Those Wheels of Justice

Back in 1965 Bob Dylan was singing The Times They Are A-Changin’ – and that was appropriate. On March 7, 1965, down in Alabama, six hundred people begin a march from Selma to Montgomery, led by John Lewis and Hosea Williams, to demand an end to discrimination in voter registration. At the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state and local lawmen attacked the marchers with billy clubs and tear gas, driving them back to Selma. That changed everything. The world was watching. Five months later Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – after Selma there was no way to oppose it – but this year, on the fiftieth anniversary of that day, not a single member of House Republican leadership showed up down there. None of the top leaders – House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy or Majority Whip Steve Scalise – the guy who might want to atone for that time he spoke before a white supremacist group – would go to Selma for the three-day event. Perhaps the times hadn’t changed. But then Kevin McCarthy changed his mind and decided to drop by. He knew he had to.

The Republicans had boxed themselves in. That 2013 Supreme Court decision, gutting that 1965 Voting Rights Act, had been a victory for them – all their new voter-ID laws in all the states they controlled could stand, as is, along with anything else they could think of to make it almost impossible for minorities and the poor to vote – or those who supported minorities and the poor, like Democrats and the young. The Supreme Court ruled that the original law needed some revisions, and until Congress fixed a few things the law couldn’t stand. Now that Republicans control both houses of Congress there will be no fixes. Why would there be? Do they want to lose elections? The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was dead, but then there were the dead to consider. People died to get that Voting Rights Act passed. Their stories were retold, fifty years later, as if it was just yesterday. There really was no way to pretend that something changed in 1965, in Selma. Something had changed. Bob Dylan had been right all along.

Something was up that year. March 2 –Operation Rolling Thunder, the Air Force 2nd Air Division and the Navy and Republic of Vietnam Air Force began that three-and-half year aerial bombardment campaign against North Vietnam. March 8 – 3,500 Marines arrive in Da Nang, the first American ground combat troops in Vietnam. April 17 – the first Students for a Democratic Society march against the Vietnam War draws 25,000 protestors to Washington. May 5 – forty men burn their draft cards at the University of California, Berkeley, and a coffin is marched to the Berkeley Draft Board. May 21 – the largest antiwar teach-in to date begins at Berkeley, California, and 30,000 folks show up. May 22 – a couple hundred Vietnam War protesters in Berkeley march to the Draft Board again to burn nineteen more draft cards, and Lyndon Johnson is hung in effigy. June 16 – an anti-Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon becomes a teach-in, and demonstrators distribute fifty thousand leaflets in and around the building. July 28 – President Johnson announces his order to increase the number of United States troops in South Vietnam from 75,000 to 125,000, and to more than double the number of men drafted per month – from 17,000 to 35,000. August 31 –Johnson signs a law penalizing the burning of draft cards with up to five years in prison and a thousand dollar fine.

Something was up, and that was only the first half of the year. Things were changing. Soon not only would blacks get their rights, at least on paper, they would now be Blacks, not Negros, and Americans, at least some Americans, would now say no to a war we were told to take on faith, or to wage on faith.

Why are we doing this? We were told not to ask questions. Patriots don’t ask questions, but that slowly changed. On February 27, 1968, Walter Cronkite, the most trusted man in America, just back from Vietnam, having covered that Tet Offensive we hadn’t expected, said this at the end of his newscast – “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. We are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory.”

That settled the matter. Things really had changed. On April 30, 1975, Saigon fell and the choppers got the last of our folks out of there, from our embassy’s roof. The war that had been such a bad idea was over. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. Those wheels of justice eventually ground the bullshit into dust. Andrew Bacevich remembers the bullshit:

Over the previous century-and-a-half, the United States had gone to war for many reasons, including greed, fear, panic, righteous anger, and legitimate self-defense. On various occasions, each of these, alone or in combination, had prompted Americans to fight. Vietnam marked the first time that the United States went to war, at least in considerable part, in response to a bunch of really dumb ideas floated by ostensibly smart people occupying positions of influence. …

Foremost among those verities was this: that a monolith called Communism, controlled by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden behind the walls of the Kremlin, posed an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but to the very idea of freedom itself. The claim came with this essential corollary: the only hope of avoiding such a cataclysmic outcome was for the United States to vigorously resist the Communist threat wherever it reared its ugly head.

Buy those twin propositions and you accept the imperative of the U.S. preventing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. North Vietnam, from absorbing the Republic of Vietnam, a.k.a. South Vietnam, into a single unified country; in other words, that South Vietnam was a cause worth fighting and dying for.

Vietnam fell. Things were fine anyway, and Bacevich wonders about our new verities:

Chief among them is this: that a phenomenon called terrorism or Islamic radicalism, inspired by a small group of fanatic ideologues hidden away in various quarters of the Greater Middle East, poses an existential threat not simply to America and its allies, but — yes, it’s still with us – to the very idea of freedom itself. That assertion comes with an essential corollary dusted off and imported from the Cold War: the only hope of avoiding this cataclysmic outcome is for the United States to vigorously resist the terrorist/Islamist threat wherever it rears its ugly head.

At least since September 11, 2001, and arguably for at least two decades prior to that date, U.S. policymakers have taken these propositions for granted. They have done so at least in part because few of the policy intellectuals specializing in national insecurity have bothered to question them.

Indeed, those specialists insulate the state from having to address such questions. Think of them as intellectuals devoted to averting genuine intellectual activity.

Or think of them as those who don’t know the times they are a-changin’ – that these bad guys might not be an existential threat to our freedoms or whatever. They are a problem. That’s it, and all-out war against them, everywhere, might make things worse, not better. Our war in Iraq is proof of that. Those who said that Saddam Hussein might not have those weapons of mass destruction, and that even if he did, getting rid of him might leave us with something worse, were scolded and mocked – but they were right. It took us a few years to figure that out, but most of us figured that out. It just took some time. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine, as they say. Bullshit does get ground to dust, sooner or later.

The same thing happened with gay marriage. The bullshit was ground to dust, but surprisingly quickly. Letting gay people marry each other was going to destroy traditional marriage, and soon people would be marrying their pet box-turtles, and God just might punish our wickedness with an earthquake or a plague of locusts. Is that so? America’s attitude toward gay marriage shifted quickly, not just because of a sense of fairness and the usual live-and-let-live stuff, but also because this was some pretty low-quality bullshit. It’s like they weren’t even trying. The push for marriage equality wasn’t exactly a slow grind. There was no grinding in involved. The wheels of justice rolled over those who didn’t realize the times they were a-changin’ and flattened them.

Some things take longer. Those of us who arrived at college in 1965, anxious to find out how we fit into the great scheme of things that September, found a curious social setting. The old guard was the frat-boys, those from good families who would on day rule the world with their connections and secret handshakes and whatnot. There they were in the khaki pants and button-down madras shirts, knowing what’s what and who’s who, and they sneered a lot and drank a lot and were generally sexist pigs – and they hatted niggers and didn’t have much use for Jews, or those from ordinary working-class families. They were the establishment, or the establishment-in-waiting. But this was 1965 and the first hippies were popping up here and there, long-haired happy folks who welcomed everyone, and seemingly everything – and they liked ideas, big ideas. And of course they listened to Bob Dylan. The frat-boys didn’t. At Yale, George W. Bush was one of those frat-boys, but they were everywhere.

George Bush went on to become president. He was one of those sneering pigs, but he had connections. Still, given enough time, the bullshit has to end:

A video of University of Oklahoma fraternity members engaging in a racist chant outraged and angered students across the campus, but its release also has sparked a dialogue that many students hope will lead to positive changes at the school.

Protests and rallies have been held every day on the campus in Norman since the release earlier this week of the video, which shows students participating in a chant that referenced lynching and indicates black students would never be admitted to OU’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. On Wednesday, a town hall-style forum on diversity sponsored by the black student group Unheard was planned on campus, and a student spokeswoman for the group said the incident appears to be serving as a catalyst for change.

“Just the students coming together has been a positive for me,” said Alexis Hall, a 20-year-old junior from Houston. “I think this is sparking a university-wide movement of: ‘Hey, we need to start making some changes. We’re going to improve things and make it better for all of our students.'”

And it only took fifty years, but this is interesting:

Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s international headquarters may be in Illinois, but the fraternity’s roots are firmly planted in the antebellum South. “We came up from Dixie land,” says a ditty from an old songbook, boasting about SAE’s success.

Now, nearly 160 years after its founding at the University of Alabama, another song – this one chanted by members of the frat’s University of Oklahoma chapter and containing racial slurs and lynching references – hearkens back to the bad old times in the land of cotton and puts a new spotlight on the group’s activities over the years.

SAE began on the Tuscaloosa campus on March 9, 1856, a few months after Noble Leslie DeVotie outlined his vision to a close circle of friends during a stroll along the banks of the Black Warrior River.

The initial members visualized “a bond which would hold them together for all time,” William C. Levere wrote in a 1916 history of the fraternity. “So it came about that in the late hours of a stormy night, the friends met in the old southern mansion and by the flicker of dripping candles organized Sigma Alpha Epsilon.”

More chapters were soon launched in Tennessee, North Carolina and even Washington, D.C., at what is now George Washington University. But the founders weren’t interested in a national presence.

According to Levere, it was their intention “to confine the fraternity to the southern states.” When a North Carolina chapter member raised the topic of a “Northern Extension,” charter member Thomas Chappell Cook – who later served as a surgeon in the Confederate army – responded that “the constant agitation of the slavery question was a barrier to northern chapters, as it would preclude the possibility of harmony.”

That was the problem. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. Things changed – a long time ago. No wonder they didn’t like that Bob Dylan song.

Things can shift out from under you, as those wheels of justice actually do turn – slowly in this case, where it took a century and a half for folks to see the SAE bullshit for what it is.

Sometimes, however, those wheels can turn fast. As the Israeli elections approach it seems that public opinion polls are beginning to show something odd. The center-left Zionist Union is pulling ahead of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. That may not mean much as with no decisive winner both parties would try to put together a coalition commanding a majority in the Knesset, and Likud has better prospects for that. Still, it’s now possible the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog could wind up with the stronger hand, according to this poll-based analysis from Haaretz:

Based on the poll, Herzog could have the support of 56 Knesset members to form a government, compared with 55 at best for Netanyahu. Herzog would have the support of Yesh Atid, Joint List and Meretz, while Netanyahu would have the support, at best, of Habayit Hayehudi, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu and Yahad Ha’am Itanu.

Shas chief Arye Dery and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman have not ruled out supporting Herzog instead of Netanyahu. Kulanu’s Kahlon has said he would not make any recommendation to President Reuven Rivlin on who should form a government.

One doesn’t need to know the players to get the general idea. Netanyahu’s big speech in Washington didn’t help him much back home, or it backfired, as Ed Kilgore notes:

So the price that he and Israel paid in damaged relations with Washington and a loss of bipartisan solidarity may well have been for naught.

If Bibi does actually lose, of course, that will be a watershed event for Israel, and perhaps for the Middle East. But it will also cast into stark relief the strange personal fidelity to Netanyahu expressed by so many American conservatives, which isn’t necessarily shared by the Israelis whose prestige he has mortgaged in pursuit of reelection.

That’s matched by this:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress that was set up by Republican Speaker of the House without running it by the White House in advance, and slated afterward despite strong White House objections did the Israeli P.M. no favors in his polling numbers among Americans: a new Gallup Poll found American’s now view him less positively – mostly because he has clearly irked a good chunk of Democrats.

He basically picked up no new support. GOP views of him remained the same, but many Democrats have sourced on him.

Americans will always support Israel, no matter what, and if they have to choose between Israel and their sitting president, they will always choose Israel. Ah… no, they won’t. The times are changing. Americans will always prefer war to girly-man negotiations. Those forty-seven Republicans sent that letter to Iran, saying whatever Obama agrees to they’ll scuttle, because they’re the real men, the ones actually in control of things. And America will love then for sending that letter, but don’t count on it:

The Concord Monitor in New Hampshire took Sen. Kelly Ayotte to task for signing the letter, “Ayotte and the rest of the gang of 47 would like nothing more than for the American people to view the letter as a necessary defense against misguided negotiations and flawed policies, a comeuppance for an arrogant commander in chief who flaunts his contempt for the Constitution. They want you to know, America, that they wrote the letter for you because Obama must be stopped. In reality, they are playing a political game dangerously out of bounds.”

The editorial board of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote that the senators who signed the letter should be ashamed, “America’s partners in the talks are among the world’s most important nations – China, France, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom. They can only be appalled at seeing Secretary of State John Kerry and the president – who are charged with making the nation’s foreign policy – hit from behind by one house of the federal legislature. The senators who signed the letter should be ashamed.”

The Baltimore Sun pulled no punches, “The poison pen note was a shocking example of just how far President Barack Obama’s GOP critics in Congress are willing to go in an effort to undercut his foreign policy goals… The GOP senators might just as well have put up a big sign over their chamber warning the mullahs in Tehran to prepare for war because that’s the practical import of rejecting any possibility of a negotiated resolution of the two countries’ differences. Republican lawmakers in effect have adopted the hardline agenda of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who offered a similarly uncompromising view of Iranian intentions when he addressed a joint meeting of Congress last week.”

The Salt Lake City Tribune referred to Utah’s two Republican senators as foolish for joining the campaign, “It will be up to history to judge whether the latest partisan stunt joined by Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch amounts to an act of End Times warmongering or merely another bit of cringe-worthy buffoonery on the global stage. Chances are that the foolish, dangerous and arguably felonious attempt by the Obama Derangement Caucus of the Senate will soon be forgotten. Unless, as President Obama himself muttered the other day, the Senate Republicans make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran to push the region, and the world, that much closer to nuclear war.”

That’s a sampling of the twenty-two editorials so far, and there’s this:

Some Republican senators admitted Wednesday they were caught off guard by the backlash to a letter warning Iranian leaders against a nuclear agreement with President Barack Obama. And Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Republicans – many of whom blessed the missive during a brisk signing session at a Senate lunch a week ago, as senators prepared to flee a Washington snowstorm – should have given it closer consideration.

“It was kind of a very rapid process. Everybody was looking forward to getting out of town because of the snowstorm,” McCain said. “I think we probably should have had more discussion about it, given the blowback that there is.”

On this at least, Democrats and Republicans found agreement.

E ee

“I find it hard to believe that they understood the severity of what they were doing,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).

The fraternity brothers on that bus had the same problem. They were lustily singing about how “there’ll never be a nigger in SAE” and how they’d “lynch one from a tree” and so on – but the times they are a-changin’ and the wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do grind exceedingly fine. They can grind you up. That happens a lot.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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