Symbols: The Battle Flag

From Idaho State Representative Heather Scott’s Facebook Page in 2015 as featured in an article in the Sandpoint Reader: Heather Scott sparks new Confederate flag debate. She is quoted saying, ““We see it as a symbol of free speech.” She is unlikely acknowledge what it really communicates.
We were deluded. We were taught there was honor in the Confederacy. We were taught that the American Civil War was fought over the Lost Cause, “a struggle primarily to save the Southern way of life, or to defend ‘states’ rights‘ such as the right to secede from the Union, in the face of overwhelming ‘Northern aggression.'” We were taught a lie, a bandaid that has covered a festering wound for a hundred and fifty years, a bandaid meant to obscure a truth our country has yet to face: the Civil War was fought over white supremacy, the doctrine that all men are NOT created equal. 

Having not squarely faced the issue, having not worked it out, having winked and nodded through the Jim Crow era, white supremacy lives on as an undercurrent communicated in symbols–and festering in actions like the murder of George Floyd. 

Stephanie McCurry, Professor of History at Columbia University, writing in The Atlantic, puts the basis of the Confederacy this way (I’ve copied and pasted the entire article at the bottom–it is essential reading):

The Confederates built an explicitly white-supremacist, pro-slavery, and antidemocratic nation-state, dedicated to the principle that all men are not created equal. Emboldened by what they saw as the failure of emancipation in other parts of the world, buoyed by the new science of race, and convinced that the American vision of the people had been terribly betrayed, they sought the kind of future for human slavery and conservative republican government that was no longer possible within the United States.

The Confederate States Constitution (CSC) is based in large measure on the Constitution of the United States of America (for textual comparison read Wikiipedia). The main difference between the two is that the Confederate document enshrines the owning of slaves as a constitutional right. Article I, Section 9(4) reads: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” Article IV Section 3(3) guarantees that in any Territory that joins the Confederate States as a new state “the institution of negro slavery” shall be protected. While it is also true that the CSC contains clauses that strengthen “states’ rights,” the reason for the founding of the Confederacy was “the institution of negro slavery.”

Symbols are important. The Confederate Battle Flag is an endorsement of the white supremacy upon which the Confederacy was founded. It and the statues to Confederate generals and officials erected in the Jim Crow era are displayed for the purpose of reminding those the Confederacy enslaved of their continued subjugation. Shame on all of us for swallowing the lie that slavery was only a minor issue. Shame on us for watching Nascar and The Dukes of Hazard and smiling on the use of a symbol no less racist than the swastika. This flag and these statues should be displayed–but only in museums–and only with signage that clearly examines the revolting “Cause” for which the Confederacy fought.

And shame on North Idaho for keeping in office State Representative Heather Scott who poses with the Confederate battle flag, in a state that did not exist as a state at the time of the Civil War. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. I encourage you to visit and to subscribe to The Atlantic. Below is a sample article that is key to my understanding of the Civil War and the Confederacy.The Confederacy Was an Antidemocratic, Centralized StateThe actual Confederate States of America was a repressive state devoted to white supremacy.

Stephanie McCurry
Professor of history at Columbia UniversityAmericans are now debating the fate of memorials to the Confederacy—statues, flags, and names on Army bases, streets, schools, and college dormitories. A century and a half of propaganda has successfully obscured the nature of the Confederate cause and its bloody history, wrapping it in myth. But the Confederacy is not part of “our American heritage,” as President Donald Trump recently claimed, nor should it stand as a libertarian symbol of small government and resistance to federal tyranny. For the four years of its existence, until it was forced to surrender, the Confederate States of America was a pro-slavery nation at war against the United States. The C.S.A. was a big, centralized state, devoted to securing a society in which enslavement to white people was the permanent and inherited condition of all people of African descent.The Confederates built an explicitly white-supremacist, pro-slavery, and antidemocratic nation-state, dedicated to the principle that all men are not created equal. Emboldened by what they saw as the failure of emancipation in other parts of the world, buoyed by the new science of race, and convinced that the American vision of the people had been terribly betrayed, they sought the kind of future for human slavery and conservative republican government that was no longer possible within the United States. This is the cause that the statues honor.Read: Growing up in the shadow of the ConfederacyThe decision of slaveholding states to secede, to separate from the United States, was the culmination of a 30-year effort to protect the right to hold property in persons—the institution of slavery. It came in response to Abraham Lincoln’s election, the first of an openly antislavery candidate and party. From December 1860 to April 1861, seven states left the Union, led by South Carolina; four more did so after the war began, in April 1861, while four slaveholding states remained loyal. The architects of secession knew that there was no recognized constitutional right to secede and that they risked war. As one Alabama opponent put it, “No liquid but blood has ever filled the baptismal font of nations.” The seceded states immediately went on a war footing, seizing federal forts and arsenals and launching massive arms-buying campaigns in the U.S. and Europe.Nascent Confederates were candid about their motives; indeed, they trumpeted them to the world. Most states wrote justifications of their decision to rebel, as Jefferson had in the Declaration of Independence. Mississippi’s, called the “Declaration of Immediate Causes,” said bluntly that the state’s “position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” The North, it said, was advocating “negro equality, socially and politically,” leaving Mississippi no choice but to “submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money or … secede from the Union.”In late February 1861, in Montgomery, Alabama, the seven breakaway states formed the C.S.A.; swore in a president, Jefferson Davis; and wrote a constitution. That constitution aimed to perfect the original by dispensing with all the issues about slavery and representation that had plagued political life in the former U.S. The document recognized the constituent states as sovereign entities (though it did not confer on them the right to secede, confirming Lincoln’s point that no government ever provides for its own dissolution). It put the country under God and mandated a one-term presidency, of six years. It purged the original of euphemisms, using the term slaves instead of other persons in its three-fifths and fugitive-slave clauses. It bound the Congress and territorial governments to recognize and protect “the institution of negro slavery.” But the centerpiece of the Confederate constitution—the words that upend any attempt to cast it simply as a copy of the original—was a wholly new clause that prohibited the government from ever changing the law of slavery: “No … law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” It also moved to limit democracy by explicitly confining the right to vote to white men. Confederates wrote themselves a pro-slavery constitution for a pro-slavery state. Shortly after this constitution was written, Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the C.S.A., offered a political manifesto for the slaveholders’ new republic. Training his sights on the eight upper-South states that were still refusing to secede, he offered a blunt assessment of the difference between the old Union and the new. The original American Union “rested upon the assumption of the equality of the races,” he explained. But “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas: its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery is his natural … condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great … truth.” A statue of Alexander Stephens now stands in the U.S. Capitol; it is one of a group that includes Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, targeted for removal.Adam Serwer: The myth of the kindly General LeeThe war brought a terrible reckoning for the Confederate States of America, subjecting it to the military test of the Union armies and the political judgment of its own people. The C.S.A. was a nation built on a slim foundation of democratic consent: Of its total population of 9 million, only about 1.5 million were white men of voting and military age; the rest—white women and the enslaved—formed the vast ranks of the politically dispossessed. Political consent, and popular support for the war effort, were accordingly shallow.The C.S.A. was a fraction of the size of its enemy. The Union had 10 times its manufacturing capacity, and its population of 22 million dwarfed that of the Confederacy. It quickly became clear what such imbalances meant: The Confederacy had to exert unsupportable demands on its population, and to build up a powerful central-state government to do what the private sector could not.After one year of war, the Davis administration was forced to adopt the first conscription act in American history. Because enslaved men were not available for military service, it was forced to mobilize a far higher proportion of white men. By the end of the war, a staggering 75 to 85 percent of white men ages 15 to 55 had served. Combined with the exemptions the government was forced to make for slaveholders, conscription quickly gave rise to charges that it was a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.”The C.S.A.’s level of military mobilization was unsupportable in an agrarian society. By 1863, the government faced a starvation crisis and a wave of food riots organized by white soldiers’ wives protesting the government’s military policies. The Confederacy adopted a series of highly intrusive taxes, labor regulations, and impressment policies. Nobody loved Jefferson Davis when they had to live under his government. The modern embrace of the C.S.A. as a symbol of states’-rights government is particularly ironic in light of its history. The Confederate States of America went to war against the United States to secure the enslavement of people of African descent into the indefinite future. Confederate leaders claimed that slavery would prove a strength in wartime, but it did not. To the contrary, enslaved men, women, and children seized the opportunity the war offered to make their own history, turning the war to save the Union into a war of liberation. They made their military value abundantly clear. One Confederate officer complained that the South was waging war with the Union army in front and “an insurrection in the rear,” advising the leadership to try to win the loyalty and military service of the enslaved with promises of freedom. The Davis administration would belatedly make some abortive efforts to recruit enslaved men to save the slaveholders’ republic, one telling indication of how incoherent the national project had become. But it was the U.S. government and armies that won enslaved peoples’ allegiance and service—securing, in return, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth Amendment, and the defeat of the Confederacy.Kevin M. Levin: Richmond’s Confederate monuments were used to sell a segregated neighborhoodThe Confederacy went to war against the United States to protect slavery and instead brought about its total and immediate abolition. By April 1865, the C.S.A. was in ruins, its armies destroyed. The cost in human life was devastating: at least 620,000 dead—360,000 from the U.S. and 258,000 from the C.S.A. On April 9, at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, U.S. General Ulysses S. Grant accepted the unconditional surrender of General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.Whatever way you look at it, it is impossible to turn this history and its leading figures into a part of American heritage. Founded in an act of treason against the government its leaders had sworn to protect and serve, the Confederate States of America and its white-supremacist government waged a four-year war against the United States of America and the principles Americans value most highly.This is the cause that Confederate statues commemorate. This is why white supremacists arrive armed to prevent their removal, as they did in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. And it is why they are a target of Black Lives Matter protesters in their campaign for racial justice and a crucial part of the conversation about the legacy of slavery in American life.We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to MCCURRY is a professor of history at Columbia University. She is the author of Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South.

The Pandemic’s Instructive Stories

We as a species learn from stories, we remember stories. The bedrock of epidemiology is the story of outbreaks of disease. Each outbreak, once thoroughly analyzed, tells a story that helps us understand the disease, especially how a disease spreads. 

So it is with the Covid-19 pandemic. The following story of the Skagit Chorale story (as reported by the CDC) should be imprinted in the mind of every thinking human: In early March of 2020, in the early stages of the epidemic in the U.S., 61 singers gathered for a choral practice that lasted 2.5 hours. One attendee had developed mild cold-like symptoms 3 days before the practice, but, in those early days of the epidemic, that person did what any of us might have done back then: he or she powered through the mild symptoms, showed up for the practice, and sang. In the aftermath, 53 attendees developed Covid-19, 3 were hospitalized, and 2 died. (for more see P.S. below)

The members of the Lighthouse Pentecostal Church, two miles northeast of the center of the town of La Grande in northeast Oregon, did not hear the lesson of Skagit Chorale–or they assumed they were exempt. In late April the Church, against the Oregon governor’s executive orders, began holding large in person gatherings (mostly outside), ignoring social distancing recommendations. According to a report in the local newspaper, The Observer, videos (since taken down) showed congregants standing close together, not wearing masks, singing and praying.

The Lighthouse Pentecostal Churchis now responsible for making rural Union County the epicenter for Covid-19 in the state of Oregon.  Oregon Public Broadcastingreported on June 16 that 236 of the 365 church members of Lighthouse Pentecostal have tested positive for Covid-19. Union County, population around 25,000, then had the highest concentration of Covid-19 cases in the state (9 in 1000, nearly 1%). Public health workers are diligently working to stem the spread in the surrounding community. It is an evolving story. The deep detail work of epidemiologists and contract tracers is ongoing. But the message is clear: If you ignore the biology of this virus, if you think you’re special, and if among you there is just one person spewing virus, this virus will bite you. The virus pays no attention to your religious beliefs or your attitude toward science.

There is hope and learning lesson in another evolving story: Masks, even cloth masks, might work better than we thoughtTwo hair stylists working at a Great Clips in Springfield, Missouri, powered through mild cold symptoms and potentially exposed 140 clients and 6 co-workers to Covid-19. Fortunately, appointment books simplified contact tracing and notification of those exposed. As of a Washington Post article published June 17none of those exposed say they have become ill. (Click that article for a lot of detail.) Unfortunately (from a scientific standpoint), only 46 of the 146 who were exposed took the offer of testing–but all those 46 tests came back negative–in spite of close proximity with an infected stylist for up to half an hour. 

The two stylists wore cloth masks. The customers also wore masks, (It is still unclear exactly what kinds of masks.) It is tempting to conclude this is evidence that masks are 100% effective. But wait. Some scientific circumspection is in order. We do not know if every infected person spews virus with the same efficiency. Perhaps the two mildly symptomatic stylists’ respiratory systems were expelling only a tiny amount (or zero) virus during the days they worked. Perhaps among those 100 individuals who were exposed but refused testing there are folks who were infected but remained asymptomatic. Good science requires circumspection–and the full investigation of this event and the Lighthouse Pentecostal incident have not been completed and published, that is, some details may yet emerge.

Still, the contrast between the masked exposure to Covid-19 at Great Clips and unmasked exposure to Covid-19 at Lighthouse Pentecostal is striking. If these two stories were properly and widely told only the willfully ignorant would refuse to wear a mask. 

I take note that as staunch a Republican as Stacey Cowles, the owner and sole editorialist of the Spokesman Review, came out with a clear statement on the Opinion Page on Sunday, June 21: Wear a Mask in Public. It’s good advice based on the science, advice that only the Matt Sheas, Heather Scotts, and Donald Trumps, people who belligerently reject the best available science, will continue to ignore.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. The CDC report of the Skagit Chorale illustrates the importance of getting the facts right in telling the story. Some initial reports of the event that appeared in the media left the impression that the act singing itself was the major culprit in the spread of the virus. The story I took away from the media reports before the detailed epidemiological reporting suggested that the choir had practiced social distancing, used hand sanitizer, brought their own music, and avoided physical contact. In fact, when the detailed investigation was done it became clear that 1) masks were not worn, 2) distancing was 6-10 inches between chairs, and 3) because the choir re-sorted into smaller groups for part of the practice the distance of aerosol travel was uncertain. In other words, this event was more of a virus mixing bowl than the early reports suggested. Therefore, this event alone was not conclusive scientific evidence aerosol spread over distances exceeding six feet. Even so, the take-home key hypothesis (i.e. the key question for further consideration) was this: singing loudly in a group is very iffy behavior in the middle of pandemic caused by a virus that affects the respiratory system.

Juneteenth and Tulsa

Until recently for most of us, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was just a place on the map, Juneteenth was an unknown, the Civil War was not fought over slavery but over secession–and slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. In high school history class slavery was mentioned in the lead-up to the Civil War, while the War itself was presented as a series of battles and campaigns. Reconstruction and Jim Crow were glossed over on the way to World War I. High school history as I remember it was taught as a series of wars–with scant attention to why we fought them. 

A clearer, broader understanding of the truths of our sordid history of slavery and race-based suppression of human rights is breaking through in a flood–and it is high time for a reckoning. Last weekend, from June 19th until late Saturday night feels like a turning point in our re-education.

Juneteenth. Dates and holidays are markers, symbols of some varying level of collective consciousness. “Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston by General Gordon Granger, almost two and a half years after the original announcement.” The Civil War nominally ended with the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, but Texas descended into anarchy, in part, because of resistance by white Southerners who had moved to Texas hoping to keep their human “property” even after the surrender of the Confederacy. General Granger’s declaration on June 19 is a useful marker in a process with a complex social/cultural history (For detail read: “The Hidden History Of Juneteenth“)

Juneteenth was thrust into the national consciousness this year by the Minneapolis Police’ murder of George Floyd, the protests that followed, and Trump’s original dogwhistle announcement he would hold his first political rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump was the man who said the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville were “good people,” seized on the Juneteenth date. Whether he and his handlers chose the date out of abysmal ignorance or with the intention of signaling to the racists, on whose support Trump’s re-election depends, that he is happy to stick his thumb in the eye of black community. (Or whether the whole thing was contrived to take news attention away from Barr/Trump trying to rid themselves of the U.S. Attorney of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, a court pursuing multiple cases involving Trump.)

But beyond the Juneteenth Trump campaign dogwhistle, why is Tulsa significant? “In Tulsa, 99 years ago, on May 31st and June 1st, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called ‘the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.’ The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as ‘Black Wall Street’.” The official death toll was 36, but modern estimates run as high as 300 dead. Archeologists had planned this year to investigate a local cemetery where accounts from the time suggest mass burials were made, but the effort is delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 was left out of the Amercan history texts and left out of the American conscience until only the last few years. We Americans are grappling once again with our shameful history of slavery, a history that did not cease with American Civil War, a history that is alive and thriving in events like the Charlottesville march, in parts of the local Spokane Republican Party (Cecily Wright and Northwest Grassroots), a history that lingers in both obvious and insidious way people of color have been treated in this country for all of the 155 years since the close of the American Civil War.

If you aren’t acquainted with this history–and many of us still are not as familiar with it as we should be–multiple resources are listed below.

Keep to the high ground,

The opening scenes in the first episode of the 9 episode HBO Series Watchmen depicts the Tulsa Race Massacre. This TV series seems to be the way many young people first learn about the event. (The episodes that follow are NOT historical, but rather a dystopian, disturbing alternative history–food for thought.)

The death toll of the Los Angeles riots in 1992 in response to the acquittal of the L.A. Police officers recorded on video tape savagely beating Rodney King was likely a third of the death toll in Tulsa. The L.A. riots of 1992 are thoroughly reviewed in a documentary available on Netflix, LA 92. There are many parallels between the Rodney King and George Floyd stories. Contemplate how many similar events occurred but never reached public awareness before the era of videotape and cell phone video.

If you ever get the chance to visit Washington, D.C., plan to spend a day or more at the National Museum of African American History and Culture,  It will change how you see the world. 

What’s Trustworthy?

“Consider the source” is always good advice. In our world of electronic media of head-spinning speed and volume, paying attention to bylines of newspaper articles, the organization funding an opinion-writer, and the quality and credibility of a quoted source is essential. Thanks to Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money (see the Reference box below), many of us recognize the names in the intricate web of right and far right organizations funded by the Koch brothers donor group, names like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and the Club For Growth–and we view opinions emanating from those organizations with a recognition of the bias they represent. 

I used to place trust in some other organizations based solely on their names, especially organizations with a medical tone. No longer. Case in point:

The “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” (see the screenshot above) was mentioned in an article by Judd Legum detailing the Food and Drug Administration’s revocation of its “emergency use authorization” for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of Covid-19. 

The name, Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” sounds really official. As “physicians and surgeons” the organization must be worthy of trust, right? The AAPS has a flashy website and logo. They’ve been around since 1943 and have “represented physicians of all specialties in all states.”
Fox News thinks the AAPS is a reliable source. Just have a look at the Fox News clip on the Association’s website presentation of their article entitled, “Hydroxychloroquine Has about 90 Percent Chance of Helping COVID-19 Patients.”

I am retired physician, and I am embarrassed to admit that had I not been closely following the story of hydroxychloroquine in Covid-19, I might have glossed over the name “Association of American Physicians and Surgeons” as a reliable source. After all, during my entire career I’ve read position papers by “associations” with the physician specialty names in the title, read them without much question. 

Wikipedia provides a quick, thoroughly referenced orientation to the AAPS. Here’s how that page starts:

The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a conservative non-profit association founded in 1943. The group was reported to have about 5,000 members in 2014. The association has promoted a range of scientifically discredited hypotheses, including the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS, that being gay reduces life expectancy, that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, …and that there is a causal relationship between vaccines and autism. It is opposed to the Affordable Care Act and other forms of universal health insurance.

The AAPS has about 5000 members. In contrast, the American Medical Association has a membership of 240,000. There are approximately 950,000 practicing physicians in the United States. Every profession has its outliers with an ax to grind. The AAPS is the prime example of that phenomenon in the field of medicine. Because it exists, sounds important, and says the right things Fox News touts the AAPS as authoritative.

The AAPS is certainly not the only example of an outlier group with a deceptive name. In researching the article on Referendum 90 I ran across the American College of Pediatricians, purporting to represent the medical profession, and, doubtlessly, accepted as such by many casual readers. In fact, the American College of Pediatricians has a mere 500 members and is classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Check out “The Religious Right’s Favorite Medical Association Is a Hate Group” at The Daily Beast.

We all need to pay attention, look up the sources, and point them out for what they are. They exist to push the agenda of fringe groups while masquerading to the casual reader as authoritative sources worthy of respect. Beware.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. Once again my hat is off to Wikipedia, not as the ultimate source, but as an aggregator of useful information. I am indebted to the now deceased wife of an Evangelical preacher, once my high school classmate, for asserting to me that “Wikipedia is not a reliable source,” a statement from her that, with further scrutiny, thoroughly convinced me of Wikipedia’s value.

It seems sometimes that the entire strategy of the Trumpian Republican Party and its mouthpiece and guiding light, Fox News, is to convince its followers of an alternative reality bolstered by alternative expertise. 

Riled Vigilantes

A Spokesman article on June 11 declared “Elected officials condemn ‘armed vigilantes’ attending Spokane protests.” The condemnation was in response to quasi-military, heavily armed, camo-clad folk who showed up in downtown Spokane a couple of weeks ago to “protect local businesses,” some of them claiming (without evidence) that they were asked to appear by local proprietors. (I saw that claim made by an AR-toting man in the dim light of evening recorded in one of those ephemeral Facebook-posted videos you can never find again). The signers of the condemnation included Mayor Nadine Woodward and new City Councilperson Michael Cathcart, both of whom, though technically in “nonpartisan” positions, count on local Republican, 2nd Amendment-waving, support. In the relatively liberal-voting City of Spokane one can feel free (once in office) to make a reasonable statement about armed vigilantes without fearing a Republican backlash. Contrast that to Spokane County officials: Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, and County Commissioners French, Kerns, and Kuney did not sign. (The article notes that French was asked and declined, while the other three may not have been asked.) No one interviewed for the article thought the presence of armed vigilantes was constructive and most suggested it added to the tension. 

What brought these people out with their camo and their weaponry? Echo-chamber rumors of “antifa” infiltration at the protests. The rumor was widespread through much of the United States. Fear of an “antifa” uprising was fueled by Trump and Attorney General William Barr (and Ozzie Knezovich locally, who immediately suspected “antifa socialists”) and spread on Facebook and across the web, inciting heavily armed defenders to parade around in small and medium-sized towns from Michigan to Sandpoint, Idaho, to Klamath Falls, Oregon, likely all of these folks believing they were offering essential service to their communities. 

Who benefits? To read the article in Spokesman it is certainly not the shopkeepers downtown, many of whom expressed dismay that the presence of armed militia-types was scaring away customers. Benefit accrues only to those hoping to sow discord, the folks hoping to ignite the “boogaloo,” the hoped-for (by some) Second American Civil War or to any group anxious to see the United States in flames. Fortunately, it didn’t happen–this time. One could hope a few of these people would have learned their lesson, but, in fact, there’s plenty of evidence they are drawing the opposite conclusion: that their presence actually prevented an imminent uprising by antifaCheck out “COEUR D’ALENE, IDAHO STANDS UP…ANTIFA STANDS DOWN!” on a glossy website by an untraceable author writing from an unknown location under the name “The Media Accountability Collective.” Who is this collective, whom does it represent?

There are many parallels. The Pizzagate Conspiracy Theory of 2016 had a nearly lethal ending and, on account of that, lives on in memory. Possibly originating from a Tweet, and certainly spread in the electronic rumor mill, the theory led to a 28 year man from North Carolina shooting up the Comet Ping Pong Pizza Parlor in the nation’s capitol with his assault rifle in order to “save the children.” The gullible man and several others like him who were stimulated by the rumor are now serving time.

In the slower news era of World War II rumors of an imminent Japanese invasion on the west coast helped lead to the infamous Japanese internment camps. Check out The Battle of Los Angeles for an example of things that can happen when people are on edge.

I am reminded, too, of one of my favorite movies, The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Comingfrom 1966, a film well worth revisiting–but I fear our current circumstances will end differently than the movie.

The folks most militantly pushing second amendment rights are same folks parading around in our streets with their assault weapons, accountable to no one but themselves, ready to intimidate, and, if they deem it necessary, based on rumor and circumstance, ready to pull their triggers. For me, as a gun owner, hunter, and one time competitive shooter, I’m done thinking these guys (and a few gals) with their assault weaponry represent a benefit of defending the Second Amendment. Their turning out in response to rumor was a chance for them to feel self important, even masterful; for some of them, perhaps a chance to get something started. Their congratulating themselves on a job well done is delusional. 

Keep to the high ground,

Ref. 90, Sex, Politics Part II

Sex sells. Talk of sex gets people’s attention, and, seeded with enough misinformation, it will surely rile up some folks–and the riled will vote in greater numbers.

Referendum 90 (Ref. 90) seeks to repeal the Washington State mandate to provide comprehensive sexual health education in Washington State public schools (See Ref. 90, Sex, Politics, and Religion, Part I). Last week its politicians turned in a record number of signatures to the Secretary of State before the deadline. This should come as no surprise. Two Republicans, both legislative hopefuls, sensed opportunity and filed the paperwork for Referendums 90 and 91 (91 was later subsumed by 90) two weeks before Governor Inslee even signed the bill into law (See P.S. below). 

Mindie Wirth, the filer of Referendum 90, is a “Senior Program Manager at Microsoft” and recent Republican candidate for the Washington State legislature. She understands politics, knows how to run a campaign, is apparently well connected in highly conservative churches, and understands the value of websites and flashy presentations. Deprived of large gatherings at which to gather signatures, “Signing events” in Spokane were mostly held through highly conservative church organizations (LDS, Assemblies of God, Mt. Saint Michaels, several Baptist churches, and one Roman Catholic Church, Lourdes) and a few businesses (including the Mariupol Bakery, and Ron’s Drive In). 

Have any of the excited signers actually read the law itself? The backers of Referendum 90 seem to be counting on people NOT reading it, but, instead, to accept the breathless and deceitful assessment they’re spreading. (Read the actual law here and/or the definition of Comprehensive Sexual Health Education in the P.P.S. below) Look forward to a barrage of misinformation all the way to November.

Allow me a couple of examples:

1) “Affirmative consent” used in the preamble of the law is defined in Sec. 1 (11) as “a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.” The point is to equip students to understand what sexual activity is and to empower them to refuse such activity. Obviously, what sexual activity is discussed is tailored to the age of the child. In the case of an altar boy, that might include understanding what a sexual advance by a priest might look like and empower the boy to refuse it.

It is with a great deal of irony that I watched Bishop Daniel Muggenborg’s video posted to Mindie Wirth’s Facebook page on May 24th at 11:40PM. In that video the (presumably) celibate bishop (at 2m30s in the video), obviously reading off a teleprompter, stumbles through, “The law requires affirmative consent curriculum. What that means is ‘a conscious and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity as a requirement before sexual activity.’ This requirement is not in accordance with church teaching that sexual activity be something properly and fully expressed in the context of marriage. This idea of (pause) of a, a, affirmative consent curriculum should not be presented to children in grade school and middle school settings.” My head spins. In the context of the Roman Catholic Church in this day and age, middle school students shouldn’t be taught they have the power to recognize refuse unwanted sexual activity? Really? 

2) They are well organized. It takes knowhow to put together a flashy website or make a video, but it isn’t costly. Here are just a few to visit to study their misinformation and twisted intent: 
Informed Parents of WashingtonParents for Safe SchoolsThe Family Policy Institute. There is a certain circularity. On the Parents for Safe Schools website “Our Coalition” listed ten entities, three of which are the Washington State Republican Party and the House and Senate Republican Caucuses. I cannot now locate it, but as a retired physician, I was startled to see on one of these websites the endorsement of the “American College of Pediatricians”–that is, until I looked them up. They sound like an authoritative group, but they are a “socially conservative advocacy group” of 500 members, NOT the American Academy of Pediatrics, the professional organization of 54,000 members that favors sexual education–but doesn’t hatch and maintain single-issue websites.

It makes me angry that these few well-organized reactionaries allied with the Republican Party are trying to politically benefit by mis-representing to the public one of their favorite hot-button issues. Familiarize yourself with the law. Push back against those who want to keep altar boys in the dark–and misrepresent the opinions of the majority of medical professionals.

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. On March 13, 2020, Mindie Wirth filed Referendum 90 with the Secretary of State, just six days after passage of Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5395 by the Washington State Legislature. On March 12, 2020, the day before Ms. Wirth filed, one Matthew C. Marshall filed a similar Referendum 91. Both Wirth and Marshall are or have been Republican candidates for the Washington State Legislature. Mindie Wirth (R) lost badly (43-57%) in 2016 to Democrat Guy Palumbo in a bid to fill an open WA Senate seat in District 1 (NE of Seattle). Matthew Marshall (R) is in a three-way top-two Primary bid for the WA House seat currently held by WA House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox (R) in District 2-Position 2 (just east of Olympia). Wilcox has served in the WA House since election in 2010. Marshall is running from the far right. His campaign slogan is “Restoring Liberty–Let’s Drain the Evergreen Swamp.” 
The banner on his website reads: “Protect Our Children & Repeal Comprehensive Sex Ed.” I equate that with “Keep our children in the dark.”

P.P.S. The law, passed as ENGROSSED SUBSTITUTE SENATE BILL 5395 was passed by the State Senate on March 7, 27 Ayes 21 Nays and the House on March 4, 56 Ayes to 40 Nays. Governor Inslee signed it March 27. By clicking the blue link you can read the whole bill in its legal detail. Below is the section from the bill that defines what comprehensive sexual health education is meant to do and to cover. (I have removed the line numbering for ease of reading.) 

Comprehensive sexual health education for students in kindergarten through grade three must be instruction in social-emotional learning that is consistent with learning standards and benchmarks adopted by the office of the superintendent of public instruction under RCW 28A.300.478. 37 Comprehensive sexual health education for students in grades four through twelve must include information about: (i) The physiological, psychological, and sociological developmental processes experienced by an individual; (ii) The development of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills to communicate, respectfully and effectively, to reduce health risks, and choose healthy behaviors and relationships that are based on mutual respect and affection, and are free from violence, coercion, and intimidation; (iii) Health care and prevention resources; (iv) The development of meaningful relationships and avoidance of exploitative relationships; (v) Understanding the influences of family, peers, community, and the media throughout life on healthy sexual relationships; and (vi) Affirmative consent and recognizing and responding safely and effectively when violence, or a risk of violence, is or may be present with strategies that include bystander training; (c) “Medically and scientifically accurate” means information that is verified or supported by research in compliance with scientific methods, is published in peer-reviewed journals, where appropriate, and is recognized as accurate and objective by professional organizations and agencies with expertise in the field of sexual health including but not limited to the American college of obstetricians and gynecologists, the Washington state department of health, and the federal centers for disease control and prevention;…

P.P.P.S. I’ve pasted below one of the screeds about the Comprehensive Sexual Health Education Law. Every single statement is a lie or blatant misrepresentation. Read the law.

ESSB 5395 is a bad law that ignores the needs of both kids and parents.

  • Mandates graphic sex education starting in elementary school.
  • Orders school districts to “comprehensively” include sex ed in all curriculum — including math, social studies, science, business and computer classes.
  • Denies parents and local school boards the power to decide what shall be taught.
  • Unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats will enforce extreme curriculum in every public school in the state.

Keep the Olympia activists out of our classrooms. 

Parents and elected local school boards should be the only people deciding what is taught in our classrooms.

Police Guild Contract Signing?

The members of the City of Spokane City Council need to hear from us. On next Monday evening, the June 15th Council meeting. The Council is supposed to vote on a new contract with the Spokane Police Guild (i.e. the Police Union). Neither for the union, nor for the mayor, Nadine Woodward, whom the union endorsed, nor for the City Council could there be a more glaring time for this contract to come up. 

The entire country has been roiling for two weeks in protests over the cold-blooded, extra-judicial killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, an event captured in gruesome detail on a widely viewed video. Now the Spokane City Council faces a yes or no choice on a contract put forward by the police union and the mayor they helped elect.

To be fair, the City of Spokane police under Chief Meidl did well in interacting with peaceful protesters and dealing with the few agitators who tried to provoke riots during the last two weeks. They deserve praise for their efforts overall. The Spokane police have been working without a contract for three years. Many agree they deserve the raise that is part of the contract that comes up for a vote Monday night. 

BUT: What justifies a contract that grants the Spokane Police Guild more autonomy and less oversight? This is a city with a history. From Daniel Walters Inlander article from June 9th (well worth reading):

In 2006, [Otto] Zehm, a mentally disabled janitor, walked into a Spokane Zip Trip to get a Snickers, only to be tased, beaten and hogtied by Spokane Police officers. He died, and police officers lied about it. The officer who struck Zehm 13 times with his signature ironwood baton was sent to prison — though not before 50 officers in the courtroom, including future Police Chief Craig Meidl, stood up and saluted the convicted officer. 

That salute is a sickening image in an era where we are forced to reckon with video images of multiple police killings nationwide over succeeding years. We cannot know what was in the minds of those 50 fellow Police Guild (union) members as they saluted their convicted compatriot, but the symbolism of the image remains. Guild members stand in solidarity–regardless. That salute was a warning to the citizens of Spokane that resonates today.

It should escape no one that Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich is busy defending his choice to offer a course this fall, part of the message of which is the “warrior mentality,” desensitization to killing, and solidarity after the event. (for more on that: “Killology” and the Sheriff) What does this say about the overall law enforcement culture in the county and the city at its center?

Daniel Walters adds: 

…70 percent of Spokane voters supported an ordinance in February of 2013 to etch the ombudsman’s right to conduct independent investigations into city law, that power has remained at the mercy of the Police Guild’s contract.

The contract on the table next Monday at the City Council, negotiated out of the public eye between representatives of the Police Guild and the mayor the Guild helped elect, Mayor Woodward, (and her conservative predecessor, Mayor Condon) offers the Police Guild additional control over the ombudsman, the very existence of whom seems to rankle the Guild. The Guild (the union) refusing to cooperate with the Police Ombudsman is a persistent issue (See The Ombudsman & the Police Union). Now with Woodward apparently on board the union wants to diminish the autonomy and reach of the police ombudsman, an office the citizens overwhelmingly voted to establish–and right when the power and insularity of police unions is in the spotlight.

Even Councilman Michael Cathcart, a conservative and definitely a “law and order” sort of guy, is quoted by the Spokesman, “My struggle is I just don’t know how I could vote for a contract that in my opinion is outright noncompliant with the city charter,”

Daniel Walters writes in the Inlander article: “Cathcart says he wishes he could separate the financial piece from the oversight piece — granting the police department their long-overdue raises without approving the limitations on the ombudsman.”

That raises a legitimate question: Why is control of the ombudsman part of the negotiation of the police union contract at all? 

We understand the contract to be presented to the City Council on Monday is the result of three years of negotiations between the Guild and representatives of two conservative mayors leading the executive branch of city government. We might even agree that a raise is overdue. But this is not the time to weaken police oversight. 

Take this opportunity today to learn who represents you on the City Council and send them an email comment. Here’s the link for that: They need constituents to speak up in defense of the oversight the voters endorsed in 2013. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. I keep returning to the image of 50 Spokane police officers in the courtroom saluting the convicted officer responsible for the death of Otto Zehm. The symbolism of that act is distressing. 

P.P.S. For more insight, check out the Fresh Air podcast, “Rethinking American Policing,” which aired Wednesday, June 10.

P.P.P.S. Even the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, not exactly a left wing newspaper, has weighed in with an opinion piece, “The Problem with Police Unions.” A quote from that piece that is particularly pertinent to our situation in Spokane: “The AFL-CIO’s legendary chief George Meany once said ‘it is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.’ Collective bargaining in business is adversarial. But public unions sit on both sides of the bargaining table since they help elect the politicians with whom they negotiate.” (the bold is mine)

P.P.P.P.S. In the course of writing this piece I visited the Spokane Police Guild website. For a group that advertises “Serving the City of Spokane Washington” on their homepage, it seemed more than a little odd to read, “Access for the site is open to Spokane Police Guild members only.” The deliberations of the City Council are open to public view, but the police negotiate as a secret society opaque to us, the citizens.