Political MoJo

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.

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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."

South Carolina's Gov. Finally Calls for Removing the Confederate Flag From the State Capitol Grounds

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 4:27 PM EDT

Following days of mounting pressure, Gov. Nikki Haley just announced her support for removing the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capitol.

"It's time to move the flag from the capitol grounds," Haley told reporters at a press conference, where senators Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham were also present, on Monday.

"Some divisions are bigger than a flag. We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer. The fact that people are choosing to use it as a sign of hate is something we cannot stand," she added.

The flag has been the subject of controversy in the past, including in 2000 when large protests opposing its presence took place in Columbia, the state's capitol. The issue resurfaced, creating national headlines, after the mass shooting inside a historic black church in Charleston. This weekend, a racist online manifesto apparently belonging to the suspected gunman, Dylann Roof, which included images of him posing with the flag, one in which he had a gun in his hand, surfaced.

Following the shooting, a slew of Republican presidential candidates—some of whom shied away from directly stating Roof had racist motives—have been asked about their stances on the Confederate flag. Although he condemned the shooting as an "evil act of aggression," former Florida governor Jeb Bush ultimately said he did not know what was "mind or the heart of the man" behind it, despite the obvious racist symbolism Roof appeared to embrace. After once defending the flag as a "part of who we are," Graham joined Haley on Monday in backtracking his longstanding support of the Confederate flag.

Marijuana Research Just Got a Green Light From the Obama White House

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:25 PM EDT

The White House today lifted a longstanding restriction on medical marijuana research, giving a green light to a growing group of mainstream scientists who are interested in investigating the potential health benefits of pot. Such research will no longer have to undergo review by the Public Health Service, a process that is ostensibly meant to ensure the use of scientifically valid clinical trials, but in practice has served as a barrier to launching studies. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, and even opponents of legalization, had called for the requirement to be lifted.

"This announcement is a pretty big deal," says Christopher Brown, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a group that advocates for access to pot for medical research. "You have a lot of interest in experimental research on medical cannabis and this shows that you are starting to see policies aligned with that."

The announcement comes a few months after US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy signaled the federal government's shifting thinking on medical pot, telling CBS This Morning that preliminary data shows that "marijuana can be helpful" for some medical conditions.

Still, Americans for Safe Access is calling for the feds to loosen restrictions even more. Numerous startup companies are interested in capitalizing on the medical benefits of pot, but scientists who want to use marijuana for research currently must obtain it from a DEA-approved grow facility, a process that can take a year or longer if they need specific cannabis strains. And marijuana remains classified under Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, a category reserved for drugs that supposedly have no medical benefit.

Mexican Piñata Maker Takes Revenge on Donald Trump

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 3:12 PM EDT

Dalton Javier Avalos Ramirez has given people a way to beat up on Donald Trump, and receive candy as a reward.

Ramirez, a craftsman from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, told The Independent that after hearing Trump announce his candidacy for presidency—during which he alleged that Mexican immigrants were rapists bringing drugs and crime across the border—he was inspired to create a Donald Trump piñata. He completed the task in a single day.

Ramirez told The Independent he's received more than 10 orders since Friday. According to Fox News Latino, the piñatas are priced at 500 pesos apiece, or roughly $33.

 

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Yep, Obama Said the N-Word. Here Are the Other Candid Things He Said.

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 2:04 PM EDT

Appearing on comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast on Friday, President Obama shared his views on gun violence and racism in America—two topics that have been thrust to the forefront of a national conversation following the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina last week. The interview, which was posted online today, featured a number of candid moments for the president, including a rare moment in which he said "nigger" to underscore the reality that the country's enduring legacy of racism is far from over.

"The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that's still part of our DNA that's passed on," Obama said. "We are not cured of it and it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It's not just a matter of overt discrimination."

On the issue of gun violence, he expressed his continued frustration with how little legislative action has been taken on gun control.

"I have done this way too often," he said. "During the course of my presidency, it feels as if a couple times a year, I end up having to speak to the country and to speak to a particular community about a devastating loss. The grieving that the country feels is real, the sympathy, the prioritizing, the comforting of the families, all that's important. But I think part of the point that I wanted to make was that it's not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely. And one of those actions we could take would be to enhance some basic, common sense gun safety laws—that by the way, the majority of gun owners support."

In his remarks shortly after Dylann Storm, the suspected gunman who killed nine people in the Charleston church, was captured Thursday, the president said that most other advanced countries don't see the kind of mass killings that have become all too familiar in America. He reiterated this point to Maron on Friday, telling him gun violence is "unique to our country."

Listen to the incredible hour-long interview here.

Huckabee Says the Confederate Flag Shouldn’t Be a Campaign Issue—Except That Time He Made It One

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 11:15 AM EDT

On Sunday, just days after a gunman killed nine African American parishioners at a Charleston church, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee argued on Meet the Press that presidential candidates should not need to answer questions about the Confederate battle flag:

For those of us running for president, everyone's being baited with this question as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is it most certainly does not.

Where could anyone have gotten the impression that the flag is a presidential campaign issue?

Maybe from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who did everything short of actually firing on Fort Sumter in an effort to court white South Carolina voters during his 2008 presidential campaign:

You don't like people from outside the state coming in and telling you what to do with your flag. In fact, if somebody came to Arkansas and told us what to do with our flag, we'd tell 'em what to do with the pole; that's what we'd do.

Evidently, Huckabee's pandering on the flag issue was deemed a successful strategy. In that same campaign, the New York Times noted, an independent group ran radio ads attacking Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for criticizing the Confederate flag, and boasted that "Mike Huckabee understands the value of heritage."

Justice Elena Kagan Had Some Fun Writing About Spider-Man

| Mon Jun. 22, 2015 11:05 AM EDT

On Monday morning, the Supreme Court didn't issue any of the highly anticipated rulings on the remaining marquee cases of the session (including the cases on same-sex marriage and Obamacare). But the first opinion issued by the court this morning carried an eye-catching name: Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, a.k.a. the Spider-Man case.

The case revolved around the narrow—and let's be honest, snooze-inducing—question of patent licensing fees. But the majority opinion written by Justice Elena Kagan is full of delightful zingers.

Here's how Kagan describes the toy at the center of the case:

In 1990, petitioner Stephen Kimble obtained a patent on a toy that allows children (and young-at-heart adults) to role-play as "a spider person" by shooting webs—really, pressurized foam string—"from the palm of [the] hand."

The problem was that Marvel never set an expiration date for when the royalties Kimble was owed would expire, with Kimble wishing to still collect after the patent had run out. "The parties set no end date for royalties, apparently contemplating that they would continue for as long as kids want to imitate Spider-Man (by doing whatever a spider can)," Kagan wrote, referencing the Spider-Man theme song. That contradicted prior case law, and a lower court ruled that Kimble was no longer owed royalties. The Supreme Court agreed because, as Kagan writes, "patents endow their holders with certain superpowers, but only for a limited time."

In the end, Kagan wrote, the court had to stand by prior precedent. "[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility," she wrote, letting Uncle Ben's famous words from Amazing Fantasy No. 15 close out her verdict.

Finally, Conservatives Begin To Back Away From the Confederate Flag

| Fri Jun. 19, 2015 5:38 PM EDT
The Confederate flag with the dome of the South Carolina capitol in the distance.

The death of nine innocent worshippers may achieve what decades of civil rights activism failed to do: Force South Carolina to remove the Confederate battle flag from grounds of its capitol building.

The Confederate battle flag flew over the capitol dome in Columbia, S.C., from 1962, when the legislature hoisted it as a symbol of defiance against integration, to 2000, when huge protests convinced state lawmakers to move it elsewhere. But it didn't go far: The flag has flown over a Confederate soldiers' memorial on the capitol grounds ever since.

The shooting in Charleston is leading to new calls to take down the Confederate flag for good, including one from the mayor of Columbia:

Now we've also seen some tentative hints that figures on the right may actually be willing to let that happen:

 Nikki Haley

The South Carolina governor infamously called a non-issue during her re-election campaign last year because she "had not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag" during calls with business leaders. She also rejected at least one previous call by the NAACP to remove the flag.

But during an interview on Friday with Reuters, Haley seemed open to re-examining the deal that moved the Confederate flag to its current spot

"If they want to have this conversation again, they will," Haley said of the state legislature. "They had it 15 years ago. They came to [a] consensus, that's where it was. I think they'll have another conversation, and we'll bring people together."

Lindsey Graham

Many people, including us, blasted the South Carolina senator and Republican presidential candidate when he told CNN on Friday morning that the flag is "part of who we are" in his state. But he also said he was open to changing the capitol's awkward compromise on the flag.

"It's time for people in South Carolina to revisit that decision," he said. "It would be fine with me."

During the 2012 GOP primaries, Graham called the use of the flag at the Confederate War Memorial a "bipartisan" solution and advised candidates to avoid the topic altogether. “Any [candidate] who brought that up wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors," he said to The Hill.

The National Review

Writers at the conservative magazine—which firmly backed the South's mantra of states' rights during the civil rights era—debated the use of the flag on Thursday. Executive Editor Reihan Salam came out firmly against it:

It could be that the Confederate battle flag has come to mean something entirely different in 2015 than it did in the mid-1950s, when it was closely tied to resistance to federal desegregation efforts. But is its value such that we ought to continue giving it quasi-official status, even when doing so alienates the descendants of enslaved southerners, who have just as much claim to deciding which symbols ought to represent southern heritage as the descendants of Confederate veterans? I don’t believe so.

Others were more skeptical: Ian Tuttle argued that "objections to [the flag] are not raised in good faith" but rather for political gain. But even he then acknowledged that the flag can cause serious harm and offense.

One can recognize, understand, and sympathize with the revulsion symbols of the Confederacy occasion in some quarters, particularly among black Americans — and a compromise should be possible. If reducing the visibility of these symbols would offer relief to those genuinely hurt, and would remove an object of contention keeping persons of different races from cooperating to advance true racial justice, that is something supporters of Confederate symbols should be able to do.

Charlie Baker

The pro-choice, pro-marriage equality Massachusetts governor is hardly an arch-conservative, but his experience on Thursday shows how the shock of the shooting may be acting on politicians. Baker told Boston's WGBH early on Thursday afternoon that while he was against the flag personally, it was a "tradition" of South Carolina. "My view on stuff like this is that South Carolinians can make their own call," he said.

Within hours, Baker was backtracking hard. "What were you thinking?" was the message he received from friends, he told the Boston Globe that evening. “I just want to be clear: I abhor the symbolism and the history of that flag as much as anybody, and I am more than cognizant of the fact that literally millions of Americans died over what it represents in the Civil War,” he said. “I think they should take the flag down."