Monday, April 23, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 23: Secession in Mississippi and the issue that prompted it

Earlier this month, I quoted from an essay by Percy Lee Rainwater (1888-1964) on the politics of secession in antebellum Mississippi. He also had a book on the topic, Mississippi: Storm Center of Secession, 1856-1861 (1938), which incorporates the previously mentioned essay.

Rainwater describes in some detail the members of the Secession Convention that declared secession in 1861 , including their professions and major factions in the secession debate. He constructed this instructive table on the 100 members of the convention relying on The Mississippi Slave Schedule for 1860:


Out of 100 members of the convention, all but 18 directly owned other human beings as property. Using the lower end of the range, members of the Secession Convention owned at the very minimum 2,599 slaves among them. At the mid-range, the number of slaves owned would be 3,364.

But Rainwater is clearly impressed with this group in this 1938 book, describing it as "having every desire for the restraints of law and embracing no cabal of disappointed factionalists striving for illegitimate power." He even enthuses, "The convention was composed of some of the purest, the ablest, and the most opulent men in the state."

All but 18 of whom owned other human beings as property.

But, the neo-Confederates tell us, secession wasn't because of slavery. No, it was about Honor, Courage, Defense of Home, States Rights and it was all the fault of the damnyankees, anyway.

Oddly, though, even in Rainwater's account, they seemed to have been singularly focused on a particular issue:
All members of the convention, of whatever party — although finding the doctrine of States Rights both a convenient plea in estoppel of Northern aggression and, in the case of almost all, a legal right of secession — were united upon the great question that the institution of slavery ought and must at all hazards be preserved. The best means to be employed for making secure the institution of slavery was the sole great question which divided the convention. Every other question was incidental to, and revolved about, this one question upon which all were agreed. [my emphasis]


Democrats and the midterms

Alexander Burns reports on the conservative approach to the midterms that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Fearing Chaos, National Democrats Plunge Into Midterm Primary Fights New York Times 04/21/2018.

A better headline might have been " Fearing Progressives, National Democrats Scramble to Block Them in the Primaries."

Howie Klein riffs on the article in DCCC-- Tearing Up The California Democratic Party... With No One To Stop Them 04/23/2018:
The ideological battle within the Democratic Party is between the Democratic wing of the party (progressives and populists) and the Republican wing of the party (New Dems and Blue Dogs). The DCCC is part of the Republican wing and working hard to elect uber-corrupt former New Dem head, Joe Crowley, to lead the party after [House leader Nancy] Pelosi and [Democratic Whip Steny] Hoyer are gone.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 22: Kenneth Stampp on Ulrich Phillips' treatment of slavery

In some earlier posts this month, I looked at an essay by historian Ulrich Phillips (1877–1934), a major historian of slavery but one with a distinctly benign view of the Peculiar Institution, i.e., a proslavery view.

Kenneth Stampp (1912–2009) was one of the major historians who pushed back against the proslavery historical view, notably with The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South (1956), and against that of the neo-Confederate Dunning School of historians.

In The Historian and Southern Negro Slavery American Historical Review 57:3 (Apr 1952), he discusses Phillips' approach, noting also Phillips had done important empirical research:

No student could begin to understand the complexities of the slave system without being thoroughly familiar with the findings and varying points of view of such historians as Ulrich B. Phillips, Herbert Aptheker, Lewis C. Gray, John Hope Franklin, Avery Craven, Carter G. Woodson, Frederic Bancroft, Charles S. Sydnor, John Spencer Bassett, and many others.

Among these scholars, the late Professor Phillips has unquestionably made the largest single contribution to our present understanding of southern slavery. It may be that his most durable monument will be the vast amount of new source material which he uncovered. But Phillips was also an unusually able and prolific writer.
In that essay, Stampp criticizes historians who generalize in a proslavery mode about the supposed benign, patriarchal care that owners supposedly provided their slaves:
... the evidence hardly warrants the sweeping pictures of uniform physical comfort or uniform physical misery that are sometimes drawn. The only generalization that can be made with relative confidence is that some masters were harsh and frugal, others were mild and generous, and the rest ran the whole gamut in between. And even this generalization may need qualification, for it is altogether likely that the same master could have been harsh and frugal on some occasions and mild and generous on others. Some men become increasingly mellow and others increasingly irascible with advancing years. Some masters were more generous, or less frugal, in times of economic prosperity than they were in times of economic depression. The treatment of the slaves probably varied with the state of the master's health, with the vicissitudes of his domestic relations, and with the immediate or subsequent impact of alcoholic beverages upon his personality. It would also be logical to suspect-and there is evidence that this was the case-that masters did not treat all their slaves alike, that, being human, they developed personal animosities for some and personal affections for others. The care of slaves under the supervision of overseers might change from year to year as one overseer replaced another in the normally rapid turnover.

No, Christians in the United States are not about to be martyred

FOX News recently ran this piece of Christian Right vicitimization propaganda: Douglas MacKinnon, How long will I be allowed to remain a Christian? 04/21/2018.

It's unfortunately a commonplace assumption among American fundamentalists that they are a persecuted minority and quasi-martyrs for the faith, even without any actual, you know, martyrdom. MacKinnon gives his own paranoid version of that posture:
Ironically, in some very real and ominous ways, it’s as if we are being transported back to ancient Rome.

Will we soon have to meet with fellow Christians in secret? Will we have to whisper our beliefs from the shadows? Will those Christians with “traditional” beliefs lose their jobs and livelihoods if discovered?
He complains about his own personal cross to bear, "I continue to be ridiculed for writing and speaking about a vision I had regarding the 40 days after the resurrection."

Ironically, the non-Pentecostal brands of the Protestant fundamentalism are very suspicious of claims of present-day visions. I suspect he might be getting more criticism on that quarter for his vision than from mainstream Christians or more secular people, because the latter two groups wouldn't be taking his vision particularly seriously, anyway.

He has a book about it, The Forty Days: A Vision of Christ's Lost Weeks (2016).

He also has had a column at the frivolous but venomous rightwing site, Townhall.





Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fraud on visits to the Afterlife

The conservative evangelical magazine Christianity Today reports on case involving a boy who claimed he had gone to heaven after being nearly killed in a auto accident: Kate Shillnut, Tyndale Sued by Boy Who Didn’t Come Back from Heaven 04/12/2018.

The religious publisher Tyndale published a book said to be co-authored by the young man, Alex Malarkey, and his father, Kevin Malarkey, The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven (2010). Their surname turns out to be rather unfortunate to be attached to the book now. Alex is suing them on several civil claims, as shown in the court document. "The recent lawsuit reiterates Malarkey’s denial of the heaven story portrayed in the book, alleging that his father was the one behind the story and that he does not remember what happened while he was a child in a coma after the accident. Malarkey, a quadriplegic, lives with his mother in Ohio, collecting Social Security," reports Shellnut.

As she also recounts:

His retraction drew criticism toward Tyndale for publishing the book, which it said had been vetted for biblical principles at the time, and led many Christians to challenge the subgenre of books about visiting heaven, including Heaven Is for Real and 90 Minutes in Heaven.

As a result, LifeWay Christian Stores stopped selling all “experiential testimonies about heaven” in 2015.


Confederate "Hertitage" Month 2018, April 21: Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis still have fans in Tennessee

The City of Memphis recently removed statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedfort Forrest from public parks. Because of state-level opposition, they resorted to selling the two parks involved to a nonprofit at a nominal price, and the non-profit removed them.

Now the Tennessee state legislature has retaliated by cutting $250,000 from an appropriation in retaliation: Alex Horton, Tennessee lawmakers punish Memphis for removing statue of Confederate and KKK leader Washington Post 04/18/2018.

Real-time neo-Confederacy.

The Young Turks reported on it in State Punishes City Over Racist Monuments 04/18/2018:



See also: Joel Ebert, Was the $250,000 for Memphis added so lawmakers could take it away? Debate swirls in the statehouse Tenneessean 04/20/2018

Chris Herrington, In punishing Memphis, state lawmakers embarrassed themselves Tennessean 04/18/2018

Tonyaa Weathersbee, Posturing to punish Memphis for removing statues was a page out of a plantation master's playbook Tennessean 04/18/2018

Nicholas Weaver on blockchain and cryptocurrencies

This slide show and lecture by Nicholas Weaver, who the professor doing the introduction said has a particularly interesting Twitter feed, @ncweaver Blockchains and Cryptocurrencies: Burn It With Fire 04/20/2018



I already knew that Bitcoin and similar digital cryptocurrencies were basically a version of 19th-century bank-issued currency, only 19th-century bank-issued currency, only without as much security. And that they featured the same basic problem as the gold standard. And that they can be hacked, although technically I think it's the "blockchain" platform on which it runs rather than the Bitcoin itself that gets hacked. And that they are heavily used for criminal activity and require enormous amounts of power to "mine". Weaver reinforced all that and added to it.

A slide that comes up at 18:00 in the video says that Bitcoin alone, not counting other cryptocurrencies, uses as much power as all of New York City. He also says that only three Bitcoin transactions can be processed per second *worldwide*, which is incredibly slow and inefficient compared to systems currently being used by banks.

Previously I had thought that the blockchain technology might be useful for some kinds of record storage. But Weaver argues that even this is unlikely. (Actually, he pretty much dismisses it entirely.) He makes the cases that other digitial platforms already being used are more secure, effective, and efficient than blockchain for document storage and verification purposes.

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, for April 20: Unsettled issues from the Civil War?

Uwe Bott has an essay on the lasting effects of the American Civil War, The War That Never Ended The Globalist 04/07/2018.

He makes this point on Abraham Lincoln's election, "Lincoln’s election was in part the result of divisions among Democrats. Lincoln’s opposition to slavery was laudable. However, to him it was far less a humanitarian concern than a smart position in the political power struggle between the North and the South over representation and taxation."

While this is a point that involves judgment and not just factual occurrences, it's wrong. Lincoln was seriously opposed to slavery, seeing it as a moral evil and a threat to democracy in the US. He shared the white supremacist assumptions of most of his fellow white Americans and emphatically denied prior to the war that he wanted social equality for blacks. Although he did insist on civil equality before the law.

He describes the Republican Party's Southern Strategy identified with Richard Nixon and connects it to the situation prior to the Civil War that gave Southern states disproportionate power over the national government through the 3/5 clause of the Constitution, "The industrial and industrious Northeast and Western coastal states are politically underrepresented and fiscally exploited by a conservative, backwards and economically weak South."

That strikes me as more of a metaphor than substantive connection, but it's an interesting one. He makes the point by emphasizing the structure of the US Senate, in which each state has two Senators regardless of population:
... the Senate is even more dysfunctional today as it was back then because many more small states were added after 1861.

As a result, large states (and the vast majority of Americans) are effectively tyrannized by the increasingly extremist majority of Republican senators representing small states.

Two senators serve the population of 574,000 souls in the state of Wyoming, while the same number of senators serve 40 million people in California.

In fact, if you look at senatorial races in 2016, 2014, and 2012 combined – a period during which all 100 seats of the U.S. Senate were up for election – Democrats received more than 10 million more votes in all senatorial races than Republicans. In a proportionate voting system, this would lead to a current Democratic majority of 54-46, rather than the Republican majority of 51-49.
This is true. But it's not different from what it was prior to Civil War. The 3/5 Compromise in the Constitution gave the slave states a "slave bonus" in the allocation of the number of seats in the House of Representatives, because 3/5 of slaves were counted as part of the state's population for allocation purposes but none of those slaves could vote.

He goes on to describe the effects of gerrymandering that does give Republicans an unfair advantage today in the House. And he also describes a similar effect in the Electoral College in selecting a President.

Those are important points. But in his introductory paragraph, it frames it, "It is easy to date the “official” American Civil War. It occurred between 1861 and 1865. It is far more complex to answer the question whether the Battle of Appomattox truly resolved what so deeply divided the United States of America back then." And his essay looks at that problem in the context of the structural issues of how the Constitution sets up the federal government.

But the issue that produced a Civil War in the context of those structural issues was slavery. And that issue was settled by the Civil War.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 19:: Who were the Mississippi secessionists?

In the last post in this series, I discussed how Percy Rainwater in his essay An Analysis of the Secession Controversy in Mississippi, 1854-61 by Mississippi Valley Historical Review 24:1 (Jun., 1937) made clear the centrality of the slavery issue in the secession debate in the state of Mississippi.

That is heresy to the main Lost Cause narrative, which tries to minimize the role of slavery in secession, stressing instead abstract legal issues, or offenses to Southern Honor,or the difference between a Northern industrial economy and a Southern agricultural one. But Rainwater was put in the same situation as other Lost Cause advocates when they talk about the history leading up to the Civil War, they can't avoid talking about slavery. Even if they jump through hoops to argue that controversies over slavery weren't really over slavery.

One of the arguments he makes is that most slavewoners were cautious businessmen who were reluctant to embrace slavery:
From 1854 to 1861 agitation for secession in Mississippi increased with accelerated momentum. In the early stages of the renewed controversy, it was largely the active, restless, and politically ambitious element, represented by the lawyer-politician and the country editor, which incessantly rang the fire bells in order to arouse a not uneasy social order against the approaching and consuming blasts of abolitionism. Conservative men of property, desiring to be let alone that they might enjoy the fruits of their prosperity, not only held aloof but positively condemned the new agitation. But an equally loud and fanatical minority in the free states played, through the press and from the platform and the pulpit, quite unintentionally into the hands of the secession agitators in Mississippi, as elsewhere in the South.
As a historical description, this is fairly disingenuous on its face. All those named types - "the active, restless, and politically ambitious element, represented by the lawyer-politician and the country editor" - were very aware that the slaveowning planter class was the dominant social and political force in Mississippi. The notion that secession was somehow a demand of the common people against the planter class is, well, not very convincing.

This is a long-standing trope in the neo-Confederate/Lost Cause narrative in support of the post-Reconstruction Segregation 1.0 system. It was typical for white communities to blame lynchings or other racist violence against black people on the "rednecks out in the country." Certainly not the respectable white leaders of the town or city! "Redeemer" Mississippi Sen. L.Q.C. Lamar had his own version of this, giving moderate-sounding speech on North-South reconciliation in Congress, while agitating on the side of violent white supremacists back home in Mississippi. We saw an iteration of this in the 1950s and 1960s in the face of the Post-World War II civil rights movement, where business leaders tried to present themselves as the sensible moderates who disapproved of the "violent excesses" of the Klan rabble. Well, the businesspeople were at least probably less inclined to use the n-word.

Rainwater tosses out the Fanatics On Both Sides version of the run-up to the Civil War. But there were enough fanatics on one side to start a massive armed rebellion, seceding from the Union, seizing federal property, writing their own Constitution. I'm just sayin'.

Rainwater ties all this together with a version of yet another favorite segregationist revisionist view of history. If the secessionist rabble hadn't imposed treason and rebellion on their betters in the planter class, slavery would have had a better chance of surviving. Or, alternatively, it would have just faded away peacefully if those pushy, rude damnyankee fanatics hadn't been so obnoxious about the whole thing.

He does admit, though, in those speculations he is trying "to argue without the record."

Not exactly. The Republican program of halting the spread of slavery would have doomed the Peculiar Institution. And the power of federal patronage would have also given the Republicans a foothold to start building a party presence in the slave states.

The other possibility was unlikely. Because the Confederate defenders of slavery insisted on the superiority of slavery and were dead set on expanding it, not only geographically but even into industrial settings.

The latter is also a version of the eternal argument of the phony moderate, who claims to be in favor of some reform like desegregation, and praises the virtues of patience and gradualism. But their real ire is reserved for those who actively try to bring about the change. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter From Birmingham Jail" addressed just that kind of "moderate."

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 18: The secession controversy in Mississippi

Catching up again, here with the post for yesterday's date, I'm looking at another older journal article taking a version of the Lost Cause perspective, An Analysis of the Secession Controversy in Mississippi, 1854-61 by Percy Rainwater Mississippi Valley Historical Review 24:1 (Jun., 1937).

In the next post, I'll look at a couple of his points that fall into the neo-Confederate spectrum. But, despite operating in that perspective, in this piece his task is to look at the political disputes in Mississippi around secession. Empirical research is always a special challenge for a neo-Confederate perspective. And this essay makes clear that one issue was central to the secession controversy. Speaking of the militant secessionists versus those less convinced, he writes:
Both of these groups regarded the benefits of the Union as secondary to the preservation of slavery, which was the support of the state's social and economic system. In short, all classes in the state, slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike, looked upon the society in which they lived as representing the realization of a social ideal sanctioned alike by God and nature. This ideal, on its positive side, was beneficial both to the master and the slave; and, although social and economic lines between white groups were not permanently fixed, the system did provide for a wholesome regimentation of the nether herd. On its negative side, the institution of slavery, with its attendant effects upon all groups and classes, created an atmosphere in which, unlike that in the free states, undesirable and dangerous innovations in the religious life and in the general mores of the people could not live.

All groups in Mississippi in 1860 believed apparently that the social system based upon slavery was economically advantageous and socially elevating, and that only upon such a social soil could the highest type of republican government be built. All groups proceeding, it is true, upon a priori arguments, united in the belief that their social system was superior to that based upon free labor at almost every point by which civilization could be evaluated. When, therefore, the institution of slavery was endangered by the election of Lincoln, both the slaveholder and the non-slaveholder arose with religious zeal to defend their social heritage, which, like their religion, was not a subject for the detachment of the laboratory. The rich and the poor, the high and the low, the slaveholder and the non-slaveholder were "so indissolubly united in feeling and interest," said 0. R. Singleton, "that if you but touch a chord connected with either, it vibrates through our whole social system, and unites in more rapid motion the blood of every heart."

Thus united in their loyalty to a social system whose benefits, all agreed, far surpassed the benefits of the Union, the people nevertheless differed sharply concerning the degree of danger to which Lincoln's election subjected slavery and the effect disunion would have on the future of that institution.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Syria and the left - or should I say "the left of uncertain identity"?

Just to start: there are good reasons for the United States to stop escalating its military actions in Syria. Very convincing ones, in my eyes.

Or, to put it more appropriately, people who advocate escalation of war and US military strikes in other countries have the moral burden of providing convincing reasons. Military contractors will always make money on them, and so will various other companies that provides various kinds of support to the war effort. Those are not legitimate reasons for going to war and killing people.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy explains his concerns in this Morning Joe segment, Senator Chris Murphy: Military Strike In Syria Not The Way To Go 04/18/2018:



Syria is a complicated and risky situation in which one-off bombing campaigns are questionable at best. They are a flat-out bad idea unless they are part of a meaningful political and diplomatic strategy for ending the conflict in Syria and resolving the genuinely messy issues involved without allowing the situation to expand into a wider war involving Iran, the US, Israel, Russia, and Turkey. Or some combination thereof. The Trump Administration has no such strategy. And even if it did, successfully implementing it is unlikely to happen with a moody orange man-child as President.

The US, British, and French governments claim that their intelligence indicates that there was a chemical weapons use by the government of Syria. Whether there was a legitimate practical reason for the US to make the strike the Trump Administration made last weekend, the US and its NATO allies had no authorization in international law for doing that. And that matters.

The US Constitution matters, too, Including the war powers provision. The Congress and both parties have been complicit in neglecting their duty to enforce it. The Supreme Court had long since refused to step in to enforce Congressional war powers, judging that to be the duty of Congress and not the courts. There was no Congressional autorization for this intervention, nor for the more-or-less covert operations there, though some of them are well know. Even though the news reports have to be scrutinized rather closely to tell that.

Syria doesn't take place in a historical, political, moral, or practice vacuum. We've had the Kosovo War, the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War, and the Libyan intervention in the last twenty years. (We'll leave the smaller military interventions to the side for now.) Part of the official purpose of all those included fighting terrorism, improving stability, protecting human rights, preventing the spread and use of "weapons of mass destruction," and supporting international law. Oh, and defending the United States itself.

If any of those four clearly achieved any one of those goals, it would require more imagination than I possess to say how. The best I can say is that the Kosovo War seems to have had the least calamitous results.For what it's worth, I personally favored the Kosovo War and the Afghanistan War, the latter at least in its initial stages. But I also try to pay attention to what actually happens in US wars, whether I support them or not. Maybe especially if I support them.

Also, "you're on Russia's side if you don't support {fill in your favorite bad foreign policy idea}" just doesn't cut it as an argument for going to war.

The Democrats' lazy and defensive approach to the Trump-Russia scandal hasn't helped, because too many of them are over-eager to paint anything they can as evidence of Trump's sympathy or collusion with Russia. There's plenty of evidence for that without cramming anything and everything into that box.

There's always strife in the Democratic Party over war and peace issues. There has also been around of finger-pointing, trolling, shaming, and general quibbling between people who consider themselves on the left (not center-left) that I've been hearing about. Alexander Reid Ross writes about it, from his own polemical point of view, in How Assad's War Crimes Bring Far Left and Right Together - Under Putin's Benevolent Gaze Haaretz 04/17/2018. I don't want to oversimplify his argument. But in this article, he does come across as though he considers anyone opposed escalating US military intervention in Syria as a Soviet Russian dupe. (Yes, putting "Soviet" there was intentional.) It's a variation on stock war propaganda. And anyone serious about opposing a war has to be prepared to let a lot of criticism slide off their backs, including that kind.

Because most people, most of the time, aren't cheering for war with any country. That doesn't make them fans of human rights abuses in every country against which they are not advocating war.

Foreign policy is all about picking sides. Picking a position that matches more closely with that of Country X than with Country Y, or even with that of Home Country A-Number-One, doesn't mean that the person picking sides has any particular love or admiration for Country X or its governing system. So what I've encountered of the more sectarian left factions slagging each other has mainly made me puzzle over what they are trying to say rather shedding much light on the Syrian civil war and other countries' reactions to it.

A case in point would be The ‘anti-imperialism’ of idiots (Leila's Blog 04/14/2018), which Reid Ross links at the end of his Haaretz article.

This article was my first exposure to Leila Al Shami that I recall. And on this first encounter, It's not clear to me what she's supporting. She seems to be in favor of Trump's retaliatory strike, or something like it, against Syria over chemical weapons use. Or maybe not. I think she's saying that Assad's war has been reprehensible. She may or may not be supporting US troops being stationed in Syria, it's really not clear. It's also not clear whether she's saying that that it was wrong for Syria to try to retake territory held by IS/Daesh, or whether the US was right or wrong to provide some aid to jihadist groups fighting Assad's government. Although she does seem to like it that some Syrian democratic groups protested against the jihadists.

She uses using terms like "the western ‘anti-war’ movement' and the "authoritarian left", but who she puts in that category is mostly unclear. She mentions several rightwing figures in the US and Europe, and the ANSWER coalition and Stop the War UK on the left. Would she put left/center-left figures like Barbara Lee in that category? Part of how she avoids naming her targets is by using the passive voice that so annoyed Geeorge Orwell: "support is extended," "Everything that happens is viewed ...," "Syrians are not seen as possessing ...", etc.

I don't know what "pro-fascist left" is even supposed to mean. Fascism is hard enough to define outside of Mussolini's regime that called itself fascist. Terms like "left fascist" just add to the muddle, as did the famous Comintern "social fascist" label eight decades ago.

I'm also puzzled at her obviously disapproving comment that it's an authoritarian tendency to put "states themselves at the centre of political analysis." It's pretty hard to talk about foreign policy in any meaningful sense without realizing that the international system is a system of states. Much (though not all) of international law is focused on the behavior of national states.

Her approach, unfortunately, strikes me as kind of scattershot.

Part of the reality of antiwar politics in the US is that the groups that have experience organizing antiwar marches and rallies tend to be smaller left groups. Maybe in some parallel universe, the Democratic National Committee has a well-organized national Resistance to War Division with well-staffed state-level chapters that have deep expertise in doing that. But not in this one.

I recall attending one of the large marches against the Iraq War in early 2003 and being struck by the fact that the first speakers before the main event tended to walk through laundry lists of all the various causes they found worthy of support int he US and around the world which I'm sure most attendees found to be so much background noise. But that kind of group is likely to be very visible in antiwar protests. And they often find themselves squabbling with similar but competing groups over differences in position that may be unintelligible to people not immersed in those particular faction fights.

This Struggle Session podcast (Episode 60, Episode 60 - Do Something About Syria w/ Rania Khalek 04/17/2018) features a group of people who understand themselves as being on the left and who are unapologetically against escalating NATO intervention ins Syria. They engage the debate from their viewpoint.

The topic also comes up on Sam Seder's Majority Report (04/17/2018 edition) for a few minutes, starting around 2:11:00:



Sam suggests that the discussion on the left over intervening in Syria or not has become a kind of signifying issue in which other views and positions have become wrapped up. Which would explain why some of the discussion that I've encountered seems a bit long on polemical insults and baiting the other side without being all that focused on the actual issues around intervention.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 17: Two political trends leading up to the Civil War

In my third pass this month at Avery Craven's Lost Cause/neo-Confederate essay Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation Journal of Southern History 2:3 (Aug 1936).

He describes how the Northern states had developed into non-slave states and their pernicious about freedom and democracy:
The general period in American history from 1825 to 1860 was one of vast material growth and expansion. But it was also one in which the wealth and power of the few grew disproportionately to that of the many. Democracy was not functioning properly. Liberty was putting an end to equality. I£ some were content, others felt deepest resentments and dreamed of a more perfect society as the political and moral right of an American.
Those decadent Yankees started getting all grumpy about economic slumps, and the gap between rich and poor, and the restrictions on opportunities for the common people. He notes in particular, "the Panic of '37 spread wreck and ruin among them; land legislation lagged behind their demands; internal improvements came all too slowly; prices slumped as home markets broke and "overproduction" glutted the few outside markets they had developed."

And the baneful social phenomena multiplied. There was "unrest," and protest, and (gasp!) labor activism:
The rural North, therefore, throughout the era, was a region of potential and actual unrest. The "average farmer," for whose welfare the American system had been established, resented bitterly the growing importance of the city and the mounting wealth of those engaged in what he considered "minor pursuits." Securing the support of the lesser folk of the towns, only recently come from nearby farms, he launched his protests in various forms, but all in the name of a faltering democracy. The labor movements of the period, says Commons, were "not so much the modern alignment of wage-earner against employer" as they were the revolts of "the poor against the rich, the worker against the owner."
Even worse, people started thinking, "The cause of the oppressed was also the cause of 'righteousness'." The Northern public started obsessing about "democracy and morality." Some were even deciding that "Jeffersonian Democracy was God's chosen form of civil government."

He summarizes the unfolding of these threatening democratic movements in various stages:
The Jacksonian war against "the money power" in an earlier period was "from this same cloth." It represented far more the deep resentments of a "grasping" people than it did a belief in abstract ideals. The same holds, in a degree, for the so-called "free-soil" movement. Historians have largely overlooked the fact that the "liberty groups" with a single human rights appeal failed to gain any great following in the Northwest - but that when Salmon P. Chase, the Democrat, broadened the platform to one in which homesteads, internal improvements at Federal expense, and home markets by tariffs, were included, the moral indignation against slavery rose to a burning flame. A local convention in Chicago in 1848 resolved that the [anti-slavery] Wilmot Proviso "is now and ever has been the doctrine of the Whigs of the free States" and added hastily, "the Whig party has ever been the firm, steady, and unchanging friend of harbor and river appropriations." Lincoln himself would keep slavery from the territories because God had intended them "for the homes of free white people." The Wisconsin farmer, whose interest in Negroes was slight, did not further heckle this great Commoner when the assurance was given that the prime purpose behind his program was a 160-acre farm for all interested persons. Thus the halo of democracy and morality, in part borrowed from the abolitionist, was placed upon the brow of all vital Western needs, and its bitterness from unrealized ambitions became a holy sentiment. [my emphasis]
The trajectory of unfavorable democratic developments in Craven's neo-Confederate view ran from Jeffersonian democracy, to Jacksonian reformism, to the Free Soil and Abolitionist movements to land reform to Lincoln and the Republicans. Jefferson and James Madison were "abolitionist slaveowners," Andrew Jackson was a non-abolitionist slaveowner, but the trend toward expansion of democracy, restriction and abolition of slavery, resistance to concentrated economic power and oligarchic government: those did develop along the lines Craven describes, though from a democratic point of view that was a favorable line of develop, while Craven disparages it. Lincoln himself took Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as his main Presidential models.

Especially in these strange times where the Democratic Party declines to claim its own founders and the corrupt, democracy-hating plutocrat Donald Trump adopts Andrew Jackson as a major symbol - a truly twisted and bizarre development - I should add that none of these developments were democratically pure by 2018 standards. The women's movement for the vote and legal equality had begun, but American women were second-class citizens, at best. Even white Abolitionists generally accepted some kind of white supremacist outlook, with even some of the most militant and serious anti-slavery activists embracing the fantasy of of mass colonization of black Americans to Africa. Or, mass deportation, to put it less euphemistically. Even those egalitarian land policies Craven mentions were heavily predicated on current and former Indian lands being distributed to white settlers and the native peoples displaced. And the list goes on.

But the single biggest and most consequential political conflict was over slavery with all its class, racial, and political aspects. And the developments that led eventually to the defeat of the slaveocracy and the abolition of chattel slavery did travel the historical path Craven describes (in a hostile mode). And the road that led to secession goes through the political trend represented by John Calhoun, Jackson's great adversary in Nullification Controversy. Craven clearly sympathizes with the Calhounian tradition:
When James K. Polk was elected president in 1844, certain old leaders such as Martin Van Buren, Francis Preston Blair, and Thomas H. Benton were pushed aside. Each in turn blamed John C. Calhoun and the slave interests; each in a different way added to the impression that the party was no longer a fit place for those who followed the immortal Andrew Jackson.
This is a big problem not only with the pseudohistory that makes Donald Trump the Second Coming of William Jennings Bryan. It's also a problem for what seems to be the currently dominant left/left-liberal view of American history, in which the monarchist Alexander Hamilton that believed democracy could function only through massive corruption is a great hero and Jefferson and Jackson are not only personally dastardly but contemptible in their political and political heritage.

It's just not possible to understand the history leading up to the Civil War without understanding the fundamental difference between the Jeffersonian-Jacksonian trend and the Calhounian trend. One led to an expansion of democracy and the presentation of the United States as a democratic Republic. The other led to a civil war in defense of slavery. That's a big difference.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 16: Avery Craven on John Brown and "Albert G. Brown of Mississippi"

I'm returning today to Avery Craven's Lost Cause/neo-Confederate historian Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation Journal of Southern History 2:3 (Aug 1936). He uses the figure of John Brown to give a race-based justification of the Southern secession. He argues that John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry decisively turned white opinion in the South toward secession:
But the John Brown raid was another matter. It put reality into the much discussed program of Yankee "money-changers," "peasant farmers," and the "long haired men and short haired women" of the North. The sharpest resentments and deepest fears of which a people were capable broke loose. A race war was impending. And that was a poor man's problem. Albert G. Brown of Mississippi put it this way:
The rich will flee the country. ... Then the non-slaveholder will begin to see what his real fate is. The Negro will intrude into his preserve ... insist on being treated as an equal ... that he shall go to the white man's bed, and the white man his ... that his son shall marry the white man's daughter, and the white man's daughter his son. In short that they shall live on terms of perfect social equality. The non-slaveholder will, of course, reject the terms. Then will commence a war of races such as has marked the history of San Domingo. [my emphasis]
Let's start with some basic debunking. There was no "race war" impending. Panics about slave insurrections were a common feature of the paranoid Southern environment. Such panics were far more frequent than actual attempts at anything like a slave rebellion, though of course there were some instances of those occurring, and for obvious reasons. But the panics generally featured their own kind of violence with murders of slaves and free blacks. In effect, they were episodes of sporadic white terror against blacks.

Brown's raid did send Southern slaveowners into new rounds of panic. Although his plan was not to provoke a slave insurrection. The plan was to establish guerrilla bases in the Appalachian mountains from which they would encourage slaves to flee their plantations and harass the slaveholders.

Lost Cause accounts like Craven's also typically downplay white Southern opposition to secession, which was significant even in 1861, though that shouldn't be equated with Unionism, much less opposition to slavery. Though both sentiments were also present.

But who is this "Albert G. Brown of Mississippi"? Is he just some random farmer speaking about the fears of the reg'lar white folks?

Actually, he was Albert Gallatin Brown: Fourteenth Governor of Mississippi: 1844-1848 (David Sansing, Mississippi History Now Dec 2003. He also was one of the Mississippi's two Senators in the runup to the Civil War, along with future Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Sansing writes:
After he was elected to the United States Senate, Brown became one of the most ardent defenders of states’ rights and was one of the South’s first advocates of secession. After Mississippi seceded and joined the Confederate States of America, Brown resigned his U.S. Senate seat and organized a military company known as Brown’s Rifles. Brown was stationed briefly in Virginia before his election as one of Mississippi’s two members in the Confederate Senate where he served until the end of the Civil War. [my emphasis]
The Wikipedia entry for him (04/16/2018) elaborates:
He was ... a Fire-Eater [militant secessionist] and a strong advocate for the expansion of slavery. In 1858, he said: "I want a foothold in Central America... because I want to plant slavery there.... I want Cuba,... Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican States; and I want them all for the same reason - for the planting or spreading of slavery." (Akhil Reed Amar, America's Constitution, A Biography (2005) 267, quoting M.W. Mcklusky, ed., Speeches, Messages, and Other Writings of the Hon. Albert G. Brown (1859), 594-5) Indeed, he went on to say, "I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth." (internal links omitted)
I followed up Craven's source for the Brown quote: Percy Lee Rainwater, "The Presidential Canvass of 1860 in Mississippi," Mississippi Law Journal V:4 (1933). Although, oddly, his article cites the journal only by its subtitle, Journal of the Mississippi State Bar. Brown's hair-raising rhetoric about rampaging black rapist rebels was from a long 1860 letter Brown wrote for publication, later published as a pamphlet, making the case for secession in defense of slavery.

Albert Gallatin Brown (1813-1880)

The following passage from that letter/pamphlet is interesting in two ways. One is that Sen. Brown certainly seemed to think the current crisis was about fighting for preservation of slavery. And, despite claiming to speak on behalf of the ordinary white man, he certainly seemed to think that Southern non-slaveholders needing some persuading on undertaking secession to defend the Peculiar Institution:
Does the non-slaveholder own land? What will his land be worth when slavery is abolished? Is he the owner of cattle,horses, and other property? What will all these be worth in a free negro community? Does he live by cultivating the soil? Who creates markets and builds railroads, and provides other wise, by his money and his brains, for the most profitable means for selling the products of the soil? The slaveholder. Who gets the benefits of these markets, railroads, and other profitable means, and with comparatively little cost? The non-slaveholding farmer. Then, let him not say 'I own no slaves, and therefore have no interest in the question.

Is he a mechanic? Who is his best and most profitable employer? The slaveholder. Is he a merchant? Who buys most of hiss goods? The slaveholder. Is he a lawyer or doctor? Who pays him the most fees? The slaveholder. Does he, in short, rely on his muscle or his brain for bread? Who is his best customer9 The slaveholder. Then let no man of any occupation, trade or profession, say 'I own no slaves, and therefore I have no interest in the question.

All are interested all have an immediate, positive and PECUNIARY interest in the question, and all ought, as I have no doubt all will, stand up manfully in its support.
Kind of an 1860 version of trickle-down economics, we might say.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 15: Avery Craven's neo-Confederate version of the origins of the Civil War

I'm finally caught up with today's date on this year's series of posts.

Today I'm looking at another scholarly journal article by another well-known historian of the Lost Cause/neo-Confederate persuasion, Avery Craven's Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation Journal of Southern History 2:3 (Aug 1936).

Nobody called it "the War Between the States" at the time it was happening. It was a civil war, known in the official US records as the War of the Rebellion. But War Between the States is a polemic, neo-Confederate label for the conflict. And that is the narrative on which he relies.

Slavery, of course, didn't cause the war in this account. It was because the North rejected the "strict adherence to the Constitution" insisted upon by the slave states. This was the legalistic version that Jefferson Davis advocated in his memoirs. "[I}n its own eyes, the South was the def ender of democratic government against the onslaughts of those who would distort sacred institutions in order to promote their own material interests. All that the Revolution had won, all that 'the [Founding] Fathers' had achieved, was involved in the struggle."

But, as always, when any kind of empirical realities are developed around the various alternative causes promoted by the neo-Confederates, it still comes back to slavery:
When opposition to slavery developed, a new threat of economic loss, now joined with fear of racial conflict and social unrest, was added. When that drive became a moral attack on the whole Southern way of life, the defense broadened in proportion and emotions deepened. The Constitution was not enough against those who would not respect its provisions; the whole South must become unified for political efficiency. The section must have that security which the Constitution guaranteed and an equal right to expand with its institutions as a matter of principle. Keen minds set to work to reveal the virtues in slavery and the life it permitted in the South. When they had finished a stratified society, with Negro "mud-sills" at the bottom, alone permitted genuine republican government, escaped the ills of labor and race conflict, gave widest opportunity for ability and culture, and truly forwarded the cause of civilization. The stability and quiet under such a system were contrasted with the restless strife of the North which was developing socialism and threatening the destruction of security in person and in property. The Southern way of life was the way of order and progress. [my emphasis]
Just not progress in democracy or freedom.

Abraham Lincoln in this account was a blithering fanatic:
Abraham Lincoln, in his "House Divided" speech, prevented himself and his party from being thrust aside by a desperate appeal to old moral foundations. Though his own policy and that of "Judge" Douglas gave identical results, the latter was not born of moral conviction. And until the issue was conceived in terms of "the eternal struggle between two principles-right and wrong-throughout the world" the fight must go on. That is why a man who was willing to save the Union at the cost of a bloody civil war, even with slavery untouched, would not save it by a compromise which yielded party principle but which did not sacrifice a single material thing. The party was one with God and the world's great experiment in Democracy.
I'll leave it for others to sort out whose side God was on. Lincoln himself was restrained on the topic. Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address in 1865, famous for his "with malice toward none" phrase:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. [my emphasis]
Not only Lincoln but everyone else during the Civil War itself knew that slavery was its cause.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

"Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." [my paragraph breaks]
But were Lincoln and the Union on the side of democracy in the Civil War? Absolutely.

Confederate "Heritage" Month, August 14: Ulrich Phillips and the white supremacist narrative

Still catching up on this month's series, and returning one more time to the essay by slavery historian Ulrich Phillips, The Central Theme of Southern History (American Historical Review 34:1; Oct 1928). Phillips, despite being a legitimate important historian on the basis of his research, nevertheless organized his material on the basis of a proslavery and white supremacist narrative. And this essay fully reflects that.

And this was not an essay in some cheap political pamphlet. The American Historical Review was and remains a major scholarly journal. He was writing with the cachet of highbrow respectability.

The essay is about what he calls Southern unity and "solidarity," meaning in his case white Southern segregationist unity around segregation, white supremacy, and Jim Crow laws in what became known as the Solid South reliably dominated by segregationist Democrats. He views the "Redemption," aka, the overthrow of democratic Reconstruction governments in the South by force, violence, intimidation, and fraud, in a favorable light.

But, he warns, the white Southerners could never truly feel secure in their dominance, "because the negro population remains as at least a symbolic potentiality." As opposed to, say, human beings with the right to full American citizenship including the vote (for black men, anyway). This "at least a symbolic potentiality" created "a certain sense of bafflement and of defensive self-containment." Which I suppose is a highbrow euphemism for white racist hatred and fear.

And he explains approvingly the white majority's response:

... by Southern hypothesis, exalted into a creed, negroes in the mass were incompetent for any good political purpose and by reason of their inexperience and racial unwisdom were likely to prove subversive. To remove the temptation to white politicians to lead negroes to the polls again, "white primaries" were instituted to control nominations, educational requirements for the suffrage were inserted in the state constitutions, and the Bryanizing of the Democratic party was accepted as a means of healing a white rift. Even these devices did not wholly lay the spectre of "negro domination"; for the fifteenth amendment stood in the Constitution and the calendar of Congress was not yet free of "force bills".
The white primary meant allowing only whites to vote in the Democratic nominating primaries. Since the Democratic nominee was all but automatically going to be the elected candidate in the general elections statewide in and in most Congressional and legislative districts. The literacy requirements - which some Republicans are making noises about trying to revive - was another technique for disenfranchising black citizens. These allowed the local, usually white, voter registrar to wave through even the most illiterate whites as passing the test, while black college professors could be disqualified.

This is worth noting. The Segregation 1.0 system did not explicitly exclude black voters. The Southern states found it necessary to make that much of a concession to the Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution. And not all black voters were disfranchised in the old Confederacy. And, in addition, some poor whites were disenfranchised by the voter suppression measures such as the poll tax.

Phillips' reference to "Bryanization" refers to the power of the Populist movement in some areas of the South. As Phillips explains, also with obvious approval of the white-supremacist counter-measures:
A dozen years sufficed to restore white control, whereupon they began to differ among themselves upon various issues. Many joined the People's party; and in some quarters a fusion was arranged of Populists and Republicans to carry elections. In the stress of campaigning this threatened to bring from within the South a stimulus to negroes as political auxiliaries.
Some Southern Populists actually did challenge the segregation system and build biracial coalitions.

Phillips was right in understanding that the white powers-that-be saw that development of potentially dangerous to their system. In that essay, though, he does not acknowledge that the white solidarity was one that had to be maintained with some considerable effort on the part of the ruling groups. There was more going on than unanimous white agreement on the superiority of current social arrangements in the South.

By the time of Phillips' 1928 essay, the Populist threat was in abeyance for the moment. Though defenders of the Solid (White) South knew that the threat was chronic. And the threat of the US Constitution and the American way of life confronting the segregation system, as Northern democracy had earlier confronted the threat of the slave system, was always hanging in the air:
... white Southerners when facing problems real or fancied concerning the ten million negroes in their midst can look to the federal authorities for no more at best than a tacit acquiescence in what their state governments may do. Acquiescence does not evoke enthusiasm; and until an issue shall arise predominant over the lingering one of race, political solidarity at the price of provincial status is maintained to keep assurance doubly, trebly sure that the South shall remain "a white man's country".
This was a backhanded concession on Phillips' part that Southern racial practices actually were the Other of American democracy.

It's worth stressing again. This was not a fringe crackpot position that Phillips was taking in 1928. It was considered entirely respectable even in the scholarly mainstream.

Obama's Libya intervention and the "bias for action"

I always have reservations about foreign policy announcement coming from people closely associated with the libertarian Cato Institute. I'm always leery of an Old Right isolationism lying behind it.

That said, Emma Ashford's op-ed Trump’s Syria Strikes Show What’s Wrong With U.S. Foreign Policy New York Times 04/13/2018 makes an important point. We could call it the haste-makes-waste principle of foreign policy. Writing about the Obama Administration's 2011 decision in intervene in Syria at the instigation of Britain and France, she says:
Acting too quickly means that policymakers don’t have full information when making key decisions, and it prevents them from carefully considering the long-term consequences. In best-case scenarios, like Mr. Trump’s 2017 Syrian airstrikes, the harm done of rushing to action is minor. In other cases, it can be disastrous. Just look at the Obama administration’s 2011 decision to intervene in Libya.

The speed of that decision — relying on limited intelligence and questionable assumptions about impending genocide — effectively committed the United States to overthrowing Muammar Qaddafi. The result was the European refugee crisis and a civil war that scholars believe has killed more civilians than the initial intervention saved. Indeed, Mr. Obama’s own reflections on Libya (as well as Iraq) and his criticisms of the bias for action in American foreign policymaking were ultimately behind his decision to resist pressure to strike Syria in 2013. Mr. Obama came to understand that poorly thought-out military interventions can be even costlier.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was enthusiastic about the intervention. And this still strikes me as one of the more callous displays of her career. She's referring to the lynch murder of Muammar Qaddafi, which included raping him with a bayonet. Clinton on Qaddafi: We came, we saw, he died CBS News 10/20/2018. (That video does not allow embedding at this writing.)

Ashford doesn't mention it in that piece, but one of the most significant things about the Libya intervention is that it was a huge setback for the prospects of international agreements on nuclear arms control and on chemical weapons control, as well. Saddam Hussein's Iraq gave up their "WMD" programs, and the Cheney-Bush Administration invaded and overthrew him anyway. Libya announced just after the invasion that they had also given theirs up, which Bush claimed to be a sign of the positive effect of the Iraq War. Then in 2011, we overthrew Qaddafi.

You don't have to be a policy wonk to figure out the implications. If you give up your nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs, the US and NATO are willing to invade and overthrow you and put the leader to death. That surely contributed to the difficulty in working out the Iranian deal on nuclear arms development. And the Trump Administration seems to be on the verge of shredding that one and tossing the pieces to the wind. And, however paranoid the North Korean leadership may be, they aren't wrong to wonder whether giving up their nuclear weapons would be the prelude to a US invasion.

In the article linked in Ashford's piece, "A Model Humanitarian Intervention?" International Security 38:1 (Summer 2013), Alan Kuperman makes clear that the Libya intervention was actually a regime change operation, and not the humanitarian intervention it was justified as being by the US and the NATO allies:
If NATO had prioritized the protection of civilians, in accordance with its [UN Security Council] authorization, the transatlantic alliance would have enforced the no-fly zone, bombed forces that were threatening civilians, and attempted to forge a cease-fire.

Instead, NATO took actions that were unnecessary or inconsistent with protecting civilians, but which fostered regime change. Less than two weeks into the intervention, for example, NATO began attacking Libyan forces that were retreating and therefore not a threat to civilians, who were far away. the same time, NATO started bombing forces in Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, where they represented no threat to civilians because the residents supported the regime. Government officials, the New York Times reported, immediately protested that “Western powers were now attacking the Libyan Army in retreat, a far cry from the United Nations mandate to establish a no-fly zone to protect civilians.” To support this allegation, a Qaddafi spokesman noted that Libyan forces “were attacked as they were clearly moving westbound.” [my emphasis]

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Surprise comment on the Skripal poisoning

PBS Newshour interviewed Kimberley Marten on Columbia's Harriman Institute on U.S., Russia keep from escalating conflict after Syrian strike 04/14/2018. The Skripal poisoning attack came up, almost by accident it seems, at the end (and without the name Skripal being mentioned in the reported portion:
HARI SREENIVASAN:

This is also not happening in a vacuum it’s happening in the context of a recent election that the U.S. Intelligence Committee says that the Russians didn’t meddle in. It happens in the context of poisonings in the UK of former spies. This is kind of a larger pattern of behavior does that all factor into how the world feels about Russia?

KIMBERLY MARTEN:

Oh I’m sure it does. But one thing to keep in mind especially about the poisoning case that happened in the United Kingdom is that there is some evidence that that particular kind of nerve agent Novik truck was used in the mid 1990s in an organized crime hit against a Russian banker and we don’t know that for sure. But there is some evidence there’s a recent investigation that’s continuing on that point. We know that the item was manufactured in Russia. That doesn’t mean necessarily that it was Putin as an individual who ordered it and because we know that there are organized crime connections with Russian intelligence services. It could actually be something that was done by a state agent but not necessarily with a state goal in mind of punishing a spy. It might have been for organized crime reasons in addition. [my emphasis]

Confederate "Heritage" Month, August 13: Ulrich Phillips on white racism among nonslaveholders in the South

Still catching up on the Confederate "Heritage" Month posts

I'm continuing here with discussing the essay by slavery historian Ulrich Phillips, The Central Theme of Southern History (American Historical Review 34:1; Oct 1928). Phillips' friendly view of slavery was very much in line with the Lost Cause/neo-Confederate historical narrative supporting segregation and Jim Crow laws. In the last post, we saw how in his view of Southern history it was not slavery that caused the Civil War, but argued that slavery was rather only a means to the end of protecting "white supremacy and civilization."

He also offers a version of the favorite neo-Confederate argument that the Civil War couldn't have been about slavery because the Confederate soldiers were mostly not slaveowners. As a historical position, that doesn't rate as much more than a throwaway talking point. But people hearing it for the first time may be thrown off, because it doesn't occur to most people at most times that the goals or originating causes of a war can somehow be measured by the the personal opinions or ordinary foot soldiers or their personal economic backgrounds. And both the Union and the Confederacy relied on conscription. Both of them offered exemptions to wealthier men who could pay a personal bounty. The Confederacy's version also exempted slaveowners with 20 or more slaves. So the largest slaveowners were exempted from compulsory military service. But even though the ownership of slaves was heavily concentrated, there were whites - and sometimes Indians and even occasionally free blacks - who owned one or a few slaves. So not only was slave ownership not confined to large planters, that also meant that ordinary farmers could aspire to become successful enough to own one or a few slaves. So even ordinary Confederate soldiers could aspire to become slaveowners.

Phillips does at least allude to "militia musters," the slave patrols in which nonslaveowning white citizens were required to participate. Their role was to patrol for slaves away from their plantations without proper papers. It also gave the white men on the patrol the chance to bully both slaves and free blacks with impunity. It was a key institution in giving nonslaveowning whites a psychological stake in the slave system.

Phillips tries to argue that nonslaveowners were the main source of white racism and anger against Northern Abolitionists:
The reason for this apparent anomaly lay doubtless in the two facts, that men of wealth had more to lose in any cataclysm, and that masters had less antipathy to negroes than non-slaveholders did. In daily contact with blacks from birth, and often on a friendly basis of patron and retainer, the planters were in a sort of partnership with their slaves, reckoning upon their good-will or at least possessing a sense of security as a fruit of long habituation to fairly serene conditions. But the white toilers lived outside this partnership and suffered somewhat from its competition. [my emphasis]
The concept of a "partnership" in which one party literally and legally owns the other is an, uh, intriguing concept.

Phillips in that essay pretty much breezes by the fact that hostility against slavery generally coexisted with hostility to the presence of black people, because black people were associated with slavery. That's not said to excuse the attitude, but rather to say that without recognizing that connection the dynamics of the politics of slavery among whites is more difficult to understand.

It was also the fact that Abolitionist advocacy was suppressed in the slave states with increasing intensity in the decades before the Civil War.

But it's also the case that Southern whites were very aware of the central role of slavery in the politics leading up to the Civil War. And, of course, the advocates for secession put the defense of slavery front and center in their demands. Phillips even notes that in the 1850s, "legal sanction for the spread of slaveholding, regardless of geographical potentialities, became the touchstone of Southern rights."

The Syria strike

A reminder that the US, Britain, and France have been actively involved in the Syrian civil war for years, both directly and in support of proxy forces. from Phil Stewart and Tom Perry report in U.S. says air strikes cripple Syria chemical weapons program Reuters 04/12/2018:
Russian and Iranian military help over the past three years has allowed Assad to crush the rebel threat to topple him.

The United States, Britain and France have all participated in the Syrian conflict for years, arming rebels, bombing Islamic State fighters and deploying troops on the ground to fight that group. But they have refrained from targeting Assad’s government, apart from a volley of U.S. missiles last year.

Although the Western countries have all said for seven years that Assad must leave power, they held back in the past from striking his government, lacking a wider strategy to defeat him.
The official line from the NATO powers was that it wasn't interference in the Syrian civil war. But I take that as diplomatic comma-dancing.

It's hard to say where US policy in Syria is heading. Not least because the President himself is likely clueless on what to do or not do.

Given the lack of any obvious larger strategy for the Syrian civil war by the Trump Administration, Juan Cole has some thoughts about the motivations for this particular attack. The official justification was to deter Syria from further chemical weapons use. Cole writes in Reality Show violence in the Age of Trump: Striking Syria Informed Comment 04/14/2018:
The missile attacks are for domestic politics, and perhaps to some extent a demonstration of political will to Russia and Iran. As military history they are a footnote.

Those who argue that they were necessary to show resistance to the use of chemical weapons are missing some things. The West backed Saddam Hussein’s use of chem in the Iraq-Iran War. It is hard to see why killing children with chlorine differs from the point of view of the children from killing them with bombs. Military action should be taken in accordance with international law. And, deploying missile strikes ineffectually renders them less effective politically down the road.

These strikes are like when a fistfight breaks out on the reality show Big Brother. The show will go on next week.

He also sees the current situation as a win by the Assad regime:
The United States, France and the UK lost the Syrian War to Russia and Iran. It is all over but the shouting. ...

The Tripartite missile attacks on Saturday will attrite some regime military capabilities in a small way. But since the Russian Federation’s Aerospace Forces are actually supplying the air power to defeat what is left of the rebels, the regime’s loss of some facilities won’t matter to the course of the war. I expect further Idlib and Deraa campaigns later this year, and I expect the regime over time to win them. I have to say that I’m surprised by the resiliency of the al-Assad clan. You wouldn’t have expected them easily to restore control over places like Homs (a largely Sunni Arab city with a strong Muslim Brotherhood movement). Security is no doubt fragile. But it appears that a reassertion of the regime is plausible in the short to medium term.
He also reminds us of the company we've been keeping in Syria:

The Syrian revolution of 2011 was a homegrown revolt against a regime that had already largely abandoned its socialist policies in favor of the establishment of Alawite oligarchies, which imprisoned people for the slightest criticism of the regime, and under which the proportion of people living in absolute poverty was rapidly increasing. But when the regime cleverly maneuvered the revolutionaries into allying with Muslim extremists on the battlefield, even then the CIA went on supporting the rebels. Its officials would deny it, but they were one degree of separation away from al-Qaeda, just as they had been in Afghanistan in the 1980s. And even while the US FBI and right wingers in the Senate like Ted Cruz were darkly intimating that the Muslim Brotherhood and all its offshoots are terrorist organizations, the 40 vetted groups supported by the CIA were mostly Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

No lesson of history is ever learned in Washington, D.C.
Al Jazeera has this post-strike discussion, Will strikes deter Assad from using chemical weapons? 04/14/2018:



Joshua Landis is one of the participants. His Syria Comment blog is an important resource on foreign policy issues involving Syria.

Confederate "Heritage" Month, August 12: Ulrich Phillips on white supremacy and Southern unity

I've gotten a couple of days behind on the Confederate "Heritage" Month posts, but I'll do some catching up.

Ulrich Phillips (1877-1934) was a major historian of American slavery. John David Smith in the linked article in the New Georgia Encyclopedia praises Phillips' scholarly work and presents it in a relatively benign light. Although his final sentence in the piece is, "Today historians remember Phillips as a path-breaking scholar, as a pioneer in the use of plantation and other southern manuscript sources, as the inspiration for the "Phillips school" of state slavery studies, and as a conservative, proslavery interpreter of slavery and the slaves."

Phillips' relatively short scholarly essay The Central Theme of Southern History (American Historical Review 34:1; Oct 1928) was an influential one. He tries to describe the defining, unifying core of Southern American identity. He explains that the US South:
... is a land with a unity despite its diversity, with a people having common joys and common sorrows, and, above all, as to the white folk a people with a common resolve indomitably maintained - that it shall be and remain a white man's country. The consciousness of a function in these premises, whether expressed with the frenzy of a demagogue or maintained with a patrician's quietude, is the cardinal test of a Southerner and the central theme of Southern history. [my emphasis]
And he gives the following historical narrative as its context:
It [Southern unity] arose as soon as the negroes became numerous enough to create a problem of race control in the interest of orderly government and the maintenance of Caucasian civilization. Slavery was instituted not merely to provide control of labor but also as a system of racial adjustment and social order. And when in the course of time slavery was attacked, it was defended not only as a vested interest, but with vigor and vehemence as a guarantee of white supremacy and civilization. Its defenders did not always take pains to say that this was what they chiefly meant, but it may nearly always be read between their lines, and their hearers and readers understood it without overt expression. Otherwise it would be impossible to account for the fervid secessionism of many non-slaveholders and the eager service of thousands in the Confederate army. [my emphasis]
Smith mentions this essay in his biographical sketch, "In 'The Central Theme of Southern History' (1928), Phillips maintained that the desire to keep their region 'a white man's country' united southerners."

Expressed with that one-sentence summary, we could imagine that Phillips expressing a harsh critical judgments against attitude on the part of Southern whites. But in the paragraphs I've quoted, it's already clear that was not the case. One thing is striking is that Phillips takes "the South" to be white men. Southern women had the vote by 1928, and "man" was often used in a generic sense, but we wouldn't be far wrong in assuming that he explicitly mean white man in speaking of the "white man's country." Texas did have a female governor 1925-27, Miriam "Ma" Ferguson, who is probably most remembered for an apocryphal comment attributed to her: "If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas."

It's also notable in the latter paragraph quoted, Phillips describes slavery as having been formed for "control of labor" but also to insure "racial adjustment and social order," i.e., the subordination of blacks to whites. This reads very much like projecting the dominant white supremacist ideas of the notoriously anti-immigrant US in the 1920s back onto the 18th and 19th century development of American slavery. We've seen in earlier posts that the Revolutionary generation viewed blacks as generally inferior to whites. But they also justified slavery as a system that was necessary to the raise the African race to white American levels of civilization.

Pseudoscientific theories of inherent racial inferiority came to be the leading ideological justification for slavery by the Deep South slaveowners particularly after the Missouri Compromise of 1820. But establishing slavery for the purpose of "racial adjustment and social order" makes no sense, since there was no problem of "race control" involving blacks in the British colonies until the British had imported large numbers of African slaves. And Phillips even simplicity recognizes that in the immediately preceding sentence!

If anything, it would be much more accurate to say that slavery was restricted to blacks in the British colonies in North America for the purpose of controlling slaves, so the slavery system could be administered as a system of racial control.

How those arguments of Phillips' fit into the larger Lost Cause/neo-Confederate historical ideology is an interesting question. The Lost Cause narrative from immediately after the war insisted that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War nor the primary thing that the Confederacy was defending. Phillips' account quoted above implicitly recognizes the centrality of slavery to the conflict. But he emphasizes that defending slavery was only a means to the end of protecting "white supremacy and civilization." Though he does feel compelled to concede that slavery's "defenders did not always take pains to say that this was what they chiefly meant," he hastens to clarify that "it may nearly always be read between their lines, and their hearers and readers understood it without overt expression." (my empnasis)

This may seem like quite a lot of hairsplitting to say that the Lost Cause wasn't about slavery, it was about defending white supremacy and slavery was only a means to that end. But this kind of headache-inducing argument is very common in neo-Confederate ideology. Phillips goes on to say, "Otherwise it would be impossible to account for the fervid secessionism of many non-slaveholders and the eager service of thousands in the Confederate army." This is also a variant of a common neo-Confederate claim, which says that the fact that so many nonslaveowners fought for the Confederacy is proof that the war wan't "about slavery."

That's a flimsy claim. But Phillips does have some things to say in elaborating that point that are worth considering in the next post in this series.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Syria war escalation and the European refugee crisis

I began this post before the news a few minutes ago that the US, Britain, and France are making some kind of military strike on Syria. My Congresswoman's initial reaction:

My preferred Democratic California Senator candidate reacted:


Sadly, the question about Congressional authorization is rhetorical. I hope it will change, sooner rather than later.

Britain and France decided to join Trump in this military escalation in Syria. Angela Merkel has saids Germany won't participate. (Maxime Schlee, Merkel rules out German participation in military strike on Syria Politico EU 04/12/1)

Robert Fisk is always worth reading on Middle Eastern military adventures. In As Theresa May gears up for war in Syria, we should remember what hypocrites we are about chemical warfare in the Middle East Independent 04/12/2018. He tends to take a dim view about NATO countries declaring their high-minded reasons to justify military intervention there.
So there we are. [British Prime Minister Teresa] May holds a “war cabinet”, for heaven’s sakes, as if our losses were mounting on the Somme in 1916, or Dorniers were flying out of occupied France to blitz London in 1940.

What is this childish prime minister doing? Older, wiser Conservatives will have spotted the juvenile quality of this nonsense, and want a debate in Parliament. How could May follow an American president who the world knows is crackers, insane, chronically unstable, but whose childish messages – about missiles that are “nice and new and ‘smart’” – are even taken seriously by many of my colleagues in the US? We should perhaps be even more worried about what happens if he does turn away from the Iran nuclear deal.

It continues to surprise me that European political discussions of the refugee crisis refer so little to the role of NATO wars in the Greater Middle East. And that European discussions of military strikes, interventions, and regime change refer so infrequently to the significant effects on the refugee crisis that those wars have.

But in reality, when Britain and France talk about military intervention in the Middle East or Northern Africa, they are talking about something like to significantly increase the number of refugees trying to come to Europe. And not just to Europe.

The UN Refugees website as of this date provides the following graphics on refugees:
The graph on the right apparently applies only to the three countries show in the middle graphic.

The website also provides this information:
The conflict in Syria, now in its seventh year, was the world’s biggest producer of refugees (5.5 million). Humanitarian needs in Syria have increased significantly since the beginning of the crisis, with 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 6 million children. Over 400,000 people have been killed and more than 1 million injured since 2010.

Many Syrians have been forced to leave their homes, often multiple times, making Syria the largest displacement crisis in the world with 6.3 million people internally displaced and almost 4 million people registered as refugees in neighboring countries. An estimated 4.53 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in hard-to-reach areas and besieged locations.

Turkey hosts over 2.9 million registered Syrians. The majority of them live in urban areas, with around 260,000 accommodated in the 21 government-run refugee camps. There are more than a million registered Syrians in Lebanon and 660,000 in Jordan. Iraq has also seen a growing number of Syrians arriving, hosting more than 241,000, while in Egypt UNHCR provides protection and assistance to more than 122,000. [my emphasis]
South Sudan is also a significant source of regugees: "In 2016, the disastrous break-off of peace efforts in July in South Sudan contributed to an outflow of 737,400 people by the end of the year. That number has continued to rise during the first half of 2017."

This article from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR gives the following description of the refugee situation in Syria, Syria conflict at 7 years: ‘a colossal human tragedy’ 03/09/2018:
The relentless suffering of Syrian civilians marks a shameful failure of political will and a new low in Syria’s long-running conflict, which this month reaches a depressing seventh anniversary, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Friday.

“This seven-year war has left a colossal human tragedy in its wake. For the sake of the living, it is high time to end this devastating conflict. There are no clear winners in this senseless pursuit of a military solution. But the losers are plain to see – they are the people of Syria,” he added.

Seven years of fighting have cost hundreds of thousands of lives, driven 6.1 million people from their homes inside Syria, and forced 5.6 million refugees to seek safety in neighbouring countries in the region.


The conditions faced by civilians inside Syria are worse than ever, with 69 per cent languishing in extreme poverty. The share of families spending more than half of their annual income on food has risen to 90 per cent, while food prices are on average eight times higher than pre-crisis levels. Some 5.6 million people endure life-threatening conditions in terms of their security, basic rights or living standards, and require urgent humanitarian assistance. [my emphasis]

And the United States? Dara Lind reports in The US has all but slammed the door on Syrian refugees Vox 04/13/2018:
In the last years of the Obama administration, the US resettled tens of thousands of Syrian refugees. When Trump took office, that number plummeted — partly because of the 120-day “refugee ban” that prevented nearly any refugees from being brought into the US over the summer of 2017, and partly because of specific scrutiny facing refugees from several countries, including Syria.

The result is that the US is on pace to resettle fewer than 100 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year that ends September 30. And it might not even be that many.

Chris Hayes was retweeting this:

The US was taking only a trickle of Syrian refugees under the Obama Administration. But, "almost as soon as Trump took the oath of office, his administration slammed the door shut" on them.

The German statistical office reports that at the end of 2017, Germany had a total of 10.6 million people in Germany with only a non-German citizenship. (Ausländische Bevölkerung wächst im Jahr 2017 um 5,8 % 12.04.2018) Most of them come out of other EU countries, especially Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. They show the foreign population of the country growing from 8.2 million to 10.0 million from 2014 to 2016. 2015 was the acute phase of the chronic refugee crisis that generated political unrest in Europe, although about 500,000 of that growth was from the EU-28 states.

Spiegel Online reports (Zahl der Ausländer auf 10,6 Millionen gestiegen 12.04.2018 ) that the number of Syrian refugees coming into Germany dropeed from 260 thousand in 2016 to 61 thousand in 2017. the number from Afghanistan dropeed from 119 thousand in 2016 to five thousand in 2017. The national statistics office indicates that some of the refugees coming in 2015 appear in the figures as though they arrived in 2016. The real drop in Syrian and Afghan refugees was from 2015 to 2017.

Der Standard reports that an EU payment payment due under the EU's 2015 agreement with Turkey, which is a very large part of the solution to the refugee problem. A classic Angela Merkel extend-and-pretend "solution." Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and Sweden are all pushing to have it come out of the EU budget. With some grumbling to be heard about how Merkel crammed the thing down everyone's else's throats. (Adelheid Wölfl, Flüchtlingsabkommen mit Türkei: Merkel soll an EU vorbeiverhandelt haben 12.04.2018)

See also:

Dominik Peters und Maximilian Popp, Für Flüchtlinge die Hölle - für die EU ein Partner Spiegel Online 12.04.2018

Kickl will Asylanträge auf europäischem Boden verhindern Die Presse 11.04.2018

Thomas Mayer, EU-Türkei-Deal: Merkel allein gegen fast alle Der Standard 12.04.2018