Stormy Monday Afternoon Reads


Good Afternoon!

We’re experiencing some really typical spring weather down here today! It’s going back and forth between torrential downpours and sun. Most of the surrounding areas and states are under tornado watches and warnings.  It’s like the weather is really trying to rock and roll us into spring!

So, I’m old enough to remember when we actually celebrated Lincoln’s Birthday and Washington’s Birthday separately.  Today is President’s Day which just never has the same feel to me but we do have MLK day to provide some balance and perspective to our national celebrations.  I’m still waiting for the day when Columbus day is used to celebrate our indigenous peoples.  I’d also like to see the anniversary of votes for women become a national holiday.  It’s about time we recognize that every one contributes something to our story.

This brings me to the idea of how modern leaders contribute to the national dialogue.  Lincoln was one of our greater leaders and orators.  Today, one of his phrases comes to my mind.  It is doing things with “charity for all, and malice towards none”.  This famous phrase comes from Lincoln’s second inaugural address in 1865.  It was a speech meant to bring the nation together after the Civil War.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

If ever there was a need to bind the wounds of a divided nation, it would be now.  We’re facing an election and the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice.  The death of Antonin Scalia ends his 30 year war on modernity.  The current election is a continuing battle against it and most of his written and spoken words will not be remembered kindly by historians.  Some times I feel like we’re in this place so aptly described by Lincoln.

Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would ‘make’ war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would ‘accept’ war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

There’s been a lot of pearl clutching by folks on how some of us are truly celebratory about whatever it took to get Scalia off the court. I’m frankly of the opinion that not speaking ill of the dead is fine for one’s drunk uncle but when it comes to a person in power that truly did so much damage while hating on so many people that decorum is unnecessary.  Scalia spent his life being controversial and his death shows us that he continues to create havoc.  This is from First Draft and my friend Peter.

Now that I’ve praised Scalia, I’m glad that we’re burying him. There are a series of important cases that would have pushed the law even further to the right that now look like 4-4 draws. It will be interesting to see how the other Supremes handle these cases. They can put them on hold or allow the lower court rulings to stand. In either event, an eight person Supreme Court isn’t good for the country, which is one of many reasons to be glad the President plans to nominate a replacement some time soon.

It’s obvious that the GOP controlled Senate is going to either slow walk or put in the deep freeze any nomination put forward by President Obama. They’re hoping to win the 2016 election and put a Scalia clone on the court. Ordinarily, I’d give them a 50-50 shot at denying the Dems a third consecutive term but the wild rhetoric in the GOP primary race makes a loss more likely than not. Usually, the Republicans are slyer about calling their opponents liars, leaving the dirty work to surrogates. Slyness has gone by the wayside in the era of the Insult Comedian and Tailgunner Ted. They have the perfect stealth wingnut candidate in John Kasich but he’s not extreme enough for the current GOP; a scary thought given how far to Reagan’s right the Ohio Governor is.

So, the Republicans continue to let loose the dogs of war.

The true character of the man shone through during the time on the court when its “conservative” majority could push through decisions that weakened the Voting Rights Act in particular.  His need to continually denigrate GLBT , women, and African Americans came through in many of his minority opinions.  Let’s also not forget that no court had ever found a right for the individual to bear arms in the second amendment until Scalia discovered it there.  He was an originalist when convenient.  I’m not going to praise Scalia because it’s going to take a long time to bury the damage the man did.

Here are some of his worst and incendiary quotes. This one is happened when sodomy was decriminalized in Texas.

‘Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct…. [T]he Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.’

There are many more notable slurs that were totally unnecessary to whatever the finding was of the court. Scalia never held back.51Oy0yweb8L

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s remarks suggesting African-American students perform better in “less-advanced schools” has stoked a firestorm of criticism.

Scalia has been rebuked by the White House and compared to Donald Trump by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who called the remarks racist.

The conservative justice made the comment Wednesday during oral arguments in a case challenging the University of Texas’s admissions policy.

Scalia questioned whether considering a prospective student’s race in the admission process actually helped blacks, going on to question whether many might be better off at less-selective universities.

Scalia highlighted a friend-of-the-court brief, making it clear he did not necessarily agree with the arguments in the brief.

“There are those who contend that it does not benefit African­-Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­-advanced school, a slower-­track school where they do well,” he said.

“One of the briefs pointed out that most of the black scientists in this country don’t come from schools like the University of Texas.”

Those comments were far from the first controversial remarks by Scalia.

51OUiEZrKMLOne of the best things I’ve read is actually a KOS diary by a lawyer that works with the Death Penalty.  Please read this link.  It’s a wonderful essay.

I differed most with Scalia on the death penalty and the treatment of condemned people. Today, I’ve watched as fellow criminal defenders have posted pictures of the justice, and even as some lamented the harsh treatment of the justice. One broke down her opinions as a mere “disagreement” on ideological grounds. She acted as if her and Scalia agreed on the importance of educating our children, but disagreed on the proper way to do it. That’s a political disagreement. With Scalia, it’s much deeper than that.

I’m friends with Anthony Graves, the 12th man ever exonerated off of death row in Texas, the 138th exonerated nationally. He’s a black man who was sentenced to death for a mass child murder that he knew nothing about, only after prosecutors hid evidence, coerced witnesses, and manipulated the jury in the media. He was exonerated only after 18 years in custody. He suffered immensely, enduring solitary confinement, missing out on birthdays, Christmas mornings, and Easter egg hunts with his children. That he’s now out and using his voice to change the world does not make up for the wrong that was done to him. My friend petitioned the Supreme Court to take up his case after his appeals were denied in state court and the lower levels of the federal system. As in most death penalty cases, the Supreme Court declined to take up my friend’s case. Antonin Scalia left my friend to die. He didn’t care.

And why would he? Scalia once famously declared:

This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent.  Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.

For the uninitiated, the justice was saying, in effect, that the constitution is no barrier to executing a man who is actually innocent so long as that death sentence has been obtained in a nominally “legal” manner. He had other death penalty opinions that stood out, too. In 1994, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote an opinion questioning the constitutionality of the death penalty. Scalia responded by picking out what he perceived to be the worst of worst in death penalty cases. He picked Henry Lee McCollum, writing that McCollum’s case was a great example of why the death penalty was still necessary. He wrote:

“For example, the case of an 11-year-old girl raped by four men and then killed by stuffing her panties down her throat. How enviable a quiet death by lethal injection compared with that!”
McCollum walked off of death row in 2015 after DNA evidence proved his innocence. So much for Scalia’s model case. You see, Scalia was prone to pronouncements that amounted to little more than demagoguery. His statements contributed to decades of operation of the machinery of death, which took lives in brutal state-sponsored murder.

Of course he didn’t stop at the death penalty. He dissented in Lawrence v. Texas, standing short in his belief that states should be allowed to jail gay people for having sex. His most recent headlines came when he suggested in an affirmative action case that black men might be better off at “less advanced schools,” where they might do better.

To cloak these moral distinctions as “political differences” is disingenuous. It’s the sort of stuff that will allow an Antonin Scalia monument to be erected somewhere in honor of his “passion” or “service” in the decades to come, as the younger public is duped into believing that his opinions were just the product of a different kind of legal reasoning. Since when did adjectives like “passionate” become a good thing without context? A man who is passionate about causing pain isn’t one to celebrate. In fact, it would have been better if he’d pursued his agenda with far less passion. The “service” of a man who dedicated his career to marginalizing the already marginalized is not a service we should honor. That man would have been better off choosing a high-dollar law firm, where he could have marshaled his considerable legal skills in favor of money before running himself into the ground.

Death does not wash away the stench of planned cruelty. Scalia holds more moral responsibility for his decisions than the average villain. His weren’t in-the-moment mistakes made under pressure. They were calculated judgments made after hours, days, and weeks of reflection. They were opinions written with the greatest of care.

To reduce these opinions, and these differences to the unmoving label of “political” does a disservice to the pain his decisions brought to actual human beings. Like the little man with the teenage beard, Scalia’s actions weren’t without a victim. When he wrote of the death penalty, he directly weighed on my friend Anthony and plenty of others, too. When he ruled in Lawrence, he laid the groundwork for much of the hate that’s made assaults on gay men and women a thing that we must tackle in 2016. If you call these political differences, as if they’re just different methods of solving a problem, you demonstrate a stunning lack of understanding that when Antonin Scalia spoke and wrote, his words carried unique power that often led to death, added to prejudice, and threatened to set America back a hundred years.

That last statement deserves a mic drop.   It’s a total disservice to the people he killed and did great damage to with absolute carefully crafted glee to not be relieved that his pen is now silenced. c4921d726f804df4f3f271d88902de69

I have to admit that I used to have some degree of admiration for Senator Bernie Sanders. I even wrote about his time spent in symbolic filibuster in 2010.  You may remember that we lived blogged it too.  Sanders was joined by Senator Sherrod Brown and my then Senator Mary Landrieu.  It was about a piece of compromise legislature that essentially extended some of the Bush Tax Cuts.

I’ve always seen him as a gadfly who doesn’t accomplishment much but does these kinds of things so that he provides an important voice that you don’t much hear coming from many places.  We really don’t have much of a really leftist movement here in the US .  The more his campaign does just plain wicked nasty stuff like stealing data from Senator Clinton’s campaign when given the opportunity, the more I really have started taking an active dislike for the man.  I think that his absolute tin ear on the issues of intersectionality of income and wealth inequality and racism and sexism horrifies me more than anything.  He appears to live in the 1970s and doesn’t look very interested in updating since then.

So, here’s my suggested reading on Bernie’s treatment of Hillary today by Joe Conason:  His Respected Friend: But What Does Bernie Really Think Of Hillary? Joe Conason is my age.  He’s a journalist, author and liberal political commentator.  This article was written for National Memo but he also a column for Salon and a number of books. You may have heard about Big Lies  where he outlines myths told about liberals by conservatives.  He points out the hypocrisy in Sanders assumption that Clinton is sullied by taking any Wall Street money while refusing to consider what that infers about his contributions from big Unions including the one that produced the movie that led to Citizens’ United.  (Another abomination for which we can thank the late Justice Scalia.)

Still, to Sanders the mere act of accepting money from the financial industry, or any corporate interest, is a marker of compromise or worse. Why do the banks spend millions on lobbying, he thunders, unless they get something in return? The answer is that they want access – and often donate even to politicians who don’t fulfill all their wishes. They invariably donate to anyone they believe will win.

Meanwhile, Sanders doesn’t apply his stringent integrity test to contributions from unions, a category of donation he acceptsdespite labor’s pursuit of special-interest legislation– and despite the troubling fact that the leadership of the labor movement filed an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens United, which expanded their freedom to offer big donations to politicians. (That case was rooted, not incidentally, in yet another effort by right-wing billionaires to destroy Hillary Clinton.)

By his own standard, Sanders shouldn’t take union money because the AFL-CIO opposed campaign finance reform, which he vociferously supports. Or maybe we shouldn’t believe that he truly supports campaign finance reform, because he has accepted so much money from unions.

Such assumptions would be wholly ridiculous, of course – just as ridiculous as assuming that Clinton’s acceptance of money from banking or labor interests, both of which have made substantial donations to her campaign, proves her advocacy of reform is insincere.

Political history is more complex than campaign melodrama. If critics arraign Clinton for the decision by her husband’s administration to kill regulation of derivatives trading, it is worth recalling that she was responsible for the appointment of the only official who opposed that fateful mistake. She had nothing to do with deregulation — but as First Lady, she strongly advocated on behalf of Brooksley Born, a close friend of hers named by her husband to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. One of the few heroes of the financial crisis, Born presciently warned about the dangers of unregulated derivatives.

lincoln-02You may recall that Sanders voted to deregulate derivatives.  That action was most likely a lot more responsible for the Financial Crisis than anything else and I’ve repeatedly written about how we need to standardize and regulate them strictly.

Yet a year later, Sanders voted in favor of legislation to exempt whole swaths of the banking sector from regulation. The discrepancy appears to be due in part to sloppy voting by Sanders, and in part to Gramm’s legislative guile.

“No one has a stronger record on reforming Wall Street and breaking up too-big-to-fail banks than Senator Sanders,” said Warren Gunnels, senior policy adviser to Sanders. “He strongly spoke against repealing Glass-Steagall because he was afraid that it could cause a financial crisis like the one we saw in 2008. And he’s going to do everything possible to break up the too-big-to-fail banks.”

When Sanders voted for the House version of the CFMA in October 2000, the bill was not yet a total debacle for Wall Street accountability advocates. The legislativetext Sanders supported was clearly designed to curtail regulatory oversight. The GOP-authored bill was crafted as a response to a proposal from ex-Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Brooksley Born to ramp up oversight of derivatives. But the version Sanders initially voted for was more benign than the final, Gramm-authored version, and it didn’t draw any of the protests that the 1999 repeal of Glass-Steagall did. In October 2000, the bill passed the House by a vote of 377 to 4 (51 members didn’t vote), and then sat on the shelf for weeks.

But in December, Gramm — after coordinating with top Clinton administration officials — added much harder-edged deregulatory language to the bill, then attached the entire package to a must-pass 11,000-page bill funding the entire federal government. After Gramm’s workshopping, the legislation included new language saying the federal government “shall not exercise regulatory authority with respect to, a covered swap agreement offered, entered into, or provided by a bank.” That ended all government oversight of derivatives purchased or traded by banks. He also created the so-called “Enron Loophole,” which barred federal oversight of energy trading on electronic platforms.

So, Secretary Clinton is responsible for what her husband’s administration did while Sanders isn’t responsible for an actual vote.

I guess if I can say anything about today’s post is that I’m tired of folks acting like the horrible shit of some people doesn’t stink when it does.  Death doesn’t wipe out the fact that Antonin Scalia was a horrible bigot.  He may have gotten a few things right, but it doesn’t excuse how he used his position of power to absolutely denigrate some of the weakest among us.  I’ve never been one to mince words. We all do sincerely stupid things and we should own up to them.  Clinton has said repeatedly she’d switch that vote for the Iraq Resolution knowing what she knows now.

I just want every one held to consistent standards.  Enthrallment and death shouldn’t cause us to lose complete sight of things bigger in life than any one person.  Character should will out.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?




Tuesday Reads


Good Morning!!

We’re only a few days from the 50th anniversary of the day the President of the United States was shot down on a Dallas street. You’d think an event like that would lead to a serious investigation and efforts to bring those involved to justice.

Instead we were told within hours that President Kennedy had been murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald. Two days later Oswald was shot dead in the Dallas Police station by Jack Ruby, and the investigation, such as it was, ended.

At the time, even FBI director J. Edgar Hoover told newly sworn President Lyndon Johnson (in a recorded phone call) that the case against Oswald was too weak to get a conviction. Later, Dallas Police Chief Jesse Curry would say, “We don’t have any proof that Oswald fired the rifle, and never did. Nobody’s yet been able to put him in that building with a gun in his hand.”

Oswald supposedly shot Kennedy with a rifle at 12:30 from a window on the 6th floor of the Dallas Book Deposititory Building. Approximately 90 seconds after the shooting, Oswald was seen by Dallas police officer Marion Baker and Oswald’s boss Ray Truly in the lunch room on the 2nd floor of the building calmly drinking a coke. From Wikipedia:

According to Baker, Oswald did not appear to be nervous or out of breath. Truly said that Oswald appeared “startled” when Baker aimed his gun at him.  Mrs. Robert Reid—clerical supervisor at the Depository, returning to her office within two minutes of the assassination—said that she saw Oswald who “was very calm” on the second floor with a Coke in his hands.

Victoria Adams

Victoria Adams

Meanwhile, a young woman named Victoria Adams was watching the presidential motorcade from a window on the 4th floor of the book depository building. From a review of the book The Girl on the Stairs, by Barry Ernest:

She was an employee who worked in the same building as one Lee Harvey Oswald. The problem caused by her presence is very simple and easily summarized. Adams, along with her friend Sandra Styles, stood on the fourth floor of the Texas School Book Depository at the moment of the murder. She testified to hearing three shots, which from her vantage point appeared to be coming from the right of the building (i.e., from the grassy knoll). She and Styles then ran to the stairs to head down. This was the only set of stairs that went all the way to the top of the building. Both she and her friend took them down to the ground floor. She did not see or hear Oswald. Yet, she should have if he were on the sixth floor traveling downwards. Which is what the Commission said he did after he shot Kennedy.

This is the first problem, in a nutshell. Why did Adams not see a scrambling Oswald, flying down the stairs in pursuit of his Coca-Cola? Because of the Warren Commission’s timeline, we know Oswald had to have gone down the stairs during this period in order to be accosted in time by a motorcycle policeman. In addition, as we are later to discover, Adams also reports seeing Jack Ruby on the corner of Houston and Elm, “questioning people as though he were a policeman.”

Adams soon learned that the government didn’t want to hear what she had to say about what she had observed–and not observed on the day of the assassination. She was repeatedly “badgered” to change her story. She was also pressured by the investigator for the Warren Commission when she was interviewed in Dallas. Adams eventually moved away from Dallas, married and changed her name. Author Barry Ernest found her and talked to her before she died, and her story remained the same.

Recently Adams’ friend Sandra Styles was interviewed on the Travel channel. Styles still says she saw no one on the stairs. She says she believes Oswald probably shot Kennedy, but perhaps there were others involved “pulling the strings.” Watch the interview at the link.

Along with the fact that no gunshot residue was found on Oswald’s hands (although he was accused of shooting Dallas police officer JD Tippit with a handgun) or on his cheek (where it would be if he had shot a rifle), that is enough reasonable doubt for me to believe that Oswald was what he claimed–a patsy.

Here’s a longer video with most of the statements Oswald made in custody before he was killed by Jack Ruby.

We were told that Oswald was a lunatic, a loser who wanted to be famous for killing the most powerful man in the country.  But to me, he didn’t sound crazy, and if he wanted to be famous for the assassination of the president, why did he repeatedly say he hadn’t and ask for a lawyer to defend him?

Please, if you read any of the hundreds of articles that will appear in the corporate media over the next few days, think about these basic facts; because they probably will not appear in the news stories. After 50 years, there is so much information out there–and so many ridiculous theories as well–that it is extremely difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

But remember that a conspiracy is just cooperation between two or more people to commit a crime (or cover one up).  A conspiracy doesn’t even require a second shooter. It just requires that someone besides the person who pulled the trigger knew something or did something. If no one else but Oswald was involved, why has there been a 50-year effort by the government and the media to keep information about the assassination and “investigation” secret from the American people?

Personally, I think Jefferson Morley’s website “JFK Facts” is the best place to get accurate information and avoid nonsense about the assassination of President Kennedy. Morley is a former Washington Post reporter who has spent years trying to get the CIA to release the last 1,100 JFK-assassination-related files they are keeping secret. The CIA (and the FBI) had extensive knowledge of Oswald before the shooting, and there is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that he was an intelligence asset. Morley identifies the “top 7 JFK files the CIA still keeps secret.”  These files involve CIA personnel who knew about Oswald and his history as well as Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, who had access to KGB files on Oswald.

Yesterday someone actually asked White House press secretary Jay Carney about the embargoed files. It’s reported in a story by McClatchy DC on plans for the Obamas and Clintons to visit Kennedy’s grave.

Secretary of State John Kerry told Parade magazine this week that he had “serious doubts” that gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing Kennedy, but the White House wouldn’t say Monday where Obama falls on the conspiracy theory.

“I haven’t had a discussion with the president about Kennedy’s assassination — President Kennedy’s assassination,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said. He said he’s also not talked with Obama about whether classified files that have not yet been released in the case should be released.

It’s time for Obama to order the release of the files. If the CIA has nothing to hide and Oswald was a lone assassin who acted alone, why not?


I still have room for a few more reads. This one is really interesting, and it asks a question that seems very relevant: “Do We Live in the Matrix?” From Discover Magazine:

In the 1999 sci-fi film classic The Matrix, the protagonist, Neo, is stunned to see people defying the laws of physics, running up walls and vanishing suddenly. These superhuman violations of the rules of the universe are possible because, unbeknownst to him, Neo’s consciousness is embedded in the Matrix, a virtual-reality simulation created by sentient machines.

The action really begins when Neo is given a fateful choice: Take the blue pill and return to his oblivious, virtual existence, or take the red pill to learn the truth about the Matrix and find out “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Physicists can now offer us the same choice, the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix, by studying radiation from space. As fanciful as it sounds, some philosophers have long argued that we’re actually more likely to be artificial intelligences trapped in a fake universe than we are organic minds in the “real” one.

But if that were true, the very laws of physics that allow us to devise such reality-checking technology may have little to do with the fundamental rules that govern the meta-universe inhabited by our simulators. To us, these programmers would be gods, able to twist reality on a whim.

So should we say yes to the offer to take the red pill and learn the truth — or are the implications too disturbing?

Go read it–it’s fascinating and disturbing.

Today is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. From CNN:


It has been 150 years since President Abraham Lincoln got up in front of thousands of people in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at a turning point in the Civil War.

His words are some of the most memorable in American history, forever stamping our collective minds with “four score and seven years ago,” and “all men are created equal,” and of course a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

A few more links on the anniversary:

The Wichita Eagle: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address changed the American psyche, KU professor says

The LA Times: Not right the first time, Lincoln wrote this Gettysburg Address twice

The Atlantic: The Gettysburg Address at 150–and Lincoln’s Impromptu Words the Night Before

So . . . this post has mostly focused on history. I should include a few links to current news stories, but I can’t bring myself to do it; I’m going to end here, and post my news links in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same.

Have a great day!

Steven Spielberg’s Dark and Gloomy “Lincoln”

Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln

I went to see Spielberg’s latest film “Lincoln” today. That was three hours of my life I’ll never get back. I admit that I’m not a fan of Steven Spielberg or of historical dramas, so maybe my judgment isn’t worth that much; but I’m going to write about it anyway. I am a fan of Daniel Day Lewis, and I suppose he was the best thing about the movie. The second best thing was that Tom Hanks wasn’t in it.

Spielberg’s film covers the last four months of Lincoln’s life and is centered on the fight for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Certainly, the subject had the potential for a gripping drama, but instead Spielberg managed to turn a thrilling story into a movie that I found boring, pretentious, and depressing.

What bothered me most as I watched the film was how dark and grim it was–scene after scene after scene of men wearing dark clothing and talking incessantly. But as the endless scenes wore on,  I couldn’t keep my own present-day irritations from affecting my reactions.  I was incredibly annoyed to watching important national decisions being made solely by white men–most of whom were old and not very pleasant to look at–without any input from women or African Americans.

The make-up seemed designed to emphasize wrinkles, bags under the eyes, and unattractive facial hair in microscopic detail. Tommy Lee Jones was never handsome, but in his role as Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens he was made to look almost monstrous, with deep wrinkles, sagging jowls and giant pouch-like bags under his eyes.

But back to my growing irritation. After the misogyny and racism we have seen in this country over the past four years, I found the domination of “Lincoln” by white males to be incredibly annoying. And my irritation only grew as time went on. Surely there must have been black people who fought to pass the amendment–where were they?

The talk of “equality” of the races and the evils of treating “men” as property really rubbed me the wrong way, considering that women and children were to continue being treated as property for at least another hundred years after the passage of the Thirteen Amendment and that black men even in 2012 are still very far from being treated equally. Even our black President isn’t immune from the patronizing and bigoted attitudes of many Americans.

Admittedly, it’s unfair of me to judge the movie based on my present-day anger. Still, I think part of that feeling did arise from the fact that the movie–I think wrongly–ignored the thoughts and feelings of women and black people.

Only two women are shown having any kind of role in events: Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley. Mary Todd Lincoln is shown interpreting her husband’s dreams, trying to prevent her eldest son from enlisting in the Union Army, and supporting her husband’s policies. Her closest companion was Keckley, a black women who had purchased freedom for herself and her son, and become a seamstress. She was eventually introduced to Mary Todd Lincoln and went with her to the White House. Keckley wrote an autobiography, Behind the Scenes: Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House. But none of this was spelled out in the movie.

As for black characters, there is a sort of butler who says he was born a free man, a couple of black Union soldiers and anonymous black audience members who file in to the House gallery to watch the final vote on emancipation. I later learned that the “butler” was William Slade, who along with Elizabeth Keckley, was active in the abolition movement. Toward the end of the film, Thaddeus Stevens is shown getting into bed with a black woman whom I later learned was Stevens’ housekeeper Lydia Hamilton Smith. The two were lovers for 23 years, so why didn’t Spielberg emphasize her influence on Stevens’ attitudes about racial equality? Why was she included in the film almost as an afterthought?

At least one reviewer, historian Kate Masur, expressed a similar reaction to mine–except that hers was based on actual historical knowledge. Masur writes:

[I]t’s disappointing that in a movie devoted to explaining the abolition of slavery in the United States, African-American characters do almost nothing but passively wait for white men to liberate them. For some 30 years, historians have been demonstrating that slaves were crucial agents in their emancipation; however imperfectly, Ken Burns’s 1990 documentary “The Civil War” brought aspects of that interpretation to the American public. Yet Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” gives us only faithful servants, patiently waiting for the day of Jubilee.

This is not mere nit-picking. Mr. Spielberg’s “Lincoln” helps perpetuate the notion that African Americans have offered little of substance to their own liberation. While the film largely avoids the noxious stereotypes of subservient African-Americans for which movies like “Gone With the Wind” have become notorious, it reinforces, even if inadvertently, the outdated assumption that white men are the primary movers of history and the main sources of social progress.

I’m no historian–or movie reviewer–so I was relieved to learn that I’m not the only person who was deeply disappointed in “Lincoln,” despite fine performances by many of the white cast members. According to Masur,

In fact, the capital was also home to an organized and highly politicized community of free African-Americans, in which the White House servants Elizabeth Keckley and William Slade were leaders. Keckley, who published a memoir in 1868, organized other black women to raise money and donations of clothing and food for the fugitives who’d sought refuge in Washington. Slade was a leader in the Social, Civil and Statistical Association, a black organization that tried to advance arguments for freedom and civil rights by collecting data on black economic and social successes. The film conveys none of this, opting instead for generic, archetypal characters.

Masur was offended by the

brief cameo of Lydia Smith…housekeeper and supposed lover of the Pennsylvania congressman and Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens… Stevens’s relationship with his “mulatto” housekeeper is the subject of notoriously racist scenes in D. W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation.” Though Mr. Spielberg’s film looks upon the pair with far more sympathy, the sudden revelation of their relationship — Stevens literally hands the official copy of the 13th Amendment to Smith, before the two head into bed together — reveals, once again, the film’s determination to see emancipation as a gift from white people to black people, not as a social transformation in which African-Americans themselves played a role.

And why was Frederick Douglass left out of the film entirely? Masur notes that he was invited to the White House after Lincoln was inaugurated for the second time. According to Lincoln biographer Ronald C. White,

what the audience doesn’t fully understand, in the final scene – almost the final scene – where suddenly African-Americans arrive in the balcony as the final vote is to be taken, that one of those is Charles Douglass, the son of Frederick Douglass. Charles had fought in the famous Massachusetts 54th; he will write to his father after that climactic vote: ‘Oh, Father, how wonderful it is. People were cheering, they were crying tears of joy.’ So that had the potential for more black agency, but it doesn’t come to full fruition in the film.”

To add insult to injury, Lincoln is far too long at 2-1/2 hours (plus ads and previews). It could easily have been edited to 2 hours or less, especially since Spielberg chose to ignore the historical roles of African Americans and women in the events the film depicts.

Abe Lincoln Probably Couldn’t Be Elected in Today’s Theocratic U.S.

Long lost letter discusses Lincoln's religious beliefs

I missed this earlier in the week. From The Independent UK:

A three-page letter highlighting the 16th president’s unconventional relationship with the Almighty has just been put on sale. It offers a possible insight into why he was never baptised, did not attend a church and, in defiance of political protocol of the era, would refuse to publicly discuss his spiritual beliefs. Such was his reluctance to embrace piety that, if he were standing for office today, there is a good chance he would be unelectable.

In the letter, William Herndon, “a legal partner and close friend” of Lincoln’s before he was elected President, wrote:

he is, or was, a Theist and a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary, supernatural inspiration or revelation,” it reads, before detailing the president’s spiritual evolution in the years after Herndon met him in Springfield, Illinois, in the 1840s.

“At one time in his life, to say the least, he was an elevated Pantheist, doubting the immortality of the soul as the Christian world understands that term. He believed that the soul lost its identity and was immortal as a force. Subsequent to this, he rose to the belief of a God, and this is all the change he ever underwent. I speak knowing what I say. He was a noble man – a good great man for all this.”

I wonder if Michelle Bachmann knows about this?