Tag Archives: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Pigford Bounces Around The Blogosphere

Daniel Foster at NRO:

On Jan. 5, 1999, a federal district court in Washington, D.C., approved a preliminary consent decree — essentially a seal of approval for a settlement — granting class-action relief for a wide swath of black farmers. Give or take an unseemly lawyer, it looked like the angels had won. It was a victory bipartisan in the making: Speaker Newt Gingrich had helped push through legislation waiving the statute of limitations for discrimination complaints, allowing the suit to clear a crucial legal hurdle. But the story was far from over, and Pigford v. Glickman would prove the settlement that launched a hundred thousand frauds.

The “Pigford class” — the range of individuals eligible to claim settlement money — originally was defined as

all African-American farmers who (1) farmed between January 1, 1983, and Feb. 21, 1997; and (2) applied, during that time period, for participation in a federal farm program with USDA, and as a direct result of a determination by USDA in response to said application, believed that they were discriminated against on the basis of race, and filed a written discrimination complaint with USDA in that time period.

Both sides acknowledged that the class size wasn’t likely to exceed 2,500. But the seeds of abuse were already sown. Despite the fact that the class was at first strictly limited to those who had “filed a written discrimination complaint” with the USDA, the settlement crucially allowed that most members of the class lacked any documentation of these complaints, purportedly owing to poor record-keeping by the USDA. So the resolution mechanism offered potential claimants two “tracks” toward settlement money. Track B required a higher bar for evidence — the “preponderance” standard traditional in civil actions, demonstrated during one-day “mini-trials” before court-appointed arbitrators — but it came with no cap on potential awards. Track A provided, in the words of the case’s judge, “those class members with little or no documentary evidence with a virtually automatic cash payment of $50,000, and forgiveness of debt owed to the USDA.” Track A claimants would also get their taxes on that debt paid directly to the IRS for them, and priority consideration on their next USDA loan application.

To get their checks, Track A claimants were required to show court-appointed facilitators “substantial evidence” that they had had “communication” with the USDA, a member of Congress, the White House, or any federal, state, county, or local official regarding a discrimination complaint. How “substantial”? According to the consent decree, “something more than a ‘mere scintilla’” — in practice, as little as the corroboration of one’s story by a single individual who was not immediate family. The definitions of “communication” and “complaint” were stretched as well: Under the agreement, even participating in a “listening session” with USDA officials was as good as filing a discrimination complaint. And in cases where there was no documentary evidence whatsoever of communication with the USDA, a popular defense was for claimants to explain that USDA officers would not even give them the forms and applications they requested — in one fell swoop both demonstrating the discrimination and accounting for the lack of a paper trail. Thus could blacks who had never cultivated land they’d owned or rented — who in point of fact might never have mown a lawn or tended to a shrub — claim that systemic racism thwarted their farming careers before they ever started. Such claimants came to be known as the “attempted to farm” class, and by some estimates as many as 92 percent of all Pigford filers marched under their banner.

Conor Friedersdorf at Sullivan’s place:

In the current issue of National Review, Daniel Foster has a long piece on Pigford vs. Glickman. As Wikipedia notes, the Pigford case is “a class action lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), alleging racial discrimination in its allocation of farm loans and assistance between 1983 and 1997. The lawsuit ended with a settlement in which the U.S. government agreed to pay African American farmers US$50,000 each if they had attempted to get USDA help but failed. To date, almost US$1 billion has been paid or credited to the farmers under the settlement’s consent decree.”

As Salonexplains, the case is a matter of public controversy largely because Andrew Breitbart has become obsessed with it. His allegation is that the payout is rife with fraud and political corruption. I haven’t mentioned the matter before because having witnessed Breitbart’s carelessness with facts, the egregiously sloppy journalism he publishes on a daily basis, and his hubristic, immoral, “ends justify the means” approach to activism, I have serious doubts about his integrity and a strong conviction that his ethical compass is broken. More to the point, I just can’t trust a damn thing he publishes, and having discredited himself on a national scale in the Shirley Sherrod case, a lot of others agree.

But I’ve enjoyed Foster’s work for awhile now, and critical as I’ve been of a couple colleagues he works with at NR, the publication retains the ability to publish solid pieces, especially the ones prepped for print.

Although I can’t personally vouch for the facts in his Pigford story, having never reported on the matter myself, it reads like a solid piece – one that raises serious questions worthy of scrutiny. Alas, it is behind National Review’s paywall, and that presents a problem: As press coverage of the Pigford case increases – Breitbart is touting it singlemindedly at CPAC, and the stories are inevitable – the conversation is starting to focus is on the man whose heat-to-light ratio detracts from a cool-headed assessment of facts more than anyone in America. One purpose of this post is to suggest that we’d all be better off focusing the discussion on the NR piece, paywall or no. Certainly, liberal bloggers writing about the matter should acquire access to it. I’d be curious to see if they have a persuasive rebuttal. If so, I’ll air it here. And if not – if the Foster piece has everything right – the story definitely merits attention.

Here’s a very brief summary:

– Everyone agrees that between 1983 and 1997, the USDA discriminated against black farmers.

– The class action lawsuit made eligible for compensation farmers or aspiring farmers whose interests were harmed due to USDA discrimination. (There were other requirements too, but forget that for a moment.)

– According to Foster’s piece, a 1997 census study found a total of 18,500 black farmers nationwide.

– Yet there are nearly 100,000 claimants in the Pigford case.

There’s a lot more to Foster’s story, and this matter generally. But that gap between the number of claiments and the total number of black farmers in America is what struck me. If accurate it suggests widespread fraud.

A word about the bigger picture.

There are conservative bloggers expressing outrage that Americans haven’t been told more about this story. It’s worth pondering that reaction. It’s understandable: the misuse of public funds is always a legitimate story, and I hope this one gets reported out if that’s what has happened. But the fact that Americans have never heard of the Pigford case before now is most damning because it means we were utterly ignorant of the fact that the federal government was discriminating against thousands of blacks for almost 15 years, and as recently as the late 1990s! That is far more troubling than the possibility that private citizens perpetrated fraud on a poorly conceived settlement (though it doesn’t excuse it).

One narrative taking hold is that the Pigford case is about political correctness – that the fraud is “reparations in disguise,” and is enabled by a mainstream media willing to look the other way rather than inform the public about an injustice. Anyone spreading that narrative ought to remember that although the federal government’s racism against some Pigford claimants has been written about some in the media, it remains an obscure story known to very few people – and most of them didn’t show any interest in the story until it fit into the narrative of PC excess and the left buying off votes.

There’s nothing wrong or unnatural about political adversaries tuning into a story when their opponents may be guilty of corruption. A rare benefit of partisanship is that it creates an incentive to expose bad behavior. And the rest of us shouldn’t care about their motives insofar as it affects how we go forward– if fraud has been perpetrated on a large scale, better that we learn about it if only to prevent the same sort of thing in the future. Had the federal government discriminated for years against black farmers, however, then paid them off efficiently and without fraud, the vast majority of people in the conservative movement – and most of America along with them  – would’ve ignored the whole Pigford matter entirely. Is that the mark of a society overrun by political correctness?

Surely outrage is warranted for the initial discrimination.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

I’m reminded of David Brooks, lamenting the fact that Sonia Sotamayor didn’t go to school in the ’50s, while neglecting to mention that her alma mater (Princeton) didn’t even admit women until a decade later. The opportunistic rush to elide hard problems, in order to disparage imperfect, and perhaps even wrongheaded, solutions is an essential feature of modern conservative. In regards to blacks it shows itself in this sense that racism–even government-sponsored racism–isn’t actually a problem, people trying to fix it are a problem.

Mark Thompson at The League:

These concerns are poppycock – it is simply not the case that the discrepancy between the number of claimants and the number of black farmers in 1997 “suggests widespread fraud.”  As mistermix correctly points out, some very rudimentary fact-checking provides the answers to a lot of these concerns.*

For starters, this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford I were ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

None of this is to say that there hasn’t been and will not be successful fraudulent abuse of these settlements.  Where such fraud is discovered, clearly it should be prosecuted.  And no doubt, given the stakes involved, it should not be a surprise if these settlements turn out to be more prone to fraud than most – we are talking about large sums of money readily available with a relatively low burden of proof.  Unfortunately, such a low burden of proof is probably necessary here – unless the overwhelming majority of claims are in fact fraudulent, it’s safe to assume that forcing them to be tried under a higher standard of proof would impose far more costs than they would save.

What is appalling here is the ease with which the information I’ve noted above is readily available, and the utter failure of both Breitbart and Conor (and, I assume, Foster) to cite any of it.  Increasingly, it seems that the role of more high-brow political journalism is simply to, consciously or not, provide intellectual cover for the base’s ill-supported memes rather than seeking truth or attempting to challenge the base.  Instead of talking to the base, they merely parrot it.**

[UPDATE: 1.  In the comments below, Conor acknowledges his error, for which he certainly deserves credit, and which is something that is certainly all-too-rare in the blogosphere.

Mistermix:

After Conor Friedersdorf was thoroughly “fisked”—to use a word he can understand—for pimping an error-filled National Review article that supported Andrew Breitbart’s attempt to start a race war out of a settled case of discrimination, he responded with a little humility:

All I can say is that it was an honest mistake, and while I wish I would’ve raised it in my initial post, I am at least glad that I blogged about this issue because a lot of folks who were wrong in the same way I was now have the benefit of understanding this controversy better. I’ll certainly deploy your arguments as this case gets covered elsewhere.

That lasted about as long as it took the author of the original National Review, Dan Foster, to put up a lengthy defense of his original piece:

The main thing you need to know about that defense is that, at many key points, Foster cites either Andrew Breitbart or Breitbart’s helper, Lee Stranahan, for factual evidence. He many have done independent reporting on his own, but when it comes down to the important facts, he’s citing a person Conor has acknowledged that he can’t trust. But Conor’s more than willing to pimp Breitbart’s story through an intermediary. How is that anything but useful idiocy?

Daniel Foster at National Review:

I think my piece largely speaks for itself (although there was certainly some stuff that had to be cut: the original draft was twice as long as what ended up in the mag), and so I hope Coates and Thompson will read it. But let me briefly try to answer their criticisms, in order. (Apologies: if you haven’t read it, some of this will lack context).Thompson has seven points. Here’s one:

. . . this reporting elides the extreme severity of discrimination against black farmer, especially as perpetrated by the USDA: the average market value of a farm operated by a black farmer is only about 20% of the market value of an average farm operated by a white farmer, and even in 2007 black farmers applying for federal loans were able to receive loans of only about 1/3 of the amount of the average federal loan provided to white farmers.  Notably, in its settlement agreement in Pigford I, the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs.

Okay, the story fully grants that there is statistical evidence of discrimination against black farmers in the relevant time period, so we’re not in disagreement there. To say, though, that “the USDA expressly refused to agree that it would cease discrimination against black farmers in its loan programs” in the settlement is a bit off. It’s sort of a “when did you stop beating your wife?” question. The settlement meant that the USDA didn’t have to admit, in the legal sense, to discrimination (though we’ll see later that they fell all over themselves to admit it in the moral sense), and that they could avoid the messy process of investigating and adjudicating it. Like many (most, all?) settlements, the USDA traded cash for the risk of legal liability.

Here’s two, four, and five, and seven, which are related:

Second, using the number of black-owned farms extant in 1997 as the sole baseline for comparison is absurd on its face, particularly in light of the fact that the number of black-owned farms declined by almost 50% between 1983 and 1997, and in light of the fact that the settlements cover discrimination over a 15 year period.  At the very least, then, the far more appropriate benchmark would need to be 33,250, the number of black-owned farms existing in 1983.

[. . . ]

Fourth, until 2002, no statistical distinction was made between “black farmers” and “black-owned farms,” which is important in light of the fact that any farmer would have been eligible to apply for one of these loans.  We do know that when this distinction started to be made, in 2002, there were at least 50% more “black farmers” than “black-0wned farms.”  Assuming these statistics would have been similar in 1982, then the number of “black farmers” in 1983 would have been at least 50,000.

Fifth, these claims ignore the possibility of farms changing ownership during that 15 year period, thus creating multiple possible claimants.

[. . .]

Lastly, there are certainly going to be other legitimate claimants who would not fall into the categories outlined above.  But even if there are not, a quick look at the numbers I’ve put together here quickly reveals that we are well within the realm of reasonableness: if the remaining claims are all approved at the same rate as the Pigford I claims, there will be a total of between 60,000 and 65,000 approved claims.  We know that, at a minimum, there were 50,000 black farmers in 1983 who were eligible to apply for these loans.  Given that, is it conceivable that there were at least an additional 10-15,000 people who attempted to become farmers but were denied the needed loans from the USDA or who simply obtained their farms (whether through inheritance or otherwise) subsequent to 1983?  I think the answer to that is “absolutely.”

As to the number of black farmers, I mention both the 18,500 and 33,000 numbers in my piece; neither jibes with the number of claims that have poured in. The point about the difference between black-owned farms and black farmers isn’t really true either. Take a look at this table from the 1992/1997 Ag census. It does in fact distinguish between black-owned farms and black-leased or -rented farms, and it provides numbers for black tenant farmers. They hew closely to the 18,500 figure. But even if we take the biggest number that Thompson’s multi-step statistical conjecture produces — 50,000 black farmers — we’re still missing half the claimants. It’s also worth noting that the type of loans and assistance the USDA is alleged to have withheld from blacks were for farm operators, not agricultural workers broadly construed. So if that’s what Thompson had in mind in making his distinction then it’s not clearly relevant. Look, I — and parties on both sides of the case — yield that USDA record-keeping makes it difficult to pin down how many black farmers there were at any given time. In fact, much of my article is basically an argument that that problem is what opened the case up to fraud.

Doubling back now to Thompson’s third point:

Third, the settlement quite appropriately covers not only actual farmers but also people who sought to acquire or start a farm and applied for a loan from the USDA.  These persons would never appear in statistics of “black farmers” since, by definition, they needed the loans to become farmers.

Aye, there’s the rub. The original Pigford class contained a few hundred farmers, and while the settlement was being negotiated, both sides agreed that when it was all said and done, there would likely be no more than 2,500 or so potential claimants. But trial lawyers and a sympathetic judge wrote the claims process in such a way that almost no proof was required to collect $50,000. Not only did you not have to prove that you were actually discriminated against by the USDA — you didn’t have to prove by a preponderance of evidence that you had even applied for a loan. Again, this is all in the piece and I won’t rehearse it here. But ask whistle-blower Pigford claimants and even advocates for Pigford II about the category of “attempting to farm” claimants, which by some measures account for the vast majority of outstanding claims.

And lastly Thompson’s sixth point:

Sixth, nowhere in Conor’s post or Breitbart’s original reporting is there a mention of the fact that just because a claim is made does not mean it will be granted; instead, both seem to believe that claims will be rubber stamped once made.  But to the contrary, 30% of claims that were made under Pigford Iwere ultimately denied, and there’s no reason to believe that the rate will be any lower under Pigford II; this is an abnormally high rate of denial for a class action settlement, suggesting that the USDA is in fact reviewing claims quite carefully.

Once you’ve read the bit in my piece about the standards of evidence required to collect $50,000 under the settlement you’ll laugh out loud at that last sentence. And if you read Andrew Breitbart’s report, in which he interviews USDA workers who actually rubber-stamped the claims, you’ll see that approval was nearly automatic in a number of jurisdictions.

Now let’s deal with Coates. Here’s the meat of his criticism:

This is where you see “conservative” effectively becoming a synonym for “white populist.” You would think that the government discriminating against a class of farmers over 15 years, under three different presidential administrations, from two different parties, not in the distant, but recently, would be a pet cause for people disturbed by the overreach of government. In fact those who claim that banner, are disturbed by the remedy applied–not the problem, itself.

Indeed it would be extremely worrisome if the federal government under three different presidents and two different parties had discriminated wholesale against black farmers. But the queer thing about the USDA programs at the heart of the Pigford case is that they were locally administered. The USDA bankrolled these loan programs, but they were actually run by hundreds or thousands of county boards in dozens of states, virtually all of them elected by the local farmers. Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible; the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality. Maybe it is the case that a thousand different county boards, independently, thought blacks didn’t deserve farm operating loans. But there are also anecdotes about claims coming out of the Washington, D.C., suburbs; out of Chicago; out of a county in Arkansas where the entire loan board was black. . . .

As to his point about what this case, and my story, says about racial politics in America, I can only reiterate: There was discrimination against black farmers, and it was shameful. But so too is the race-hustling, trial-lawyer greed and fraud that has come out of the settlements. I didn’t even include in the piece stuff about reparations activists and unsavory Nation of Islam types glomming onto Pigford as a proxy for their own goals. E.g. Gary Grant, President of the Black Farmers & Agriculturalist Association (BFAA), which played a pivotal role in expanding Pigford settlements, went so far as to tell Fox News in 2001 that he doesn’t care if all the claimants are really farmers. “If you are an African-American, you deserve $50,000 because your roots are in farming and your folks have already been cheated,” he said. “You are collecting what your grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to.” In 2003, BFAA vice-president Ridgely Muhammad, who moonlights as “minister of agriculture” in the Nation of Islam, wrote on a black nationalist web site that the Pigford settlement illustrated both promise and peril for the reparations movement: the promise of showing how to navigate the “legal flaws in current reparations lawsuits” and the peril of allowing “white ‘do gooder’ lawyers’” to profit from the proceedings. Faya Ora Rose Touré (Rose Sanders until she elected to step away from her “slave name”) is a Selma, Alabama civil-rights lawyer who won an appellate court ruling to extend the filing deadline for Pigford claimants. She has also long been a dogged fighter for reparations, having once gone to court alongside Johnny Cochran to seek compensation from corporations that profited from slavery. Today, she is Shirley Sherrod’s lawyer. And then there is Dorothy Tillman, a former (Obama endorsed) Chicago alderman who during her tenure in public life has made reparations her signature political issue, and who has been recognized by Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), Congress’s greatest champion of reparations, for her work for “Black farmers and for justice.” The list goes on.

Breitbart and documentary filmmaker Lee Stranahan, who is working on a Pigford project, tell me they have recently recorded evidence of a black activist giving what Breitbart called a “demented Princeton Review” seminar on how to game the settlement to a packed black church in the South. I haven’t seen the tape so I didn’t run with it and I’ll reserve judgment, but I do know (and again, it’s in the piece) that real black farmers who were really discriminated against are still hurting, because the settlements were structured to spread the money far and wide, and right quick, not to actually bring relief to struggling black farmers who are still working the land.

To paraphrase Coates, the point is this: You would think that a bunch of fraudsters and fringe ideologues using legitimate claims of past discrimination to bilk taxpayer dollars and propagate a divisive program of grievance politics, not in the distant or recent past, but today, would be a pet cause for people interested in overcoming the legacy of racism in this country. In fact those who claim that banner are disturbed by the exposure of that problem — not the problem itself.

Adam Serwer:

Pigford I

As the Congressional Research Service report notes, “as of November 2010, 15,642 (69%) of the 22,721 eligible class members had final adjudications approved.” Foster says you’ll “laugh out loud” at the necessary evidentiary standards for filing under Track A, but someone could have plausibly walked away from reading Foster’s piece believing none of the 94,000 claims would be dismissed, when 31 percent of those in the original settlement were.

The claimants were required to show “substantial evidence” that they were entitled to part of the settlement. This doesn’t fit neatly into an article, so it’s understandable Foster didn’t include it, but I’ll just blockquote it here:

• a copy of the discrimination complaint filed with USDA or a copy of a USDA document referencing the discrimination complaint;

• a declaration by a person who was not a member of the claimant’s family, stating that the declarant had first-hand knowledge that the claimant had filed a discrimination complaint with USDA and describing the manner in which the discrimination complaint was filed;

• a copy of correspondence from the claimant to a member of Congress; the White House; or a state, local or federal official averring that the claimant had been discriminated against (except that, in the event that USDA did not possess a copy of the correspondence, the claimant also was required to submit a declaration stating that he or she sent the correspondence to the person to whom it was addressed);

• a declaration by a non-familial witness stating that the witness had first-hand knowledge that, while attending a USDA listening session or other meeting with a USDA official (or officials), the claimant was explicitly told by a USDA official that the official would investigate that specific claimant’s oral complaint of discrimination.

In his response, Foster alludes to the Big Government report that claims to cite testimony from “USDA workers who rubberstamped the claims.” Adjudicating whether the claims have merit was not handled by the USDA; it’s handled by a court-appointed third party, who is backed up by another court-appointed monitor who double checks the claim. The USDA can provide evidence as to whether or not a particular claim is false, and I’m guessing that might be what he means.

Let me just point out, though, that if 31 percent of the claims are being denied, it literally means they aren’t being rubber-stamped. The reason the terms were so generous was that, as Media Matters points out, folks at the USDA were literally throwing complaints into the trash, making documentation on the government’s end difficult. There’s basically a choice here — you can make it easier to prove a claim and risk that some terrible people will try to defraud the government, or you can make it so difficult that a number of people with legitimate claims won’t be able to prove they were discriminated against. In either case, it’s possible, even likely, that some people who deserve money won’t get it and some who don’t will. But that doesn’t amount to “massive fraud,” nor do I think it discredits the entire process.

Fortunately, if you believe that the old terms were too generous, there are additional fraud protections in the Claims Resolution Act, that further empower the claims adjudicator and gives access to claims information, including the names and address of the claims filers, to the GAO. Not that you’d know that from Foster’s piece. Chances are if/when someone tries to file a fraudulent claim, both we — and Congress — will hear about it.

Around 74,000 people filed claims past the deadline, the vast majority of these were dismissed for not meeting the deadline. The large number of late claims prompted the Senate to pass — unanimously, I might add — a second settlement.

Pigford II

$1.15 billion was approved to address the claims that weren’t handled by Pigford I. The total number of dollars anyone has been paid from this is zero. Every single one of the late claimaints who didn’t squeak through under Pigford I will have to refile, and according to the USDA, not a single claim has been filed yet because the court hasn’t assigned an adjudicator. It’ll be another two to three years before any Pigford II claims are adjudicated.

That’s what makes the allegation of “94,000 phantom farmers” are getting payouts inaccurate. Foster never mentions that only around 16,000 have seen any money at all, while around 7,000 other claims were denied (“the gravy train shows no signs of slowing down”). He’s using the total number of claims filed in the past, leaving the reader with the impression that all of them will be approved, even though all the late filers have to refile. His original piece also leaves the impression, both in his discussion of the evidentiary standards being used for Track A, and the use of the 94,000 number in his conclusion, that everyone is just getting handed a check by the USDA. Just get your friend Carl to say you were a black farmer.

Foster finds the USDA’s widespread, systemic discrimination against black farmers to be inconceivable, because of the scale involved. “Centralized, top-down, discrimination by the federal government would be awful but plausible, the sheer number and geographic scope of the claims suggests a remarkable universality.” I find that to be an astonishing argument. Jim Crow was not a “centralized, top-down affair”; it was a matter of “local administration.” “Local administration” is how segregation worked; it’s how Southern Democrats did things like ensure the benefits of the New Deal would be restricted to whites.

I also had a really visceral emotional reaction to Foster’s original conclusion:

At a December 8 signing ceremony, President Obama heralded Pigford II as the close of “a long and unfortunate chapter in our history.” In a way, one hopes the president is right—that the credulity, or perhaps the shame, of the American government and its taxpayers cannot be strained to accommodate the petty greed of more than 94,000 phantom farmers, and that the con will finally have run its course. But that is unlikely. Two Pigford style class-action suits—one for Hispanic farmers, another for women—with the potential to dwarf current settlements are working their way through the courts. Like so many Pigfords to the trough.

Look, the genteel white populism of this paragraph can’t be explained away. Not only have those greedy black frauds stuck their snouts into your wallet, but the Messicans and womens are on their way. There’s simply no way to credibly pivot from a statement like this, which attacks the very idea of financial restitution for past wrongs, to genuine concerns about farmers who deserved money that didn’t receive it because of the settlement terms.

Historically speaking, according to the Congressional Research Service citing an internal USDA report tracking their practices between 1990 and 1995, the crowd at the trough actually looks considerably less diverse:

According to the commissioned study, few appeals were made by minority complainants because of the slowness of the process, the lack of confidence in the decision makers, the lack of knowledge about the rules, and the significant bureaucracy involved in the process. Other findings showed that (1) the largest USDA loans (top 1%) went to corporations (65%) and white male farmers (25%); (2) loans to black males averaged $4,000 (or 25%) less than those given to white males; and (3) 97% of disaster payments went to white farmers, while less than 1% went to black farmers. The study reported that the reasons for discrepancies in treatment between black and white farmers could not be easily determined due to “gross deficiencies” in USDA data collection and handling.

Shortly afterward, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman suspended farm foreclosures and ordered an investigation into the matter. Before then, no one had been particularly bothered by it, for obvious reasons. Some snouts are more welcome at the trough than others.

I have no doubt that some people will try to defraud the government out of money here, nor do I discount the possibility that some have. Frankly, I think the bigger worry is that some people who deserve money will be bilked out of it by people posing as agents or lawyers and promising to ensure, for a fee, claimants get their settlement money. A class-action settlement is a juicy target for con artists. Those people deserve to be in jail. The fact that some people will try does not invalidate the government’s effort to rectify past wrongs.

Finally, I just want to address Foster’s original nut graf:

And in finally securing justice for himself and the few hundred farmers who first joined his class-action suit, he’d unwittingly set off an injustice greater than the one he sought to rectify: one that would involve the waste of billions of dollars, systemic fraud implicating top federal officials, the unseemly electioneering of two presidential campaigns—even murder.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I don’t see how Foster has proved that billions were wasted or that there is systemic fraud in the Pigford settlement. It’s only “unseemly electioneering” if you pretend there wasn’t substantial bipartisan support for the settlement, or if you think the president is unmoved by racial injustice and merely spends his entire day thinking about how to get whitey’s money. The idea that the settlement itself is responsible for people who planned to defraud the government by making a false claim and murdered a witness they feared might talk is just stupid.  But this paragraph certainly reflects the ideological disposition of most conservatives — that efforts to rectify past racial injustices always create “more injustice” than the original crime.

Publius at Big Government:

At a press conference at CPAC featuring Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Steve King and Andrew Breitbart, black farmer Eddie Slaughter tells his impassioned story about how the Pigford settlement has actually hurt the original and actual victims of discrimination at the hands of the USDA.

Adam Serwer and Daniel Foster at Bloggingheads

Conor Friedersdorf at The American Scene:

This is going to get complicated quickly. My apologies. If you’ve never heard the word Pigford before this may be a post to skip. In my last stint guestblogging at The Daily Dish, I wrote a post about the Pigford controversy, where I basically argued that since it’s inevitably going to be an ongoing matter of dispute, the best way to talk about it is to focus on the reporting published in National Review by Daniel Foster, a writer whose basic integrity as a person I trust, rather than the stuff published by Andrew Breitbart, whose outspokenness on the matter is clearly outweighed by the numerous instances in which he has brazenly injected egregiously misleading information into public discourse.

So often, stories like this turn into conversational train wrecks. I see one coming – and an opportunity to do better. Let’s treat this like a complicated matter, one where even people writing in good faith can make mistakes, making it a perfect fit for the vetting function that comes from honest back-and-forths in the blogosphere.

The vetting started immediately. I’d noted an aspect of Foster’s piece that seemed particularly persuasive to me. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Adam Serwer, and Mark Thompson pushed back hard. I quickly saw that I’d been mistaken in buying into that particular argument, and said so. As is their wont, the folks at Balloon Juice misunderstood and misrepresented my narrow apology.

Meanwhile, National Review posted Foster’s piece online, so that folks no longer had to rely on my poor summary. Foster pushed back against his critics. Serwer went another round. And then the good people at Bloggingheads arranged for a diavlog between Foster and Serwer, which can be seen here. Some of the conversation is tedious through no fault of the interlocutors. This is a complicated story to talk about, especially for an audience that isn’t initiated. Other parts are riveting. It isn’t often that you see two writers with wildly different takes on race in America willing to confront one another and converse in ways that make both of them uncomfortable.

The exchange that has played out is basically what I hoped for when I wrote that initial post urging engagement with Foster’s piece. I’d wager that Foster, Serwer, Thompson and Coates would all write things a bit differently if they could redo this whole exchange. On the whole, however, I think they’ve all conducted themselves rather well: more precisely, whatever their mistakes, they’ve all argued in good faith, with intellectual honesty and a desire to leave the public better informed about the matter at hand. Put another way, if everyone merely rose to the level of imperfect reporting, analysis and argument displayed here, American public discourse would be greatly improved.

But damn, this is a messy, maddening process. Among the writers I’ve mentioned, there were heated exchanges, hurt feelings, occasional suspicions of bad faith, tedious intervals that didn’t make for particularly entertaining journalism… and as a reader, one had to wade through all of it for the payoff of being a lot better informed on the other end… but even being better informed, there wasn’t the satisfaction of easy answers or resolution to all the disagreements.

What I find so wrongheaded about the Balloon Juice approach to this story – and the approach taken by folks who emailed me insisting that I should have never written my initial post – is the glib insistence that merely wanting a robust exchange was tantamount to being Andrew Breitbart’s useful idiot.

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While All The World’s Eyes Remain On Assange…

Max Fisher at The Atlantic

Glenn Greenwald:

Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old U.S. Army Private accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, has never been convicted of that crime, nor of any other crime.  Despite that, he has been detained at the U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia for five months — and for two months before that in a military jail in Kuwait — under conditions that constitute cruel and inhumane treatment and, by the standards of many nations, even torture.  Interviews with several people directly familiar with the conditions of Manning’s detention, ultimately including a Quantico brig official (Lt. Brian Villiard) who confirmed much of what they conveyed, establishes that the accused leaker is subjected to detention conditions likely to create long-term psychological injuries.

Since his arrest in May, Manning has been a model detainee, without any episodes of violence or disciplinary problems.  He nonetheless was declared from the start to be a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” the highest and most repressive level of military detention, which then became the basis for the series of inhumane measures imposed on him.

From the beginning of his detention, Manning has been held in intensive solitary confinement.  For 23 out of 24 hours every day — for seven straight months and counting — he sits completely alone in his cell.  Even inside his cell, his activities are heavily restricted; he’s barred even from exercising and is under constant surveillance to enforce those restrictions.  For reasons that appear completely punitive, he’s being denied many of the most basic attributes of civilized imprisonment, including even a pillow or sheets for his bed (he is not and never has been on suicide watch).  For the one hour per day when he is freed from this isolation, he is barred from accessing any news or current events programs.  Lt. Villiard protested that the conditions are not “like jail movies where someone gets thrown into the hole,” but confirmed that he is in solitary confinement, entirely alone in his cell except for the one hour per day he is taken out.

In sum, Manning has been subjected for many months without pause to inhumane, personality-erasing, soul-destroying, insanity-inducing conditions of isolation similar to those perfected at America’s Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado:  all without so much as having been convicted of anything.  And as is true of many prisoners subjected to warped treatment of this sort, the brig’s medical personnel now administer regular doses of anti-depressants to Manning to prevent his brain from snapping from the effects of this isolation.

Just by itself, the type of prolonged solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected for many months is widely viewed around the world as highly injurious, inhumane, punitive, and arguably even a form of torture.  In his widely praised March, 2009 New Yorker article — entitled “Is Long-Term Solitary Confinement Torture?” — the surgeon and journalist Atul Gawande assembled expert opinion and personal anecdotes to demonstrate that, as he put it, “all human beings experience isolation as torture.”  By itself, prolonged solitary confinement routinely destroys a person’s mind and drives them into insanity.  A March, 2010 article in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Lawexplains that “solitary confinement is recognized as difficult to withstand; indeed, psychological stressors such as isolation can be as clinically distressing as physical torture.”

For that reason, many Western nations — and even some non-Western nations notorious for human rights abuses — refuse to employ prolonged solitary confinement except in the most extreme cases of prisoner violence.  “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” John McCain wrote of his experience in isolated confinement in Vietnam. “It crushes your spirit.”  As Gawande documented: “A U.S. military study of almost a hundred and fifty naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam . . . reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and agonizing as any physical abuse they suffered.”  Gawande explained that America’s application of this form of torture to its own citizens is what spawned the torture regime which President Obama vowed to end:

This past year, both the Republican and the Democratic Presidential candidates came out firmly for banning torture and closing the facility in Guantánamo Bay, where hundreds of prisoners have been held in years-long isolation. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain, however, addressed the question of whether prolonged solitary confinement is torture. . . .

This is the dark side of American exceptionalism. . . . Our willingness to discard these standards for American prisoners made it easy to discard the Geneva Conventions prohibiting similar treatment of foreign prisoners of war, to the detriment of America’s moral stature in the world.  In much the same way that a previous generation of Americans countenanced legalized segregation, ours has countenanced legalized torture. And there is no clearer manifestation of this than our routine use of solitary confinement . . . .

It’s one thing to impose such punitive, barbaric measures on convicts who have proven to be violent when around other prisoners; at the Supermax in Florence, inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes and who pose a threat to prison order and the safety of others are subjected to worse treatment than what Manning experiences.  But it’s another thing entirely to impose such conditions on individuals, like Manning, who have been convicted of nothing and have never demonstrated an iota of physical threat or disorder.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Appropriately, Glenn links to this truly harrowing New Yorker piece on long-term solitary confinement. I don’t really see any argument for keeping Manning in these conditions, except a punitive one. But since he hasn’t been convicted of anything, I don’t see that argument either.
I think the worse part, is that very few people care what kind of condition the incarcerated endure. We have essentially accepted prison-rape. The New Yorker piece asks is solitary confinement torture? I’d ask, even if it is torture, whether we even care?

Jesse Walker in Reason

Nitasha Tiku at New York Magazine:

Thus far in the WikiLeaks saga, all the attention has circled the whistle-blowing website’s founder, with little emphasis on the whistle-blower himself. But while Julian Assange remains in custody pending an appeal of the judge’s decision to grant him bail, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald looks at a different prison, some 3,600 miles away, where accused leaker Bradley Manning has been sitting in solitary confinement in a U.S. Marine brig for five months without ever being convicted of a crime. According to Greenwald’s sources, Manning, who served a two-month stint in a military prison in Kuwait prior to being moved to Quantico, is being held as a “Maximum Custody Detainee,” despite being a model prisoner. For 23 hours a day, Manning is held in solitary confinement, without a pillow or sheets or access to the news and barred from exercising, conditions that are “likely to create long-term psychological injuries.” Wait a second, is Greenwald telling us that the U.S. government is willing to bend the law and play psychological games with people it perceives as a threat to national security? That doesn’t sound like … oh, never mind.

Eric Martin

John Cole:

There is absolutely no reason for this whatsoever, other than the fact that the United States has morphed into a brutal and repressive regime that is terrified of dissent. The only difference between this treatment and what we imagine third world nations do is that we have cleaner and more modern facilities. Hell, at this point Manning would probably welcome physical torture- it would be a welcome diversion.

And yet, this goes on every day in the greatest nation in the world, the home of the free and the land of the brave. Brought to our collective knees in terror of a rosy-cheeked private who had the balls to allow our lies to be published. And for that, we must emulate those great men who have gone before us- Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and other great human rights leader, and publicly make a show of our ability to crush one man. Because that is what this is- a message to every one else. There is no other reason to be subjecting Manning to this behavior, as he could be safely secured at any county jailhouse in this nation. Hell, he could be returned to his unit and confined to quarters, and nothing would happen.

We’re basically scum these days. It’s really sad. And I do not know how Lt. Villard and those like them live with themselves or sleep at night. I really don’t. Spare me the “they’re just following orders” crap. But we’ll go on spouting bullshit about Human Rights in every international forum we can find. American exceptionalism!

*** Update ***

For Christ’s sake, people. I simply am astounded at the lengths some of you will go to excuse this. “But I don’t like or trust Glenn Greenwald!” Who gives a shit if you don’t like him or trust him, try looking at the damned links he provides? What the hell is wrong with your cognitive skills? At the bottom of the page, there is an update which states a minor correction from THE OFFICIAL IN CHARGE OF MANNING’S DETENTION. That means they have read what Glenn said, and found one error, and corrected it. That would suggest to most people with at least one functioning synapse that, horror of horrors, Glenn’s piece is ACCURATE.

And yes manic progressives in the comments, this is on Obama. If we know about his, so does he, and he could stop it. It’s a goddamned disgrace. I didn’t realize I need to point this out explicitly, because Obama is, after all, the President and Commander-in-Chief. I sort of assumed you dullards knew this.

Weasel Zippers:

Feel good story of the day…

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The Blogosphere Wrestles With The Confederacy Again

Katharine Q. Seelye at NYT:

The Civil War, the most wrenching and bloody episode in American history, may not seem like much of a cause for celebration, especially in the South.

And yet, as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.

The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities. A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.

In addition, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of its local chapters are preparing various television commercials that they hope to show next year. “All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves,” says one ad from the group’s Georgia Division.

That some — even now — are honoring secession, with barely a nod to the role of slavery, underscores how divisive a topic the war remains, with Americans continuing to debate its causes, its meaning and its legacy.

“We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons, explaining the reason for the television ads. While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.”

Not everyone is on board with this program, of course. The N.A.A.C.P., for one, plans to protest some of these events, saying that celebrating secession is tantamount to celebrating slavery.

“I can only imagine what kind of celebration they would have if they had won,” said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina N.A.A.C.P.

He said he was dumbfounded by “all of this glamorization and sanitization of what really happened.” When Southerners refer to states’ rights, he said, “they are really talking about their idea of one right — to buy and sell human beings.”

Oliver Willis:

God, these people are absolute morons. The Confederacy was an act of war against America, no better than Al Qaeda – probably worse because these people were American citizens. There are those who wish for the history books to expunge their vile legacy, for future generations to lose the collective memory of the people who ripped America apart. They want the future to be ignorant of the confederacy’s love of free labor on the backs of enslaved blacks.

We can’t let that happen.

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

In Montgomery, Alabama — at one time, a hotbed of violence in defense of apartheid — neo-Confederate sympathizers are celebrating the anniversary with a parade, as well as a “mock swearing-in” of Jefferson Davis, the sole president of the Confederacy. Incidentally, this is what Davis — senator from Mississippi — had to say about the prospect of secession, in the final months of 1860, shortly before his state left the Union in rebellion:

“The recent declaration of the candidate and leaders of the Black Republican Party must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it, where it is, not where it is not.”

A few weeks later, on January 9, 1861, Mississippi issued its ordinance of secession:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

t really annoys me the that Times used someone who they felt they had to ID as a “liberal sociologist” to counter Antley. Far better to simply quote from the founding documents which those 170 people authored. In that way we can get some sense of precisely what they were risking their lives for, and the exact nature of the fortune they were protecting:

We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof. The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”
This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.
The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.
The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution.
The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions.

The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor. We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States.
Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself.
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety. On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
I think we need to be absolutely clear that 150 years after the defeat of one of the Confederacy, there are still creationists who seek to celebrate the treasonous attempt to raise an entire country based on the ownership of people.

Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns and Money:

On one level, however, the people who say that the war was about “states’ rights” are correct, if we use revealed preferences to define “states’ rights” as “federal enforcement of the rights of racial minorities is illegitimate, while federal powers that might serve or protect the interests of wealthy southern whites should be interpreted as expansively as possible.” I think Ulysses S. Grant’s acid response to the idea that Southern opposition to Reconstruction reflected a principled resistance to the use of federal military authority characterizes actually existing doctrines of “states’ rights” nicely:

During my two terms of office the whole Democratic press, and the morbidly honest and “reformatory” portion of the Republican press, thought it horrible to keep U.S. troops stationed in the Southern States, and when they were called upon to protect the lives of negroes — as much citizens under the Constitution as if their skins were white — the country was scarcely large enough to hold the sound of indignation belched forth by them for some years. Now, however, there is no hesitation about exhausting the whole power of the government to suppress a strike on the slightest intimation that danger threatens.

Lizardbreath:

I think what gets to me is the Orwellian nature of it all; that it’s a power play. If Confederate-worshippers can make it seem aggressively impolite to insist on straightforwardly, obviously true historical facts, then we can’t rely on facts to establish anything, which is exactly how politics has been feeling lately. Not, of course, that stamping out Civil War revisionism solves anything, but it’d make me feel better.

Steven L. Taylor:

I can’t imagine that most people, in the south or not, will be commemorating secession.  I will, however, state that many of these sentiments are held in at least a vague way by a lot of people in the Deep South.  To wit:   the notion that the war was about “states rights” and self-defense.  I, for one, think that that is a lie that many Americans tell themselves* about the war because they don’t want to fully face up to the notion that the most fundamental right in question was the right for one set of human beings to hold another set of human beings as property.   There is a great deal of pressure to want to find some mental gymnastics to allow for pride about one’s heritage, and it is far easier to cleave to the notion that one’s forbearers were principled about the rights of their states than it is to admit that they were defending a specific political economy that required slave labor.  If anyone has doubts that slavery was central to secession, I would point the reader to a post I wrote on this topic earlier this year:  Confederate Heritage and History Month.  It really is impossible to argue from the facts that the main reason for secession was anything other than slavery.

I will further say this:  there is far too little shame associated with the CSA than there ought to be.  The continued popularity of the Confederate Battle Flag as an adornment on automobiles and clothing attest to that fact.  Or, for that matter, the notion that many politicians still extol things like Confederate Heritage Month and the aforementioned battle flag.**  Certainly I know plenty of people, including students and people I know in various walks of life, who adhere to the notion that there is a “real history of the South” that is not properly taught.

One of the weirder aspects of all of this discussion to me is that the South is also the part of the country that considers itself the most patriotic vis-à-vis the United States of America and which venerates the US flag and the Constitution as near sacred items.  As such, one would think that such deep belief in exceptional nature of the USA would translate into some reevaluation of the meaning of secession and the Civil War.***  Indeed, one would think that any given Southern patriot would look back on the history of 150 years ago and have a profound sense of relief that the entire CSA experiment failed.  And, further, that the notion of dividing the United States was a horrible idea.  And yet, I don’t think much thought goes into it.

Alex Eichler at The Atlantic with more.

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You’re A Liberal Fascist! You’re A Conservative Taliban! And Other Fun Insults To Please The Crowd

Markos Moulitsas has a new book out, American Taliban.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up.

Kos at Daily Kos:

We’ll see far more reaction as the book officially hits the shelves on Wednesday, but I expect much of the same. Conservatives will hate it, for obvious reasons. Weenie liberals will hate it, for obvious reasons. A bunch of “serious people” will tsk tsk the lack of civility in our discourse — now that a liberal is throwing the punches. And some people will appreciate that I’m throwing those punches.

Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big “fuck you” to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win. Why would we? The reasons I hate the crazy Right is the same reason I hate Jihadists — their fetishization of violence, their theocratic tendencies, their disrespect for women, their hatred of gays, their fear of the “other”, their defiance of scientific progress and education, and their attempts to hijack popular culture.

It’s a good book, and it’s paperback, so it’s cheap. Pick up a copy at your favorite online retailer or bookstore, and come up with your own opinion on the matter.

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect:

Observant readers (or bookshelf scanners) will notice that American Taliban, the new book by Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas, shares its smiley-face cover art with Liberal Fascism, the controversial 2009 book by conservative writer Jonah Goldberg. Indeed, there is a sense in which American Taliban is the left-wing counterpoint or spiritual successor to Liberal Fascism. But whereas Goldberg sought to make a historical connection between American liberalism and European fascism for the purpose of “clearing the record,” Moulitsas seeks to classify right-wing conservatism as a species of fundamentalist extremism, for the purpose of spurring progressive action.

This is not new ground for Moulitsas. In 2005 he wrote a short post slamming the conservative movement for its similarities to Islamic radicalism: The Taliban, he wrote, “are exactly what we see in the Republican Party as the GOP continues to consolidate power — creeping theocracy, moralizing, us versus them, embrace of torture, the need to constantly declare jihad on someone, hysterics over football-game nipples, control over ‘decency’ on the airwaves, lyrics censorship, hostility to women freedoms, curta[i]ling of civil liberties, and so on.”

[…]

Like Liberal Fascism, American Taliban is another entry in the tired genre of “my political opponents are monsters.” Indeed, Moulitsas begins the book with the Goldbergian declaration that “in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.” And he fills the remaining 200-plus pages with similar accusations. In the chapter on power, Moulitsas writes that “the American Taliban seek a tyranny of the believers in which the popular will, the laws of the land, and all of secular society are surrendered to their clerics and ideologues.” Which is, of course, why these American Taliban participate in the democratic system and hew to the outcomes of elections. Later in the chapter, Moulitsas argues that the right-wing hates democracy — they “openly dream of their own regressive brand of religious dictatorship” — loves war, fears sex, and openly despises women and gays. In the chapter on “war,” Moulitsas calls Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota a “high priestess of the American Taliban” — a veritable Mullah Omar, it seems! — and in the final chapter on “truth,” Moulitsas concludes by noting the foundational “kinship” between the two Talibans.

Now, it’s true that certain tendencies on the American right have analogues in fundamentalist Islam; for example, and as Moulitsas points out in his chapter on sex, right-wing conservatives share a hatred of pornography with fundamentalist Iranian authorities. Of course the similarities end there; conservatives boycott pornography, Iran punishes it with death.

But, this gets to the huge, glaring problem with American Taliban; ultimately, any similarities are vastly outweighed by incredibly important distinctions and vast differences of degree. I’m no fan of the right wing, but the only possible way it can be “indistinguishable” from the Taliban is if conservatives are stoning women for adultery, stalking elementary schools to throw acid in girls’ faces, and generally enforcing fundamentalist religious law with torture and wanton violence. The chapter on women becomes a joke when you realize that Moulitsas can’t distinguish between the odiousness of right-wing sexism and the vicious amorality of permanently disfiguring “immodest” women. Likewise, there are magnitudes of difference between executing gays (the Taliban) and opposing a hate-crimes bill (Republicans).

It doesn’t help that Moulitsas elides glaring contradictions in his argument and routinely misrepresents his evidence; in one instance, Moulitsas brandishes Ann Coulter’s infamous quotation from 2001, where she declared that “we should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity,” as evidence of the right’s bloodthirsty ways, while ignoring the fact that she was fired from National Review (an organ of the American Taliban) for that exact quotation.

Digby on Bouie:

Ann Coulter was fired for going on TV and slagging National Review Online (she didn’t work for the magazine) for paying peanuts and because they wanted to edit her column. They made a big point about saying they fired her for her unprofessional conduct, not her writing. And she was hired afterward by USA Today (where she was also eventually fired and replaced by Jonah Goldberg.)She still has a nationally syndicated column and her work appears on Townhall, World Net Daily and Human Events among others. She sold many thousands of hate-filled anti-liberal books with titles like Slander and Treason and Godless, appeared all over the country to tumultuous, adoring crowds and landed on the cover of Time magazine — all after she made those statements. Apparently the National Review’s withdrawal of its imprimatur didn’t impress her audience very much. If that’s what constitutes a glaring contradiction in the book, then I’m afraid it isn’t Markos who has failed to do his homework.

This final point I’m afraid, is just perplexing

Conservatives haven’t actually gained from their willingness to bend and misrepresent the truth. For starters, Republicans are still deeply unpopular; according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, only 24 percent of Americans gave the GOP a positive rating, a historic low. At best, with their constant attacks on “socialism” and “tyranny,” conservatives are responding to a gross caricature of liberalism; after years of taking down liberal straw men, conservatives can neither respond to actual liberals nor offer the public anything other than decades-old dogma. Indeed, their likely electoral gains notwithstanding, movement conservatives are still incapable of making an affirmative case for their governing philosophy. Their “new ideas” are anything but, and to most informed observers, it’s clear that “no” is the only functioning weapon in the Republican Party’s paltry arsenal. Put another way, there’s a reason why the movement’s leading voices are quasi-religious charlatans, rent-seeking celebrities, and failed ex-governors.

I don’t know that we are living in the same political world. Yes, their leaders are charlatans,rent-seeking celebrities and failed ex-governors. What else is new? And yet somehow, the right has been enormously successful for the past 40 years and has dominated politics and government because of their willingness to relentlessly demean and destroy liberalism by any means necessary, usually using institutional power wherever they can lay their hands on it. This is a mind-boggling assertion, really, especially considering the fact that they are on the verge of making an epic comeback even in the face of total institutional disarray and a takeover of the GOP by the lunatic fringe. And it’s purely on their willingness, indeed eagerness, to go for the jugular. Sure the GOP is unpopular. All politicians are unpopular right now. But conservatism has been the big political winner for decades — and constitutes a far bigger ideological bloc than liberalism. In fact, all American politics are played on the right side of the field, with liberalism on defense the whole way.

We are talking about cutting social security in the middle of the worst economy since the 1930s. That’s not a sign of failed conservative ideology. And yes “informed” people understand that they are about nothing. How many people are correctly informed?

He goes on to give a fairly boilerplate Sunday school lecture about truth, justice and the American way and it’s fine as far as it goes. Making up facts is not ok, although I see no evidence in this review that Markos has engaged in anything but hyperbole. But this is silly:

Yes, progressives are depressed and despondent about the future, but that’s no reason for dishonesty and scaremongering, and it doesn’t excuse the obscenity of comparing our political opponents to killers and terrorists. As reality-based members of the American community, we have an obligation toward the truth, even when it isn’t particularly convenient.

Actually, sometimes scaremongering is absolutely necessary for survival. People should be scared right now. History shows that bad things can happen, particularly in times of great transition and stress.

The inconvenient truth here is that these people are dangerous because their worldview is dangerous. Lethal even. And somebody has to have the guts and to call them on it in their own terms. This “tired genre” of “our opponents are monsters” has been decidedly dominated by one side and the consequences have been grave. We have a fight on our hands and the only real question left is whether anyone on our side is willing to wage it.

Bouie responds to Digby:

Listen, I have no problem with throwing punches and fighting the good fight against the forces of wealth and regression. And I won’t hesitate to attack the conservative movement for its sexism, racial resentment and monomaniacal devotion to enriching the privileged. But there’s a vast difference between that, and stressing a moral equivalence between the right and the Taliban. The former is true and focuses our aim for the battles ahead, the latter, as Patrick Appel writes at the Daily Dish, doesn’t “accomplish anything besides juicing book sales and temporarily riling up like-minded folk.”

Hell, Kos admits as much when he describes the purpose of his book, “Because look, this book, ultimately, is a big ‘fuck you’ to every conservative who has ever accused us of wanting the terrorists to win.” Kos isn’t Paul Revere; he isn’t warning us about some incipient threat to our safety; he’s trying to get back at conservatives who accuse liberals of hating their country. Which, as I said in my review, is fair; Kos has never claimed to be an honest broker for the truth. But the fight for progress doesn’t require us to bend the truth or distort our opponents’ ideas; we can wage this war as we always have, by fighting for our values and giving the right the rope it needs to hang itself. Sure, “fuck you” feels good, but the moment you turn to smears is the moment you concede the weakness of your own position.

The conservative movement is a perfect example of what happens when you let dishonesty consume your argument. In its drive to demonize liberals, it has become an incoherent mass of rage and resentment, devoid of anything approximating a governing agenda. The right has become so doctrinaire that it has lost its capacity for self-correction. This year’s Republicans will win because of high unemployment and poor growth, not because the American people have suddenly become more receptive to conservatism (they haven’t).

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Yeah, with great respect for Digby, I just don’t agree. I actually think precision, of this sort, is extremely important. Rightly or wrongly I’m a liberal, in large measure, because I think liberals have more respect for my intelligence. I can’t, in great detail, explain health care policy, or financial reform. But when I see one side’s most potent voices arguing that health care reform is actually reparations, or their leadership winking at the notion that Obama is a Muslim, I take it as a caution. It’s brand degradation, the sense that dishonesty and shading actually covers the lack of an argument.
Digby argues that Moulitsas should have some kind of poetic license,and shouldn’t be taken literally. That strikes me as squishy. This statement–“in their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban”–is quite literal,  and one is obliged to ask if it’s true or not.
The notion that “slut-shaming” and “nose-cutting” have the same deeper meaning–presumably a fear of women’s sexuality, though Digby doesn’t say this–is true as far as it takes you. Likewise the notion that black people should be slaves, the notion that they should be shipped back to Africa, that they should be segregated in communities, that they should not be allowed to intermarry, also have the same root cause–that blacks are unequal to whites. At varying points, Abraham Lincoln, John C. Calhoun, William T. Sherman, and Ulysses Grant held one or all of these views, and all probably died thinking blacks were unequal to whites. But that doesn’t make them interchangeable. Lincoln and Grant aren’t “less evil” versions of Calhoun.
As is often the case, with arguments that lead with analogy, the point isn’t to clarify anything, it’s to turn heads. Perhaps I am wrong, but I do not think you claim that Glenn Beck is the white Malcolm X because you think it’s a particularly astute analysis; you do it because it will get you on the Atlantic Wire. I don’t believe you claim that the American right’s tactics are “almost indistinguishable” from the Taliban because you think it’s adroit and original. You do it to elbow your way up the best-seller list.
That’s fine–it’s an accepted strategy. But speaking only for me, if your committment is to making me look, as opposed to making me think, expect that I will only look once. Everything you say afterward is compromised in my eyes. Faulkner is still waiting.

I tend to think that this is one of the areas where progressives aren’t just doing the right thing, but have a smarter tactical approach to politics. There are scenarios in which tagging your political opponents with smears can be effective, but I don’t see any evidence that the particular apocalyptic “my enemies are totalitarian madmen” strain of Birch/Beck/Goldberg conservatism has helped anyone win any elections. This should be differentiated from the occasional lapse into rhetorical excess that everyone does now and again. I’m talking specifically about the kind of sustained effort to seriously persuade people that Elana Kagan favors sharia or Dwight Eisenhower is a Communist that you see among loons of all stripes but that seems to be granted more respectability on the right.

This stuff doesn’t win votes anyone because, after all, it’s a form of preaching to the choir. Which is fine—the choir needs some sermons. But there’s no real upside in lying to the choir. Political movements need to adapt to the actual situation, and that means having an accurate understanding of your foes. You need to see them as they actually are so that you know the right way to respond. Either underestimating or overestimating their level of viciousness and evil can lead to serious miscalculations. Which is just to say that getting this stuff right is more important than coming up with funny put-downs.

I haven’t read American Taliban and don’t plan to. I figure I already dislike the American right wing enough, so there’s little need to dump another load of fuel onto my own personal mental bonfire. But here’s what’s interesting: this review isn’t on a fringe blog site. It’s not from a reviewer for the DLC. It’s not written by some apostate liberal like Mickey Kaus. It’s written by a mainstream liberal writing in one of America’s premier mainstream liberal publications. Did Liberal Fascism get any similarly incendiary reviews from mainstream conservatives writing in any of America’s premier mainstream conservative publications?

Genuine question here. Maybe I missed the bad reviews from fellow conservatives. But the only one I remember on the way to Liberal Fascism becoming both a huge bestseller and a conservative bellwether was a gentle, academic scolding from fascism scholar Michael Ledeen. Does anyone remember any others?

James Joyner:

Both Drum and Yglesias contrast the rebukes from some on the Left to American Taliban with what they recall as near universal acclaim for Liberal Fascism from the Right.   I don’t have any comprehensive metrics available to me to do a useful analysis, but I do recall quite a few bloggers on the Right, myself included, pushing back on exactly the same grounds.  In my February 2008 post “Goldberg, Coulter, and Savage,” I observed,

While I get the desire to rebut the notion that Fascism is right-wing phenomenon and therefore somehow comparable to American mainstream conservatism, the argument that American liberals are proto-Fascists is quite silly. The use of inflammatory titles, while an excellent publicity vehicle for selling books, is decidedly unhelpful if one’s purpose is to advance serious argument.

There is, however, a stark difference between Coulter, who seriously argues that liberals are traitors, fascists, or whathaveyou, than cutesy publicity stunts.

Contrast this, incidentally, with Glenn Greenwald and Yglesias, two others who managed to secure major book deals off the success of their blogs.     Greenwald’s   How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok and Yglesias’ Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats are both polemics.  But they’re written in such a way that a serious person on the other side might actually read and engage.

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Not Every Explosive Tape Contains Mel Gibson Melting Down

Andrew Breitbart at Big Government:

We are in possession of a video from in which Shirley Sherrod, USDA Georgia Director of Rural Development, speaks at the NAACP Freedom Fund dinner in Georgia. In her meandering speech to what appears to be an all-black audience, this federally appointed executive bureaucrat lays out in stark detail, that her federal duties are managed through the prism of race and class distinctions.

In the first video, Sherrod describes how she racially discriminates against a white farmer. She describes how she is torn over how much she will choose to help him. And, she admits that she doesn’t do everything she can for him, because he is white. Eventually, her basic humanity informs that this white man is poor and needs help. But she decides that he should get help from “one of his own kind”. She refers him to a white lawyer.

Sherrod’s racist tale is received by the NAACP audience with nodding approval and murmurs of recognition and agreement. Hardly the behavior of the group now holding itself up as the supreme judge of another groups’ racial tolerance.

Ed Morrissey:

Actually, if Sherrod had a different ending for this story, it could have been a good tale of redemption. She almost grasps this by initially noting that poverty is the real issue, which should be the moral of the anecdote. Instead of having acted on this realization — and perhaps mindful of the audience — Sherrod then backtracks and says that it’s really an issue of race after all. It certainly was for Sherrod, who admits that “I didn’t give him the full force of what I could do.” Notice that the audience doesn’t exactly rise as one to scold Sherrod for her racism, but instead murmurs approvingly of using race to determine outcomes for government programs, which is of course the point that Andrew wanted to make.

Andrew has a second video, which is more relevant to the out-of-control expansion of the federal government than race. Sherrod in the same speech beseeches her audience to get work in the USDA and the federal government in general, because “when was the last time you heard about layoffs” for government workers? If Sherrod is any example, it’s been too long.

Doug Powers at Michelle Malkin’s:

We interrupt this “Tea Partiers are so incredibly racially biased” broadcast for the following update:

Days after the NAACP clashed with Tea Party members over allegations of racism, a video has surfaced showing an Agriculture Department official regaling an NAACP audience with a story about how she withheld help to a white farmer facing bankruptcy — video that now has forced the official to resign.

The video posted at BigGovernment that started it all is here if you haven’t seen/heard it yet.

Breitbart claims more video is on the way.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled “Tea Partiers are so incredibly racially biased” broadcast.

Tommy Christopher at Mediaite:

As it’s being presented, the clip is utterly indefensible, and the NAACP was quick to denounce Sherrod:

We are appalled by her actions, just as we are with abuses of power against farmers of color and female farmers.

Her actions were shameful. While she went on to explain in the story that she ultimately realized her mistake, as well as the common predicament of working people of all races, she gave no indication she had attempted to right the wrong she had done to this man.

The clip that’s being promoted is obviously cut from a larger context, and while this is often the dishonest refuge of radio shock jocks, in this case, it makes a real difference. Here’s what Sherrod told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

But Tuesday morning, Sherrod said what online viewers weren’t told in reports posted throughout the day Monday was that the tale she told at the banquet happened 24 years ago — before she got the USDA job — when she worked with the Georgia field office for the Federation of Southern Cooperative/Land Assistance Fund.

Sherrod said the short video clip excluded the breadth of the story about how she eventually worked with the man over a two-year period to help ward off foreclosure of his farm, and how she eventually became friends with him and his wife.

“And I went on to work with many more white farmers,” she said. “The story helped me realize that race is not the issue, it’s about the people who have and the people who don’t. When I speak to groups, I try to speak about getting beyond the issue of race.”

Sherrod said the farmer, Roger Spooner of Iron City, Ga., has since died.

It doesn’t seem that Ben Jealous or Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are aware that Sherrod wasn’t working at USDA when this occurred, or that she did, in fact, help the farmer in question. That changes everything about this story, including the reaction of the crowd. The entire point of the story is that her actions were indefensible.

If what Sherrod says is true, this is not a story about grudgingly admitting that even white folks need help, but rather, a powerful, redemptive cautionary tale against discrimination of any kind. Both the AJC and Mediaite are working to locate a full video or transcript of the event.

This incident is being posed as the right’s answer to the NAACP resolution against “racist elements” in the Tea Party. This story also comes at a time when the New Black Panther Party has been thrust into the spotlight by Fox News (with predictable results), and debate rages over an Arizona immigration law that many say encourages racial profiling.

This is precisely the danger of ideologically-driven “journalism.” It is one thing to have a point of view that informs your analysis of facts, but quite abother when that point of view causes you to alter them.

David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

The 82-year-old wife of the white Georgia farmer who was supposedly discriminated against some quarter century ago by the black USDA official forced to resign this week — if the video released by Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government and re-run by Fox is to be believed — is now confirming that in fact Shirley Sherrod saved her and her husband’s farm from bankruptcy and is a “friend for life.”

CNN also spoke with the farmer’s wife and with Sherrod. Rachel Slajda has more.

Kevin Drum:

In a second video, BigGovernment.com says “Ms. Sherrod confirms every Tea Partier’s worst nightmare.” Although this is ostensibly a reference to a joke she made about no one ever getting fired from a government job, that’s not really every tea partier’s worst nightmare, is it? On the other hand, a vindictive black government bureaucrat deciding to screw you over because you’re white? Yeah, I’d say that qualifies.

This is just appallingly ugly, and the White House’s cowardly response is pretty ugly too. This is shaping up to be a long, gruesome summer, boys and girls.

Atrios:

One of the under reported stories of the 90s was just how much Starr’s merry band of lawyers totally fucked over relatively lowly White House staffers in the Great Clinton Cock Hunt. That was largely through subpoenas and lawyer bills, but lacking subpoena power the Right has now turned to a credulous news media and the power of selectively edited video to go after random government officials.

Apparently Glenn Beck and Andrew Breitbart rule Tom Vilsack’s world. Heckuva job.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

Andrew Breitbart: the heir to Joseph McCarthy, destroying people’s reputations and jobs based on deliberately distorted allegations, while the rest of the right wing blogs cheer. Disgusting. This is what has become of the right wing blogosphere — it’s now a debased tool that serves only to circulate partisan conspiracy theories and hit pieces.

UPDATE at 7/20/10 8:33:55 am:

Note that LGF reader “teh mantis” posted a comment last night at around 6:00 pm that made exactly these points about Breitbart’s deceptive video, in this post.

UPDATE at 7/20/10 9:00:01 am:

It’s disturbing that the USDA immediately caved in to cover their asses, and got Sherrod to resign without even hearing her side of the story; but also expected. That’s what government bureaucrats do. And they didn’t want the USDA to become the next ACORN.

But it’s even more disturbing that the NAACP also immediately caved in and denounced this woman, in a misguided attempt to be “fair.” The NAACP is supposed to defend people like this. They were played by a con man, and an innocent person paid the price.

UPDATE: Rachel Slajda at TPM

The Anchoress at First Things

Caleb Howe at Redstate

Digby

Tom Blumer at The Washington Examiner

David Frum at The Week

Erick Erickson at Redstate

Jonah Goldberg at The Corner

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect

UPDATE #2: Dan Riehl at Human Events

Noah Millman at The American Scene

Scott Johnson at Powerline

Victorino Manus at The Weekly Standard

Andy Barr at Politico

UPDATE #3: More Johnson at Powerline

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Bill Scher and Conor Friedersdorf at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #4: Eric Alterman at The Nation

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Legal Insurrection

Ed Morrissey

UPDATE #5: Ben Dimiero and Eric Hananoki at Media Matters

UPDATE #6: Bridget Johnson at The Hill

UPDATE #7: Kate Pickert at Swampland at Time

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Next Up: Condemning The Racism In Jim Newell’s Fictional Intramural Kickball League

Daniel Foster at The Corner:

The NAACP will today vote on, and is expected to pass, a resolution condemning the “explicitly racist behavior” of the Tea Parties as a “threat to progress” for minorities. It calls on “all people of good will to repudiate the racism of the Tea Parties, and to stand in opposition to its drive to push our country back to the pre-civil rights era.”

Among the charges listed in the resolution, submitted by the group’s Kansas City chapter, is that the movement “displayed signs and posters intended to degrade people of color generally and President Barack Obama specifically.” It references the Capitol Hill incident in March, in which several black members of Congress alleged they were called racial epithets by passingTea Party protesters.

“We need to realize it’s really not about limited government,” said Anita Russell, head of the Kansas City NAACP, of the resolution.

Deroy Murdock at The Corner:

The NAACP today is expected to adopt a resolution denouncing the alleged “racism” of the tea-party movement. Presumably this is the same tea party that has expressed its “bigotry” by repeatedly showcasing black conservative and libertarian speakers at its rallies, including, among others, yours truly, Deneen Borelli, Niger Innis, Mychal Massie, Kevin Martin, Bob Parks, and David Webb (who leads New York’s tea party). The tea-party movement focuses on cutting taxes, spending, and government debt. Promoting fiscal responsibility is neither black nor white. It’s green.

Rather than peddling lies, the NAACP should deploy such credibility as it may possess to denounce the New Black Panther Party. The NBPP is as loud, vocal, and unvarnished a pack of racists as exists in this country.

Larry O’Connor at Big Government:

For the NAACP to take on this resolution and declare a war of words with the Tea Party movement over these dubious charges is irresponsible and deplorable.  They will tell you that they trust the word of Rep. John Lewis.  They will say that to deny this episode is to call John Lewis a liar.  But, in reality, John Lewis has never gone on record or been quoted in print stating that he heard these racial slurs.  Only a spokesperson from his office has said so.

The report of racial slurs has come from one man:  Rep. Andre Carson

If the NAACP is going to condemn an entire political movement as racist they had better have a lot more to go on than the claims of a 2-year congressman from Indiana who inherited his grandmother’s seat after she died (Louis Farrakhan spoke at her funeral, by the way).  But, that is what they are doing.

They know that this move will create a vociferous response of outraged indignation from Tea Party members across the country.  It seems that they to wish to further divide the country and drive wedges between political adversaries who have honest disagreements over political positions.

It’s ironic that as they paint an entire movement as beyond contempt, they don’t recognize that they, in fact are the ones hurling invective by blindly characterizing a group using their own pre-conceived notions and based on lies put forth by politicians hoping to retain power by pitting one race against the other.

It’s ironic and it’s an outrage.

Scott Johnson at Powerline:

There are precisely three witnesses to the alleged incident that occurred in the course of a public demonstration on Capitol Hill on March 20: Reps. Andre Carson, John Lewis, and Emanuel Cleaver. House majority James Clyburn immediately jumped on board to amplify the story and make sure it took off, as it did most notably in McClatchy’s “Tea party protesters scream ‘nigger’ at black congressmen.” According to Carson et al., protesters abused them with racial epithets while demonstrating against Obamacare on Capitol Hill on March 20.

There is one problem with the story: It did’nt happen. We believe that we demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt over the course of our 18-part “Don’t leave it to Cleaver” series that it didn’t happen.The congressmen’s story was a fabrication intended to defame the Tea Party movement and distract attention from the resistance to Obamacare.

Under circumstances where such evidence would exist if the incident had occurred, no audio or video recording corroborates it, despite Andrew Breitbart’s offer of a $100,000 reward to anyone producing such evidence. And no independent journalist or other eyewitness has stepped forward to vouch for the congressmen’s story — because it didn’t happen.

We posted correspondence from reader Greg Farrell providing his own testimony denying that the incident happened in part 7, part 16, and elsewhere in our series. Farrell had sent us his photographs documenting his position at the March 20 protest. Farrell was in a good position to testify: It didn’t happen.

Jim Newell at Gawker:

Ugh, conservative bloggers are so lucky today, getting all the juicy inflammatory freak-out stuff.

This debate over this story — IS THE TEA PARTY 100% RACIST? — seems about eight months too late, but hey, you can’t blame the NAACP for having only one convention per year. It’s just a matter of how they word the resolution! There are clearly racists in the Tea Party, but how effective can a resolution condemning “racist elements” of a group be? It would be like condemning the racist elements of Walmart or an intramural kickball league or any organization. On the other hand, if you’re condemning the entire movement as “racist,” you’re going overboard and inviting backlash.

Anyway, the Tea Party will call the NAACP “reverse racists” for this, and then the NAACP will have to reconvene next year to call the Tea Party “inverse reverse racists,” and so on. They should just called each other “scrappy” and make up and marry each other.

Allah Pundit:

If there’s a silver lining in this bit of demagoguery, it’s that this should be a golden opportunity for Tim Scott, Nikki Haley, Marco Rubio, Allen West, and other minority tea-party heroes to get some free media out of it. Exit question: Guess whose tactics Benjamin Jealous, leader of the NAACP, thinks the left should emulate.

UPDATE: Ta-Nehisi Coates

David Weigel

Ta-Nehisi Coates responds to Weigel

David Weigel responds to Coates

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason

More Coates

John McWhorter at TNR

UPDATE #2: John Hudson at The Atlantic

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Grant Is, In Fact, Buried In Grant’s Tomb

Katie Nowak at The Troy Record:

In an outcome pollsters dub “Rushmore Plus One,” more than 200 scholars surveyed in the latest Siena College Research Institute Presidential Expert Poll have named Franklin Delano Roosevelt as America’s best president, followed by the four men whose legacies are already carved in stone.

FDR leads the pack for the fifth time since the survey’s 1982 inception, followed in order by Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. That top five has remained consistent throughout each of the five times the study has been performed, with only minor shuffling among their rankings.

“Despite decades of new research on former presidents and the accomplishments or lack thereof of the current chief executives, scholars display amazingly consistent results,” said Dr. Douglas Lonnstrom, a Siena statistics professor and one of the study’s directors.

Jonathan Bernstein:

Oh, Ta-Nehisi Coates is gonna like this…guess which president’s stock has improved the most since the last Siena College survey?  That’s right, it’s Ulysses S. Grant.

Grant was close to the bottom in the first three Siena polls (1982, 1990, 1994), beating out just three presidents each time.  In the 2002 edition, he moved up the 35th (of 42).  Now, he’s escaped the ranks of the failed presidents entirely, rising to a respectable 26th.  This matches what other surveys have been showing.  The very first such study, conducted in 1948 by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr., had Grant second-to-last, and up until recently he was invariably a bottom-five choice.  Now, with Siena joining the crowd, he’s a mid-pack president.  Siena’s respondents docked him for his executive appointments and executive ability, and didn’t really give him strong marks anywhere, with it all averaging out to 26th place.

I have to admit that I probably know more about the historiography here than about the actual history of the Grant presidency.  The historiography is straightforward: Southern-dominated history cast Grant as the scapegoat for pretty much everything.  Grant was uncouth and brutal while Lee was civilized and tragic.  Grant spent eight years drunk while crooks raided the treasury and crazies took revenge on the South.  Something like that.  Lincoln was sainted — that almost couldn’t be helped — but his death left the presidency in the hands of buffoons who allowed the greedy carpetbaggers and clown-like (at best) ex-slaves to punish the South even more over that tariff-dispute thing that tragically divided honorable Americans.

Of course, that was all nonsense, and it’s finally starting to recede, and with that Grant’s ratings are improving.  I have only the vaguest of notions, however, about where he really should be in this sort of ranking.  My geuss is that I’d probably wind up putting him somewhat higher, somewhere in the broad range of 13th-22nd, if I was doing a ranking right now, but I’d be stabbing at it..

Matthew Yglesias:

What you’re seeing here is a growing appreciation of the central role the quest for racial justice deserves in American history, and the backlash against the Southern-dominated storyline that somehow cast Grant as the bad guy of the reconstruction era.

I think the other president primed for a historiographical re-evaluation is the little remembered Warren Harding. Arthur Schlesinger and the project of post-WWII Cold War liberalism casts a long shadow over popular understanding of a lot of American history, and that project almost requires an underrating of Harding and an overrating of his predecessor Woodrow Wilson. But the Harding administration is an example of the historically rare phenomenon of the civil liberties ratchet shifting in the direction of more freedom. Harding also began the process of raising the status of African-Americans from the low point we reached under Wilson—promoting, for example, an anti-lynching bill that passed the House of Representatives only to be filibustered to death in the Senate.

Alex Massie:

Like Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Bernstein, I’m delighted that Ulysses S Grant’s reputation is currently being revised and that, consequently, he’s no longer thought of as one of the worst Presidents in American history. The latest Siena College poll of “presidential scholars, historians, and political scientists” puts Grant towards the middle of the pack in 26th place. Still too low but certainly a step in the right direction.

As is always the case in such matters the Rushmore Four plus FDR take the top five spots though this time, for some inexplicable reason, Teddy Roosevelt has supplanted Lincoln and come in second, behind FDR. These exercises are mainly entertainments for sure and are, again as is customary, biased in favour of those Presidents sensible enough to recall that their long-term reputations may well be boosted by starting a nice little war.

True, George W Bush, languishing in 39th place, is the great exception* to this but that’s a matter of performance, not ambition. Certainly, admirable Presidents such as Grover Cleveland and Calvin Coolidge fail to receive their proper due while terrible types such as Kennedy and Woodrow Wilson are over-rated. Clearly, professional historians are still entranced by the myth of Camelot while the continuing success of Wilson (still eighth in the Siena poll!) is mystifying given that. even by the low standards of the genre, Wilson must be considered one of the most appalling, unpleasant characters to have ever occupied the White House.

Both men, it should be noted, performed strongly when this very blog surveyed readers on the vital question of the Most Over-Rated and Under-Rated Presidents two years ago. (Reagan won the former because of the Cult that has distorted his record; Eisenhower the latter even though these days it’s hard to really consider him under-rated since he’s always, like Truman and Polk, rated pretty highly.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Next for me, I think, is David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, and then Jean Edward Smith’s Grant.

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