“Why Some Republicans Want to Restore the 13th Amendment”

Newsweek’s Jerry Adler offers a fascinating explication of a little-known byway of right-wing conspiracy theory, the lost Titles of Nobility Amendment or TONA.

Here’s a brief extract from the article:

Return with us now to the tumultuous years leading up to the War of 1812, when fear of “foreign influence”—by England or France, depending on whether you were a Republican or Federalist—was a dominating issue in American politics. Jerome Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon, had recently spent several years in the United States, where he married Elizabeth Patterson, the beautiful, ambitious daughter of a wealthy Baltimore merchant. In 1810, Jerome was on the throne of Westphalia, while Elizabeth was in America with their son, Jerome Napoleon. (The couple would never see each other again.) According to historian Michael Vorenberg of Brown University, having a nephew of the emperor of France growing up on American soil might have made the pro-British Federalists uneasy, or, just as likely, suggested to them a way to tie the Republicans to the French Legion of Honor, the Trilateral Commission of its day. Desiring to get out in front of the issue—or possibly seeking to score points against the Federalists, who had their own embarrassing ties to the British aristocracy—Republican Sen. Philip Reed of Maryland introduced an amendment meant to strengthen the existing “emoluments clause” in Article I, Section 9, of the Constitution.

This clause reads:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

Adler’s link to the Platform of the Republican Party of Iowa is worth the price of admission. Here are just a few of its planks:

“We call for the Iowa General Assembly to repeal the recently passed ‘Electric & Plumbing’ Bill’ which takes away an individual’s right to make household repairs”;

“We believe that Intelligent Design theory, or Creationism, should be included with all science instruction along with the Darwinian theory. No theory should then be taught in public schools to the exclusion of the other”;

“We oppose so-called ‘World Government’ and support full constitutional sovereignty of the U.S.A” and of course “We oppose any effort to implement Islamic Shariah law in this country.”


Jeffrey Lord

If you haven’t read his astounding piece in The American Spectator yet, this is your chance. First Lord cites a horrific story Sherrod told about a relative, Bobby Hall, who was murdered while in Sheriff Claude Screws’ custody. Lord quotes from the shameful Supreme Court decision that overturned Screws’ conviction for depriving Hall of his civil rights:

Hall, a young negro about thirty years of age, was handcuffed and taken by car to the courthouse. As Hall alighted from the car at the courthouse square, the three petitioners began beating him with their fists and with a solid-bar blackjack about eight inches long and weighing two pounds. They claimed Hall had reached for a gun and had used insulting language as he alighted from the car. But after Hall, still handcuffed, had been knocked to the ground, they continued to beat him from fifteen to thirty minutes until he was unconscious. Hall was then dragged feet first through the courthouse yard into the jail and thrown upon the floor, dying. An ambulance was called, and Hall was removed to a hospital, where he died within the hour and without regaining consciousness. There was evidence that Screws held a grudge against Hall, and had threatened to “get” him.

Sherrod hard characterized Hall’s death as a lynching, Lord points out. But since only three men were involved, and since they were lawmen, not a vigilante mob, and they didn’t use a rope, “lynching” doesn’t fit Lord’s dictionary’s definition of the word and is clearly a misnomer. Case closed: Sherrod is a liar; Breitbart stands vindicated.

Lord makes an equally spurious larger point–that there were a lot of racists among the Southern Democrats of the 1930s, 40s, ’50s, and 60s. He seems to feel that this reflects horribly on Obama and Sherrod today. Since they are also Democrats, he says, they must be racists or hypocrites too.

Lord seems to be suffering from an Asperger-like disorder; he has no idea why anyone would be offended by his line of reasoning. He has been vigorously defending his arguments–on the American Spectator site (where its readers, to their credit, have been trashing him mercilessly) and in the world at large. He even ventured into enemy territory and gave an interview to Talking Points Memo. The closing words of the TPM piece are almost as stunning as Lord’s original article:

Lord says he doesn’t want Sherrod to lose her job, and urges his fellow conservatives to work toward winning over black voters. “Get out there and engage on race,” Lord said. “There’s no reason in the world that we can’t be getting the black vote. But it’s our job to separate black from left and talk about left and right.”

He makes Michael Steele look like Martin Luther King.

Bagism redux

A PS to my post on Bagism, Dragism, etc.

Here’s John on the David Frost show in 1969, explaining Bagism in his own words:

John : What’s Bagism? It’s like…a tag for what we all do, we’re all in a bag ya know, and we realised that we came from two bags – I was in this pop bag going round and round in my little clique, and she was in her little avant-garde clique going round and round, and you’re in your little tele clique and they’re in their…ya know? And we all sort of come out and look at each other every now and then, but we don’t communicate. And we all intellectualize about how there is no barrier between art, music, poetry… but we’re still all – I’m a rock and roller, he’s a poet… So we just came up with the word so you would ask us what bagism is, and we’d say WE’RE ALL IN A BAG BABY!

Frost: Well now, you’ve got in a bag, you’ve got in a sack..

John : Well we got out of one bag and into the next, you just keep moving from bag to bag.

Ground Zero Mosque

The outcry is xenophobic, racist, and profoundly unAmerican. It’s also completely predictable. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of American history knows that this country has passed through spasms of xenophobia, racism, and Protestant chauvinism on a fairly regular basis, from the nineteenth century anti-Romanist Know Nothings to the Yellow Peril, the KKK, and the Immigration Reform Act of 1924. Granted, we diverted enormous energies to attacks on our own native-born blacks and gays in the last few decades, but a strong Nativist strain has always lurked just below the surface of things; it manifests itself whenever the unemployment rate rises.

Predictable too are the hypocrisy and selective indignation that accompany the hysteria. Few American politicians paid a price for supporting the terrorist IRA in the past; few dare say anything positive (or merely not negative) about anything Islamic today. That’s because there were a lot more Irish Catholic voters back then than there are Islamic ones today. Only when they can field as substantial a bloc of voters as the Catholics, or as influential a bloc as the Jews, will people think of Islamic Americans as Americans of a certain faith, rather than as foreigners who don’t believe as we do.

There’s a Jewish aspect to the issue that troubles me, too. Both anti-Semites and AIPAC take it for granted that American Jews have dual loyalties, to Israel and America, and that Jewish loyalty to America is contingent on America’s unconditional support of Israel. So long as America and Israel are in perfect accord there is no conflict. Such people assume that Islam’s loyalties are similarly divided. But that creates an irresolvable paradox: unless American Islam adopts a posture of unconditional support for Israel, no AIPAC supporter can acknowledge an Islamic American’s patriotism without casting doubt on his or her own.

The only way out of this impasse is a truly American pluralism, a tolerance for difference–a stance that neither anti-Semites, Christianists or AIPAC totalists have ever been notably comfortable with.

A Teachable Moment

From Tom Vilsack’s press conference yesterday:

I’ve learned a lot of lessons from this experience in the last couple of days. And one of the lessons I learned is that these types of decisions require time. I didn’t take the time. I should have. And as a result, a good woman has gone through a very difficult period. And I’ll have to live with that for a long, long time…..This is a teachable moment for me and I hope a teachable moment for all of us. I think it is important to understand that each of us represents this department, each of us represents the administration and the president, and that we’ve got to be very careful about our actions and our words. And we have to make sure that we — that we think before we act. I did not think before I acted. And for that reason, this poor woman has gone through a very difficult time.

Shirley Sherrod of course was the principle victim of Vilsack’s and the NAACP’s rush to judgment, but the rest of us were victims too. If Vilsack learned a lesson about the importance of managerial due diligence, prudence, and fair play, there is a larger political lesson in the Sherrod fiasco that I dearly hope the entire Obama administration takes to heart.

Accusations of reverse racism may be hard to answer, especially for America’s first African American president, but they are not Kryptonite. Obama took a lot of flack for saying the obvious about the Henry Gates incident, but let’s face it: what he said was obvious. Gates undoubtedly had a chip on his shoulder and antagonized Officer Crowley; Crowley might not have been a racist, but he didn’t exactly cover himself or his fellow policemen with glory. The people who learned the most from that embarrassment were the haters on the right–it taught them that while turnabout may not be fair play, it really takes the wind out of your opponents’ sails.

Not too long ago, when he was railing against Rand Paul for caving in on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, David Duke said that “Today it is European Americans who are the real victims of massive discrimination.” This willful falsehood is at the very heart of backlash politics, from the KKK in the 1860s to George Wallace in the 1960s and Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh today.
Mark Williams was widely derided last week when he responded to the NAACP’s condemnation of the Tea Party by pointing out the “absurdity of a group that calls blacks ‘Colored People’ hurling charges of racism”; this week Breitbart and Fox News used the same tactics and got a mid-level agriculture department official’s scalp. Thankfully, their ploy was exposed.

This is silly season stuff; once the leaves start turning the right will go back to the serious business of unseating Democratic legislators, frustrating Obama initiatives, and otherwise turning back the clock to the Gilded Age. One can always hope that the reverse race card has jumped the shark, but it’s too potent–and too effective–a weapon for them to set it aside; the same thing is going to happen again.

Maybe next time the Obama people won’t blink.

Chinese UFO redux

This is the “actual” footage, which, appropriately enough, seems much more humdrum (and SFX-generated) than the real-life Russian rocket ship seen here. (Unless someone tells me that this one is real too–or the You Tube updates itself with a new caption: “China Welcomes Its Tralfalmadorian Visitors.”)

There’s a valuable lesson in this, about not giving too much credence to cool videos of dubious provenance, especially when accompanied by spacey, Asian-flavored, electronic soundtracks.

In the immortal words of Rosanne Rosanna Danna: “Never mind.”

Chinese UFO


A UFO shut down Xiaoshan Airport in Hangzhou, China for an hour or so on July 7th; shortly afterwards, this video began popping up all over the Internet. I have no idea what the object is, but I find it oddly beautiful. My first thought was that, if it isn’t an out-and-out fake, there might have been some sort of distortion in the camera’s lens.

AOL News (click here) ran an article in which “UFO skeptic and space flight expert” James Oberg speculates that it might have been a military test. The Christian Science Monitor argues that the object is a “superior mirage” (refracted light from the ground), but the video they embedded at the bottom of the article (from ABC news) shows a completely different (and much faker-looking, to my untrained eye) flying object.

Undoubtedly the first step in explaining this is getting the story straight. Are there any debunkers (or true believers) out there who wish to comment?