthy is that even in our terror-obsessed era, the scale of this decadelong florescence of revolutionary domestic terrorism has been all but forgotten. [Continue reading…]

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In America, infamy is as easy to acquire as a gun

In post 9/11 America, terrorism has been used to justify wars, drone strikes, torture, secret detention, kidnapping, extrajudicial killing, mass surveillance, and the unfettered expansion of the national security state.

In recent days, numerous commentators, many of whom have surely previously been disturbed by the way the fear of terrorism has been used to manipulate this country’s political system and global outlook, are nevertheless now arguing that in America today the term “terrorist” is not being used broadly enough.

Since the white male Charleston killer, Dylann Roof, is unlikely to be branded a terrorist by public officials or in most of the media, Anthea Butler suggests:

the go-to explanation for his alleged actions will be mental illness. He will be humanized and called sick, a victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources.

Nevertheless, Butler writes:

The Charleston shooting is a result of an ingrained culture of racism and a history of terrorism in America. It should be covered as such. On Friday, Department of Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce acknowledged that the Charleston shooting “was undoubtedly designed to strike fear and terror into this community” (though terrorism is not among the nine murder charges brought against Roof, so far). And now that Roof has admitted to killing those people to start a “race war,” we should be calling him what he is: a terrorist.

Then what?

Ship him off to Guantánamo?

Terrorist is a politically charged and legally dubious term precisely because it gets used to shut down debate and curtail analysis. It is used to justify sidestepping due process and ignoring human rights.

The terrorist is the ghoul of modern America — the term functions more as an instrument of exorcism rather than illumination.

In America and elsewhere in the West, fear of terrorism dovetails with the inclinations to treat skin color as a mark of foreignness, and the tendency to view the foreign as threatening.

Calling Dylann Roof a white American terrorist, isn’t going to diminish the levels of racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia across this country.

Calling Roof a terrorist, merely elevates his infamy, grants him the attention he obviously craves and turns attention away from the flawed legal system that allowed a worm of hatred inside his mind to be transformed into an act of deadly violence.

In America, infamy is no harder to obtain than a gun.

I recognize that there is a common sentiment which justifiably perceives an undercurrent of racism in the way in which people get labelled terrorists — that it’s a term that sticks much more easily to non-whites and especially to Muslims — but I don’t think this indicates we lack a sufficiently expansive definition and application of the term.

On the contrary, we would be better off not using the term at all, rather than trying to make its application more racially inclusive.

Jared Keller argues:

by not calling Roof’s atrocity terrorism, we gloss over the past — and present — of white America’s war of terror against its black citizens.

To my mind, that assertion, much as it contains an element of truth, is also indicative of the cultural stranglehold with which the war-on-terrorism narrative continues to grip America, fourteen years after 9/11.

The only way in which we can sense the gravity of a mass killing is by calling it terrorism, because it goes without saying — supposedly — that nothing is more serious than terrorism.

The real problem here is not the failure to call Roof a terrorist, but rather a failure to acknowledge that America faces many issues that are actually much more serious than terrorism:

Racism, inequality, environmental degradation, an unsustainable economic system, and foundationally a societal breakdown that results from individual interests being placed above collective welfare.

In a mind-your-own-business society, the mass murderers always seemingly come out of nowhere. No one sees them coming, because no one was paying enough attention. A live-and-let-live philosophy easily shifts into a live-and-let-kill reality.

In a word, we live in a country where people do not care for each other enough.

We do not live in a country where the number of terrorists is being undercounted.

After the shooting, President Obama said: “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

But why wasn’t that point reached long ago? The signs of this ugly form of American exceptionalism has been evident for decades.

Most Americans don’t own a gun and yet gun owners are more likely to think of themselves as “a typical American” (72% vs. 62%). Indeed, gun owners are more likely to say they “often feel proud to be American” (64% vs. 51%).

The most vocal among the 24% of Americans who own a gun are using their weapons to intimidate the whole population. Through their arrogance, ignorance and selfishness, they seem to imagine they have a stronger claim on what it means to be an American than everyone else.

After the Charleston shootings, National Rifle Association board member Charles Cotton blamed the deaths on one of the dead, Clementa Pinckney, who as a state senator had voted against a law allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons without permits.

“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead,” Cotton wrote. “Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

Gun owners like Cotton, regard guns as the protectors of freedom, and see gun control laws as threats to their own freedom. In practice, they prize their weapons more highly that the lives of the tens of thousands of Americans who get killed each year by firearms.

As Gary Younge writes:

America does not have a monopoly on racism. But what makes its racism so lethal is the ease with which people can acquire guns. While the new conversation around race will mean the political response to the fact of this attack will be different, the stale conversation around gun control means the legislative response to the nature of this attack will remain the same. Nothing will happen.

After Adam Lanza shot 20 primary school children and six adults in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, in 2012 before turning his gun on himself, nothing happened. Seven children and teens are shot dead every day in America and nothing happens.

So these nine victims will join those who perished before them – a sacrifice to the blood-soaked pedestal erected around the constitution’s second amendment that gun lobbyists say guarantees the right of individuals to bear arms.

At some point, America as a nation needs to challenge its superstitious reverence for a piece of paper, and demonstrate that it is no longer willing to see the lives of so many of its citizen’s needlessly wasted.

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Before Charleston’s church shooting, a long history of attacks

Douglas R. Egerton writes: In 1868, three men assassinated the Rev. Benjamin Randolph in broad daylight as he was boarding a train in Abbeville County, South Carolina. Randolph, a black man, had recently won a seat in the State Senate and was then campaigning for the Republican slate. Having served as an Army chaplain with the 26th Regiment United States Colored Troops, Randolph asked the Freedmen’s Bureau to send him “where he can be most useful to his race.” He settled in South Carolina in time to take part in the 1865 rededication of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. It was that church’s long history of spiritual autonomy and political activism that caught the attention of the white vigilantes who gunned him down and rode away. Randolph’s fate was repeated yesterday with the murder of nine people, including the pastor of the church, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who, like Randolph, also served as a state senator.

Reports of yesterday’s tragedy have invariably noted that an earlier incarnation of the Emanuel Church was home to Denmark Vesey, a lay minister who was one of the church’s founders, but the connections between Vesey, the congregation’s long history of activism and the events of June 17 run far deeper than that.

South Carolina was unique in early America for its black majority. No other Southern colony or state had a white minority until 1855, when Mississippi also earned that particular status. In 1822, Charleston housed 24,780 people, only 10,653 of whom were white. Free people of color were a tiny percentage, at 623, and most of them were the mixed-race offspring of white fathers and black mothers. One of the few free blacks in the city was a former slave turned carpenter, Denmark Vesey.

Vesey’s early life was so unusual that if it were the plot of a novel or film, most would regard the saga as an absurd fiction. (The fact that his story has not attracted modern filmmakers is in itself curious, and perhaps a commentary on Hollywood’s disinclination to wrestle seriously with the American past.) Born around 1767 on what was then the Danish island of St. Thomas, he was purchased in 1781 by Capt. Joseph Vesey, who shipped slaves around the Caribbean. Vesey briefly kept the child as a cabin boy, but upon reaching the French sugar colony of St. Domingue — modern Haiti — he sold the child, whom he had rechristened Telemaque, to French planters. Even by the standards of slave societies, St. Domingue was hell on earth. Telemaque pretended to have epileptic fits, rendering him unfit for the fields. When the captain returned with another cargo of humans, he had to take the child back, at which time the fits stopped. Captain Vesey, who settled in Charleston after the British evacuation in 1783, kept Telemaque — whose name had evolved into Denmark — as a domestic servant and assistant.

Denmark’s life took yet another turn in the fall of 1799, when he won $1,500 in the city lottery. The captain might simply have confiscated the earnings of his human property, but instead he agreed to sell Denmark his freedom for $600. The bargain was completed on New Year’s Eve, and Denmark Vesey woke up in the new century as a free man. But his wife, and therefore his two sons, Robert and Sandy, remained enslaved by a man named James Evans. At length, with his wife in bondage, Vesey married another woman, named Susan, and Vesey was able to buy her freedom. Their children grew up free in their rented house on Bull Street.

A practicing Presbyterian, Vesey was outraged by the pro-slavery brand of Christianity preached from the city’s pulpits. White ministers were advised to lecture their black congregants on “their duties and obligations” and avoid troublesome stories, like the exodus out of Egypt, or Christ’s sermons on human brotherhood. When 4,376 black Methodists quit their white-controlled church in protest over the elders’ decision to construct a hearse house — a garage — over a black cemetery, Vesey was an early convert. As a carpenter, he may even have assisted in constructing the first Emanuel Church, which stood not far from the present building.

The African Church, as black Charlestonians called it, promptly attracted the animosity of the authorities. As a lay minister, Vesey, in his off hours, taught congregants to read and write — a violation of the state’s ban on black literacy. State and city ordinances allowed for blacks to worship only in daylight hours and only with a majority of white congregants. City authorities raided the church in 1818, arresting and whipping 140 “free Negroes and Slaves,” one of them presumably Vesey. In 1819 they again shuttered the church, and in 1820 the City Council warned the Rev. Morris Brown not to allow his church to become “a school for slaves.”

Had the city not declared war on Emanuel, Vesey might not have participated in the plot that got him killed in 1822. Enslaved Carolinians were never content with their lot, of course, but every slave in the state knew the odds of a successful rebellion. To protect the region’s white minority, the city militia was ever active, and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun always stood ready to ship soldiers to his native state. But the assaults on the church, which the Old Testament taught was a capital offense, reminded blacks that authorities would never allow them even the smallest spiritual freedom.

President Jean-Pierre Boyer of Haiti had recently placed advertisements in American newspapers, urging free blacks to bring their tools and skills and start life anew in his black republic. So, meeting in Vesey’s Bull Street home and within the walls of the Emanuel, Vesey and his lieutenants called for domestic slaves to kill their masters in their beds and fight their way to the docks, where they would seize ships and sail south. Originally, the plan was set for July 14, 1822 — Bastille Day — but the plot began to unravel, and Vesey moved the plans forward to the night of June 16. The uprising would begin when the city’s churches tolled midnight, meaning that the actual black exodus out of Charleston would take place on June 17. Either the shooter in Charleston yesterday knew the importance of this date, or the selection of June 17 was a ghastly coincidence. [Continue reading…]

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Factory farm nation

Food & Water Watch recently published its report Factory Farm Nation based on an analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture data from 1997, 2002, 2007 and 2012 for beef cattle, hogs, dairy cattle, broiler meat chickens and egg-laying operations. These are the report’s key findings:

  • The total number of livestock on the largest factory farms rose by 20 percent between 2002 and 2012. The number of livestock units on factory farms increased from 23.7 million in 2002 to 28.5 million in 2012. “Livestock units” is a way to measure different kinds of animals on the same scale based on their weight — one beef cattle is the equivalent of approximately two-thirds of a dairy cow, eight hogs or four hundred chickens.
  • These factory-farmed livestock produced 369 million tons of manure in 2012, about 13 times as much as the sewage produced by the entire U.S. population. This 13.8 billion cubic feet of manure is enough to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium 133 times. Unlike sewage produced in cities, manure on factory farms does not undergo any wastewater treatment.
  • The number of dairy cows on factory farms doubled, and the average-sized dairy factory farm increased by half, between 1997 and 2012. The number of dairy cows on factory farms rose 120.9 percent in 2012, the equivalent of adding 550 factory-farmed dairy cows every day for 15 years. The average size of dairy factory farms grew by half (49.1 percent) from 1,114 cows in 1997 to 1,661 in 2012. In nine states — Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Idaho, Texas, Indiana, Missouri and Nevada — the average size was more than 2,000 cows in 2012.
  • The number of beef cattle on feedlots rose 5 percent from 2002 to 2012. Feedlot size grew even as the 2012 drought reduced total cattle numbers. The number of beef cattle on operations with at least 500 head grew from 11.6 million in 2002 to 12.1 million in 2012 — adding about 157 beef cattle every day for 10 years. Texas, Nebraska and Kansas all had more than 2 million beef cattle on feedlots in 2012. The 2012 drought reduced the total number of beef cattle on feedlots nationwide, but the average feedlot size increased by 12.7 percent over five years, from 3,800 in 2007 to more than 4,300 in 2012.
  • The number of hogs on factory farms increased by more than one-third, and the average farm size swelled nearly 70 percent from 1997 to 2012. The number of hogs on factory farms grew by 37.1 percent — from 46.1 million in 1997 to 63.2 million 2012 — the equivalent of adding 3,100 hogs to factory farms every day for the past 15 years. The average size of a hog factory farm increased 68.4 percent, from 3,600 hogs in 1997 to nearly 6,100 in 2012.
  • The number of broiler chickens on factory farms rose nearly 80 percent from 1997 to 2012, to more than 1 billion. The number of broiler chickens raised on factory farms rose 79.9 percent from 583.3 million in 1997 to 1.05 billion in 2012 — about three birds for every person in the United States. The growth in industrial broiler production added 85,000 chickens to factory farms every day over the past 15 years. The average size of U.S. broiler chicken operations rose by 5.9 percent, from 157,000 in 1997 to 166,000 birds in 2012. The average size in California and Nebraska exceeded 500,000 birds in 2012.
  • The number of egg-laying hens on factory farms increased by nearly one quarter from 1997 to 2012, to 269 million. The number of egg-producing layer hens increased 24.8 percent from 215.7 million in 1997 to 269.3 million in 2012. Nearly half (49.3 percent) of the egg-laying hens in 2012 were in the top-five-egg producing states: Iowa, Ohio, Indiana, California and Texas. The average size of egg operations has grown by 74.2 percent over 15 years, rising from 399,000 in 1997 to more than 695,000 in 2012.
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Video: John Oliver on torture

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Gottesdiener and Garcia: How to dismantle this country

They say that imperial wars come home in all sorts of ways. Think of the Michigan that TomDispatch regular Laura Gottesdiener describes today as one curious example of that dictum. If you remember, in the spring of 2003, George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of that country’s autocratic ruler, Saddam Hussein. The invasion was launched with a “shock-and-awe” air show that was meant to both literally and figuratively “decapitate” the country’s leadership, from Saddam on down. At that time, there was another more anodyne term for the process that was also much in use, even if it has now faded from our vocabularies: “regime change.” And you remember how that all worked out, don’t you? A lot of Iraqi civilians — but no Iraqi leaders — were killed in shock-and-awe fashion that first night of the invasion and, as most Americans recall now that we’re in Iraq War 3.0, it didn’t get much better when the Bush administration’s proconsul in Baghdad, L. Paul Bremer III, disbanded the Iraqi military and Saddam’s Baathist Party (a brilliant formula for launching an instant insurgency), appointed his own chosen rulers in Baghdad, and gave the Americans every sort of special privilege imaginable by curiously autocratic decree in the name of spreading democracy in the Middle East.

It now seems that a version of regime change, Iraqi-style, has come home to roost in parts of Michigan — but with a curious twist. Think of Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, as the L. Paul Bremer of that state. He’s essentially given himself regime-change-style powers, impermeable to a statewide recall vote, and begun dismissing — or, if you will, decapitating — the local governments of cities and school districts, appointing managers in their place. In other words, his homegrown version of regime change involves getting rid of local democracy and putting individual autocrats in power instead. What, you might ask yourself, could possibly go wrong, especially since the governor himself is going national to limn the glories of his version of austerity and autocratic politics?

As it happens, TomDispatch dispatched our ace reporter, Laura Gottesdiener, who has been traveling the underside of American life for this site, to check out what regime change in Michigan really looks like. As with all her reports, this time with photographer Eduardo García, she offers a grim but startling vision of where this country may be headed. Tom Engelhardt

A magical mystery tour of American austerity politics
One state’s attempt to destroy democracy and the environment
By Eduardo García

Something is rotten in the state of Michigan.

One city neglected to inform its residents that its water supply was laced with cancerous chemicals. Another dissolved its public school district and replaced it with a charter school system, only to witness the for-profit management company it hired flee the scene after determining it couldn’t turn a profit. Numerous cities and school districts in the state are now run by single, state-appointed technocrats, as permitted under an emergency financial manager law pushed through by Rick Snyder, Michigan’s austerity-promoting governor. This legislation not only strips residents of their local voting rights, but gives Snyder’s appointee the power to do just about anything, including dissolving the city itself — all (no matter how disastrous) in the name of “fiscal responsibility.”

If you’re thinking, “Who cares?” since what happens in Michigan stays in Michigan, think again. The state’s aggressive balance-the-books style of governance has already spread beyond its borders. In January, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie appointed bankruptcy lawyer and former Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr to be a “legal adviser” to Atlantic City. The Detroit Free Press described the move as “a state takeover similar to Gov. Rick Snyder’s state intervention in the Motor City.”

[Read more…]

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Why do Americans waste so much food?

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Far from facing the truth, the U.S. is telling new lies about Iraq

Gary Younge writes: A couple of weeks ago, the Republican presidential hopeful Jeb Bush was asked in an interview with Fox News whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have invaded Iraq. It’s the kind of predictable question for which most people assumed he would have a coherent answer. They were wrong. Jeb blew it. “I would have [authorised the invasion],” he said. “And so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody. And so would almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

For the next few days, as he was hammered from left and right, he flailed around like a four-star general in search of a plausible exit strategy. In a number of do-overs, he answered the same question with “I don’t know”, “I didn’t understand the question”, and “no” before finally falling back on the perennial Republican default of blaming everything on Barack Obama.

“You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end. Not then, not ever,” writes Tim O’Brien in his novel about Vietnam, The Things They Carried. “In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unravelling the deeper meaning.”

Iraq is one such story. The troops may have left, but the fallout from the conflict lingers in the American polity, clinging to its elites like stale cigarette smoke to an Aran sweater – it stinks, and they just can’t shake it. Not only did it trip Jeb up, it remains the abiding, shameful legacy of his brother George Bush’s administration. And, as Jeb hinted, it dogged Clinton during her 2008 presidential bid, too.

Back then, she claimed if she’d known what George Bush would do with the authority to go to war (ie go to war with it) she would never have given it to him. That didn’t fly. Now she concedes her vote was an unqualified “mistake”.

Extracting a moral from this disaster would demand “unravelling the deeper meaning” of America’s military impulses, the popular consent it enjoys and the craven political assent it is accorded.

It would require an assessment of why so many Americans supported the war for so long, how an ostensibly independent media not only failed to challenge the state but actively capitulated to it, and why nobody has paid the price for any of these mistakes. In short, it would demand a reckoning with American power – how it works, as well as whom it works for, and to what end. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. and Israel have worst inequality in the developed world

CNN reports: The U.S. and Israel have the worst inequality in the developed world, according to a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The OECD found that the gap between rich and poor is at record levels in most of its 34 member countries. But the U.S. and Israel stood out from the pack.

In the U.S., the richest 10% of the population earn 16.5 times the income of the poorest 10%. In Israel, the richest 10% earn 15 times that of the poorest.

That compares with the average ratio of 9.6 times across the OECD. [Continue reading…]

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It’s dismally apparent that some black lives matter more than others

Emma Dabiri writes: Following the killings of unarmed men and boys such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and Walter Scott, the United States is entering what’s being called a new civil rights movement, with activists ensuring that the world now knows about the ongoing onslaught against black life.

Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter have been huge in their reach, spreading far beyond the US and capturing the imaginations of people of all colours and nationalities. In November, as many as 5,000 protesters marched in London to condemn the grand jury decision not to prosecute the police officer who shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Patrisse Cullors, one of the creators of #BlackLivesMatters, said: “We are in a historical moment where we can make great shifts inside and outside US borders to ensure that #BlackLivesMatter around the world.”

But do all black lives really matter? In contrast to the thousands who protested at the US embassy in London, far fewer organised for the 900 Africans who drowned in the Mediterranean last month. So where are the protests to demand that European governments deal with this situation in a humane way? [Continue reading…]

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This man came from Rome to show Americans why the death penalty is wrong

Cosimo Bizzarri writes: Today, 105 countries around the world have abolished the death penalty by law and 43 more have approved public or de facto moratoria against it. Among them are Gabon and Mongolia, Cambodia and Russia, Albania and Kyrgyzstan. In Cuba, death row is currently empty.

Worldwide, only a few dozens countries still stick to the death penalty, opposing the 2007 UN resolution that called for a global moratorium on its use. Among them, the most prolific executioners are China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States, which has killed more than 1,400 people since 1976. Currently, the US holds more than 3,000 people in death row, including recently-sentenced Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

“Some US citizens, especially in the South, grew up with the idea that retributive justice is the only justice,” explains Italian journalist and human right activist Mario Marazziti to Quartz. “This opinion is sometimes based on a fundamentalist reading of the Old Testament.”

Marazziti, 62, is the spokeperson for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Rome-based Catholic movement for peacemaking and human rights, and a co-founder of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. In the 1990s, Marazziti collected 3 million signatures in 157 countries calling for a worldwide moratorium against the death penalty. [Continue reading…]

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The cruel and unusual execution of Clayton Lockett

Jeffrey E. Stern reports: On the morning of his execution, Clayton Lockett hid under the covers.

Before a team of correctional officers came to get him at 5:06 a.m., he fashioned a noose out of his sheets. He pulled the blade out of a safety razor and made half-inch-long cuts on his arms. He swallowed a handful of pills that he’d been hoarding. And on April 29, 2014, when the team of officers knocked on the door of his cell in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, Clayton Lockett — a 38-year-old convicted murderer — pulled a blanket over his head and refused to get up.

The officers left and asked for permission to tase him. While they were gone, Lockett tried to jam the door. They came back, forced their way in, tased him, and dragged him out.

Eleven hours later, at about 5:20 p.m., after a medical examination, X‑rays, eight hours in a holding cell, and a shower, Lockett was brought by a five-member strap-down team into the death chamber. It was a small, clinical-looking room with white walls and a polished floor that reflected the lights overhead. A gurney stood in the center of the room; above it hung a microphone for Lockett’s final words. [Continue reading…]

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