Thursday, April 15, 2010

Virginia's Shame Continues: Salute To Treason

The new Governor of Virginia’s salute to the treasonous Confederacy shines a bright light on the historical litany of Virginia’s shame.

The Civil War in America began in South Carolina, on April 12th, on Sullivan’s Island at Ft. Sumter. That was 1861 – 149 years ago. But that conflict’s root cause - the shame of Virginia - began long before then. In April 1607, the first English Christian colonists arrived on this continent. They established their settlement in Virginia and called it Jamestown. That spring, 403 years ago, marked the beginning of the end for the native population of North America. The Indians, however, were not the only ones destined to suffer the consequences of European Christian expansion. Only a dozen passed before these original white Christian Virginians decided to adopt racial slavery as their preferred mode of manual labor and as the means of accumulating personal fortune. Slaves would become, legally, just another form of real property in Virginia, another measure of a man’s wealth. The first Negro slaves were forcibly brought to Jamestown 391 years ago, in 1619. The importance of Christianity in the history of slavery in America cannot be underestimated.

Virginia’s everlasting shame was codified in 1705, 305 years ago. Here is part of what the 1705 Virginia Slave Code said:

"All servants imported and brought into the Country...who were not Christians in their native Country...shall be accounted and be slaves. All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion...shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master...correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction...the master shall be free of all if such accident never happened."

Modern Americans may need to read that twice. Note the designation that servants “… who were not Christians in their native Country…” become slaves, once in Virginia. Notice too the legal codification of “All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves” as real estate. Virginia law thus made no distinction between a Negro slave and… a barn or a stable or a cabin or a grand manor house – human beings, already personal property, now regarded as real estate.

Take note also that the Virginia Slave Code of 1705 gave a malevolent double legal protection to slave owners. First, it specifically exempted them from all sanctions for any action they took in “correcting” a slave considered to “resist his master.” It even detailed the ultimate such “correction” - the actual killing of such a slave - putting this murder beyond the purview of the law. For the Virginia slave, his master was now his God. Second, the lawmakers of Virginia, not content to safely place slave owners outside any jurisdiction of the law, felt compelled to classify a slave owners corrective action – even to the point of murder – as just an “accident” – literally, “as if (it) never happened.”

Of the original 13 United States none had a larger slave population than Virginia. The first official count of slaves was in 1790. The initial US Census, mandated by the new Constitution, showed Virginia’s slave population had grown from a tiny boatload in 1619 to a total of 292,627 in 171 years. Already, 29 Virginia counties had more slaves than free white people and 17 more counties had nearly as many slaves as they did free, Christian whites. In April 1861 Virginia was still the state with the most slaves. In only 70 years, the total of slaves in Virginia had zoomed to 490,865, an amazing growth rate in light of the then 50-year ban on the importation of new slaves. In fact, the entire South had somehow managed to explode its slave population despite the half-century since the slave trade was legally ended. The US Census of 1790 showed the total number of slaves in the new United States to be 694,000. Seventy-one years later, at the start of The Civil War, according to the 1860 US Census there were almost 4 million Negro slaves in the seditious states that treasonously seceded from the Union.

Throughout the history of Negro slavery in North America – first in the colonies and then in the United States of America – Virginia led the way. They were the first to have slavery. Then, the first to declare human beings to be real property. Then, to have the most slaves at the birth of this republic. And finally, to have the most slaves when the issue of slavery broke the United States of America to pieces. The Civil War remains to this day our most costly war. It dwarfs two World Wars, and numerous other conflicts, with more than 600,000 killed.

Today, Virginia’s new Governor either doesn’t know the history of his state and his nation or he purposely, perhaps seditiously, chooses to deny it. To acknowledge and honor rebellious terrorists he only adds to Virginia’s shame.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama: End The Supreme Court's Conservative Shift

The time is now to nominate a strong, decidedly liberal Justice to the Supreme Court. Unlike Congress and the Chief Executive, the makeup of the Court does not change every two, four or six years. The Supreme Court is a co-equal branch of our government. The Presidential responsibility for making nominations may be the most lasting aspect of any President's time in office. Surely President Obama knows, a failure to grasp that opportunity, to be true to the principles of those who elected him because they believed he shared those principles, is plainly unacceptable. Especially now, after the disciplined, unanimous and fiercely partisan opposition of the Republican Party to practically every legislative and policy position of this administration, any effort to placate Republicans on a new Supreme Court appointee would be a betrayal of the 70 million Americans who voted for Barack Obama to be President.

This President has the opportunity and the responsibility to stop the historical shift of the Supreme Court farther and farther to the right. This movement toward a more conservative membership is not a new development for the Supreme Court.

Here's a question: Who was the last newly appointed Justice who was more liberal than the Justice he or she replaced? Take a minute to think about that.

Byron White is the answer. White was named to replace Charles Evans Whittaker, a Justice who was so far to the right he would outflank even today's most conservative Justices. Whittaker resigned after an emotional breakdown and White was named to take that seat. When was this? Byron White was nominated by President John F. Kennedy and confirmed by the Senate in April 1962. Since then, 48 years ago to the month, each and every new Justice named to the Supreme Court has been more conservative than the one replaced. A half-century of inexorable conservative shift. The time to put an end to this is now.

After White's 1962 confirmation there have been 25 other Supreme Court nominees, resulting in 18 new Justices. Included among them have been 3 new Chief Justices. Each of the Chiefs has been successively more conservative. Warren Burger succeeded Earl Warren and was subsequently succeeded by William Rehnquist. As openly conservative as Chief Justice Rehnquist was, in his short tenure thus far his successor, the current Chief Justice John Roberts, has been dramatically more so. There are no umpires in the Chief's seat.

You might point to Justice White's successor to refute the Court's rightward move. Ruth Bader Ginzburg, a stalwart on this Court's liberal side, succeeded Byron White. But, as with all politics, time and distance influence measurement. By contemporary standards Justice White would be the most liberal judge on today's high court. So, Ginzburg, although a liberal herself, has actually been more conservative than her predecessor. Even the Court's first black Justice, the renowned Thurgood Marshall, did not make his seat on the Court any more liberal than it had been before him. Marshall replaced Justice Tom Clark, the man President Truman called, "My biggest mistake." If you can't imagine a Justice more liberal than Thurgood Marshall, remember that Justice Clark wrote the majority opinions in the Court's landmark decisions to ban Bible reading in public schools and to extend the exclusionary protections of the 4th Amendment to the states. How many votes on today's Supreme Court would either of those opinions manage to get?

Since Kennedy named Byron White to the Court, 7 nominees have failed to gain a seat there. Some nominations were withdrawn after the nominating President saw that confirmation would be impossible. Others were voted down in the Senate. A failed nomination is also nothing new in our history. There have been 29 failed Presidential nominees to the Supreme Court beginning with William Paterson, nominated by George Washington in 1793, and going all the way to Harriet Miers who was unsuccessfully nominated by George W. Bush in 2005. Of these nominees who failed to enter the Court, 15 were either withdrawn or the Senate took no action on them. But 14 nominees have gone all the way to a vote in the Senate where they were rejected. The first was John Rutledge in 1795 and the last to meet such a fate was Robert Bork in 1987. It is important to take note that perhaps the two most popular Presidents ever, George Washington and Ronald Reagan, both had Supreme Court nominees rejected by the Senate.

President Barack Obama has an historic opportunity to halt the nearly 50 year conservative shift in the Supreme Court. He was elected by voters who expect him to do just that. The last two Republican Presidents, Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger each nominated the most openly right-wing Justices available. The Elder's legacy will be forever linked to Clarence Thomas and the Younger is responsible for Justice Alito and the Chief Justice John Roberts. The Presidents Bush took principled stands. We expect nothing less from this President.

If we are to really get a change we can believe in, it must come in the Supreme Court. President Barack Obama needs to stand up and proudly nominate a strong, decidedly liberal nominee to replace Justice Stevens. Any nominee who is less should not be confirmed.

"Media Entertainers" - Small Audience, Little Influence

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... I was in the broadcasting business. I have some experience with ratings for radio and television. I know something about the size of audiences for media personalities and their influence on public life and policy -- or lack of it.

I am amused and puzzled at how much attention is paid these days to entertainers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Keith Olbermann. The crew at MSNBC -- really only Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, since the others on that NBC owned channel can hardly be said to be politically off-center by any reasonable ideological measurement -- actually has an historically small viewing audience and is not seen as a real threat even by its right-wing competitors. Of course, those same right-wing entertainers, mainly found on the FOX NEWS cable channel and various radio stations, have similarly small audiences when measured against the industry as a whole and particularly past broadcasting personalities who put on similar type programs.

Numbers can be boring, but you can look them up. Yes, Olbermann and Maddow have more than a million viewers and the FOX NEWS group grabs about two to four times that many. By far the biggest audience for political entertainment belongs to Rush Limbaugh. Although his ratings change from time to time, it is generally agreed that Rush Limbaugh has between 16 and 20 million listeners. However, instead of boasting about "talent on loan from God" and some of his other frequent and adolescent self-worth estimates, Limbaugh ought to be humbled at his historical irrelevance in his own field. That assessment may surprise and upset some people -- "Dittoheads" they're called. But, giving Rush Limbaugh every one of his 20 million listeners, rather than the smaller numbers often reported, that means he reaches at most 6% of the American people. I think its fair to say that God might want to do a little better, especially considering His past experience on-the-air.

More than 70 years ago, back in the 1930s when the United States had only 122 million people, less than 40% of its current 308 million, a priest named Charles Caughlin (a priest long before that designation carried the negative weight of recent revelations) had twice the number of radio listeners Rush Limbaugh has now. Father Caughlin regularly reached some 40 million Americans. That's hardly a contest: Caughlin 33% of the American people, Rush Limbaugh 6%. Check Caughlin out. You'll find his show business style quite different from Limbaugh, but their content and approach to those in political power is strikingly similar. While Caughlin was sure Franklin Roosevelt meant the end of Western Civilization, as we know it, Rush Limbaugh feels the same way about Barack Obama. If Obama is really worried about the effect of right wing entertainers, especially Limbaugh, he might want to remember that FDR was elected President of the United States four times in a row from 1932 to 1944.

Another long ago favorite, Walter Winchell, also had many more listeners 60 years ago than Rush Limbaugh has in 2010. Plus, in his later years Winchell, with his trademark hat, was a TV hit -- quite the opposite of Limbaugh's failed attempt to make it on television. Walter Winchell was also in more than 2000 newspapers, at a time when newspapers were the major source for Americans to get their news and information. In terms of political leaning and ideology, Rush Limbaugh, Charles Caughlin and Walter Winchell are three peas in a pod. The right wing radio entertainers have been warning us of impending socialism for nearly 80 years. So, what separates these men besides the size of their listening audience? The answer is, the attention paid to them by others especially other media. In their day nobody, particularly other media, except those who tuned-in cared one way or the other about Caughlin or Winchell.

This same question applies to all the modern right wing media entertainers -- Beck, O'Reilly, Hannity, and the lesser-known but equally outlandish performers who populate the radio airwaves -- people like Michael Savage, Laura Ingram and Neal Boortz. These are all great entertainers, excellent "air personalities" and performers. But the question is: Why does anyone pay serious attention to anything they say? For that, I have no quick answer. My guess is we are easily bored and just as easily, albeit temporarily, entertained. That doesn't say much for those who invest themselves in entertaining us with what are often factually incorrect or entirely made-up political positions. And, let's face it -- that doesn't say much for us either.