Friday, November 13, 2015

Letter to the Brunswick News Submitted in Response to UGA/FL on Saint Simons

To the Editor, 

           The purpose of this letter is to properly inform you of the results of the so-called "success" of Georgia-Florida weekend according to Dale Provenzano. As far as the local businesses and those who work them it cannot be described as anything other than an unmitigated disaster. I have informally talked to people who work at or own over 30 businesses, ranging from bars, high end restaurants, retail stores, garment stores, rental companies, to taxi services and have yet found a positive answer regarding the weekend. The responses ranged from 20%down to over 70% down. I'll say that again. 70% DOWN.  From busboys and bartenders, to renters who depend on this weekend to pay costs for the off season, this has had an incredibly negative effect on near everybody. This weekend for all of the aforementioned businesses is the real Black Friday for Glynn County. It is the last and busiest weekend of the year we can count on to cover our costs and get us through the winter. I know this may sound hyperbolic, but I can attest that Christmas is literally cancelled for hundreds if not thousands of people in the county. It was cancelled through the aggressive and, to be frank, offensive campaign Mr. Provenzano waged on "Frat Beach". He effectively put a huge KEEP OUT sign outside our community and it worked. I question the wisdom of putting that kind of sign outside a TOURIST community. 

             The scary side of this is what the tourists that actually came said. I heard repeatedly how they did not feel welcome, and they won't be coming back ever. These were not underage students. These were twentysomething to thirtysomething alumni who were so offended by their experience, they wouldn't come back on any other weekend as well. That's a lifetime of lost revenue for the county for every person offended. They did not feel comfortable going anywhere with a minimum of 5 pairs of eyes attached to a badge. Who wants to vacation to a place where anywhere you go, you are surrounded by police officers?  Never mind the well publicized letters Mr. Provenzano wrote to the universities as well as the newspapers, which, in my mind, as well as those who came for the weekend, sent the message, "We don't want you here".

             The police officers presence just flat out made everyone feel uncomfortable and seemed excessive.  That "6,000 people on the beach" is just a scandalous lie. According to officers who were there, a more accurate estimate places it at 1,500. Even the picture in the paper was used from two years ago. Besides, I got more complaints on people unable to get to the beach. One complaint was lack of parking. The reason for that, at the coast guard station at least puts the first FORTY spaces occupied by police cruisers across the state. These foreign cops were antagonistic to the locals as well(despite the glowing review of Mr. Provenzano).  I know of at least one restaurant owner, who had four cruisers parked right in front of his front door, politely request "gentleman, I know you have a job to do, but you are making my workers as well as my guests uncomfortable, would you mind just parking across the street?" only to be rudely rebuffed. This is a poisonous environment for the entire tourism industry.

            I understand there was an outcry for a more controlled island during this weekend. Something probably has to be done. However, the tactics used herein offended myself as resident, and has proven overbearing and incredibly shortsided financially for the county. While this particular weekend will only force a few hundred restaurant, retail, and hotel workers(just to name a few) to sweat and stress their personal bills entering the slow season, I don't think it is overstating that the economic future of our community is in question considering the actions and attitude of this commission.

John Jersey Koedderich

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Kim Davis Should Be In Jail or Impeached

This is a no-brainer for me. She has a job to do, she outright refuses to do it, so she should be fired. There's not another job in the country where a boss goes to an employee and says to do their job, the employee flat out says "No", and said employee keeps their job. Time for her to take the train.

That being said, she is an elected official. It's not that easy. Though I think firing her is the proper course of action, that elected official thing puts it into a more complicated box. According to Andrew Wolfson of the Louisville Kentucky Courier-Journal;

 "Kentucky law allows a commonwealth’s attorney to indict county judges-executives, justices of the peace, sheriffs, coroners, surveyors, jailers, county attorneys and constables for malfeasance in office or willful neglect in the discharge of official duties, for which they can be fined up to $1,000 and removed from office upon conviction. But for some reason lost to history, the statute doesn’t include county clerks". 

This says that a simple pink slip doesn't exist in this situation. The Kentucky House of Representatives would have have to charge her with an impeachable crime, then the Senate would try her. Kentucky governor Steve Beshear would have to call a special session of the General Assembly in order to pursue impeachment. This is the obvious, costly, long-winding approach.

Even as someone as repugnant as I find Kim Davis, I will throw her one bone. This new law was passed after she got elected and started her post. While I think that she should just do her job like the law instructs her, otherwise be dismissed/impeached for willfully neglecting her official duties.  I'd be willing to give her an  (overly)reasonable compromise.

Since she ran and won her post before this "offensive" law was put on the books, she can remain as County Clerk throughout her current term without necessarily participating in the one law she has a problem with, as long as others in the office perform the duties prescribed without her interference. Then, in the next election, Mrs, Davis, or whoever wins that election must perform the duties of the land in accordance to the law of the land.

Funny thing, is that is almost the exact compromise Judge Bunning of the United States District Court offered her. The court offered her a HUGE olive branch. Instead of issuing licenses contradictory to her religious beliefs(bigoted, ignorant, and downright hateful that they are), they said to let others do her job for her, and for her to just not sabotage the process. She was jailed because she defied the court's orders, not because of the religious beliefs she held. Even after her release, she has undermined the process by trying to say that all licenses issued without her participation are illegal(even though the District Court has assured those obtaining them that all issued licenses are legal). She has even gone so far as to alter the licenses themselves. According to John Cheves of the Lexington Herald-Leader;

"Davis changed the wording of the marriage licenses so they no longer carry her name or the words "Rowan County Clerk," which she says would wrongly suggest her approval. Next to that place, now crossed out, are the words "pursuant to federal court order," followed by the case number of one of the lawsuits against her, and then Bunning's initials.
Also, the deputy clerks who issue licenses must sign as notaries public, not as Rowan County officials"

Read more here:

This is blatant defiance of the Court's orders. She should be put in jail immediately.

My own personal feelings is that this is a hypocritical, awful woman that is truly giving Christianity a bad name, even if other Christians don't realize it. She is promoting her stance of hate and intolerance with the shield of Christianity wrapped around her.

Kim Davis is not a trailblazer for religious freedom. Far from it. She is a prime example of deceptive language religious oppressors use to elicit favorable reactions to their one-sided policies. She is using her power as an elected official, to defy the law of the land and even a specific court order, in order to force others to adhere to her own bigoted religious beliefs. Those beliefs, twisted as they are, are absolutely hers to practice. Nobody is saying that she, herself has to marry another woman. However, the law of the land, including the First Amendment I might add, says that no government agency can force the citizens to adhere to any religious beliefs. Kim Davis is an elected official. The law says she can believe in whatever she wants, but she cannot in any way, use her public office to encroach those beliefs on her fellow citizens.

Kim Davis is not Rosa Parks. She's the bus driver.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What These Monuments Stand For

So I actually have a nuanced and complex opinion on the monuments and street names in New Orleans that honor the mythology of heroes to the so-called Confederate States, the cause they fought for, and the cause these monuments were built to celebrate. But since so many of the folks who want to keep these monuments and street names and all they represent, who defend them with bombastic and hyperbolic statements as if this is some simple issue, I feel it is only right that I return the favor with my own oversimplified position.

Throw these things in the damn lake and let them be buried in the mud.

These are monuments and honorifics that celebrate people who took up arms against the United States of America and for four years of open warfare attempted to destroy our nation. They fought for the "rights" and "freedom" of some human beings to own and enslave other human beings deemed inferior due to the color of their skin.

The period of open warfare did not achieve these political goals, and instead  secured the Union, ensured emancipation, and provided for the expansion of civil rights to previously enslaved Americans. A period of insurgent warfare and terrorism followed, as adherents to the old system attempted to restore the old order of things, where the rights of newly freed citizens would again be diminished due to the color of one's skin. There are monuments celebrating this warfare as well, right here in this city.

These are not questionable assertions or theories. These are the facts backed up by the historic record, often written by the very hands of the men who fought to destroy the Union and the men who fought to destroy the rights of others after the Civil War ended. These writings and statements of purpose we considered so uncontroversial that the very organizations that would later hold these men up as paragons of Southern patriotism and pride would preserve the very writings and statements of purpose that make up this historical record. They would do so unashamedly.

They would be able to do so because the simmering and unending insurgency in the South became too expensive for white Northern sentiment to justify.  White Northern sentiment, after all, was not a monolith thrown behind support of civil rights. In the end, the old temptations of power and money conspired to undermine the projects of Reconstruction and civil rights. In the end, certain interests in both the North and South realized what could be achieved with white sectional reconciliation, and what material wealth could be gained by keeping millions of citizens just above the institution of slavery, in the strangling arms of Jim Crow.

That white sectional reconciliation, that return to something close to the old order, was something to be celebrated. And what better way to celebrate the eventual "victors" of an issue than by building grand monuments to them, in places of public note? What better way to honor them than to have grand thoroughfares graced with their names? What better way to enshrine their "restored" legacy than to name schools for them? All of these are the ways our culture and civilization celebrate the giants among men.

What better way to say "we told you so" than to place the losers of a war in the highest pinnacles of cultural honor and, in the process, legitimize and polish away the ugly motivations behind the cause they fought for and attach some higher civic meaning to the military loss?

And once that higher civic meaning was attached, and the ugliness of "they fought to own other human beings" was washed away from their legacy with stories of defense of home and hearth and question of rights, all white Southerners were encouraged to buy into the fantasy (or discouraged from challenging it too fiercely). Many could now double down on the belief that superiority of skin color was real, that forces for "good" might have lost on the battlefield but won out in the end. Whole cults of personality grew up around the mythology of these men and reinforced the social hierarchy with laws, social behavior, and violence if anyone got too far out of line.

When monument defenders talk about the "history" they so desperately want to preserve, that is the history they are preserving whether they want to believe it or not. There are no footnotes of fine print on these statues and street names that say "we know this is complicated, but..." If such footnotes existed, if such context was added, then this may not be such an emotional issue for so many.

Look at the opposition, after all. The most popular online petition in support of keeping these monuments to heroes of slavery's cause demand the Mayor "stop talking about them." That's because even the civic conversation itself is dangerous - the very discussion of why these monuments were built puts the lie to the heroic mythology. Uncomfortable truths aren't usually welcome, and many individuals in the South are deeply invested in the bedtime story of what these men on those monuments represented. They aren't interested in the real context, the real history, or facing how the legacy of that history still runs deeply within our civic DNA to this day.

And those who would scold us for "erasing history" by moving these monuments out of their places of public prominence to places where appropriate historical context can be provided? They are defending monuments that served specifically to erase a more accurate accounting of history. They are defending monuments used to rewrite the cultural narrative of the South and celebrate the violent failure of Reconstruction's nascent civil rights project. They are defending trophies of propaganda to the Lost Cause. There are no footnotes or fine print on those statues and street names, after all.

There are plenty of places to put truth to the lies these monuments tell. General James Longstreet of the Confederacy moved to New Orleans after the Civil War and became a strong civic leader in this town. He was one of the officers in command of the integrated Metropolitan Police when the White League attacked the State House in New Orleans in 1874. He was pulled from his horse and was shot and injured. His actions for the Reconstruction government of New Orleans and Louisiana did not endear him to those who believed in the Lost Cause. Despite all his investments in New Orleans, there is no monument to James Longstreet in this town. But there is a monument to those who attacked him and his men at the Battle of Liberty Place.

PGT Beauregard of the Confederacy returned to his home in New Orleans after the Civil War. While he was no fan of Reconstruction or social integration, he grudgingly accepted political and economic rights of newly freed citizens. In the interest of calming New Orleans - violence was bad for business - he spoke eloquently on the topic. These words were not palpable to the Lost Cause, so do not appear on his monument on Esplanade Avenue.

Finally, at the corner of Carrollton and Banks, there is another monument. It is a plaque at the base of a flagpole, dedicating Carrollton as the "Avenue of Palms" to veterans of a different war, a forgotten war, Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991. There is no proud US flag on the rusty flagpole, the plaque could use a good powerwashing to really make out the words, and the base itself is off-kilter and surrounded by litter.

You'd think that, with all these signatures and speakers loudly defending the history and deep meaning of New Orleans' monuments, at least of few of them would mention this humble bit of metal and concrete as worth of at least a little attention. But we know it isn't really about the monuments themselves, it is about what they represent. And uncomfortable truths aren't usually welcome.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Letters to my Representatives: the Iran Deal

After reading that former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu has come out against the Iran Deal, and seeing that sitting New York Senator Chuck Shumer is also making moves to scuttle President Obama's signature foreign policy achievement, I figured it was time to email my representative, Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, and let him know how I felt about the situation. 

Good afternoon, Rep. Richmond. 
Thank you for your work for Louisiana and New Orleans. 
I am writing to let you know I fully support the Iran Deal as negotiated through diplomacy by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. 
While I realize the deal has flaws and limitations, I believe it is in the best interests of the United States of America to see this agreement becomes official. I believe that if Congress undermines this deal, the United States will be abandoned by our allies in Europe and by Russia and China over the issue of Iran. 
President Obama and Secretary Kerry have done an outstanding job keeping this strong coalition together and putting consistent pressure on Iran at the negotiating table. Undermining the agreement will only serve to undermine that important work and cause our nation to lose the credibility required to pursue diplomacy with our nation's rivals. If this happens, I believe the sanctions regime will crumble as the coalition does, and that the United States will be alone - and in a position of weakness - when attempting to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons in the future. 
I also believe that, should the United States find itself in that weaker position, the chances of armed conflict with Iran is much greater. I fully support diplomacy over another military involvement in the Middle East, as our nation already remains engaged in several unresolved conflicts in the region. 
I am also keeping in mind that many of the loudest critics of the Iran Deal are also the very same individuals who promised that the Iraq War and Afghanistan campaigns would be "cakewalks" for the United States. And we all know how empty those promises and predictions turned out to be, and the terrible costs this country has borne because of that. 
Please support President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and our allied nations' hard work in securing this deal through diplomacy. 
Thank you. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Lost Cause Winning Again

Welp. Now that South Carolina has brought the Rebel Flag down, our "national conversation" on race and American history is ready to be turned back over to modern day believers in the Lost Cause. The full power of our larger, 150 year fairy tale history is rearing its ugly head in defense of our plague of Ozymandian monuments to Santa Claus the Easter Bunny the Tooth Fairy assorted mythological personalities created in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Not to say everyone contributing to this handover is a believer in the so-called Confederacy. Far from it, in fact. Most of the folks ready to man the battlements in the defense of imaginary Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and the rest are simply holding on to the sentimentality of growing up in a region that cared more about heroic bedtime stories than it did with primary documents and evidence.

Others will appeal to the "history" - some to that of the South itself as if we are defined by 4 years of rebellion and 150 years of trying to cover up the real reasons for that rebellion, others as if the mere existence of a statue for a certain period of time should mean the thing itself is inviolate. Some defenders of the status quo are actually individuals who despise the so-called Confederacy and Lost Cause, but they dismiss any discussion of monuments and street names as "not focusing on the real problems," as if our larger social complexity is incapable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. As if so many of the larger social problems they'd rather we be talking about don't have their cultural roots in the fairy tale of the Lost Cause.

Meanwhile, the Lost Cause doesn't  care if its defenders actually agree with it or not, semantically. It just keeps plodding along as it has since 1865, waiting for its opponents to argue with each other or change the subject before it quietly slips over to the desk and writes its own history when no one is looking or doing any fact checking. Before you know it, Bobby Lee is building schools for the children of his previously enslaved-Americans, and would have seen them all become productive voting citizens if those pesky carpetbaggers and scalawags hadn't come in and forced the South to turn to Jim Crow laws. Or something. I haven't checked the comments sections in the past hour, so I'm not fully up to date on all the new magical things Lee and Davis and the gang did to selflessly fix the country they tried so hard to break after they tried to break it.

The most successful defenders of the Lost Cause are currently getting everyone caught up talking about statues and place names for George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson. We've even gone off the rails so far in New Orleans that there's a "serious" discussion over the meaning of the fleur de lis and whether the city should abandon the symbol.

How does it help the so-called Confederacy to talk about bad parts of slave-owners? Well, despite their complex and often troubling places in American history, Washington, Jefferson, & Jackson were all Presidents of the UNITED States of America. There is definitely a need to further scrutinize their mythological histories with their historical realities, but not when the topic of conversation is focused on the so-called CONFEDERATE States of America and the cultural legacy of the Lost Cause in the South. Suddenly, you're rhetorically defending men who tried to destroy the United States through rebellion by referencing men who all used their office to put down rebellions or respond to threats against the United States.

Furthermore, consensus history already includes a lot about George, Tom, & Andy's slave owning, Native American fighting, and general hypocrisies. New Orleans already took names of theirs off local public schools. Most of us learn that the story of George Washington & the Cherry Tree is apocryphal - it is one of our first lessons in the difference between what we tell children at bedtime and what is the real story.

The Lost Cause, on the other hand, is a bunch of people holding onto the so-called Confederate States equivalent of that cherry tree story, holding their hands over their ears and yelling LA LA LA when someone wants to tell them their Christmas presents aren't actually delivered down the chimney by a Coca-Cola marketing campaign. The first rule of the Lost Cause is you do not criticize the Lost Cause.

As far as the fleur is concerned, history is full of appropriations and assimilations of symbols one way or another. I'm fairly confident, based on my limited experience in New Orleans, that the fleur de lis symbol long ago ceased to be one associated with French colonial black codes, and became far more inclusive among a very diverse population associated with living and participating in the culture of this city. As with all things, there is good reason to explore the history behind the symbol. But we can accept, in many cases, that history is not static and things can change, over time, in a culture.

Just like the United States flag flew over centuries of enslavement and Jim Crow and terrible things done to many ethnic minorities, as a symbol it has grown through the years to be more inclusive as the reality and aspirations of the nation became more inclusive. There is a reason it was carried at the front of the column as the marchers entered Selma, there is a reason it was waving on the steps of the Supreme Court as same sex marriage was legalized, and there is a reason it was seen on the steps of the South Carolina capitol as the Rebel Flag came down on Friday. If you weren't watching the live feed, you may have missed the audio of the crowd chanting "USA, USA, USA!"

It was easy to feel, in that moment, that things were changing. How gloriously & naively hopeful. While we're watching that flag come down, the Lost Cause has snuck in the back and started deleting paragraphs in the story we're writing right now. Listen close and you can hear which words they're typing in place: First the Rebel Flag, next the US Flag! First the Washington NFL logo, next the Saints' fleur!  First Robert E. Lee's statue, next the Statue of Liberty! What about the black on black crime in Chicago? Which city will "they" burn to the ground next? The second rule of the Lost Cause is you do not criticize the Lost Cause.

Because that's what all this symbolism, the flags and the monuments, come down to. If Lee and Davis and the gang had spent as much real time on reconciliation as their mythology states, they might be worthy of the monuments and street names. They could have thrown themselves and their full clout into the project of Reconstruction, civil rights, and been remembered for building a better South and a better country after all, and it would have been in truth instead of in fantasy. Instead, they became the very symbols standing in the way of progress and reconciliation. The Rebel Flag was flown by rioting whites, the symbol of police dogs and firehoses, bombed churches and burning crosses, terrorism and night riders. Because of this, we've been going over the same old ground for 150 years, and the proof was in the pudding. Jim Crow won. The Lost Cause won. And we do not have the South the bedtime stories promised. We have nothing close, despite generations of work. So strong is the current we're working against.

That still doesn't stop the bedtime story from winning the day. The Lost Cause is upstairs putting the kids to sleep with it, while the other adults are still downstairs at the dinner table, arguing amongst themselves.