A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Sun, 21 Oct 2018 13:17:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 32 32 Corporate Friendly Climate “Solutions” Won’t Save Us Fri, 19 Oct 2018 14:55:09 +0000

As a longtime resident of Georgia, where the levers of power are controlled by those who deny climate change, I admire California Governor Jerry Brown’s defiance of the United States’ reckless withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. Under Brown’s leadership, California is trying to do its part to achieve the goal of preventing the increase above the pre-industrial average global temperature from going past 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Until recently, this was the agreed upon tipping point, above which there would be catastrophic overheating of the climate.

A glowing earth in our handsOn October 8, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report warning that the previously estimated threshold is too high and that humanity must succeed in keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to avoid a chaotic scenario including the eradication of ecosystems on 13% of the earth’s land area and the death or suffering of hundreds of millions of people. According to the IPCC, we have only twelve years to make the “rapid and far-reaching” changes needed to accomplish this difficult task, and that on our current path we are headed to a disastrous 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming by the end of the century. If global warming continues at its current rate, we could exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius sometime between 2030 and the mid-2050s.

This is unquestionably a planetary emergency requiring drastic action. Unfortunately Brown’s climate efforts, largely based on market-oriented remedies, fall far short of what’s needed to avert the disasters of overheating described by the IPCC. We should be careful not to blindly follow his example.

In September, California Governor Jerry Brown convened the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. As a representative of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, I joined hundreds of activists from the Climate Justice Alliance at the event.

We were not inside the exclusive confines of the conference center where business, government, and civic leaders from around the world discussed California’s plan to play a large role in the global response to the climate crisis. Instead, we were out in the street, calling for the Governor of the fifth largest economy in the world to reject flawed market-oriented solutions, and instead address the critical concerns of the multitudes living in communities that are endangered by the continued emissions from dirty energy.

At the same time Brown promotes clean energy, he has failed to restrict oil and gas production in California. Oil Change International reports that during his tenure, California has issued more than 20,000 permits for new oil wells. This has happened despite pleas from disadvantaged communities that bear the brunt of fossil-fuel pollution, calling for a “planned phase-out” of oil and gas production, and a “just transition for workers, communities, and economies” harmed by the industry. Brown’s market-focused policy also ignores well understood warnings from climate scientists that it will be impossible to prevent a climate catastrophe without keeping most of the earth’s known fossil-fuel reserves in the ground.

Yet, when Brown signed California’s groundbreaking climate legislation which aims to achieve 50% renewable energy use by 2025 and 60% by 2030, he claimed that the state is on a path to meeting a goal of 100% “carbon neutrality” by 2045 – meaning net zero emissions of the greenhouse gases that are overheating the climate.

The sleight of hand that makes it possible to allegedly achieve these goals without putting the fossil fuel industry out of business involves assigning a monetary value to the capacity of natural ecosystems to store carbon, thereby enabling questionable carbon-trading schemes that would allow polluters to continue discharging greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by buying “carbon offsets.”

At the San Francisco protests I listened to compelling speeches and tragic stories of indigenous people from around the world who are being banished from their homelands as a result of fraudulent carbon-trading schemes. They have lived for countless generations on these lands without destroying the forests, wetlands and waterways that sustain them. Unfortunately, their potent message that treating nature as a reservoir for dumping carbon pollution is a death sentence for humanity, has been drowned out by a rush to milk profits from the climate crisis.

Listening to these unjustly displaced people as well as people from impoverished American neighborhoods seeking relief from pollution and oppressive economic conditions, has convinced me that most market-oriented strategies presented by political and business leaders are designed primarily to protect fossil-fuel profits. These strategies bolster the existing fossil-fuel-enabled power-structure, rather than advancing the urgently needed transition to more resilient, sustainable, and equitable clean-energy economies which would safeguard humanity from impending climate catastrophe.

Georgia has no oil and gas wells yet (proposals for offshore drilling and fracking are on the table), and our political leaders do not even pretend to be engaged in seeking solutions to the climate crisis. Even so, I think we have much to learn from the struggles of people who live in vulnerable areas of the world that are the frontlines of this crisis.

Many of us have been slow to understand that we also live on the frontlines, and are at the mercy of corporate profits and related political power. Consider the following:

  • Coastal Georgia faces inundation from climate induced sea-level rise, yet our political leadership supports a proposal to open our coast to oil and gas development and the pollution that comes with it.
  • Our forests are threatened by the unfolding development of the biomass industry which exports wood pellets to be burned for electricity in Europe – another false climate “solution” that actually increases greenhouse gas emissions while contributing to asthma and other pollution-induced health problems.
  • Savannah hosts an LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal having the potential to cause a catastrophic accident incinerating populated areas, and that will help expand the environmentally destructive U.S. fracking industry by increasing sales of domestic natural gas production in the global marketplace.
  • Georgians are paying an exorbitant price for the construction of two new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle, as Georgia Power hinders progress on expanding much less expensive solar and wind power because they are less profitable for the company.
  • Thanks to Georgia’s corporate-friendly energy policies, utility-scale solar that preserves Georgia Power’s profit-making is developing much faster than rooftop solar which benefits average households. Only 5% of Georgia’s solar capacity is on rooftops compared to 40% of U.S. solar capacity distributed on rooftops and community solar.

The consistent thread throughout this list is the priority given to corporate profits rather than serving the public’s need for a healthy, life-sustaining environment.

In California I met outspoken grassroots leaders from other parts of the U.S. and the globe, who recognize that decision-makers in power are not going to promote the kinds of policies that will go far enough to advance effective climate solutions without a strong push from a powerful grassroots movement. Such a movement which includes the voices of marginalized and economically disadvantaged groups will demand the kinds of sweeping changes required to save all of us.

Karen Grainey

Karen is the assistant director of Center for a Sustainable Coast. She lives and works in Savannah.

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Music Wed, 17 Oct 2018 15:33:26 +0000 Gone With the Wind, Robert Frost wrote “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and Paul Newman starred in “Cool Hand Luke.” Most can even quote the most famous lines from these works of literary and cinematic art:
  • “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (No. 1 among the most memorable lines ever spoken in a movie.)
  • “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.”
  • “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
  • Why then do so few of us know who wrote the most famous songs in The Great American Songbook, the canon of the most beloved popular songs of the 20th century? (Sorry, millennials, but it will take a while for songs of your generation to achieve such high ranking.)

Most literate Americans know that Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind, Robert Frost wrote “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and Paul Newman starred in “Cool Hand Luke.”

Most can even quote the most famous lines from these works of literary and cinematic art:

  • “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” (No. 1 among the most memorable lines ever spoken in a movie.)
  • “The woods are lovely, dark and deep,/But I have promises to keep,/And miles to go before I sleep,/And miles to go before I sleep.”
  • “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
  • Why then do so few of us know who wrote the most famous songs in The Great American Songbook, the canon of the most beloved popular songs of the 20th century? (Sorry, millennials, but it will take a while for songs of your generation to achieve such high ranking.)

Name That Tune screenshotStrange, isn’t it? No matter your age, these canonized “old standards” probably make up the sound track of your life. But who wrote them? Most people don’t know. Worse, they don’t care.

Well, if you truly don’t care, deposit your music credentials in the waste basket by the door on your way out. This music does matter. It matters because art matters. It matters because human emotion matters. And where does human emotion find its most memorable expression? In the words and music of America’s greatest songwriters.

Indeed, I’ve heard many a lyric that Shakespeare himself might envy. Truth is, The American Songbook is a treasure trove of neglected American art — especially when the song has found its perfect expression in the work of talented musicians.

Listen, for instance, to Billie Holiday singing (in 1937) “I Must Have That Man,” words and music by Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields:

“I need that person much worse than just bad.
I’m half alive and it’s driving me mad.
He’s only human; if he’s to be had,
I must have that man.”

This is from one of the greatest torch songs of all time by perhaps the greatest torch singer of all time, and backing her are some of the greatest musicians of all time: Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Lester Young, and Buck Clayton, who on this number demonstrates that a trumpet player knows something about aching hearts, too.

Next, fast forward to 1975 and hear “One of These Nights” by the Eagles, a song written by Don Henley and Glenn Frey. In expressing the bedeviling ambiguity of intense longing, the lyrics are so simple they are brilliant:

“I’ve been searching for the daughter of the devil himself,
I’ve been searchin’ for an angel in white;
I’ve been waitin’ for a woman who’s a little of both,
And I can feel her, but she’s nowhere in sight.”

(Full disclosure: I liked this verse so much that I used it as the epigraph of my first novel, Striking Out, and if you divine from this that Striking Out is NOT about baseball, move to the head of the class.)

But let’s return to the subject: the lyrics, not necessarily their rendition by a particular singer. Some songs sound good even by rank amateurs (like moi) vocalizing in the shower.

My wife, looking over my shoulder as I write, threw this one into the mix. See if you can, ahem, Name That Tune. Then see if you can (drum roll, please) identify who wrote it:

  • “Suddenly I’m not half the man I used to be. There’s a shadow hanging over me. Oh, yesterday came suddenly.”
  • “I’ve laid in a ghetto flat, cold and numb. I heard the rats tell the bedbugs to give the roaches some.”
  • It seems we stood and talked like this before. We looked at each other in the same way then, but I can’t remember where or when.”
  • “You blew in from the Middle West, certainly impressed the population hereabouts. Well, baby, I’ve got news for you: I’m from Missouri, too. So naturally I got my doubts.”
  • “I’d sacrifice anything, come what might, for the sake of having you near, in spite of a warning voice that comes in the night and repeats, repeats in my ear: ‘Don’t you know little fool, you never can win? Use your mentality. Wake up to reality.’ But each time that I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin…”
  • “Two drifters off to see the world; there’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waitin’ around the bend, my Huckleberry friend…”
  • “Can it be that it was all so simple then? Or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we?”

And now the envelope, please.

  • “Yesterday,” John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
  • “Why I Sing the Blues,” B.B. King.
  • “Where Or When,” Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart.
  • “You Came a Long Way From St. Louis,” Bob Russell and John Brooks.
  • “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Cole Porter.
  • “Moon River,” Johnny Mercer, Georgia’s own, from Savannah.
  • “The Way We Were,” Alan and Marilyn Bergman, and Marvin Hamlisch

Note that these are random examples, not necessarily the creme de la creme, of the wizardry of words set to music in the American Songbook.

OK, that’s enough for one day. Here’s your homework assignment: Find out who wrote “Georgia on My Mind,” “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” and “Midnight Train to Georgia” — and name the three singers who made them immortal. Do that and you’ll be well on your way to, uh, covering Georgia like the dew.

Robert Lamb

Robert Lamb

I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After service in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English, and then began a (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and ended years later in Atlanta at The (great) Atlanta Constitution, which I left in late 1982 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award. My second novel, Atlanta Blues, spent a few minutes on the best-seller list in (at least) Columbia, S.C., and was described in one newspaper’s year-end roundup as “one of the three best novels of 2004 by a Southern writer.” My third novel won no honors but at least didn’t get me hanged; titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in the high school of a Georgia town. For my next novel, And Tell Tchaikovsky the News, I returned to an Atlanta setting for a story about the redemptive powers of, in this case anyhow, “that good rock ’n’ roll.” I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. One of its stories, “R.I.P.,” was a winner in the S.C. Fiction Project in 2009. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.comand I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.

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Tailspin, Steven Brill: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall – and Those Fighting to Reverse It Mon, 15 Oct 2018 11:50:54 +0000

As Brill’s sub-title indicates, this book charts the fall from prosperity for the many in the U.S., the escalating concentration of wealth, and the understaffed movement working to reverse this development.

The People and Forces Behind America's Fifty-Year Fall--and Those Fighting to Reverse It by Steven BrillAfter World War II. until about 1970, an uneasy partnership existed in the U.S., where industrial owners and managers shared the prosperity of that unique time with workers, thanks largely to the organizing efforts of unions. This of course was limited, obviously and disgracefully when it came to race. Various events coalesced to shift this fragile contract against workers – free trade policies, not necessarily intended to produce inequality, in fact supported by unions at the time, in the early 60s; the southern intentional bid to entice industry by maintaining a low-wage, docile, non-union workforce; even lower-wage foreign sweat shops; and automation and efficiency. The latter two features could create leisure for all but in fact predictably diminish working people and fatten the 1%.

Another development contributed in a major way to the upward trajectory of wealth, what Brill calls short-termism. Feeding into this was a move from what he calls aristocracy to meritocracy. The successful sent their children to Yale, Harvard etc; passing on an elite leadership, while the working classes struggled in disadvantage. A movement to “democratize” this situation, also in the 60s, brought in bright working class students who, lacking a sense of entitlement, tended to be driven and to outwork the entitled. Their success led to inventive changes to the good ol’ boy rules which evolved into the short-term-ism Brill derides. It also predictably evolved into this newly privileged group closing ranks to protect their privilege via political influence.

I believe I can flyA few renegades are cited, isolated from the mainstream by ethnic prejudice – one, a Jewish attorney named Lewie Ranieri,, sparked the corporate take-over gambit that wrecked so many lives and businesses but enriched, beyond their imagining, those willing to pursue ruthless, short-term avenues. Buy-outs basically raped a company, borrowing heavily to pump up stock prices, downsizing employees, selling off marginal branches, facilities and equipment, grabbing the profits and abandoning ship. Other actors aggressively marketed mortgages to high risk customers, packaging and selling them to investors (suckers) looking for a high return, in a frenzy of profit-taking until the whole thing came crashing down in 2008. Wall Street, always a gamble, became a high-flying casino with little actually productive investment. Rather, short-term buying and selling voraciously sought profits. Synthetic credit default swaps were like side-bets, where investors bet a stock will rise or fall. Some made millions betting, say, mortgage-backed securities would fail. When they failed en masse they raked in the “winnings”. Sort of like buying life insurance on your unhealthy neighbor with you as beneficiary. After the deluge of course the fixed game proceeded to bail out the gamblers with taxpayer money and leave stranded their victims, homeowners in default and eviction, wiped out pension funds. Given that the key financial people in the administration of W. Bush and later Obama, were Wall Street players, the rescue package was certain to be tilted toward that infamous street. One of the culprits, in Congressional testimony, commented that “People are driven to improve their lives and in a capitalist society you do that with money.” A little hint here then as to where the problem lies. The author makes an odd statement, asking us to not see the actors in these schemes as, ”villains but as simply responding – many with trail-blazing ingenuity, to the incentives put in front of them and the culture of the times.” I wonder if he’d apply this same generous dictum to the inner city gang banger? But he does advocate, “changing the incentives and culture so that the genius of their successors can be redirected.” We can hope I suppose.

Another example is the firm Country Wide Financial, whose CEO, Angelo Mozilo made $500 million in dubious deals, plus a $140 million cash-out as he saw bankruptcy coming, and was eventually fined $67 million, no criminal charges. Not a bad result for him, but collateral damage for the losers (suckers). A Canadian consultant named Michael Pearson advised drug companies to cut research and development, instead buying up small drug companies, hiking their patented, critical meds to outlandish, predatory prices, running up the stock prices and selling, with the winning strategy, “We’ll be gone before the crash.” Going off on his own he bought up with borrowed money, a small drug company, merged with a larger, and over 8 years went on a buying binge which shot up stock prices, cooked the books, created billions on paper, and, when it fell apart, accepted an $11 million dollar severance package with his firing and presumably laughed all the way to his next venture. Many of the financial shenanigans leading to the 2008 disaster, were made possible by the undoing, in the 90s, of the Glass-Steagull act, and other regulations, designed to avoid risky investments like those that brought us the 1929 crash and depression. It was argued that this would jack up the creativity of our Wall Street geniuses. Indeed. Later the Dodd-Frank bill attempted to address “too big to fail” and other factors leading to the crash but the lobbyists moved in. Thirtysix hundred lobbyists made $483 million working for the financial industry that year and you can be sure this tax-deductible expenditure paid for itself. The 1935 Social Security legislation was 21 pages. Dodd-Frank was 848, much of it loopholes inserted to please lobbyists who no doubt showed their appreciation. Thus was it watered down and, more importantly, kept vague so that once it was being implemented at the agency level, the lobbyists could once again descend to have their influence. The public was so incensed though that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau got in so it wasn’t a complete bust.

Speaking of lobbying, in a very competitive field for pernicious political behavior the gun lobby has to be up there at the top. They were able to stop a move to ban armor-piercing ammunition which of course would pierce police vests. You’d think that the traditional conservatism among police would get a little wake-up call from this, showing as it does whose interests are really served by that brand of politics.

Another important factor in the wealth transfer scheme we’ve been enjoying these last 50 years, were the money-is-speech decisions which gave business and wealthy individuals even more influence, ludicrously burying that fact in high-sounding rhetoric about free speech and “the people” needing information for democracy to work so limiting information from the always benevolent corporate sector, it was argued, violated the first amendment. Senators and representatives spend fully 70% of their time raising money for their reelection campaigns and of course they then owe “access” to their donars. The line of thought claiming that if the public were to finance elections then the politicians would owe the people not the corporations, is derided as a “radical”, even “socialist” intrusion on democracy. Let me put that in quotes, “democracy”.

A significant moment in this evolution was a Chamber of Commerce memo written by Lewis Powell which sounded the alarm about the threat to the U.S. economic system by unions and other subversive groups in the 60s, Ralph Nader for example. The memo went viral, energizing the “besieged” business sector, launching immense growth in the lobby profession. Powell later was appointed to the supreme court and many members of congress and other government officials found lucrative early or post- retirement careers in the profession (would objectivity be violated if I called this slimy?).

It strikes me how current Brill’s book is. A book of this depth and literal weight, it seems, would take a long time to write and be somewhat dated but he frequently refers to very recent events, in the Trump administration particularly. Despite a few instances where the author seems a bit naïve about the forces gathered here (he seems unaware of Jane Meyer’s assertion, in Dark Money, that the powers that be in the 30s put together a successful campaign to promote capitalism and demonize socialism in the public mind), the book is chock full of useful information and suggestions for draining the, ah… quaqmire. It would be an understatement to say that is a worthy project. Brill suggests that things have gotten so bad that there just might be an appropriate response in the form of, not left against right but “…everyone becoming personally accountable for what they do and share in their responsibility for the common good.” He lays out instances of this kind of thing already happening, providing a kind of hope in that and in his calling for more.==

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

  • (Painting)
  • (Political Cartoons)
  • (Music)
  • (blog)

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Think You Know How The Supreme Court Will Rule? Don’t Bet On It Mon, 15 Oct 2018 11:29:04 +0000

As Judge Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court, people are already penciling in this court as a conservative court, poised to overturn nearly every liberal or moderate ruling.  But just as you think you know the Supreme Court, the concept of judicial independence throws a monkey wrench into the best laid plans of attorneys, interest groups, politicians and pundits.

Take the case of Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch.  Since he came onto the court, he’s been very willing to let a series of lower court rulings on liberal issues stand.  Though liberals decried his position on the Peruta v. California case (the right of carrying a gun beyond one’s home for self-protection, which was turned down by the Supreme Court), he’s sided with the court liberals in allowing Maryland to ban semiautomatic rifles and magazines with large capacities (Kolbe v. Hogan) and Florida’s ban on the open carry in public law (Norman v. Florida).  In fact, Gorsuch has become so liberal that his votes have earned the ire of Trump, as well as conservatives.

Scales of Justice was created by DonkeyHoteyBy the way, I noted in a column that this was likely to happen back in 2017 when Gorsuch was nominated.  That’s why I wasn’t surprised when Gorsuch’s voting record was considered more liberal than Anthony Kennedy’s, the swing vote.

Most people think Antonin Scalia was a conservative’s conservative, the most right wing justice in history.  That’s not supported by the evidence.  Perhaps that was the case early on, but over the years, Scalia got more libertarian than conservative, with a voting record less conservative than Clarence Thomas or Samuel Alito.

Other Ronald Reagan’s picks, like Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy were also firmly considered centrists, rather than fire-breathing conservatives.

Our college students learn that perhaps the most liberal court in history was Earl Warren’s court.  Many are surprised to learn that Chief Justice Warren was nominated by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and was also a former GOP California Governor and Vice-Presidential nominee on the Thomas Dewey Presidential ticket in 1948.  William Brennan, another Eisenhower pick, went on to be one of the most liberal Supreme Court justices in history.

It’s a similar story with Nixon nominees.  Chief Justice Warren Burger was fairly moderate, as was Lewis Powell.  William Rehnquist was surely conservative, but certainly not Harry Blackmun, who wrote the Roe v. Wade decision and was clearly a member of the court’s left wing for a long time.  Gerald Ford’s nominee John Paul Stevens was liked by liberals as well.  Chief Justice John Roberts may have been nominated by George W. Bush, and generally votes conservative, but he was the key vote in upholding the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

By now, you’ve come to the conclusion that the GOP just can’t pick their judges.  But Democrats like Kennedy picked football star Byron “Whizzer” White, who became known as a conservative judge.  Obama nominees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor have been known to side with conservatives on some issues.  And Clinton pick Stephen Breyer is now considered the new swing judge on a number of issues.

In fact, former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter once admitted “The only check on us is our own self-restraint.”

Who knows how Brett Kavanaugh’s career will turn out.  But if history is any guide, neither side will be able to count his or anyone else’s votes before they’ve been cast on the Supreme Court.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

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What “Values” Candidates Get Wrong About Values Sat, 13 Oct 2018 12:41:52 +0000

Franklin Graham, sharp-edged son of the late beloved evangelist Billy Graham, advised his Twitter followers recently to “be aware of candidates who call themselves progressive” because they don’t “believe in God…and will likely vote against Godly principles….”

To appreciate fully what the “values” candidates favored by Graham and his ilk don’t get about values, let’s hear directly from an ilk. When Vice President Mike Pence accepted his party’s nomination for that office at the Republican Nation Convention in 2016, he famously declared, “I’m a Christian, a conservative and a Republican in that order.” What’s chilling about this isn’t so much that “Christian” came in first as that “American” didn’t even make the cut.

"The noblest motive is the public good." Thomas Jefferson BuildingPence and the values candidates for whom he’s the poster boy don’t understand what makes America the free society it is. What defines a free society is its bedrock commitment to a fair distribution of the secure social space within which competent adults are at liberty to live, not as others think fit, but by their own lights, their own conception of their good, consistent with the same liberty for others.

Your conception of your good is your personal vision of the best, most worthwhile life. It’s what you look to in deciding how to deploy your talents and abilities, how to treat others, etc. It’s a personal moral code, personal because it varies from person to person, depending on upbringing, education, accidents of history, and exposure to a more or less wide range of experiences.

What values candidates don’t understand is that election to public office subordinates their personal conception of their good, which may or may not be shared by all their constituents, to the impersonal, undivided public good that defines ours as the free society it is.

We recognize that the public good takes absolute precedence over elected officials’ private good by requiring them to affirm their allegiance, not to the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Analects of Confucius, the teachings of the Buddha, the tenets of Baha’i, the wisdom of Druids and Wiccans, or the musings of L. Ron Hubbard, but to the Constitution of the United States. Because of the absolute priority of the public good over an officeholder’s private good, the only honorable remedy when they conflict irreconcilably is for the official to resign from office and return to private life.

Candidates and officeholders who don’t understand all this subscribe to what I’ll call the Rick Santorum model of political life. When Santorum represented Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, the New York Times Magazine published a profile of him and quoted him saying about some of his Senate colleagues at the opposite end of the political spectrum, “They’re out there because they really believe this. This is from their core. They’re true believers. God bless them. That’s what political discourse is all about. You bring in your moral code, or worldview, and I bring in mine.”

On the Santorum model, political life is a high-stakes game of capture the flag. Candidates for office and their supporters duke it out for possession of the machinery of government, and whoever wins is then in a position to deploy the coercive powers of the state to turn their personal moral “worldview” into public policy.

But that model subverts the bedrock value that a free society aims to realize. Since the difference between competent adults and children is exactly that the former are free to live their lives in terms of their own values and moral beliefs and children aren’t (yet), another way to look at this is to think of a free society as one in which competent adults need not fear being reduced to the condition of children.

On the Santorum model, though, being reduced to that condition is exactly what the losers in political contests can look forward to from the victors. That’s because the victors mistake the power to translate their personal moral ideas into public policy, to the disadvantage of the vanquished, for the duty to advance the undivided public good at the foundation of a free society, for the benefit of all. It’s that bedrock impersonal public good that’s compromised every time we elect somebody bent on making his or her merely personal “worldview” a law for others.

Leon Galis

I'm an Athens, GA, native and have been living in Athens since 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Since 2008 I've written approximately 80 columns for the Athens Banner Herald and a handful for Flagpole Magazine in Athens.  

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The Good Life Mon, 08 Oct 2018 10:06:53 +0000

We were having an afternoon meal at a preferred local dive. Our favorite server had taken our order and was keeping the drinks coming. During visits the subject of dogs materialized, as it often does with us. Sadly, our server explained that she couldn’t afford a dog.

I realize that adult humans make questionable financial choices from time to time. Anyone spending morning rush hour at seven eleven stores as I have get a crash course on questionable financial decisions.

Customer after customer comes in, purchases a cup of overpriced, bad coffee, two packs of cigarettes, five dollars in gas, and uses the change for lottery tickets. This happens over and over. The customer usually offers some solid advice about what the government should be doing with our money. I get it. Habits are hard to break.

But you would think that the richest country in the history of the world could do a little better for its citizens. It would be easy to provide free health care and free education to any citizen desiring it. Everything depends on what one considers entitlements.

That evening I heard that Department of Education Head Betsy DeVos had lost a yacht. Someone had snuck in and cut it loose from the dock. She only has nine others. Does anyone really need ten yachts? Later that week I heard that Bill Gates’ home in Seattle has six kitchens and sixteen point five bathrooms. Wow.

In 1965, the income disparity between CEOs of companies and their employees was 20%. Today the figure sits at 271%. In 1973, after four decades of steady income growth, the nation’s middle class began to experience income stagnancy. The only growth was happening at the very top percentile of income. That remains true today although the gap is widening. Today the richest 20% of Americans account for more than 80% of the nation’s income.

In 1980, corporate America paid 30% of the country’s tax bill. Since then, Republican legislators have pushed three tax bills through Congress. Currently, the corporate tax responsibility is about 10%. None of the tax savings appears to have been passed to employees. Stock dividends and yachts are way too important.

For all of those former middle class employees, buying power has stagnated and the government’s safety net has been reduced. Health care is a mess and anyone going to college without help will have a lifetime debt to pay off.

During the last fifty years, Republican politicians have run almost exclusively on policies of fear and division. Proudly sporting American flag lapel pins and claiming the Bible as their favorite book, those legislators and their party have run entire campaigns in state, local, and federal races based on racist attitudes toward Blacks, Hispanics, and Muslims, and the idea that Liberals are turning America in a Socialist nightmare.

Unions and working Americans have been hamstrung in favor of the super wealthy, and issues like healthcare, opioid drug addiction, and infrastructure have been ignored. The current administration is no different; only more blatant.

One would think that eventually people would wise up and realize they are voting against their own self interest, or not bothering to vote at all. But after fifty years, very little has changed.

Fear and ignorance play well in America.

Mike Cox

Mike Cox

Mike Cox currently writes a weekly column in South Carolina for the Columbia Star called "It's Not a Criticism, It's an Observation." He is trying to grow old as gracefully as possible without condemning the current generation in charge to doom. Each day this task gets harder as the overwhelming evidence mounts. He currently has two published books; Finding Daddy Cox, and October Saturdays. His columns have won three South Carolina Press Association awards since 2003. Mike has three sons and two grandchildren and lives in Irmo, Sc, just outside of Columbia.

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A very scary time for young men Wed, 03 Oct 2018 19:00:02 +0000

Two things struck me while I was reading the news this evening (everything from Fox to Vox):

Today Trump said “It is a very scary time for young men in America, when you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.” Let’s try to forget, for a moment, his nails-on-a-chalkboard style of babbling, and focus on the statement itself.

I shall assume that Trump was referring to young white men in America because it has always been a terrifying time for young black men. So…white males. In that he was alluding to Judge Kavanaugh, we can extrapolate that his comment spoke to privileged and empowered white males – the so-called “elite” that are the target of Trumpites’ ire.

Apparently, it is scary, very scary, to be a pale-skinned, wealthy, youthful possessor of a penis in these here United States. Interesting.

Meanwhile, a recently released report from the Missouri State Auditor informs us that Missouri can’t account for about 1,200 sex offenders who are required to register with law enforcement in the state. “Those unaccounted for include about 800 sex offenders considered to be the most dangerous: people convicted of rape, sodomy or child molestation in the first or second degree.” And Missouri isn’t alone in this. State after state report that they’ve managed to lose track of thousands of sex offenders. Women and children are, of course, most vulnerable to attacks.

But hey … it is a very scary time for young men in America.

1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. 9 out of 10 rape victims are female.

But it is a very scary time for young men in America.

Child Protective Services agencies estimate that 63,000 children a year are victims of sexual abuse. The perpetrators of the crimes are, by an overwhelming majority, male. (57% white)

But it is a very scary time for young men in America.

And we won’t even go into how “scary” it is for immigrant parents who are seeking asylum only to have their children torn from them and “misplaced” in your administration’s hellish “system.” Or how “scary” it is for young black men who risk being gunned down in the street if they walk in a white neighbourhood … or sit in their own apartments.

How about a single mother in an inner-city? Or someone who can’t afford healthcare or a parent who doesn’t have access to a decent school for their child or an elderly woman facing a lonely and economically-uncertain future or a town on the edge of a toxic coal-ash dump? Is this country not more frightening for them than it is for the eternal frat-boy, wallet-whipping, BSDs that you’re so worried about, Donald? Are the subjects of your concern afraid when they walk down the street, cross a parking lot at night, deal with a leering boss, try to placate a drunken and abusive spouse etc.?

But we agree on one thing: This is a very scary time in America. In fact, it’s downright terrifying.

Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.

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How Brett Kavanaugh Can Serve His Country Tue, 02 Oct 2018 12:06:46 +0000

So New York Times columnist Ross Douthat thinks that “Only the Truth Can Save Us Now.”

If truth is our only salvation, we’re lost. Douthat urged the Senate Judiciary Committee to subpoena key figures he thought could shed light on the sexual assault that Christine Blasey Ford said Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh committed against her thirty-six years ago.

Though it had the advantage of compelling the testimony of the witnesses whose accounts the Committee thought would be most revealing, I can understand why the majority declined to go there. Witnesses testifying involuntarily are going to show up with a phalanx of lawyers and will do everything they can to make themselves as nearly invisible as possible. Their testimony is likely to be only the lawyer-scrubbed version of the truth, “nothing but the truth” perhaps, but not “the whole truth, so help you God.”

I have no more confidence in the FBI “investigation” bone that Republican members of the Committee tossed to their Democratic colleagues after voting Kavanaugh’s nomination out of committee.

With one exception that I’ll get to shortly, I have only newspaper knowledge about this sort of thing. From my little corner of the world, I gather that FBI investigations come in two flavors: background and criminal.

What’s on tap before the full Senate votes on Kavanaugh’s nomination is a background investigation limited in both scope and duration. This is the kind of investigation I have a thimble’s worth of personal experience with.

Animation of Judge Kavanaugh morphs from a student at Yale to a SCOTUS candidate.Many years ago, I was visited by two FBI agents who were conducting a background investigation of a recently graduated student of mine who’d applied to join the Bureau. Thinking back on the meeting, it’s funny now because these guys were straight out of Central Casting: wouldn’t-stand-out-in-a-crowd-of-three types in rumpled suits and trench coats (I swear). They showed me their badges and got down to business.

As a preliminary, they explained how they went about backgrounders, interviewing a range of people who knew my ex-student—family, neighbors, teachers, employers, pastors, etc. They said they were looking for red flags, anything that might suggest her unfitness for the FBI.

Their questions included, as far as I can remember, how long I’d known the applicant, whether I had any indication of health issues (I did), regarded her as stable and trustworthy, ever observed anything that cast doubt on her loyalty to the United States, etc. They were very businesslike, got the information they came for, thanked me and left.

The backgrounder the FBI is conducting about Kavanaugh’s high school days is orders of magnitude more searching than what I remember. But with enough red flags to dim the sun already out there, I’m not looking for it to deliver any saving truths. It’s already been condemned by some as a “farce.” And while former FBI Director James Comey, writing in the New York Times, assures us that the men and women at the Bureau will give it their best shot, he says the time constraints imposed are “idiotic,” degrading the process to the level of “better than…no professional investigation at all.”

The most glaring obstacle to the saving truth that Douthat and the rest of us want is that nobody has to talk to the FBI in this kind of investigation. I didn’t have to talk to the agents who paid me a visit. Whoever agrees to talk to them can’t lie to them without exposing themselves to serious legal jeopardy. But what we can expect is that for the most part, the people who’ll agree to sit for interviews will be self-selected members of Team Ford on one side and self-selected members of Team Kavanaugh on the other, leaving us about where we are now.

Casting a further pall over this investigation is that the first stop on the custody path for the completed FBI report is the White House, in the hands of someone who’s never been on friendly terms with the truth.

Well, what about a criminal investigation whose results would go straight to professional prosecutors? After all, Kavanaugh’s nemesis accused him of attempted rape. But according to the Washington Post, that’s not in the cards. The assault is alleged to have occurred in Maryland in 1982 when the statute of limitations under state law was one year. So that door closed decades ago.

But wait a second, someone might protest. Surely it would be worthwhile for the FBI to carry out its investigation as if it were a criminal inquiry even if no prosecution could follow.

The Twitterverse is crawling with people who’re all in on that approach. But it would run roughshod over basic standards of due process. When criminal investigations accumulate enough evidence to warrant prosecution, that doesn’t establish “the truth,” saving or otherwise. To get as close to the truth as fallible human beings can, a charge has to be brought and a trial held in which prosecution and defense make their cases, constrained by procedures specifically framed to ferret out the truth, beyond a reasonable doubt, and enforced by an impartial judge. And if the defendant is convicted, we’re still not at the end of the truth-seeking process until all appeals have been exhausted.

You may recall that Comey’s Boy Scout reputation got dinged when he appeared to render a verdict in the Hillary Clinton email criminal investigation that it wasn’t up to him to hand down. I’m guessing that the Bureau isn’t eager to revisit that scenario now.

All of these niceties aside, they pale next to the excruciating bind we’re in. We’re looking at a choice between perhaps elevating to the highest court in the land someone guilty of conduct that would be illegal in every jurisdiction in the country or of giving anybody with merely “believable” allegations a veto over aspirants for high office.

The late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) said during the confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas that when in doubt, we should always give the Court and the country the benefit of it. That’s an appealing principle when cases like the one we’re mired in now are the rare exception. But if they become the new normal, the Byrd principle could deny the country the services of more able candidates than we can afford to lose.

Longtime Supreme Court observer Marcia Coyle reported recently on the PBS News Hour that the current members of the Court know Brett Kavanaugh and hold him in high regard. That’s a pretty good recommendation. But his nomination is so toxic now that it may be too late for any “saving truth.” If I had any sway over Judge Kavanaugh, I’d beg him, for the sake of upholding the high regard in which some of us still hold the Supreme Court, to fall on his sword and withdraw from consideration.

Meanwhile, I never thought I’d be tempted by the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s view that the way to preserve public confidence in the Supreme Court is to reduce its footprint in American political life in deference to the electoral branches. But that’s a vast topic for another time.

Leon Galis

I'm an Athens, GA, native and have been living in Athens since 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Since 2008 I've written approximately 80 columns for the Athens Banner Herald and a handful for Flagpole Magazine in Athens.  

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Sexual Assault Is Against American Values Thu, 27 Sep 2018 14:04:13 +0000

We can debate all day about Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Professor Christine Blasey Ford and whether or not a sexual assault occurred when they were both back in high school. But what is most disturbing is the growing number of people, even women, who are excusing such behavior, or willing to overlook it in this confirmation battle.

Scales of Justice - Frankfurt Version was taken by Michael CoghlanA panel of women on CNN discussed the issue of whether Mr. Kavanaugh forced himself upon Ms. Ford at a party when they were in high school. Some on that panel sought to defend Kavanaugh for his actions.

“‘I mean, we’re talking about a 15-year-old girl, which I respect. I’m a woman. I respect. But we’re talking about a 17-year-old boy in high school with testosterone running high. Tell me, what boy hasn’t done this in high school?’ Gina Sosa asked on the CNN panel when asked her thoughts on the accusation.”

“‘How can we believe the word of a woman of something that happened 36 years ago? This guy has an impeccable reputation. There is nobody that has spoken ill will about him,’ Lourdes Castillo de la Peña said on the panel. Ms Castillo de la Peña later indicated that she would continue to support the nominee even if the allegations proved to be true.”

In fact, the United States became known as a place where sexual assault would not be tolerated, in the days of America’s Founding Fathers. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville, whose words in Democracy in America from 1833 are still required reading for conservatives and liberals alike, had this to say about American and gender.

“It is true that the Americans rarely lavish upon women those eager attentions which are commonly paid them in Europe; but their conduct to women always implies that they suppose them to be virtuous and refined; and such is the respect entertained for the moral freedom of the sex, that in the presence of a woman the most guarded language is used, lest her ear should be offended by an expression,” he wrote. “In America a young unmarried woman may, alone and without fear, undertake a long journey.”

But it wasn’t just our generally virtuous behavior (outside of a few exceptions) that shocked de Tocqueville. What really got his attention was how such behavior to protect women and punish those guilty of such conduct was put into law.

“The legislators of the United States, who have mitigated almost all the penalties of criminal law, still make rape a capital offense, and no crime is visited with more inexorable severity by public opinion,” he wrote. “This may be accounted for; as the Americans can conceive nothing more precious than a woman’s honor, and nothing which ought so much to be respected as her independence, they hold that no punishment is too severe for the man who deprives her of them against her will. In France, where the same offense is visited with far milder penalties, it is frequently difficult to get a verdict from a jury against the prisoner. Is this a consequence of contempt of decency or contempt of women? I cannot but believe that it is a contempt of one and of the other.”

As a husband, a father, and an uncle, I couldn’t agree with de Tocqueville, and the America our Founding Fathers sought to create. We need a full investigation of these charges. And if the charges are true, we shouldn’t have someone represent us on the highest court, dispensing justice, where we can say this is one of the best nine judges in America.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

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Curiouser & Curiouser Wed, 19 Sep 2018 10:58:33 +0000

There are parallel experiences that I keep coming back to think on lately. One is the personal thoughts and emotions that make up a large part of consciousness. The other is its social equivalent, the news, what’s going on in the world as delivered to us by the neighbor over the fence, the local newspaper, the mass media and the other information sources we encounter.

Personal Consciousness

The Power of Now by Eckhart TolleEckhart Tolle, in his book The Power of Now, describes an exercise in consciousness cultivation. He suggests closing your eyes… taking a breath… letting it out… and watching for the first thought to cross your mind. What you are witnessing is mind-chatter and ego. He goes on to share a mind-bending thought; that mind-stream, those thoughts and the emotions they often trigger are NOT you. You are the observer of that happening. So instead of getting entangled in those thoughts, mistaking them for who you are, becoming the observer frees you from the constant demands of the ego, to criticize, to judge, to worry, to fantasize, to dwell on past accomplishments or failures, to puff up one’s status and self-importance. And it connects you to the basic intelligence permeating reality, a far surer guide than ego with its narrow concern to feel superior at all costs. Consider just one instance of that intelligence – the miracle of eyesight. You don’t do it, it happens.

Social Consciousness

So, parallel to this personal idea, of becoming the observer, is to extend it to the array of world happenings, as delivered, like the thoughts that cross your mind. And then to avoid identifying and becoming entangled in a self-destructive orgy of anger, desire and judgement. Just as on the personal level you resist the lure of volatile emotions and thoughts, letting them go on by, so on the social level you see it, it is what it is, but you are detached. In detachment you are connected to that above-mentioned intelligence and you know what to do. Freed of thought-obsession, Tolle claims, one enters the natural state which is a feeling of ever deepening joy at the wonder of being, joie de vivre; and sooner or later a creative impulse strikes. That is knowing what to do. And since the impulse is aligned with said intelligence, the doing is unpredictable, ethical and life-affirming. That makes this effort the ultimate activism. Instead of persuading others to adopt your political view you shift a part of the frequency array, yours, away from ego, the root of personal and social dysfunction. The fruit of this dysfunction – injustice, hatred, greed, war… dissolves in the light of consciousness. It dissolves in you and your activism then affects others, not via persuasion but by way of presence.

Tom Ferguson

Tom Ferguson

Tom is a painter, a cartoonist, a musician, a thinker and more. View some of his web sites:

  • (Painting)
  • (Political Cartoons)
  • (Music)
  • (blog)

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Dinner On The Grounds Sun, 16 Sep 2018 15:31:50 +0000
Site of many a Sunday dinner

My back road travels take me by many a rural church. And what do I see? A fellowship hall. Often its architecture is out of step with the church itself but it’s not out of step with the times. To have a fellowship or social hall is a trendy thing. Well, it wasn’t always this way.

I remember homecomings long ago at my family church, New Hope. People filled the sanctuary, old Dr. Cutts preached a tad too long, and ladies’ funeral home fans shooed away wasps. Yes, wasps. After all the soul saving ended, folks visited in the sanctuary. Homecoming was a kind of reunion and while the old folks caught up, I skedaddled outside where the main event would take place: dinner on the grounds.

Back then, we stood and ate at two long “tables” made from concrete blocks topped by stone slabs. Shaded by several large cedars (cut and gone), those primitive tables served their purpose just fine. Church ladies draped white tablecloths across them, and upon those tablecloths sat a Southern cookbook of foods. We dined like kings, queens, princes, and princesses.

For certain, I look back on dinner on the grounds with more fondness that I do social gatherings in the fellowship hall. Yes, flies flitted about those old tables and it was hot, but it should have been hot, a reminder of where we’d end up if we didn’t toe the line, and that would be with the “Debil.”

Many times I’ve wished those old tables and cedars still stood. Such things were lost to progress I assumed and then this July I spotted Little Stevens Creek Baptist Church down a long driveway off Highway 430 in Edgefield County. Storm clouds filled the sky and a dark line of woods provided a backdrop to the church. Its bright white architecture pulled me down that long entrance where a wonderful surprise waited.

Behind the church stood two stone and cement tables like I remembered from New Hope. A flood of memories came at once. Yellow-and-white dishes mounded over with potato salad, blue-and-white Corning Ware filled with casseroles, platters of fried chicken, string beans, sliced tomatoes, rolls, cornbread, squash, and loaves of what Granddad Poland called “white bread.” All manner of cakes and pies and jar after jar of iced tea. Folks heaped food onto plates known as Melmac. Try as I might I just cannot recall Styrofoam cups and plates back in the days of “cement” tables, nor do I remember milk jugs of tea. I recall china plates, stainless steel flatware, Tupperware, and possibly some paper plates. We didn’t have such an artificial world back then. Dinner on the grounds was a tradition, and the word that describes dinner on the grounds for me? “Genuine.”

I remember the food more so than the people but I can see Mom there in her stylish dark hair and 1960’s glasses showing me where her food was. (I was a tad reluctant to eat to other folk’s cooking but I got over that foolishness with time.)

Dinner on the grounds made memories for a lot of us. Said Lincolnton native Sheila Poss Callahan, “I loved those outdoor tables. When I was a little girl, Daddy (Thomas Poss) and Granddaddy (Arlin Walker) would lift me up onto the tables at Midway Church and let me run the entire length and jump into their arms. It was like flying!”

Reesie Poss remembers “as a child those tables at Martins Crossroads seemed to be 1,000 feet long. They were endless, and full of all the best food on Homecoming Sunday. Such fond memories.”

Daryl Bentley recalls the tea. “There’s nothing like the flavor of church picnic sweet tea. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it’s because so many different versions were stirred together.”

And I remember old community tables beneath vanquished cedars. We dined beneath sunlight, not fluorescent light. Ants appreciated the crumbs that fell from Heaven. There were flies but there were breezes too. Ice chests dispensed ice, not modern refrigerators, and the ice seemed colder, the tea sweeter.

Dinner on the grounds stood tall in a place called Memory. The new fellowship halls with their wheelchair ramps and air conditioning are good for the aged and infirmed. No doubting that, but wedding receptions, funeral meals, and homecoming dinners blur into indistinguishable events, for me at least. The surroundings just seem too much like restaurants. I doubt kids today will grow up with memories of fellowship halls but I bet they’d remember eating outside off long stone slabs as a business of flies pestered them. Gnats, too.

Those of us who ate on rock slabs fanning flies away may sound like primitives today but we’re blessed with memories, and there’s no doubting that either.

Tom Poland

Tom Poland, A Southern Writer – Tom Poland is the author of twelve books and more than 1,000 magazine features. A Southern writer, his work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. Tom grew up in Lincoln County, Georgia, where four wonderful English teachers gave him a love for language. People first came to know Tom’s work in South Carolina Wildlife magazine, where he wrote features and served as managing editor.Tom’s written over 1,000 columns and features and seven traditionally published books. Among his recent books are Classic Carolina Road Trips From Columbia, Georgialina, A Southland, As We Knew It, and his and Robert Clark’s latest volume of Reflections of South Carolina. Swamp Gravy, Georgia’s Official Folk Life Drama, staged his play, Solid Ground in 2011 and 2012.He writes a weekly column for newspapers and journals in Georgia and South Carolina about the South, its people, traditions, lifestyle, and changing culture and speaks often to groups across South Carolina and Georgia.Tom earned a BA in Journalism and a Masters in Media at the University of Georgia. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina where he writes about Georgialina—his name for eastern Georgia and South Carolina. Visit my website at Email me at

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Keep Racism Alive At The Polls Thu, 13 Sep 2018 22:40:37 +0000

There’s almost no such thing as voter fraud, even though the Trump administration — and Republicans in general — affect to be so afraid of it they’ve had to develop a system guaranteed to purge voters from the rolls in enormous numbers.

They’re keeping America safe!

From nothing.

December 10 march for voting rights - Voter Suppression is UnAmericanThis, you might say, is the elephant in the room, politely unacknowledged even when the Republican system, very much embraced by the Trump administration, is critically analyzed. It’s called the Interstate Crosscheck System, developed by Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and Republican candidate for governor, and its flaws are unavoidably — indeed, grotesquely — obvious.

But before that matters, I think it’s crucial to establish the fact that voter fraud — bad citizens, or worse yet, illegals, voting twice, indeed, driving from one state to another (Georgia to Illinois, say) in order to do their part to swing a national election — is itself a complete fraud. However, trumpeting the fear of such non-existent behavior is absolutely brilliant.

It’s the current manifestation of minority vote suppression. It’s the new racism.

All this is made clear in investigative journalist Greg Palast’s irreverent new documentary, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” which takes on Crosscheck and present-day vote suppression, no holds barred, linking modern racism with the old-fashioned kind. In the process, the film lets us know the real value of the right to vote, from the point of view of those who had to fight and die to attain it.

Here, for instance, is author Linda Blackmon Lowery describing her experience on the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965 — Bloody Sunday: “When we got to the top of the bridge, then you could really see what was on the other side. And there were white people sitting on their cars with their Confederate flags and their banners. ‘Die nigger.’ ‘Go home, coon.’”

Suddenly she heard a popping noise, as teargas canisters went off all around her. “You couldn’t breathe, you couldn’t see. I ran into this big old thing of teargas. (A police officer) was running behind me with a billy club. (She makes a hand gesture describing being clubbed from behind.) When I woke up they had me on a stretcher, putting me in the back of a hearse. I just jumped up and before anybody could catch me I was heading across that bridge.”

A short while later, the film shows a protester holding a sign: “My vote has been paid for in blood.”

And this begins to create the context for discussing Crosscheck, part of today’s oh so politically correct racist gaming of democracy, which is — let’s be frank — an incredible inconvenience to people in power. It was then and it still is now. What’s a rich, powerful white person supposed to do?

Crosscheck is part of the answer. Kobach’s system is simplicity itself. In order to protect America from the horror of millions of people voting twice (risking prison time for committing this federal offense), Crosscheck collects the names on the voting rolls of all participating states, which at this point is 27, mostly under Republican legislative control, and conducts a computer search for matches, or quasi-matches. Those matches — all the Fred Jacksons, all the Jose Garcias, etc., etc. — become potential double voters. Note: The matching names are first and last only, with middle initials ignored. Allegedly, Crosscheck also compares birth dates, though such data is often missing from voter rosters.

A list of the matches are sent to the participating secretaries of state and state election boards, which can then purge their rolls of these folks. According to Palast, these states have so far removed 1,067,046 voters, not counting Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s recent “purge-frenzy,” removing 591,000 voters’ names in the current election cycle.

Here’s the thing. Most of the matched names belong to people of color. “Jackson, Rodriguez, Garcia, Lee, Kim — these are primarily minority names,” Palast explained. “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out this system is unbelievably racially biased.”

In the documentary, Palast points out that 90 percent of Washingtons, for instance, are black. In some states, “20 percent of minority voters . . . are on the Crosscheck list.”

So, as the Washington Post reported a year ago, the Crosscheck method is so utterly slipshod that way-y-y-y over 99 percent of the name matches the system reports to participating states “were unlikely to have anything to do with even attempted voter fraud.” But because of Crosscheck, a huge number of voters, mostly men and women of color, who tend to vote Democratic, will either be denied their right to vote or forced to vote provisionally, which usually means they won’t have their vote counted.

I repeat: There is virtually no such thing as voter fraud — certainly nothing at a level that could actually impact an election. As the Brennan Center for Justice pointed out last year, in its report “The Truth About Voter Fraud”: It is more likely that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”

But keeping Americans of color — those who have truly paid with their blood for the right to vote — away from the polls by the millions, does indeed impact our elections. Look at who got “elected” president!

Palast, hardly content simply to expose this outrage in book and film, has teamed with Jesse Jackson and the two, with the pro bono help of the New York law firm Mirer, Mazzocchi and Julien, have filed suit, under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, with every Crosscheck state to get the names — the million-plus names — of registered voters purged from the rolls. The public, after all, has a right to hold the state accountable for the games it plays.

Robert C. Koehler

Robert C. Koehler

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is now available. Contact him at or visit his website at

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Should America Switch to Socialism? Thu, 13 Sep 2018 22:17:53 +0000 Gallup Polling. ]]>

With Labor Day behind us when we honored the hard working Americans by taking the day off, polls have emerged that show the faith of all Americans in capitalism, while support for socialism is rising. Is this a good idea, or is this support for socialism based upon a false idea?

When I ask students what socialism stands for, almost always I hear “equality.” I teach them how that definition is incorrect. In fact, socialism stands for government control of the economy. It says nothing about equality of any type. What students hope for is equality, but not even equality of results. They want equality of opportunity, a fair chance to succeed. What they really want is a relatively free market. In fact, when I teach about all of the ideologies, they begin to love libertarianism, for the social freedoms most conservatives want to ban, and the chance at an equal shot at the dough. Believe it or not, support for socialism among 18-29 year olds has fallen in the last two years, according to Gallup Polling.

Hearts of Iron IV - Soviet Struggle TrailerWhen Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez push socialism, people think they’re getting some West European country with a decent welfare state. That is also a lie. These West European countries are capitalist countries with a bigger social safety net than what America has.

In reality, your “socialist” countries, the ones who don’t allow private property or free markets, look a lot more like Venezuela, whose economy is falling apart. Russia presents the image of wealthy businessmen running the country, but none of these oligarchs can spend or buy a ruble without Vladimir Putin’s permission. China is falsely lauded in the press as having a capitalist economy, but still has a Communist Party with tight reins on everything. There may have a few fancy buildings in Shanghai for Tom Cruise to slide down in Mission Impossible movies, but it is a different story for the average person, as my students who traveled there found. The International Monetary Fund ranks China 72nd in the world in GDP per capita.

And even though some conservative pundits equally stretch the truth by calling these countries socialist, the free market Forbes Magazine identified many of these West European countries as the best places “to do business.” In the 2017, the best places to do business are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Netherlands, Sweden, Canada, Hong Kong, Denmark, Ireland, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and then the United States, followed by Germany, Finland and Norway.

Forbes identifies why we’re not in the top 10. Of the top 15 countries, only Switzerland has a lower GDP per capita than the USA (Canada is tied with us). Our trade balance/GDP statistic is “-2.4%” revealing the flaw in our tariff policy, and is likely to worsen as this rhetoric escalates thanks to a fundamental misunderstanding by the White House as to what a free market is. We need to recognize that capitalism is an economic system, and not the policies of a president.

Research by the free market Cato Institute confirms our place. “The United States, for decades among the top four countries in the index, ranks 11th,” the authors write in their 2017 publication, behind Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Mauritius, Georgia, Australia and Estonia.

It should be noted that as recently as 2016, a majority of Democrats had a positive view of capitalism, according to Gallup polling. Two years later, that support has eroded. Socialism even increased among Republicans, though most support capitalism, or what they think is capitalism. As we put government restrictions on businesses as to where they can buy their supplies, and who they can hire, and seek to regulate all kinds of social behavior, we’re already moving toward socialism, which would be a tragedy for the U.S.

John A. Tures

John A. Tures

John A. Tures is an Associate Professor of Political Science at LaGrange College in Georgia.  He writes about international politics, elections, sports, and the War of 1812.

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U.S. interference in the politics of other countries Tue, 11 Sep 2018 18:48:59 +0000

OXFORD, Miss. – Back in 1910, New Orleans fruit company boss Samuel Zemurray got sick and tired of Honduran tax levies on his business interests there and sent a gang of mercenaries to overthrow the Honduran government. They did, and his United Fruit Company, today known as Chiquita, became a giant in the region.

Theodore Roosevelt and his Big Stick in the Caribbean by William AllenEighteen years later, the U.S. Navy helped the United Fruit Company overcome a crippling workers’ strike by supporting Colombian Army leaders in an attack on the strikers that killed as many as 2,000. Famed writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about this in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

In 2009, almost exactly a century after the Zemurray-engineered coup d’etat, then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her support to the overthrow of Manuel Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras. Not liking Zelaya’s left-leaning politics, Clinton preferred the military-backed regime that replaced him and has since made Honduras one of the world’s most dangerous, crime-ridden countries.

I wonder what the average Honduran today thinks about U.S. corporate media’s obsessive coverage of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In 2017, MSNBC, the “liberal” counterpart to right-wing Fox News, ran 1,385 broadcasts on Russia and its political meddling. By comparison, Yemen and its deadly bombing by Saudi Arabia with U.S. military assistance got 82 MSNBC broadcasts.

It’s not unusual today to see terms such as “traitor” and “treason” in USA Today and other corporate media applied to President Trump because of his relationship with the man U.S. media increasingly love to refer to as Russia’s “thug” leader, Vladimir Putin. Still, as valid as the story of Russian interference may be, is it worth this “tsunami of coverage”, media critic Norman Solomon asks? And why, in this “tsuanami”, are there so many missing elements to the story?

“It’s very rare … to see any mention of the fact that each country, Russia and the US, has several thousand nuclear weapons basically pointed at each other,” Solomon says, “4,000 in each country … at the ready to basically be able to incinerate, not just the two countries, but billions of people on the planet.”

Trump has rankled not only liberals and the Democratic Party but also corporate interests because of his trade policies and also military-industrial interests that would love to see another Cold War, or even hot war, with Russia.

Missing in all this discussion is a sense of history and awareness of the utter hypocrisy of much of the U.S. hand-wringing about outside interference in a sovereign nation’s politics. Politicians on both sides of the aisle join in this hypocrisy.

Trump loves to wave his saber at Iran, threatening it and raising the specter of yet another war as if the American people weren’t sick to death of war after 17 consecutive years of it.

Why is Iran no longer the close U.S. friend that it was under the pro-Western rule of the Shah of Iran? Let’s examine.

When Mohammed Mossadegh became Iran’s prime minister in 1951, Iranians cheered at his strong stand against the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company that had soaked Iran’s resources while only paying back as much as 16 percent of its profits. England’s response was to join with the United States in launching Operation Ajax to oust Mossadegh and install in his place a CIA puppet. They succeeded, and the Shah subsequently consolidated his rule into a dictatorship that lasted until the Iranian Revolution of 1979.

A long list of countries could be added to Honduras, Yemen, Colombia and Iran as examples of U.S. political interference—Guatemala, Libya, Vietnam, Cuba, Chile, the Democratic Republic of Congo, among them.

Let’s look at Guatemala. When Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán tried to redistribute land to benefit the legions of poor in his country in 1952, the United Fruit Company raised a hue and cry in Washington, D.C., which was all the CIA needed to get its tentacles into the country and assist with Guzmán’s overthrow in 1954.

And we have to have a few words about Vietnam. Now there’s a story. Consider the U.S.’s crucial supportive role in Ngo Dinh Diem’s consolidation of power in South Vietnam in the mid-1950s, and then in his overthrow by South Vietnamese generals in 1963. That coup d’etat, intended to find a more suitable leader in the fight against the Communists, resulted in the United States’ irrevocable involvement in Vietnam’s political future and the bloody war that lasted into the 1970s.

I could go on, but this is not a book.




Joseph B. Atkins

Joseph B. Atkins

Joe Atkins, professor of journalism, has taught at The University of Mississippi since 1990. He teaches courses in Advanced Reporting, International Journalism, Ethics & Social Issues, Media History and Labor & Media. Atkins is the author of Covering for the Bosses: Labor and the Southern Press, published by The University Press of Mississippi in 2008, and editor/contributing author of The Mission: Journalism, Ethics and the World, published by Iowa State University Press in 2002. He organized an international “Conference on Labor and the Southern Press” at Ole Miss in October 2003. A statewide columnist and 35-year veteran journalist, Atkins was congressional correspondent with Gannett News Service’s Washington, D.C. bureau for five years. He previously worked with newspapers in North Carolina and Mississippi. His articles have appeared in publications such as USA Today, Baltimore Sun, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Progressive Populist, Southern Exposure, Quill and the Oxford American. His blog on labor issues in the South is He can be reached at Joe's stories often appear on Labor South, Facing South, The Progressive Populist, In These Times, and AlterNet

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Why Are Supreme Court Nominees So Evasive? Sun, 09 Sep 2018 12:26:52 +0000

With the conclusion of U. S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, media complaints about his unwillingness to tip his hand on hot button issues abound. Natural as it is to want our nominees to preview their performance for us, if they actually did that, it wouldn’t show them to be transparent and forthcoming. It would be disqualifying.

There is a short answer and a long(ish) answer to my title question, the latter being the rationale for the former.

The short answer is in the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct, whose Rule 2.10 (B) says, “A judge shall not, in connection with cases, controversies, or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial* performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office.”

Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughTo understand why Rule 2.10 (B) is in the Model Code, you have to understand what federal courts do. Article III of the U. S. Constitution says that the judicial branch’s power extends to all “Cases” and “Controversies” of the sort Article III enumerates. And the Supreme Court has interpreted the “cases-and-controversies” provision in a way that the late Justice Antonin Scalia explained clearly in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife.

Your ticket to the federal courts isn’t just some generalized complaint about something somebody or other has done or omitted. To even get a hearing, you have to have “standing,” which includes three elements.

First, you must have suffered a “concrete and particularized” injury, which is “actual or imminent, not ‘conjectural’ or ‘hypothetical.’”

Second, you have to show that the injury you’ve suffered was caused by the conduct of the person(s) you’re complaining about.

Third, you have to show that it’s “likely,” not just “speculative” that a decision in your favor will “redress” the injury you’re claiming.

The burden of proof is on you to show that you’ve satisfied all three standing requirements and only if you’ve discharged that burden do you even get the time of day from the courts.

If you’ve done all that and your petition is among the approximately 7000 filed with the Supreme Court every year, you have to hope that yours will be among the mere 80 or so that the Court will accept for a hearing. The Court is on the lookout in particular for cases raising the same issues but which different circuit courts have disagreed about.

So what’s going to land in the Court’s in basket is a petition that, as it’s worked its way through the lower courts, has accumulated a voluminous record of arguments and counterarguments, probably including a sizable stack of amicus curiae, “friend of the court,” briefs supporting and opposing the petition.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, when he gets one of these bulky packages, while he may be familiar with the general topic involved, it’s unlikely that he’ll have seen that exact case with those exact arguments before. The standing requirements and the Court’s selection process tend to filter out cases that would have the Court just retracing steps already taken.

He and his clerks are expected to go over the record with exquisite care and sober deliberation. In addition, he’ll have to test his views against those of his eight colleagues who’ve combed over the case records just as thoroughly as he has. Only after he’s been through that process will he be in a position to render a decision. That’s why it typically takes months for the Court to decide its cases.

Even this brief account of what Supreme Court justices do, available to anyone with an internet connection, should make it clear why Kavanaugh can’t answer questions in a confirmation hearing that he kept calling “hypothetical.” The reason the Model Code of Judicial Conduct admonishes judges not to tell people in advance how they’ll decide cases is that it’s jurists’ duty not to decide cases until they get them and have immersed themselves in the record that’s the only legitimate basis for decision.

So if, in response to questions at a confirmation hearing, nominees are eager to speculate about issues not before them, just in the abstract and utterly divorced from the dense context of an actual “case or controversy,” that should at least arouse the suspicion that their minds are closed on that subject. But a jurist beyond the reach of arguments from the lower courts, the amicus briefs pro and con, the views of court colleagues in conference and the results of clerks’ research is unfit for any judicial post above the level of traffic court.

You may ask, though, whether Kavanaugh didn’t do exactly that when he lauded the Supreme Court’s holding in Nixon v. United States, but then inconsistently went all cagey about Roe v. Wade. I don’t think so and the Model Code of Judicial Conduct helps here.

What President Nixon was resisting in Nixon v. United States was what’s called in the trade a subpoena duces tecum. That’s not a subpoena compelling your testimony, but compelling the production of records, documents or other effects, audio tapes in Nixon’s case. The first such subpoena was served on President Thomas Jefferson by Chief Justice John Marshall presiding at Vice President Aaron Burr’s treason trial. Jefferson whined about it but complied. I wasn’t parked in Kavanaugh’s head—and neither, by the way, were you—but it’s a reasonable guess that, given that history and a unanimous decision in Nixon, Kavanaugh figured there was scant likelihood of that issue returning to the Court.

Roe, on the other hand, was under attack practically from the day it was decided and has remained so since. Even liberal icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has mused in recent years that both the Court and the country would’ve been better off with a more incremental approach to abortion than the Roe Court took. So everybody with a pulse knows that it’s a virtual certainty that Roe will be back on the docket just as it has been repeatedly since it was first decided. In other words, by Kavanaugh’s estimate Roe is a clear Rule 2.10 (B) case and Nixon isn’t.

There’s nothing in the least original in any of this. I’m not smart enough to turn up anything that interesting. But it doesn’t speak well for the media that none of them thought it worthwhile to explain this to us. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that they saw more benefit in just playing us instead. Tragically that’s child’s play in a climate in which a recent C-Span poll of likely voters shows 52% of respondents unable to name a single sitting Supreme Court justice. I don’t even want to think about how few could name all the current eight.

Leon Galis

I'm an Athens, GA, native and have been living in Athens since 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Since 2008 I've written approximately 80 columns for the Athens Banner Herald and a handful for Flagpole Magazine in Athens.  

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