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Watch the First Black Woman Who Served in the US Senate Go Off on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 3:14 PM EDT

With South Carolina poised to remove the flag from its statehouse, and with momentum growing toward the removal of the Confederate emblem from state flags in Mississippi, Alabama and Virginia, the symbol's enduring official status in the American South may finally be winding down. The current backlash against the rebel flag, sparked by the massacre of nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, is the latest round in a fierce long-running debate.

On July 22, 1993, an impassioned Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois—the first African-American woman to serve in the US Senate and its sole black member at the time—took the floor to rebuke conservative legislators including the late Jesse Helms, who were backing an amendment to secure the Confederate flag as the official design for the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Moseley-Braun said: "The issue is whether Americans such as myself who believe in the promise of this country, who feel strongly and who are patriots in this country, will have to suffer the indignity of being reminded time and time again that at one time in this country's history we were human chattel. We were property. We could be traded, bought, and sold."

She added with regard to the amendment: "On this issue there can be no consensus. It is an outrage. It is an insult."

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Waiters Now Have Yet Another Gripe to Contend With

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 2:03 PM EDT

Roberto Ferdman writes today about the "most annoying restaurant trend happening today." But when I got around to reading it, I was a little surprised by how it ended:

Without my permission, restaurants have abandoned, or simply overlooked, a classic tenet of service etiquette....Rather than clear plates once everyone at the table has finished the meal, which has long been the custom, servers instead hover over diners, fingers twitching, until the very instant someone puts down a fork. Like vultures, they then promptly snatch up the silverware — along with everything else in front of the customer. If you're lucky, they might ask permission before stealing your plate.

....It's possible that there's an economic impetus behind it. "The price of land is going up, which pushes up the value of each table," said [Tyler] Cowen. "That makes moving people along more important."

....But maybe waiters are clearing individual plates because they believe that's what customers want. I have heard as much from servers and restaurateurs.

No excuse, however, should suffice. Publicly, restaurants might argue that they are trying to avoid clutter; privately, they might encourage waiters to speed tables along; but what it amounts to is an uncomfortable dining experience.

Wait. What? "No excuse should suffice"? If Ferdman dislikes this trend, that's fine. But if, in fact, most diners prefer having their places cleared when they've finished eating, that sure seems like a more than sufficient reason for this classic tenet of service etiquette to hit the bricks. It's not as if it came down on a tablet from Mount Sinai, after all. Surely the most basic tenet of service etiquette is to make customers as comfortable and satisfied as possible. If, in the 21st century, it turns out that this requires waiters to remove place settings quickly, then that's what they should do, even if a small minority dislikes it.

Now personally, I think the most annoying restaurant trend happening today is that all the restaurants I like have gone out of business. It's eerie as hell. Almost literally, every restaurant that Marian and I used to eat at regularly has closed, to be replaced by some horrible trendy chain outlet. Our favorite Chinese place is gone. And our favorite Mexican place. Our favorite pizza place. Our favorite Italian place. Our second-favorite pizza place. And probably a few others I've forgotten about. There are basically only two of our favorites left, and they don't seem like they're about to go out of business, but who knows?

It's my own fault, of course, for living in Irvine, where the Irvine Company owns all the land and basically prices out of business anything except profitable chain stores. It's surely no coincidence that of the two restaurants still standing, one is outside Irvine and the other is about a hundred yards from the city limit. I made my bed, now I have to lie in it.

POSTSCRIPT: Back on the original topic, Ferdman's piece has gotten me curious about something. I don't go to a lot of high-end restaurants, but I do go to a few now and again. And unless my memory is playing tricks on me (always a possibility), it's always been the custom to remove plates when diners are finished, not all at once when everyone is finished. Is this a Southern California thing? Is it a matter of how high-end the restaurant is? I eat at expensive places on occasion, but virtually never at the kind of truly pricey places where you have to wait a month for a reservation. Help me out here. Why is it that removing place settings individually strikes me as normal, not a crime against proper etiquette?

Rand Paul Super-PAC Slams "Bailout Bu$h" in Bizarre Web Ad

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 1:05 PM EDT

Here come the crazed attack ads. More than seven months out from the first votes in the 2016 presidential primaries, America's Liberty, a super-PAC backing Sen. Rand Paul's bid for the Republican nomination, has put out an online ad attacking Jeb "Bailout" Bush. It is…strange.

The video, which had more than 10,000 views as of Tuesday afternoon, is framed as an infomercial, with an exuberant, wild-bearded speaker named Max Power (perhaps borrowed from Homer Simpson, who took the same name from a hair dryer) serving as the pitchman. The ad offers a Bailout Bu$h action figure—which sadly does not actually seem to be for sale, probably because it appears to be a different action figure with an image of Bush's face pasted on—as Power shouts about how Jeb worked for Lehman Brothers right before the crash and supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. "This offer guarantees a presidential candidate cannot win a single primary state, let alone the general election," a voice-over says at the end of the ad as Power bathes in a tub of money.

Per the Washington Times, America's Liberty is spending in the five figures to run the ad online in early primary states, though it is also clearly running in DC, since I encountered it when it popped up before a music video on YouTube.

America's Liberty has close connections to the Paul camp. The super-PAC's founder and president is John Tate, who worked as Ron Paul's presidential campaign manager in 2012 and currently also serves as president of Campaign for Liberty, a longtime Ron Paul organization.

Watch the ad:

This One Tweet About the Confederate Flag Shows Why Everything Is Awful

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:47 PM EDT

Update 2:42pm ET, Tuesday, June 23, 2015: Amazon says it is pulling Confederate merchandise, too. 

 

Walmart and Sears and a bunch of other retailers are doing the wise thing and dropping Confederate flag merchandise from their stores. So, what's a Confederate (I just vomited in my mouth a little) to do? Well…

It's officially the number 1 flag on Amazon.

 

(via Pat Caldwell)

Fast Track Passes. TPP Now Nearly Certain to Pass Too.

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:27 PM EDT

Well, it looks like the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is in business. The standalone fast-track bill just passed the Senate by a hair, 60-37. Several Republicans defected and voted no even though they had voted yes the first time around, but only one Democrat defected. So now it goes to President Obama's desk, where he'll sign it.

Next up is a standalone Trade Adjustment bill, which Democrats killed the first time around because it was linked to fast track, which meant that voting no killed fast track. This time around, however, Democrats will presumably go ahead and vote for it since voting no will no longer stop fast track. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner have both promised to bring it up for a vote and to do their best to whip enough Republican votes for it to pass. If it doesn't, Democrats will be furious at having been conned, and might take this out by voting no on TPP itself when it comes to the floor. This gives Boehner and McConnell plenty of motivation to get it passed, and I think they will.

This still doesn't guarantee that TPP itself will have smooth sailing. However, it takes only a simple majority to pass, so there would have to be quite a few defections to kill it. Still, there's time. Once the full text finally becomes public, I expect a full-court press from anti-TPP forces in both parties. I'd give it a 90 percent chance of passage at this point, but there's still a glimmer of hope for opponents.

Three Things I Don't Care About

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 12:09 PM EDT

There are lots of topics I don't write about (or write very little about), and normally nobody notices. Or, if they do, they don't know why I haven't written about any particular one of them. Maybe it's just uninteresting to me. Maybe I've gotten temporarily bored by it. Maybe I don't know enough about it. Maybe I can't think of anything interesting to say that hasn't already been said. Could be lots of reasons.

That said, here are three things I haven't written about, and probably won't:

Should we call Dylann Roof a terrorist? In the dim past, back when we used to blog earnestly about such things, I always argued that this was a silly distraction. You can call members of Al-Qaeda terrorists or extremists or militants or whatever. For Republicans, this eventually became some kind of weird litmus test designed to show that Democrats were appeasers, and it was ridiculous. Ditto today, coming from the Democratic side. Call Roof a terrorist if you want, or call him a madman or a racist psychopath. I don't care.

The pope on climate change. I'm not Catholic. I'm not even Christian. Pope Francis seems like a relatively good guy as popes go, but I don't care what he thinks about much of anything. I'm certainly not going to opportunistically start now just because he happens to be saying something I agree with.

Donald Trump. Oh please.

That's it. We'll soon be back to our regularly scheduled program of stuff I do write about.

IMPORTANT NOTE! I almost forget to add a caveat that's critical in the blogosphere: this is just me. Everyone else should feel free to write about all these things. This post should not be taken as a personal condemnation of anyone who chooses to do so. First Amendment. De gustibus. Etc.

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How a Mediocre Football Team Helped Mississippi Evolve on the Confederate Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:47 AM EDT
In 2010, the University of Mississippi replaced its old Colonel Reb mascot with a black bear. The Care Bear above didn't make the cut.

On to Mississippi. Just hours after South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley asked the state legislature to pass a law removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker Philip Gunn issued a call for his state to follow suit. The Confederate battle flag is embedded in the upper left corner of the official state flag, but "as a Christian," Gunn wrote on Facebook, "I believe our state's flag has become a point of offense that needs to be removed." Henry Barbour, the nephew of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and a well-connected politico himself, echoed Gunn's call.

How did white conservatives in Mississippi—the deepest of the Deep South—get to this point, not long after Haley Barbour, as governor, kept a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office? It helps that the state has gone through a process like this one before.

For decades, the University of Mississippi's identity was intertwined with that of its football team, the Rebels. In 1962, Democratic Gov. Ross Barnett waved the Confederate flag in the bleachers in support of the school's all-white team the night before a white mob attacked National Guardsmen assigned to protect the school's first black student, James Meredith. The team's mascot, Colonel Reb, wore a Confederate uniform and rode a horse called Traveler—the same name as the steed owned by Robert E. Lee. Over time, the mascot evolved into a less militant figure, a Colonel Sanders-esque old white man with a red suit and a cane, but the antebellum (or just bellum) nostalgia was evident. At games, students waved Confederate flags. They called the place "Ole Miss."

But the team was also—to use what I think is the appropriate term—a lost cause. It was losing out on top-flight talent, and its leaders had an inkling why. In his 2013 memoir, the school's former chancellor, Robert Khyat, recalled the pivotal moment, in the locker room after a shutout loss to the team's archrival, Mississippi State. When Khyat walked in, the Rebels' head coach told him, "We can't recruit against the Confederate flag."

The team stopped flying the flag at games in 1997. A few years later, again citing the impossibility of recruiting African Americans to the program, along with broader concerns about rebranding, it jettisoned Colonel Reb.

Colonel Reb and his die-hard supporters have not gone away quietly. An unsanctioned zombie Colonel Reb mascot continued to haunt campus on game days until 2009. A state legislator tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill restoring Colonel Reb. Last November, a state tea party leader launched a signature drive for a ballot initiative in the 2016 election that would bring back Colonel Reb once and for all. The old mascot has a small army of devoted fans who believe its absence is a direct assault on their heritage. It's a lot like the Confederate flag.

Other aspects of the school's makeover have faced a backlash. A new statue of Meredith on campus was vandalized in 2014. A white student placed a noose around the statue's neck, attached to an old Georgia flag that included the Confederate symbol. (In March, the alleged perpetrator was charged with federal civil rights crimes.)

But the school is moving on. In 2010, after a seven-year spell without a mascot, it asked students to submit their own ideas for a new one. A group of students, real-life American heroes, launched a grassroots campaign to make Admiral Ackbar, the meme-friendly squid commander from Star Wars, the new face of Ole Miss:

Ultimately, the school went with a black bear (inspired by a William Faulkner short story), who wears slacks, a blazer, and a Panama hat. It also began phase three of its image rehabilitation campaign, scaling back the usage of the nickname Ole Miss.

Momentum notwithstanding, the campaign to change the Mississippi flag is still in the germination phase. But if the state government wants to follow its flagship university's lead, we can think of a certain alien admiral who'd look great on a flag.

Scott Walker: Too Sincere For Wall Street?

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 11:23 AM EDT

I've mentioned before that Republicans often get a pass from reporters when they endorse militantly conservative positions in stemwinding speeches. It's because no one truly takes them seriously. It seems more like a sign of tribal affiliation than a genuine commitment to doing anything.

Today, however, Matt Yglesias points me to a Washington Post story about Scott Walker's fundraising, which shows that he might have the opposite problem among some rich donors:

The same-sex marriage issue has caused Walker problems among some donor groups, however, particularly Republicans in New York. “Sometimes you can say something and people think you don’t mean it, and sometimes you can say something and people think you mean it,” said one Republican who has seen this tension play out. “When Barack Obama said he’s against gay marriage in 2008, people didn’t think he meant it. But when Scott says it, people think he means it. This is a very big stumbling block for him on Wall Street.”

I didn't realize that same-sex marriage was such a hot button among the Wall Street set, but live and learn. Nor did I realize the Wall Street set was credulous enough to think that even if Walker is a true believer, he has the slightest chance of getting a constitutional amendment passed. The latter, however, would go a long way toward explaining a few things. I've always heard that bankers were really naive about politics, and maybe it's actually true. I guess they're too busy figuring out socially damaging ways to make money to be bothered learning.

Mississippi House Speaker: Time to Remove Confederate Symbol from State Flag

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 8:59 AM EDT

On the heels of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's call to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state's capitol on Monday, Mississippi's Republican House Speaker, Philip Gunn, announced his support to remove the Confederate symbol from his own state's flag. In a Facebook post, he wrote:

 

We must always remember our past, but that does not mean we must let it define us. As a Christian, I believe our state's...

Posted by Philip Gunn on Monday, June 22, 2015

As of Tuesday morning, one petition calling for the symbol's removal had attracted over 7,700 signatures. But Gunn's proposal, as the Clarion-Ledger notes, will face an uphill battle: Republican Gov. Phil Bryant said Monday he didn't expect other lawmakers to "supersede the will of the people on this issue," referring to a 2001 ballot measure that failed to garner enough support to do away with the emblem.

The top Facebook comments below Gunn's statement since Monday night have been largely critical of his announcement, echoing similar defenses of the Confederate emblem seen in South Carolina and other parts of the south since the mass shooting that killed nine people inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., last Wednesday.

"Leave the flag alone. Hatred and racism lives in the heart not in a cloth flag," one Facebook user wrote.

Debate over the Confederate flag's racist legacy quickly emerged as central to the national conversation following the Charleston massacre, particularly after photographs surfaced online showing alleged gunman Dylann Roof holding the flag and embracing other racist symbols.

After initially appearing to defend the flag as merely a "part of who we are," South Carolina senator and presidential candidate Lindsey Graham eventually backtracked his support, and stood by Haley on Monday to announce his support in removing the flag from flying in Columbia.

Why Jeb Bush Wants the United States to Be More Like Estonia

| Tue Jun. 23, 2015 5:55 AM EDT

On Monday, Jeb Bush posted a column on Medium touting the need for ramped-up cybersecurity efforts. "Given the reliance of the United States government and the private sector on the internet, it is disturbing we remain vulnerable to its disruption and misuse," he wrote.

The piece was mostly devoid of specific ways to fix those vulnerabilities, but what Bush did propose raises some privacy concerns. The former Florida governor cited Estonia, a tiny Baltic nation that's a world leader in cybersecurity efforts, as a model to emulate. What he didn't say was that Estonia's model is predicated on pervasive government involvement in policing the country's internet infrastructure, with the central government establishing a secure online national ID system for citizens. This is a digital version of what US conservatives have long opposed: a national identity card.

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the Estonian president who's perhaps best known for yelling at Paul Krugman on Twitter in 2012, wrote in a New York Times op-ed the following year that people should in fact be more concerned with cybercrime and hacking than government intrusion on privacy.

"At a time when the greatest threats to our privacy and the security of our data come from criminal hackers and foreign countries (often working together), we remain fixed on the idea that Big Brother, our own government, is the danger," he noted.

In his Medium post, Bush offered one concrete suggestion: backing the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act, a bill that would give private companies greater legal cover to share information on potential cybersecurity threats with the government. Bush called the failure to pass the bill a "critical impediment to cybersecurity," but privacy advocates and technical experts who spoke to Mother Jones last week disagreed, noting the measure would result in private-sector companies passing information on consumers and citizens to government agencies.

"This isn't a cybersecurity bill—it's a surveillance bill," said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "There is absolutely no reason to think that that is going to provide any significant cybersecurity benefits."