Saturday, April 30, 2005

Concluding thoughts on Confederate "Heritage" Month 2005

It worked out very nicely to end the main series on Confederate "Heritage" Month with a post inspired by Appomatox.

As anyone in the "Civil War community" knows, the history surrounding that conflict is a rich vein that is never fully mined.  I don't want to make promises about next year.  But it's not at all hard to find material for 30 days of posts on the Lost Cause mythology and the reality-based history that refutes it.

Preparing this year's series piqued my interest in several related topics.  One of them would be to look more closely at Jacksonian democracy as a movement and its relation to slavery.  It's one of many fascinating aspects of the democratic movement in America in the 1820s and after, which came to be known as "Jacksonian," that it always carried within it the larger contradiction in American democracy, the ultimately irreconcilable combination of slavery and democratic government.

What had become clear by 1860 was that one or the other had to die.  And it's no accident that the Southern Democratic Party of the postwar area found its traditions in the prewar Southern Whig Party, not in the Jacksonian movement.  The "Redeemers" wanted nothing to do with Jackson's commitment to democratic nationalism and to defending the interests of working people against the threat presented by concentrated economic power.

I'm also still very struck my how much influence the experience of the prewar "slave patrols" and the chronic fear of "servile insurrection" in the South had on the subsequent politics and racial attitudes of Southern whites.  The book Black Flag Over Dixie (2004) that I used in one of this year's posts includes an essay by Chad Williams called "African American Soldiers, White Southerners, and the Christmas Insurrection Scare of 1865" that ties together the slave patrols and insurrectionary fears of the antebellum days with the postwar attitudes and the fate of Reconstruction better than I've seen anywhere else before.  I meant to use it in a post this year.  But I ran out of days.

I'm also especially intrigued by the religious motivations of John Brown in his fight against slavery.  On the one hand, Brown (like the postwar Newton Knight) seems to have not only professed but practiced the notion that blacks and whites really were equal.  One of the favorite schticks of Confederate nostalgics, one that I recently encountered on in an online discussion group, is to haul out this or that prewar quotation from Abraham Lincoln that expresses some degree of racial prejudice.  The idea is to invite people to obsess about the nuances of Lincoln's racial attitudes without realizing that they're validating the Lost Cause mantra of "the Yankees were hypocritical, they didn't care about the blacks or slavery at all" and yadda, yadda.

Now, the evolution of Lincoln's attitudes toward blacks is an important topic, and I've touched on it in the two posts on Lincoln as Abolitionist.  And thanks to the University of North Carolina, Web users can easily check out the first-hand impressions of African-American abolitionists like Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth (p. 177ff) about Lincoln.  We can also check out the racial attitudes of those on the other side of the abolitionist/pro-slavery divide.

But if we want to find a well-known antebellum white figure that had something sounding like the (publicly-professed) prevailing attitude on race of today, John Brown fits the bill.  Yet the people who love trotting out those selective Lincoln quotes to make him look like a Yankee hypocrite also see John Brown as a demon, not unlike William McDonald did.

Or at least most of them do.  Because it's also disturbing that, as a reviewer of a new book on Old Ossawattomie (Brown) notes (John Brown's visions still stoke the fires by Chuck Leddy San Francisco Chronicle 04/24/05):

While it's easy to say that John Brown was on the right side of history, it remains problematic to wholly embrace his legacy. It's no coincidence that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh cited Brown as an inspiration, or that bombers of abortion clinics do the same.

Now, I wouldn't say "it's no coincidence."  In fact, it's pretty weird.  Because John Brown and his men in the Kansas conflict quite literally chopped up several white guys with machetes that were not nearly so bigoted and vicious as Timmy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.  Brown would have been no friend of guys like that.  And they would have been on the other side of every battle (violent and otherwise) over slavery that John Brown was in.  Still, since the US is now trying to deal with the threat of Muslim terrorists who think they are also on a mission from God, and with Christian Right theocrats trying to make their particular religious vision the basis of judicial interpretation of American law, it is "problematic" to make sense out of John Brown's religious inspiration from the perspective of today.

I'm also reminded again how important it is in understanding the Civil War to look at the prewar politics as well as postwar events.  If the focus is only on the war itself, it's very easy to get caught up in the personalities and battles and the endlessly varying stories of individual soldiers and lose sight of how things reached such a point.  And without understanding something about the Reconstruction period, it's impossible to understand how such bogus pseudohistory as the Lost Cause dogma ever got taken as seriously as it was by so many people.

And if we want to honor the real heritage of the Civil War and those who fought in it, we need to first of all remember that they were real human beings whose lives were cruelly affected by the vicious Peculiar Institution in which Southern planters owned their fellow human beings as private property.  As Kate Campbell sings in "Wrought Iron Fences":

Sarah Mae bore two children
One died at birth
And one at Shiloh
Now they're on a hill
Long forgotten, carved in stone

I have seen hope and glory fade away
I've heard old folks talk ofbetter days
All that's left to guard the remains
Are wrought iron fences

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 30: The Lost Cause vs. reality-based history

Ed Kilgore of the New Donkey blog - and also of the Democratic Leadership Council (DNC), aka, the corporate wing of the Democratic Party - posted some interesting recollections about his own eduction in the Lost Cause back on the anniversary of Robert E. Lee's surrender: Appomatox 04/09/05.  Also, since Jacksonian democrats don't often find nice things to say about the DLC, this is a good chance to make an exception.

And taking a look at what Kilgore has to say makes a good way to wrap up the second annual Old Hickory Weblog Confederate "Heritage" Month.  Because it's one of the best concise statements I've ever seen of why Lost Cause mythology is malignant in its effects.

He recalls his elementary school lessons about the "War Between the States," which nobody called the war at the time.  That was a postwar construction of Lost Cause advocates, meant to emphasize the sectional nature of the conflict.  Americans who were spending their lives in slavery in the South had no stake in their section winning the war.  Southerners like Newton Knight and his supporters in the "Free State of Jones" and the substantial number of pro-Union hillbillies in western Tennessee weren't siding with their section, they were siding with their country.

I remember those elementary school lessons, as well, complete with bogus discussions of why "War Between the States" was a better name for it than "Civil War."  Kilgore writes:

Far beyond elementary school, in the broader southern white culture I grew up in, there was an odd exultancy about Appomattox that had nothing to do with vicarious relief at the end of that brutal war. No, we drank in the details of Lee's peerless dress and manner at the moment of surrender, and were encouraged to think of the shabby Grant's generosity in victory as little more than the acknowledgement of a superior being--and a superior, if Lost, Cause. A Cause, moreover, that was about everything other than the ownership of human being -- about states' rights, about agrarian resistance to capitalism, about cultured Cavaliers defending civilization against philistine Puritans, about Honor, aboutDuty.

And that was the essence of Confederate Nostalgia in those days: a cult of romantic defeat, denial, self-pity and pride. I never quite shared it, even as a child, but never quite understood its pathological depths until its mirror images in Serbian and (some parts of) Arab culture became part of world events in more recent years. And remarkably, I get the sense Confederate Nostalgia is not only surviving, but perhaps even reviving among people too young to know its nature and political usages. (my emphasis)

Or too lacking in patriotism and good sense to care.  This is an important observation.  You know how James Dobson and his fellow Christian Right theocrats whine absurdly about how Christians are persecuted in the United States, and that those wicked (they-try-not-to-call-them-Jewish-in-public) judges are trying to stamp out Christianity in America?  Lost Cause hokum and its propagation for generations in the South (and not only in the South) contribute a great deal to this kind of I'm-a-victim whining, a whining in this case which sounds absurd to anyone not stoned on Oxycontin or high on the fundamentalist apocalyptic notion about how all the Jews are about to be slaughtered (except for the few who stop being Jews by converting) so that the way can be cleared for Jesus to come again.

Kilgore is right to identify it with the kind of ethnic resentments that use grand historical grievances to justify hatred and killing in the here-and-now.  Just as Serbian nationalist politicians married historical events in Serbian history like the Battle of Blackbirds Field (aka, Battle of Kosovo) in 1389 to very here-and-now amibitions for power and territory, so the Lost Cause mythology has always been married to political ideologies:  the "Redeemer" movement, segregation and Jim Crow, white supremacy and racism.  As Kilgore says:

Its inevitable defeat plunged the South and all of its people into a century of grinding poverty, isolation, and oligarchical government. Its heritage has been used again and again to justify racism and every other sort of reactionary policy.

I look at Appomattox and see the end of a disastrous folly that killed over 600,000 Americans, maimed far more, and made life miserable for those of myancestors whosurvived the Planters' Revolt. No romance. No victory-in-defeat. Just carnage and destruction in a bad cause made no better by the good men whose lives and futures it claimed.
(my emphasis)

Kilgore's statement just quoted does contain a leftover bit of Lost Cause ideology, the notion that the defeat of the South was "inevitable."  As discussed in an earlier post in this series, that too was a phony claim designed, among other things, to promote the image of Robert E. Lee as a demigod.

But his next sentence is right on the mark.  The falsified, pseudohistorical "heritage" of Lost Cause dogma "has been used again and again to justify racism and every other sort of reactionary policy."  Kilgore may be DLC.  But he's in full accord with Jacksonian Democrats in that regard.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Valerie Plame case and today's Republican Party

Murray Waas of the whatever already! blog notes that I was mistaken in my earlier post in assuming that his blog was mostly devoted to the Valerie Plame case.  He does blog about other things.

He was kind enough not to mention that I misspelled his name twice, an oversight which I've now corrected in the earlier post.

I'll give myself a partial excuse on the former glitch by saying that I was so happy to find a blog that was really keeping up with the Plame case and providing links and information for those of us who worry that it will be sucked down the memory hole, that I assumed it was kind of like all-Plame-all-the-time, which it's not.

That said, Waas is continuing to blog on the Plame case.  He is providing some original reporting on it at his blog, including upcoming material from an interview with Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment attorney arguing for the reporters being pressed to name their sources in the Plame case.   

And he links to this interview with her husband Joe Wilson at Daily Kos:  Ambassador Wilson: White House Operatives Are Traitors 04/25/05.  Yes, Wilson said "traitors."

The interview starts with a discussion of Waas' American Prospect article to which I linked earlier.  Wilson says, "I have said all along that the compromise of Valerie's covert identity was part of a conspiracy hatched in the White House to smear and discredit me."  He also criticizes the work of Washington Post reporter Susan Schmidt, aka, "Steno Sue," famous for cheerfully the Bush White House spin to her readers.

Wilson, who was famous for his courage in confronting Saddam Hussein's threats when he was Ambassador to Iraq on the eve of the Gulf War, seems to be very passionate about this matter:

How could the president keep people of such low ethical standards in positions of responsibility? It's an outrage. Don't forget that the smear campaign began after the administration acknowledged to the Washington Post that "the sixteen words did not rise to the level of inclusion in the State of the Union address." The smears continued for well over a year and included in its most virulent forms, including the calling of Valerie and me liars and traitors. ...

There are people in the administration who are right now sitting back and watching while their actions may lead to the jailing of two journalists. That they not step forward is an indication of their cowardice. But we have known for a long time that, like a lot of schoolyard bullies, they are cowards at heart. And in this case, traitors to their country.

When asked to speculate about the leakers, Wilson responds:

I have read in the Post that two leakers called six reporters. But the leakers were probably not the decision-makers. They just carried out the decisions of their superiors.

The intriguing question is: Who gave the name to the White House in the first place? Who in the intelligence community offered up my wife's name and why?

This was not an agency leak. There might have been an individual within the agency who leaked, but not the CIA as an institution. They asked me to do a job, I did it, they were satisfied.

And Wilson sees the Plame leak as a case of Republican campaign ethics - or, with the Bush administration, lack of same - taken to damaging extremes:

Sure. Start with the attacks on John McCain in South Carolina during the 2000 election. Look at what they did to Richard Clarke, with Bill Frist accusing him of perjury on the floor of the Senate. Swift Boat Veterans savaged John Kerry with their lies.

It has become, regrettably, a common tactic of the right. One need look no further than Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, Hannity and Ann Coulter. Heck, James Dobson even tried to smear Spongebob. (my emphasis)

The Republicans are riding the tiger with the loony-tunes secular rightwingers and the Christian Right theocrats.  The two look nominally different.  But the Limbaughs and the Coulters are willing to echo the accusation of the Christian Right.  And the Christian right lends fanaticism and an apocalyptic viewpoint to the nonreligious right.  This phemenon goes back to the "Southern strategy" of Richard Nixon to court the so-called white backlash vote.  The alliance, which Molly Ivins calls an "unholy combination of theocracy and plutocracy," is still benefitting the Republican Party.  But the risks involved are getting bigger and bigger.

The Plame case represents one of the perils of the kind of creeping authoritarism that is more and more defining the Republican Party.  Not only are they authoritarian in their approach to government.  They are authoritarian towards they own party members, and tend to view disagreement over even a factual issue as disloyalty.  And as the party becomes increasingly self-referential, guys like Karl Rove are more and more tempted to lash out in risky and possibly illegal ways at those they see as a threat.  An obsession with secrecy is another.

The Plame case is one example among a gathering number of an hostility to critics that goes way beyond the normal bounds of politicals.  There was a real meanness in the exposure of Plame, a meanness that we're seeing from today's Republican Party in many other ways, as well.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2005: April 29 "Liberal" neo-Confederatism?

Here's a weird sketch of the idea of secession that basically defends neo-Confederate arguments, but puts them in a supposedly liberal context, in today's terms: Long Live Secession! by Christopher Ketcham Salon 01/23/05.  Probably a better link:

I'm not sure if Salon got snookered on this one and didn't realize the writer was making a neo-Confederate analysis in disguise, or whether the writer really is this confused.  In any case, it's the neo-Confederate case, whatever other labels you put on it.

What you will not hear is that secessionism is as old as the states themselves, that it was not always a reviled idea, that it cleaves to the heart of a celebrated but perhaps outmoded American principle -- the rebellion against centralized power -- and that it is a founding American act enshrined in our most revolutionary document. "[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive," counsels the Declaration of Independence, "it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government."

Although secessionism today is politically impossible, if tenuously legal, the secession specter has arisen again, waking to the Declaration's call to self-governance. In 2005, it is the blue-state Northerners, bitter from the defeat of Nov. 2, who are, ironically, wearing its robes.

If this article was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it disguised itself very well.  I think the writer was at least intending to be serious.

How can anyone write such drivel about secession?  No, the right of secession is not in the Declaration of Independence.  The natural right of revolution is in the Declaration of Independence.  And, no, secession is not "tenuously legal," it's not the least tiny bit legal.  The Civil War settled that one definitively.

If someone wants to comma-dance on this one, a state could secede if a Constitutional Amendment was approved to allow it.  Secession is not an option at all under the US Constitution without an Amendment.  The article is largely based on an interview with an apparently eccentric former Mississippian, Thomas Naylor, who made a bundle of money with a software company and now lives in Vermont and talks like a secessionist with liberal-to-leftwing ideas.

If the dark comparison holds -- the United States, according to Naylor, enjoys a similar far-flung geography, a one-party political system disguised in multiparty rhetoric, a corporate socialism that defies free markets, and a congressional incumbency as stable as the Politburo -- then Vermont is the antidote. By this, Naylor means the Vermont of small towns, small farms, small businesses, local governance, grass-roots democracy, green activism: Vermont as the gentle Switzerland of North America (but armed to the teeth, as Vermonters enjoy hunting in the woods).

The push for the Second Vermont Republic is no anomaly. Today there are secession movements afoot in Hawaii and Alaska, both complaining, with some validity, that fraud and coercion forced their entrance into the union. In New York, activist and author Jason Flores-Williams, lately best known for his disruptions at the Republican National Convention, plans a New York City secession movement "as much Andy Warhol as it is Tom Paine," he says, predicting his "secession parties" will become "the most happening cultural events in NYC, events that echo up and down the hierarchy."

Good grief!  I can enjoy a little eccentric political goofing-around now and then.  But these people are seriously "unclear on the concept."

The following is an argument that would give any good Jacksonian fits:

The Constitution is silent on the matter of secession -- neither denying nor authorizing -- and up until the Civil War, the silence was the object of tortured interpretation. It was axiomatic among many antebellum constitutional scholars, both North and South, that if the states were once sovereign entities that had acceded to joining the union, then they implicitly retained the right to rescind the treaty and withdraw. In essence, it was argued, the Constitution's silence implied consent to the right of secession.

Uh, no.  This is John C. Calhoun secessionist philosophy straight-up.  And it was certainly not "axiomatic" for legal scholars North and South.  And he apparently swallows Calhoun's phony definition of sovereignty whole.  For most people, sovereignty was and is understood as meaning that a government had a legitimate right to act as a government in its field of authority.  The federal govenment is sovereign in the United States, the state governments are sovereign within the states.  Calhoun elevated sovereignty to be synonomous with final sovereignty and built his secessionist arguments on that.  This Calhounian doctrine was eventually incorporated into Confederate secessionist doctrine.

Andy Jackson had a different concept.

Secession was taught at West Point to young cadets like Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant. Petulant states in the formative years of the republic habitually threatened it, with Yankees, and abolitionists especially, showing an early fondness for cutting loose from a union that increasingly catered to Southern slaveholder interests. In 1804, lawmakers in New England and New York plotted a failed secession movement, and eight years later, during the War of 1812, the threat to New England's trade with English Canada was enough to prompt a second and wider Northeastern cry for departure, resulting in the official complaint of the Hartford Convention of 1815.

This is such a collection of half-baked arguments that I'll just mention the last one.  The Hartfort Convention was pretty much the nail in the coffin of the Federalist Party.  Because of the extreme pro-British and secessionist talk in connection with it, the Party was viewed as accomodating treason.  It was destroyed as a national party in no small part because the country rejected the notions of the Hartford Convention.

Ketcham writes:

We might take a moment to consider the maverick history -- some call it the real history, others denounce it as a blasphemic, spiteful revision -- that places Lincoln as the first of the imperial presidents, an opportunist who in service of a vast expansion of federal power twisted the law in the name of what neoconservatives (who happen to be Lincoln lovers all) call moral clarity.

Actually, the best thing to call it is Lost Cause hokum.

In the next paragraph, he quotes from Thomas DiLorenzo, a favorite author of the neo-Confederate crowd at sites like  And most of the last half of the article is a rehash of stock Confederate-apologist standards.

As I mentioned at the beginning, I don't know whether Ketchum is trying to make a liberal argument using neo-Confederate dogma, or if he's trying to pass off neo-Confederate nonsense as "liberal," or if he's just really confused.

But the secessionist philosophy wasn't "liberal" in the days of Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun.  And its not "liberal" or even "left" in the era of John Kerry and George W. Bush.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

[12/28/05: See this post by Edward Sebesta for more on Naylor: Vermont Secession, Thomas Naylor ... Anti-Neo-Confederate blog 12/28/05.]

Presidential press conference

[Sigh...]  My expectations of Bush's press conferences are not very high.  And he rarely makes the bar.

The questions from the White House branch of our Potemkin press corps also rarely rise above the mediocre, which is truly, truly pathetic.  There were a few moments where a reporter pressed the President a bit on a particular point.  Valerie Plame? Torture in the gulag? Lying about Social Security's "bankruptcy"?  John Bolton pushing intelligence analysts to falsify intelligence so they could take the blame for his phony claims?  No, it would be bad form for our "press corps" to ask about those.

President threatens to default on US debt

A couple of things stood out to me. Text of Bush's Press Conference-Part I and Text of Bush's Press Conference-Part II Washington Post/AP 04/28/05.  Maybe it's because I'm a finance geek in my day job.  But this just boggles my mind that the President of the United States would say something like this:

Now, it's very important for our fellow citizens to understand there is not a bank account here in Washington, D.C., where we take your payroll taxes and hold it for you and then give it back to you when you retire.

Our system is called pay as you go. You pay into the system through your payroll taxes and the government spends it. It spends the money on the current retirees and with the money left over, it funds other government programs.

And all that's left behind is file cabinets full of IOUs.

If investors in China, Japan and Europe actually take seriously what the President said Thursday night, if they even take it as a serious possibility, then we will all wake up Friday morning to the dollar crashing.  Crashing big-time.

Because those IOUs in the "file cabinets" are securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.  Here's how it works.  It's not that hard in the general concept.  Government accounting is based on "fund accounting," which hospitals also use.  That mean that instead of having one set of financial statements for the entire government entity, the money is divided up into various funds, each of which is accounted for as a separate entity.  Each of them has their own balance sheet and income statement, and each fund is audited as a separate entity.

The Social Security Trust Fund funds the Social Security program.  The general-purpose funds of the federal government are called the General Fund.

The Social Security Trust Fund is currently taking in more than it's spending on current obligations.  It invests its excess funds in what is considered by every investor in the world except for supporters of Bush's Social Security phase-out plan, as about the most solid investment on the planet: US government securites from the General Fund.  Backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.

Governments borrow money by selling bonds.  When an individual or other accounting entity buys one of those bonds, they are loaning that money to the government.  The government is obligated to pay it back with interest according to the particular terms of the bond.  So when a family buys a Savings Bond as part of a program of college savings for their kids, they are loaning money to the US government General Fund.  When the Social Security Trust Fund buys a bond in its investments of surplus funds, it is loaning money to the US government General Fund.  Both are backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.

It's also the same guarantee that investors have when they invest in securities backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.  China, Japan and Europe hold huge amounts of US government paper and are buying more all the time.  If they were to even slow down their purcases in a major way, much less start dumping the ones they have on a massive scale, the dollar would collapse.  And if the President's implication that the US securities owned by the Social Security Fund are worthless is taken seriously by those investors, they will start investing in something else instead and try to unload their holdings of US bonds.

So, if you hear first thing Friday morning that the dollar is in a nose-dive, it means that major investors in the world took the President seriously.  If the dollar doesn't collapse, it means those investors believe his claims in that regard are completely bogus, as fake as the Iraqi WMDs.

In fact, in Bush's opening statement he said:

I know some Americans have reservations about investing in the stock market, so I propose that one investment option consist entirely of treasury bonds, which are backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

Only in Oxycontin-Land does the thing work both ways.  If the securities held by the Social Security Trust Fund are worthless IOUs, then so are all the rest of the securities issued by the US Treasury.  If this is a safe investment, then the Social Security assets consisting of securites on the General Fund are, as well.

The Republicans have gone completely "postmodern" on this thing, it seems, acting as though reality is what you want it to be.  But money does have some rules that inevitably catch up with people who ignore them.  And this is straightforward.  If the Social Security's US government security holdings are worthless, so are all the rest of them.

He really assumes he conning the rubes.  And with our press corps, he largely is, in effect.  Fortunately, Franklin Roosevelt designed the Social Security system so that people already feel a strong sense of ownership in it.  So he "Bamboozlepalooza tour," as Josh Marshall aptly dubbed it, to convince people to phase out Social Security has made people more and more hostile to his phase-out idea, i.e., private accounts.

Oh, and if you believe Bush's claim that I quoted above, I've got more bad news for you.  Your bank where your checking and savings acocunts are held also does not have a bank account where they take your deposits and hold it for you and then give it back to you when you write a check or make a withdrawal.   That's right.  Your bank does not keep that money setting in a safe for you.  No, they take it and lend it out to other people, just like the Social Security Fund is currently doing.  And the money they don't lend out?  Well, they keep a little of it, a small percentage, in cash for projected customer demands.  The rest they invest.  Including in things like those government securities backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.  Just like the Social Security Fund does.

This must come as a shock to good loyal Bush Republicans to know that their bank accounts aren't setting there in the vault at their local branch waiting for them.

Bush-league math

And lets take this:

And to compound the problem, there are fewer people paying into the system. In 1950, there were 16 workers for every beneficiary; today there are 3.3 workers for every beneficiary. Soon there will be two workers for every beneficiary.

Now, let me see.  In 1950 the ratio of workers to  beneficiaries was 16:1.  Today it's 3:1.  (Assuming for the moment that these numbers aren't bogus in some way, too.  After all, I'm using numbers from Mr. WMDs-in-Iraq here.)  And Social Security survived and adapted and is paying out benefits and has enough surplus at the moment to loan megabucks to the General Fund.

"Soon" the ration will be 2:1.  Andthis should worry us?  Gosh, it seems to me that it was far more drastic to go from 16:1 to 3:1, than it will be to go from 3:1 to 2:1.  So even if we think of it in this misleading measure, it doesn't sound so scary to anyone who didn't spend most of their time growing up lying by the pool at the country club.

The bipartisan Social Security plan of 1983 which was one of Ronald Reagan's genuinely substantial achievements as President was designed to create the current surplus.  So that when the ratio gets to 2:1 the fund will have enough money to pay its obligations.  It makes it possible to make that transition to 2:1, just like it previously made the much larger transition from 16:1 to 3:1.  That's why there's a surplus right now.  That means the system is not pay-as-you-go as Bush claimed; it's just for the moment the fund is accumulating a surplus which will be needed for future benefits.  That's why this ratio argument is phony-baloney marketing fluff.

Rewriting basic financial concepts

And only with a "press corps" as enfeebled as our sad American group could the President get away with constantly talking smack like this:

Because this money is saved and invested, younger workers would have the opportunity to receive a higher rate of return on their money than the current Social Security system can provide. (my emphasis)

Social Security is not an investment.  It is insurance.  Social insurance to make sure that the elderly have a minimum income so that they won't be destitute even if their luck is otherwise bad with their pensions and retirement arrangements.  More and more companies either have no pensions or have converted their pensions from "defined-benefit" pensions to the "cash-balance" type, which are not nearly so beneficial to the employee.  So this income insurance for the elderly is becoming more important than ever.  And 20 years from now when many more people are stuck with those inferior "cash-balance" pensions, it will be even more important.

Bonehead Personal Finance 101: evaluate your insurance needs distinctly from investment plans.  Insurance companies offer a lot of products that are hybrids of the two.  They aren't necessarily bad, if they meet your particular needs.  The following advice from a basic personal finance book, Personal Finance for Busy People (1998), applies also to the confusing package that the President is trying to pawn off on the public like he did with the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs:

Life insurance comes with various bells, whistles, and wrappers. New frills are constantly being developed, so that the range of types of policies and the murky  jargon accompanying them can create great bewilderment for those of us who do not work in the industry. There is, I believe, much validity to the charge that this is by design of the insurance marketing people. Confused customers are likely to buy more profitable products. On the other hand, there is some basis for the industry's argument: Everyone's financial needs are different, so the more wrappers there are for life insurance, the more likely it is that an insurance agent can offer a product that fits the client's need. The offset to that is that insurance companies bundle up far more than insurance in many of their wrappers, often at high profits. (my emphasis)

And like the WMDs in Iraq, Bush's Social Security plan is not much more than "bells, whistles, and wrappers" designed to get the public to buy a package that produces a lot more public debt, produces a reduction in benefits and creates financial pressure that the Republicans can then use as their excuse for the next phase of the complete phase-out of Social Security.

How do we separate insurance needs from investment needs in Bush's phase-out plan?  It's pretty basic: Bush is proposing to create private investment accounts by reducing the Social Security insurance benefits.  They might keep the "Social Security" label on the resulting hybrid.  But what Bush is pushing is a reduction in the Social Security program that exists today.

That's why it's goofy to talk about comparative "return on investment" between today's program and what Bush is proposing.  The Social Security program today is not investment.  It's insurance.

Oh, and that surplus?  It's the same principle as private insurance companies use.  They hold investments in amounts calculated to cover the likely payouts they will have in the future.  They are private and the Social Security Trust Fund is public.  But the laws of money work the same way for both.

And one other thing about private insurance companies:  The rest they invest.  Including in things like those government securities backed by the full faith and credit of the US government.  Just like the Social Security Fund does.

So that more bad news, loyal Republicans!  That insurance policy you've been paying on for years is also depending on those worthless IOUs in filing cabinets.  Bummer.

Bush's version of the Iraq war

Q: Your top military officer, General Richard Myers, says the Iraqi insurgency is as strong now as it was a year ago. Why is that the case? And why haven't you been more successful in limiting the violence?

BUSH: I think he went on to say we're winning, if I recall.

But, nevertheless, there are still some in Iraq who aren't happy with democracy. They want to go back to the old days of tyranny and darkness and torture chambers and mass graves.

[Bruce - I should mention here that in Oxycontinspeak, the rooms in the American-run facilities when they torture people are not "torture chambers."  Because if the Americans are doing it, it's not "torture."  See how nicely postmodern Republicanism works?]

I believe  we're making really good progress in Iraq, because the Iraqi people are beginning to see the benefits of a free society. They saw a government form today.

The Iraqi military is being trained by our military, and they're performing much better than the past.

The more secure Iraq becomes, as a result of the hard work of Iraqi security forces, the more confidence the people will have in the process and the more isolated the terrorists will become.

And so on and so forth.  I'm really glad to hear that things are going so well in Iraq.  We should be drawing down the troop levels by tens of thousands over the next few months, right?  Everything is going well.  We've reached a tipping point.  We're breaking the back of the resistance.  Democracy is on the march.

And how could anyone doubt what he says when it's all delivered with that inspiring presidential smirk?

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 28: Reconstruction and ... Iraq?

Here's a bad historical analogy using Reconstruction that also shows how far-reaching the "Redeemer" view of Reconstruction has spread: Post-Civil War era a template for Iraq: Reconstruction of South was called a 'fool's errand' by Cynthia Bass San Francisco Chronicle 12/19/04.  She tries to use Reconstruction as a useful analogy for Iraq.  Actually, all she really does is describe some similarities at such a high level of abstraction that they don't really mean anything.

In the post-Ken Burns era, the Civil War often is seen as a sort of hockey game with guns -- beautiful, apolitical white guys all valiantly met, for unclear reasons, on the field of honor. Too often this knightly mist obscures the fact that, after Appomattox, both sides didn't exactly just bow to each other and agree to forgive and forget.

Quite the contrary. The North viewed the South as conquered territory badly in need of reconstruction (i.e., nation building) before it was worthy of readmittance into the United States. And many in the South viewed the North as an occupying power deserving unwavering resistance. Conquerors bent on instituting change; conquered wanting the occupiers out ... sound familiar? A further parallel between the South and Iraq involves racial and ethnic issues. The North wished former black slaves to have equal rights and a role in government. White Southerners, the beneficiaries of the previous system, did not.

She's right about the prevalent image of the war as being a conflict between two bunches of honorable white guys.  But to make her analogy work, she also describes Reconstruction as being a conflict between white people.  The white folks in the North wanted the freedmen to have equal rights, and the white Southerners did not.  The black Southern citizens themselves sound like passive chess pieces in all this, which they definitely were not.

Now, Bass' article isn't as bad as others it would be easy to find about Reconstruction.  But it's a good illustration of the kind of fuzzy thinking about the whole period that makes understanding it more difficult.

Did the North view the South as conquered territory?  Actually the dispute was over whether the former Confederate states should have been considered as not having really seceded from the Union because they had no Constitutional right to do so, or whether they were states that had been in rebellion who must now be readmitted to the Union.  President Andrew Johnson preferred the former view which he used to justify a mild Reconstruction which would put the planters and former Confederate leaders back in power.  In the grand scheme of things it's a nit, and I'm willing to be corrected by anyone who happens to know the fine points of this, but I'm pretty sure the former Confederate states were never legally treated as territories.

Also, her description of the South as bent on massive resistance ignores a couple of important matters.  One is that in 1865, immediately after the war's end, the defeated Confederate leaders and the Southern whites generally would very likely have accepted much more drastic terms for Reconstruction than what Johnson proposed.  Johnson's disastrous two-year Reconstruction plan emboldened the planters and their allies to be much more aggressive in opposing the more stringent Reconstruction arrangements that followed.

Also, to talk about Southern whites as a bloc in this situation can be very misleading.  In fact, a significant number of whites supported the (Republican) Reconstruction governments like that of Adelbert Ames in Mississippi, along with a big majority of the newly enfranchised black citizens.  Despite all the pretty tales about how devoted the slaves were to their masters, when they actually had a vote to formally express their political wishes, for some reason that did not vote for the candidates and plans of the former master class.  John Lynch, an African-American elected as one of Mississippi's Congressmen during Reconstruction, wrote in 1913 book The Facts of Reconstruction about the racial divide in politics in Mississippi as the 1875 conflict began to unfold (see previous post in this series).  He didn't say how these numbers were derived, but they are likely to be reasonably close:

The Republican [pro-Reconstruction] vote consisted of about ninety-five per cent of the colored men, and of about twenty-five per cent of the white men.  The other seventy-five per cent of the whites formerly constituted a part of the flower of the Confederate Army.  They were not only tried and experienced soldiers, but they were fully armed and equipped for the work before them.  Some of the colored Republic ans had been Union soldiers, but they were neither organized nor armed.  In such a contest [where the Democrats were using violence and intimidation on a large scale], therefore, they and their white allies were entirely at the mercy of their political adversaries.

Cynthia Bass is closer to the truth on one guy than any phony neo-Confederate idolizing of him as some honorable Southern gentleman:

In their violent, anti-democratic nature, Southern night riders and today's radical Muslim terrorists in Iraq have much in common. Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general who founded the Klan, and Abu Musab al- Zarqawi are virtual twins in their fanaticism, hatred of the United States and love of brutality.

Now, this really isn't a good analogy either.  Because you can't understand the Muslim terrorists without recognizing that they're Muslim.  Their religion plays a major part in who they see the world.  Nathan Bedford Forrest was certainly not a Muslim.  Only if you elevate it to the level of something like Fanaticism can you easily compare those two.  Although for an Adelbert Ames fan like me, Abu Musab Forrest does have kind of a nice ring to it.  Or maybe Nathan Bedford al-Zarqawi.

I'm don't know enough about Forrest to know if he qualified as a fanatic.  In the context of the white South at his time, he may well have been acting in tune with the prevailing sentiment of white society, which is the only real reference point he would have used.  The Klan was certainly a racist and anti-democracy terrorist group.  But in the context, it didn't necessarily need a fanatic to start it.

I actually do think there might be some useful lessons from the Reconstruction experience for Iraq or future "nation-building" undertakings.  But figuring out what they are first requires a reasonably accurate understanding of what actually went on during Reconstruction.  Not superficial, bad historical analogies.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Chuckie Watch 99: Chuckie's still speakin' for the troops

Wow, I'm almost up to Chuckie Watch #100!  I hope nobody's expecting me to do something extra-special for #100, like an interview with Chuckie, or something.  Hey, now that would be a kick.  But I would ask less polite questions that Sean Hannity or "Fox liberal" Alan Colmes.

Anyway, ole Chuckie is really comin' out swingin' on behalf of the troops in Iraq.  He's demanding better armor, more equipment and ... no, wait.  I guess that's the troops themselves.  (Bloodied Marines Sound Off About Want of Armor and Men by Michael Moss New York Times 04/25/05)

What's ole Chuckie sayin' on behalf of the troops in his report on Day 4 (04/25/05) of his foreign trip at taxpayers' expense?

Well, Chuckie's been hearin' about the economy in Kuwait, which seems to sound to him a lot like some kind of oil socialism.  And Chuckie don't quite seem to know what to make of it.  Chuckie says:

In other words, say for instance you want to go to Kuwait and open a clothing store. You would have to go to a Kuwaiti citizen, he would go to the government and get a license for you to operate and you would pay him a monthly fee. Multiply that a few times and you come out with a good living. Nice racket.

Chuckie says that foreigners do all the work in Kuwait.  Well, heck far, Chuckie!  Ain't they all foreigners in Kuwait?  Chuckie must still be thankin' this is an American territory or something.

Chuckie was also annoyed they wouldn't let him take pichers on the street.

And one thing especially impressed Chuckie:

Some of the houses in Kuwait look like hotels and our driver explained the reason to me. Men in Kuwait can have as many wives as they want, but he has to treat each one of them exactly the same. In other words they all have to have the same amount of living space, the same amount of furniture, the same allowance and so forth.

If you give one of them a diamond necklaceyou  have to give them all one, and if you don’t they can go to court and get a judgment against you.

They say the Emir has 68 wives, now that takes a lot of real estate.

Chuckie seem pretty perplexed by that.  I wonder how he's processing that.  Something to do with evil Muslims and Allah being a moon god, I'm guessing.  I'm sure you all remember this classic from Chuckie: Not The Same 09/02/03:

I recently got a letter from a lady berating me for some of the things that I had to say about radical Islam. She said that the God we worship is the same God the Muslims worship.

This is simply not true. The Judeo-Christian God, Jehovah and the Islamic Allah are not, repeat, not one and the same. Allah is, in fact, the moon god who was married to the sun goddess and the stars were his daughters. There are temples to the moon god throughout the Middle East[.] ...

The moon god was supposed to be the head of all gods but when Mohammed came along he declared him the only god but he is never described in the Koran.

Uh, Chuckie, I hear tell that "Allah" is the Arabic word for "God".  And that even Arab Christians pray to "Allah" because, well, you know, it's the Arab word for "God".  Because I've heard a lot of rumors that most Arab Christians speak Arabic.  Hopefully Chuckie asked one of his interpreters about that when he was travelling around Iraq interviewing Iraqis about what they think of the American presence.  I'm sure he'll be fillin' us in on all that.

And one thing I don't understand, Chuckie.  You know, I'm pretty sure that that there Koran thang is considered the most holy book of Islam  And if this here moon god ain't even mentioned in it - and, Chuckie, I'm sure you researched the Koran thoroughly yourself before writing that - then how come the Muslim Allah is a moon god and the Christian God (or "Allah" as the Arab Christians call him) ain't?  And does this mean that the Jewish God is just an ancient bagel god or something?  Man, Chuckie really gits deep sometimes.

Anyway, back to Day 4.  So Chuckie played a base in Kuwait and stood around signing autographs and hugging troops.  (Hey,that's what he says!) 

Right before we went on stage a chaplain came into the dressing room and had a prayer with us and all the military personnel traveling with us were issued firearms.

It’s been serious business up until now but from here on out all the rules change. Tomorrow morning we head for Iraq.

Maybe then he'll git around to talkin' about the armor and equipment shortages.  Stay tuned for each exciting installment of Chuckie speakin' for the troops.  So far, he seems to have only talked to people who already thought just like him anyway.  But I'm sure he had some in-depth conversations with the troops about their experiences in between all that autograph-signing and hugging and stuff.

Confederate "Heritage" Month April 27: A contemporary conservative Mississippi view of race

This post is about an article that doesn't look on its face like it has anything to do directly with the Civil War or Reconstruction.  But once you start looking at it, Lost Cause ideology and pseudohistory are just dripping from it.  It also shows how the habit of rewriting history became almost second-nature for white Southerners.  The fable of the Lost Cause, with all the fuzzy headed-thinking and routine dishonesty that went with it, was one big way that the lesson was conveyed from one generation to the next.  The article is, The past is not dead by Wyatt Emmerich Daily Times Leader (West Point MS) 12/09/04.  Emmerich is the publisher of the Jackson Northside Sun weekly.

The title, by the way, refers to a famous passage from one of William Faulkner's books, which Emmerich even has the gall to quote in the last paragraph.  That especially called my attention  to this article, because unfortunately it's stock "Southern moderate" talk, and he tried to dress it up with a quotation from Faulkner.  I just don't like to see people misuse Scripture that way. That's even worse than misusing Old Hickory's memory!  (And, yes, I consider Faulkner's works part of the canon.)

The article is about a meeting of something called the LQC Lamar Society.  I metioned in an earlier post in this series that I regard LQC Lamar, a "Redeemer" post-Reconstruction political leader and Senator from Mississippi, as one of the least admirable characters in American history.  He pretended in the North to be a conciliator between the (white people of) North and South.  In Mississippi, he was a hardline racist, like all the "Redeemers" were.

I don't know if it was a reflection of how much the Lost Causenotions permeated the consciousness even of people who really should have known better, or whether it was a calculated Machiavellian notion.  But the LQC Lamar Society was apparently set up during the segregation era and the civil rights movement so that Southerers who favored having the American form of democracy in the Deep South states could get their message across to whites.

So Emmerich attended an LQC Lamar Society event recalling the civil rights movement and the end of segregation.  The keynote speaker was former Governor William Winter, the best governor Mississippi ever had after Adelbert Ames, the Reconstruction-era Republicans governors who was run out of the state by the "Redeemers."  Winter is currently the grand old man of the Mississippi Democratic Party.  And he's a real Democrat, of the kind that Andy Jackson would be proud to be in the same room with.  The fact that LQC Lamar would have met the same kind of reception from the General as, say, Dick Cheney or Rummy is just one of those weird relics of Mississippi history.

So there's a tangled Lost Cause theme in even trying to explain the name of that group.  Here's Emmerich's description of that wretched Lamar:

Lamar drafted Mississippi's secession ordinance in 1860. He later served as a lieutenant colonel for the Confederate States of America. After the war, he accepted defeat and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history, calling on the South and North to bury their grievances and build a new country. He later served as a United States Senator, a U. S. Supreme Court Justice and U. S. Secretary for the Interior.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Plame case

The Valerie Plame case hasn't faded away yet.  It's not looking good at the moment for an actual prosecution.

But this was a serious incident.  Also, it really ticked off a lot of people in the CIA.  So there are lots of people who seriously want to see the mystery of who ratted her out solved.  It's not over yet.

There is now a blog which seems to be mostly devoted to Valerie Plame news, called Whatever Already!  Not to be confused with John Scalzi's Whatever blog.

The Whatever Already! blogger also has a recent article out on the Plame affair: Murray Waas, "Plame Game Redux", The American Prospect Online, Apr 22, 2005.

Waas explains that several officials have admitted to prosecutors telling reporters that Plame was a CIA analyst, but deny that they knew or said that she was an undercover agent.  And also Bob Novak, the GOP schill how first publicly outed her in his column.

In his original story disclosing Plame's identity, Novak identified Plame as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." But after it became known that the Justice Department had initiated a criminal investigation, Novak changed his story, claiming that his sources had told him only that Plame was an analyst. He declared on CNN on September 29, 2003: "According to a confidential source at the CIA, Mrs. Wilson's involvement was an analyst, not a spy, not a covert operative, and not in charge of undercover operatives. So what is the fuss about?"

If Novak had misquoted his source, the investigators asked, why had he only changed his story more than two months after his column first appeared and after word of the criminal investigation leaked? It is, of course, traditional practice for journalists to correct mistakes in their stories as soon as they learn of them. Novak apparently did not do that in this instance, leading investigators to regard his mea culpa as not credible.

Later, when administration officials, such as the one who spoke to Pincus, admitted to investigators that they had told reporters that Wilson had been sent to Niger only as a result of his wife's purported nepotism -- but did not know she had ever been a clandestine operative -- the investigators came to believe that Novak and his sources might be misleading them.

Denying they knew she was a undercover operative apparently would get them off the hook legally, as Waas explains.  Even though Novak's switch of his story has so little credibility we would think it was bad scriptwriting if it showed up on Law and Order, it may work for them.  Because, as Waas reports:

A former federal prosecutor who worked with [Patrick] Fitzgerald [the special prosecutor on the case] in the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago says that an "earnest and thorough prosecutor" would want to "exhaust possible avenues of inquiry" before ending an investigation like the one that Fitzgerald is conducting. The former prosecutor, now in private practice, said he wanted to discuss the case because Fitzgerald has been unfairly portrayed as a zealot in the press because of his demands that reporters testify in the case. ...

"You have two people who had a conversation," says the attorney, "Novak and an administration official. If both of them are going to lie -- Novak and the source -- there is no way to penetrate that. None. It doesn't matter how meticulous you are a prosecutor, or that you have unlimited resources at your disposal."

John Dean also weighs in again on the case: An Update on the Investigation Into the Leak Of CIA Agent Plame's Identity: Will The Supreme Court Take The Miller And Cooper Cases? 04/22/05.  Dean explains why he thinks the Supreme Court will refuse to hear the case of the two reporters threatened with fines and jail if they don't reveal their sources, meaning it will let lower court rulings stand which side with the prosecutor against the reporters.  Dean concludes:

By now, both reporters, highly sophisticated and as knowledgeable as they are, have long known that they will have to pay their fines, and serve their time, except in the unlikely event that the Supreme Court takes their case and overrules (or clarifies) Branzburg.

But there is one other event that could - and should - save them: It is time for anyone who leaked information to either of these reporters to step forward and reveal themselves.

This is particularly true if the person (or persons) who leaked information to Miller and Cooper was also the person (or persons) who leaked Valerie Plame's CIA identity to Novak and others. For that source to watch Miller and Cooper go to jail for their principles, would be craven indeed: A case of the innocent suffering to benefit the guilty, for as I have explained in a prior column, the leak certainly appears to be a federal felony.

Only Miller and Cooper's source(s), by stepping forward, can prevent a potential miscarriage of justice. He or she must do so forthwith.

Are the Valerie Plame leakers willing to be "craven"?  In this administration, it seems that the chances are very high.

Southern food and etc.

One of my favorite magazines is the Oxford-American.  It's self-consciously Southern - in a good way - and has stuck to being a serious literary magazine.  Because serious literary magazines can rarely achieve a large enough circulation to cover their costs, usually they can only survive if they have a deep-pockets sponsor or a university connection.

The Oxford-American has gone under twice and is now on its third lease on life, now "published in alliance with the University of Central Arkansas."

The current issue is a Southern Food Issue.  It's not a cookbook kind of thing, but essays about food.  Unfortunately, the haven't started putting article on their Web site.

This issue includes a piece by frequent contributor Hal Crowther of North Carolina on "The Other Appetite."  (Yes, you dirty-minded folks, it's about sex.)

He's reviewing several books about sex.  He was pretty inspired in writing this one.  For example, in explaining why many authors have a terrible time writing good sex scenes, he writes:

Pedestrian prose often suffers from veneral diseases of its own device.

What a great sentence! He also knows how to spell "nekkid" correctly.

Crowther also writes for The Progressive Populist, as in this article that apparently comes from  sometime in mid-2004 before the presidential election, With Trembling Fingers:

The irreducible truth is that the invasion of Iraq was the worst blunder, the most staggering miscarriage of judgment, the most fateful, egregious, deceitful abuse of power in the history of American foreign policy. If you don't believe it yet, just keep watching. Apologists strain to dismiss parallels with Vietnam, but the similarities are stunning. In every action our soldiers kill innocent civilians, and in every other action apparent innocents kill our soldiers -- and there's never any way to sort them out. And now these acts of subhuman sadism, these little My Lais.

Since the defining moment of the Bush presidency, the preposterous flight-suit, Fox News-produced photo-op on the USS Abraham Lincoln in front of the banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the shaming truth is that everything has gone wrong. Just as it was bound to go wrong, as many of us predicted it would go wrong -- if anything, more hopelessly wrong than any of us would have dared to prophesy. Iraq is an epic trainwreck, and there's not a single American citizen who's going to walk away unscathed.

This part also has some memorable prose:

"A lot of so-called conservatives today don't know what the word means," Barry Goldwater said in 1994, when the current cult of right-wing radicals and "neocons" had begun to define and assert themselves. Goldwater was my first political hero, before I was old enough to read his flaws. But his was the conservatism of the wolf -- the lone wolf -- and this is the conservatism of sheep.

All it takes to make a Bush conservative is a few slogans from talk radio and pickup truck bumpers, a sneer at "liberals" and maybe a name-dropping nod to Edmund Burke or John Locke, whom most of them have never read. Sheep and sheep only could be herded by a ludicrous but not harmless cretin like Rush Limbaugh, who has just compared the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners to "a college fraternity prank" (and who once called Chelsea Clinton "the family dog" -- you don't have to worry about shame when you have no brain).

Rush is "ludicrous but not harmless."  That's an accruate description.

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 26: Old times there are not forgotten

And it's a long and slow surrender
Retreating from the past
It's important to remember
To fly the flag half-mast
And look away

     - Kate Campbell and Walt Aldridge, "Look Away" (1995)

Self-described "paleo-conservative" Pat Buchanan thinks the South will win the next time around:  Buchanan: "[W]e [the South] wouldn't lose" the Civil War "the next time out" Media Matters 11/29/04.

As Media Matters reports:

Buchanan's comment came during a discussion about whether New Jersey iron worker Robert O'Neal, who ran over and killed a teenager who allegedly robbed O'Neal at gunpoint, threatened to rape his daughters, and shot at him, should be considered "a hero or a criminal."

Now what does it have to do with Southern culture, or honoring Southern "heritage," or with states' rights to secede from the Union, or, heck, anything in particular to do with the South at all that some Yankee vigilante killed somebody in a Northern state?

It was actually one of Buchanan's guests that brought it up:

DE LACY DAVIS (a founder of Black Cops Against Police Brutality): Thank God that the South lost the [Civil] war.

BUCHANAN: Well, we wouldn't lose it the next time out, De Lacy. Bush got all the red [Republican] states and he won.

Now, I realize that Pat Buchanan showing for the 10,247th time that he's a jerk isn't exactly news.  But it's an illustration of the way that the Southern cause, the one of the Lost Cause lineage, is heavily identified with conservatism today.  And it's a sad commentary on how far the Republican Party has fallen from the days when it was led by Abraham Lincoln's and William Sewards.

It's also pretty clear in this instance, although I'm not familiar with the particular O'Neal case, that Buchanan clearly identified the Southern cause, both that of the Lost Cause of old and the Republican Cause of today, with vigilante violence.  For its fans, the Lost Cause is not about mint juleps on the veranda and literate discussion about Walter Scott novels.

This may seem like a bit of a tangent from Pat Buchanan.  But Sir Walter Scott's historical novels like Ivanhoe were among the favorite reading in the antebellum South.  Bertram Wyatt-Brown in The Shaping of Southern Culture: Honor, Grace, and War, 1760s-1880s (2001) writes about how Southerners' concept of honor and the family-clan-based relationships and cultural practices from which it grew contributed to the sharpness of the conflict between North and South before the war.  And many Southerners found that honor system agreeably reflected in Scott's tales:

The Cavalier-Roundhead dichotomy of the Stuart era was not as powerful a symbol of sectional difference in the South, however, as a literary reliance on an earlier time. The basic theme was the same: a nostalgic harkening to a prior epoch in Western history, properly enveloped in romance and adventure. The ordinary white Southern farmer did not read Walter Scott's Ivanhoe and other historical novels, but the educated class avidly absorbed his work. In the same way that a film today gains a place in popular culture, language, and assumptions, antebellum steamboats, barges, stagecoaches, plantation houses, crossroads hamlets, slaves, and even children were named for characters and places to be found in one Scott tale or another. Southerners worshiped at the Abbotsford shrine because Scott's tales so well confirmed the ideals and virtues about manhood and valor that they already entertained. For instance, Congressman Lawrence Keitt, friend of Preston Brooks, Sumner's assailant, adopted the language of Scott to described his warlike feelings. Keitt was ready, he remarked, to meet the Yankee enemy "with helmet on, with visor down, and lance couched." The war soon to come was for him to be fought on "the field" of honor. [What manhood and valor mean in that particular instance were discussed in an earlier post in this series, John Brown, abolition and bad historical analogies.]

Thus the Scotian references and other romantic allusions did reflect in a fundamental way the moral distance between the two sections. Sometimes it was put in language stripped of historical romanticism but still carried the same message. Republican Justin S. Morrill of Vermont declared in the Senate chamber in December 1860 that we "must accept the truth that there is an 'irrepressible conflict' ” between our systems of civilization." As a result, he could see "no compromise short of an entire surrender of our convictions of right and wrong, and I do not propose to make that surrender."

He writes that many of Scott's Southern readers "found in him the spokesman for the world that they were losing even as they gloried in its alleged strengths of intense family life, intimacy with wild nature, and simple if bloody principles and passions."

In Life on the Mississippi (1883), in which he shares anecdotes of the postwar South in his distinctive style, Mark Twain wrote about Scott's influence on the South with somewhat less reverence than Wyatt-Brown:

Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantment by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms;  with decayed and swinish forms of religion, decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still. Not so forcefully as half a generation ago perhaps, but still forcefully. There, the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously covfused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization and so you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive works, mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the Southerner - or Southron, according to Sir Walter's starchier way of phrasing it - would  be  wholly  modern,  in  place  of modern and mediaeval mixed, , and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than it is. It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter.

Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we never should have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild proposition. The Southerner of the American revolution owned slaves; so did the Southerner of the Civil War: but the former resembles the latter as an Englishman resembles a Frenchman. The change of character can be traced rather more easily to Sir Walter's influence than to that of any other thing or person.

I need to read Mark Twain more often.  Bob Somerby of the Daily Howler is the only writer I know who comes close to making me laugh at some many of his lines as Twain.

I guess we could twist Twain's spoofing of Southern aristocratic pretentiousness into an alternative theory of the Civil War.  Slavey didn't cause it, Sir Walter Scott did!  But that's one variation that never worked its way into the Lost Cause mythology.

And Mark Twain might suspect that there's still a heavy dose of the "Sir Walter disease" in Pat Buchanan's desire to prettify vigilantism.  (You didn't think I was going to tie the two threads of this post together at all, did you?)

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month posts 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)

Afghan War: Say what? In which language?

You can practically hear Juan Cole sigh as he wrote this:

Earth to the Kansas City Star: They don't speak Arabic in Afghanistan.

He was referring to this story (which has an annoying registration requirement): Army training Arabic speakers for tours in Iraq, Afghanistan Kansas City Star 04/25/05.  The story is actually from the Knight-Ridder service; I'm guessing Cole was griping more about the headline-writer, although the article itself by Chuck Crumbo also seems in one place to imply that Arabic is spoken in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

About half of Afghanistan speaks the Dari dialect of Persian/Farsi.  Pashto is the next-most-spoken language. The less-spoken languages include Baluchi, Western Dardic and the Turkic languages Kyrgyz, Turkmen and Uzbek.  Pashto and Dari are the country's official languages.

I suppose we should be glad to see newspapers running articles about Afghanistan at all.  Because the American press generally is doing a poor job of reporting on that situation.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Confederate "Heritage" Month - April 25: Reconstruction

I had intended to focus mostly on the Reconstruction period itself in the posts for the last week of April.  But I've come across several really good examples of the persistence of the Lost Cause viewpoint, so I'm going to include several of those as well.

Reconstruction is a poorly-understood period of American history.  The Lost Cause view of Reconstruction is that President Andrew Johnson tried to have a moderate Reconstuction process in the South that would quickly reintegrate the defeated former Confederate states rapidly back into the Union.  However, South-hating fanatics, the Radical Republicans, managed to seize control of the process and impose Republican governments on the South, which badly mistreated the Southererns and were hopelessly corrupt.  Finally in the mid-1870s, cooler heads prevailed and the federal government pulled its remaining troops out of the South.  Southern leaders recognized they had to accept the new status quo, and happily rejoined the Union.

Jefferson Davis, former president of the Confederacy, exemplified this new spirit in 1880 in his last public speech, in which he said:

The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations; before you lies the future - a future full of golden promise, a future of expanding national glory, before which all the world shall stand amazed.  Let me beseech you to lay aside all bitter sectional feelings, and to take your places in the ranks of those who will bring about a re-united country.

By this time, the democratic Reconstruction governments had been overthrown by force, violence and corruption, and black citizens in the South were being largely deprived of their right to vote along with most other political and civil rights. It would be another ten years or so before the segregation laws, known as Jim Crow, formalized the new arrangement.  But the chance that had been so promising at the end of the war, to guarantee genuinely democratic elections for blacks and whites and to defeat the spirit of rebellion among the Southern rich and their less respectable allies, was long gone.

The Web site for the PBS American Experience program Reconstruction: The Second Civil War is quite a good one.  It has a lot of information and transcripts, and quite a bit of online video is available.  You can watch the entire two-part program online, as a matter of fact.

It used to be fashionable to talk about Presidential Reconstruction (1865-1867) followed by Congressional Reconstruction (1867-1876), the latter also known as Radical Reconstruction.  Everyone still seems pretty much agreed that with the Presidential election of 1876, Reconstruction was essentially over.

It's probably just as well that the old formula timelines on Reconstruction aren't used so much any more, because it probably overemphasized the difference between the two periods.  During Johnson's term in office, a number of important measures were taken to set up a democratic political order in the South that would include blacks and promote economic development.  Many of those initiatives were pushed on the reluctant President by Congress.  And among the general public in the North at the end of the war and immediately thereafter, there was much more interest and willingness to press democratic reforms on the Southern power structure than there would be in 1876.  As historian David Blight says in the PBS program:

There was good evidence in 1865 that a lot of white Southerners, the leadership even of the Confederacy, would have accepted relatively harsh policies at that moment. But very soon it became clear that Andrew Johnson wanted a rapid, lenient restoration of the Union with as little alteration of the Constitution and the creation of black civil and political rights as possible.

Johnson is someone who drew on his worst instincts rather than his best when he became President.  He was a Tennessee Democrat, and he agreed to be Lincoln's vice presidential running mate on a national unity ticket in 1864.  He was a sincere and dedicated Unionist.  But he was also a racist, and had deeply anti-democratic instincts when it came to empowering and educating the former slaves, who were typically referred to in those days as the "freedmen" (which was understood to include black women, though hardly on a equal basis).

During this period, many former Confederate officials and people whose loyalty to the United States and its Constitution were considerably more than questionable were allowed to assume full citizenship rights and serve as officeholders.  Southern states began passing Black Codes, which were meant to hold the freedmen in serf-like status.  Former slaves were often compelled to work under very restrictive wage contracts for their former masters.  Many of the old Southern planter class, the former Slave Power, were attempting to restore something very like the old slave system.

In fairness to Johnson, for all his faults, he was also highly suspicious of the planter class.  He was enough of a Jacksonian to imagine himself a partisan of the poor whites of the South.  But the United States had a radically different form of democracy now.  Slavery was ended, the old social system based on slavery had been overthrown, the citizenry now included black Americans as well.  The federal government needed to approach this as a post-revolutionary situation.  Johnson did not.  And his racial fear of free blacks, no doubt fed by the prewar fear of "servile insurrection," rapidly led him to abandon any serious Jacksonian notions about restricting the power of the planter class in favor of ordinary white workers and farmers.  It would by no means be the last time in American history when racism would trump democracy.

This period was accompanied by violence against blacks, much of it organized and systematic.  The narrator in the PBS program says:

Black laborers who insisted on better wages and working conditions were regularly met with threats and violence. Vigilantes lynched whole families, and used the bullwhip on men and women as they had in slavery days. In 1865, more than two thousand black men women and children were reported murdered in Louisiana alone.

In 1867, Congress imposed much more restrictive rules on the former Confederate states with the Reconstruction Acts, which mandated that the South be put under five military districts to be controlled by the federal Army until genuinely loyal governments could be put into place.  During the following decade, a great deal was accomplished along those lines.  Former slaves began voting and participating actively in political life, the Black Codes were repealed, the Amry provided better protection for Southern blacks especially but also for whites, whose freedom had in practice been severely restricted in antebellum times.  A great deal of progress was made toward educating the freedmen.

However, even though most Americans have heard the phrase "40 acres and a mule," and may even have some idea that it relates to this period, no large-scale land reform ever took place.  There were some interesting and important small-scale instances of land reform.  But it never happened on a large scale.  If the federal government had seized the property of planters who had actively supported the Confederacy - which was virtually all of them - as contraband of war and redistributed it on a careful basis to black and white farmers, the power of the planter class would have been severely undermined.  And the social position and political influence of ordinary Southerners, black and white, would have been immensely strengthened.  It didn't happen.

By 1876, the Republican Party was well on its way in its transformation from being the party of abolition to the party of big business.  Republican politicians were losing their stomach for continuing Reconstruction.  And the shared racial views of white Americans North and South made equality and protection of civil rights for the former slaves a low national priority.  The beginning of the end of Reconstruction was in Missisippi in 1875, when the Democrats used force, violence and intimidation on a massive scale, including murder, to prevent blacks and white Republicans from voting in the elections that year.

When the Republicans agreed to withdraw the remaining federal troops from the South as part of a deal with the Democrats to settle the disputed presidential election of 1876, the "Mississippi Plan," as it was called, was employed in other Southern states, as well.  Blacks were largely disenfrachised, terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan - which were very much part of the Democratic Party power structure in the South at that time - were free to operate with little fear of the law being enforced against them, and severe economic restrictions could again be imposed on blacks.

A tremendous opportunity had been missed.  The federal government made two mistakes that in retrospect doomed Reconstruction.  One was that they allowed former Confederate soldiers to keep their weapons as personal property.  In the mid-1870s, when the democratic Reconstruction governments were trying to block violent depredations by terrorist groups, the fact that the terrorists had easy access to good weapons was an important factor in the outcome.  In some cases, Klan groups were able to forcibly seize shipments of arms that were on their way to the Army or official state militias in the South.

The other huge mistake was Johnson's two years of essentially allowing the planters to proceed with restoring the prewar social adn political order without the formal institution of slavery.  It's a good illustration that in 1865, the rules that Johnson imposed on former Confederates participating in politics were so lax that Alexander Stephens, who had been the vice president of the Rebel government that had been finally defeated earlier that same year, was elected to Congress!

As the narrator in the PBS program puts it:

In December 1865, the Thirty-Ninth Congress, the first since the end of the Civil War, convened in Washington. More than sixty former Confederates prepared to take their seats, including four generals, four colonels and six Confederate cabinet officers, even Alexander H. Stephens, the former vice president of the Confederacy, expecting as one observer put it, "to govern the country he had been trying to destroy."

Two years immediately after the war was a great deal of time to lose.  And Johnson's pitiful Reconstruction policies encouraged continued resistance on the part of white Southerners, including the old leaders of the Confederacy, who otherwise would very likely have been willing to accept a more democratic order.

Those are "what-if's."  Obviously, we can't say sure what would have happened with a more thorough Reconstruction policy immediately after the war.  But it's one of the great tragedies of US history that we didn't get the chance to find out.

(See the Index to Confederate "Heritage" Month post 2005 for links to all this year's posts.)