The 1964 Civil Rights Act

July 2, 2014

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I’m reading Clay Risen’s book, The Bill of the Century: The Epic Batter for the Civil Rights Act, an amazing reminder of how difficult, complex, and dangerous the fight for equal rights for black Americans was in the 1950s and 1960s. Risen, an editor at the NY Times and contributor to various publications, previously wrote A Nation on Fire: American in the Wake of the King Assassination.

The passage of the 1964 bill, 50 years ago today, was a near-miracle (just try imagine that happening today, for example). While some of the actors–Lyndon Johnson, for starters–have come down in popular history as heroes in the struggle, others–Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen, for example, and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. William McCulloch, and any number of Senate and House staffers–did much of the hard work. They overcame the deeply-entrench power of Southern racist Democrats in the Senate, breaking an historic filibuster in the process. The political maneuvering was byzantine and intense, yet it produced what was one of the most important pieces of legislation of the 20th Century. The political fallout–summarized in Johnson’s famous statement about delivering the South to the Republicans–is with us still, as is racism.

But the fact remains that, for a moment, at least, the apparatus of the federal government gave us all hope that E Pluribus Unum might mean something after all.

Some news summaries of the Act and its impact:

National Public Radio

Los Angeles Times

Vox

Wall Street Journal

Later,


Now What?

June 30, 2014

First, if for some reason it has to be repeated: elections matter; they have consequences.

Consider how the Supreme Court would have held, not only in the Hobby Lobby and Harris v. Quinn cases decided today, but in Columbia v. Heller (which, for the first time, said an individual has a right to own a gun irrespective of the “well-regulated militia” section of the Second Amendment), McDonald v. Chicago (which over-rode local gun laws), Citizens United and FEC v. Wisconsin Right-to-Life (which weakened campaign finance laws), Shelby County v. Holder (which eviscerated the Voting Rights Act), Crawford v. Marion County Election Board (which upheld Indiana’s voter ID law), or in several other cases, had Al Gore filled the two seats now held by John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

In many of those cases, the Republican majority became “activist judges,” the kind the Right is supposed to detest, and either ignored or overturned long-held precedent. That in itself is not necessarily a bad thing; Brown v. Board of Education overturned decades of precedent condoning segregation. But this Court, or at least it’s Republican-appointed male majority, has made activism a standard practice.

Yes, the present Court has upheld the EPA on emissions, and required warrants for searches of cell phones, but a Gore-appointed Court would have done the same thing. It might not even have granted cert on Citizens United, and even if it had, it would not have expanded the case to strike a blow at campaign finance reform.

I recall all too clearly Naderites back in 2000 arguing there was no difference between the Democrats and Republicans, that they were both bought and paid-for by corporations. Michael Moore, in particular, said he was sick of hearing people warning about the Supreme Court. How d’ya like the Court now, Michael?

While Dems do not have a sterling progressive record (witness NAFTA, welfare “reform,” and deregulation of the financial industry), had they held the White House and Congress, the ruinous tax cuts passed under Bush II would not have happened; we would not have gone to a trumped war in Iraq (and perhaps not ignored the CIA’s specific warning about 9/11); and we certainly have not seen the kinds of holdings that have come down from the Supreme Court since Roberts and Alito took their seats.

I’ve read bloggers claiming today’s decisions will be rallying cries for Democrats in the fall and in 2016, especially women. We’ll see. We’d better hope so.

Holding the Senate is the first order of business. Mitch McConnell has already promised, among other things, an assault on a woman’s right to choose should the Rs take over that chamber. Of course, if they lack 60 votes, Dems will be able to bottle things up, just as the Rs have since Obama was elected. But why even give them the opening?

As for 2016, consider that four justices are over 70–Breyer, Ginsberg, Scalia and Kennedy. The next president may well have four openings to fill.

Later,


Happy Birthday, Eva Boyd!

June 29, 2014

C’mon, c’mon, do the Loco-Motion with me!

Yes, that’s a Carole King/Gerry Coffin song.

Later,


June 29th, 1955 – Rock Around the Clock Goes #1

June 29, 2014

See ya later, alligator,


100 Years Ago, the World Changed Catastrophically, with a Murder

June 28, 2014

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There are plenty of histories tracing the events over decades that built the tinderbox that was ignited by Princip’s two .38 calibre bullets, but I particularly like this piece in the Wall Street Journal.

Note the sign on the museum, “The Street Corner that Started the 20th Century.” Sadly true.

Later,


“Capitalism left unchecked tends towards concentration and collapse . . . .”

June 28, 2014

Billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer penned a commentary piece for Politico that’s getting a lot of notice. He’s basically warning his fellow one-tenth-of-one-percenters that they’re in danger of killing the goose that laid their golden eggs. He also recognizes that our current course is dangerous for our democracy as well as our economy, and he calls for those with the power to steer public policy to get with the program.

He notes, for example: “[C]apitalism left unchecked tends toward concentration and collapse. It can be managed either to benefit the few in the near term or the many in the long term. The work of democracies is to bend it to the latter.”

Interestingly, this piece appeared about the same time as Joe Stiglitz’ closing essay for NYT’s The Great Divide Series, reminding people that income inequality does not occur by chance, but by design, the design of those who have the most influence over government and public policy.

Read together, they’re pretty compelling. Stiglitz says it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can change course. Hanaeur says if we don’t change course, there’s trouble ahead.

Later,


Cardinals Halfway Through the 2014 Season

June 28, 2014

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Taking on the Dodgers tonight, record is 44-37.

By way of reference, this time last year, the Redbirds, recovering from a June swoon, were five games better, 49-32.

50 years ago, in the legendary 1964 season, the Cardinals were 40-41 at the midway point of the season. It would be mid-August before they put on their charge that would carry them to a pennant on the last day of the season.

So far, the word that defines the season, in my mind, is “inconsistent.” The offense in particular: it’s 17th in BA, 16th in OBP, and has scored 306 runs, 27th in the majors. Milwaukee, currently 5 1/2 games ahead in the division, has scored 66 more runs, although their pitching as allowed 54 more runs. The Cardinals were more or less stuck around .500 for the first three months of the season, including an awful 10 games in late May where they were . They will get hot for a stretch, like the 8-2 run in mid-June against Toronto, Tampa Bay, Washington, and the Mets, then flop back to mediocre, as happened since that stretch ended, including a 1-0 shutout Thursday in LA to rob Adam Wainwright, who carried a no-hitter into the 6th, of his 11th win.

Pitching – though with some very bad days, pitching has carried the team. Staff ERA is 3.21, 3rd in the majors, and they’ve held opponents to a .230 BA, best in baseball. Wainwright is having a very good year; however – and this is a big red flag for me – he’s already rung up 116 innings. I know he’s normally good for 200+ a season, but he’s also 32 years old. I still think his poor showing in the Series last fall was in part due to being tired.

As for the team, the pieces don’t fit together consistently, and now the DL includes starters Joe Kelly, Michael Wacha, and Shelby Miller. Perhaps the rest will do Wacha good; he’s proven, after a spectacular performance last fall, he’s human (and 5-5). Matt Carpenter is hitting 24 points below his career BA. Matt Holliday and Alan Craig are way off their usual production, although Craig leads the team with 40 RBIs. Matt Adams returned from the DL with a vengeance – .385, 3 home runs, 10 RBIs in the last week.

Jhonny Peralta, of whom I was skeptical, has so far paid off. He leads the team in home runs, with 11.

So, consistency and getting the team in sync, to me, seems the key. Barring a 1964-ish collapse, the Brew Crew isn’t going to give the Cardinals anything; they’ll have to take it.

Later,


Fifty Years Later, the Freedom Summer Martyrs are Watching

June 21, 2014

“The past is never dead; it’s not even past.” – William Faulkner, “Requiem for a Nun”

Norman-Rockwell-Murder-in-Mississippi-Southern-Justice-1965

“Southern Justice – Murder in Mississippi” – Norman Rockwell

James Earl Chaney was 21 years old. Andrew Goodman was 20. Michael Schwerner was 24. The three young men traveled to Mississippi 50 years ago this week to participate in Freedom Summer, a project organized by the Mississippi branches of four civil rights organizations, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Congress of Racial Equality, and the NAACP. The project attracted hundreds of young people from around the country to Mississippi to help register black Mississippians to vote, despite the likelihood they might be assaulted, beaten, and possibly killed.

On June 21st, 1964, the three young men had been in the state only a day when they met in Meridian, Mississippi, and climbed into a car to investigate the burning of the Mount Zion Methodist Church, in Longdale. They were stopped in Philadelphia, arrested for speeding, and jailed. They were released about 10 p.m. and drove into a carefully planned Klan ambush. They were taken to a remote location and executed, their bodies buried in an earthen dam, to be discovered several weeks later.

Eleven days after the murders, President Johnson would sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law. Ground-breaking as that legislation was, it did not include the right to vote. That required the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed into law August 6, 1965.

It appeared the sacrifices of the men, women, and children who’d had dogs and firehoses turned on them, who’d been harassed and jailed, who’d seen their houses and churches burned, who had been threatened, beaten, blown up, shot, and lynched, might have brought the nation to a great epiphany, with the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” finally fulfilled for every American. In 1966, Edward Brooke, a Republican from Massachusetts, would become the first popularly elected African-American Senator. A year later, Johnson would make Thurgood Marshall, who had argued Brown v. Board of Education before the Supreme Court, the nation’s first African-American justice on that court.

But both major political parities had already shown why the optimism needed tempering. In July, 1964, the Republicans met in San Francisco and nominated Barry Goldwater for president. Delegates from the Party of Lincoln also voted down a civil rights plank in their platform. In August, in Atlantic City, Johnson maneuvered to prevent the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the convention so as not to enrage the Southern racists in his party, who he feared could bolt and perhaps cost him re-election.

The powers of regression nursed their grudges over decades and struck back whenever opportunities presented themselves. Four years after Freedom Summer, Richard Nixon would deploy his infamous “Southern Strategy,” an effort to appeal to white racists and short-circuit the third-party challenge from the Right by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. It didn’t work; Wallace won Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, but Nixon still scraped by with a win and set the tone for his party’s language and tactics on civil rights in the future.

The Democratic party had an ugly legacy of racism; they grew out of it. The Republican party had a legacy of support for civil rights; they repudiated it.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, the Republicans’ freshly minted presidential candidate, made his first campaign stop, with the encouragement of a young Congressman, Trent Lott, just a few miles from Philadelphia, and told the cheering crowd he believed in “states’ rights.” Some have dismissed any suggestion of racism in Reagan’s remarks, saying he was just referring to his beliefs in small government and federal over-reach. That’s patently ridiculous. Reagan was a smart politician; he knew the code words, and he knew exactly what meaning his audience, and millions of Southern voters, would take away from his speech.

This was not the only instance where racist code would appear in one of the candidate’s speeches. He made much of a Cadillac-driving “welfare queen” and talked about “young bucks” buying steaks with food stamps.

So, a short distance from where three young men were murdered for their belief in individual freedom, Reagan spat on them.

Lott, by the way, would later refuse to support a Congressional resolution honoring Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. He would eventually be brought down by his remarks praising Sen. Strom Thurmond, the racist who did bolt the Democratic party twice, once in 1948, to run for president as a “Dixiecrat,” and in 1964, to become a Republican.

Meanwhile, the effort to roll back voting rights continues. Opponents of those rights achieved a major victory last year, when the Republican majority of the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act. Many states, particularly Southern states, lost no time enacting laws aimed at making it harder for minorities and the poor to exercise their franchise.

Supporters of voter suppression laws claim they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but that claim is absurd on its face. The Brennan Center at New York University has conducted extensive study and analysis of claims of vote fraud and found them false.

Voting is not a privilege; it’s a right. It’s the fundamental right of a democracy. We should be doing everything we can to protect that right, not restrict it. Whether our public institutions will again rise to the challenge and stop the wave of regressive efforts to throw obstacles in the path of people who want to exercise their franchise remains to be seen. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and their compatriots who risked and sometimes lost their lives in the struggle for democracy and individual freedom, await the outcome.

Later,


Thought for the Day

June 21, 2014

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Sumer Is Icumen In

June 21, 2014

Celebrate!

SummerSolsticeMetalSun

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