HER FINEST HOUR

Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor, known by her professional name Queen Elizabeth II, spoke to the world about the Covid-19 pandemic Sunday night. Her speech demonstrated why modern skeptics – including small-d democrats and small-r republicans — still find themselves awestruck by the ancient institution of monarchy.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth is not just any monarch. She carries with her person the aura of lengthy history. When she first addressed her realm she was a 14-year old Princess. World War II was in its early stages, Winston Churchill had been Prime Minister for only 5 months, the United States was neutral, and Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany were cooperative partners in a non-aggression pact. Her speech was designed to comfort evacuated British children who had been sent to the Commonwealth nations and the United States for safety. The broadcast was Churchill’s idea. He thought to use the young Princess to charm America into entering the war on Britain’s side.

On her 21st birthday, when she addressed her people again, she spoke as a confident young woman, who was nobody’s tool. She said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”

Her life has certainly been long. She is almost 94 years old. She has ruled Great Britain and the Commonwealth for 68 years, longer than any other British monarch: 20 years longer than her namesake Queen Elizabeth I, and 5 years longer than her paternal great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria.

Her reign has had its share of successes and scandals, of family heroism and squalor. Just a few months ago, before anyone had heard of Covid-19, the press was full of stories about Prince William, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, and Prince Harry: where they were living, who was talking to whom, and other such delectable irrelevancies. None of that seems to matter now. On Sunday night, the Queen spoke as if her long and eventful life had been a preparation for the moment.

Queen Elizabeth

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SOCIALIST OR DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST: DOES IT MATTER?

The highway of Democratic Party presidential contenders has converged into a two-lane road, and Bernie Sanders seems consigned to the slow lane. That may be the result of public unease with his socialist economic views. Perhaps sensing the danger, the Sanders campaign has studiously avoided using the term “socialist” by itself. Instead, it always pairs it with “democratic.”

Is Bernie Sanders a democratic socialist instead of a regular, run-of-the-mill socialist? And is there any meaningful difference?

Socialist Sanders

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THE TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL: WILL THE JUDICIARY BE COLLATERAL DAMAGE?

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The Constitution of the United States, Article II, Section 4.

By the time you read this post, the impeachment proceedings against President Trump may have wound down to their inevitable conclusion. This was only the third such trial in our nation’s 230-year history, which renders such occasions as rare as Halley’s Comet. Like the Comet, they are worth careful observation.

Much of the debate has centered on the nature of impeachable offenses. Are such offenses limited to criminal conduct?  Or may non-criminal conduct – such as abuse of power – qualify? Both sides have recognized that this issue affects not only President Trump but also future presidents.

Very little has been written or said, however, about another group of public officials affected by this question: federal judges.

constitution

We have all heard repeatedly that Article II, Section 4 provides for removal from office only after “Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” But we rarely hear the words preceding it: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States.” Federal judges are civil officers of the United States, so whatever precedents may be created by the trial of President Trump, they will apply to judges as well. Continue reading

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WHY NOT A 1776 PROJECT?

Last August, the New York Times launched The 1619 Project, an ambitious effort to educate the public on the role of slavery in shaping America. The Project began with an issue of the Times Sunday Magazine devoted entirely to the subject of slavery. It has grown to include a podcast, and curriculum materials for schools. A book is planned. There is reason to believe that a generation of young, impressionable students will form their historical outlooks based on the Project.

Its title says much about its purpose: to challenge the notion that 1776 is the birth year of America. According to the Times, 1619, when slaves are said to have first arrived on our shores, “is the country’s very origin.”

It’s worth noting at the outset that the title of the Project may be misplaced.  According to Professor Nell Painter, the first Africans to arrive on our shores in 1619 were indentured servants, not slaves — a status they shared with many impoverished white arrivals. Racialized slavery did not emerge in Virginia until the 1660s. But setting aside the question of dates, the abominable institution of slavery took root in the New World and two centuries would pass before it was extirpated.

chains

Now any project that aims to educate the public on our nation’s history should be lauded. Much of the information imparted by the 1619 Project is thought-provoking and valuable. But its central theme should not go unchallenged.

Project creator Nickole Hannah-Jones, in her introductory essay, describes this theme:

Conveniently left out of our founding mythology is the fact that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery. By 1776, Britain had grown deeply conflicted over its role in the barbaric institution that had reshaped the Western Hemisphere. In London, there were growing calls to abolish the slave trade. This would have upended the economy of the colonies, in both the North and the South…. In other words, we may never have revolted against Britain if the founders … had not believed that independence was required in order to ensure that slavery would continue. … [S]ome might argue that this nation was founded not as a democracy but as a slavocracy.

If these statements were true, if the purpose of the American Revolution was to preserve slavery, then our nation was founded in evil, and every American should properly feel some element of shame in his or her heritage.

But these statements are not true. They are wrong. Continue reading

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TIME TO RETIRE PEOPLE ‘OF COLOR’?

People “of color” are everywhere. We are here referencing the term, not the people.  “Debate so white: candidates of color miss out as Democratic field narrows” a recent headline in The Guardian informs us. “Physicians of color are far too rare” worries the Philadelphia Inquirer. “People of color win majority of acting Oscars for the first time in history” announced the headline of Entertainment Weekly in the wake of the awards last February.

The history of the term “of color” is, well, colorful. Its use dates back at least as far as the 1790s, when French colonists coined the term “gens de couleur” to refer to light-skinned people of mixed African and European heritage. In the Deep South, freed blacks called themselves “people of color” to distinguish themselves from African slaves. During the Civil War, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, New York, entitled “Men of Color, To Arms!” urging African Americans to enlist in the Union Army.

MEN OF COLOR TO ARMS

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ERDOGAN THREW IT ON THE GROUND

I go to my favorite hot dog stand
And the dude says,
“You come here all the time! Here’s one for free”
I said, “Man! What I look like? A charity case?”

I took it and threw it on the ground!
I don’t need your handouts!
I’m an adult!
Please!
You can’t buy me hot dog, man!

The Lonely Island (“Threw it on the Ground”)

In his Threw It On the Ground video, Adam Samberg demonstrates to an energy drink salesman, a hot dog vendor, his girlfriend, and others, that he is not a man to be trifled with. Whether he is handed a free sample drink, a complimentary hot dog, or a cellphone on which his Dad is calling, he shows his fierce independence by throwing it on the ground.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan did not exactly throw President Donald Trump’s October 9, 2019 letter on the ground, but he was animated by the same defiant spirit when he visited the White House and returned the letter to its author.

Adam Samberg   Erdogan

In fairness to the Turkish President, President Trump’s letter could be viewed, much like the hot dog man’s gesture, as an attempt to buy him. The U.S. leader had written that in return for halting his invasion of Syria, Trump would help him “make a great deal.”  Not only that, but also: “History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way.”  He warned him not to be “a tough guy” or “a fool.”

According to early reports, Erdogan threw the letter, not on the ground, but in the garbage bin. Continue reading

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HARVARD’S BILL OF RIGHTS PROBLEM

On May 5, 1941, in the bleakest days of World War II, with most of Europe under Nazi or Communist domination, Life Magazine devoted its cover story to Harvard University. The article began portentously:

The names of Alexandria, Padua, Paris, Heidelberg, Gottingen, Oxford and Cambridge are deathless, because each in its time has been a world center for man’s learning and his search for truth. To that roll has been added the name of Harvard, America’s oldest, the New World’s greatest and the world’s richest university. Today it stands alone. On the European continent the universities have been engulfed by a tyranny that recognizes no truth but the perversion of propaganda …. In the fourth year of its fourth century, Harvard must re-examine the purposes that justify its existence, count its resources and consider how it shall serve man in his unknown future.

The article deemed Harvard mankind’s academic beacon, its last best hope to preserve the flame of free inquiry in a darkening age.Life Magazine

Things haven’t quite worked out that way.

Visit Harvard today and one sees, not the last best hope for free inquiry, but an environment hostile, if not toxic, to the Bill of Rights and the values underlying them.

The latest symptom occurred in the aftermath of a demonstration calling for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The demonstration was staged by Harvard College Act on a Dream, an immigrant advocacy group. It attracted a crowd of about one hundred people. The Harvard Crimson, the main campus newspaper, published a generally sympathetic story, quoting several of the organizers, one of whom happened to be a Crimson editorial executive.

And there the story, like the event, would have quickly faded — but for the inclusion in the article of one, seemingly routine sentence: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.” Continue reading

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