Tag Archives: Washington

About Those Statues…

In the last couple of days, I’ve gotten two messages from friends in different (Northern) states who are troubled about the efforts to remove statues of Civil War figures. 

Here’s the first:

I am in a quandary. I am an educated, white, privileged male.  I can understand, but not empathize with, the thoughts of those who wish to see the statues of Confederate officers removed.  As an English major, I also see the statues as art.  So what is next? Paintings, then books? Are the Holocaust museum displays too emotional, the paintings at the WWII museum too one-sided, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel acceptably historical?  And who would decide?  

Shakespeare said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.  Is Fort Bragg any less offensive to humanity than Fort Sherman?  

I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds with the idea, but I do see the opportunity for a slippery slope.  Maybe it’s just my white, privileged male quandary? 
I look forward to your thoughts.

Here’s the second:

I’ve been thinking a lot about the new wave of dismantling Confederate statues, not displaying the Confederate flag, dropping Gone with the Wind from Netflix, Lady Antebellum changing their name to Lady A, etc. I agree with a lot of this, but I wonder if we’re going too far? Where do we draw the line? I noted on Facebook that Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. Should we tear down their monuments while we’re at it? Is it rewriting history? I would love for you to write a blog about this and help me figure it out!

Both of these individuals are progressive, thoughtful and public-spirited. If they are uncomfortable with removing these monuments and renaming bases, I’m sure many other people are equally conflicted.

Here’s my “take” on the issue:

First of all, I see a profound difference between statues and monuments that honor historical figures, and museum and other displays that educate about those figures. The placement of statues in public places pretty clearly falls into the first category. (In a couple of instances, Confederate statues have been moved to museums rather than destroyed–an implicit recognition of the difference, and in my view, an entirely satisfactory resolution.) With respect to the names of military posts, same thing—we don’t name streets, buildings, etc. for “bad guys,” we reserve naming rights for figures we admire.

Germany doesn’t have statues of Hitler, but German history certainly hasn’t been lost.

The men who fought for the South in the American Civil War were defending slavery– an indefensible system–and they were traitors to their country. We should remember them, but we certainly shouldn’t honor them. (There’s also the fact that most of these monuments were erected long after the war, to signal white resistance to the civil rights movement.)

So I think removing Civil War statues is a relatively easy call. But I understand the concern about “slippery slopes.”

None of the historical figures we admire were perfect people. As the second message notes, Washington and Jefferson (among others) were slaveowners. But we don’t honor them for slave-holding; we honor them for their willingness to risk their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” to bring a new nation into existence, and for their crafting of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.  

If being a flawed human being was reason to ignore significant contributions made by historical figures, there wouldn’t be many statues. (Maybe Mother Teresa, although who knows? There might be something in her past….)

Before we either defend or dismantle a monument, I think we need to ask why it exists, and what it is that we are honoring.

It’s pretty clear that the only reason there are statues of Robert E. Lee and other Civil War figures is because they were central figures in an uprising–a rebellion– against our country. We are honoring their decision to be traitors, and implicitly sending a message that although they lost, their “cause” was honorable.

In the case of figures like Jefferson, Madison, Washington, et al, we are honoring their undisputed service and the importance of their contributions–and those contributions are clearly worthy of honor.

Anyway–that’s my take on the issue. I welcome the perspectives of my readers.




Vote By Mail

I’ve been banging the drum for vote-by-mail for a long time. What just happened in Wisconsin demonstrates its importance, as a recent op-ed by John Hickenlooper–former Governor of Colorado–emphasizes.

The election chaos in Wisconsin on Tuesday sent a clear message: The nation can’t afford a repeat in November. Poll workers, many of them vulnerable senior citizens, and voters were forced to risk covid-19 infection to participate in American democracy, with scandalously long lines at the few polling places that were open in some areas. Gov. Tony Evers (D) had issued an executive order to reschedule the election, but Republicans fought against it and the state’s Supreme Court blocked it.

Republicans also attacked a sensible proposal by Evers to essentially turn the election into one conducted by mail, with absentee ballots sent to every registered voter. President Trump has lately chimed in with criticism that mail-in balloting is “horrible,” “corrupt” and invites “fraud.”

As Hickenlooper says, Colorado’s experience rebuts the GOP’s hysterical pushback.  Colorado wasn’t the first state to go to vote by mail (Oregon and Washington were first), but its citizens have been voting from home for six years. Eligible Colorado voters receive a ballot in the mail roughly three weeks before Election Day, giving them time to do research on candidates and ballot initiatives. They complete the ballot from the comfort of their own homes, and either mail the ballot in or deposit it at one of hundreds of drop-off locations around the state.

Denver city and county voters even have the ability to track the status of their ballots, with email or text notifications, as they travel through the postal system. The “Ballot TRACE” software ensures that every mailed ballot is accounted for.

So what about those predictions of fraud?

The states that vote by mail have devised numerous safeguards against fraud. Colorado conducts rigorous risk-limiting audits; it also maintains a centralized database with voter signatures, and it tracks ballot returns. And as Hickenlooper points out, a big advantage of using mailed ballots is that paper can’t be hacked.

Other advantages? Higher turnouts (Oregon’s turnout puts Indiana’s to shame and in Colorado, the increase was particularly noticeable for “low propensity” populations) and significantly lower costs–Hickenlooper says Colorado saved $6 per voter.

It isn’t just Oregon, Washington and Colorado; other states have been moving in this direction. Voters in 28 of Utah’s 29 counties automatically get ballots at home. Nebraska and North Dakota also use vote by mail to varying degrees. Nearly half of the states allow some elections to be conducted by mail, and many allow voters to cast no-excuse absentee ballots.

The reason the GOP is so adamantly opposed to vote-by-mail is obvious: it increases turnout, and Democrats win when turnout increases. Turnout this November will be especially important. As I wrote in the wake of the Supreme Court’s shameful decision allowing gerrymandering to continue, we will need a citizen tsunami sufficient to overcome the blatantly rigged districts the Supreme Court has declined to rule unconstitutional.

Huge turnouts would be likely to do more than just eject the corrupt and unfit Trump Administration. A large enough turnout could wrest control of the Senate from McConnell, and clean out large numbers of the GOP’s state and local enablers. If that tsunami is big enough, it might even allow old-fashioned Republicans appalled and dispirited by what the GOP has become to retake their party from the white nationalists who have captured it.

If that doesn’t happen…history will record Mitch McConnell’s capture of the Supreme Court  and the GOP’s unhindered voter suppression as a successful coup d’etat.

Walmart’s Real Business Plan

I see that Walmart threatened to move out of Washington, D.C. if the city raised its minimum wage to 12.50.

The D.C. council raised it anyway.

Bravo to D.C. for calling Walmart’s bluff. Let’s hope the Mayor signs the measure; evidently, he’s expressed some concerns, since Walmart was proposing to create jobs and to expand into neighborhoods currently underserved by retail.

Those neighborhoods deserve to be served, and jobs are important–but are they worth $6000 of taxpayer subsidy for each person Walmart employs? Because that’s what the research shows: for every job Walmart creates, taxpayers are filling the gap between the low wages being paid and what workers need to survive. Walmart employees are overwhelmingly dependent upon the social safety net for food, housing and medical care.

Walmart has a great business plan: Those of us who pay taxes subsidize Walmart’s costs of doing business. So long as they can get away with paying below-subsistence wages, our tax dollars will continue to fatten their bottom line.

Defenders of these rapacious business practices defend Walmart by pointing to the low prices of their merchandise. Low prices benefit consumers, particularly poorer consumers. But keeping prices low does not require paying poverty wages.

Look at Costco.

 The big box store most famous for its stockpiles of toilet paper and $1.50 hot dogs also has a reputation for paying its workers a higher wage than most of its competitors. The average Costco worker made about $45,000 per year, Fortune reports. By comparison, Walmart-owned Sam’s Club, a Costco competitor, pays its workers $17,486 per year, according to salary information site Glassdoor.com….Costco’s insistence on treating its workers well hasn’t come at the expense of the company’s bottom line. The retailer’s profit jumped 19 percent to $459 million last quarter, while Walmart’s sales suffered during the same period.

So that claim about helping low-income shoppers by offering bargain prices doesn’t fly–Costco manages to keep prices low (and profits high) without screwing over its employees. Or  picking the pocket of the taxpayers.

Washington, D.C. should take a leaf from my mother’s book. When I was a little girl and threatened to run away from home, she’d offer to make me sandwiches for the trip.