The Select Committee Peels More Of The Insurrection Onion

June 16th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Today, the House Select Committee to investigate the January 6 Attack held its fourth Hearing, third in the last week, and, although I thought there wouldn’t be much to learn, I was wrong.

To review what we all know: Donald Trump refused to admit he’d lost the 2020 presidential election. His aides in the White Housed and Justice Department knew he’d lost and tried to tell him so, to no avail. He wouldn’t listen to them. A cabal of Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and John Eastman, fawning sycophants all, fed him lies too numerous to list, all of which he passed on to his Attorney General Bill Barr, which drove Barr absolutely crazy. Barr testified he felt as if he were playing “whack-a-mole.” Sixty-two law suits; none going anywhere. Pressuring state officials, all of whom stood up to him and refused to budge.

So far, as the Republican National Committee tweeted after last week’s Hearing: All. Old. News. (Super patriots them).

But in today’s Hearing we learned the extent of pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to violate the law. And we learned it from members of Pence’s team, insiders close to the VP.

We also learned Dr. John Eastman led the campaign to get Pence to singlehandedly declare Donald Trump the winner of the 2020 election, and he was relentless in his efforts.

Eastman wrote the now famous memo enumerating six ways Trump could slide to a second term. His basic argument revolved around the Constitution’s 12th Amendment and the Electoral Counting Act of 1887.

The 12th Amendment reads in part:

The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; The person having the greatest Number of votes for President, shall be the President…

In 1887, in response to the tortured 1876 election where a number of states sent more than one set of electors, congress passed the Electoral Counting Act. The Act aims to minimize congressional involvement in election disputes, instead placing primary responsibility to resolve disputes on the states. If a state follows the “safe harbor” standards laid out by the Act and the state’s governor properly submits one set of electoral votes, the Act asserts this “final determination shall govern.” Since 1887, this is the way it’s been done.

Every four years, on 6 January following a presidential election, the Vice President, as Senate President, ceremonially opens the envelopes from each state, and then the votes are counted. Of course, everyone already knows what the count will reveal, as everyone did on 6 January 2021.

Eastman, time after time after time, pressured Mike Pence’s closest advisors, saying Pence’s ceremonial position was not ceremonial at all. Rather, he had the authority to invalidate a state’s submitted electors and declare Trump the real victor. When the Pence team continually rejected his argument he suggested Pence should recess the congressional event and send everything back to the states, so they could “investigate” their fraud-corrupted elections and determine the proper electors.

None of this worked.

You may be asking, “Why did the Pence team even begin to listen to Dr. Eastman?” They did it because he was representing Donald Trump who thought Eastman correct (well, he would, wouldn’t he?).

So, who is John Eastman?

First, he’s a member in good standing of the Federalist Society, and here’s what the Society says about him:

Dr. John Eastman is the former Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service and former Dean at Chapman University’s Dale E. Fowler School of Law, where he had been a member of the faculty since 1999, specializing in Constitutional Law, Legal History, and Property. He is a founding director of the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, a public interest law firm affiliated with the Claremont Institute that he founded in 1999. He has a Ph.D. in Government from the Claremont Graduate School and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, and a B.A. in Politics and Economics from the University of Dallas. He serves as the Chairman of the Board of the National Organization for Marriage.

Sounds impressive.

Here are a couple of salient points about the good Dr. Eastman.

From 4 November, right up to the morning of 6 January, Eastman met at least eight times, not including phone calls, with the Vice President’s team led by his Director of Legislative Affairs, John Jacobs who testified today. Throughout their conversations, Jacobs would get Eastman to admit repeatedly he did not believe his own argument. Eastman even went so far as to agree if Pence did as he asked and the Supreme Court were to decide on the matter the vote would be 9-0 against. But still he persisted, and he did so all the way to his speech on the Ellipse just before Trump told the crowd to go to the Capital and “fight like hell.”

Today’s Hearing disclosed just how close the mob came to getting Mike Pence and his family. We learned as the Secret Service was hurry-upping the group to safety in the bowels of the Capital, the Proud Boys were only 40 feet away, the Proud Boys who had decided Pence should be killed. This was new to me.

We all know how it turned out. Pence, to his everlasting credit, the Pence, who had for four years been Trump’s foremost sycophant and who I thought closely resembled a cross between Uriah Heap and a mortician, that Pence, courageously did his job. While Trump was happily watching the insurrection unfold on television, it was Pence who communicated with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley demanding he assemble the forces to quell the coup attempt. Milley, who never heard from Trump, testified Pence was “highly animated.”

At 2:15 on the morning of 7 January, Pence opened the envelopes, and the votes were counted. He then announced Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

And what became of Dr. Eastman, Trump’s leading Svengali?

Shortly after the insurrection, he formally requested Trump pardon him before leaving office.

It never happened. Donald Trump only rewards successful sycophants.

 

 

The Biggest Grifter In History?

June 14th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

“A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep.” – Saul Bellow, writer, Nobel laureate.

“There’s a sucker born every minute.” – P. T. Barnum (maybe).

Yesterday gave us the second Hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack, and it put a stake through the heart of any belief that the adults around Donald Trump following the 3 November presidential election actually thought he had won. They all knew that as more and more mail-in votes were counted, the curtain was slowly coming down on the Trump Presidency. And they all told him that.

He wouldn’t listen and turned for validation to the crazies in the room led by an apparently intoxicated Rudy Giuliani who told him, “Just go out and say you won.”

All the testimony yesterday, both in person and pre-recorded, confirmed that, regardless of what anyone told him, Trump’s need to stay in power “trumped” everything else. His minions would keep making wild accusations of fraud, and he would glom onto every one of them, one after another. His Attorney General Bill Barr testified this forced him into constant “whack-a-mole” investigations. Barr said he concluded Trump had become “detached from reality.”

None of this was surprising, although it was a little reassuring to realize nearly all the Republican professionals working on the election had an allegiance to the truth of the facts on the ground. Turns out that, with the exception of the Giuliani, Powell, Eastman cabal, Trump was just about the only off-the-rails person in the White House.

But what was surprising, what hit me like a high hard one to the side of the head, was the testimony of Amanda Wick, which the Committee saved until the end, their knock-out punch. Wick is the Senior Investigative Counsel for the Committee.

Wick laid out in exquisite detail how Trump saw his election defeat as a money-making opportunity of the first order.

Even before the polls closed Team Trump began sending out millions of email solicitations asking for money in order to “fight back” against the “radical left’s” attempt to steal the election. Millions upon millions of emails. Each telling supporters to “Step up” and “Fight back.” Wick testified, “Thirty minutes after the last email was sent, the Capital was breached.”

This tsunami of emails was easy for them, because the Trump campaign had been doing the same thing for the last couple of years. I know this because I would get the solicitations…every day, sometimes two or three times a day. Somehow the Republican National Committee (all the solicitations were signed at the bottom as coming from the RNC; maybe they did, maybe they didn’t) had my email and had decided I was a “top supporter of President Trump,” but had yet to contribute to his defense of our “American freedom,” and the President could “not understand why.” Now, they would give me “one more chance” to contribute, but it had to be done before 11:00pm that night, so President Trump could “see” my name on his daily list of “American Patriots.” In response, I would send nothing, and the next day they’d be back giving me “one more chance.”

Every one of the solicitations promised that my donation would be either 100%, 500%, or even 1,000% matched! By whom? They never said, and if I were a betting man I’d wager no such person existed.

I had never tried to cancel those things. They gave me a daily laugh. I would look at them and say, “Who falls for this stuff?”

Apparently a lot of people. Amanda Wick testified that between Election Day and January 6th those email solicitations raised $250 million for the Official Election Defense Fund.

Except there never was any Official Election Defense Fund, as campaign staffer Hannah Allred testified yesterday. Actually, the solicitations were “marketing tactics,” and the money went into a new Super PAC Trump had created right after the election, the Save America PAC.

Trump doled out some of the money to his political sycophantic cronies like Mark Meadows, who got $1 million for his Conservative Partnership Institute. Nearly a quarter of a million went to the Trump Hotel Collection.

As I watched this unfold, I realized all of this $250 million, and all the money raised from the daily solicitations prior to the election, had come in small donor donations from people around the country who had totally bought into the Cult of Trump. I pictured retired couples getting these solicitations as they sat around their kitchen tables telling themselves they were part of a great cause, and saying, “Let’s send another $25, honey.” People who were on fixed incomes and addicted to Fox News, Trump’s personal TV Network. Grandpas and Grandmas who were the soul of middle America and whose minds had been co-opted by Carnival Barker Donald Trump, and who now believed their way of life was being stolen by radical, leftist extremists in Washington, DC.

Donald Trump’s mythical Official Election Defense Fund was callous, cruel, disgusting, and the epitome of greed.

Has there ever been a bigger grifter in American history?

From Watergate To Tonight’s Public Hearing: A Stark Contrast

June 9th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

On 17 June 1972, in what White House Press Secretary Ron Ziegler would later call, “a third-rate burglary,” five men, all former CIA operatives, broke into the Watergate Hotel headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to steal information relating to the upcoming presidential election.

Four months later, in a blockbuster story for the Washington Post on 10 October, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein reported,

“The Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage conducted on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House, as a basic strategy of the Nixon re-election effort.”

Five months after that, in early March, 1973, the US Senate, by a vote of 77 – 0, voted to convene the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Four Democrats and three Republicans comprised the Committee, which was chaired by Senator Sam Ervin (D-NC) with Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) as his Vice Chair. The Committee began its public hearings on 17 May, 13 months after the break-in. They would go on every day for two weeks, and were carried live on all television networks. During his opening statement, Howard Baker said the job of the Committee was to answer the question, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

Watergate would prove the undoing of President Richard Nixon, who just one year earlier had won re-election in a massive landslide. Forty people would be indicted. Seven individuals associated with carrying out the actual burglary and five presidential advisors were convicted of various crimes, although the conviction of one of the advisors, Robert Mardian, was overturned on appeal.

Watergate produced heroes.

  1. First, there were the 77 patriotic senators who voted unanimously to form the Select Committee, many knowing their votes would come back to hurt them in future elections.
  2. Then there were Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus who, in what later came to be known as the Saturday Night Massacre, resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s venal order to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Solicitor General Robert Bork, subsequently nominated to the Supreme Court by Ronald Reagan, did agree to carry out the order to get rid of Cox and wanted to resign immediately after, but was persuaded by Richardson and Ruckelshaus to stay for the good of the Justice Department.
  3. Senators Ervin and Baker and the other members of the Select Committee did their duty, all the while aware of the risks to their careers and the personal safety of themselves and their families.
  4. Following Watergate, investigators and journalists, layer by layer, unveiled the enormous corruption that was the Nixon presidency. Congress did what Congress should. The American people had an overwhelmingly favorable opinion of how the Senate, the House of Representatives, federal investigators and journalists did their jobs.

So, which was worse? The corruption riddled Nixon presidency with its utter disregard for the truth, the law, and basic morality, or the Trump presidency, with:

  1. Its four-year litany of lies;
  2. Its parade of misinformation about the Covid pandemic;
  3. Its asking  a state election official to “find” nearly 80,000 votes in order to “win” the state of Georgia;
  4. Its withholding of congressionally approved funding for Ukraine in an attempt to extort cooperation from its President as it sought to undermine the campaign of Joe Biden by targeting his son;
  5. Its presidential genuflection to Vladimir Putin;
  6. Its throwing log after log on the inferno that is white nationalism;
  7. And, biggest of all, its January 6th attack on the United States, which Donald Trump and his minions organized and directed and during which he stood idly by, smiling, as he watched it unfold on television while his troops tried to find Vice President Pence, screaming, “Hang Mike Pence.”

Following the Insurrection, we discovered there are some heroes, but very few, on the Republican side of the aisle.

First, the ten Representatives who voted in favor of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, most of whom have announced they will not run for re-election; they’ve been driven from office by the Cult of Trump.

Second, Representatives Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, and Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, the only two Republicans who defied party leadership to serve on the Select Committee. Kinzinger will not run for re-election, and Cheney has been stripped of her leadership role in the Party.

That’s it, folks. There aren’t any others. No Elliot Richardsons here

Tonight, eight days away from the third-rate burglary’s 50th anniversary, public hearings conducted by the Select Committee will begin. They bear about as much similarity to the Watergate Hearings as my tennis game does to that of Raphael Nadal’s. But they will be tremendously important. Those Americans who care to watch will witness the evil Genie emerge from his bottle. Even though, unlike the Watergate investigation, many officials have refused Committee subpoenas to testify, much will be revealed. What will happen afterwards is anybody’s guess. The Republicans seem to be playing a waiting game until after the midterm elections. If, as expected, they take control of the House, they will then be able to disband the Select Committee and act like the Insurrection never happened.

But who will tune in tonight? All the major networks, cable and otherwise, will broadcast the Hearing live, as they happen. All except one. That would be Fox, which will have its usual “all star lineup” of Carlson, Hannity and Ingraham commenting contemporaneously as tonight’s Hearing progresses. Wonderful.

One cannot help wondering if tonight’s Hearing will be a mostly preaching-to-the-choir exercise. If it’s true that nearly 70% of Republicans continue to believe the Biden presidency illegitimate and the 2020 election “stolen” from Donald Trump (apparently, some people really will believe anything), tonight’s event might well be nothing more than a lonely voice crying out in an empty desert.

There is one other thing that separates Watergate from the present Committee’s work. No one refused to testify, defying a subpoena, in the Watergate investigation. Chairman Ervin said loud and clear if anyone did that he would have them arrested. They all came to the Committee like lambs to the slaughter. In the present investigation, people, important witnesses, have blithely considered their subpoenas mere recommendations they can justifiably ignore.

What I have been forced to conclude is that January 6th, and what has happened since, are not the main event. They are symptoms of a disease that is cracking our democracy at its core. Unless the present Committee examines the disease, as well as its symptoms, they’ll miss their one chance to show America the deepening fissure.

Looking back, it almost seems as if Watergate happened on a different planet. How far we have fallen.

 

Econofact.org: A Resource-Rich Site For People Serious About Understanding The Problems We Face

June 2nd, 2022 by Tom Lynch

In 2017, Michael Klein had an idea. Klein is the William L. Clayton Professor of International Economic Affairs at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He has an impressive Resumé. In the Treasury Department during the Obama years, he was the Chief Economist in the Office of International Affairs. He is a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and has been a Visiting Scholar at the IMF, the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, the Bank of England, and the Federal Reserve Banks of New York, Boston, Dallas, and San Francisco.

He’s also a tennis buddy of mine.

Michael’s big idea was to build a network of economists and public policy specialists from all over the country to contribute to a new non-partisan publication designed to bring key facts and incisive analysis to the national debate on economic and social policies. He convinced Tufts University to sponsor his idea and now the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at The Fletcher School publishes the enterprise, which is free to anyone. Thus was born Econofact.org.

I have no connection with Econofact.org, financial or otherwise, but I am a subscriber, and have found it more than helpful as I research issues I hope readers will find interesting. I strongly urge you to consider subscribing. In addition to the concise, never too dense articles (thank you very much), Econofact.org offers frequent podcasts, Econofact Chats, during which Michael interviews leading economists and public policy experts.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I asked Michael if I could occasionally republish articles I thought readers would find interesting and helpful in their own work. He very graciously granted permission for which I am grateful.

The following seemed a logical beginning. My last column addressed the insanity of our gun violence epidemic and concluded, “It’s the guns, stupid.” This Econofact.org column from February, 2021, digs into what happens afterwards to children attending a school where a shooting occurred or living near it. The unfortunate bottom line: It is not good.

Lasting Effects of Exposure to School Shootings

By  and ·February 10, 2021
Wellesley College

The Issue:

Over the past two decades, 143 American public schools have experienced shootings during school hours that resulted in at least one fatality. More than 300 people have died in these incidents. This loss of life is a national tragedy. And there is growing evidence that the impact of these incidents reaches far beyond the direct victims and their immediate families. Over 180,000 students attended schools where these shootings occurred. Each of these students suffered trauma that could generate life-long consequences.

Students exposed to a school shooting suffer trauma that could generate life-long consequences, including negative educational and health impacts.

The Facts:

  • While media attention tends to focus on high-victimization, indiscriminate school shootings – such as those that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida – many other school shootings have also taken place over the past 20 years under a variety of different circumstances. Between 1995 and 2019, 302 people have died in 176 shooting incidents that occurred in public schools during school hours and caused at least one death (see chart). Suicides are the most common type of school shooting, which means that more students are exposed to them. Indiscriminate shootings lead to the most fatalities, but they are less common. Other types of school shootings include personally targeted attacks, where the shooting is directed at a particular individual, and shootings that are related to criminal activity, such as robberies or drug sales.
  • Schools that experience shootings have similar characteristics, on average, to a typical public school, but different types of shootings tend to affect different types of schools. Urban schools are more likely to experience personal attacks and crime-related shootings, while rural schools are more likely to experience suicides and indiscriminate shootings. Suicides and indiscriminate shootings tend to occur in regions with higher gun sales rates and less restrictive gun laws, while crime-related shootings tend to occur in locations with more restrictive gun laws (see here).
  • Students exposed to a school shooting suffer adverse educational outcomes. These impacts are especially salient in school districts that have experienced indiscriminate shootings with more than one fatality. In our recent analysis, we find that test scores in both math and English fell substantially, both at Sandy Hook and at the other schools in Sandy Hook’s district in the years following the 2012 attack. Math scores, in particular, fell by roughly 30 percentile points. But, the finding of measurable negative impacts on educational performance from school shootings is not limited to mass-fatality events. Recent research, conducted by Marika Cabral, Bokyung Kim, Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell and Hannes Schwandt, shows that lower fatality school shootings also have a substantive negative impact on educational attainment. Their analysis of shootings in Texas public schools between 1995 and 2016 (none of which resulted in more than one fatality) shows that exposure to a school shooting increased grade repetition and reduced graduation rates.
  • School shootings also cause increased school absenteeism. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting, we find that chronic absenteeism (missing more than 10 percent of school days) rose by 3 percentage points at Sandy Hook Elementary School and by 1 percentage point at other elementary schools in the district. Cabral and co-authors also find increases in overall absence rates as well as in chronic absenteeism after the lower-victimization school shooting incidents that they study in Texas.
  • Evidence suggests there are negative health consequences associated with all types of school shootings. According to research by Maya Rossin-Slater, Molly Schnell, Hannes Schwandt, Sam Trejo and Lindsey Uniat, anti-depressant prescriptions for young adults in the vicinity of school shootings tend to rise after they occur. It may take many years to definitively determine the long-term health impacts of these events. However, we find evidence of a long-term increase in mortality rates, particularly suicides and accidental deaths (including accidental poisonings, like overdoses) among boys, for students who were exposed to the Columbine High School shooting.
  • School shootings generate substantial financial costs for the school districts where they occur. Following a shooting, schools often increase their investment in support services for students and overall school security. Across all districts that were affected by school shootings, our analysis finds a 3.5 percent increase in spending on support services, a category of spending that includes a wide range of non-instructional services such as school nurses, psychologists, and school security. For schools that were affected by a high-victimization, indiscriminate shooting, overall per-student expenditures increased by 10 percent on average, with instructional spending increasing by 3 percent and support services spending increasing by 33 percent. Yet, even this substantive increase in spending and services is not sufficient to preclude the adverse educational and health consequences of these events.

What this Means:

School shootings carry vast social costs, beginning with the injuries and loss of life that accompany them and extending far beyond. These costs include reduced educational performance and adverse health outcomes for students from the affected and surrounding schools, as well as higher financial costs for districts in which these events occur. Following such an event, even greater spending would be warranted to help alleviate the harmful after-effects on exposed students. A better solution would be to undertake policies that reduce the incidence of such horrific events in the first place. This is a topic that deserves more attention.

Gun Violence In America Is An Example Of The Worst Form Of Insanity

May 31st, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Beginning in 1959, and as it has every year since, the Gallup organization polled Americans with this question: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?”  When Gallup asked that question in 1959, 60% of Americans said “Yes.” Thirty-two years later, in 1991, the “Yes” group had decreased to 43%, and thirty years after that, in 2021, only 19% of Americans were still saying “Yes.” A whopping 80% now said “No.”

Since 1959, when Gallup also reported 78% of American saying laws covering the sale of firearms should be made more strict, the decline in support for banning guns has been inversely proportional to the 63-year steady, linear rise in gun violence. The result is what we have today. Gun violence has become a cancer eating away the heart and soul of our society.

It may interest you to know that the proposition reflected in Gallup’s question precisely mirrors the law in the UK. No one is allowed to own a gun except “police and other authorized persons.” Exceptions are made for hunting and target shooting, but these are highly regulated and controlled by government. There is very little handgun violence in the UK. To this, you may say, “Without guns, people will just find another way to kill.” To which I reply, “I’d rather try to outrun a knife than a bullet.”

Last week, immediately following the massacre of 19 little children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, a British reporter asked Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz why the US suffers a seemingly intractable and growing slaughter of innocents through mass shootings. The reporter pointed out America is the only highly developed country in the world where this occurs. So, why America? Rather than attempting to address, much less answer, the question, Cruz launched into platitudes about what a great country America is. When the reporter continually pressed him for an answer (US reporters should take this as a learning experience), the Senator, after trying the platitude thing again, simply avoided the reporter and hurriedly left the area.

I viewed this exchange as an important one. It highlighted the societal dichotomy we face. The US dwarfs the 28 most economically developed countries in the 38-member OECD* in deaths by firearms. In our country, 98 people die by firearms every single day. In those other 28 OECD countries, with a combined population more than twice that of America (712 million vs. 331 million), that number is 19.

Thinking about the British reporter’s question to Senator Cruz, I decided to dive into the actual statistics to compare our gun violence experience with that of the 28 OECD countries cited above as a whole. The year I’m using as a benchmark is 2015, because a number of peer reviewed and credible studies were done that year. I assure you, as I will note below, the situation has only gotten worse in the succeeding six+ years.

2015 (Rates per 100,000 persons)

All Homicides
US – 5.6
Other 28 countries – 0.7

Homicides by firearm
US – 4.1
Other 28 countries – 0.2

Non-firearm homicide
US – 1.5
Other 28 countries – 0.6

Accidental firearm death
US – 0.2
Other 28 countries – 0.0

Firearm death rate
US – 11.2
Other 28 countries – 1.0

Total deaths by firearm
US – 35,769
Other 28 countries – 6,965

Population
US – 331 Million
Other 28 countries – 712.3 Million

Not only is our firearm death rate nearly 25 times higher than our OECD companions, our total homicide rate is eight times higher. We are a violent country.

And what about the mass shootings that, like a knife to the heart, horrify us every time one happens?

The FBI found an increase in active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2020. There were three such incidents in 2000; by 2020, that figure had increased to 40. There have been 27 thus far in 2022.

In 2020, the FBI reports, 513 people died in mass shooting incidents. In that year, according to the CDC, 45,222 of our neighbors died by firearms. Note how that is nearly 6,000 more than we reported above for 2015.

The number of deaths from mass shootings is paltry compared to the number of total deaths by firearms nationally (0.011%).

So, now, in the face of all this mayhem, we hear that our elected legislators may be willing to take some action at an unknown time in the future regarding gun control. We know Americans support this.

Politico/Morning Consult poll published last Wednesday showed “huge support” for gun regulations in that 88% of voters strongly or somewhat strongly support background checks on all gun sales, while only 8% strongly or somewhat strongly oppose such checks. That’s a net approval of +80.

Preventing gun sales to people who have been reported to police as dangerous by a mental health provider is supported by 84% of voters while only 9% oppose it, a net approval of +75. I’m forced to wonder about those 9%ers.

A national database for gun sales gets 75% approval and 18% disapproval, a net approval rate of +57.

Banning assault style weapons like the AR-15 has an approval rate of 67% while only 25% disapprove. That’s a net approval of +42.

And fifty-four percent of voters approve of arming teachers with concealed weapons, while only 34% oppose it, a net approval of +20. Wait—armed teachers. Think about that for a moment. I can just see Sister Mary Stellan, my 2nd grade teacher, packing heat.

These numbers may lead to some kind of legislation. However, as long as we have more guns (393.1 million) in this country than there are people (331 million), do you really believe things will improve significantly?

Among US states, the rate of firearm deaths varies widely. In 2020, Mississippi had the highest firearm death rate in the nation, 28.6 per 100,000 Mississippians, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as opposed to 0.2 in our OECD comparison (I continue to ask, “What goes on in Mississippi?”). New England states fared better, and Massachusetts, where I live, had the second-lowest rate of gun deaths in 2020 at 3.7 per 100,000, trailing only Hawaii at 3.4. However, the Massachusetts rate was still 5.3 times higher than the combined rate of gun deaths in the other 28 countries.

To put a period on this: At less than half the population, the US has 83.7% of all the deaths by firearms in the 29 most highly developed OECD member countries. If our firearm death rate mirrored that of just an average OECD country, deaths by firearm in America would drop 96%. At 45,222 deaths in 2020, that would be 43,413 folks who would still be with us.

I can only conclude that what the NRA paid-in-full Congress is thinking about doing maybe at some point in the possible near term is nothing more than nibbling at the edges of a monstrous problem, and they’re nibbling in ever so tiny bites.

This is insane.

 

*The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, founded by the US and it allies shortly after the close of the Second World War. Its members are the most economically developed countries.

 

It’s Time For Some Morality In Leadership

May 25th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Nineteen young children and three adults including the 18-year-old shooter. Slaughter on a grand scale, American style.

What can one say that hasn’t been said before and is being said again right now? Nothing. We have run out of new words.

Gun law advocates will say are saying, have said — we need tighter gun control laws. Second Amendment obsessives will say are saying, have said— No, we don’t; it’s not the guns. It’s the demented people using them.

These positions are not mutually exclusive, but that is how we treat them. Result? Nothing ever gets done, and the killing goes on.

I wrote about this back in 2019, and, because not a thing has changed since then, I thought I couldn’t do better than to share a portion of that column.

September, 1970

Let me tell you a story.

We call it “going back to the world.” Home in the USA. And I’ve arrived in one piece. For the last couple of years I’ve been running around the jungles of Vietnam. My new orders direct me to report to the Army’s Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. I know the place well. It’s where I was trained and Commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. Then on to Airborne and Ranger schools. Now a Captain, the job is to train the next bunch of happy warriors. My wife and I settle into the house at 3660 Plantation Road in the fine city of Columbus. It’s a nice neighborhood.

A few months after moving in a new civilian worker shows up at my office in the Infantry School. His name’s Bob. He’s a GS12 research analyst and I have no idea why he’s here, but he has a disability that makes it hard for him to walk or move even moderately weighted stuff. He’s rented a house in Columbus and is trying to figure out how to move his junk in. My wife and I offer to help.

So, on a sunny Saturday morning in the deep south we get into Marilyn’s red Corvair Corsa with its turbocharged engine and dual carburetors, show up at Bob’s new place, and find a UHaul truck in his driveway packed with everything he owns. We get to work toting box after box into the house and putting it all where Bob wants it to go. It’s taken us all morning, but around noon we’re done and we sit down on Bob’s new furniture to celebrate the end of Bob’s beginning. Marilyn’s never met Bob, whom I’ve charitably described as being “a little strange.”  So, being a curious person she nicely asks about his life. This goes on for a while until the big moment.

The big moment is when Bob says to Marilyn, “Wanna see my hair-trigger Colt 45s?”

It’s like an E. F. Hutton commercial. Everything stops. I freeze for a second and then say, “Bob, do you really have hair-trigger Colt 45s?” He says, “Sure do. Two of ’em. They’re pearl-handled, too. Want to see?”

He’s asking a guy who’s just finished two years dodging bullets and other bad things in a spot where serious people really wanted to kill him and his men. To say I have developed a healthy respect for any kind of gun is not giving that phrase the value it needs. Having seen up close what they can do, the accidents that can happen, actually did happen, makes me scared to death of them. I’m not scared when they’re in my hands, but in somebody else’s who probably doesn’t know what he’s doing? I’m not scared yet, though, because Bob has yet to produce the firepower, but my tension level rises like a Goddard Rocket.

I look Bob dead in the eye and say, “Bob, please don’t get the 45s. Leave em’ right where they are. Marilyn and I have to be going. Hope you like your new place.” And with that, we leave.

We get back into the red Corvair Corsa with the turbocharged engine and dual carburetors and drive home. When we get to the house on Plantation Road I pay the babysitter and look at the two-year-old daughter I’m just getting to know. And I think about the pearl-handled, hair-trigger Colt 45s in Bob’s house.

May, 2022

A University of Washington 2017 study found that three million Americans carry a loaded handgun daily; nine million do so at least once a month. According to the recently completed U.S. Census, there are somewhere around 390 million guns in the hands of civilians in America. According to the CDC, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) U.S. murders in 2020 19,384 out of 24,576 involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records.

Unfortunately, all the CDC can do is report the numbers. Why? Because a 1996 appropriations act contained something that has come to be known as the Dickey Amendment. That amendment is interpreted to prohibit the CDC from doing any research into gun violence. The amendment says federal funding could not be used to “advocate or promote gun control.”  Since more than 38,000 people die by gun violence per year (murder and suicide), is it too much to ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spend a few million of its $5 billion budget to research and analyze gun violence. Seems a modest proposal to me.

The Houston Chronicle reports the shooter in yesterday’s massacre bought his AR-15 rifle the day after he turned 18. That would be par for the course, because in mass public shootings, the weapon of choice is the assault rifle. The National Shooting Sports Foundation has estimated that approximately 5 million to 10 million AR-15 style rifles exist in the U.S. Regarding assault rifles, I know a thing or two. And I can say with complete certainty and a good deal of experiential credibility that there is not a single reason on God’s lovely earth why anyone other than police and my military brothers and sisters should have one, especially one with automatic fire capability. Anybody who tells you differently is chock full up to their eyeballs with what makes the grass grow green and tall.

We all know that this country is not going to take firearms from its citizenry. However, there are sensible things we can do now —  sensible things that most Americans support. For instance, weapons need to be better controlled through age restrictions, permit-to-purchase licensinguniversal background checkssafe storage campaigns and red-flag laws — measures that help control firearm access for vulnerable individuals or people in crisis.

No one in their right mind commits a mass shooting, but people not in their right minds seem to manage it, and carnage results. And we do nothing. It is a terrible thing to say, but I can only conclude that a majority of our legislative leaders have been bought and paid for by gun lobbyists. No other explanation for inaction seems plausible after the year after year after year slaughter of innocents.

It is high time to force our leaders to ditch the “thoughts and prayers” and find the spot somewhere in their hypocritical, opportunistic, power-hungry being where they have hidden their sense of decency, their morality, presuming they ever had any.

Mississippi: America’s Third World Country

May 11th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

Although I have been there only once, I can’t help thinking about Mississippi.

Mississippi has recently been in the news, of course, because its 2018 Gestational Age Act will be upheld in the same Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade, which we discovered from Justice Samuel Alito’s leaked first draft opinion for the majority.

This is not Mississippi’s first foray into restricting abortion. In 2007, the state passed its version of an abortion Trigger Law, which “bans all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman or if the pregnancy was caused by rape and charges have been filed with law enforcement,” and which takes effect immediately following the state attorney general certifying the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. The Trigger law had 19 male legislative sponsors and zero female sponsors. Regardless, Mississippi has been ready for this for 15 years.

But has it been ready for what comes next?

Matthew Walther, editor of The Lamp, a Roman Catholic literary journal, and a person who will never be accused of favoring abortion, sees predictable and unpleasant consequences after Roe is no longer the law of the land. In his 10 May 2022 guest essay for the New York Times, “Overturning Roe will disrupt a lot more than abortion. I can live with that,” Mr. Walthern acknowledges what very few anti-abortionists want to admit.

Research over the years has suggested that an America without abortion would mean more single mothers and more births to teenage mothers, increased strain on Medicaid and other welfare programs, higher crime rates, a less dynamic and flexible work force, an uptick in carbon emissions, lower student test scores and goodness knows what else.

But Mr. Walther, despite envisioning a gloomy horizon, “can live with that.” I cannot restrain myself from pointing out that Mr. Walther is of the male persuasion and, consequently, faces little likelihood of ever having to “live with” personal pregnancy.

Nonetheless, he makes a good argument, which brings us back to Mississippi.

A few points worth considering:

  • Poverty: According to the Department of Agriculture, 20.29% of Mississippi’s adults and 27.6% of its children live below the poverty line. This is the highest poverty rate in America where the national average is 11.4%.
  • Income: The median family income in Mississippi is $45,081. This is the lowest in the nation. According to the National Census Bureau, the national average in 2019 was $65,712.
  • Education: Only Texas, at 84%, ranks lower than Mississippi, at 85%, for the percentage of high school graduates. The national average is 89.6%. Only West Virginia, at 21%, ranks lower than Mississippi’s 22% for the percentage of college graduates. The national average is 31.28%.
  • Life Expectancy: At 74.4 years, Mississippi has the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation. Of note, the life expectancy rate for Mississippi’s men is 71.2 years.
  • Fetal Mortality: Mississippi’s fetal mortality rate, the number of deaths at 24 or more weeks of gestation per 1,000 live births, is 6.6. This is the highest in the nation. The national average is 3.68. If that isn’t enough, fetal deaths have lately doubled among unvaccinated pregnant women who suffer COVID-19 infections, State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs said during a Mississippi State Department of Health press conference in September, 2021.
  • Infant Mortality: The Infant Mortality Rate is the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births. At 8.27, Mississippi’s is the highest in the nation, far exceeding Louisiana’s rate of 7.53, which is the second highest.
  • Maternal Mortality: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mississippi’s maternal mortality rate is 20.8, again, the highest in the country, where the national average is 17.4, which is the highest among all members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). A maternal death is defined by the World Health Organization as, “the death of a woman while pregnant or within 42 days of termination of pregnancy, irrespective of the duration and the site of the pregnancy, from any cause related to or aggravated by the pregnancy or its management, but not from accidental or incidental causes.”
  • Maternity Leave: Mississippi has no guaranteed Maternity or Sick Leave in its state laws.
  • Smoking: According to the CDC, 20.4% of Mississippians smoke. This is the fourth highest in the nation.
  • Autopsies: Something you probably have never have considered until now: Autopsy backlogs. According to the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME), 90% of all autopsies should be completed within 60 days of death. The NAME has never accredited Mississippi, which has the highest backlog in the nation. The Mississippi State Medical Examiner’s Office was waiting for about 1,300 reports from as far back as 2011, records sent to the Associated Press in early April show. Around 800 of those involve homicides – meaning criminal cases are incomplete.
  • Abortion: According to the Mississippi Department of Public Health, the state has about 3,500 abortions annually. This represents 4.3 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age.
  • Finally: Mississippi ranks highest in the nation for Percent of Births to Unmarried Mothers, Cesarean Delivery Rate, Preterm Birth Rate, and Low Birthweight Rate.

Reading the above, one might be forgiven for thinking  there is a significant population in Mississippi who are actual victims of the state’s inability, or outright refusal, to carry out its first responsibility: to provide for the security and safety of its citizens.

Thinking about this, I have to ask: Given how well it’s doing now, how in the world is Mississippi going to cope with 3,500 new births per year? On CNN this past Sunday, Jake Tapper interviewed the state’s Republican Governor, Tate Reeves. That interview offered a glimpse of what is likely coming, a catastrophe becoming worse than it already is, which is considerable.

Tapper: Mississippi, as you know, has the highest rate of infant mortality in the United States. You have the highest rate of child poverty in the United States. Your state has no guaranteed maternity leave that’s paid. The legislature in Mississippi just rejected extending post-partum Medicaid coverage. Your foster care system is also the subject of a long-running federal lawsuit over its failure to protect children from abuse. You say you want to do more to support mothers and children, but you’ve been in state government since 2004. Based on the track record of the state of Mississippi, why should anyone believe you?

Reeves: I believe in my heart that I was elected, not to try to hide our problems, but to try to fix our problems. We are focusing every day on fixing the challenges that are before us.

Good luck, Governor. You and all those “unborn” children who are about to be “saved” are going to need a lot of it. And so are the Mississippi women who are about to become the state’s newest victims.

 

 

 

 

Where Do We Go From Here?

May 9th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

VI

We end this opinion where we began. Abortion presents a profound moral question. The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives. ‘The judgment of the Fifth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Thus ends the 1st Draft of Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion for the court majority overturning Roe and Casey, the two Supreme Court rulings that made abortion legal in America.

Alito’s ruling lays bare what happens when courts are forced to decide on the constitutionality of laws that intersect with morality, societal culture, religion, historical and legal precedent, privacy, and control—specifically, a woman’s right of control over her own body.

Regardless of what you feel about abortion, you will not find even a hint of what Alito feels about it in his 67-page ruling, followed by Appendices in which he lists, in chronological order, the laws that every state passed prohibiting abortion, going back to Missouri’s in 1827, and ending with Mississippi’s in 1952. What you will find is the utter destruction of the arguments behind the Roe and Casey rulings. I think Justice Alito resents what he believes to be the inadequacies, the just plain wrong thinking he finds in Roe and Casey. One could be forgiven for believing he thinks those decisions were less like Supreme Court deliberations and more like a couple of the weekly meetings of the Mickey Mouse Club. Frankly, I cannot wait to read the dissents I know are coming.

The coming fight

The official ruling won’t appear for a month or two, and it may differ from Alito’s draft in minor or major ways, but we are already seeing the beginnings of the warfare to come, the torching of an anti-abortion organization’s office and the picketing and protests outside the homes of Supreme Court Justices, for example. This is a galvanizing issue that only exacerbates the political divide in our country. There will be protests and marches and the probability of violence is not remote. Anger sits in the air. Moreover, there are deep psychological wounds. The women I have talked with who support abortion’s legality are emotionally crushed. Their sense of devastation and betrayal is palpable and profound.

What is all the more galling for these and other women is discovering that the fight they thought they had won 49 years ago, is now lost. Women who were in their 20s in January, 1973, breathed then a collective sigh of relief. Now, those women and their daughters feel gut-punched.

And that ain’t all.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 23 states already have laws that could be used to restrict the legal status of abortion. That includes the 13 states with Trigger Laws that will drop like the Hammer of Thor when the official ruling arrives.

There are no two ways about it: we are in for a bumpy ride. This will likely be a major issue in the upcoming midterm elections, and if Republicans win and take control of both houses of Congress, it is probable they will move to pass  legislation outlawing abortion nation-wide (and some say contraception and gay marriage, too—Alito’s ruling leaves the door open for those, even though he says the Supremes are only ruling on abortion. Still…). President Biden will veto that, and there will not be enough votes to override his veto. But if all this happens followed by a Republican victory in 2024’s presidential election, the Biden guardrail will be removed. Emigration to Canada will soar.

Going back to the future of the pre-1973s will bring some dire consequences.

Current research demonstrates:

  • By the second year after a nation-wide ban on abortions, pregnancy-related deaths, known as maternal mortality, would increase by 21% overall:
  • Among non-Hispanic Black woman, this percentage would increase by 33%;
  • In a 1976 article, researchers from the Center for Disease Control examined national abortion data from the three years surrounding the Roe ruling and estimated that the number of illegal procedures in the country plummeted from around 130,000 to 17,000 between 1972 and 1974. That will change;
  • On the other hand, a 2020 study published in The Lancet found that in countries where abortion was restricted, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion had increased, and the unintended pregnancy rates were higher than in countries where abortion was broadly legal.

I have total certainty the abortion debate, peaceful or otherwise, will not end anytime soon. Feelings about abortion are deeply held beliefs for most people, and, as has been demonstrated since humanity first stood upright, deeply held beliefs seldom, if ever, change.

An admittedly naive suggestion

First, let me state the obvious. Abortion happens when an unintended pregnancy occurs. Unintended pregnancies occur when education is lacking, wrong, or just plain non-existent, and when contraceptives are not used by either the man or the woman. Both of these—education and contraceptive use, which are two sides of the same coin—are hit-or-miss issues throughout American culture.

But they don’t have to be.

It is unfortunate, indeed, that, in many areas well-intentioned, but misguided, parents, officials, and legislators seek to eliminate, or at least dumb-down, Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE) in our public and private school systems. A 2018 UNESCO study “identified 22 relevant systematic reviews, more than 70 potentially relevant randomized controlled trials and a significant amount of non-trial information from 65 publications and online resources,” and found that “sexuality education —in or out of schools —does not increase sexual activity, sexual risk-taking behaviour or STI/HIV infection rates.” And it “reduces unintended pregnancy.”

Education works, and it can significantly reduce the need for abortions if coupled with a systemic nation-wide program that provides easy—even free—access to contraceptives. To succeed, this must not be a one-off, public affairs program. It’s too important for that. The states, as well as the federal government, would need to advocate, and do so forcefully, to change current behavior. Yes, there would still be unintended pregnancies, but shouldn’t everyone’s goal be to reduce those to a minimum? This would result in fewer illegal abortions and less maternal mortality.

For example, today, only 65% of women and a third of men regularly employ contraception. The vast majority of women prefer the pill, with LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives) following behind. The point is, there is a 35% opportunity among women, the people who become pregnant and sometimes must resort to abortions.

If, as now seems nearly certain, Roe is overruled, what are our options? We can do nothing, and revisit back alleys and coat-hangers, or we can do everything in our power to reverse that course through Comprehensive Sex Education and universal contraception.

The bleak future is not reality, not yet, anyway. Given our society, there may be little chance of changing the future that now seems ordained, but there are things we can do to mitigate the potentially terrible results of the Alito ruling if we have the strength to fully embrace them.

Women, and women alone, should have the right to decide when, and if, they have children.

 

The Leak

May 3rd, 2022 by Tom Lynch

At 8:30pm Monday night, Politico reporters Josh Gerstein and Alexander Ward dropped the biggest journalistic bombshell of a year filled with journalistic bombshells when they published a leaked first draft of the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule and strike down the 49-year-old Roe v. Wade decision, which made abortion constitutional, and therefore legal, in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. This ruling, which, according to experts, should be made official in a month or two, also affirms Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week. Today, the Supreme Court said the leaked draft is authentic, and Chief Justice John Roberts, calling it an egregious breach of trust and confidentiality, said an investigation would begin immediately to discover how it happened and who is responsible.

It is important to note this is a “First Draft.” There may be more. However, a vote has been taken, and we know the results. Between now and the official ruling, votes can change, but probably won’t.

Supreme Court leaks have happened before. In an ironic twist, the night before Roe v. Wade was announced in January of 1973, a Supreme Court clerk leaked the decision to the Washington Post.

Thinking about the decision and the leak, I would like to offer a few points for your consideration.

First, I can see no sense to this leak, which I think disgraceful and a betrayal of trust. The reason I see no sense to it is because it achieves nothing that would not have been achieved when the ruling is made public in its final form in a month or two. At that time there would still be ample opportunity for it to play out vis-à-vis mid-term politics. So, why now? Who gains what?

Second, right now we have no idea if this was politically motivated. If it was politically motivated, we do not know the motivation behind the person who leaked it. It could have been anyone with access to Court documents. Imagine a clerk leaves the decision lying around, or forgets to turn off a computer, whereupon somebody else decides to cause a little mayhem. The point is anything is possible in our current vacuum of ignorance.

Third, Justice Samuel Alito wrote this first draft of the decision. In Alito’s confirmation hearings he was asked about his previous writings regarding Roe, writings in which he wrote Roe was unconstitutional. He wrote that the Constitution says nothing about abortion and that abortion decisions should be left to the various states. He responded to those confirmation questions by saying he would “put aside” the things he argued when a mere lawyer and “think about legal issues the way a judge thinks about legal issues.” The interesting thing here is the decision he has now authored is a mirror reflection of what he wrote when a “mere lawyer.” He writes now that Roe was “egregiously wrong” from the beginning; that the Constitution says nothing about abortion; and that the matter should be left to the “elected representatives” in the various states. Makes one wonder.

I would note that the Constitution also says nothing about baseball, but on November 9, 1953, the Supreme Court upheld a prior, controversial decision that allowed major league baseball to operate outside of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Maybe Justice Alito would like to overturn that decision, too?

Fourth, this is NOT akin to the Pentagon Papers, as some are arguing. The only thing this has in common with the Pentagon Papers, which documented governmental lying about the Vietnam War, is the method by which we learned of it: a leak. We would never have learned of the Pentagon Papers but for the leak. Without the present leak, we would have learned of this decision in the near term – which we still will. This decision, regardless of whatever you think of it, and I condemn it in the highest possible terms, has nothing to do with governmental lying with respect to national security.

Fifth, At least one Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, lied during his confirmation hearing. When asked about Roe, he responded it was “settled as a precedent,” because “it has been reaffirmed many times over the past 45 years.” Apparently, he did not believe that, or he would not have voted to overturn Roe now. He certainly could have voted to allow Mississippi’s abortion ban after 15-weeks to stand without overturning “settled law.” We may be forgiven for wondering if Justice Kavanaugh lied about a few other things during his confirmation hearing.

A note about “settled law.” Settled law is settled until it isn’t, as in this case. I point out that the Dred Scott decision was once “settled law.”

Sixth, in a tangential development, reporters asked Senator Susan Collins, (R-Maine), her reaction to the leaked decision. You may recall, just prior to Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing she emerged from a meeting with him and said he’d assured her that Roe is “settled law.” She gave him her vote. Today she was asked about that and said:

“If this leaked draft opinion is the final decision and this reporting is accurate, it would be completely inconsistent with what Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh said in their hearings and in our meetings in my office. Obviously, we won’t know each Justice’s decision and reasoning until the Supreme Court officially announces its opinion in this case.”

Seventh, Chief Justice Roberts also responded to questions about Roe during his confirmation hearing. When asked if Roe was settled law, he replied, “It is settled as a precedent of the Court, yes.” Roberts did not vote to overturn Roe in this draft decision.

Eighth, this seems one more reason to think we are now living in two countries, one Red, one Blue. Eventually, if we’re lucky, very lucky, we will find common ground when we once again begin electing leaders who aspire to embrace the values, the good ones, upon which America came to be. I don’t know about you, but that time cannot come soon enough for me, if it ever does.

My question is: What happens to this country if it doesn’t?

As Thin As The Skin On A Grape – End Of Week Thoughts On The Teaching Of Slavery In America

April 29th, 2022 by Tom Lynch

A few years ago, before the horror of the pandemic sent us all scurrying to our respective bolt holes, I toured Boston’s historic Trinity Church that sits smack in the middle of high-brow Copley Square. Massachusetts born and bred, and I’d never visited this historic church that in 1885 the American Architectural Association judged the most important building in America. It still ranks among the AIA’s current top ten list.

In late 18th and 19th century Boston, Trinity was the church of the Brahmin elite. Its pews are all labeled with the names and descriptions of the historic families who occupied them. Some very famous names.

About halfway down the center aisle is the pew that once belonged to the family of Isaac Royall, Jr. (1719–1781). Royall was one of the founders of Harvard Law School, and Harvard adopted his family’s a slave owner and slave trader, and in 2016, 200 years after the founding of the law school, Harvard disassociated the crest from the school, because of the family’s business in the slave trade. Better late than never.


The Isaac Royall House and slave quarters in Medford, Massachusetts.

In 2014, Trinity’s History Committee (Yes, there is one) published the remarkable Trinity Church Boston: Facing the Reality of our Past, which lays out in excruciating detail the sordid history of its membership’s past connection with slavery.

Most of the wealthy people who built Boston owned slaves. Slavery entered the Massachusetts Bay Colony as early as 1638 when a ship the Puritan Governor John Winthrop had sent to the West Indies with Indian captives returned with Africans. In 1645, Winthrop’s brother-in-law, Emanuel Downing, told him “I don’t see how we can thrive until we get a stock of slaves sufficient to do all our business.” Thinking about that, Winthrop realized an opportunity—in Barbados, which had become so focused on producing sugar that it needed to import all other products. At the same time, New England farms were producing a surplus of food. Winthrop saw a fortuitous “fit” for his colony. Massachusetts trade with the British West Indies grew quickly.

Massachusetts got into the slave business in two ways: First, as Winthrop continued to do, by trading captured Native Americans for kidnapped Africans who were considered more desirable; and, second, by participating in the broader Atlantic slave trade.

And thus it began. Molasses to rum to slaves. Boston in the Triangle Trade.

On Tuesday, Harvard University announced it would commit $100 million to study and redress its ties to slavery, which, in addition to Isaac Royall, Jr., are considerable. The money will create an endowed “Legacy of Slavery Fund,” which will continue researching and memorializing its slavery history, working with descendants of Black and Native American people enslaved at Harvard, as well as their broader communities.

In announcing the initiative, Harvard published an unflinching report detailing what Harvard president Lawrence Bacow described as its “profoundly immoral” behavior. In a letter to the university community about the report, Bacow wrote, “I believe we bear a moral responsibility to do what we can to address the persistent corrosive effects of those historical practices on individuals, on Harvard, and on our society.”

Harvard now joins other universities—notably, Brown, Georgetown* and Princeton Theological Seminary—not only wrestling with their participation in the “peculiar institution” of slavery, but also trying to work out how to commit to making amends, both socially and financially.

Why bring up all this disgusting history?

Two reasons. First, people generally associate slavery in America with the South; many are not aware of the North’s disgraceful history of slave trading and ownership.** Most everyone knows George Washington and other southern Founding Fathers were slave owners. But Boston? That’s been swept under history’s rug. Time for that to stop.

This is not to say there were not Bostonians who were aggressively anti-slavery. There were, John Adams and John Hancock for example, but they were outgunned, and greed won out, as it so often does. Massachusetts did not outlaw slavery until 1781, and at its height, there were nearly 5,000 slaves in the Commonwealth.

Second, studying slavery, even just reading about it, is uncomfortable. It is a repugnant and distressful topic. The question is: Does that mean young people should not study it in school?

As far back as 1998, elementary, high school and college educators were having serious discussions online about how to teach this necessary history with sensitivity. In that year, Professor Patrick Manning of Northeastern University wrote, “I expect everyone to be uncomfortable when we talk about slavery and slave trade, but it is essential to experience the various sorts of discomfort brought by slavery and to learn from them.”

High school teacher Karen Needles wrote, “In my classroom, I actually made students lie on the floor in close proximity to the space allotted slaves on the slave ships.” Many teachers on this 1998 List Serve did that.

Educators from this period worked hard to instill in their students an understanding of and respect for the tragedy of slavery and the Middle Passage. Chris Lowe, a professor at Boston University wrote to his colleagues, “From our outreach director here at the African Studies Center at Boston University, Barbara Brown, who works primarily with K-12 teachers, I know that teaching the slave trade appears as a big problem to the teachers she works with. My strong impression is that the main issue may not be Eurocentrism so much as the emotional minefield involved, as the history in question has the potential to provoke feelings of anxiety and shame for students (and teachers) of all racial backgrounds that are hard to cope with, and consequent defensive reactions.”

These profound conversations happened 24 years ago and are not unique. Educators at all levels cared, and cared deeply. Today’s teachers care just as much.

Yet now, 24 years later, Republican Governors in red states have loudly proclaimed their sanctimonious intentions to protect young minds from being infected by such things as the 1619 Project, or Critical Race Theory. These Governors have been signing laws that make it difficult, even illegal, for teachers to probe deeply into matters of race and sex. Their laws specifically prohibit teachers from introducing any concept by which:

(vii)  an individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex;***

Versions of these restrictive laws have been passed in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Mississippi.

On page one of South Dakota’s summary of its new law it says the law aims to “protect students and employees at institutions of higher education from divisive concepts.” Keeping in mind that our nation’s history is rife with “divisive concepts,” there might not be much history taught in  South Dakota.

Slavery, the Triangle Trade and the Middle Passage might be the ultimate in “divisive concepts.” Nonetheless, once the kidnapped Africans arrived here, what happened to them? Assuming you agree that how they got here and what happened to them is historically important, how should this uncomfortable, but historically important, history be taught?

Consider Louisiana for a moment.

In 1712, there were only 10 Africans in all of Louisiana (there were a lot more in Boston). In this early period, European indentured servants, submitting to 36-month contracts, did most of the work clearing land and laboring on small-scale plantations. This would change dramatically after the first two ships carrying kidnapped Africans arrived in Louisiana in 1719 and in 1794 with Eli Whitney’s invention of the Cotton Gin.

By 1795, there were 19,926 enslaved Africans and 16,304 free people of color in Louisiana. The German Coast, where Whitney Plantation is located, was home to 2,797 enslaved workers. The United States outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807, but that did not stop the domestic slave trade. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the population of enslaved Africans skyrocketed. Someone had to pick all the cotton, which made the south rich. Just before the Civil War in 1860, there were 331,726 enslaved people and 18,647 free people of color in Louisiana.

Should the children of Louisiana not be taught this? Should they not be taught the political and economic underpinnings by which slavery grew in their state? Should they not discuss and argue it in class, led by teachers, like the ones quoted above, who have the objectivity, training, honesty and dedication to open their minds to what lies beyond?

Studying this stuff is going to make them, and their parents, uncomfortable. If it doesn’t, we have a bigger problem than ignorance. But teachers, staring at the penalties written into these vague, new laws, are now thinking twice about what and how they teach. This is a tragic development in education, and undervalues the curiosity and capacity for learning in today’s youth.

I wonder what those educators writing each other back in 1998 would think of all this? In a moment of prescience, Professor Lowe wrote, “There are probably political dimensions to this a la “culture wars” stupidities as well.”

If we Americans are too fearful to let our children learn our history, both the good and the horrific, then the moral and intellectual foundation of our future leaders will be as thin as the skin on a grape.

 

*In 2021, the Jesuit conference of priests announced their own $100 million commitment to be used for racial reconciliation and to benefit the descendants of 272 enslaved people sold in 1838 to pay off the debts of Georgetown University. And Brown University is examining its role, because Rhode Island’s involvement in slavery was ever greater than that of Massachusetts.

**In 2005, the New York Historical Society opened its fascinating “Slavery In New York” exhibit detailing New York’s deep involvement with slavery, just like Boston’s. I toured the exhibit and was positively stunned.

***All the new laws have a version of this sub-paragraph. It’s almost as if they were all written by the same person.