My Weekly Reader 24 April 2019.

Reading the Articles of Secession passed by Southern legislatures in 1860, it soon becomes evident that Southerners “knew what they fought for and loved what they knew”: Negro slavery.[1]  It has been harder to fathom for what cause the Union fought.  Was it to preserve the United States created by the Founders, regardless of emancipating the slaves?  Was it to destroy slavery, a goal not well-articulated at first, but ever more clear in the minds of Unionists as the war dragged on?  Elizabeth Varon[2] argues that Union and Emancipation were subordinate causes to the larger goal of extirpating a poisonous social system that oppressed all but a few Southerners, slave or free, and threatened to destroy the “last, best hope of earth.”  In this argument, slavery provided the solid foundation for a system that submerged in a sea of racism real conflicts between a small and powerful aristocracy and the vast majority of white Southerners.[3]  Varon argues that the Union armies were fired by a zeal that spilled over from and was enunciated in the language of the religious enthusiasm that marked mid-19th Century America.  They saw themselves as Delivering the country from mortal peril.  Thus, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”—Matthew, 6:13.  “We bring the Jubilee!”—a Biblical reference in Henry Clay Work’s “Marching Through Georgia.”  See: Leviticus, 25:8-13.  In this sense, the victorious Union armies liberated their enemies as much as they did the slaves.

Or perhaps more than they did the slaves.  Freeing blacks did not reconcile Southern whites to the Union.  They rose up in a new rebellion, often taking the form of the Ku Klux Klan.  During the decade after “the recent unpleasantness,” Northern enthusiasm for equal rights for blacks rapidly waned.  Southern whites regained control of the political system, then began to create the legal structures for imposing inferior status on blacks.  Of course, disfranchisement formed the cornerstone of this effort.  However, a host of laws also sought as much segregation of the races as possible.[4]  A group of bi-racial New Orleans civic leaders tried to stop this juggernaut as it gathered speed.  They sued to block a Louisiana law the required the separation of train passengers on the basis of race.  Eventually, in 1896, the case reached the Supreme Court of the United States.  The Court essentially adopted the position that the Constitution (and its amendments) is a living document.  As such, jurists had to interpret its meaning to adapt the Constitution to changing times.  The Court overwhelmingly endorsed the doctrine of “separate, but equal.”  Only Justice John Marshall Harlan, apparently an originalist, insisted that the 14th Amendment meant what it said.

[1] See: http://www.civil-war.net/pages/ordinances_secession.asp

[2] Elizabeth Varon, Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War (2019).

[3] This seems to me to be an extension of the argument made by Edmund Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (1975).

[4] Steve Luxenberg, Separate: The Story of Plessy v. Ferguson and America’s Journey from Slavery to Segregation (2019).

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Couple of Factual Points.

First, so far as I can tell at the moment, the first use of the term “collusion” came on “Meet the Press,” on 18 December 2016.  The person who used the term was John Podesta, a major figure in Hillary Clinton’s shambolic presidential campaign.  Did Podesta not want to use the term “conspiracy”?  Later that week, Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada)—who may have been watching “Meet the Press”—also used the term “collusion.”[1]  From there it entered the lexicon of both Democrats and the media.  Then, apparently, it became the term of choice for the President and his supporters when asserting his innocence.  Then it became a term roundly denounced by Democrats and the media as meaningless and an obfuscation.

Second, firing James Comey as “obstruction of justice.”  On 14 February 2017, Trump reportedly told FBI Director James Comey that “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”  After all, “he’s a good guy.”  On 4 December 2018, a sentencing memorandum from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller said Flynn “deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government.”  As a result, Flynn should receive little or no jail time.  What’s the diff?

Third, the Mueller Report “did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.”  More emphatically, “the Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations.”

Fourth, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”[2]  His actions should be seen in this light.

Watching the “analysis” following Attorney General William Barr’s press conference this morning, I couldn’t help but be reminded of President Obama’s remark that he had to hold on “until the fever breaks.”[3]  Many people seem to have behaved badly in this mess.[4]  What to do?

I’m “concerned” (i.e. worried, frightened, angry) that Republicans will NOT let it go.  We don’t need a “reckoning” or a bloodbath or a counter-vailing “witch hunt.”  All of us—liberals, conservatives, and independents–would be lucky if the perpetrators of the “witch-hunt” calmly reflected on what went wrong.  The New York Times did so admirably after the Jayson Blair[5] and Judith Miller[6] events.

Calm reflection is difficult when the hounds are baying at your heels.  So, hounds, lay off.  Much as “they” need to be on the next thing smoking to Guantanamo, just lay off.  America’s democracy is at stake.

[1] See: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/02/opinion/collusion-meaning-trump-.html

[2] Quotes from https://www.politico.com/story/2019/04/18/transcript-barr-press-conference-1280949

[3] See his equally shrewd statements that “the Cambridge police were stupid”; that ISIS is “just the JV team”; and that “Russia is only a regional power.”

[4] See: “Ace in the Hole” (1951), “Absence of Malice” (1981); “Network” (1986); “Shattered Glass” (2003).  These are among the real origins of the belief in “fake news.”

[5] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayson_Blair

[6] See: http://nymag.com/nymag/features/9226/

Brexit 27 March 2019.

OK, the whole Scottish Independence referendum gag left a lot of the English and Welsh bent out of shape.  Started seeing a lot of Cross of Saint George flags in place of the Union [of 1717] Jack.  I wonder what role all of this nationalist reaction played in the “Leave” vote on Brexit?

Really bad idea, not least because it will not stand for very long.  The vote was old people against young people.  So, soon enough, the old people will auger-in and the young people will want to re-apply to the EUwww!

Doesn’t mean that the old people don’t have a real grievance.  The EU is run by “Eurocrats,” not by democratically-elected politicians.  OK, democracy is flawed and lame.  Still, it’s democracy.

OK, let/push Norn Iron inna independence, boyo.  NI’s population is 1.87 million people.  Southern Iron’s population is 4.78 million people.  (Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the population of Slovenia is 2 million people and change!)  Historically, the two societies have hated each other.  However, “Home Rule” no longer means “Rome Rule” as it did for most of the period of Irish nationalism.  Good thing, too.  I suppose that you can thank the Catholic Church–and all its departures from our normative behavior–for that.  The Easter Accords haven’t worked out perfectly by any means, but there have been twenty years of relative peace and prosperity within the context of the European Union.  Anyway, if the Republic were to make some kind of generous offer to Northern Ireland, then perhaps Northern Ireland would respond.  In a big hurry.  This would end the whole “back-stop” issue.  Perhaps, Eire really doesn’t want 26 + 6 = 32.  Integration would be fast and complicated.  Maybe better to just take a deep breath and let it cook.  While the most democratic society in Europe comes apart at the seams.  Leave everyone with the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the Poles.

Mueller Report.

OK, this is a first-twitch response.  Probably have to eat it–and my hat–soon.

So far, and we’ll have to wait a while to b sure, Robert Mueller has not objected to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of his findings. The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher opines that the one sentence quote from the Mueller report on “conspiracy” is as close as lawyer-speak allows to a complete exoneration. Without an underlying crime, it is difficult to distinguish between simply defending oneself against a loose-cannon investigator and obstruction of justice.

Mueller reports that the Russians tried to “collude,” but the Trump campaign wouldn’t cooperate. This was clear a year ago in the testimony of Papodopoulos.  Also, there’s plenty of evidence that the Russkies tried to help Trump. Just no evidence that a) the Trump campaign cooperated or–so far as I know–b) it made any difference. Jane Mayer will disagree with that latter remark.

I think that we’re still waiting on a Department of Justice Inspector-General’s report on how the Trump investigation began. The same IG evaluated the work of James Comey on the HRC investigation, and then evaluated the behavior of Peter Strozk. So, we’ll know more then.

Bear in mind that the Russians could have identified Christopher Steele as an American government agent during 2015-2016.  At the behest of the Department of Justice, Steele took a pass at Oleg Deripaska.  Deripaska probably grassed to Putin.  I don’t recall seeing Steele’s expenses for things like massive payments to Russians in exchange for state secrets.  (I’m assuming that revealing state secrets when Vladimir Putin tends to kill–in gruesome fashion–anyone who  leaks information required monetary compensation.  But what do I know?  Perhaps there are many Russian government officials so deeply concerned that Donald Trump might become president that they were willing to get Putinium added to their tea.  Or perhaps Steele got his “dossier” under the Old Pals Act.)  Failing those alternative possibilities, anything Steele got from the Russians after that may have been a Russkie plant intended to mess with the 2016 election. Mueller did not investigate that possibility. I wish he had.

Curmudgeon Me 2.

Nancy Pelosi rules out impeachment as “not worth the trouble” unless Robert Mueller’s investigation found evidence of actual high crimes and misdemeanors.[1]  Mueller has not yet filed his report or possible final indictments.  He might report evidence of impeachable offensives by President Donald Trump, although Department of Justice opinion seems to hold that a sitting president cannot be indicted.  Attorney General William Barr might release the report or a summary of it, or he might not.  Not releasing it would make me suspect that Mueller reported impeachable offenses and Barr sought to cover for him.

On the other hand, Attorney General Barr is a long-time mainstream Republican, as are most of the Republican Senators.  What would damage the long-term interests of the Republican Party more, impeaching Trump and replacing him with Mike Pence or covering-up impeachable offenses and then having them revealed as soon as a Democrat becomes Attorney General?

What Speaker Pelosi may have been doing is trying to warn fellow Democrats that she doubts that Mueller will report either “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russkies or “obstruction of justice.”[2]  What Mueller has achieved so far has been to get the National Security Agency to tell him who were the Russian hackers, then to indict them; to convict George Papadopoulos for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians; to convict Paul Manafort for financial crimes committed before he became Trump’s campaign manager and for tampering with witnesses to avoid subsequent prosecution; to indict Rick Gates, Manafort’s assistant in the financial crimes, and Roger Stone, and Michael Cohen; and to get Michael Flynn to co-operate.  So, it looks like we are waiting on what has been learned from Flynn and anything that Cohen said in secret that he did not say in public testimony.  I don’t know what that will be.

 

Brenton Tarrant, the accused New Zealand gun-man, was a fat boy child of divorced parents who lived with his father, didn’t like school, and acted out in non-violent ways.[3]  Apparently, he was bullied in school.  Also, “he was a heavy-metal fan.”[4]  In short, pretty run of the mill kind of victim-kid in any high school.  They rarely turn into mass murderers.  If they did, most of us would already be dead.  Then, he changed.  After escaping high-school, he remade himself physically.  He lost a lot of weight through changes in diet and exercise, and became a personal trainer at a local gym.  Again, nothing extraordinary here.  Men’s Health is full of stories of similar constructive transformations.[5]  No one recalls him as violent or white nationalist.  Then he went off to travel the world.  Yet again, nothing extraordinary.  British and European youth hostels are full of young Australians and New Zealanders come from the far side of the world.  Same is probably true of Asia.

It looks like he was “radicalized” during his travels.  This will take more digging than ordinary journalists can do.  Wait a year for the story in the New Yorker.

[1] Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane, “Ruling Out Impeachment May Set Far-Reaching Precedent,” NYT, 13 March 2019.

[2] JMO, but it would be hard to call defending yourself against James Comey “obstruction of justice” if there is no underlying crime.  I’m sure that I’m wrong, but there it is.

[3] Isabella Kwai, “Shock and Disgust in Christchurch Suspect’s Hometown,” NYT, 17 March 2019.

[4] Aha!

[5] Look at the “Belly Off” series for numerous examples.

Roadblock.

My Old Man had been on the bum during the Depression: rode the rails; picked fruit in the Imperial Valley; logged in Montana; worked on the Grand Coulee dam; assistant manager of a theater in Portland, Oregon (told Alan Ladd where to find a speak-easy); worked on a government survey ship in the Gulf of Alaska.  Jailed briefly once or twice.  Later, he went to Guadalcanal and Bougainville (“Bo-gun-vill” as he—and many others–pronounced it), then was a ski-bum in Sun Valley.  Drove a cab in the red-light district of Anchorage.  Before and after he settled down.  Knocked all the front teeth out of a tug-boat captain who had disrespected my Mom.  (You could tell because there was a gap in the subsequent bite marks on his left bicep.)

Then there was wormy-me.  Skinny with thick glasses, not athletic, shy beyond belief, and wrapped really tight.  Got tired of that “me” and decided to change it.  One part of that change came in my senior year of college.  My room-mate and I decided to drive from Seattle to Mexico for Christmas Break.  Drive down to San Diego, cross at Tijuana, go down the Baja to Cabo San Lucas, take the ferry to Puerta Vallarta.  Basically, I said “Yes” instead of my lifetime default-setting of “No.”

Was a great trip, too, but not necessarily in the ways you would think.  I was also chasing a girl, so we stopped in LA.  To no avail.[1]  Then we bunked-in at somebody’s house in San Diego.  I bought the Sunday morning paper and sat in a park to read it when the earth began to shake.  I was reading a story about how Mexican narcs were killing gringo tourists.  Crossed the border in a scene very different from “Sicario.”  More like “The Getaway.”  Already memorable or repressible experiences.

Anyway, we drove down the Baja.  Pulled off the road to sleep.  Picked a bad spot.  (Come on, it was dark.)  Next morning we got stuck in the sand.  Took hours, and the help of some passing Mexicans, to get unstuck.

Later on, we needed to gas up.  Stopped in this little village in the middle of nowhere.  Put some oil in as well, but the people seemed intent on closing up in a hurry.  Didn’t bother to get the funnel back.  Gave us full cash change, not part of it in Chiclets.  Too busy putting up the shutters.  So we drove on south out of town.  “Strange Lands and Friendly People.”

Come around the first bend out of town and there’s a road-block.  “Oh, that explains it,” I later thought.  Bunch of Mexican soldiers and a big guy in a tan suit with cowboy boots and a straw cowboy hat.  My friend is driving and I’m in the passenger seat.  “Choo got any marijuana?” he asks.  We assured him that we did not.  As the conversation continued, I glanced out the side window.  Mexican soldier standing there pointing an M-16 at my head.  Muzzle is about 6 inches from my face.  Thing is, it didn’t look like the entrance to a tunnel and he didn’t look like an agate-eyed killer.  Which only made me more edgy because accidents can happen.  Also, I’d just read that story about narcs killing gringos.  And here we were in the middle of nowhere.  So, that’s why everyone back at the gas station had been so eager to see our heels.  Huh, live and learn.  I bit down hard.  OK, my eyes probably got real wide as well.

Anyway, after a while, he let us go.  We drove slowly until around the next bend.  Once out of sight, we floored it.

[1] Later, we had a brief passage and I wanted to marry her.  She had more sense than that.  She died of ovarian cancer on the same day that my Mom passed in 2011.

Rising Tide.

In the 1840s, two republics contended for power in the southwestern quadrant of North America.  In 1846, Mexico and the United States went to war over the issue.  The United States inflicted a catastrophic defeat on Mexico.  As prize of war, the United States got California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.  Plus the Republic of Texas was allowed to join the United States.  In 1853, the United States “purchased” the Gadsden Strip from a chastened Mexico.

Until 1924, the United States pursued a policy of “open borders.”[1]  That meant millions of Southern and Eastern Europeans could migrate to the USA.  Big industrial cities in the East and the Midwest filled up.  It also meant that there were no restriction on cross-border movements in the Southwest.  Many Mexicans migrated northward toward the more dynamic economy of the United States.

Then came the Depression, which decreased wages in both Mexico and the United States.[2]  When the United States entered the Second World War, the American economy began a long boom.  Between 1944 and 1966, 5 million “braceros” (Mexican temporary workers) came to the United States.  Not all of them went back.  By 1969 an estimated 540,000 illegal immigrants were working in the United States.  That number increased markedly in the 1970s and 1980s.  The economy of Mexico slumped far more than did that of the neighboring United States.  By 1986, perhaps 3.2 million illegals were living in the United States.  Mostly they were doing work that ordinary American citizens would not do.  Hard, dirty, and for long hours.

In 1979, the Carter Administration (1977-1981) proposed building a border wall.  In contrast, inn1986, the Reagan Administration supported an Immigration Reform and Control Act that granted amnesty to 2.7 million of the illegals.

Under the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations, it was back to “get tough.”  From a dozen miles of fence between San Diego and Tijuana, the amount of fence grew to 560 miles after 9/11.  In 2000, 1.6 million illegals were caught at or near the border.  Then the Obama Administration added 137 miles of fence for a total of 697 miles of fence on the 1,954 mile-long Mexican-American border.  Purportedly, improvements in the Mexican economy then reduced the migration of Mexicans.[3]  In 2017, the Border Control arrested only 310,000 illegals.   So, triumph without a—full–wall!

The recent border “crisis” arises from different sources.  Many Central American countries are collapsing under the weight of gang violence and mis-government.  Whole families are migrating and presenting themselves as “refugees” at US points-of-entry.

However, people crossing the Sonoran desert is a peripheral issue in so far as illegal immigration is concerned.  In 2017 alone, 700,000 people obtained US tourist visas and then over-stayed their visas.  They just disappeared into the American hinterland.[4]  That is better than half of all the illegals.

Why should Central Americans get priority while Asians, Africans, and Muslims wait?  “It’s a serious question.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vInFuLgwR1U

[1] From 1882, the United States did try to limit immigration by Asians to the Pacific Coast.

[2] “A history of the southern border,” The Week, 8 February 2019, p. 11.

[3] The huge slump in the American economy—the “Great Recession”—may also have had something to do with it.

[4] This was basically the story with the 9/11 hijackers.