Monday, June 29, 2020

Day 112 of Nat'l Emergency: History Reconsidered

Are you familiar with the court case Somerset v Stewart?

Don’t be embarrassed if you’re not. Odds are many lawyers are in the dark, as well. For good reason. The case goes way back to 1772. In England.

Yet some scholars trace the outcome of that legal battle to a unified American colonial stance against the British monarchy.

Some background: Northern colonies had reason to bridle under the mercantile laws that inhibited and at times prohibited manufacturing on American soil, production that would compete against industry based in the British Isles. The North wanted commercial independence. 

Southern colonies, on the other hand, were enriched by shipping their agricultural products—mainly cotton, rice and tobacco—back to the mother country.

The South had little financial reason to disassociate from the king.

Until Somerset v Stewart threatened the region’s economic underpinning—slavery. Without going into the details of the case (you can do that by linking here:, the verdict began a process that in a few decades led to the abolition of slavery in Britain.

Southerners could see the writing on the wall. If the colonies remained part of Great Britain they feared control over the enslaved could be restricted. Abolition could become the law in America. 

To be sure, all the original colonies at one time permitted slavery. But the combination of exhaustive heat and humidity, insect born illnesses such as malaria and yellow fever, and an agricultural economy that required a large amount of expendable manpower turned the South into a bedrock of slavery. 

Virginian Patrick Henry’s famous plea for freedom from British rule—“Give me liberty or give me death”—might well be interpreted to mean, “Give me liberty to keep my slaves or my ruined economy will lead to my death.”

Keep in mind that after winning the Revolutionary War each state under the Articles of Confederation set its own rules on slavery. When the newly independent states reorganized in 1789 as a federal republic under a constitution, the legality of slavery remained a state by state choice, though Congress decreed the importation of more slaves was to be banned after January1, 1808.

The ban and other events—significantly, the expansion westward into Alabama, Mississippi and the territories of the Louisiana Purchase coupled with the invention of the cotton gin that greatly enhanced cultivation and processing of cotton—profoundly changed the economy and future of the United States. 

Charleston, SC, for example, lost its position as the richest city in America, a spot achieved through its being the port of entry for some 40% of the enslaved. Commerce shifted further north in a two-pronged fashion. New York became a larger harbor for international trade and, after construction of the Erie Canal, for domestic commerce.

Virginia had relied on slaves to grow tobacco, but much of the land had been depleted of nutrients and was no longer profitably arable. So Virginia became a dominant player in a transformed slave market. With almost no new slaves arriving from foreign soil, slaves already here were bred for sale to territories and new states cultivating labor-intensive cotton. 

The cash crop for Virginians became the human creation of more slaves. Slaves to be sold. Slaves to be sold not as family units but as individuals. Separating husbands from wives, children from parents, Virginia sent many of its enslaved to plantations in the Deep South. 

Seven of the first 12 presidents of the United States were born in Virginia. Aside from being the first of the British colonies to welcome slaves, Virginia adapted English common law to make it easier to perpetuate slavery. Known by its dictum “partus sequitur ventrem,” a 1662 Virginia law decreed children would take the social status of the mother, not the father. Thus, even offspring of a female slave impregnated (commonly raped) by a white male would be considered a slave. 

The seventh and last president to be born in Virginia was Woodrow Wilson. Often associated with New Jersey, where he was president of Princeton University and governor before winning the presidency of the United States in 1912, Wilson has long been held as a statesman for his leadership before, during and after World War I and for being in office when women won the right to vote, the federal income tax system was inaugurated, the Federal Reserve System was established, and laws pertaining to the Federal Trade Commission along with the Clayton Antitrust Act were passed. 

Yet he had dyed in the wool Southern sympathies. He kept the military segregated and purged the federal government of many Black civil servants, an action that stifled development of a Black middle class in Washington, DC, and other cities. Under Wilson, the Treasury and Post Office installed separate workspaces, lunchrooms, and bathrooms for Blacks (

Much of our nation’s history flows through Virginia, much of it tinged by slaveholding and racist presidents, men who were “products of their times,” say apologists. Or they were leaders who chose not to practice equality but rather to enjoy during their lifetimes the benefits derived from enslaving other humans. 

History is never a simple straight line. The myths surrounding our lionized leaders are fading under deeper scrutiny. Ben Franklin owned another human being. Wikipedia notes that of the first 12 president, only John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams never owned slaves. Eight of the remaining 10 owned slaves while president. Only Martin Van Buren and William Henry Harrison did not. 

Lincoln is revered for emancipating the enslaved. But he embarked on the Civil War not to abolish slavery but rather to preserve the Union. He would have been agreeable to retaining the status quo in the South. Only after two years of battle did he redefine the objective.

The White House plus at least part of the Capitol building were built by slaves. 

Today’s protests for political correctness are the culmination of years, decades, of retrospection. Taking down statues of traitors—for that’s what Confederate officers and soldiers were—seems long overdue. No one should be forced to have any ray of sunshine blotted out by figures that deprived men, women and children of their dignity, their humanity, their freedom, their families. 

But what of our imperfect presidents? Are we to cover over the chiseled profiles of Washington, Jefferson Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt atop Mount Rushmore? Are bridges and tunnels to be renamed across the land? Cities and towns to be rechristened? 

Perhaps we could find a way to honor the descendants of flawed slaveholding presidents. Name schools after George Washington’s children. Or for Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s enslaved consort. 

I just don’t know. I just don’t know … 

I just know that the pain of slavery, of Jim Crow, of racial discrimination haunts our society. And that far too many of our fellow Americans refuse to see it. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Day 105 Nat'l Emergency: Extremism Reigns

Back in 1964, in accepting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater said, “I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!” 

It should be obvious to any thoughtful citizen that we are in the midst of extremism from the right and left. Destroying statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ulysses S. Grant were not acts of excessive exuberance in support of Black Lives Matter but rather acts of excessive ignorance and intolerance. 

The very public displays of white supremacists bearing neo-Nazi and Confederate flags, coupled with the reluctance of Donald Trump and other Republicans to unequivocally denounce such actions, chills hope that right wing extremism can be tamped down to the fringe corners of society.

Grant’s statue was toppled, despite his being the Union general most responsible for destroying the Confederacy and slavery, because at one time he owned a slave. One slave. Without any compensation Grant freed William Jones two years prior to the Civil War, an act of courage uncommon where he lived around St. Louis, MO. 

Out of their mind protesters acted like an unruly mob absent any knowledge or context. Ridding public spaces of memorials to traitors who fought the Union or politicos who defended slavery or held beliefs counter to the nation’s creed of equality, however elusive its attainment has been, is not in itself a contemptible act. 

While Confederate generals and office holders are part of the country’s heritage, there is merit in denying them a public place of honor for actions that were not honorable and not sustainable on the battlefield. Nor should they be rewarded for the back door tributes they secured from Jim Crow laws and a media-manufactured retelling of the antebellum South. 

But tearing them down, acting like a lynch mob, besmirched the cause the protesters espouse (unless the protesters were anarchists acting under the cover of legitimate protest). 

Those who are seeking perfection in our national heroes past and present will be sorely disappointed. They come adorned with character warts we at present would find not just discrediting but also disqualifying for elective office or reverence. Martin Luther King was no saint. Neither was Malcolm X. Nor JFK. Nor FDR. Nor Barack Obama. 

What can be said of our icons is that despite their flaws they advanced the dignity of our country, they fought and sometimes died for the expansion of rights and freedoms. 

They were better than the prevailing mores of their times. They weren’t perfect. We should not judge them solely by 2020 standards. 

Perhaps it is a good moment for a collective time out to look at the Bible. Not the New Testament, not because I am not Christian, rather because Jesus seems to be beyond reproach with no flaws.

Look to the Old Testament for leader upon leader, patriarch after patriarch, who is imperfect. King David was an adulterer and conspired to have his consort Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle. He was not a great father. He turned a blind eye as his henchmen assassinated his foes. Yet, he is venerated as Israel’s greatest monarch. 

Jacob was a trickster, on multiple occasions. Samson married a pagan. Saul failed to follow God’s command to kill all of the Amalekites and destroy their possessions. 

Even wise King Solomon, who should have known better, succumbed to excess—excessive taxes, excessive marriages to pagan women and excessive construction of temples to his wives’ gods to whom in his old age he followed. 

Despite his shortcomings, Solomon is lionized. Perhaps the lesson to be learned is a figure’s place in history must be measured by his entire resume, not just a smudge on the page. 

At the 2015 funeral of one of the nine martyred at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, Obama concluded his eulogy by singing “Amazing Grace.” It was a stirring moment. 

But that haunting hymnal was written by a one-time slave trader, John Newton. By today’s ethos of puritanical extremism, should “Amazing Grace” be stricken from the roster of messages of consolation, forgiveness and redemption because of its originator? 

I think not. 

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Day 104 of Nat'l Emergency: Father's Day Edition

During this time of coronavirus pandemic, Father’s Day is not being celebrated in our household the time honored way with visits with children and grandchildren (for that matter, Mother’s Day fell short as well). Neither is it possible to adhere to our custom of dining out at the preferred restaurant of the honored parent. 

The other day Gilda asked what I would like to do to celebrate. I’d like to be able to play poker with my buddies again, said I. That, too, is not happening anytime soon. 

The silver lining in that is that I have more silver lining my pockets than if the game took place every month. It’s a small consolation.

As for dinner, Gilda is baking fresh hamburger buns to caress her juicy hamburgers. She’s also making fresh potato salad. 

I hope everyone else’s Father’s Day dinner will be as lovingly prepared and delicious as mine.

Down the Rabbit Hole: Stepping outside one morning last week to pick up The New York Times from our driveway, I saw a bit of whimsy I had never witnessed in 36 years in our current home even though our yard is infested with Peters, Flopsies, Mopsies and Cottontails. Four young rabbits were playing a game of tag on our front lawn, scampering this way and that after the leader, not caring at all that I was taking in their playfulness.

The rabbits were clearly family and having fun. Their game of chase was not to be confused with squirrels or chipmunks running after each other. Those pursuits are clashes of territoriality, one animal brusquely shooing off an invader from his or her sphere of influence. 

Farmer McGregor—alias Gilda—spares no love for these creatures. She accuses them of eating her plants just before their flowers are to bloom. She has no proof, of course, though the rabbits do spend lots of time munching grass from our lawn. Guilt by association.

If it were up to me I would snare one and make it a house pet. Before they had kids Dan and Allison had two pet rabbits. Gilda has no intention of humoring my desire.

In case you’re wondering, rabbits are no longer classified as rodents. They are lagomorphs. Has to do with having four incisors compared to two in rodents. 

Promenade: We took a near four mile walk Thursday down Rosedale Avenue. We used to walk before COVID-19 hampered communal activities, but we’ve really picked up the pace since social distancing knocked out most other outdoor pastimes. 

Someone, I’m surmising a young girl and her family, positioned painted rocks on stone fences, at the foot of trees and on the base of a fire hydrant along the way. Each rock had an inspirational message. A turquoise painted rock said, “This will all blow over in time.” A yellow rock with a drawing of a bee intoned, “The bitter comes before the sweet.” Two flower illustrations under a bright yellow sun on a green background accompanied the saying, “Spring has sprung.”

Any passerby could not help but be cheered up. 

Nor could they be anything but dazzled by the life-size moose statue standing guard in the front yard of a recently renovated cottage. 

Camping Ground: Young Judea, our grandkids’ sleepaway summer camp, was cancelled, as most were in New York and New England.

Perfectly understandable given the caution proscribed in this age of coronavirus. Seriously disappointing to anyone who has relished the sleepaway camp experience.

Dagny was to have spent her first such adventure in July, joining Finley for his second season away from home. It also means Dan and Allison will not get to enjoy being empty nesters for an extended period for the first time in 10 years. Ah, well, there will always be next year.

With a little more planning, however, camps could have created a controlled environment, Gilda believes. If campers and staff were tested and screened before arrival in camp, and forbidden to leave the grounds, even for counselor days off, the camp could have been made into a virus sanctuary. Food and other deliveries could be controlled, much the way grocers receive shipments. And there would be no parent visiting day. 

Ah well, it’s too late for this summer, but as sports fans of losing teams are wont to say, “Wait till next year!”

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Day 101 Nat'l Emergency: Code Blue, Facebook Follies, Masquerade on Land and Air, Animated Graphs, Fiction or Non Fiction

Code Blue: Defund. Abolish. Deconstruct. Reorient. Reform. Transform. 

The words are plentiful as to what should be done to police departments throughout the land. Depending on your background and experience with law enforcement, they mean different things. 

I’m too ignorant to know which direction policing should go in the wake of the tsunami of mostly unarmed Black deaths at the hands of law enforcement. I agree with what Marian Kaba, director of Project Nia (Nia is Swahili for “with purpose”), wrote in Sunday’s New York Times: “We should redirect the billions that now go to police departments toward providing health care, housing, education and good jobs. If we did this, there would be less need for the police in the first place (”

Why would that be?, you may ask. For a partial answer I turn to Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) who recently tweeted: 

“1.7 million students have police in their schools but no counselor.
“3 million have police but no nurse.
“6 million have police but no psychologist.
“10 million have police but no social worker.
“We need systemic change—now.” 

If you don’t see the connection between the presence of police and the absence of social services in schools where childhood character is molded into adult behavior I’m afraid any explanation I could offer would not register with you.

Facebook Follies: Eager to deliver fresh meat to his blood red constituents Donald Trump will embark on his first rally since the COVID-19 pandemic stifled public gatherings. Close to 20,000 will attend an indoor rally in Tulsa on Saturday, June 20, with countless more outside. 

But prior to the self-adulation Trump seeks, here are two recent posts I came across on the Internet:

Surrounding a picture of Trump at an earlier rally, Jim Calvert posted:

June 20 — Tulsa, OK
Coronafest 2020
Come for the racism,
Stay for the plague
Be sure to reserve your
ICU and ventilator!

Under a picture of Trump’s signature Make America Great Again red hat, the following appeared:

“One day the red MAGA hat will be viewed the same way we view the Confederate flag and the swastika.”

Masquerade: It is widely accepted by the medical community that wearing masks can stem the spread of the coronavirus. Yet Republican leaders keep demonstrating their antipathy to science and a cavalier attitude toward their constituents.

The main transgressor is Trump who has disregarded pleas not to hold mass rallies. His ego demands stroking so he is embarking on the first of what no doubt will be many public gatherings of his faithful. 

Though masks for attendees will be provided they are not required to be worn. The arena will become a petrie dish for viral spread. Trump must know this because he is requiring all who come before him to genuflect at the rally to sign a waiver absolving him and his campaign from any liability should they contract COVID-19.

Trump is not alone in dissing medical advice. The Republican governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, Thursday “told local governments they will not receive any federal money to help fight the effects of the coronavirus pandemic if they require people to wear masks in public buildings,” the AP reported (

In what rational world do leaders purposely endanger their citizens? 

Not So Friendly Skies: Air travel is slowly making a comeback but its smooth trajectory will be challenged by those opposed to the mandatory requirement many airlines have imposed that passengers wear a mask on board. 

The opening salvo in Trump-inspired civil disobedience came Wednesday when one of his acolytes was removed from an American Airlines flight for failure to wear a mask. The incident happened pre-takeoff ( ).

Next time the unmasking could happen in flight. The airline’s only recourse would be to blacklist the passenger for future flights. Meanwhile, he or she will be compromising the air compliant passengers expected to be breathing. 

Animated Graphs: Ever wonder how COVID-19 deaths stack up against other current scourges of mankind in the United States? 

Using CDC and Worldmeter data, Public Flourish Studio put together an animated graph showing the average number of deaths for the one month period March 15-April 20 for 16 ailments. COVID-19—2,168; Heart disease—1,774; Cancer—1,641; Flu and pneumonia—153. For the complete list, click 

For a worldview of COVID-19 vs. other causes of death, from January 1 through June 8, click on this animated graph to view the dramatic rise affecting all humanity:

Send for a Librarian: Under what genre should we classify John Bolton’s new book, “The Room Where It Happened”? Fiction or non fiction?

Bolton claims it’s all true.

Trump says the book “is a compilation of lies and made up stories.”

The Justice Department says the book contains “highly classified” information.

Never mind asking a judge to adjudicate if the book may be banned from distribution or available to the public. 

What we need is a librarian to classify the tome as fiction or non fiction (

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Day 100 of Nat'l Emergency: Books Plague Trump

If, as John Bolton writes in his new book, “The Room Where It Happened,” all of Donald Trump’s actions have been taken with a view to how they would affect his re-election, even if they undermined U.S. interests, it means Trump has a malevolent opinion of a majority of the American public. 

Trump would have to believe they are racist, misogynist, bigots who would deny equal rights and protections to anyone outside their tribe, be they Moslems, Latinos, immigrants, Blacks, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, or queers. Women who want equality and Democrats also are not to be tolerated, but dictators in other countries are to be embraced. 

If the facts are as Trump’s former national security advisor writes, it is no wonder the non-reader-in-chief wants to bar(r—pun intended) the book from publication. It also means Trump is either the shrewdest politician of his era or the most incompetent. 

He either has figured out how to win re-election by securing the required 270 Electoral College votes from his malignant base in red states, or he will go down as a president who squandered every opportunity to expand his base into blue states. 

He has foot-in-mouth disease. Even when he tries to explain his actions or tweets he reinforces his meager standing among those who might be willing to grant him the benefit of the doubt, as when he claimed in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests to have done more for Blacks than any other president, including Abraham Lincoln (|email&par=sharebar), or his rejection of calls to rechristen military bases named for Confederate generals.

Some might say Joe Biden suffers from the same ailment. Theres a difference, however. Former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Biden misspeaks because his brain cannot keep up with his mouth. So he makes benign miscues, misstating dates or the sequence of events. Troubling, but not egregious.

Trump, on the other hand, doubles down on his whoppers. He fabricates “facts” he believes are reality and chastises any who would challenge his version of the truth. He presumes that as president no one has the right to correct his record. 

Much to his displeasure, he has found journalists and elected officials have the temerity to disavow his “truthiness,” even as his millions of zombie-like followers  believe him. They believe only him.

John Bolton is merely the latest insider who has awakened from the Trump trance. His book, if and when it is officially released (copies have been obtained by various media), will add some spicy examples of political power portioned out by Trump pique and incompetence.

It won’t change any minds. No votes will shift from red to blue or blue to red. Based on current conditions, only two intertwined things will matter to voters November 3—the state of the economy and the status of the novel coronavirus pandemic in America. 

First Enabler: I have long suspected Melania Trump is not a captive of politics, a hostage in the White House, a prisoner of conscience who sends out messages with clothing or a hand slap that she is a reluctant participant in her husband’s attack on our democracy.

Rather than calling her the First Lady she should be called the First Enabler. According to a new unauthorized biography, “The Art of Her Deal” by Mary Jordan, a Pulitzer Prize reporter for The Washington Post, Melania pushed her husband to run for president. She has stood by Trump despite repeated credible allegations of his sexual infidelity and misconduct (

Gilda long ago nailed the reason Melania delayed moving into the White House. She wanted a renegotiated prenuptial agreement, Gilda postulated. Jordan agrees.

Family Matters: As if the First Family didn’t have enough reason to stoke a book burning on the White House lawn, one of Trump’s nieces has decided to air some of his dirty linen ( 

Mary Trump, daughter of his deceased brother, Fred Trump Jr., is the author of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” scheduled to be released July 28. Uncle Donald has threatened a suit to block its distribution because she allegedly signed a nondisclosure agreement about their relationship.

It will be titillating reading, no doubt, but mere reinforcement for anti-Trumpers and of no consequence to his groupies. 

Monday, June 15, 2020

Day 98 of Nat'l Emergency: Provocateur-in-Chief Could Turn Into Cable TV Agent-Provocateur

It was a busy week for the provocateur-in-chief even by his grotesque standards. Pick your offended targets:

Blacks and supporters of Black Lives Matter protesting police brutality and systemic discrimination; 
An elderly, injured-by-Buffalo-police protester accused of being a member of Antifa; 
Military leaders who criticized his use of troops to clear constitutionally permitted protest across from the White House so he could have his picture taken in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church; 
Episcopalians and Catholics vexed by his photo op performance holding a Bible;
Anyone who believed military bases named for traitorous Confederate generals should be renamed; 
Professional football and soccer leagues for permitting athletes to express political dissent; 
Nascar for banning Confederate flags;
LGBTQ community for being denied Obama-era health patient protections; 
The media for questioning his many actions; 
Abraham Lincoln for not doing enough; 
And of course Joe Biden and Democrats for everything they do. 

Donald Trump did, however, try to put to rest the fear among his detractors that he would barricade himself in the White House should he lose the election November 3. 

“Certainly, if I don’t win, I don’t win,” Trump declared on Fox News in an interview with Harris Faulkner. “You go on, do other things” (

Of course, given his footloose and fancy free track record with the truth the liar-in-chief cannot be trusted on his word. Skepticism is called for. 

Removed from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue by force or tradition January 20, the provocateur-in-chief will not go gently into the night. 

He will turn into an agent-provocateur unrestrained by any protocols of office (as if he ever was) to dispense bilious dissent and conspiracy theories as the featured anchor of a cable television network. 

Probably not Fox. Either one of his own creation or OAN, One America News Network, a far-right pro-Trump cable channel founded by Robert Herring, Sr., owned by Herring Networks, Inc. of San Diego. OAN is well-liked and often cited by Trump for its conspiracy theory stories. OAN is not considered to be reliably truthful. 

A deposed Trump will seek to keep the divisions in our country red hot, thwarting any chance Biden might have to forge harmony among the citizenry and our traditional international allies. Trump will act not as a dedicated, doctrinaire Conservative Republican but rather as a vindictive egotist seeking revenge for his ultimate humiliation. 

A chair in front of a cable TV camera would stoke his goal of recapturing the seat behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. As a one term president the 74-year-old would be eligible to run again in 2024. Biden has shown a candidate who would be 78 years old when taking the presidential oath is not disqualified by voters.  

Neither would a conviction for tax fraud or any other felony bar Trump from holding federal office again. Even if in prison he could run. Aside from his cable gig Trump could also try for the U.S. Senate from his new state of residence, Florida. 

Sadly, the cult of Trump will linger as long as The Donald and his three henchmen eldest children stay in the public eye. Trump has sucked the soul out of the GOP. 

Short of a cataclysmic election debacle the Republican Party has cast its foreseeable future with a modern day Dracula and his offspring, both biological and ideological.