The US House of Representatives will work only 109 days next year, so you'd think members might want to cram as much work as they into what's left of 2011 to deal with many critical national issues, like addressing massive unemployment. Instead, Republican lawmakers are thinking more about "Job's Creator." Today, House members will vote on a non-binding resolution reaffirming "In God We Trust" as the national motto.

In January, prayer caucus member Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), introduced a resolution to reaffirm the motto after President Obama made the serious faux pas of saying in a speech in Indonesia that the national motto was "e pluribus unum," or "out of many, one." The prayer caucus members were outraged and demanded that Obama issue a correction to the speech, but the White House ignored them. Hence today's vote on Forbes' resolution. Forbes and his colleagues believe that "In God We Trust" is under assault by godless atheists who want the phrase scrubbed from everything from US currency to national monuments to public schools. They are bent on defending the motto from "rogue court challenges" and lefties like Obama.

The Senate passed its own resolution in 2006, on the 50th anniversary of the phrase's official dedication as the nation's motto. The House resolution, which will have absolutely no effect on anything whatsoever, declares that "if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured."

House Democrats aren't especially fond of the measure, which they consider a pretty big waste of time. In March, Democrats on the Judiciary committee wrote in a committee report:

Instead of addressing any of these critical issues, and instead of working to help American families keep a roof over their heads and food on their tables, we are debating whether or not to affirm and proliferate a motto that was adopted in 1956 and that is not imperiled in any respect... Without question, the Judiciary Committee has many important and time-sensitive matters within its purview. The majority, however, seems intent on diverting the committee's time, resources and attention to a measure that has no force of law, only reaffirms existing law and further injects the hand of government into the private religious lives of the American people.

There's also some irony in the Republicans taking up this resolution: When Republicans assumed the majority this year, they banned most of these sort of worthless commemorative resolutions because they considered them a waste of time. As the Washington Post reports, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor even refused to move forward any resolution honoring the military and intelligence folks who killed Osama bin Laden. When the Post asked Cantor this week whether the "In God We Trust" resolution might be one of those waste-of-time symbolic gestures the GOP was trying to get rid of, his office declined to comment.


Herman Cain

Shortly after Politico broke the news of Herman Cain being accused of sexual harassment while head of the National Restaurant Association, the American Spectator's Jeffrey Lord declared the whole affair "High Tech Lynching: The Sequel Starring Herman Cain."

This is been the general line from Cain supporters since the allegations surfaced—despite the fact that the incidents occurred years ago and involved financial settlements, Politico is guilty of holding a "high-tech lynching" merely by revealing their existence. Lord in particular offers a wonderful example of the right's selective interest in anti-black racism: its tendency for shrieking hyperbole when a black conservative is involved and callous indifference when the "wrong kind" of black person is not. Or as Rush Limbaugh put it, this is "an unconscionable, racially stereotypical attack on an independent, self-reliant conservative black because for him that behavior is not allowed." Because the last thing Limbaugh wants is to portray black people in a stereotypical fashion

Here, for example, is Lord calling former USDA Official Shirley Sherrod (who was fired after a selectively edited video from Andrew Breitbart cast her as an anti-white racist) a "liar" for saying that her relative Bobby Hall was lynched by Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Georgia. You see, Screws didn't kill Hall with a rope, he and his colleagues merely beat him to death with blunt objects and fists while he was handcuffed.

It's also possible that she knew the truth and chose to embellish it, changing a brutal and fatal beating to a lynching. Anyone who has lived in the American South (as my family once did) and is familiar with American history knows well the dread behind stories of lynch mobs and the Klan. What difference is there between a savage murder by fist and blackjack -- and by dangling rope? Obviously, in the practical sense, none. But in the heyday -- a very long time -- of the Klan, there were frequent (and failed) attempts to pass federal anti-lynching laws. None to pass federal "anti-black jack" or "anti-fisticuffs" laws.

In case I really need to explain this, actual anti-lynching legislation referred to "an assemblage composed of three or more persons acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense," because it wouldn't have made much sense to write a law prohibiting the extrajudicial killing of black people only if a rope is involved.

So just so we're clear, Lord thinks that the "liberal" Politico reporting on two settlements related to sexual harassment allegations in Cain's past is "a high-tech lynching." But the actual lynching of Bobby Hall isn't a real lynching, because it involved cops beating him to death instead of reporting unfavorable allegations from his past.

The term "high tech lynching" was first used by then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas to dismiss allegations of sexual harassment against him as the work of a racist conspiracy. Its reintroduction into the American political conversation as a term associated not with something resembling the actual horrors of Jim Crow—from which it draws its moral weight—but with the cynicism of conservatives willing to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism only when one of their own could be a victim, seems fitting.  As with "reverse racism," when a conservative says "high-tech lynching," it signals that something bad is happening to someone you're actually supposed to care about. It identifies the bad kind of racism, as opposed to the kind that liberals make up.

Blue Nights

By Joan Didion


In 2005, Joan Didion won a National Book Award for The Year of Magical Thinking, an account of her husband's sudden death while Quintana, their only child, languished in hospitals, stricken with a bevy of life-threatening diseases. (She died before the book was released.) Blue Nights is also about Quintana, but it isn't nostalgic. Didion interrogates herself ruthlessly about her own mortality and maternal abilities. What materializes is a heartbreaking portrait of the family's implosion. Of the church wall where her husband's ashes were interred, Didion writes: "There had been two spaces remaining, the names not yet engraved. Now there was one."

A young boy leans over a wall trying to get the attention of Lt. Col. Jayson Allen as he hands out school supplies to a group of children October 14, 2011, in Laghman province, Afghanistan. Allen is the Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team commander. The PRT traveled to the village of Deh E Ziarat to meet with the village elder and the people to talk about their community. (US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)