Blogs

It's Time to Separate the South From the Confederacy

The real meaning of a soon-to-be removed statue of a Confederate general and KKK founder.

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 9:00 AM EDT
The statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis, Tennessee

On Wednesday, the Memphis City Council cast its final vote to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest from a downtown park. Despite the considerable pushback against the decision, I can't help but feel a little hope that progress is being made in my home state.

Not to be mistaken for the garish Forrest statue in Nashville, this one is a tarnished bronze likeness of the Confederate general, slave trader, and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. The statue tops a concrete burial vault that houses the remains of Forrest and his wife. The memorial has stood in Health Sciences Park (formerly Forrest Park) since 1905, when, 28 years after Forrest's death, a group of wealthy, white Memphians dug up the general and his wife and entombed them in a vault beneath this statue in downtown Memphis. Astride his horse, Forrest faces north, positioned so he doesn't seem to be retreating.

In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre and a renewed push to take down Confederate flags and other symbols of the Confederacy, the Memphis City Council voted to remove the statue and return the remains to Elmwood Cemetery, where Forrest was originally buried in accordance with his will. Surprisingly, much of the indignant outcry has surrounded the idea of moving the remains rather than removing the statue. In some of my recent personal conversations, people have expressed their outrage at such an "extreme" move.

A Confederate flag is draped over the base of the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest at a celebration of his 194th birthday in July. Mike Brown/The Commercial Appeal via AP

Indeed, they do. At the ceremony unveiling the statue in May, 1905, nothing was said of Forrest's order to massacre more than 300 African-American Union soldiers who had already surrendered at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in 1864. His role as a leader in the KKK was never mentioned. Instead, the Forrest Monument Association spoke of his chivalry, and of heritage and honor. As Nate DiMeo notes in a recent episode of his podcast, The Memory Palace, the statue was unveiled "at a specific moment in time": The city's African-American population was increasing, and racial tensions were building. The memorial was a tip of the hat to an idealized past, and those who supported it hoped the symbol would inspire a similar future. "Memorials are not memories," DiMeo says. "They have motives."

The emphasis on tradition, heritage, and honor sounds familiar to me. I grew up in a tiny farming community about an hour and a half east of Memphis, in a place where those values tended to come before equality and the respect for anyone who isn't white. My history classes were full of winding excuses about how the Civil War wasn't really about slavery. It was a struggle over state's rights, and economic power. Obviously. Dixie was a place of hospitality and heart—if you were white. Nathan Bedford Forrest's name was everywhere. It was attached to a nearby state park, a handful of statues, and even the ROTC building on my college campus. DiMeo sees the current controversy as a collision between the present and history, but I've been staring at that collision since I was too young to know what it was.

DiMeo says that despite Forrest's alleged regret at the end of his life for his actions, he's no American role model. He imagines adding a plaque to the Forrest statue and others like it. "Maybe [the plaque] should just say, maybe they should all say, that the men who fought and died for the CSA, whatever their personal reasons, whatever was in their hearts, did so on behalf of a government, formed for the express purpose that men and women and children could be bought and sold and destroyed at will," DiMeo says. I tend to agree.

There are people I've known my whole life who are fiercely protective of the Confederacy and its symbols. They mean well when they speak of heritage and honor, but their pride comes at the expense of those who have suffered far worse than we ever have. Their refusal to recognize that perpetuates a racism that is so insidious that it is confused with cultural values.

I love where I came from. I love the mile-wide stubborn streak I inherited from my deeply Southern grandmother, a woman who is strong and outspoken, because as the daughter of poor sharecroppers, she had to be. I love the syrupy sound of our accents, and I love dark, heady summer nights filled with fireflies. I love being part of a community that is armed with casseroles whenever tragedy catches someone unaware. I do not love the Confederacy, and I do not stand for its murderous agenda or its skewed racial hierarchy. We cannot change the past, but as Memphis removes the statue and tries to move forward, so should the South. It's time to separate the South from the Confederacy.

Listen to The Memory Palace episode on the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue, "Notes on an Imaginary Plaque…"

Advertise on MotherJones.com

The Head of a Major Law Enforcement Group Described Nonviolent Drug Offenders As "Peddlers of Death"

He also compared them to lions poised to terrorize society.

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Last month, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders detained in federal prisons. Given that 35,000 nonviolent inmates had applied for reduced sentences, some activists said the clemency grant did not go far enough. Apparently, not everyone agrees.

In an opinion piece Thursday, Jon Adler, the president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), blasted Obama's decision by describing these nonviolent offenders as "peddlers of death." Arguing that Obama ignored the risks of drug traffickers and instead chose to "perpetuate a narrative that these felons are harmless hippies," Adler went so far as to compare the offenders to lions in an overcrowded zoo:

With limited space, rising labor, and lodging costs, which animals would the president let go? Using the president's methodology, the lions would likely be set free. Why? They eat the most food and therefore cost the most to maintain. During the 10 years of their captivity, they haven't eaten anyone or attacked their handlers. They have no known affiliation to any violent lion groups. They are totally safe to release into the public. The president's rationale for release of these federal prisoners does not benefit the American public, nor keep it safe.

Adler's FLEOA provides testimony at congressional hearings and represents more than 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from some 65 agencies. But his description of nonviolent drug offenders seems unfair for people like Antonio Bascaro, an octogenarian grandfather in a wheelchair who has been incarcerated for 35 years because he worked on a fishing boat used by Cubans to smuggle cannabis to Florida. Or what about John Knock, a first-time offender serving life in prison for conspiracy to traffic large quantities of weed that the government never even seized? (Neither man was granted clemency.)

In an investigation of weed lifers, my colleague Bryan Schatz writes:

Every year, more people are arrested for pot possession than violent crimes. Around 40,000 people are currently serving time for offenses involving a drug that has been decriminalized or legalized in 27 states and Washington, DC. Even as Americans' attitudes toward pot have mellowed, the law has yet to catch up, leaving pot offenders subject to draconian sentences born out of the war on drugs. As David Holland, a criminal-defense attorney in New York City who filed a presidential clemency petition for marijuana lifers in 2012, puts it: "The world has changed, but these poor bastards are still sitting in jail."

It's important to note that the war on drugs has disproportionately affected black and Latino men. And Obama's clemency last month went to a group of nonviolent inmates who had served more than 10 years in prison with good behavior, and who would not have received such severe sentences under today's sentencing rules. "These men and women were not hardened criminals," the president said, adding that 14 of the 46 nonviolent offenders had been given life sentences. "So their punishments didn't fit the crime."

A Peek Inside the Anti-Immigrant Id

| Sat Aug. 22, 2015 12:22 AM EDT

An Alabama fan offers some advice to Donald Trump:

"Hopefully, he's going to sit there and say, 'When I become elected president, what we're going to do is we're going to make the border a vacation spot, it's going to cost you $25 for a permit, and then you get $50 for every confirmed kill,'" said Jim Sherota, 53, who works for a landscaping company. "That'd be one nice thing."

Charming. But I'm sure he's just kidding. Don't be so hypersensitive, people.

Friday Cat Blogging - 21 August 2015

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 2:35 PM EDT

My old friends at the Washington Monthly sent me an early copy of their latest College Guide issue, and apparently it inspired Hilbert to think about pursuing an advanced degree. Unlike humans, though, he doesn't need to read the issue. He merely has to absorb it through his fur. Stupid humans.

Anyway, because I have this issue in my hot little hands, I know which college scored #1 in the Monthly's unique "Bang for the Buck" ranking. Among Western colleges, this year's winner is the University of—

Aack! It's embargoed until Monday. And the embargo police are at the door. I have to leave now before they bust in. Does anyone have a hidey-hole nearby I can use for a few days?

"Anchor Babies" Are the Latest Pawns in the GOP's Crusade to Sound Tough

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 1:12 PM EDT

Anchor babies are back! And back with a vengeance. Yesterday, Jeb Bush unveiled Jeb 2.0, a louder, tougher, more outraged version of himself. Overall, it was a pretty woeful performance—he sounded a lot like a shy teenager practicing toughness in front of a mirror—but along the way he suggested that we needed better enforcement at the border in order to reduce the epidemic of anchor babies. A reporter asked why he used a term that's considered offensive, and Bush looked like a kid who's just gotten a toy at Christmas, "Do you have a better term? You give me a better term and I'll use it," he shot back. Tough! Trumpish!

Ed Kilgore says the worst part of all this is that Republican candidates don't just use the term, but defend it with "snarling pride." Well sure. They all want to be Donald Trump. But there's nothing surprising about this. Republicans ostentatiously use the term "illegals" constantly as a signal that they're not just conservatives, but conservatives who don't take any guff from anyone—and certainly not from the PC police.

So no surprises here. But I'm curious about something. Last night I read a longish piece at TNR by Gwyneth Kelly titled "Why 'Anchor Baby' Is Offensive." I was actually sort of curious about that, so I read through it. But all the article did was provide a bit of history about the term and quote a bunch of people saying it was disgusting and dehumanizing. There was no explanation of why it's offensive.

Don't everyone pile on me at once. If you don't ask, you can't learn, right? So I guess my question is this. Is "anchor baby" offensive because:

  • It riles up xenophobia over something that doesn't actually happen very much.
    or
  • There's something about the term itself that's obnoxious.

I'm probably going to regret asking this. But I am curious. It's not obvious from first principles what the problem is here.

Trump Blasts O'Malley: "Disgusting, Little, Weak, Pathetic Baby"

The Donald wasn't impressed with O'Malley's apology to Black Lives Matter activists.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

Back in July, former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley apologized for saying "all lives matter" to a group of Black Lives Matter activists who had interrupted one of his speeches.

"That was a mistake on my part, and I meant no disrespect," the Democratic presidential hopeful said. "I did not mean to be insensitive in any way or communicate that I did not understand the tremendous passion, commitment, and feeling and depth of feeling that all of us should be attaching to this issue."

Great, a well-spoken, sincere apology from a white guy who, if given the benefit of the doubt, probably just didn't know any better. Problem solved, right?

Wrong.

In an interview on Fox News that is set to air Saturday night, Donald Trump blasted O'Malley's apology.

"And then he apologized like a little baby, like a disgusting, little, weak, pathetic baby," Trump said. "And that's the problem with our country."

Though many will groan at an adult hurling insults at another adult for realizing he made a mistake and attempting to correct himself, O'Malley may be loving the Trump exposure, considering he has been known to participate in some good old-fashioned trolling of the real estate tycoon himself.

Mother Jones has reached out to the O'Malley campaign, and we will update if it responds.

UPDATE, {8/21/2015 4:59 PM}: Lis Smith, Mr. O'Malley's deputy campaign manager responded with the following comment:

"Governor O'Malley stands with those who have the guts to stand up to Donald Trump's hate speech. It speaks volumes about the Republican Party today that this is their frontrunner. Unlike the rest of the Republican field, we're not interested in engaging in a race to the bottom with Mr. Trump."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Hey, Denver: Give Chick-fil-A a Break

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:48 AM EDT

I can't recall ever agreeing with John Fund about anything, but he thinks this is ridiculous and I guess I do too:

Chick-fil-A's reputation as an opponent of same-sex marriage has imperiled the fast-food chain's potential return to Denver International Airport, with several City Council members this week passionately questioning a proposed concession agreement.

Councilman Paul Lopez called opposition to the chain at DIA "really, truly a moral issue on the city."...Robin Kniech, the council's first openly gay member, said she was most worried about a local franchise generating "corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination." She was first to raise Chick-fil-A leaders' politics during a Tuesday committee hearing.

....Several council members — including four on the six-member committee — raised questions related to Chick-fil-A's religion-influenced operation, which includes keeping all franchises closed on Sundays.

Most focused on political firestorms sparked by remarks made by Chick-fil-A's now-CEO Dan Cathy, reaching a peak in 2012 after court decisions favorable to same-sex marriage. The company also came under fire for donations made by charitable arms to groups opposing LGBT causes.

This stuff happened four years ago, and the company halted contributions to anti-gay groups a year later. Cathy presumably still doesn't support gay marriage, but I really don't think that should be a precondition for winning a bid with a government agency.

And when several council members go beyond that, raising questions about "Chick-fil-A's religion-influenced operation," all it does is confirm the worst hysteria from the right wing that merely being Christian is enough to arouse the hatred of the left. That's just wildly inappropriate.

If the Denver City Council were giving a popular fast-food outlet a hard time because its CEO contributed to Planned Parenthood four years ago, we'd be outraged—and rightly so. I don't blame conservatives for being equally outraged about this.

Falling Stock Markets? Blame China.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 11:18 AM EDT

Over at Wonkblog, Ylan Mui writes about the plummeting stock market:

Is this the beginning of “Rate Rage”?

You could be forgiven for thinking so, judging by all the blame that’s been heaped on the Federal Reserve for the selloff in stock markets over the past three days. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average has plunged 500 points, and the broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index erased its gains for the year. Markets Friday morning were already beginning to edge down.

We must read wildly different stuff. I haven't noticed anyone blaming the Fed for falling stock markets. The headlines have all been like this one in the Wall Street Journal: markets are dropping because investors are afraid that China is about to go belly up. As Mui points out, the Fed's actions have been widely anticipated, and the timing of the market drop doesn't really match up with anything new from the Fed anyway. It does match up with investors finally getting nervous after weeks of increasingly bad news from China.

In any case, this is yet another reason the Fed might want to rethink a rate rise later this year. The global economy is not looking especially robust at the moment, with Europe barely growing and China possibly entering a serious slowdown. We don't really need to add to these problems.

Hobby Drones: Not As Cute As You Think

Why a sky clogged with unregulated remote-control aircraft might not be such a great idea.

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 10:40 AM EDT

Somebody at the FAA leaked several hundred rogue-drone reports to the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock:

Before last year, close encounters with rogue drones were unheard of. But as a result of a sales boom, small, largely unregulated remote-control aircraft are clogging U.S. airspace, snarling air traffic and giving the FAA fits.

Pilots have reported a surge in close calls with drones: nearly 700 incidents so far this year, according to FAA statistics, about triple the number recorded for all of 2014. The agency has acknowledged growing concern about the problem and its inability to do much to tame it.

And we saw something similar a few weeks ago, when private drones interfered with firefighting in California.

This is the reason I'm more skeptical about a laissez faire attitude toward drones than many people. Once they're out there, they're out there, and all the new regulations in the world won't put the genie back in the bottle. Conversely, if you regulate them more tightly and ease up slowly as the consequences become clearer, we can avoid things like drones bringing down a 747 about to land at LaGuardia.

Nobody likes the idea of the government getting in the way of cool new technology. I get that. But governments regulate driverless cars for an obvious reason: they're dangerous. Drones probably ought to be more tightly regulated for the same reason. When one person in 10,000 owned one, they seemed harmless. When one person in a hundred owns one, it suddenly becomes clear that a sky full of hobby drones might not be such a great idea. When the day comes that everyone has one, it will be too late.

This is true of a lot of things. When they're rare, they seem harmless. And they are! But you need to think about what happens when they get cheap and ubiquitous. In the case of drones, we might not like what we get.

Word of the Day: Trumpery

| Fri Aug. 21, 2015 8:30 AM EDT

This may be the greatest, classiest entry in any dictionary ever. Yes, it's real.