When I have described the well-considered, coherent political and economic strategies of the conservative white South, as I have done here, here and here, I am sometimes been accused of being a “conspiracy theorist.” But one need not believe that white-hooded Dragons and Wizards are secretly coordinating the actions of Southern conservative politicians from a bunker underneath Stone Mountain in Georgia to believe that a number of contemporary policies — from race-to-the-bottom economic policies to voter disfranchisement and attempts to decentralize or privatize federal social insurance entitlements — serve the interests of those who promote them, who tend to be white Southern conservatives.
Just as a strategy is not a conspiracy, so it is not insanity. Ironically, American progressives, centrists and some Northern conservatives are only deluding themselves, when they insist that the kind of right-wing Southerners behind the government shutdown are “crazy.” Crazy, yes — crazy like a fox.
Another mistake is the failure to recognize that the Southern elite strategy, though bound up with white supremacy throughout history, is primarily about cheap and powerless labor, not about race. If the South and the U.S. as a whole through some magical transformation became racially homogeneous tomorrow, there is no reason to believe that the Southern business and political class would suddenly embrace a new model of political economy based on high wages, high taxes and centralized government, rather than pursue its historical model of a low-wage, low-tax, decentralized system, even though all workers, employers and investors now shared a common skin color.
So the struggle is not one to convert Southern Baptists to Darwinism or to get racists to celebrate diversity. The on-going power struggle between the local elites of the former Confederacy and their allies in other regions and the rest of the United States is not primarily about personal attitudes. It is about power and wealth.
For some time, the initiative has rested with the Southern power elite, which knows what it wants and has a plan to get it. The strategy of the conservative South, as a nation-within-a nation and in the global economy, combines an economic strategy and a political strategy.
The economic strategy is to maximize the attractiveness of the former Confederacy to external investors, by allowing Southern states to out-compete other states in the U.S., as well as other countries if possible, in a race to the bottom by means of low wages, stingy government welfare (which if generous increases the bargaining power of poor workers by decreasing their desperation) and low levels of environmental regulation.
The political strategy of the Southern elite is to prevent the Southern victims of these local economic policies from teaming up with allies in other parts of the U.S. to impose federal-level reforms on the Southern states. Voter suppression seeks to prevent voting by lower-income Southerners of all races who are hostile to the Southern power elite. Partisan gerrymandering of the U.S. House of Representatives by conservatives in Southern state legislatures weakens the votes of anti-conservative Southerners, if they are allowed to vote.
If voter suppression and vote dilution strategies fail, the Southern conservatives can still try to ward off unwelcome federally-imposed reforms that might weaken control of the Southern workforce by Southern employers and their political agents, by policies of devolving federal programs to the states, privatizing federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, blocking the implementation of new federal entitlements like Obamacare or a combination of these strategies.
To date the response of progressives and centrists, as well as moderate conservatives in the North (who have a quite different tradition) to what might be called the Southern Autonomy Project has been feeble and reactive. The South acts, the rest of the country reacts.
Here Midwestern Republican legislatures or governors try to copy the South’s anti-labor “right-to-work” legislation, and labor activists and liberals react. The legislatures in the South and their allies elsewhere pass voter suppression laws, and civil rights groups scramble to counteract them. Now the Southern-dominated Tea Party in the House shuts down the government and threatens to force the federal government into default. In this game of “Whack-a-mole,” the Southern right and its neo-Jacksonian allies in other parts of the country always has the initiative.
Instead of waiting for the next Southern conservative outrage, and treating it as a single, isolated example of inexplicable craziness, the rest of America from center-left to center-right should recognize that it is dealing with different aspects of a single strategy by a regional elite — the Southern Autonomy Project. It is time for the non-Southern American majority, in alliance with many non-elite Southerners of all races, to target and attack every element of the Southern Autonomy Project simultaneously. If the neo-Confederates want to wage political and economic war, their fellow Americans should choose to respond with political and economic war on all fronts, not on the terms and in the places the Southern conservatives choose.
Setting political difficulty aside, it is intellectually easy to set forth a grand national strategy that consists of coordinated federal policies to defeat the Southern Autonomy Project.
A federal living wage. At one blow, a much higher federal minimum wage would cripple the ability of Southern states to lure companies from more generous states which supplement the too-low present federal minimum wage with higher local state or urban minimum wages. (Strong national unions could do the same, but that is not a realistic option at present.)
Nationalization of social insurance. Social insurance programs with both federal and state components, like Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), allow Southern states to be stingier than many other states, creating more desperate workers who are more dependent on the mercy of employers and elite-dominated charities. Completely federalizing Medicaid (as President Ronald Reagan suggested!) and other hybrid federal-state social insurance programs would cripple the Southern Autonomy Project further.
Real voting rights. Using the authority of the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Congress should completely federalize voting requirements for all federal, state and local elections, making it as easy as possible for U.S. citizens to vote — over the objections of kicking and screaming neo-Confederates.
Nonpartisan redistricting. Partisan redistricting by majorities in state legislatures should be replaced by nonpartisan redistricting commissions, as in California, New Jersey and other states. The redistricting commissions should be truly nonpartisan, not “bipartisan” arrangements in which incumbent Republicans and incumbent Democrats cut deals to protect their safe seats from competition. (Electoral reforms like instant run-off voting and proportional representation are struggles for a more distant future).
Abolish the Senate filibuster. The filibuster is not part of the U.S. constitution. It has been used by Southern white conservatives from the nineteenth century to the twenty-first to preserve Southern white power and economic privilege. This relic of premodern British parliamentary politics should be abolished. Democracy means majority rule. If the Southern Right loses a battle in Congress, it can try to round up allies and win next time. It should no longer be able to paralyze the Senate, the Congress or the federal government as a whole.
Abolish the federal debt ceiling completely. The federal debt ceiling is another institution like the filibuster which has now been ruined by being abused by Southern conservatives. Now that the Southern right is trying to turn it into a recurrent tool of hostage-taking when it loses votes in Congress, the federal debt ceiling should be abolished. The federal government should be authorized to borrow any amount necessary to fund spending appropriated or authorized by Congress, if there is any shortfall in tax revenues.
Put all these policies and perhaps others together, and you have a National Majority Rule Project capable of thwarting the Southern Autonomy Project. The best defense is a good offense.
Does saying this make me, a white Southerner, a traitor to the South? Among the beneficiaries of a National Majority Rule Project, if it succeeded, would be middle- and low-income white Southerners, whose interests have never been identical with those of the local oligarchs. Particularly among the Scots-Irish of Appalachia and the Ozarks, there have always been many Southern white populists and radicals — from the West Virginian and Kentucky Unionists of the Civil War to New Deal liberals in Texas — who have understood the need to ally ourselves with non-Southerners in national politics to defeat the local Nabobs, Bourbons and Big Mules. The true Southern patriots are those of us who want to liberate the diverse population of the South from being exploited as wage earners and from being disfranchised or manipulated as voters. Another term for the National Majority Rule Project might be the Southern Liberation Movement.
Will the initiative remain with aggressive Southern reactionaries, as their fellow Americans try to appease them or react on a case-by-case basis against a feint here or a diversion there? Or will an aroused national majority, tired of being pushed around by a selfish Southern minority of the shrinking American white majority, finally fight back?
In April 2012, two days before George Zimmerman was arrested for the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, he huddled with a fellow neighborhood watch volunteer, Frank Taaffe. According to Taaffe, who disclosed the meeting on Fox News, Zimmerman asked him to share "several talking points" with the media. Taaffe obliged. Indeed, as Zimmerman's legal drama unfolded over the next year and a half, Taaffe emerged as his most visible and outspoken defender. He gave hundreds of interviews to media outlets, ranging from theNew York Times to Fox News to CNN, and made near-daily appearances on cable news shows during Zimmerman's trial.
Taaffe used this platform to cast Martin as a drug-addled hoodlum and Zimmerman as a community-minded do-gooder ("the best neighbor you would want to have") who had every reason to suspect the black teen was up to mischief. He also railed against Zimmerman's critics, whom he accused of staging a witch hunt. "It's really sad that he has already been convicted in the public media and has already been sentenced to the gas chamber," he lamented in an interview with NBC's Miami affiliate last year.
Taaffe was hardly the ideal person to be weighing in on a case suffused with racial angst—or commenting on criminal-justice matters, period. A Mother Jones investigation has found that the 56-year-old New York native has a lengthy criminal record that includes charges of domestic violence and burglary, and a history of airing virulently racist views. Just last Sunday, he appeared on The White Voice, a weekly podcast hosted by a man named Joe Adams, who has deep, long-standing ties to white-power groups and has authored a manual called Save The White People Handbook. (Sample quote: "A mutt makes a great pet and a mulatto makes a great slave.")
During a previous White Voice appearance, on July 27, Taaffe argued that whites and blacks have no business mingling. ("They don't want to be with us and we don't want to be with them.") Taaffe also opined that if Zimmerman had racially profiled Martin, he was justified in doing so because "young black males" had burglarized homes in their neighborhood. "What if I—a middle-aged white man—wore a hoodie and went through Trayvon Martin's neighborhood?" he asked defiantly. Adams replied that "no sane white person" would dare walk down their "local Marcus Garvey Boulevard."
"I'd only be there for one or two things," Taaffe shot back. "And I'm sure the vice squad would want to be interested in that."
Later, Taaffe accused African Americans of committing "self-genocide" by failing to address the "ills and diseases that are festering" in the black community—especially the absence of black fathers, which "leaves young black males growing up without direction." And he bemoaned the fact that some white women choose to date black men, saying that they invariably end up becoming single mothers. "Guess who winds up paying the tab on that? You and me and the rest of America," Taaffe grumbled. "It's called entitlement, man. It's called food stamps. It's called welfare."
By the end of the show, Taaffe was so worked up that he was calling for a revolution. "This trial is waking up white America, man," he said. "I'm fed up with the bullshit and the glad-handing to this one group of people who now control what we do and say. Come on, man, wake up America!"
Taaffe's private Twitter feed (@pinsones) also reeks of racial animus. In one tweet, he bashed Michael Skolnik, who directs hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons' political operations, saying "how much nigga cock do u suck an one day or maybe u like it pounded up ur hebe ass." In another he wrote, "the only time a black life is validated is when a white person kills them."
Asked about his history of racially charged remarks, Taaffe made no apologies. "There is a thing called First Amendment speech," he said. "I have freedom to opine on current social issues, and I'm not going to be restricted." He reeled off statistics about black crime and out-of-wedlock births. "I'm not going on some Tom Metzger-David Duke tangent," he added. "I'm merely echoing the suppressed voices in this country that have been beleaguered by affirmative action and crimes committed by that particular group of people."
These kinds of extreme racial views infused Taaffe's media commentary. He told the New York Times that his gated community had been burglarized by "Trayvon-like dudes with their pants down" and taunted his black fellow talk show guests with race-tinged jibes. On a recent episode of HLN's Dr. Drew on Call, the topic turned to racial profiling. Taaffe shouted down a fellow panelist and launched into a bizarre diatribe: "You know, Whitey, us…we've had a little bit of slavery, too," he said. "Back in 1964 or 1965, then-President Johnson signed an executive order; it was called affirmative action. And you want to talk about slavery?" Taaffe's fellow guests seemed stunned that he'd been given a national platform to broadcast these ideas. "It's like every word that comes out of his mouth is a turd falling in my drink," said African American radio personality Brian Copeland. "I don't understand why he's allowed to go on like he does."
CNN and its sister network, HLN, have repeatedly invited Taaffe to weigh in on legal and technical aspects of the Zimmerman case, from the implications of witness testimony to the meaning of forensic evidence, such as the grass stains found on Martin's pants. Taaffe sparred on-air with attorneys about the finer points of criminal law and tangled with forensic experts—including Lawrence Kobilinsky, the chair of the science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice—over whether the small quantity of THC in Martin's blood could have made him violent. (Taaffe insisted that it could; Kobilinsky called this argument a "red herring.")
When Valerie Rao, Jacksonville, Florida's chief medical examiner, testified during the trial that Zimmerman's injuries were minor enough to be treated with Band-Aids—an assertion that cast doubt on Zimmerman's claims that Martin had bashed his head repeatedly on the sidewalk—Taaffe appeared on the Nancy Grace show and argued that Rao was dead wrong. "George was experiencing trauma!" Taaffe insisted. "He was having many concussions with each blow to his head. And he was entering into a state of unconsciousness where he was seeing his life flash before him."
After the prosecution released surveillance video from 7-Eleven showing Martin behaving normally as he shopped for Skittles and Arizona Ice Tea just before his death, Taaffe went on HLN’s Jane Velez-Mitchell show and muddied the water. Something could have happened in the intervening minutes to change Martin's mood, he argued. "Also, they found a cigarette lighter and $40 on him," Taaffe said, ominously. "He wasn't employed. You know, who gave him the $40?"
Taaffe isn't the first member of Zimmerman's circle to be caught making racially charged statements. In March, Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman Jr. (another outspoken defender), tweeted a photo of a black Georgia teenager who allegedly murdered a one-year-old boy with a gunshot to the face, alongside a picture of Trayvon Martin. Both teens were flipping off the camera. The caption read, "A picture speaks a thousand words. Any questions?"
In Taaffe's case, though, the comments about blacks' supposed criminality are thick with irony. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Clerk of Courts, Taaffe has been arrested or faced criminal charges nearly a dozen times and logged at least two convictions. Last year, Taaffe was taken into custody for driving under the influence. He pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of reckless driving related to alcohol use and received six months' probation. He's also been charged with battery and two cases of "repeat violence." (Taaffe told Mother Jones that these were "frivolous" charges filed by "disgruntled" former coworkers.)
Many of the other entries on Taaffe's rap sheet stem from domestic-violence complaints filed by his second wife and their son. In 2000, he was arrested for burglary—the very crime he alleges "young black males" were committing in his community—after allegedly swiping some papers from his ex-wife's home. Taaffe pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of trespassing, and was sentenced to nine months in prison*. According to police reports, he was later charged with stalking and with child abuse after his son, William, jumped out of a moving car, allegedly to escape his father's angry, profanity-laced tirade. Taaffe maintains these charges stemmed from false complaints filed by his then-wife, who persuaded William to corroborate the accusations so she could get more assets in their divorce. "She used my son as leverage against me for her own personal and monetary gain," he told Mother Jones.
Taaffe—who has railed against absentee black fathers—was a marginal figure in the lives in his own children. Vincent, his eldest son from his first marriage, who died in a car crash last year, didn't speak to him. (Taaffe says this was because Vincent was outraged over his involvement in the Zimmerman case: "I was ostracized by members of my own family for supporting George.") William, who struggled with addiction and emotional problems after his parents' brutal divorce, cycled in and out of rehab before dying of a drug overdose in 2008. According to a source close to the family who provided photocopies, he left behind an angst-filled notebook, with these words scrawled across the final pages: "Fuck you, Dad, I never thought a father could be so bad…I'm your son, the one you ditched."
Now that the Zimmerman trial is over, Taaffe has no plans to abandon his crusade. He recently launched a website, where he intends to blog about issues including affirmative action and criminal justice. And he has teamed up with The White Voice to peddle "Taaffe's Got Your Back!" T-shirts, which feature a photo of Taaffe snarling and brandishing his fist. ("All of the profits go to Frank," The White Voice's website notes.) Taaffe told Mother Jonesthat he's also "looking into" the case of Michael Dunn, the Jacksonville man who is accused of fatally shooting an unarmed black 17-year-old at a gas station after arguing with the teen over loud music. "My work is not done yet. I have a myriad of cases that people are calling me to help them on," Taaffe said. "If we all took the time to stand up for people who we believe in our heart of hearts were innocent, this country would be a much greater place."
Paula Deen ordered African-American workers to “dress in an old-style Aunt Jemima outfit” and ring a dinner bell, according to a woman who is still employed at the disgraced cook’s Georgia restaurant.
Following Deen’s dramatic fall from grace after her admission that she had used racial slurs, The New York Times‘ Kim Severson went to Savannah to check out the former food network host’s crumbling empire. Severson spoke to Dora Charles, a black cook who helped Deen open her Lady & Sons restaurant over 20 years ago.
“She said, ‘Stick with me, one day if I get rich, you’ll get rich,’” Charles explained. “It just passed me by. You know, I’m not going to run behind her and say, ‘You promised me, you promised me. Where my half? Where my part?’ You know? It wasn’t all about that. Actually, all I was looking for was a good salary.”
But Charles said that when Deen launched her Food Network show, she was was only getting paid $6.50 an hour.
“I told her, at times, I didn’t even have enough money to buy my own medications,” she recalled, demonstrating how Deen once casually tossed a $100 bill at her when she complained that she couldn’t afford her medical bills.
“She was sitting across the table and she said — it didn’t reach me — and she said, ‘Here’s a hundred dollars, go buy your medicine.’”
“Yeah, she wanted [Employee Ineata Jones] ‘Jellyroll’ to dress like that as well,” Charles remarked.
And the slavery theme wasn’t just limited to Deen’s wedding fantasy, according to the Times:
Ms. Deen used Ms. Jones for restaurant theater. At 11 a.m., when the doors opened at the Lady & Sons, she stood in front and rang an iron dinner bell, something she had asked Mrs. Charles to do as well. An image of Ms. Jones doing just that was turned into a postcard sold at Paula Deen stores.
Ms. Jones was also in charge of making hoecakes, the cornmeal pancakes served to every guest. Ms. Deen had designed a station so diners could watch them being made. At both jobs, Mrs. Charles and other employees said, Ms. Deen wanted Ms. Jones to dress in an old-style Aunt Jemima outfit.
“Jellyroll didn’t want to hear that,” Mrs. Charles said. “She didn’t want to do that.”
“I said, ‘I’m not ringing no bell,’” Charles insisted. “That’s a symbol to me of what we used to do back in the day.”
“Do you feel like Paul Deen is racist?” Severson wondered.
“I do, I do,” Charles admitted after a long pause.
“Have you ever heard Paul Deen use the N-word?” Severson asked.
“I’ve heard her used the N-word,” Charles replied. “She say, ‘I tell all y’all n*ggers, that’s what’s wrong with y’all n*ggers now today.’”
Deen’s public relations team has argued that no employee was ever made to dress up like Aunt Jemima and ring a dinner bell.
“Fundamentally Dora’s complaint is not about race but about money,” they said in a statement. “It is about an employee that despite over 20 years of generosity feels that she still deserves yet even more financial support from Paula Deen.”
Both the Times and and New York Magazine, however, obtained promotional photos from Lady & Sons of Ineata Jones wearing an Aunt Jemima-style apron and ringing a dinner bell.
At the time of publication, Charles was reportedly still employed by Deen’s Lady & Sons restaurant, but she said she realized that her time there was almost over. She hopes to one day open her own restaurant.
For decades now, I’ve seen the aftermath of botched drug raids; early morning mayhem in which police, using mauls and wearing body armor, smash through the front doors of ghetto homes, guns drawn, shouting for sleeping residents to drop to the ground. I’ve seen raids of sixteen or eighteen addresses come up empty for drugs and weapons at more than half of those locations. And of course, I’ve seen raiding officers drop a copy of the signed, documented and perfectly legal probable cause on the rowhouse floor, gather equipment, and walk out of homes from which they recovered no evidence of criminality.
“Are you gonna fix my door?” is always a stunned resident’s first question.
“You need to call the city for that,” is always the ready, ambiguous reply.
What poor and working-class communities routinely endure within the very constitutional construct of our drug war makes the wails of indignation over this NSA data-mining astonishing and embarrassing to me. And no, before you get wound up prematurely and choose the too-easy, I-didn’t-read-deep-enough argument, I am not saying that overreach in other realms of the criminal justice system justifies overreach anywhere else.
After all, no one is suggesting that we do away with court-approved search warrants for domestic crime suppression. Or dialed-numbered recorders. Or interrogation rooms. Or informants. Or just about any other law enforcement asset that can be used properly and misused egregiously. Oh, more people are now complaining about the excesses of the drug war, to be sure. But all of us understand that the existing legal weapons and strategies are there for all crimes — for murder, for rape, for robbery, for burglary. Hell, if a crew of detectives were pulling cell numbers off a tower to identify and arrest a rampaging serial rapist — and traipsing through the phone metadata of ten thousand other citizens to do it — we’d do more than applaud; we’d buy the film rights. We are comfortable with a certain level of intrusion involving all previous weapons of law enforcement, and even the use of phone metadata as it can be utilized. Why, I wonder. And why has this particular law enforcement intervention– no less legal as it was proposed to the FISA court — engaged the worst fears of many.
When I think things can't get any more absurd I only have to wait for Pat Robertson to open his mouth. Get out the guillotines.
Former Republican presidential candidate and longtime television preacher Pat Robertson implied on “The 700 Club” Wednesday that LGBT people are covertly out to destroy the family, the church and the state, in the vein of the Illuminati of the French revolutionary war.
“You go back in history to the French Revolution, you find there was a thrust, uh, spurred by the, uh, writings of a group called the Illuminati, to destroy the family, to destroy the state, to destroy capitalism, to destroy the church,” Robertson continues. “And it was lived out in the blood of the French Revolution.”
So, what exactly does that have to do with LGBT people? Robertson doesn’t quite make the connection, and instead explains: “We have here a debate over same sex marriage. But is it really just about marriage? Or does it go far beyond that? They’re destroying the traditional family and building a country without God.”
See? Totally the same thing as the French revolutionaries.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) has refused through a spokesperson to endorse one town’s first-ever integrated high school prom, saying that he would rather not take sides on the issue. According to Atlanta’s WMAZ Channel 13, politicians from both parties have stated their support for black and white students from Wilcox, Georgia, but Deal declined to join them.
“We thought it would be nice if our elected officials would support these students,” said Long. “They’re taking a great stand in their community. We thought that officials all across the state should send a message to the nation that we’ve moved beyond the racial divisions of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.”
He added, “We were surprised to read that the governor’s spokesperson said that he wouldn’t be ‘taking sides’ on this issue. I didn’t know that there were sides to take.”
'Cause if teh gheys get the right to marry then straight Christian people, especially bigots, will be second-class citizens.
Fox News radio host Todd Starnes says that the push for equal rights for LGBT people is making Christians who believe in the “Biblical definition of marriage” into “second-class citizens.”
During a Monday interview with conservative radio host Sandy Rios, the often-outraged Starnes reacted to the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could rule in favor of marriage equality.
“What concerns me, though, Sandy, is the vitriol coming from those who support gay marriage,” Starnes declared. “You know, I’m the kind of person that is more than happy to sit down and talk and debate and listen to what people have to say. I may not agree with it, but at least, you know, it’s their right to have their opinion under our Constitution.”
“And yet, there seems to be this opinion on the other side that says, you know what, you and I don’t deserve the same rights,” he opined. “You know, it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage or perhaps we are pro-life, and that means we’re somehow second-class citizens who don’t deserve to be in the public marketplace of ideas.”
Rios predicted that it would be even “worse than that” if the the court decided to legalize same sex marriage.
“You know there’s going to be punishment,” she said. “There will be tremendous punishment.”
“If gay marriage is embraced by the country, if the Supreme Court goes south this week in its hearings, we are in for –- of course, we’re not going to hear about it until June -– but we are in for persecution like we have never seen it.”
“Well, it’s already started,” Starnes agreed.
After President Barack Obama announced his support for marriage equality last year, the Fox News radio host had declared that a shift in public opinion was taking place because public schools were “indoctrination centers” for LGBT rights.