Equitable Grading

Paloma Esquivel’s recent article in the Los Angeles Times about grading practices is mindbogglingly contradictory. The headline says that schools are “ditching the old way of grading” in light of skyrocketing numbers of Ds and Fs brought on largely due to COVID-related changes in education. The article begins by referring to a teacher who became increasingly frustrated a few years ago with the fact that grading “had become a points game.” His solution? He “has done away with points entirely. He no longer gives students homework and gives them multiple opportunities to improve essays and classwork. The goal is to base grades on what students are learning, and remove behavior, deadlines and how much work they do from the equation.”

This sounds lovely, but it is a false dichotomy. I will not address homework here, because that is a separate issue and one I have discussed previously. To imply, though, that basing grades on what students are learning is a new concept is laughable. Effective grading has always been based on what students are learning. Furthermore, to suggest that using points has nothing to do with what students are learning is equally laughable. If, after all, a teacher gives students a quiz with ten questions designed to gauge the student’s mastery of content, and the student misses three of the ten questions, it is neither inequitable nor unrelated to learning to give that student a grade of 7/10 or 70/100 or 35/50 or whatever scale is used in grading the quiz. In other words, it is quite possible to base grades on what students are learning and still utilize points.

That move away from points is, Esquivel writes, part of a trend of “moving away from traditional point-driven grading systems, aiming to close large academic gaps among racial, ethnic and economic groups.” This is both a false dichotomy and an insult to any student considered to be disadvantaged by their racial, ethnic or economic group because the unmistakable implication is that such students are not capable of learning well enough to achieve a good grade.

Esquivel continues, “Los Angeles and San Diego Unified — the state’s two largest school districts, with some 660,000 students combined — have recently directed teachers to base academic grades on whether students have learned what was expected of them during a course — and not penalize them for behavior, work habits and missed deadlines.” Again, this is making an unfair implication that utilizing points automatically and necessarily does not result in a grade based on actual learning.

There is another dangerous element to this too, though. Eliminating behavior and missed deadlines from grading serves only to create a false concept among students that those things do not matter. In reality, though, both matter. Or at least they are supposed to matter. That behavior matters regardless of performance is something that our culture is increasingly coming to terms with; thing, for example, of how many professional athletes are now disciplined or even released because of their off-field behavior, regardless of how well they perform during game time. Movie stars and television personalities, politicians, business executives… All are being increasingly held accountable for behavior even when it is not directly related to the performance of their job. It is not, then, inappropriate, nor is it unfair, for bad behavior to impact a student’s grade. And to say that missed deadlines should not apply is truly silly. See how well and how long it lasts trying to tell your employer that deadlines shouldn’t apply to you…for whatever reason. The notion that allowing students to revise essays or retake tests means deadlines have to be eliminated is simply not true.

Esquivel quotes Alison Yoshimoto-Towery, L.A. Unified’s chief academic officer, as saying, “It’s teaching students that failure is a part of learning. We fall. We get back up. We learn from the feedback that we get.” Again, this is true. Again, it is not new. And again, it does not negate a points-based grading system. But Yoshimoto-Towery claims that traditional grading systems have been used to “justify and to provide unequal educational opportunities based on a student’s race or class.” This is patently false, and again such an implication serves only to insult students and their families by implying that some students just cannot succeed without “the system” being manipulated in their favor.

The COVID pandemic, Esquivel writes, gave teachers a new insight, as teachers suddenly “saw how some teenagers were caring for younger siblings while trying to do their own work and witnessed the impact of the digital divide as students with spotty internet access struggled to log on to class.” Do some teenagers have more responsibilities than others outside of school? Of course. Does that impact the amount of time those students have to do homework? Certainly. Does it mean that those students do not need to master content at the same level as other students? No. Internet access is a valid concern, but one that serves only to reinforce the importance of in-person learning, not one that means that grading scales and systems need to be chucked. Carol Alexander, director of A-G intervention and support for L.A. Unified, said that the pandemic heightened awareness of such differences, “but those different circumstances of learning have always been present.” Quite right. And despite them, students of all ethnicities and socioeconomic classes have always found a way to succeed if they—and their parents—prioritize their education.

The West Contra Costa Unified district, which is majority Latino, issued a memo last year encouraging its secondary teachers to give a five-day period to turn in work. Makes sense amidst COVID. The memo also said, “Assignments, exams, quizzes, or projects will be marked ‘Missing’ until completed” rather than be given a zero. Missing assignments would “not be given a zero, but rather a failure to turn in or F in the gradebook to maintain the relative mathematical validity of the gradebook.” This is nothing more than fancy footwork; an assignment that is missing is still missing, and therefore ungradable, regardless of what it is called or how it is entered in a gradebook. Presumably if that assignment were never turned in the student would never receive a grade for it—or for the class.

Next Esquivel cites Placer Union High School District, which directed its teachers “to base grades on ‘valid evidence of a student’s content knowledge and not…on evidence that is likely to be influenced by a teacher’s implicit bias nor reflect a student’s circumstances.’” If that’s a novel idea, that’s terrible. Of course student’s grades should be based on evidence of content knowledge! There is no place for teacher bias in grading. Notice, though, that the statement also says that grades should not “reflect a student’s circumstances.” Exactly! Grading systems should be fair and consistent across the board—regardless of any extraneous factors (including ethnicity, socioeconomic status or any other circumstances). Esquivel, and the memos and directives she cites, like to use the word “equity.” Equity means “fairness or justice in the way people are treated.” That means treating all students fairly and not treating them differently based on any factor other than mastery of content and completion of course assignments. The Placer board policy says, in part, “A teacher shall base students’ grades on impartial, consistent observation and evaluation of students’ learning and their proficiency in Essential Learning Outcomes.” Again…duh!

Shockingly, Esquivel writes that prior to the pandemic, “In Los Angeles, the district had begun to train teachers on practices including basing grades on whether students are meeting academic standards.” Whatever else student grades had been based on before I would love to know. If grades were truly being given on the basis of something other than meeting academic standards then there was a real problem. “In the recent guidance,” Esquivel wrote, “teachers were directed to base final academic grades on the ‘level of learning demonstrated in the quality of work, not the quantity of work completed.’” I do not understand the idea that a grade would be based on a quantity of work completed. Presumably all students would be assigned the same work. If some completed all of it, but did so poorly, that should be reflected in their grades. If some completed only a little of it, that too should be reflected in the grades. Even if 15% of assigned work was completed perfectly, that leaves 85% of the work undone. Unless work is being assigned purely as busywork, no one could demonstrate mastery of a course by completing only 15% of the work assigned.

Esquivel quoted Yoshimoto-Towery as saying, “Just because I did not answer a test question correctly today doesn’t mean I don’t have the capacity to learn it tomorrow and retake a test. Equitable grading practices align with the understanding that as people we learn at different rates and in different ways and we need multiple opportunities to do so.” This is both true and false. Answering a question incorrectly today does not mean the one answering could not learn the correct answer and get it right tomorrow—or next week—or next year. That’s true. But if the standard or expectation is that you should know it today, and you do not, it is not unfair or inequitable to tell you that you got it wrong today.

Incomprehensively, Esquivel says that “shifting away from traditional grading to basing grades on whether students have mastered standards is not easy.” I would love to know what Esquivel, or any of the Los Angeles area educators she references, think traditional grading was based on. To her credit, Esquivel does quote Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute as pointing out that telling students that deadlines do not matter does not prepare students “for successful careers or citizenship.”

Thomas Guskey, author of On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting, told Esquivel that reforming the grading system is “not about watering down expectations; it’s about ensuring that grades are meaningful and fair.” With that I can agree. Grades need to be meaningful and fair. If they have not been then that needs to be fixed. Let’s just be careful that in the process of pursuing that meaning and fairness we do not achieve the opposite.

My Year in Books – 2020

It is difficult to say that much good came out of the worldwide disruption caused by COVID-19, but I am sure that I am not the only one who found that I had more time to read in 2020 than I had for quite a while. In fact, I read 61 books in 2020, the most since 2012, when I also had 61. So, here is my annual review of those books…

I will start with fiction. I cannot remember a year when my reading did not include one or more of James Patterson, John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer, and 2020 was no different. I read James Patterson’s Criss Cross and Deadly Cross, the latest additions to his Alex Cross series. These were what you expect from an Alex Cross book, but I have to say that the timeframe covered by this series is not very realistic. Deadly Cross is the twenty-eighth book in the series. If anyone in real life experienced what Alex Cross has in those twenty-eight books, in the time period covered by those books, well…let’s just say it’s not possible, let alone plausible. I also read Patteron’s co-authored Lost and Blindside (both with James Born) and Princess (with Rees Jones). Lost is a stand-alone book (at least so far); Blindside is the twelfth installment in the Detective Michael Bennett series and Princess is the latest in the Private series.

Camino Winds by John Grisham is his second book featuring Bruce Cable and Mercer Mann and the eclectic group of friends Cable has accumulated on the island. It is not what I would call a typical Grisham read but it is no doubt exactly what people have in mind when they think of the term “beach read” and it does include an ingenious murder. The backstory about a prescription drug and nursing homes is completely fictional but raises some alarms of what could be possible, too!

John Grisham’s A Time for Mercy is his third book featuring Jake Brigance, who first appeared in Grisham’s debut novel. I was not the only person, based on Amazon reviews, to get a copy of the book that had major printing errors. It was fine until page 69 or so and then it became truly unreadable—missing pages, duplicated pages, etc. I had to return it and get another, which was correct. I was shocked, though; Doubleday is no fly-by-night publisher and Grisham is one of the best-selling authors in the country; that such a book could get out with such incredible errors is rather surprising. The story itself was what you would expect from Grisham; or, more precisely, from classic Grisham. Jake is, again, defending someone no one else in town would want to touch. It is not a pleasant story—but neither was A Time to Kill. Grisham manages to use a stereotypical presentation of rural, Southern Christians without belittling or mocking them, which I appreciated.

Jeffrey Archer’s Hidden in Plain Sight is the second in the William Warwick series, which is a spin-off of the Clifton Chronicles. It follows an Archer pattern of having a nemesis that just won’t go away, but it does also take a slightly different tack by having Warwick transferred to the drug squad when he gets promoted.

Mark Pryor is another author who has appeared regularly on my reading lists in recent years. In 2020 I read The French Widow, his ninth Hugo Marston novel. Marston, of course, seems to do surprisingly little in his actual job as head of security at the U.S. embassy in Paris, but he does manage to help the French police once again solve a tricky crime. The book again includes transgender French police Lt. Camille Lerens, which I could do without, but Pryor seems to include her primarily to be able to say that he does so—or to be cutting edge—since her transgenderism has absolutely nothing to do with the story. This book does take the approach of, at times, speaking from the perspective of the killer, which is a unique twist, and Marston does a good job—in my opinion—of keeping the reader guessing until near the end of the book.

I actually did not finish a fiction book until April of 2020, when I completed The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. I try to include at least one classic work per year, and this was the one for 2020. I enjoyed it. I have actually not seen any of the various theatrical versions, so I cannot comment on those, but D’Artagnan and his three pals are not necessarily, or certainly not always, admirable individuals. If I was going to recommend one Dumas book it would be The Count of Monte Cristo, not this one, but it is worth reading.

This may be a surprise to some, but The Last Trial is the first Scott Turow book I have ever read. As the title suggests, it is the end of the career of a character that I now know has appeared in other Turow novels. I suspect that some of what this book includes would make more sense or be more meaningful to those who have read others in the series, but I found it an enjoyable read–but then I enjoy courtroom dramas.

Daniel Silva’s The Order is the third or fourth Gabriel Allon book I have read. I enjoyed the others much more than I did this one. Suffice it to say that this book presents the theory of a missing “gospel” that the ultra-conservative wing of Catholicism will literally do anything to prevent coming to light. The papacy is also connected to a far-right political group in Europe. And never mind the unlikelihood of the now-dead pope’s private secretary asking the head of Israel’s security service to help investigate; after all, in his last book Silva had the prince of a Muslim nation doing the same thing. I haven’t read or seen The DaVinci Code, but I suspect that this book has a lot of similarities. I wouldn’t recommend it.

I do not remember how Alyssa Cole’s When No One Is Watching even got on my radar. I almost put it down after the first page because of the language, but I didn’t. The frequency of obscenities decreased, but there is plenty of foul language and—shocker—it adds nothing to the story. From what I can tell from what the book includes about Cole’s other works she usually writes romance novels, but this one was supposed to be a thriller. And it was, but I think Cole tried too hard. There are elements of reality in the book but in her effort to deal with issues of racism she takes a far-flung approach that is unrealistic. And then the ending is even more unrealistic than that. So again, I wouldn’t recommend.

Probably the biggest departure from my usual fiction reading was Asha Lemmie’s Fifty Words for Rain. First of all, this is Lemmie’s debut novel, and I think that bodes very well for her future. It is the story of a girl, Nori, who is the daughter of a Japanese woman of aristocratic lineage who had an affair with an African-American man who was in Japan because of WWII. The story touches on the importance of honor and tradition in Japanese culture but also touches on racism—realistically, unlike Cole’s book—and, most of all, about the power of sibling love. It is a richly told story and I found myself really invested in it, but I was, I confess, disappointed in the ending.

That was it for fiction in 2020. So, moving on…

Jon Bloom’s Not by Sight is an interesting read. It is, by its own description, “the imaginative retelling of 35 Bible stories,” and it does provide the reader with a new perspective on some very familiar passages of Scripture.

Rebecca McLaughlin’s Confronting Christianity examines twelve questions that most Christians have either asked or been asked—or both. Questions like, “doesn’t Christianity crush diversity?” or “doesn’t religion cause violence?” Perhaps the most timely questions were those on taking Scripture literally, whether or not Christianity is homophobic or denigrates women and how a loving God could allow suffering or “send” people to hell. John Lennox calls it “compelling reading” and I agree. It is well-written and thought-provoking.

The subtitle of David Jeremiah’s Reset—“Ten Steps to Spiritual Renewal”—gives you a good idea of what to expect. I am not a huge fan of “steps to…” books, but this one does have some good insights. It is what you would expect from David Jeremiah in terms of style. Jeremiah’s What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do is a good overview of the epistle of James. John MacArthur’s Only Jesus is essentially a significantly condensed version of The Gospel According to Jesus. The book begins by asking, “What did Jesus mean when He said, ‘Follow Me’?” and then proceeds to answer that question. MacArthur’s Stand Firm is a short book that addresses how Christians are to live in a post-Christian world.

Charles Bordonaro’s Free to Be Me is a good book for anyone who wants to understand what “security” really means for the believer apart from the strict Calvinist interpretation. It highlights the freedom that believers have in Christ without ever suggesting that such freedom is a license for ungodly living. Suffice it to say that it also presents a very different view than R.C. Sproul’s Willing to Believe, which is solid, as Sproul always is, but which comes down in a very Calvinistic conclusion. It is an interesting book for understanding more about Pelagius, Augustine and Arminius in particular, but also Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Finney and Chafer.

J.I. Packer’s A Quest for Godliness is subtitled “The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life” and it looks extensively at the writing and teaching of Baxter, Edwards and Owen. It felt appropriate to read something by Packer since he passed away in 2020 and it is valuable introduction to Puritan thought.

John Piper’s Coronavirus and Christ is a small book and obviously put out hastily in order to respond to the pandemic, but the truths that the book contains apply far beyond COVID. The back cover of the book is headed with this from Piper: “This is a time when the fragile form of this world is felt. The seemingly solid foundations are shaking. The question we should be asking is, Do we have a Rock under our feet? A Rock that cannot be shaken―ever?” That is a powerful question and, like I said, it applies far beyond the current pandemic.

The Liturgy of Politics by Kaitlyn Schiess is her first book. She is a graduate student at Dallas Theological Seminary and she completed her undergraduate degree at Liberty University. I did not agree with everything that she wrote, but she did do an admirable job of addressing how our political views and our understanding and interpretation of Scripture are likely more intertwined than we realize. I told someone recently that I would read the book again, so perhaps that is the best compliment I can pay to the way that the book makes the reader think.

Pulpit Aflame, edited by Joel Beeke and Dustin Benge, is a collection of essays in honor of Steven Lawson, and is one of the best books I have ever read on sermon preparation and delivery and the ministry of preaching.

As I always do, I read a significant amount of history in 2020. Andrew Lawler’s The Secret Token is another book about the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Lawler spent significant time in Outer Banks communities around the colony’s location and he investigated every possible lead he could find. I do not think he leaves the reader with any new conclusions, but that’s probably because—in my opinion—we will never really know what happened.

I intended to read extensively about women in American history in 2020—historically and contemporarily—given that 2020 was the one hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Carol Berkin’s Revolutionary Mothers and Nancy Loane’s Following the Drum both provide great insight into the roles that women played in the American Revolution—Berkin’s more broadly and Loane’s specifically at Valley Forge. Melissa Lukeman Bohrer’s Glory, Passion and Principle examines eight women of the revolutionary era, some of whom are familiar (Abigail Adams, Mercy Otis Warren and Phillis Wheatley) and others who should be (Sybil Ludington, Lydia Darragh). She gives a better understanding of who “Molly Pitcher” was and she selects one woman (of a number of them) who dressed and fought as a man (Deborah Sampson). Karin Wulf’s Not All Wives focuses on women in Philadelphia during the colonial era in order to explain the law of coverture and the way that women who were no longer, or who had never been, married were able to survive.

Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming is the first in a projected trilogy on the Revolution and, despite being about 800 pages long only gets to 1777. Perhaps most interesting to me about the book was the re-introduction to me of Dr. Benjamin Church, a leading figure in the Massachusetts patriot movement who was convicted of spying for the British. That led to me reading John Nagy’s Dr. Benjamin Church, Spy, which I would love to write a rebuttal to someday since I do not think that the evidence that Church was indeed a spy is sufficient to warrant his conviction.

Like Atkinson, Alan Taylor is a Pulitzer Prize winner. But his American Revolutions covers fifty more years in one hundred fewer pages. To be fair, he and Atkinson have different goals in their works, and Taylor provides much more insight into what led to the revolution and then also describes the first years of the newly-independent nation.

Edward Larson’s Franklin & Washington is a fascinating dual-biography about two of the most famous Americans ever, examining how the two men worked, often together, to pursue American independence.

It is important to get the full title of Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality because the subtitle is exactly what the book is. Allen, a Harvard professor who has recently announced her candidacy for governor of Massachusetts, takes the Declaration line by line to examine what it meant—and means—and particularly to understand what equality really means vis-à-vis that founding document. I highly recommend this one.

Of course, at the time the Declaration was written, the founders removed the attack Jefferson originally penned against slavery, and it would not be until a Civil War more than eighty years later that slavery would finally be abolished. Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning has perhaps been one of the most talked-about books in the past year or two and it makes for itself an audacious claim—“The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” If for no other reason than that Kendi has become so influential it is worth reading. Kendi does offer some valuable insights, but I cannot say that I agree with all of his conclusions or assertions.

James Gorman, Jeff Childers and Mark Hamilton edited Slavery’s Long Shadow: Race and Reconciliation in American Christianity, and the essays it includes are worth reading. Some are more denominationally-specific than some readers might care for, but those could certainly be skipped. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that Richard Hughes, a Scholar in Residence in the College of Bible and Ministry at Lipscomb University, begins his essay “Resisting White Supremacy” by asserting that the “heart of Jesus’ preaching was his concern and compassion for disenfranchised and oppressed people” and that “to listen carefully and attentively to what those people wish to tell us about the contours of their lives” is the first step to becoming a disciple of Christ. The gospel is not a social justice message and any attempt to make it one distorts who Jesus was and why He really came.

In When Slavery Was Called Freedom: Evangelicalism, Proslavery, and the Causes of the Civil War, John Patrick Daly suggests that Christians “interpreted the Bible and Christian moral dictates in light of individualism and free market economics” and that interpretation is what led to some Christians using the Bible to oppose slavery while others used it to support it. The use of Scripture on both sides of the slavery debate is a subject of great interest to me, and thus I found Daly’s book worthwhile, but I would not suggest reading it and only it on this subject, as it needs to be balanced out with other perspectives.

Back to the fight for women’s suffrage, Catherine Clinton’s The Other Civil War examines the efforts of women in the 19th century to achieve equality. They were generally unsuccessful, of course, but their efforts are worthy of study. Lisa Tetrault’s The Myth of Seneca Falls explains that the well-known Seneca Falls Convention was not necessarily the starting point for the suffrage movement that it is so often presented as—and that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked so hard to make it. Combining those two books with Susan Ware’s Why They Marched gives readers an introduction to many other suffragists they might want to read more about, such as Lucy Stone, Charlotte Perkins Gillman, Julia Ward Howe, Ida Wells Barnett, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper and more. Vanguard, by Martha Jones, looks specifically at the efforts of black women in the fight for equality—including, but not limited to, the right to vote.

Shifting gears, Adam Cohen’s Nothing to Fear was a fascinating look at the New Deal and gives valuable information about Frances Perkins, Raymond Moley and Henry Wallace in particular.

The Landscape of History by John Lewis Gaddis and Historiography: An Introductory Guide by Eileen Ka-May Cheng are good for those interested in historiography, but would not likely be of much interest to others.

2020 was certainly marred by racial tension and plenty of authors have attempted to address that subject over the years. But Jonathan Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness has to be one of the stupidest books I have ever read and my copy is filled with marginalia expressing my thoughts on Metzl’s arguments. Those arguments can essentially be summed up this way: if you favor anything that would be considered politically conservative then you are “white”—regardless of your race or ethnicity—are you are not only what is wrong with the country but you are actively opposing your own best interests.

Another book that has received a lot of attention is Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste. It contains some personal accounts that are both sad and inexcusable, but overall I cannot agree with her attempt to equate the caste system in India, Nazi Germany and the racial issues of the United States.

Interestingly, the best book that I read on the subject of racial tension was written a half-century ago—Albert Murray’s The Omni-Americans. Perhaps this line will suffice to provide an idea of what Murray spent the book arguing: “The United States is in actuality not a nation of black people and white people. It is a nation of multicolored people…. Any fool can see that the white people are not really white, and that black people are not black. They are all interrelated one way or another.” In his forward to the anniversary edition, Henry Louis Gates asserted that Murray had a unique ability to argue all sides of any issue and to point out that which was not necessarily clear or even desirable to those dominating the conversation. I would agree, based on this book. And for this book, I am indebted to Wynton Marsalis, who wrote of Murray in his book Moving to Higher Ground. Marsalis spoke specifically of Murray’s Stomping the Blues, which I have not yet read, but he still made the introduction. As for his book, Marsalis proves to be a terrific teacher about what jazz really is. While the book’s subtitle—“How Jazz Can Change Your Life”—might be an overreach, I would recommend this book specifically, and Marsalis in general, for anyone who doesn’t really get jazz.

This Is Your Time is a short little book by Ruby Bridges, who, at just six years of age, was the first to integrate an all-white school in New Orleans. The book would be a great introduction to Bridges’ story for anyone who does not know it, and it is worth getting just for the photographs that it includes. It is sad, though, how far we have not come in the nearly sixty-years since Bridges’ experience.

A couple of baseball books in 2020—Ron Snyder’s A Season to Forget tells the story of the truly awful 1988 Baltimore Orioles, who started the season 0-21, and in The Lost Memoir Alan Gaff assembles into one volume the syndicated newspaper column Lou Gehrig wrote in 1927 for Christy Walsh’s papers, telling his personal story and also giving an inside glimpse into the Yankees’ season.

In the genre of memoir and autobiography, I tended mostly to women in 2020. Nadia Murad’s The Last Girl is powerful and should be read by anyone who wants to understand (and can stomach) what ISIS did to Yazidis. Likewise, Rachael Denhollander’s What Is a Girl Worth? is powerful and should be read by anyone who wants to understand (and can stomach) what Larry Nasser specifically, and any sexual abuser generally, does to the victims of their actions. Denhollander’s book also makes her statement to Nasser at his sentencing all the more incredible. I read those books back-to-back. Both stories are sickening and heart wrenching but both women also have incredible stories of resiliency.

Nikki Haley’s With All Due Respect is an interesting look at her life, including deeper looks at her time as governor and UN ambassador. If I had to select a woman to run for president in 2024 I would have a hard time picking between Haley and Kristi Noem. But since I hope that Noem will be re-elected governor of South Dakota in 2022 and will finish out her term, I will have to go with Haley in 2024. I enjoyed Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ Speaking for Myself, and while I understand that she desired to present a side of Donald Trump that she thinks too few people know, I think she may have been overly kind to him despite her effort to be balanced.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming was a well-written autobiography. I do not understand why she has become so reviled by the political right. I do not agree with her on much politically, there is no doubt, but I do not think that she is the horrible monster she is so often portrayed to be. Kamala Harris’s The Truths We Hold is well-written, too, and Harris has quite a personal story. She has had some tremendous accomplishments and some interesting ideas, particularly when it comes to criminal justice, but the book also reinforces why I would not want her to be the president.

Alex Trebek’s And the Answer Is… was a unique memoir in its structure but it does give the reader a great glimpse into the life of one of the most famous game show hosts in American history. It would seem that Trebek was a nice and truly decent guy…though I have to hope that he changed his thoughts on God before he passed away.

If you want an easy and light-hearted read, and you enjoy musical humor, Victor Borge’s My Favorite Comedies in Music fits the bill—but the book is not nearly as funny as Borge’s live performances.

And there you have it, another year in books. Feel free to comment with book recommendations—I have plenty of books on my list, but am always looking for suggestions. Happy New Year…and Happy Reading!

All Aboard the Hypocrisy Train

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

To the astonishment of…no one…Mitch McConnell announced within hours of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that a nomination from President Trump to fill the seat “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” No surprise here. The Republicans wouldn’t consider an Obama nomination eight months before the 2016 election, but they’re determined to get Trump’s a month and a half before the 2020 election. Shameful. Embarrassing. Partisan nonsense. No one should be proud of this. Mitch McConnell needs to go.

It is not just Mitch McConnell, though. John Thune, the Majority Whip, echoed his leader, saying, “As Leader McConnell has said, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate.” Not wanting to be left out, Texas senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn promptly jumped on board Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy train. According to the Texas Tribune, Cruz announced on Friday that an “urgent confirmation” was needed. In an opinion piece for FOX News on Sunday, Cruz insisted that Trump “must nominate a successor next week and…the Senate must confirm that successor before Election Day.” His reasoning? It is why the American people elected President Trump and a Republican Senate, there is historical precedent, and, given the possibility of a contested election in November, America cannot be left with an eight-member Supreme Court.

A few thoughts here…

First, using George Washington’s election-year nominations as an example doesn’t even really count. His two nominations in 1796 were both confirmed the very next day. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both made election year appointments too, and their nominations were confirmed within a week. But politics have changed so drastically since then that those examples cannot really be considered fairly.

In an article published last month in the National Review, Dan McLaughlin made the same point, insisting both that “History supports Republicans filling the seat,” and that doing so “would not be in any way inconsistent with Senate Republicans’ holding open the seat vacated by Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.” Really? Let’s see…

McLaughlin makes the same point that Cruz did, citing “twenty-nine times in history” when there has been an election year or lame duck session appointment. He names Washington, Adams and Jefferson. Then he mentions Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln nominated Salmon Chase as Chief Justice, to replace Roger Taney, on December 6, 1864. Four things about this appointment are noteworthy. First, it is a real historical travesty that Roger Taney was ever on the Supreme Court, given his decision in the Dred Scott case. Second, Chase was confirmed the same day that Lincoln nominated him, beating even the quick confirmation that Washington received for his nominees. Third, as I mentioned, Lincoln appointed Chase on December 6. The election took place in November, and Lincoln won. Given that as far as anyone knew at that time Lincoln would be president for another four years, any delay would have been pointless. Fourth, however, and perhaps most importantly for this discussion, Taney died on October 12, 1864—four days shy of one month before the election. But Lincoln did not appoint Chase until two days shy of one month after the election. If Cruz, McLaughlin and Company want to use Lincoln as a precedent, it is not one in their favor.

McLaughlin also points out Ulysses S. Grant as an example. But, like Lincoln, Grant appointed Ward Hunt to the Supreme Court during an election year, but after the election—he appointed him on December 3; it was after Grant had already won re-election; and Grant appointed Hunt to replace Samuel Nelson, who retired from the Supreme Court on November 28, 1872, twenty-three days after the election—meaning that there was no vacancy prior to the election, and the appointment was not during a lame duck session.

Taft’s nomination was in February of the election year. Wilson’s were in January and July of the election year. Hoover’s was in February of the election year. FDR’s was in January of the election year. These would have been terrific precedents in support of Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland in 2016, but they do not do much to help McConnell and friends in this instance.

Oddly, McLaughlin claims “Dwight Eisenhower did it” but he didn’t. Eisenhower made appointments in 1955 and in 1957, but not in 1956, which was the election year.

LBJ nominated two in June of an election year and both were withdrawn–one due to a filibuster of the nomination to move Abe Fortas to Chief Justice, and the other because Homer Thornberry had been nominated for the Associate Justice position Fortas would have been vacating. Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy one year before the 1988 election, but he was confirmed in February of the election year–by a Democratically-controlled Senate. (And any true conservative now wishes that the Democrats would have declined!)

Second, the Republicans put themselves in the position they are now in. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in March 2016. That means Obama still had 20% of his term remaining. But the Republicans refused to even consider the nomination; they wouldn’t even allow it to come to a vote. Even if Trump were to make a nomination tomorrow, he has only about 7% of the current term remaining. Outside of Washington, Adams and Jefferson, there has never been a nomination made later than July of a presidential election year and before the election, with one exception. That exception was Millard Filmore’s nomination of Edward Bradford on August 16, 1852—and there was no action taken by the Senate. So, Cruz’s appeal to historical precedent falls woefully flat. Even John Tyler, who nominated three men a total of five times in the first six months of 1844 quit in June and did not act again until after the election, when he tried twice more in December.

The bottom line is that if Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans would have allowed the Garland nomination to proceed in 2016 this would be a completely different situation. But they did not, and now they find themselves faced with waiting or becoming guilty of obscene hypocrisy…and I think we all know which they are going to choose.

President Trump should absolutely make the nomination. Indeed, doing so could even help the Republicans in the November election, and he has every right to do so. But the Senate should not act on it. In fact, acting on it could well come back to bite McConnell and friends. As Russell Berman wrote last Friday in The Atlantic, “A number of Republican senators have already said they’d want to fill a Supreme Court vacancy while Trump is still in office. But McConnell would need the votes of 50 out of his 53 members to allow Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie (assuming all Democrats voted against Trump’s nominee), and the numbers may not be on his side.” In reality, Berman was being kind. Republican senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are already on record opposing a confirmation at this stage, and just about everyone knows that Mitt Romney is not going to support Donald Trump on this one.

Ironically, McLaughlin states in his article, “Norms are crucially important. If parties cannot trust that the other side will abide by established norms of conduct, politics devolves rapidly into a blood sport that quickly loses the capacity to resolve disagreements peaceably within the system.” He’s right, of course—only he is not right in the way that he thinks he is. He thinks history is on his side, and that that Senate should act to confirm. As we have seen, though, he is wrong about that. The norm of conduct that the Republicans established in 2016 is simple—no confirmation during an election year. No amount of foaming at the mouth or attempting to stretch historical precedent to fit their narrative will change that. The Republicans set the precedent, now they need to follow it. If they do not, they will have only themselves to blame when the tables are turned—which eventually they will be—and when voters express their displeasure—which at least some will.

Additional irony for the fire – since 1981, the only SCOTUS nominee to be appointed and confirmed within the amount of time that is available now before the November election was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Image credit: Gage Skidmore, with the conductor cap added by Jason Watson.

Hypocridity

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I have seen quite a bit of hypocridity coming out of Seattle lately. You may be thinking you have never heard of hypocridity, and that’s true—because it is a term I just made up. It is a blending of hypocrisy and stupidity, and it is a dangerous combination.

More than a week ago the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ, was “formed in the wake of police giving up the week-long blockade of the East Precinct,” according to a June 9 post on the Capitol Hill Seattle blog. Per a tweet from Mayor Jenny Durkan, the abandonment of the precinct wasan effort to proactively de-escalate interactions between protestors and law enforcement outside the East Precinct.” She went further than that, however, saying, “Keeping demonstrations peaceful must be a joint effort between our community members and law enforcement. I am hopeful that tonight, with these operational changes, our city can peacefully move forward together.”

Here is a beautiful example of stupidity. According to Durkan, the “joint effort” necessary to maintain a peaceful demonstration is the evacuation of police so that the protesters can do whatever they want. But that is not a joint effort. That is total capitulation. Just imagine what would happen if the world was suddenly full of “joint efforts” in which one side caved completely to the other!

Per the same blog post, Seattle Fire Department personnel “removed ‘many personal effects of the officers normally stationed in the East Precinct’ as part of a ‘proactive effort to guard against potential damage or fire.’” That doesn’t sound like they were anticipating a peaceful demonstration, does it?

An update to the blog described Tuesday morning, June 9 this way:

The first morning brought a new configuration to the streets. The police barricades and walls left behind have provided protesters the resources they need to create their own path through the neighborhood. Barriers have been dragged into a zig zag maze to block traffic from passing through 12th Ave or up and down E Pine with a steady stream of cars and trucks performing u-turns and three-point turns to avoid the blockades. Tent shelters have been put up to help keep volunteers dry at the edges of the core around 12th and Pine. At one on the southeast corner of the intersection, a few people sat around while one approached CHS and encouraged “white people” to come to the scene and help them hold the block. Above the walled-off entrance to the building, the sign has been spray painted to now read “SEATTLE PEOPLE DEPARTMENT EAST PRECINCT.”

In other words, the peaceful demonstration had tuned into a takeover.

Evan Bush wrote a piece for the Seattle Times on June 10 that said, in part, “A new protest society — centered on a handful of blocks in Seattle’s quirky, lefty Capitol Hill — has been born from the demonstrations that pushed the Seattle Police Department out of its East Precinct building.” The same article quoted protester Sarah Tornai saying that people desire to be “autonomous from the way the Seattle Police Department has been policing them.”

When CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Jenny Durkan on June 11 how long the autonomous zone situation would continue, Durkan replied, ““I don’t know. We could have a Summer of Love!”

Seattle’s KOMO news reported that Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best said, also on June 11, “There’s no game plan for this. This is absolutely unprecedented. I’ve never seen people force a decision to be made to move officers out of this facility in this manner. So, there is no game plan, there couldn’t be, because it’s unimaginable, what’s happening to us right now.” Best added that police response time to priority calls inside the zone had more than tripled, from five minutes to eighteen, while the response time to secondary calls was nearly an hour. “There are people’s lives who are affected,” she said. “Emergency calls, which often means somebody’s being assaulted, sometimes it’s a rape, sometimes it’s a robbery, but something bad is happening if it’s a top priority call, and we’re not able to get there….”

That doesn’t sound much like a summer of love…

In a June 16 piece for Slate, Jane C. Hu wrote that after hearing rumors and seeing reports that there were ID checks and armed individuals patrolling the streets, she went to check it out for herself. She reported barricades, but no ID checks. She also reported, “it’s obvious to anyone in Seattle that the zone is not autonomous.” The people inside the zone are still using water and electricity, for example. This may be why the preferred name was switched from CHAZ to CHOP—the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest.

Hu added that while there were no armed guards or ID checks, “if people recognize you and they’re not fans of your work, there is a chance you’ll be confronted by a crowd asking you to leave.” In other words, anyone and everyone is welcome…as long as the crowd does not dislike you.

Hu also described the No-Cop Co-op. “The ‘No Cop Co-Op’ had piles of bread, jam, oats, and peanut butter, with a sign encouraging people to avail themselves: “Do not take one granola bar—take the whole box. Take an entire case of pop. You do you. Just stop looking and start shopping,” she wrote.

Hmmm. You do you…but if people recognize you and don’t like you, you will be asked to leave. Makes sense….

Then, also on June 16, FOX News reported between the city and the CHOP protesters that would “remove temporary roadblocks and replace them with concrete barriers.” The barriers would be installed by the Seattle Department of Transportation and would be placed in such a way that emergency vehicles would be able to access the area.

So, Seattle city services would install the barricades, and Seattle emergency vehicles would be able to provide services in the area… Not much autonomy in that arrangement, is there?

Nevertheless, Mayor Durkan still thinks its all great. “Seattle is the best city in America. Don’t let Fox News distort the truth. And take a look at the real truth of the ‘nation formerly known as downtown Seattle,’” she tweeted on June 17. That was two days after a crowd broke down a fence and demanded that the owners of an auto repair business release a man they had caught after he broken into the business and tried to start a fire. More than a dozen 911 calls were placed by the business owners, but no emergency personnel arrived. The Fire Chief later visited and said he was looking into why fire personnel had not responded to the calls. The answer later emerged; per FOX News, “the fire team was waiting on a police escort to the business, but police did not want to enter the area to escalate tensions. Seattle police took a report of the incident and sent officers to the periphery, but did not engage with the business owners or protesters or take the suspect into custody.”

Ami Horowitz, who says he calls the CHAZ/CHOP group the Confederacy of Dunces, produced a digital short (available on YouTube) in which he conducted interviews on the street inside the zone. One masked individual told him, “If there is no change, there might be a lot more destroying until there is.” This individual went on to say that he thinks some “some destruction and looting kinda sends the message to the people. And breaking their sh*t is justified.” Indeed it does send a message… This individual was accompanied by a woman who said, “I mean, white people owned slaves, so fu*k them.”

Both of these folks were white, by the way….

Jaiden Grayson, identified as one of the leaders, said that she does not show up to peacefully protest, but to “disrupt until my demands are met. You cannot rebuild until you break it all the way down.” She continued, “Respond to the demands of the people, or prepare to be met with any means necessary. By any means necessary.” When Horowitz said, “That’s not just a slogan…” Grayson replied, “No. It’s not a slogan. It’s not even a warning. I’m letting people know what comes next.” Horowitz pressed Grayson further, and she said “absolutely” the police, the courts and entire criminal justice system needs to be abolished.

“And then what?” Horowitz asked.

“Again, you’re asking a question that cannot be answered,” Grayson answered. “The unraveling that happens to that system is also exactly what will fuel the black minds in the black bodies that will recreate a new world.”

Let’s ignore the fact that you cannot recreate something new. Grayson clearly has a vision for a “new world” that goes beyond what most of the folks in CHOP have in mind. Anyone happy to live in a place that has, as NPR News reported today, “established a food co-op, a community garden, medical stations, a speaker’s stage, movie nights, book exchanges and round-the-clock security patrols” in a week’s time is simply living out a silly dream and abandoning reality. There seems to be plenty of talk, but none of it addresses work, income, ownership or responsibility. Indeed, according to Hannah Allam’s NPR report, many black activists—like Grayson—are now concerned that CHAZ/CHOP is now “a majority-white protest movement whose camp has taken on the feel of a neighborhood block party that’s periodically interrupted by chants of ‘Black Lives Matter!’”

Let’s stop the hypocridity and get serious about problem solving. An autonomous zone or occupied protest is not going to accomplish that.

Silence Is Not an Option

SilenceI know I am not the only one that has continued to read and think about the death of George Floyd and the protests that continue to spread around our nation. Just about everyone has had something to say and you cannot spend any time online at all without encountering something related to Floyd’s death and /or the protests. But in the past 24 hours I have been intentionally seeking and reading what African Americans have to say about it all. I have been doing that not because I think they have a monopoly on offense at the actions of Derek Chauvin, because I do not. Nor have I been doing it because I think that African Americans somehow have a more valuable or more relevant perspective or insight on the tragedy of Floyd’s death. I do, however, recognize that many African Americans have a different perspective and different insight into the situation than I do, and considering them has value.

Herman Cain began his May 31 commentary with this statement:

Everyone who saw the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis is right to be incensed by it. It’s one of the worst and most obvious instances of police brutality we have ever witnessed as a nation.

I agree with Mr. Cain completely and I specifically appreciate his use of the word “everyone.” There is no way that anyone, regardless of skin color, could watch what happened to George Floyd and think it is possible for it to be justified or necessary–or that it should not result in the full punishment the law allows.

Also on May 31, Ben Carson’s Facebook post began with this: “The blatant callous murder of Mr. George Floyd is one of the most heartless acts of cruelty ever recorded.” Again, I agree.

Senator Kamala Harris, who is at the other end of the political spectrum from Cain and Carson, released a statement on May 29 that said that the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are “the result of broader systematic racism that exists in our country.” Her statement concluded,

Police brutality is a matter of life and death for Black people in this country, and we have to be clear about the injustices within our criminal justice system and demand accountability to the communities law enforcement are sworn to protect and serve.

Do you notice a difference in what Cain and Carson said and what Harris said? Cain and Carson addressed the death of Georg Floyd as a terribly evil act without any reference to race. Harris made race and racism the foremost issue in her comments.

Oprah Winfrey posted a statement on Twitter on the same day that Harris released her statement. Winfrey pointed out what was going through her mind as she went through the motions of her day, “I think: he doesn’t get to do this.” She concluded her statement:

#GeorgeFloyd, we speak your name. But this time, we will not let your name be just a hashtag. Your spirit is lifted by the cries of all of us who call for justice in your name.

There was not a single mention of race or racism in her post. There was no mention of a Black community or any institutional racism. Instead, she used the words “all of us.” That is as broad and as inclusive as Herman Cain’s “everyone.”

On June 1, Dawn Staley, the women’s basketball coach at South Carolina, posted on The Players’ Tribune an editorial entitled “Black People Are Tired.” With a title like that, it is hard to interpret her us of the word “us” as meaning anything other than African Americans. And that is unfortunate, because I agree with much of what she has to say. Staley shared a very personal story about her mother having to leave South Carolina as a thirteen-year-old because of her grandmother’s concern that she might be lynched. Staley said that happened about sixty years ago. That is tragic and there is no excuse for it.

That’s why I both appreciate Staley’s post and dislike it. She says that Black people are angry. They should be. But all people should be angry. Being white does not give me a pass on being angry about George Floyd’s death or about the fear of Dawn Staley’s grandmother.

Staley goes on to write:

When you are privileged — when you are the privileged race, you don’t have to think about what we think about daily.

You just see the world through your own eyes. And it’s a lot different than it is through a black person’s eyes. A lot different. Say what you wanna say, but it’s a lot different.

I cannot dispute that. I have only ever been white and I will only ever be white. Accordingly, I can never experience life through a black person’s eyes and can never approach life with the experiences and history of a black person. And while it may be appropriate and helpful for me to understand and acknowledge that, it is not helpful for Dawn Staley or anyone else to suggest that because of that I cannot contribute to the solution. Staley writes,

That’s why I have to constantly ask myself: Am I doing right by our players?

Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman in our society?

That’s a problematic line of thinking. First of all, as she acknowledged earlier in her piece, Staley does not coach black women only. Thus, to equate doing right by her players with being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman is drawing an unhelpful line on her own team.

She seems to recognize the problem there, because she immediately writes this:

And that’s not to divide our team by race. It’s just a statement of reality that as human beings, we see color. Yes, we see color. We feel color. Without a doubt. And it’s a shame, but that’s how we have to navigate the world.

This is the second problem with her line of thinking. It is not how we have to navigate the world. To suggest that it is is to suggest that we cannot do better. Early in her piece Staley says, “People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Saying that continuing that way is “how we have to navigate the world” is to assert that nothing can change.

I may not be able to agree with him on much, but Mokokoma Mokhonoana was spot on when he said, “Racism is one of the most common results of the combination of stupidity and the ability to see.” We do not want to deny people the ability to see. Not literally, anyway. A world full of blind people would have quite a few problems. What we need to do, then, is try to fix the “stupidity.” It’s been widely said—and I’ve said it myself—that you can’t fix stupid. But that is not really true. Racism is a learned behavior and any learned behavior can be changed.

Herman Cain wrote,

…we make a mistake if we see this entirely in the context of race. Statistically, black-on-black crime is a much bigger problem than white-on-black crime. Statistically, police officers are much more likely to be victims of deadly violence than they are to be the perpetrators of it.

None of that gets better if we view each other with suspicion and hostility.

That’s another way of saying that we cannot see and feel color…and he is right. What we must learn to do is see human. There is nothing inherently wrong with seeing and taking notice of skin color. In and of itself, it is no more wrong than noticing if someone has brown, green, blue or gray eyes or blonde, black, brunette or red hair. The problem is not in the noticing. The problem, rather, is in the notion—the belief—that skin color matters.

It is not wrong for there to be genuine and healthy differences of opinion. It is not wrong for me to think that the comments by Kamala Harris and Dawn Staley are not all that helpful. It is not wrong for me to think that Sarah Parcak was in the wrong when she tweeted instructions designed to help rioters know how to tear down monuments or that celebrities paying bail for “protestors” is not helping address the real problem. It is not wrong for me to think that Billie Eilish’s Instagram rant was a waste of cyberspace or for me to think that Reese Witherspoon’s use of Instagram to urge parents to talk to their children about racism was worthwhile and helpful. It is not wrong for me to find some of Natasha Cloud’s piece “Your Silence Is a Knee On My Neck” to be offensive while also agreeing wholeheartedly with her conclusion that “if you’re silent, you are part of the problem.”

I am not going to stop intentionally seeking to hear, read and understand the black perspective. I do hope, though, that there is also an intentional effort for all of us who are furious about what happened to George Floyd to seek to understand each other and to work together to achieve real change. The collective “we”—all of humanity—will never agree on everything. Nor would we really want a world in which we did all agree on everything. What we must do, though, is agree that all human lives matter and every human being deserves to be treated with respect. That the problem can be resolved peacefully. And that silence is not an option.

Truly Haunted

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Mural portrait of George Floyd by Eme Street Art in Mauerpark (Berlin, Germany)

A week ago I, like thousands of others in the United States, saw, for the first time, reports that an African American man had died in Minneapolis while a white police officer was kneeling on his neck. My initial reaction was probably somewhat numb. The stories of African Americans dying at the hands of, and/or in the custody of, law enforcement have become too common. Too, I am reluctant to jump to conclusion, especially when it seems that maybe I do not know or understand the full story. Furthermore, I am a relative of a police officer and a friend of a number of others, and I recognize that their jobs are often thankless—that they have to make difficult decisions every day, often without the time and the privilege of thinking through every possible option before acting.

When I saw the video footage of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd, though, I was confident that, whatever the further details of the situation may be, the matter was not handled properly and there was no reason for Floyd to have died. I could not imagine any scenario in which the officer would not be charged with murder. When Jacob Frey, the mayor of Minneapolis, said that Floyd “should not have died” and that the officer involved had “failed in the most basic human sense,” I had to agree. Melvin Carter, the mayor of St. Paul, said that the cell phone footage of “a defenseless, handcuffed man one of the most vile and heartbreaking images” he had seen. I had to agree. When Senator Amy Klobuchar said, “Those involved in this incident must be held accountable,” I had to agree.

Less than thirty minutes ago, as I write this, the results of Floyd’s autopsy were released. The finding was that Floyd died as a result of asphyxiation from sustained pressure.

The New York Times has put together a video that resulted from “combining videos from bystanders and security cameras, reviewing official documents and consulting experts.” It is an interesting video. It makes valid and significant points. For example, the police officers who responded to the scene were expecting, based on the 911 call they received, to be dealing with a man who was “awfully drunk” and out of control. No doubt that influenced their attitude and mindset before they even encountered Floyd. It also states that Floyd told the police officers who tried to put him into their vehicle that he was claustrophobic and unwilling to get in. I am sure that police officers hear excuses on a regular basis, and I cannot fault them for not putting much stock in that statement from Floyd. It goes to explain that nine minutes into the arrest, officers Tou Thao and Derek Chauvin arrive together. Apparently they are partners. Assuming the Times report that Thao has had six complaints and been the subject of a brutality lawsuit, and that Chauvin has had seventeen complaints and been involved in three shootings is correct, one has to question why these two men are partners—if not why they are still on the police force at all. Why Chauvin gets involved in trying to get Floyd into the vehicle, and why he then pulls Floyd all the way through and onto the road, is unclear. What is clear is that he puts his knee on Floyd’s neck and it remains there. According to the Times, it remained there for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Someone is heard telling Floyd to get up and get in the car. Whether or not that is Chauvin, I cannot tell, but obviously Floyd could not get up or get in the car while Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

According to the Times, Floyd tells the officers at least sixteen times in less than five minutes that he cannot breathe. To be fair, the first time I watched the footage of the incident I was skeptical of Floyd at first. After all, if he could continue to say that he could not breathe, he was obviously breathing. My thinking changed, however, when Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck even after Floyd stopped saying anything and appeared to be either unconscious or dead. Bystanders repeatedly asked that Chauvin get off of Floyd or that he at least check Floyd’s pulse. Again, I am sure that police officers hear many things from the public in the midst of an arrest and no doubt tend to ignore them, but it is clear that both Chauvin and Thao can hear them because Chauvin appears to draw mace from his belt and Thao is interacting with the bystanders and trying to position himself to block their view. Chauvin keeps his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly a minute after EMS personnel arrive, and while Floyd is put into the ambulance and the ambulance drives away, he is pronounced dead at the hospital.

More than likely, you know most, of not all, of the above. There is nothing that can be done to change any of that, but there is much that can be learned from the incident. There are many questions to ask and attempt to answer. And then, of course, there is the reaction that is spreading across the country in the form of riots and looting. I would naïve to think or suggest that I have all of the answers or even that I have much to add to the discussion that is unique or new. But I am going to share a few thoughts regardless.

First, as I have already mentioned, law enforcement is a difficult and often thankless job. It is also a necessary job. As long as human beings are the ones serving in law enforcement, there will be mistakes made. There will be “bad apples.” There will be individuals who misuse and abuse their authority and their power. That is not a racial issue, it is a human issue. No race or gender or ethnicity is exempt from flaws. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, there are more than 800,000 law enforcement officers currently serving in the U.S. I am confident that many of them do their very best every day on the job and that they are just as upset over the death of George Floyd as anyone else. According to the same source, there has been an average of one law enforcement officer dying in the line of duty every 54 hours over the past ten years. That is a startling number, and a great reminder that law enforcement officers literally put their lives at risk to do their jobs.

Second, while it is clear that Chauvin needed to be both fired and charged, not much more than that is entirely clear yet. I read person comment on Facebook, of Chauvin’s charges, “Never seen a charge this fast with peaceful protests, all I’m saying.” Well, there is no way to know if the charges would have come that quickly without protests, though I cannot help but think that they would have. And if the point of the protests was to get Chauvin charged then the protests should stop. Is a third degree murder charge too lenient? My inclination is no…unless there is more to the story that we do not yet know. Multiple news sources, for example, are reporting that Floyd and Chauvin worked at the same night club in Minneapolis, El Nuevo Rodeo, and may have known each other. That needs to be investigated. If there was some personal motive behind Chauvin’s actions then the charges need to be increased and the protests against police discrimination and brutality are off the mark. Specifically, as The Western Journal noted, “that should give pause to those portraying law enforcement and the criminal justice system as being inherently biased against minority Americans.”

Third, cooler heads really do need to prevail. Saying something that captures headlines but has zero basis in reality is nothing short of stupid. Leslie Raymond, the president of Minneapolis NAACP, called Floyd’s death a “cruel display of the state-sanctioned murder.” That’s absurd, and not even remotely helpful. Raymond went on to say, “Their actions represent a dangerous precedent set forth by the racist, xenophobic, and prejudicial sentiment in our society against Black people.” Again, both absurd and unhelpful. Floyd’s death was wrong and that would be true even if the perpetrator were black and the victim were white. It would be true if the perpetrator and victim were both white. Or both black. Or both blue. That is a deeper truth that needs to be grasped. The taking of a life is wrong. Period. That’s not a racial issue.

In today’s issue of The Briefing—which is excellent in its entirety—Albert Mohler writes,

Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value, precisely because we are made by the same Creator equally in his image. And thus, every one of us bears the same dignity and that dignity must never be denied. It must never be slighted. It must never be reduced. It must never be hidden.

Mohler is correct, and that is why the death of George Floyd must not go unnoticed or unpunished.

Yesterday Wynton Marsalis wrote a lengthy post on his Facebook page addressing Floyd’s death and the deeper issues surrounding it. About halfway through, Marsalis wrote,

The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway. It is a labyrinth of bullshit designed to keep you lost and running around and around in search of a solution that can only be found outside of the game itself.

Excuse his language, but Marsalis is spot on. The problem is not racism and the solution is not eliminating racism. He continued,

Our form of Democracy affords us the opportunity to mine a collective intelligence, a collective creativity, and a collective human heritage. But the game keeps us focused on beating people we should be helping. And the more helpless the target, the more vicious the beating. Like I was trying to explain to my daughter, something just feels good about abusing another person when you feel bad about yourself.

I do not know if Chauvin felt bad himself, or somehow felt bigger, badder and tougher by kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, but the temporary good feeling that comes from abusing another is not a racial issue. It is human issue and a heart issue. It is, in fact, the very issue at the root of the current riots and looting. No one in their right mind thinks for a second that the destruction and violence we are seeing around the country will bring back George Floyd, make law enforcement officers act differently or improve race relations in the U.S. There is nothing constructive or helpful about the riots and looting. It is, quite frankly, part of the labyrinth of bovine feces Marsalis referred to in his post.

Earlier in the post, Marsalis describes a conversation he had with his eleven-year-old daughter about the death of Floyd. She asked him why “that man” would “just kneel on him and kill him like that in front of everybody?” Like a good parent in a teachable moment, Marsalis responded with an illustration and asked his daughter to come up with the answer herself. She gave some good ones, but she never quite got to where Marsalis wanted her to go, prompting him to—at her urging—just tell her. What was the deepest reason he had in mind? “Because he enjoyed it. For him, and for many others, that type of thing is fun.” He elaborated, saying, “this type of fun is much older even than America itself.”

I do not agree with everything that Marsalis said in his post. I do agree, however, that the death of George Floyd is not fundamentally a racist issue. That Chauvin enjoyed it—assuming he did (and there is no evident hesitance or concern on his face in the video)—would likely have been true if almost anyone had been under his knee. I do not know, of course, but I suspect that if we ever find out for sure, we will discover that Floyd said or did something to Chauvin that upset him—either when they worked at the club or just before Chauvin pulled Floyd through the vehicle onto the road—and Chauvin wasn’t going to put up with it.

This is a human flaw illustrated perfectly by Haman in the Old Testament book of Esther. Haman was a Jew and he refused to show Haman the physical homage he felt he deserved. Esther 3:5 reads, “And when Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow down or pay homage to him, Haman was filled with fury.” So full of fury was Haman, in fact, that he had a 75-foot gallows constructed and devised an elaborate plan to get the king to let him execute Mordecai—all because he got on his nerves. If you are not familiar with it, you can read the book of Esther to see how that worked out for Haman. Unfortunately, Derek Chauvin succeeded in killing George Floyd. Whether that was his intention or not I do not know and I doubt anyone ever will truly know. But, in the words of Max Lucado, here is what we do know: “the heart of the human problem is the heart of the human.” Why would Lucado say that? Because Jeremiah 17:9 says this: “The heart is more deceitful than anything else, and incurable” (HCSB). That is true of Derek Chauvin. It was also true of George Floyd. Whether we like it or not, it is also true of you and me.

Seemingly everyone, everywhere, is saying something about how wrong the killing of George Floyd was, and that’s fine. Within the past couple of hours I have seen messages from two of my alma maters condemning the actions of Derek Chauvin. One was headlined, “University condemns racial injustice and senseless violence.” The other included the statement, “Justice demands that we all do our part to confront and overcome the legacy of bigotry….” I suppose it is good that these schools, and others, are making such statements but they do not really do much.

Fifty-seven years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Sadly, our nation is still not that place. The color of one’s skin still matters far too much. No murder sentence for a police officer will change that. No riots will change that. No university announcements or presidential proclamations will change that. Nothing will change it until we realize, as Wynton Marsalis said, “The whole construct of blackness and whiteness as identity is fake anyway.” Or, as Albert Mohler said, “Every single human being is of the same dignity and of the same worth and have the same value….”

Maybe Nkwachukwu Ogbuagu said it best: “I have this feeling in me that those who continue to see race and color in everything must be as miserable as those who continue to see ghosts in every nook and cranny. They have no peace of mind because they are truly haunted.”

 

Photo credit: Singlespeedfahrer / CC0

Profiles of Tyranny: Eric Garcetti

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Mayor Eric Garcetti

On March 24, Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, began his COVID-19 briefing by sharing that the virus had taken its first teenage life in Los Angeles County. Then, like his colleague Lori Lightfoot in Chicago, he felt the need to point out that the actions of individuals impact lives. “Your behavior can save a life and take a life,” Garcetti said. Is that not true all the time? Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, didn’t the actions of individuals potentially take and save lives? Actually, is that not the very argument made regularly by opponents of gun control—that it is the actions of individuals that make the difference, not the gun? But I digress…

During the same briefing, Garcetti said that the “Safer at Home” restrictions would not be extended “one day longer than we need to.” Keep that in mind, as we will come back to it.

Garcetti then deployed some beautiful political doublespeak, announcing a “business ambassadors” program. Sounds great, right? The point of the program was to identify and shame non-essential businesses that had not shut down. Calling the behavior of such business owners “irresponsible and selfish,” Garcetti announced that the Department of Water and Power would shut down services to businesses that did not comply. Furthermore, neighborhood prosecutors would implement safety measures. Businesses would receive a warning first, but misdemeanor penalties, citations and fines were all possibilities that Garcetti left on the table. “You know who you are. You need to stop it,” Garcetti blustered. “This is your chance to step up and to shut it down, because if you don’t, we will shut you down.”

Strangely, Garcetti also announced that restaurants and bars would be permitted, as a means of stimulating business, deliver alcohol. Funny how alcohol was deemed essential, given that there is literally nothing essential about alcohol in any definition of “essential” that has been used in these COVID-19 crackdowns. Funny how Garcetti was interested in stimulating business while saying, out the other side of his mouth, that business owners who were operating were going to have services for which they were paying shut down.

By the way, this was all announced at a time when Los Angeles County had all of 669 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a mortality rate of 1.6% and California as a whole had a mortality rate of 1.9%. So how has Garcetti responded in the weeks since?

On April 5, Garcetti told the Associated Press that he was considering requiring people to stay mostly in their neighborhoods, rather than travel longer distances for shopping and exercise. In a press conference the next day he admitted how un-American such action would be, and used that as way to try to scare Angelenos into voluntarily restricting their movements. “We can’t yet do that, nor do we have an enforcement mechanism, nor are we a country where, thankfully, we monitor people’s cell phones or where they are all the time and I don’t think we’re gonna do that anytime soon,” Garcetti said. If any mayor, anywhere in the United States, had floated such a possibility in January, February, even the first week of March, they would have been laughed at and ignored. Unless they were impeached!

By mid-April, LA County has over 8,400 cases and a mortality rate of 2.9%. By that point the county’s beaches, piers, bike path and trailheads had been closed and anyone going to an essential business, either as an employee or as a patron, was required to wear a mask. Per Garcetti’s order, businesses would be permitted to deny service to customers not wearing masks or some covering of the mouth and nose.

On May 4, California governor Gavin Newsom, who has been rather tyrannical in his own right, announced that COVID restrictions would begin to be eased in California. Not so fast, responded Garcetti. Newsom “isn’t talking to all of us in exactly the same way” he announced, and he—Garcetti—would lift restrictions in Los Angeles when he was good and ready. “I will reopen our city with careful consideration, guided by the advice of public health professionals. What we should all ready ourselves for, is the new normal, no matter what is open or closed.”

Earlier this week, at a Board of Supervisors meeting, Barbara Ferrer, the Los Angeles Public Health Director, said “with all certainty” that the county’s stay-at-home order would be extended into July. Garcetti said that did not necessarily meant that the restrictions would look the same way they do today for the duration of that time, but that the city could not fully resume normal activities until a vaccine has been developed for COVID-19.

If he is serious about that, I suspect Los Angeles will see either mass protests against the Safer at Home restrictions or a mass exodus of people fleeing LA, because the likelihood of a vaccine in the near future is slim. Just days ago the Mayo Clinic said that while the development of a vaccine is “perhaps the best hope for ending the pandemic” the medical professionals “don’t know yet whether an effective vaccine is possible for this virus.” And if it is possible? “Realistically,” the Mayo Clinic report stated, “a vaccine will take 12 to 18 months or longer to develop and test in human clinical trials” and then, if a successful vaccine is developed, “it will take time to produce, distribute and administer to the global population.”

If Eric Garcetti thinks people in LA are going to sit back and wait for that to happen, he’s got another thing coming. Instead of “Safer at Home” many Angelenos will likely decide they will be “Safer Somewhere Else.”

 

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Featureflash Photo Agency

Job Number One

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Michelle Obama

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. According to Wikipedia, this is “is a celebration honoring the mother of the family, as well as motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society.” That Mother’s Day is upon us is no doubt a significant part of the reason why there have been a number of reports in recent days about comments Michelle Obama makes in the Netflix documentary “Becoming” about being a mother.

Peter Debruge’s article for Variety begins by pointing out that while the official White House web site has biographies of the first ladies, and many begin with “some variation on the phrase ‘So-and-So was the wife of President Such-and-Such,’” Michelle Obama’s entry begins, “Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama is a lawyer, writer, and the wife of the 44th President, Barack Obama.” That is noteworthy, Debruge writes: “Lawyer first, writer second and then wife.”

It is interesting that Debruge highlights that, because if you look at the full White House biography, the second paragraph begins, “When people ask Michelle Obama to describe herself, she doesn’t hesitate to say that first and foremost, she is Malia and Sasha’s mom.” That the appearance of Obama’s daughters comes so early in her biography is also notable. The biography of Melania Trump, for example, does not mention until paragraph five that “she is first and foremost a mother and wife.” The biography of Hillary Clinton does not mention daughter Chelsea until the seventh paragraph and the biography of Laura Bush does not mention her twin daughters Jenna and Barbara until the last paragraph.

Why am I beginning a post on motherhood by examining Michelle Obama’s White House biography? Precisely because, as I said in the first paragraph, Obama made comments about motherhood in the Netflix documentary that are unsettling to some.

Writing earlier this week for The Western Journal, Carmine Sabia began an article, “It is astounding how members of the Democratic Party openly discuss the miracle of giving birth as if it were a disease.” I do not necessarily disagree with that statement in principle; there have been plenty of notable instances of denigrating motherhood and celebrating abortion. But Sabia, and Joshua Caplan in an article on Breitbart the day before, both fixated on the fact that Obama says during the documentary that she gave up some of her own aspirations and dreams to become a mother.

“My relationship with Barack was all about our equal partnership,” Obama says. “If I was going to have a unique voice with this very opinionated man, I had to get myself up and set myself off to a place where I was going to be his equal.” No real surprise there; we all know that Michelle Obama was a Harvard-educated attorney. But she goes on to say, “The thing that really changed it was the birth of our children. I wasn’t really ready for that. That really made it harder. Something had to give and it was my aspirations and dreams.”

Sabia and Caplan both make this the emphasis. Michelle Obama is saying that motherhood cost her her aspirations and dreams! “Imagine being Sasha and Malia Obama — two accomplished, beautiful young ladies who just learned that they ruined their mother’s life,” Sabia writes. “Imagine the pain of hearing those words, to know that your life was a ‘concession’ that caused your mother to ‘tone down’ her aspirations.”

Sadly, I think Sabia and Caplan both miss the point in their effort to denigrate Obama and Democrats in general. She also says in the documentary, “I made that concession not because he [Barack Obama] said ‘you have to quit your job,’ but it felt like ‘I can’t do all of this so I have to tone down my aspirations, I have to dial it back.” That is a stark and worthy contrast to what Michelle Williams said when in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in January. “I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose, to choose when to have my children and with whom,” she said. That is a deeply troubling statement. Williams was publicly celebrating the fact that she ended the life of her unborn child in order to pursue her own dreams and to achieve success in her chosen profession. Obama acknowledged that in choosing motherhood she also chose to forego some of the other things she might have done without having children or without choosing to be a devoted mother.

That is really what motherhood is, though. Every mother could do something different with her life if she did not have children. Caitlin Weaver wrote an article in February 2019 entitled “The Inconvenience of Motherhood.” Weaver’s thoughts are honest reflections on what it costs to be a mother. “I seesawed wildly back and forth about having kids,” she wrote on the day her son turned one. “Even while actively trying to get pregnant, all I could think about were the sacrifices ahead.” She goes on, however, to say this:

Far from robbing me of my identity, motherhood has brought it into sharper focus.

I have never been clearer about the things I value. I worried that as a mother I wouldn’t have time for the long list of things I thought made me me. As it turns out, I didn’t. Motherhood, however, has made me ruthlessly honest about how many of those were things that truly brought me joy….

Motherhood has a way of changing what is important, Weaver admits. “So yes, there have been sacrifices. Along the way, though, life sneakily reprioritized itself so that the changes I feared don’t feel so important after all. I do love my child more than I ever thought possible, and it is an honor to be his mother.”  I find Weaver’s comments to be refreshingly honest. She is well aware of the things that she gave up to become a mother and she finds that being a mother is worth far more than what she could have done instead. Indeed, she has come to a place where she wonders how much time she was wasting on things that did not—and do not—matter. In thinking back to the minutes she “squandered pre-children” Weaver wonders, “How is it that I didn’t train for an Iron Man, cure cancer, and write a heavily footnoted historical novel?” I am not sure, of course, but I think it is fair to say that she would not now give up being a mother in order to do any of those things. Could Michelle Obama have won dozens or court cases, been a successful politician herself, or written more best-selling books had she not become a mother? Who knows. Probably. But I do not think that she would give up Sasha and Malia to do that.

In fact, I think just the opposite. Last July, when Megan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, had a baby, USA Today ran an article highlighting Obama’s “best quotes on motherhood.” Obama told Markle, “When Malia and Sasha were newborns, Barack and I could lose hours just watching them sleep. We loved to listen to the little sounds they’d make – especially the way they cooed when they were deep into dreaming.” I do not know of a parent who cannot remember the sheer pleasure of watching a newborn sleeping. “Savor it all,” Obama said.

In a 2015 commencement address at Tuskegee University Obama said,

I love our daughters more than anything in the world ― more than life itself. And while that may not be the first thing that some folks want to hear from an Ivy-league-educated lawyer, it is truly who I am. So for me, being Mom-in-Chief is, and always will be, job number one.

That does not sound like a mother who resents the sacrifices that she made or the aspirations that she gave up to become a mother. Far from criticizing her honesty, then, let’s express admiration and appreciation to Michelle Obama for the choice that she made to be a mother. We do not have to agree with everything that she has done or said or everything that she stands for. We do not even have to like her. But she made the conscious choice to put her own aspirations aside in order to be a mother.

Whether they have ever said it so clearly or bluntly as Michelle Obama, every mother made a similar decision. And every one of us who is alive owes our lives to mothers who made that decision. So, thank you, Mrs. Obama. And Happy Mother’s Day.

 

Photo credit: EPG_EuroPhotoGraphics / Shutterstock.com

Profiles of Tyranny – Lori Lightfoot

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot

Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot has perhaps not has as much national media attention as Bill de Blasio in New York City, but she has stepped gleefully into the role of tyrant none the less.

Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order that began on March 21. It was originally to run through April 7, but it was extended to April 30 on March 31. When NBC Chicago reported on Pritzker’s original order it also quoted Lightfoot as saying, “I want to say to be clear, this is not a lockdown, it’s not martial law.” She said that grocery stores would remain open and stocked and no one needed to change their shopping habits or hoard anything. At the same time, though, Lightfoot shut down the city’s parks and libraries.

An Associated Press report on April 11 quoted Lightfoot saying of people who had gone to Chicago parks and trails during a day of 70-degree weather, “Your conduct — yours — is posing a direct threat to our public health.” Lightfoot reported that she has personally ordered groups of people outside in one Chicago neighborhood to “break it up” and said, “I mean what I say. We have to protect ourselves. We have to be smart about what we’re doing in the course of this pandemic. And if it means that I drive around and check whether or not people are in compliance, I am happy to do it.”

Around that same time Lightfoot was announcing to national media that COVID-19 was killing a disproportionate number of African Americans because, in her words, “In many of our African-American households, they don’t have three, four floors where they can separate themselves.” She told PBS News reporter Yamiche Alcindor that she was 100% right in suggesting that social distancing is a privilege for some and that, nationwide, African Americans are more likely to have to take public transportation and less likely to be able to work from home. She told Alcindor that data on the racial breakdown of COVID-19 deaths was “absolutely essential.” I am not sure what racial data has to do with combating COVID-19, but since Mayor Lightfoot thinks it matters I would like to remind her that the rate of abortions among African Americans is nearly three times higher than it is among Caucasian women according to the Guttmacher Institute. It is true, according to the website blackdemographics.com, that the percentage of African American COVID-19 deaths is higher than the African American percentage of the state population in a number of states. But it is also true that it is lower than the population percentage in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio and Washington and is exactly the same in New Jersey. According to APM Research lab, African Americans do have a disproportionate percentage of COVID-19 deaths overall, but in Texas, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Washington, Idaho and Colorado Caucasians are dying at disproportionate rates, in Alaska, Oregon, California and Vermont Asians are and in New York, New Hampshire and Missouri Latinos are.

Interestingly, just yesterday the Chicago Sun-Times reported, “Four weeks ago, Latinos comprised 14 percent of Chicago’s coronavirus cases and 9 percent of the deaths. Now, it’s 37 percent of the cases and 25 percent of the deaths — in a city where 29 percent of the population is Hispanic.” How did Lightfoot respond? She “expanded the scope of the ‘racial equity rapid response teams’ first created to address the spike in cases among Chicago’s African American residents.” I think the fact that there even is such a thing as “racial equity rapid response teams” speaks for itself. COVID-19 is a big enough mess already without trying to make it a racial issue, but Lightfoot couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “There are consequences of the president’s hateful, xenophobic demonization of this community,” she said, insisting that President Trump’s position in immigrants was responsible for the surge in Latino cases.

On May 3, the AP reported Lightfoot as “warning decisive actions will be taken against city residents who flout Illinois’ stay at home order by holding house parties.” The day before, Amanda Vinicky, of WTTW News, had provided more detail, reporting that Lightfoot had complained of the lack of compliance with Chicago’s restrictions, saying of them, “Your actions are going to make a difference whether we get out sooner than later. Whether we have a summer or not. I’m not going to allow any individuals to upend the progress that we’ve made.”

Indeed, Lightfoot had said on May 2, regarding people having parties,

We will shut you down. We will cite you and if we need to, we will arrest you and we will take you to jail. Period. Don’t make us treat you like a criminal, but if you act like a criminal and you violate the law and you refuse to do what is necessary to save lives in this city during a pandemic we will take you to jail, period.

She added, “We are watching.” Then Chicago Police Superintendent David Brown said that the CPD would “be on the lookout for gatherings large and small.” He continued, “Don’t leave your house unless absolutely necessary. Don’t invite people over either. Chicagoans have done too much good thus far to risk a spike in cases of this deadly virus.”

Of course, what good the restrictions have done and what progress has been made is unclear. Last weekend Chicago passed 1,000 COVID-related deaths. The Chicago Tribune reported that Lightfoot said at that time that the city had made only “slight progress” in dealing with the virus. If you look at the reports of numbers in Illinois as a whole and Chicago specifically, there is virtually no evidence that the city’s strict shut down orders have made any difference.

Some folks are starting to notice the use of power and accompanying lack of success. Many people are willing to abide a temporary excessive use of authority when it proves to be beneficial, but Lightfoot is not showing any results. So unhappy with Lightfoot’s use of power during her COVID response that, according to Crain’s Chicago Business, “City Council’s budget chair has convened a working group of rivals to meet weekly and keep an eye on COVID-related spending.”

Oh, and by the way… Lightfoot might not mind patrolling the streets to yell at everyone else to get inside, but she doesn’t seem to think the restrictions she has placed on others apply to her. In April she got a haircut from a stylist despite the fact that Governor Pritzker’s state-wide order shut down salons and barbershops. When Lightfoot faced criticism for her choice she did not back down or acknowledge a lapse in judgment. Instead, she whipped out the “I’m more important than you” card, explaining, “I’m the public face of this city. I’m on national media and I’m out in the public eye.”

Maybe so, Mayor Lightfoot. But don’t be surprised if the voters of Chicago decide they want a different “public face” next time they go to the mayoral polls.

 

 

Photo credit: lightfootforchicago.com/about-lori/

Profiles of Tyranny: Ralph Northam

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Gov. Ralph Northam

Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, put a Stay at Home order in place on March 24. It is currently set to remain in place until June 10. That’s not a typo. June 10 at 11:59 p.m.

Virginia’s state web site has a FAQ regarding the order and one of the questions is, “Can I leave my house?” First of all, can we just pause a moment to reflect on how ridiculous it is that this would even be a frequently asked question anywhere in the United States? But here’s the answer:

Yes. However, Governor Northam is urging Virginians to limit all non-essential travel outside the home, if and when possible. If you choose to go to the park, for a walk, or exercise outside, please practice strict social distancing and keep six feet apart from others. All public and private gatherings of more than 10 people are banned.

There are obvious problems with this answer. “If and when possible” it says. Who gets to decide that? The answer assumes that people—at least some people—will choose to go to the park or take a walk. Is that considered essential travel? If so, why is that and not many other things that someone might choose to do? Northam’s order required state parks to close visitor centers and required privately-owned campgrounds to stop accepting reservations of less than 14 nights. So outdoor exercise, and even hiking, is okay, but going to a visitor’s center or going camping is not.

And notice that Northam’s order bans all private and public gatherings of more than 10 people. That includes religious services. The FAQ states that people may drive to their places of worship and participate in services from within their vehicles, but absolutely must remain in their vehicles other than to use the restroom. “There must be no more than 10 individuals leading the religious ceremony or functioning outside of the church in support of the religious ceremony,” the FAQ states.

I have already addressed elsewhere the myriad reasons why such restrictions on religious worship is unconstitutional, and the courts are beginning to rule accordingly. One pastor in Virginia was given a criminal citation for holding a Palm Sunday service with sixteen people present. And while a judge denied the church’s petition for a restraining order, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest supporting the church. The church observed social distancing, the Justice Department said, and the state “cannot treat religious gatherings less favorably than other similar, secular gatherings.”

Like others, Northam has encouraged citizens to report violations of his order. The FAQ states, “You may wish to report this information to your local law enforcement agency,” in response to the question of what should be done if people are observed violating the order. This is despite the fact that back in March, Northam urged Virginia’s law enforcement officials to make every effort to avoid making arrests and to find alternatives to putting people in jail. Is it just me, or should it be normal protocol to pursue options other than jailing people when such options are viable alternatives?

Northam’s March 25 order states, “This Order does not apply to the full suite of family planning services and procedures nor to treatment for patients with emergency or urgent needs.” That, of course, means abortion is not restricted. This is despite the fact that the state’s FAQ says, “Non-essential medical care like eye exams, teeth cleaning, and elective procedures should be cancelled or rescheduled. Non-urgent medical appointments should be cancelled or held via telehealth.” You caught that, right? Abortion is not considered an elective procedure.

In fact, not only did Northam’s COVID-19 restrictions not limit abortion, he signed a bill on April 10—in the middle of the COVID-19 shut down, eliminating the state’s mandate that a woman receive an ultrasound within 24-hours before getting an abortion and allowing nurse practitioners who are jointly licensed by the Board of Medicine and Board of Nursing to perform first-trimester abortions. In a statement issued upon signing the bill, Northam said, “No more will legislators in Richmond—most of whom are men—be telling women what they should and should not be doing with their bodies.”

Wow.

First of all, since when do the characteristics of a legislator have anything to do with their ability to pass laws? Does this mean that African-American legislators should not be allowed to support or pass bills that impact Caucasians? Does it mean that legislators under 40 cannot pass laws that apply to senior citizens? Does it mean that heterosexual legislators cannot initiate legislation that will have an effect on homosexuals? The very notion is, of course, absurd.

Secondly, would someone mind telling Ralph Northam that it is just plain silly to tout the idea that elected men in Richmond will no longer be telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies while Mr. Northam is simultaneously telling people what they can and cannot do with their bodies, businesses what they can and cannot do with their stores and their employees, health care providers what they can and cannot do with their patients, schools what they can and cannot do with the patients, churches what they can and cannot do with their parishioners… You get the idea.

See, it’s not that Northam doesn’t want anyone to be able to tell other people what they can and cannot do, it’s just that he wants to be the one doing the telling.

 

Photo credit: Gov. Northam’s Twitter @GovernorVA