Saturday, April 30, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt thirteen)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

In the election held on July 21, 2019, Servant of the People won an outright majority in the parliament by securing 254 seats of 450, and for the first time in the history of independent Ukraine, the winning party did not need to join any coalitions. The pro-Russian opposition, now organized as the tandem of the Opposition Platform and the new party For Life, came second with 43 seats; followed by Tymoshenko’s Fatherland with 26, the Petro Poroshenko Bloc with 25, and the new party Voice with 20. It is telling that the Servant of the People won in both colleges: it received 124 seats of the 225 awarded based on the nationwide vote for party lists and 130 seats of the 199 in the first-by-the-post territorial electoral districts. (The total number of the latter was also 225, but 26 were in areas not controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.)

Friday, April 29, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt twelve)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

All the calculations and strategies that these main players had developed for the campaign were confounded on New Year’s Eve, when the popular comedian Volodymyr Zelensky announced on television his intention to participate in the election. Zelensky represented the direct opposite of establishment candidates—he had zero political experience and the mien of an honest everyman. A successful entrepreneur, he rose to fame as the star of an unpretentious Russian-language comedy television show, but he also possessed the Charlie Chaplin–like charisma of a “little man” refusing to accept this world’s injustices. The latter came out clearly in a television series called Servant of the People, where Zelensky played a lowly history teacher who accidentally becomes the president and attempts to build a more equitable Ukraine. The runaway success of this series gave Zelensky and his supporters the idea of transitioning into politics, and early secret polling showed that he could do very well in an election. Zelensky’s open acknowledgment of being Jewish did not hurt his popularity at all, contradicting the stereotype of Ukrainian anti-Semitism.

By the beginning of March, Zelensky’s candidacy came to dominate the polls, leaving all others to fight over a place in the run-offs. Shrewdly, he and his advisors delayed until the last moment the release of any platform, which meant that voters ascribed to him the intentions of his popular television persona. Zelensky did not speak against the Ukrainian language and culture but downplayed such issues by stressing that peace and reforms had to take precedence. He managed to undercut his main rivals by attracting voters from across the ethno-linguistic spectrum—both Ukrainian-and Russian-speakers, who, for quite different reasons, felt disillusioned with Poroshenko and his traditional opponents. Meanwhile, Poroshenko had to use all his considerable powers as president and oligarchical owner of two television channels to secure second place in the race. He campaigned on the slogan, “The army, the language, and faith,” but even during the de facto war with Russia, such a narrowly national-patriotic program appealed to only a small sector of the electorate. Poroshenko’s unsuccessful attempt to introduce martial law after the Russians captured Ukrainian navy boats in the Strait of Kerch in November 2018 undermined his posture as commander-in-chief. Erupting just before the election, a corruption scandal over military acquisitions involving his longtime business partner, then serving as deputy chairman of the Council of National Security and Defense, made the president’s slogans about the army ring hollow.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt eleven)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

In this context, Biden’s micro-management of Ukrainian politics was nothing out of the ordinary. When an independent Ukrainian parliamentarian with KGB and Russian connections released to the public in May 2020 audio clips from 2015 and 2016, purported to be from Biden’s (and then Secretary of State John Kerry’s) phone calls with President Poroshenko, there was nothing there even close to the “favor” Trump asked of Zelensky in July. What stood out in these tapes was how closely the United States was involved in forcing the various Ukrainian reformist parties to work together, as well as in pushing through major anti-corruption measures. Although the tapes confirm the well-known story of Biden making US $1 billion in American loan guarantees conditional on the removal of the then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in 2016, Biden never denied this and, in fact, spoke repeatedly of this episode.

Although Poroshenko saw Shokin as a reliable ally, the Ukrainian public disagreed, giving him a stunning negative rating of 73.2 percent in a February 2016 poll. By then, the US ambassador, EU representatives, the IMF, and leading Ukrainian anti-corruption groups denounced Shokin for blocking decisive anti-corruption measures and the much-needed reform of the prosecution system. His own deputy resigned because of the alleged corruption and politicking in the Prosecutor General’s Office. Biden’s 2016 ultimatum to Poroshenko was thus completely in line with the opinion of Western diplomats and the Ukrainian public. Shokin was forced to resign, not because he was investigating the wrong people, but because he was not investigating them with sufficient vigor. Nobody in Ukraine protested his removal.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt ten)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

As a US senator, Joe Biden has cultivated an interest in European affairs and, more specifically, in the Soviet Union and its successor states. Between 2001 and 2009 he served three times as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Biden’s foreign policy experience was one of the reasons that Barack Obama picked him as running mate in 2008.

As vice president between 2009 and 2017, Biden visited Ukraine six times, sometimes making a brief stop on a larger tour of Europe or the United States’ strategic allies in Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The Obama administration saw Ukraine, together with the Republic of Georgia, as the two keystone states in the region; both also experienced Russian aggression. To Ukrainian politicians and the public at large, Biden’s frequent visits symbolized American commitment to building a strong, independent Ukraine free of corruption and rule by cronyism. During one trip to Ukraine, in February 2014, Biden witnessed the revolution on the Maidan entering its crucial stage. All of this made him popular with patriotic Ukrainians, who realized nonetheless that their fight for freedom enjoyed bipartisan support in the United States. The late Republican senator John McCain also visited often and spoke even more strongly in support of the EuroMaidan; there is now a street in the Ukrainian capital named after him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt nine)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

When the news broke in Ukraine, the public likewise focused more on the Ukrainian politicians who were implicated, especially the ones still prominent in public life. The then head of the Central Electoral Commission, Mykhailo Okhendovsky, was the only one to be officially charged, although in the end his case did not go to trial, as was common in cases of political figures. In early June, Leshchenko testified at the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, but then the summer began and with it, the dead season in Ukrainian politics. In mid-August Leshchenko broke some sensational news that was immediately confirmed by the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau: The black ledger also listed the American lobbyist and political consultant Paul Manafort. He was well known in Ukraine as a long-serving advisor to Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. Manafort was credited with rebuilding Yanukovych’s image inside Ukraine after his defeat in the Orange Revolution of 2004–2005, as well as making him more acceptable to American decision makers during his tenure as president from 2010. Little was known at the time about his role during the EuroMaidan Revolution; subsequently, messages allegedly hacked from his daughter’s phone in 2017 seemed to suggest that he had proposed a violent scenario to end the revolution after a staged provocation, 10 but he was also involved in early attempts to rebuild the pro-Russian forces into a viable opposition after the EuroMaidan Revolution. Not only did Manafort work for the discredited Yanukovych and other pro-Russian forces in Ukraine but also he had known connections to Russian oligarchs. His account in the black ledger was also one of the largest, with a total of US $ 12.7 million recorded between 2007 and 2012. (Two prominent businessmen who sat in parliament as members of Yanukovych’s party signed as intermediaries on these disbursements.)

For all the right reasons that patriotic Ukrainians had to dislike Manafort, the timing of Leshchenko’s revelation was highly suspicious. Since June 2016 Manafort had been the manager of Trump’s presidential campaign, and the release of any compromising material on him was bound to harm it. It is also telling that the announcement came from someone better known as a controversial investigative journalist than a politician, although the head of the Ukrainian anti-corruption agency conveniently confirmed Leshchenko’s words right away, adding that a name in the ledger in and of itself did not prove anything. The ever-present factionalism in Ukrainian politics and Leshchenko’s reputation as a loose cannon cast some doubt on conspiracy theories presenting this affair as Ukraine’s state policy of interference in the US elections. But even if one accepts the view that the Ukrainian authorities sought plausible denial by allowing Leshchenko to break the story, Manafort’s transgressions were very real, and concealing this information about his entries in the black ledger would have constituted interference as well, benefiting the Trump camp. The Poroshenko administration found itself in a predicament, and its strategy of issuing only a limited confirmation of Leshchenko’s story from the technically independent National Anti-Corruption Bureau was likely the safest choice. Doing so meant leaving this matter up to the American justice system.

Monday, April 25, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt eight)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

Since President Yanukovych’s last-minute reversal on concluding this agreement was the last straw that unleashed the revolt, the new Ukrainian authorities sought to sign it as quickly as possible. The Association Agreement does not offer Ukraine a clear accession path to the European Union, as many media commentators have assumed. Its tangible benefits for Ukraine include free trade with the European Union and, at some unspecified point in the future, visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens. In the long run, the treaty committed Ukraine to aligning its legislation and production standards with that of the European Union, a process to be supported by Western funding.

The Russian government objected to Ukraine’s agreement with the European Union on ideological and geopolitical grounds, but advanced an economic argument as its primary reservation. Because Ukraine also had free trade with Russia, European goods could enter Russia through Ukraine with no tariffs being collected on either border. Expressing concern over lost revenues and damage to the economy, Russia threatened retaliatory economic measures. The European leaders paid attention, not so much because of this threat, as because Russia had just annexed the Crimea. As a result, Ukraine and the European Union took the unusual step of dividing the Association Agreement into two parts, general political and economic, and then signing each part separately. In order to provide symbolic closure to the EuroMaidan Revolution, Prime Minister Yatseniuk went to Brussels on March 21, 2014, to sign the mostly declarative political clauses.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt seven)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

The new cabinet was sworn in on December 2, 2014, just as the first Minsk ceasefire collapsed and fierce fighting resumed in the Donbas. During the next two months, the hryvnia went over a cliff, causing the population to empty supermarket shelves. The government desperately needed the next installment of the IMF loan, but it was only after some painful military defeats and a second Minsk agreement in February 2015 that it could push through some austerity measures, making the funding possible. On March 2 the parliament approved measures that would see household energy bills triple and also reduce some categories of state pensions. The IMF immediately disbursed US $5 billion with another US $5 billion promised within a year, an announcement that halted the hryvnia’s free-fall. Yet, all sides understood that Ukraine needed a lasting peace to start serious economic reforms.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt six)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

Street fighting ensued in central Kyiv between January 19 and 25, with riot police using rubber bullets and water cannons, while the protesters armed themselves with cobblestones and Molotov cocktails. On January 22 the first three protesters were shot dead, allegedly by special-forces snipers. This event shocked the nation, as it represented the first time in over half a century that protesters were killed by the governing authorities in Ukraine. Amid calls for a general strike, EuroMaidan activists in the western regions began occupying government buildings.

The so-called titushky contributed greatly to the escalation of violence. They were young men from the provinces, often members of local athletic clubs, hired by the Party of Regions to pose as anti-Maidan protesters. The name refers to one Vadym Titushko, a paid thug from the city of Bila Tserkva, who had been convicted of physically assaulting journalists in 2013, before the EuroMaidan. Although they did not carry firearms, titushky freely employed violence and coordinated their actions with the police. During the winter of 2013–2014, they camped out in a park near the Ukrainian parliament, where several protesters died in clashes. Titushky also roamed the streets beating up protesters both in the capital and in other large cities, such as Kharkiv.

Friday, April 22, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt five)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

When Yanukovych became president in 2010, he and his clan sought to restore Kuchma’s model of an oligarchic state. Its components included controlling the national media, helping the oligarchs to loot the country’s economy, and maintaining a political balance between Russia and the West without getting too close to either—all with the ultimate aim of enriching the ruling group’s families and allies. Ultimately, Yanukovych and his friends perfected Kuchma’s scheme—too much so—by pushing Ukraine practically into bankruptcy. State procurements became the preferred method of instant enrichment for all sides involved, because of massive kickbacks, inflated costs, and outright embezzlement. The officials and oligarchs close to Yanukovych particularly liked mammoth construction projects generously funded by the state. In preparation for the 2012 European soccer cup, the state funded so many new airports, stadiums, roads, and high-speed trains that there was no way to patch the huge hole left in the budget. Nobody was even trying to find a solution, because the government was hoping for a bailout from either the West or Russia. The Yanukovych administration assumed that both these geopolitical rivals would be happy to spend US $ 15 billion and possibly more for the privilege of having Ukraine in their sphere of influence.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt four)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

The tumultuous events of August 1991 afforded Yeltsin an opportunity to assert democratic Russia’s authority against the weakening Soviet state. When conservative party apparatchiks tried to organize a coup against Gorbachev, it was Yeltsin who led popular resistance in Moscow. In contrast, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, Leonid Kravchuk, took a cautious stand in Kyiv, not coming out openly on either side. The all-Union governing structures and institutions essentially disintegrated with the collapse of the coup, and the republics filled the power vacuum by formally declaring independence. Any remaining hopes to salvage the former Soviet polity in the form of a loose confederation were laid to rest on December 1, 1991, when Ukraine held a national referendum to confirm its declaration of independence. Their hopes buoyed by optimistic projections of economic prosperity that was to follow liberation from Soviet imperial fetters, the overwhelming majority of the republic’s citizens voted in favor of independence: 92.3 percent nationally, including a majority in each province, and 54.2 percent even in the Crimea with its ethnic Russian majority. On the same day, Ukrainian voters also elected Kravchuk as the country’s first president. At the time, this historic choice was not seen as a parting of ways with Russia, but as a farewell to the oppressive communist empire. Gorbachev, the discredited Soviet president, was the only prominent politician advocating the “no” vote in the Ukrainian referendum, while Yeltsin’s Russia appeared to be a valuable ally in constructing the new democratic future. Later in December the Soviet Union was officially dissolved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt three)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

The “reunification” of Ukraine with Russia was the official term for the 1654 Pereiaslav Treaty; the term was prescribed for obligatory use in Soviet historical works and public discourse by the Communist Party’s Central Committee in 1954. The concept of the treaty as a “restoration” of a single nation’s ancient unity resonates to this day with Russians in particular, and for good reason. When Soviet ideologists gave it their stamp of approval in 1954 for the treaty’s tercentenary, they were actually resurrecting the axiom of pre-revolutionary Russian official discourse that Ukrainians lacked a separate national identity. Before the Central Committee’s authoritative pronouncement, Soviet historians of the prewar period had spoken less approvingly of Ukraine’s “incorporation” into the Russian state and even of the ensuing colonial exploitation of Ukraine and persecution of Ukrainian culture. Reverting to the language used in the Russian Empire removed any sense of guilt for tsarist policies and also muted the notion of Ukraine’s separate identity. “Reunification” was thus an ideologically loaded label, one implying inordinate closeness between Ukrainians and Russians. This was the historical narrative that the last generations to grow up in the Soviet Union learned in school.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt two)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

It is worth keeping in mind that prior to World War II, the region we now call western Ukraine was divided among Poland, Hungary, Romania, and Czechoslovakia. Before that, these lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This westernmost region, which constitutes more like a quarter than a half of Ukrainian territory, only experienced Soviet rule for half a century and therefore underwent a much shorter indoctrination in “fraternal relations” with Russia. It was also there, and in Galicia in particular, that the Ukrainian national movement developed freely during the nineteenth century, while it was being suppressed in the Russian Empire. Patriotic intellectuals gained access to the peasantry early on through reading rooms, co-ops, and the educational system, resulting in a strong popular sense of Ukrainian identity by the early twentieth century. Ukrainian radical nationalism was also born in the region in the 1920s, after the Allies denied the Ukrainians the right of self-determination, and nationalist insurgents in Galicia fought against the Soviets for several years after the end of World War II. Assimilation into Russian culture was least advanced there. In the years leading up to the Soviet collapse, mass rallies and demands for independence also originated there.

With this in mind, perhaps one could call Galicia and, with lesser justification, all of western Ukraine a hotbed of anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism. Yet, this in itself would not make the region “pro-Western.” The immediate neighbor to the west, Poland, was to local Ukrainians a former imperial master just like Russia, and during the interwar period the Polish state was the main enemy of Ukrainian radical nationalists. The periods of Hungarian and Romanian rule did not leave warm memories either. However, western Ukraine could be seen as culturally “Western” in the sense of having experience with political participation and civil society, two phenomena that were sorely lacking on the Russian side of the border. Imperfect as they were, the Austrian models of parliamentary democracy and communal organization shaped western Ukrainian social life. This experience of political participation in a multinational empire and its successors also strengthened Ukrainian national identity.

Monday, April 18, 2022

the last book I ever read (Serhy Yekelchyk's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know, excerpt one)

from Ukraine: What Everyone Needs To Know by Serhy Yekelchyk:

As the second most populous and economically important Soviet republic after Russia, Ukraine’s geopolitical choice after the Soviet collapse in 1991 held major significance. It took American policymakers some time to orient themselves in the confusing world of post-Soviet politics and to realize Ukraine’s strategic importance. Once they understood, by the mid-1990s, that an independent Ukraine was crucial for preventing an increasingly assertive Russia from reclaiming its Soviet-era control of East-Central Europe, they made Ukraine the focus of American attention in the region.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt fourteen)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Our electoral system is madness. And it’s madness on a good day. It would be madness when all involved are acting in good faith to try to help people access their rights. But in this country, we have one party—the Republicans—who have decided to act in bad faith and exploit aspects of the madness to suppress and discourage people from voting based on the color of their skin. As I’ve said elsewhere, conservatives don’t take constitutional amendments as a denouncement of their racism; they take them as a challenge to become more creative in their bigotry.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt thirteen)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Yet some conservatives argue that Roe v. Wade is the intellectual doppelganger of Dred Scott. They argue that the Court in Roe found that the unborn had no rights that (actual) people are bound to respect, and they argue that the ruling is every bit as erroneous as the one upholding slavery. They think that the same amendments that functionally overturned the Dred Scott decision can and should be used to overturn Roe v. Wade, or they’re willing to introduce an entirely new amendment to do the work.

To quote TV president Josiah Bartlet: “Your indignation would be a lot more interesting to me if it wasn’t quite so covered in crap.” How dare the fetal personhood brigade, last seen ripping breast-feeding children away from their mothers at the border, lecture me about the rights of the unborn. How dare they equate the bondage, rape, and torture that was American human chattel slavery to the failure of a clump of cells to implant in a uterus after a woman takes a drug cocktail a few weeks after accidental conception? The supposed rights of the unborn hold no moral suasion in a society that is willing to consign children who are born alive to poverty, malnutrition, and toxic air and water. I am unmoved by the alleged moral clarity of people who throw around the term anchor babies and are willing to deport children who have lived in this country for decades because they were brought here “illegally” as babies. These hypocrites want to make rights attach at conception, but not citizenship and representation in the census. These would-be moralists can fuck all the way off.

Their legal arguments are no better than their moral ones. Because fetal personhood amendments aren’t really about one kind of theoretical right “to become life.” If they were, activists would be busy trying to bring the hundred of thousands of embryos lying abandoned in frozen stasis at our nation’s fertility clinics to life, which they’re not. No, what the conservatives want is forced incubation of fetuses by women who are unwilling to perform the work.

Friday, April 15, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt twelve)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Now, my read of the Constitution tells me that the Equal Rights Amendment is redundant. Remember, I think that the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment do all the work. Of course women are entitled to equality under the law. Of courst that includes employment rights, health and safety protections, and the economic right to equal pay for equal work. Of course women have the substantitive right to control their own bodies, including their reproductive system, and to access medical care.

I support the ERA, because sometimes you have to really dumb things down for men to get it. But if you ask me, the Equal Rights Amendment was ratified in 1868 and the problem is that white guys have spent the last 150 years trying to undo it.

If you don’t agree with me—if you don’t think that the Fourteenth Amendment provided for the full political, civil, and social equality of women—then how in hell are you against the ERA? How can you possibly think that women don’t already have equal rights because of your limited, originalist interpretation of the Constitution, but also don’t think the Constitution should be changed to right this clear wrong that your interpretation has created?

Unless, at core, you don’t think women should have equal rights at all.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt eleven)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Still, Loving is one of the most important decisions in the history of the country. It aligned the Fourteenth Amendment not just with the protection of civil rights, which the Court did in Brown v. Board of Ed., but the the protection of social rights as well. The right to participate in society with equality and dignity is also protected by the Fourteenth Amendment, and that is what Loving stands for.

Which is why the case if kryptonite for originalist logic. Because if there’s one thing most nineteenth-century white men who wrote, debated, and adopted the Fourteenth Amendment were dead set against, it was the social equality of the races. I could make an argument that the Fourteenth Amendment wouldn’t have even been ratified if the white men supporting it thought it meant their daughters could marry Black people. There is no originalist understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment that comports with the Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in Loving. Either our understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment “evolved” to include a rejection of racist anti-mescegenation laws, or it didn’t. If the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t evolve, Alabama could force people to submit “pure-blood” certifications from before issuing marriage licenses, and we’d need a while different constitutional amendment to stop them. Originalism has no satisfactory answer for Loving, and originalists expose the whole intellectural bankruptcy of their ideology when they try to fashion one.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt ten)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

The legislation marked the last time white lawmakers would give a shit about Black people for nearly a hundred years. In 1877, Rutherford B. Hayes was installed as president after a disputed election where the validity of the Electoral College was called into question. A special commission decided the election in favor of Hayes, a Republican, with the help of Southern Democrats, but there was a catch. Hayes had to agree to remove federal troops from the South, which he did, thereby marking the effective end of Reconstruction.

By 1883, the Supreme Court overturned much of the 1875 Civil Rights Act, including all of the protections against the discrumination in public accommodations and transportation. The Supreme Court, in a case called the Civil Rights Cases, ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment could not prohibit “private” discrimination.

Without troops left in the South to protect Black people who were trying to exercise their rights, without states willing to write laws prohibiting discrimination in their own territories, and without a federal cause of action so that Black people could object to the discrimination they were facing, the Jim Crow era was off and running. State governments didn’t even have to pass laws formally discriminating against Black people; they could just let so-called “private actors”—like private restaurants or private hotels—do all the work for them.

But, of course, states did pass laws discriminating against Black folks, because if there’s one thing about racists, it’s that they’re never satisfied with being ahead. They need total subjugation of Black people to make them feel good about themselves.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt nine)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

The Union survived the Civil War, but its slavers’ Constitution did not.

If I’d been in charge, I’d have written an entirely new document. I’m sure that everybody knows that the original document counted slaves as “three fifths” of a free individual, but I’m not sure that most people appreciate how deeply cynical this clause was, beyond the obvious racism.

First of all, the actual text referred to three-fifths of “all other persons,” because the slavers who wrote it didn’t want to put the word slaves in their precious document. It’s one of the most obvious indications that the founders knew damn well that slavery was wrong and didn’t give a shit. But when you dig deeper, you realize that the three-fifths clause was put in there to help the slavers and the slave states. The Northern states out-peopled the Southern states, and so, rightly, the Southerners were worried about a federal government controlled by the states in the North with more people in them. You know, like a democracy or something. To counteract the places with the most people, the slave states put a bunch of antidemocratic loopholes in their Constitution, while also trying to inflate their own numbers by counting slaves who—by their own evil logic—had not right to representation. But they couldn’t just say that slaves should be counted as full people, because then why are they holding people in bondage? So the counted slaves as three-fifths of a person to give their captors more congressional representation.

A document that flawed, one animated by such evil, and one that so spectacularly failed that the country fought a live-ammo Civil War less than a hundred years after its conception, should have been thrown out with the bathwater. That’s what they did in South Africa. In South Africa, they didn’t just track chance and strike through the old apartheid constitution. You can’t make Freddy Krueger friendly by giving him a new hat. Instead, they wrote an entirely new document, in a constitutional convention that represented all of the people, and they took two years to do it. Adopted in 1996, the South African Constitution now stands as a model for the world, while we have a “constitutional crisis” every time a Republican president figures out a new way to commit crimes.

Monday, April 11, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt eight)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

For Black people, the Sixth Amendment is a cruel joke. The point of a trial by jury, if there is one, is to be judged by a community of your peers. But Black people are and have always been regularly brought up on charges by a white prosecutor, in front of a white judge, to have their guilt or innocence judged by an all-white or predominately white jury. That’s not “impartial” justice; it’s white justice imposed on Black bodies by a system that treats white people and their experiences as the default.

And it’s certainly not a jury of your peers. Can you imagine a white banker accused of tax fraud sitting in front of an all-Black jury of “peers”? Can you imagine a white cop accused of murder being subjected to an all-Black jury? It doesn’t happen. This country doesn’t let a panel of all Black people judge white people involved in a freaking reality television dance competition. There is scarcely a situation in American life where any white person this side of Eminem is subjected to the final judgment of Black people, but Black people are subjected to the final judgment of white people all the damn time.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt seven)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

The first time I heard about eminent domain was in college, where I read Robert Caro’s seminal book The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. Robert Moses is responsible for so much of how modern cities look and feel, and not just in New York because his methods were imported and copied throughout the country. Moses was a destroyer of Black and brown communities. And eminent domain is what allowed that asshole to be racist at an industrial scale.

If I may summarize one of the greatest modern biographies ever written in two sentences: Robert Moses was a deeply racist man who built highways, bridges, parks, beaches, and even housing projects by bulldozing the hopes, dreams, and often literal homes of people in his way. His main tactic for acquiring land for his projects was identifying vulnerable minority or immigrant communities, declaring their homes and land “blighted,” and then using the government’s power of eminent domain to evict people from their homes over their objection and for a fraction of what their communities were actually worth.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt six)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

The Central Park Five are Anton McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. They were all sixteen or younger when they were rounded up, along with seven other Black and brown boys, on suspicions of committing various crimes in Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989. One of those crimes was the brutal beating and rape of Trisha Meili, the “Central Park Jogger.” Under the lead of Linda Fairstein, who was head of the Manhattan District Attorney’s “sex-crimes” unit, the boys were questioned for hours, without an attorney or their parents present.

Eventually, all five boys “confessed” to some aspect of the crime against Meili. They were convicted and sent to prison. In 1989, then real estate developer Donald Trump took out a full-page ad in four New York newspapers, demanding that New York State reinstitute the death penalthy, in response to the attack on Meili.

We know know that the boys were wrongly accused, and that their confessions were entirely fabricated. We know that because in 2002, serial rapist Matias Reyes was captured and confessed to the attack on Meili after he met Korey Wise in prison. This is why they’re now called the Exonerated Five.

Friday, April 8, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt five)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

In the real world, the strength of your Fifth Amendment protections depends on your level of legal education or exposure to the law. I know to never talk to the police without an attorney present, because I’ve been to law school. Every lawyer, every person who had a lawyer for a parent, every person who made it through a first-year course on criminal law knows not to talk to the police, no matter what the police offer who in exchange for talking. If the police suspect you of a crime, get a lawyer. If the police don’t suspect you of a crime, shut up before you talk yourself into becoming a suspect.

The Fifth Amendment is a litmus test of whether you have enough education (from the books or from the streets) to know it exists. And that’s not how it’s supposed to be. Your constitutional rights aren’t supposed to change depending on whether you know they exist.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt four)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

In America, we’ve taken that ancient right to self-defense and made it more violent and bloodthirsty. The right to self-defense used to include a duty to retreat. That made sense: you can defend yourself from deadly force with deadly force, but if you can safely get away from deadly force, you should be all means do so. But I guess retreat isn’t performatively masculine enough for the assortment of weekend warriors and ammosexuals who get to make the rules in this country. Most state governments now specifically reject the duty to retreat, and the most deadly form of that rejection has been codified in “stand your ground” laws in many jurisdictions.

Understand, the right to self-defense, as applied in this country, is one of the most provably racist functions of law that we have statistics for, and stand your ground just makes those racial disparities worse. One well-respected study by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center found that white people who kill Black people are 250 percent more likely to have their homicides ruled as “justified” than when white people kill other white people. In stand your ground states, that number jumps to 354 percent—it is 354 percent more likely that white people will be ruled as justified in their killings of Black people.

“Self-defense” is how white people get away with murder. It is a textbook example of a “race-neutral” concept that has been applied with deep prejudice against Black people. It doesn’t matter if the Black person was armed, unarmed, strong, weak, fast, slow, or just walking home with some Skittles. If a white person kills that Black person, they always have a chance to “get out of jail free” by claiming self-defense.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt three)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

What these people don’t understand is that the right to gun ownership for self-defense is an entirely new constitutional argument, made up whole-cloth by the gun lobby, and only recently given the force of constitutional validity by Republicans on the Supreme Court. Self-defense is a philosophical right, but that right was not grounded in the “original” meaning of the Second Amendment; self-defense is not mentioned once in the text of the Constitution. What Republicans think is their strongese and most ancient defense of gun rights is actually a mere advertising campaign from manufacturers.

Our current interpretation of the Second Amendment was invented by the National Rifle Association in the 1970s. You see, in the 1960s, Republicans were all about gun control, because in the 1960s Black people thought that they should start carrying guns. The Black Panthers figured out that white people were much less likely to mess with them if the Panthers were openly carrying loaded weapons around with them. It’s not as fun to shout the n-word at a Black guy who happens to be carrying a loaded rifle, I imagine. You could lose an eye trying to do something like that.

Of course, Black people being able and willing to defend themselves from racist Americans was a very serious problem for racist Americans. In a direct response to African Americans patrolling Oakland, California, and “copwatching,” Republicans in California passed the Mulford Act, which banned open carry of loaded firearms in California. Who signed that law? Republican patron saint and then governor of California Ronald Reagan. The absolutist interpretation of the Second Amendment is new, but using gun rights or gun control, as necessary, to maintain racial dominance is old.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt two)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Thiel’s plan, which I imagine he hatched in a lair carved into a volcano, was to attack Gawker through a series of retaliatory lawsuits. As I said, Thiel himself had no legitimate legal case against Gawker for the article that deeply angered him. But he figured other people might. With virtually unlimited funds, Thiel decided to fund lawsuit after lawsuit against the publication. He told the New York Times that he spent nearly $10 million in supporting lawsuits against Gawker, chump change when you are as wealthy as Peter Thiel.

It's important to understand that Thiel didn’t think any particular lawsuit would succeed in bring down the site. Winning the lawsuits wasn’t actually the goal. The goal was to drain Gawker of funds by having to fight these lawsuits. Most media companies have insurance policies they take out to cover the expenses of fighting off the occasional defamation lawsuit. We live in a litigious society, and getting sued from time to time is just part of the cost of being in the media business in late-republic America. But these policies are expensive; they typically have significant deductibles, and the premiums go up the more times your company is sued. Even if a company is undefeated in court, it has to spend a lot of resources fighting off lawsuits.

Monday, April 4, 2022

the last book I ever read (Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution, excerpt one)

from Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution by Elie Mystal:

Protest against the government is at the heart of why the First Amendment exists in the first place. Political speech against the government, speaking truth to power, is the speech that is given the most robust legal protection. But the people who make a living decrying cancel culture rarely lift a pen or hashtag when Republicans use the powers of the state to chill political protests. In fact, they do the opposite: those who claim to care about cancel culture treat political protest as the thing that threatens freedom of speech. They claim their freedoms are being threatened by the very thing the First Amendment is designed to protect.

They call it the “heckler’s veto.” Snowflake Republicans have spent much of the last decade trying to prevent people from protesting their speeches. Remember Desiree Fairooz? She was the lady who was arrested and charged for laughing during Jeff Sessions’s confirmation hearing for attorney general back in 2017. She was charged with disrupting Congress and illegally protesting on Capitol Grounds. Again, this was laughing at a ridiculous statement made by Alabama Republican senator Richard Shelby during the hearing. (Shelby said that Jeff Sessions’s “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented.” Sessions was one of the most well-documented racists available at the start of the Trump administration: he was literally on record as a Klan sympathizer and was deemed too racist to get a federal judgeship before the people of Alabama elected him senator. Fairooz’s laugh was a kind response, relatively speaking, to Shelby’s falsehood.)

Once confirmed, Sessions’s Department of Justice hounded Fairooz for a couple of months, trying to force her into a plea where she admitted guilt, before eventually dropping the charges.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

the last book I ever read (Eliza Reid's Secrets of the Sprakkar, excerpt seven)

from Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World by Eliza Reid:

My identities as a woman and as an immigrant are inextricable. My experience has largely been positive. Most people in this country would be pleased about that, it seems. A 2020 Gallup survey ranked Icelanders’ tolerances to immigrants at 8.41 (out of a maximum of 9), second only to my home country, Canada, in the global rankings.

But there is no cookie-cutter immigrant experience. For every woman like me who moves here with a built-in network of local in-laws and finds a job related to her education, there is another who is exploited, working for a pittance in unsafe conditions because she hasn’t been made aware of her labor rights in this country. Asylum seekers arrive with few possessions, fleeing persecution and seeking peace and stability. There are women who live here for decades and speak the language flawlessly, and others who spend mere months or years on the island, cheerfully existing in a social bubble with other immigrants and rarely interacting with the locally born population. Some become lonely living in small, seemingly homogenous communities. Others make their dreams come true with new opportunities and directions. To paint all immigrants with the same brush, assigning them the same challenges and ambitions, benefits no one.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

the last book I ever read (Eliza Reid's Secrets of the Sprakkar, excerpt six)

from Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World by Eliza Reid:

Aside from individual sensations like impish singer Björk, on the occasions when people devote thought to Iceland’s contribtions to global culture, most think of its literary heritage. The sagas have inspired creative minds from Wagner to Tolkien.

They have inspired many modern-day Icelanders too. Several sources claim one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetimes (though it would be more accurate to caveat this statistic to publishing something, even a letter to the editor). Books are the most popular Christmas presents, and a large majority of the year’s batch is accordingly published from mid-October to mid-December, beginning when the early anticipated Book News catalog of the year’s offerings is delivered to households around the country. Thankfully, this remains the case; the Icelandic idiom blind is the bookless man warns us all of the fates of those who lack something to read over the holidays. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, during what’s known as the Christmas book flood, authors and poets fill their days with readings and other events in bookstores, workplaces, and even outdoor swimming pools. Many former homes of writers are now museums situated around the country, from the ancestral land of the thirteenth century’s Snorri Sturluson, who is credited with composing several influential medieval manuscripts, to the ‘60s-chic sunken living room and outdoor swimming pool (a rarity in Iceland) of Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness.

Friday, April 1, 2022

the last book I ever read (Eliza Reid's Secrets of the Sprakkar, excerpt five)

from Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World by Eliza Reid:

Heida grew up on this land, the youngest of five sisters, one of whom died when Heida was only three. Her oldest three siblings are her mother’s with her first husband, a man who was killed in an avalanche in 1967. In a small society, with a farm to run, Heida’s mother formed a bond with and ultimately married a man who was around a lot during those challenging years: her late husband’s brother. She had two children, including Heida, with him.

“I always wanted to be a farmer and to work with my hands,” Heida told me duing a short, well-earned break from the labor-intensive work all farming requires as she relaxed in a well-worn La-Z-Boy chair ingeniously placed in the most accessible corner of her kitchen, facing the table where I sat. (Everyone should have a reclining chair in their kitchen, I realized as I watched her. The guest can sip coffee sitting at the table, and the hardworking farmer can relax with her feet up.) “We took on all the jobs because farming is a man’s world and still is, but in our case, there weren’t any,” she told me. “We are basically four sisters who are hard-core feminists and know we can do anything.”