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2015: Our Very Own Year In Review

As this vexed year draws to a close, we would like to offer profound thanks to our readers for subscribing to The National Memo — and to revisit a few favorite examples of our unique reporting and commentary in 2015.  

We believe it is worth recalling stories that remain highly relevant as the election year approaches because, for instance, there are at least 5 Horrible Ideas The Republicans Will Never Let DieAnd as Barack Obama’s historic presidency enters its final months, we should also remember the 5 Obama Accomplishments & Successes Republicans Have To Pretend Never Happened.

As reproductive rights literally came under fire this year, we highlighted 5 Things ‘Pro-Lifers’ Would Support If They Were ‘Pro-Mom’ and noted that If Abortion Foes Were Really Pro-Life, They’d Go After Fertility Clinics TooWe focused on society’s marginalized in  When Police Brutality Goes Viral  and The Lives Of American Othersscrutinized attempts to overturn the rule of law in the name of faith with The Anarchy of Religious Liberty, and addressed many insidious right-wing myths in posts like The Reality Of Refugee Admissions: Yes, The Government Vets Them. 

In a year that saw tens of thousands of deaths by gun violance and still more needless massacres, we questioned the National Rifle Association’s declared commitment to gun safety, showing in Concealed-Carry Crazy: What Gun Lobbyists Mean When They Tout ‘Gun Safety’ that the NRA could scarcely care about anything less. Although the Charleston shooting failed to prompt needed changes in the nation’s gun laws, that tragedy stimulated a long-overdue conversation about public displays of the Confederacy’s symbols, which we joined in  Never Patriotic: The Real Meaning Of The Confederate Flag.

The year began — rather improbably — with a national debate about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, noted in Rise Of The Know-Betters: Just The Facts About Anti-Vaxx. And we took readers back to the harrowing time, not so long ago, When There Was No Vaccine.

Annoyingly, it is impossible to discuss 2015 without acknowledging the political ascendance of Donald Trump, a phenomenon less surprising than it seems when we consider the 5 Reasons Donald Trump Is The Republican Party. Not surprising at all, perhaps, since Pop Culture Warned Us About Donald Trump — Part 1: The Penguin; Part 2: ‘MAD Magazine’Part 3: Lex Luthor; Part 4: ‘The Dead Zone’.

Trump’s few actual policy ideas are ludicrous — as exemplified in An Engineer Explains Why Trump’s Wall Is So Implausible. But the GOP frontrunner is no joke, so we posed  21 Questions For Donald Trump that we doubt he will ever answer. And the media is unlikely to remedy that problem, as we discussed in  5 Ways The GOP Plays The Media And Wins and The Media Needs To Stop Playing Nice With Donald Trump.

On the other side of the partisan aisle,  presidential candidates coped with a far more hostile and uncomprehending press corps, as we noted in Hillary Clinton And The Burden Of Authenticity What Socialism Means To Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton — And You, not to mention the bizarre drama of the Democratic front-runner, the newspaper of record, and, the House Select Committee on Benghazi that kicked off with Straining To Attack Clinton, ‘New York Times’ and Trey Gowdy Deliver Libya Squib and concluded with a famous 11-hour ordeal of testimony on Capitol Hill. 

We trust that you will continue to allow us to entertain and, we hope, enlighten in 2016 — and meanwhile, Happy New Year!

Photo: The New Year’s Eve “16” numerals that are part of the Times Square ball drop. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton 

Study: States With Stricter Gun Control Laws Have Fewer Gun-Related Deaths

In his speech after the Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, President Obama challenged the media to compare rates of death from terrorism and shootings — in order to properly gauge the impact of gun violence in America and our disproportionate response to it.

News organizations answered the charge, and then some – with maps, charts, and reams of data on rates of gun violence – both in the United States and comparing America with other developed countries. America is #1 in many things, including sadly, our homicide rate — specifically gun homicides.

National Journal back in August posted a chart comparing the states with the fewest gun-related deaths to those with the most, and illustrating how their policies correlate to the number of deaths. At the extreme ends: Hawaii, with only 2.5 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people, has very strict regulations – residents must have a permit to own a gun, submit to a background check, wait 14 days before obtaining a handgun, and it is difficult for them to either get a concealed or an open-carry permit – compared to Alaska, with 19.8 deaths per 100,000 people, which has completely opposite policies on all those questions.

The two states are emblematic of those that fall between them on this chart; states with fewer gun-related deaths tend to make it difficult for residents to not only obtain a gun, but to carry them, while states with larger numbers of gun-related deaths make it easier.

The president told the White House press corps that claims from those opposed to gun control are “not borne out by the evidence.” And there has been no shortage of analysis on this subject. In fact, the shooting in Oregon gave many outlets an occasion to repurpose existing research on gun violence in America they had published in August after the WDBJ shooting or in June after Charleston — just with another update. Take for example Mother Jones, who, in a widely republished graph originally posted in 2013, after the Sandy Hook shooting, compared gun ownership by gun deaths for each state. Although not perfectly correlated, states with more guns tended to have more gun deaths. For even more gun statistics visualized, check out this array from Vox.

Photo: This is what kills people. (AP Photo/Robert Ray)
Video: Wochit via Tribune Content Agency

The Tragic History Of Race Wars

He wanted to start a race war.

That, you will recall, was what authorities say white supremacist Dylann Roof had in mind when he shot up a storied African-American church in June. It might have surprised him to learn that we’ve already had a race war.

No, that’s not how one typically thinks of World War II, but it takes only a cursory consideration of that war’s causes and effects to make the case. Germany killed 6 million Jews and rampaged through Poland and the Soviet Union because it considered Jews and Slavs subhuman. The Japanese stormed through China and other Asian outposts in the conviction that they were a superior people and that Americans, as a decadent and mongrel people, could do nothing about it.

Meantime, this country was busy imprisoning 120,000 of its citizens of Japanese ancestry in concentration camps and plunging into a war against racial hatred with a Jim Crow military. The American war effort was undermined repeatedly by race riots — whites attacking blacks at a shipyard in Mobile, white servicemen beating up Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, to name two examples.

So no, it is not a stretch to call that war a race war.

It ended on August 15, 1945. V-J — Victory over Japan — Day was when the surrender was announced, the day of blissfully drunken revelry from Times Square in New York to Market Street in San Francisco. But for all practical purposes, the war had actually ended nine days before — 70 years ago Thursday — in a noiseless flash of light over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. One person who survived — as least 60,000 people would not — described it as a “sheet of sun.”

The destruction of Hiroshima by an atomic bomb — Nagasaki followed three days later — did not just end the war. It also ushered in a new era: the nuclear age. To those of us who were children then, nuclear power was what turned Peter Parker into a human spider and that lizard into Godzilla.

It was also what air-raid sirens were screaming about when the teacher told you to get down under your desk, hands clasped behind your neck. We called them “drop drills.” No one ever explained to us how putting an inch of laminated particle board between you and a nuclear explosion might save you. None of us ever thought to ask. We simply accepted it, went to school alongside this most terrifying legacy of the great race war, and thought nothing of it.

The world has seen plenty of race wars — meaning tribalistic violence — before and since 1945. Ask the Armenians, the Tutsis, the Darfurians. Ask the Congolese, the Cambodians, the Herero. Ask the Cherokee. The childish urge of the human species to divide itself and destroy itself has splashed oceans of blood across the history of the world.

The difference 70 years ago was the scope of the thing — and that spectacular ending. For the first time, our species now had the ability to destroy itself. We were still driven by the same childish urge. Only now, we were children playing with matches.

This is the fearsome reality that has shadowed my generation down seven decades, from schoolchildren doing drop drills to grandparents watching grandchildren play in the park. And the idea that we might someday forge peace among the warring factions of the planet, find a way to help our kind overcome tribal hatred before it’s too late, has perhaps come to seem idealistic, visionary, naïve, a tired ’60s holdover, a song John Lennon once sang that’s nice to listen to but not at all realistic.

Maybe it’s all those things.

Though 70 years after a flash of soundless light blasted away 60,000 lives, you have to wonder what better options we’ve got. But then, I’m biased.

You see, I have grandchildren playing in the park.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Photo: Artūrs Gedvillo via Flickr

From The KKK To The CCC To Dylann Roof

This originally appeared in The Washington Spectator

White nationalism infuses our political ideology.

When Dylann Roof pulled a gun at a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, his shots rang through history to the roots of the ideology of white supremacy, which justified genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of black people from Africa. We deny this at our own risk.

Roof attacked the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which by the early 1800s was at the center of black resistance to slavery in Charleston, according to African-American history scholar Gerald Horne. Black people, Roof feared, threaten the existence of the white race. Events in the church’s history play a role in Roof’s fear. Inspired by a slave rebellion that began in 1791 in what is now Haiti, Emanuel parishioner Denmark Vesey of Charleston began organizing an insurrection against slavery, using the Charleston AME church as a base.

Roof might have been unaware of the specific history of “Mother Emanuel,” but he had immersed himself in a narrative that is deeply rooted in our nation’s history, a narrative that takes into account the history of Charleston’s historic congregation.

Roof told a participant in the Bible study, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” Horne and other social scientists believe Roof inherited the fear of murderous blacks raping white women from a common historic narrative of white supremacy.

Horne says that after the bloody slave revolt, American newspapers were full of stories salaciously describing “marauding blacks with sugar-cane machetes hacking the white slave owners to death.” Regardless of their veracity, these stories informed a historic narrative that was seized upon by the founders and early members of the Ku Klux Klan.

After the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan “was largely halted following federal legislation targeting Klan-perpetrated violence in the early 1870s,” said Klansville, U.S.A. author David Cunningham in a PBS documentary. In 1905, Thomas Dixon, Jr., wrote The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, later turned into the silent film The Birth of a Nation in 1915. The white supremacist frame of black men pillaging, raping, and murdering was returning to the mainstream.

Dylann Roof looked beyond our native anti-black texts. His website was The Last Rhodesian. Roof allied himself with the cause of Rhodesia because, according to the racist right, the failed struggle in the 1960s to preserve African white nationalist societies, including South Africa, was a warning about the communist conspiracy to use black people to pave the way for totalitarian tyranny. This thesis was purveyed by the John Birch Society, whose historic and current conspiracy theories are today utilized by Glenn Beck. A decade before he was appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas joined the conspiracy theorists when he became affiliated with the Lincoln Institute, a right-wing think tank that embraced apartheid in South Africa as a bulwark against communism.

As the world is wired today, these theories are a click away. Jennifer Earl, the co-author of Digitally Enabled Social Change: Activism in the Internet Age, is one of several sociologists to have shown that the Internet can mobilize people into movement participation. Right-wing groups from the militia to the neo-Nazi movements were early adopters of online technology, even before the internet created a World Wide Web of unedited communications that brought racist and anti-Semitic (and now anti-Islamic) rhetoric into our homes.

Roger Griffin studied terrorism for the British government. His Terrorist’s Creed: Fanatical Violence and the Human Need for Meaning, describes the phenomenon of “heroic doubling,” which can turn a “normal” individual into someone who carries out acts of fanatical violence as a media-carried clarion call to arms to defend an idealized pure community under threat from a demonized “Other.”

Roof was influenced by the Council of Conservative Citizens. The CCC’s racist rhetoric provides the most extreme versions of the demonization of blacks and white liberals, while a more muted—sometimes coded—version of white supremacy is routinely broadcast on cable news and AM radio talk shows. The first black president continues to provide a lightning rod for racist rhetoric.

White nationalism infuses our political ideology as a nation—from our major political parties to the armed extreme right. We need to confront the color line that bestows on white people unfair advantages. We need to revoke that grant of privilege by working to correct the injustice that still stains our nation with the spilling of blood. As Dr. King warned us, either we build community or we will face chaos.

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