Memory Issues for People in Their Eighties

Joe Biden, who just turned 80, will be 86 in 2028 should he be re-elected and serve another four-year term as U.S. President. This has prompted political speculation whether his age is or should be a disqualifying attribute for his seeking re-election. This issue was discussed in an interesting New York Times article about memory issues facing people in their 80’s in the U.S.[1]

The article starts with the following general comments:

  • “[W]hile the risk of life-threatening diseases, dementia and death rises faster with each passing decade of a person’s life, experts in geriatrics say that people in their 80s who are active, engaged and have a sense of purposecan remain productive and healthy — and that wisdom and experience are important factors to consider.”
  • “ Biden, . . . experts agreed, has a lot going in his favor: He is highly educated, has plenty of social interaction, a stimulating job that requires a lot of thinking, is married and has a strong family network — all factors that, studies show, are protective against dementia and conducive to healthy aging. He does not smoke or drink alcohol and, according to the White House, he exercises five times a week. He also has top-notch medical care.”
  • “His race is another [positive] factor. The life expectancy for the average white, 80-year-old man is another eight years, said Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University. ‘And that’s the average,’ Dr. Rowe said. ‘A lot of those 80-year-olds are already sick; they are already in the nursing home.’”
  • “Scientists who study aging stress that chronological age is not the same as biological age — and that the two often diverge as people grow older. It is true that older people tend to decline physically, and the brain also undergoes changes. But in people who are active, experts say, the brain continues to evolve and some brain functions can even improve— a phenomenon experts call the ‘neuroplasticity of aging.’”
  • “’This idea that old age is associated with only declines is not true,’ said  Dilip Jeste, a psychiatrist who has studied aging at the University of California, San Diego. ‘There are studies that have been done all over the world which show that in people who keep active physically, socially, mentally and cognitively there is increased connectivity among specific networks, and even new neurons and synapses can form in selected brain regions with older age.’”

Further comments were provided by five additional experts.

“Dr. Dan Blazer, professor emeritus and psychiatric epidemiologist at Duke University School of Medicine, who led a committee of experts that examined “cognitive aging” for the National Academy of Sciences in 2015, said, ‘Slippage of memory is something that is usual, but it is not a real deficit.’ He described such slippage this way: ‘They forget, they remember they have forgotten and they eventually remember what they have forgotten.’”

Another expert on aging, Dr. Gill Livingston, a psychiatrist at University College London, who led a commission on dementia in 2020, observed, ‘Once people reach 65, the risk of dementia doubles every five years. In general, she said, in high-income countries like the United States, dementia will affect 10 percent of people aged 80 to 84 and 20 percent of those aged 85 to 89.”

Lisa Berkman, a professor of public policy at the Harvard School of Public Health who studies health and aging, added a more nuanced view. ‘People in their 80s commonly experience declines; we shouldn’t be naïve about that. And at the same time, there is so much variability. People who are doing well and are in the top level of functioning, have the odds of going for another 10 years, of doing really well during this time and making very important contributions.’”

Jay Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, names both Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump, who is 76, as likely fitting the profile of “super-agers” — a ‘subgroup of people that maintain their mental and physical functioning and tend to live longer than the average person their age.’”

“Dr. Olshansky also says it is a misconception to think being president ages a person; in fact, former presidents tend to live longer, as an analysis he published in 2011 showed. Former President Jimmy Carter, who has been active well into his 90s, turned 98 last month. President George H.W. Bush was 94 when he died in 2018.”

“As the baby boom cohort ages, the number of octogenarians is growing into what experts have called a “silver tsunami.” In its 2020 Profile of Older Americans, the federal Department of Health and Human Services reported that the 85-and-older population was projected to more than double from 6.6 million in 2019 to 14.4 million in 2040.”

Reactions

On November 21, the Times published 583 comments on this article. Here are a few of them:

  • Jim K said, “If either party offers a younger candidate with a fresher and less polarizing vision/agenda for the nation, that party’s candidate will probably win the election. In my opinion, that is who the independents – the middle of the road types – would vote for.”
  • Joe Barnett said, “If he decides not to run, he can wait until the primaries and then endorse or just watch the Democrats pull from their wealth of talent to replace him.”
  • Northern D offered, “It will actually speak to Biden’s legacy if he knows when to leave and still be capable of helping his successor not matter who he or she is. In my estimation that should be sooner rather than later.”
  • Therion boston, “Step down Man! The United States needs a leader that is younger, fresher, and more vibrant. Our whole country needs to put forward a fresh face.”
  • MCM said, “The appropriate question is whether the United States can run the risk that he may not be. And the article suggests that while he has many advantages, that possibility exists.”
  • WHC says, “By their mid80s most individuals have some cognitive decline, and if there is one job where we don’t want the holder to have cognitive decline it’s president of the United States. Yes, decline is not guaranteed, but the odds are clearly rising, and shutting your eyes to it—or to declare legitimate worries ageism, as though he’s just a laid off fifty something—isn’t serving your readers.”

Although I voted for Mr. Biden in the 2020 election, I think he should not run for re-election because of concerns about the potential adverse effects of his aging during a second term and of some voters declining to vote for him for that reason. I also think that many of the younger voters, who turned out in great numbers in the 2020 election, would appreciate having a younger candidate to vote for. My recommendations: U.S. Senators Cory Booker or Amy Klobuchar.

As a mid-80’s white male, retired lawyer with three university degrees who is in relatively good health and active in various ways, I am glad to learn that my age does not automatically mean that I am destined to suffer significant physical and mental decline in the balance of my 80’s. However, I acknowledge that my short-term memory is not as sharp as it used to be. When I mentioned this issue to a friend of my generation, he loaned me a book, “Remember” that emphasizes forgetting is part of being human while some memories are built to last only a few seconds and others can last a lifetime. The book’s author, Lisa Genova, is a neuroscientist and acclaimed novelist. I look forward to reading this book and hopefully getting tips on improving my memory.[2]

================================

[1] Stolberg, The President Is Turning 80. Experts Say Age Is More Than a Number, N.Y. Times (Nov. 20, 2022),

[2] Author Spotlight: Lisa Genova, Harmony Books.

U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba

On November 3, 2022, the U.N. General Assembly again condemned the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this time for the Cuban resolution was 185 to 2 (with the U.S. and Israel voting against the resolution) while two others abstained (Brazil and Ukraine).[1]

The resolution “reiterated its call on all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the text’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under the United Nations Charter and international law. It also urged States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regimes.”

Cuba’s Argument for Its Resolution

Cuba alleged in support of its resolution that “only between August 2021 and February 2022 that unilateral policy caused Cuba losses in the order of 3,806.5 million dollars. The figure is 49% higher than that reported between January and July 2021 and a record in just seven months.”

“At current prices, [according to Cuba,] the accumulated damages during six decades of the blockade amount to 150,410.8 million dollars, with a great weight on sectors such as health and education, in addition to the damage to the national economy and the quality of life of Cuban families.”

“In the first 14 months of the Biden Administration alone, [said Cuba,] the losses caused by the blockade amounted to 6,364 million dollars, which is equivalent to an impact of more than 454 million dollars a month and more than 15 million dollars a day.”

Finally, Cuba claimed that  “The extraterritorial impact of the blockade harms the sovereignty of the countries of the United Nations, sanctions their businessmen and impedes access to their ports for third party ships that dock in Cuba. It also prevents the importation into Cuba of articles produced in any country when they have 10% or more of U.S. components.”

Cuba’s foreign Minister, Rodriguez Parrilla, also said, “During the pandemic, the blockade was further tightened, causing more delays in the delivery of necessary medical equipment. But despite limited resources, Cuba cooperated with other countries, sending medical brigades to provide aid. Equally unceasing, he said, is the fraudulent inclusion of Cuba in the United States Department of State’s unilateral list of countries that allegedly sponsor terrorism. This forces Cuba to pay twice the usual price for commodities on the international market. Cuba has rejected all forms of terrorism.”

The Foreign Minister added, “The current United States Administration does not have a Cuba policy, he said. Rather it continues to exert the “maximum pressure” policy developed under the Donald Trump Administration. Over the last few months, it has taken positive steps to alleviate certain restrictions, but the blockade continues to be the central element defining Cuba-United States policy.”

Other Countries’ Support for the Resolution

During the General Assembly debate over the Cuba resolution, “Member States condemned the economic embargo against Cuba, calling it cruel, inhumane and punitive. They urged the United States to begin a dialogue with Cuba based on the equality of States and respect for sovereignty and independence.”

“Representatives of several developing States also thanked Cuba for providing them with much-needed medical aid, nurses and vaccines at the height of the pandemic. Nicaragua’s delegate said that Cuba, thanks to its revolutionary spirit and socialist conviction, has been able to stand alongside the developed countries that sanction it by producing vaccines and helping ‘our developing peoples.’”

“Speakers for several Caribbean countries pointed out also that the United States blockade has had widespread implications and consequences and was stifling not only Cuba’s growth but that of the entire region. Several delegates questioned how the world could commit to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while locking out one country from fairly participating in its own socioeconomic development.”

“’No nation should be punished and exploited by another,’ Gabon’s representative said. ‘Cuba is peaceful and cooperative and deserves the continued support of the international community in calling for an end to the embargo.’”

“Member States also questioned how they could overwhelmingly call for an end to the embargo year after year for decades without any results. ‘Every year, we speak about the devastating impact of the embargo on the people of Cuba, but we see no effort to remove the restrictions,’ Zimbabwe’s delegate said.”

The U.S. Statement Against the Resolution[2]

The U.S. statement purportedly justifying its opposition to the resolution was provided during the debate by John Kelley, Political Counselor, who said the following:

  • “The United States remains committed to the Cuban people in their pursuit of freedom, prosperity, and a future with greater dignity. We are focused on the political and economic wellbeing of the Cuban people and center our efforts on democracy and human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
  • “Cubans of all walks of life are speaking out for fundamental freedoms, protesting Cuban government repression, and advocating for a better future. In July of 2021, the world witnessed tens of thousands of Cubans across the island take to the streets to peacefully demand freedom. The Cuban government responded to the demands of the Cuban people with crackdowns on peaceful protesters, journalists, and human rights defenders.”
  • “The Cuban government has used harsh prison sentences, even against minors, intimidation tactics, arrests, Internet interruptions, government-sponsored mobs, and horrendous prison conditions to try to prevent Cubans from exercising their human rights.”
  • “Cuban security officials have also forced into exile human rights activists and journalists who had been either detained or warned about their activities. We join international partners in urging the Cuban government to release political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to protect the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly of all individuals in Cuba.”
  • “As we hold the Cuban government accountable, our support for the Cuban people is unwavering. The embargo includes exemptions and authorizations relating to exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba.”
  • “We recognize the challenges the Cuban people face. The people of the United States and U.S. organizations donate a significant amount of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people, and the United States is one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. Since 1992, the United States has authorized billions of dollars of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, consumer goods, and other items to support the Cuban people. In 2021 alone, U.S. companies exported over $295 million worth of agricultural goods to Cuba, including food, to help address the Cuban people’s basic needs.”
  • “Last month, following the devastating impact of Hurricane Ian, the United States announced it is providing to the Cuban people critical humanitarian aid through trusted international partners working directly with Cubans whose communities were devastated by the storm. The U.S. Agency for International Development will provide $2 million in funding for emergency relief to those in need in Cuba.”
  • “Mr. President, the United States opposes this resolution, but we stand with the Cuban people and will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to them. We encourage this body to urge the Cuban government to listen to the Cuban people and their demands to determine their own future.”

Conclusion

Amazingly none of the major U.S. sources of international news—New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal—had any articles about this U.N. General Assembly resolution.

In contrast, this blog by a U.S. citizen living in the U.S. without any family connections with Cuba, but with involvement in Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s partnership with a Presbyterian-Reformed Church on the island, has contained many blog posts opposing the U.S. embargo of Cuba.[3] The most recent such post had an abbreviated history of the embargo and discussed the last U.N. General Assembly resolution against the embargo that passed on June 23, 2021, by a vote of 184 to 2 (again the U.S. and Israel in opposition) with three abstentions (Colombia, Brazil and Ukraine).[4]

=====================================

[1] U.N., General Assembly: 28th plenary meeting, 77th session (Nov. 3, 2022); Rodriguez, Overwhelming Victory for Cuba at the UN: 185 countries vote against the blockade, Granma (Nov. 3, 2022); Cuba Foreign Minister Rodriguez Parrilla, The world would be better off without the blockade, Granma (Nov. 3, 2022); How little the United States respect the world by maintaining the blockade against Cuba!, Granma (Nov. 2, 2022) (Cuba President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez’ Twitter statement); U.N. Secretary General, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Jan. 20, 2022).

[2] U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Explanation of Vote After the Vote on a UN General Assembly Resolution on the Cuba Embargo (Nov. 3, 2022).

[3]  See the posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries—Topical: CUBA [as of 5/4/20}.

[4]  Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy,” dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 1, 2022).

Hurricane-Damaged Cuba Needs Immediate U.S. Recovery Help 

“Hurricane Ian caused great devastation [in Cuba]. The power grid was damaged, and the electrical system collapsed. Over four thousand homes have been completely destroyed or badly damaged. . . . In the western province of Pinar del Rio, famous for its tobacco production, over 5,000 farms were destroyed. In small towns like San Luis, 80% of all homes were left damaged . . . . Cuba must be allowed, even if just for the next six months, to purchase the necessary construction materials to REBUILD. Cubans are facing a major setback because of Hurricane Ian.”[1]

These words buttressed the demand by a U.S. organization, The People’s Forum,[2] in a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times for the U.S. to end the U.S. embargo of the island, the U.S. designating Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” and the U.S. complex processes for dispatching disaster relief. The People’s Forum added the following:

  • “It is unconscionable at this critical hour to maintain the embargo and engage in collective punishment against an entire people by preventing Cuba from purchasing construction materials or receiving aid.”
  • President Biden put Cold war politics aside—even for six months!”
  • “The people of Cuba are part of our family—the human family. Don’t let outdated Cold War politics prevent peace-loving people from helping the Cubans to rebuild and return to their homes, rebuild the electrical grid, and have clean drinking water and access to food. The time to act is now!”
  • Cuba is our neighbor. The United States loses nothing by being a good neighbor and allowing Cuba to recover fully from this tragic moment.”[3]

================================

[1] Advertisement, Let Cuba Rebuild-Urgent Appeal to President Biden, N.Y.Times, p. A23 (Oct. 2, 2022). The ad solicited online donations through the website of another organization, LetCubaLive.

[2] The People’s Forum “are a movement incubator for working class and marginalized communities to build unity across historic lines of division at home and abroad. We are an accessible educational and cultural space that nutures the next generation of visionaries and organizers who believe that through collective action a new world is possible.” (The People’s Forum, About.)   The Forum previously has engaged in other efforts to promote U.S.-Cuba normalization. (The People’s Forum, Search Results: Cuba.)

[3] This advertised message provides an exclamation point to this blog’s most recent post, Criticism of President Biden’s “New Cuba Policy,” dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 1, 2022).

More Details on Jurors’ Comments on Derek Chauvin Trial 

The blog previously has discussed the court’s decision last week to release on November 1 certain information about the jurors in the Derek Chauvin trial and the October 28th Don Lemon program on CNN  with seven of the 14  jurors (including two alternates). [1] Now additional details about this development have been reported by the Washington Post, New York Times and StarTribune. [2]

The Washington Post has reported the following:

  • Several jurors said their views on race did not factor into the verdict. According to Juror Nicole Deters, ““We got here because of systemic racism within the system, right, because of what’s been going on. That’s how we got to a courtroom in the first place. But when it came down to all three verdicts, it was based on the evidence and the facts one hundred percent.”
  • Several jurors said “they probably would have come to the same verdicts if Chauvin had testified in his defense, but they said they would have liked to hear what he was thinking. Videos of the killing, recorded by bystanders and others, factored into the jurors’ decision-making, they said.”
  • Juror Sheri Belton Hardeman said, “The camera doesn’t lie. And it was in slow motion at times while you were sitting there in court. … So it was hard. It played a huge role though. It truly did.”
  • Juror Jodi Doud told CNN the video “bothered me so much. How could somebody do that to someone else? And it was a slow death. It wasn’t just a gunshot and they’re dead.”

The New York Times added the following report:

  • Half of the 12 jurors declined to comment or could not be reached on November 1st after their names had been publicly released. At the home of one of them, this sign was posted on the front door: “Please, no press no soliciting” while a “Black Lives Matter” poster was prominently displayed in a window.
  • Juror Brandon Mitchell, who previously had made public comments on the trial, said on November 1, , 2021, that all of the jurors have been keeping in touch on an email chain since the trial. “They’re scared of the unknown and of becoming a public figure instead of spending their lives in peace.”
  • Juror Jodi Doud had said on the CNN program, “This is not what he [Chauvin] did, but more or less what he didn’t do. He did not provide lifesaving measures for George Floyd when he knew that the guy was in pain or needed medical attention.”

The Times article also reported that the prospective jurors questionnaires “reveal a diverse range of opinions from the jurors, who were from throughout Hennepin County and ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s. Four of the jurors were Black, six were white and two were multiracial; seven of the 12 were women.”

The StarTribune noted that two jurors and an alternate previously had made the following public comments about the trial:

  • “25-year-old Journee Howard, of Minneapolis, said she was especially swayed by the testimony of Dr. Martin Tobin, who bolstered the prosecution’s contention that Floyd died from asphyxiation as a direct result of being pinned face down on the pavement at 38th and Chicago for more than nine minutes by Chauvin and two other officers.”
  • Brandon Mitchell said the jury deliberations were “smooth” with a strong focus on the evidence and the terminology of the law, but did not include discussions about race or the broader issue of police killing civilians.
  • Alternate Lisa Christensen, 56, of Brooklyn Center, said she was “sad and disappointed” when she was excused before deliberations began but agreed with the verdicts.

The StarTribune also added that a jury questionnaire disclosed that the jury foreperson was a 31-year-old man from Minneapolis, who was engaged at the time of the trial, has degrees in accounting from the University of St. Thomas, and works as an audit manager and that almost all of the  responses to the questionnaire said the prospective jurors disagreed with the statement that “the police treated white and Black people equally” while all agreed that “Police in my community make me feel safe.”

=============================

[1]  Judge Orders Release of Jurors Names in Derek Chauvin Trial, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 28, 2021); Discussion of Derek Chauvin Trial By Seven of Its Jurors, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 30, 2021).

[2]  Shammas & lati, Race was not part of Chauvin jurors’ decision, they say, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2021); Bogel-Burroughs, Jurors Who Convicted Derek Chauvin Are Identified for First Time, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2021); Walsh, More than 6 months after verdicts, court releases names of jurors in Derek Chauvin trial, StarTribune (Nov. 1, 2021).

 

 

 

Developments in State Criminal Cases for George Floyd Killing

 There have been four recent developments in the state criminal cases over the killing of George Floyd: (a) the state trial court’s delaying the criminal trial of the other three defendants (Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng and Tou Thao); (b) conducting a hearing on Lane’s motion for discovery of certain use-of-force reports by the Minneapolis Police Department; (c) conducting a hearing on motions for sanctions for alleged leak of alleged Chauvin offer to plead guilty; and (d) Thao’s motion for sanctions for alleged illegal pressure on Hennepin County Medical Examiner.

Delay of Trial [1]

At the May 13 pretrial hearing in the three cases, Judge Peter Cahill announced that the trial would be delayed from August 25, 2021 to March 7, 2022. The Judge gave three reasons for this postponement: (a) provide time for the Judge to deal with pending issues in the cases; (b) provide time for the recently filed federal criminal case against all four ex-officers to proceed since it carries higher potential penalties; [2] and (c) provide time for the publicity about the trial and conviction of Derek Chauvin to diminish.

The three defendants favored the postponement. The State did not .

Nekima Levy Armstrong, a lawyer and prominent civil rights activist in Minneapolis, did not approve of this postponement. She said, “I think we they should have just moved forward. I don’t think it helps our community in a positive way to have to wait about another year.”

Lane’s Motion for Discovery [3]

Previously Lane had requested the State to disclose all use-of-force reports for the last 30 years in which a Minneapolis police officer intervened verbally or physically against another officer’s use of force and the State objected. Lane’s attorney believes there are no such reports and thus discredit the aiding and abetting charges against Lane (and the other two ex-officers )for not intervening to stop Chauvin’s restraint of George Floyd.

Matthew Frank for the State argued that the request was overly broad and should be denied. ts brief stated, that Lane had “not established how the intentions and actions of individual police officers in past years in other incidents would be admissible to impeach testimony about the objectively reasonable officer standard. His failure to address the factual or legal standards necessary to this motion highlight that this is not a serious discovery motion, but simply an attempt to usurp the Court’s time and resources so counsel for Defendant Lane can obtain a public forum to argue his theory of the case. His motion should be summarily denied.”

The Judge said he would take the motion under advisement and later issue an order on the motion.

Three Co-Defendants Motion for Sanctions [4]

The three co-defendants (Lane, Kueng and Thao) have alleged that the prosecution leaked to the New York Times an alleged offer by Chauvin to plead guilty to third -degree murder only three days after the killing of Mr. Floyd.[5]

At the May 13th  hearing, this subject was raised when the three co-defendants asked for the prosecutors to testify under oath or submit affidavits that they did not leak this information, and Judge Cahill revealed that shortly after publication of the Times article he had asked the prosecutors to do just that, but only one such affidavit was provided (by Matthew Frank) while Attorney General Ellison submitted a letter (not under oath) that the prosecution team was not the source.

Judge Cahill tentatively scheduled an August hearing on this matter, and one of the co-defendants’ attorneys said he would subpoena prosecutors who had not submitted affidavits as well as the New York Times reporter for the article (Tim Arango) even though Judge Cahill expressed concern about a subpoena to the journalist in light of his First Amendment protections. (Indeed, the New York Times subsequently stated that it “will vigorously defend against any effort to target our reporters and their sources.”

Thao’s Motion for Sanctions [6]

On March 12 attorneys for Tou Thao filed a motion for sanctions for alleged prosecutorial misconduct in allegedly (a) having Dr. Roger Mitchell, a former Chief Medical Examiner for Washington, D.C., pressure Dr. Andrew Baker, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, to change his preliminary findings of “no physical findings [supporting] a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation” to the final findings of “neck compression;” and (b) after Chauvin’s chief medical expert (Dr. Fowler) testified that in his opinion the cause of death was undetermined, Dr. Mitchell wrote to Maryland officials to investigate Dr. Fowler’s qualifications and such an investigation was commenced by the Maryland Attorney General.

The motion then requested an order (a) dismissing the criminal charges against Thao; (b) barring seven attorneys (Including Attorney General Ellison and Neal Katyal) from participating in any trial against Thao; (c) asserting complaints about these attorneys to their professional responsibility authorities; and (d) requiring the State to report Dr. Mitchell to the appropriate medical boards.

The same day (May 12) Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank sent a letter to the Judge, saying that this motion asserted, “Bizarre allegations . . . [that] are false and wrong” and that the State requested one week to file a response to the motion.

Conclusion

The issues keep coming.

==============================

[1] Xiong, State trial postponed to March 2022 for ex-officers charged with aiding and abetting murder in George Floyd death, StarTribune (May 13, 2021); Furber, Judge Delays Trial for Other Officers Charged in Killing of George Floyd, N.Y. Times (May 13, 2021); Bailey, Trial for 3 former officers charged in George Floyd’s murder delayed until March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Karnowski & Forliti (AP), Trial for 3 ex-cops charged in Floyd’s death pushed to March, Wash. Post (May 13, 2021); Winter, Judge Delays trial in George Floyd Case, W.S.J. (May 13, 2021).

[2] See Federal Criminal Charges Against Ex-Minneapolis Policemen Over George Floyd Killing, dwkcommentaries.com (May 7, 2021).

[3] See n.1 supra. See also State’s Response to Defendant Lane’s February 10, 2021 Discovery Motion, State v. Lane, Hennepin County District Court, Case No. 27-CR-20-12951 (May 11, 2021).

[4] See n. 1 supra.

[5] See n. 1 supra; Did Derek Chauvin Agree to Plead Guilty to Third-Degree Murder for Killing George Floyd, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 11, 2021).

[6] See n. 1 supra. See also  Motion for Sanctions for Prosecutorial Misconduct Stemming from Witness Coercion, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949, Hennepin County District Court May 12, 2021), https://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-20-12949-TT/NOMM05122021.pdf; Letter, Matthew Frank (Assistant Attorney General) to Judge Cahill, State v. Thao, Court File No. 27-CR-20-12949, Hennepin County District Court May 12, 2021).. https://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/High-Profile-Cases/27-CR-20-12949-TT/Correspondence05122021.pdf.

 

 

 

Pandemic Journal (# 32): Another Vision of the New Normal  

Whenever we in the U.S. and elsewhere are able safely to leave the restrictions of the COVID-19 Pandemic, we, in my opinion, will not return to what we regarded as “normal” before this pandemic. Nor do we know what the “new normal” will be. A previous post discussed noted commentator Fareed Zakaria’s opinion on this subject.[1]

Now we look at another vision of the new normal from Tom Friedman, the New York Times columnist, author and native Minnesotan.[2]

He opens with this blockbuster, “When we emerge from this corona crisis, we’re going to be greeted with one of the most profound eras of Schumpeterian creative destruction ever — which this pandemic is both accelerating and disguising.” Indeed, “No job, no K-12 school, no university, no factory, no office will be spared. And it will touch both white-collar and blue-collar workers, which is why this election matters so much. How we provide more Americans with portable health care, portable pensions and opportunities for lifelong learning to get the most out of this moment and cushion the worst is what politics needs to be about after Nov. 3 — or we’re really headed for instability.”[3]

“The reason the post-pandemic era will be so destructive and creative is that never have more people had access to so many cheap tools of innovation, never have more people had access to high-powered, inexpensive computing, never have more people had access to such cheap credit — virtually free money — to invent new products and services, all as so many big health, social, environmental and economic problems need solving.”

Friedman gains support for these startling predictions from Ravi Kumar, the president of Infosys, an Indian tech services company with his office in New York City and corporate headquarters in Bangalore.

According to Kumar, “the Industrial Revolution produced a world in which there were sharp distinctions between employers and employees, between educators and employers and between governments and employers and educators, ‘but now you’re going to see a blurring of all these lines.’”

“Because the pace of technological change, digitization and globalization just keeps accelerating, two things are happening at once: the world is being knit together more tightly than ever . . . and ‘the half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.’ As a result, whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”

Therefore, “the most critical role for K-12 educators . . . will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education. . . . self-motivation to be a lifelong learner will be paramount.”

Moreover, “explained Kumar, accelerations in digitization and globalization are steadily making more work ‘modular,’’ broken up into small packets that are farmed out by companies. Companies, he argues, will increasingly become platforms that synthesize and orchestrate these modular packets to make products and services.”

“Kumar added, ‘work will increasingly get disconnected from companies, and jobs and work will increasingly get disconnected from each other.’’ Some work will be done by machines; some will require your physical proximity in an office or a factory; some will be done remotely; and some will be just a piece of a task that can also be farmed out to anyone, anywhere.”

These changes will enable “many more diverse groups of people — those living in rural areas, minorities, stay-at-home moms and dads and those with disabilities — . . . to compete for it from their homes.”

All of these changes are “already having a big impact on education. ‘We have started hiring many people with no degrees,’’ explained Kumar. ‘If you know stuff and can demonstrate that you know stuff and have been upskilling yourself with online training to do the task that we need, you’re hired. We think this structural shift — from degrees to skills — could bridge the digital divide as the cost of undergraduate education has increased by 150 percent over the last 20 years.’’’

Today Kumar’s company, Infosys, “is not looking just for ‘problem solvers,’ he says, but ‘problem-finders,’  people with diverse interests — art, literature, science, anthropology — who can identify things that people want before people even know they want them.”

Kumar also claims, ‘We’re seeing the democratization of software — the consumers can now be the creators.’ It shows you how AI will take away jobs of the past, while it creates jobs of the future.”

Significant changes are in store for postsecondary education. According to Kumar, it “will be a hybrid ecosystem of company platforms, colleges and local schools, whose goal will be to create the opportunity for lifelong ‘radical reskilling.’” Already some companies like Infosys, IBM and AT&T are “creating cutting-edge in-house universities that partner with traditional universities and even high schools.

Conclusion

 Wow! What a lot of thoughts to ponder and evaluate! Comments with informed reactions to this Friedman column are encouraged.

As a retired, older individual, I have mixed reactions. On the one hand, I am glad that I will not have to face these changes in my own life. On the other hand, I regret not being able to be around for many more years to help in some small ways society, my sons and grandchildren cope with these challenges.

================================

[1] Pandemic Journal (#31): What Will Be the New Normal?, dwkcommentaries.com (Oct. 6, 2020).

[2] Friedman, After the Pandemic, a Revolution in Education and Work Awaits, N.Y. Times (Oct. 20, 2020)

[3] This Friedman passage refers to the famous concept of “creative destruction” by Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), an Austrian political economist, who emigrated to the U.S. to become a professor at Harvard University. His 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, argued that capitalistic economies proceeded by creative new processes, products and structures that destroyed the preceding ones. (See Joseph Schumpeter, Wikipedia; Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Wikipedia; Creative destruction, Wikipedia.

Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All)

On October 3, in Assisi (Italy) at the tomb of Saint  Francis, Pope Francis released his lengthy (287 paragraphs) Encyclical Letter, “Fratelli Tutti” (Brothers All).”[1]

Here are this lay person’s overview of this important document and summary of the instantaneous reactions thereto from E.J. Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist on U.S. national politics and a Roman Catholic, and from other journalists.

Overview of the Letter

The title of the Encyclical– “Fratelli Tutti”—was used by Saint Francis to address “his brothers and sisters” and to propose “a way of life marked by the flavor of the Gospel.” The Letter’s guiding light is Saint Francis’ call “for a love that transcends the barriers of geography and distance, and declares blessed all those who love their brother ‘as much when he is far away from him as when he is with him.’”

The Letter has an introduction “Without Borders” before exploring the following eight chapters:

  • One: Dark Clouds Over a Closed World;
  • Two: A Stranger on the Road;
  • Three: Envisaging and Engendering an Open World;
  • Four: A Heart Open to the Whole World;
  • Five: A Better Kind of Politics;
  • Six: Dialogue and Friendship in Society;
  • Seven: Paths of Renewed Encounter; and
  • Eight: Religions at the Service of Fraternity in Our World.

The Letter concludes with the following two prayers:

A Prayer to the Creator:

  • “Lord, Father of our human family,
    you created all human beings equal in dignity:
    pour forth into our hearts a fraternal spirit
    and inspire in us a dream of renewed encounter,
    dialogue, justice and peace.
    Move us to create healthier societies
    and a more dignified world,
    a world without hunger, poverty, violence and war.”
  • “May our hearts be open
    to all the peoples and nations of the earth.
    May we recognize the goodness and beauty
    that you have sown in each of us,
    and thus forge bonds of unity, common projects,
    and shared dreams. Amen.”

An Ecumenical Christian Prayer:

  • “O God, Trinity of love,
    from the profound communion of your divine life,
    pour out upon us a torrent of fraternal love.
    Grant us the love reflected in the actions of Jesus,
    in his family of Nazareth,
    and in the early Christian community.”
  • “Grant that we Christians may live the Gospel,
    discovering Christ in each human being,
    recognizing him crucified
    in the sufferings of the abandoned
    and forgotten of our world,
    and risen in each brother or sister
    who makes a new start.”
  • “Come, Holy Spirit, show us your beauty,
    reflected in all the peoples of the earth,
    so that we may discover anew
    that all are important and all are necessary,
    different faces of the one humanity
    that God so loves. Amen.”

E.J. Dionne, Jr.’s Reactions [2]

E.J. Dionne Jr. published an intriguing column about this lengthy Papal Encyclical Letter, only one day after it was published.[2] Here is a summary of what Dionne had to say, which will probably spark this blogger’s comments after he carefully and prayerfully studies the Encyclical Letter.

According to Dionne, this Letter only a month before the U.S. presidential election criticizes many aspects of current politics that are found in the U.S. and other countries:

  • It criticizes persons who advocate “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” and cast immigrants as “less worthy, less important, less human.”
  • It criticizes advocates of an ““every man for himself” worldview that “will rapidly degenerate into a free-for-all that would prove worse than any pandemic.”
  • “The marketplace, by itself, cannot resolve every problem, however much we are asked to believe this dogma of neoliberal faith. Whatever the challenge, this impoverished and repetitive school of thought always offers the same recipes … the magic theories of ‘spillover’ or ‘trickle’ — without using the name.”
  • It denounces those who speak of “empty individualism,” a “narrow and violent nationalism, xenophobia and contempt, and even the mistreatment of those who are different,” and “a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference.”
  • The Pope “cited his earlier condemnations of “a ‘throwaway’ world” that lacks respect for the “poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ — like the unborn — or ‘no longer needed’ — like the elderly.” And he denounced human trafficking as a “perversion that exceeds all limits when it subjugates women and then forces them to abort.”
  • The Pope had 12 references to capital punishment as “inadequate from a moral standpoint and no longer necessary from that of penal justice.”
  • The Pope criticized the world’s inability “to resolve problems that affect us all” like the COVID-19 pandemic and  “Anyone who thinks that the only lesson to be learned was the need to improve what we were already doing, or to refine existing systems and regulations, is denying reality.” Moreover, ““God willing, after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and ‘those’, but only ‘us’. … If only we might keep in mind all those elderly persons who died for lack of respirators, partly as a result of the dismantling, year after year, of healthcare systems.”
  • “Political life no longer has to do with healthy debates about long-term plans to improve people’s lives and to advance the common good, but only with slick marketing techniques primarily aimed at discrediting others. In this craven exchange of charges and counter-charges, debate degenerates into a permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.” This is “a strategy of ridicule, suspicion and relentless criticism.”

Other Reactions [3]

Chico Harlan, the Washington Post’s Rome Bureau Chief, and Stefano Pitrelli of that Bureau who covers Italy and the Vatican, lead with this statement, “Humankind, Pope Francis says, is in the midst of a worrying regression. People are intensely polarized. Their debates, absent real listening, seem to have devolved into a ‘permanent state of disagreement and confrontation.’ In some countries, leaders are using a ‘strategy of ridicule’ and relentless criticism, spreading despair as a way to ‘dominate and gain control.’”

Harlan and Pitrelli believe that the encyclical “amounts to a papal stand against tribalism, xenophobia, and the dangers of the social media age.” They also point out that this is only the third encyclical by Pope Francis. The first was “Lumen Fidei” (the Light of Faith) which was issued in 2013 soon after he became pope and was written mostly by Benedict XVI. The second, “Laudarto Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) in 2015 addressed responsibility for the environment, climate change and development.

The New York Times’ Rome Bureau Chief, Jason Horowitz, opened with Pope Francis’ criticism of the world’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic as “exposing our false securities” and “inability to work together.” This was accerbated by the forces of “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism.” The document also “calls for closeness to the marginalized, support for migrants, resistance of nationalist and tribal populism, and the abolition of the death penalty.” Hindering “the development of universal fraternity” were economic inequality, sexism and racism.

The Wall Street Journal’s article on the encyclical is by Francis X. Rocca, who is its Vatican correspondent based in Rome. He says the document offered the Pope’s “prescription for a host of ills plaguing societies around the world, including poverty, terrorism and racism, and “echoes some of the major themes of his social teaching, including the rights of migrants and the poor, with a special urgency inspired by Covid-19.” He also notes for non-Catholics that papal encyclicals are “one of the most authoritative genres of papal writing.”

Conclusion

As a Protestant (Presbyterian) Christian, I plan to give this Encyclical Letter careful and prayerful study and then offer my reactions to the Letter and to the comments by Dionne and  other journalists.

===============================

[1] The Holy See, Encyclical Letter: FRATELLI TUTTI of the Holy Father Francis on the Fraternity and Social Friendship (Oct. 3, 2020).

[2] Dionne, The Pope’s unexpected election message, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020).

[3] Harlan & Pitrelli, Pope Francis’s new encyclical is a papal warning about a world going bad, Wash. Post (Oct. 4, 2020); Horowitz, Pope Criticizes Lack of Unity in World’s Response to Coronovirus, N.Y. Times (Oct. 4, 2020); Rocca, Pope Francis Says Covid-19 Pandemic Shows Limits of Market Economics, W.S.J. (Oct. 4, 2020). See also Pepinster, How Pope Francis’s encyclical could shake up the US election, Guardian (Oct. 6, 2020).

 

 

 

Click to access papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si_en.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prominent Historians and New York Times Official’s Comments About The 1619 Project    

As explained in a prior post, in August 2019, the New York Times Magazine published what it called “The 1619 Project” to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the first slaves brought to the British Colonies in North America and to “reframe American  history by considering . . . 1619 as our nation’s birth year . . . when a ship arrived . . . in the British colony of Virginia, bearing a cargo of 20 to 30 enslaved Africans [and inaugurating] a barbaric system of chattel slavery that would last for the next 250 years. . . . Out of slavery—and the anti-black racism it required—grew nearly everything that has truly made America exceptional.” It also claimed, “One of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.”[1]

Historians’ Letter to Times[2]

Sean Wilentz (the George Henry Davis 1886 professor of American history, Princeton University) and four other prominent American historians[3] in a letter to the New York Times Magazine applauded “all efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism in our history” while saying The 1619 Project raised “profound, unsettling questions about slavery and the nation’s past and present” and was “a praiseworthy and urgent public service.”

Nevertheless, these historians expressed “strong reservations about important aspects” of the Project, including its intent “to offer a new version of American history in which slavery and white supremacy become the dominant organizing themes.”

These historians also were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project and the closed processes behind it.” Moreover, they asserted, “these errors, which concern major events, cannot be described as interpretation or ‘framing.’ They are matters of verifiable fact, which are the foundation of both honest scholarship and honest journalism. They suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.”

This critique continued. “On the American Revolution, pivotal to any account of our history, the project asserts that the founders declared the colonies’ independence of Britain ‘in order to ensure slavery would continue.’ This is not true. If supportable, the allegation would be astounding — yet every statement offered by the project to validate it is false. Some of the other material in the project is distorted, including the claim that “for the most part, black Americans have fought their freedom struggles ‘alone.’”

“Still other material [in the Project] is misleading. The project criticizes Abraham Lincoln’s views on racial equality but ignores his conviction that the Declaration of Independence proclaimed universal equality, for blacks as well as whites, a view he upheld repeatedly against powerful white supremacists who opposed him. The project also ignores Lincoln’s agreement with Frederick Douglass that the Constitution was, in Douglass’s words, ‘a GLORIOUS LIBERTY DOCUMENT.’ Instead, the project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists . . . [while being] proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.”

“The 1619 Project has not been presented as the views of individual writers — views that in some cases, as on the supposed direct connections between slavery and modern corporate practices, have so far failed to establish any empirical veracity or reliability and have been seriously challenged by other historians. Instead, the project is offered as an authoritative account that bears the imprimatur and credibility of The New York Times. Those connected with the project have assured the public that its materials were shaped by a panel of historians and have been scrupulously fact-checked. Yet the process remains opaque. The names of only some of the historians involved have been released, and the extent of their involvement as ‘consultants’ and fact checkers remains vague. The selective transparency deepens our concern.”

“We ask that The Times, according to its own high standards of accuracy and truth, issue prominent corrections of all the errors and distortions presented in The 1619 Project. We also ask for the removal of these mistakes from any materials destined for use in schools, as well as in all further publications, including books bearing the name of The New York Times. We ask finally that The Times reveal fully the process through which the historical materials were and continue to be assembled, checked and authenticated.”

Response by the Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief[4]

Jake Silverstein, Editor in Chief of the Magazine, disagreed “with . . .  [these historians’] claim that our project contains significant factual errors and is driven by ideology rather than historical understanding. While we welcome criticism, we don’t believe that the request for corrections to The 1619 Project is warranted.”

“The project was intended to address the marginalization of African-American history in the telling of our national story and examine the legacy of slavery in contemporary American life.” In so doing, the Times “consulted with numerous scholars of African-American history and related fields” plus independent research by the authors of the articles in the Project and more consultation with “subject-area experts.” In addition, “as the five letter-writers well know, there are often debates, even among subject-area experts, about how to see the past.”

For example, other historians support “the contention that uneasiness among slaveholders in the colonies about growing antislavery sentiment in Britain and increasing imperial regulation helped motivate the [American] Revolution.” One main reason for this uneasiness was the 1772 decision of the British high court that slavery was unlawful because it was not supported by English common law. Although this case “did not legally threaten slavery in the colonies,” it along with the 1775 Dunmore Proclamation by the colonial governor of Virginia offering freedom to any enslaved person who fled and joined the British Army were major reasons for slave owners to support the Revolution.

The Times believes that it is important to have a wide-ranging discussion of the many issues around slavery and its continuing impact on America, involving “academics with differing perspectives,” and the Times will be pursuing such discussions.

Conclusion

We now have two recent articles about slavery and antislavery forces involved in creating the U.S. Constitution and Government by Sean Wilentz, who was one of the five historians who wrote the above letter about The 1619 Project.[5] They provide some of the historians’ reasons for their criticism of The Project.

Foremost was Wilentz’ assertion that although slavery is important, if not central, to American history, the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone or by American antislavery but in their conflict” and “few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.”

Wilentz focuses on the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and the conflicts between the small states and big states, between the states-rights proponents and the strong national government supporters and between the slavery and anti-slavery advocates and the resulting necessity for compromises prompted by their mutual belief that all of the colonies needed to be in one national government under a Constitution that was endorsed by the Convention for submittal to the states for ratification.

Some of those compromises favored the slave-holding states: no abolition of slavery in the document and an implicit bar on the new national government’s direct interference with slavery where it already existed; counting 3/5th of the slaves for representation in the House of Representative and Electoral College; a fugitive slave clause; and prevention of abolition of foreign slave trade until 1808.

Other compromises favored the anti-slavery forces: refusal to recognize slavery in national law; the national power to regulate or ban slavery in territories under national purview; and the right to ban foreign slave trade after 1808.

The Project, however, focuses in part on the causes for the Revolutionary War of 1775-83 and its claim “that one of the primary reasons the colonists decided to declare their independence from Britain was because they wanted to protect the institution of slavery.” Wilentz flatly says this is “simply untrue. Neither the British government nor the British people were ‘deeply conflicted’ over slavery” in this period. Yes, a British court in 1772 did hold slavery illegal in Britain, but this decision did not affect many slaves in that country and had no effect on the country’s foreign slave trade.[6]

The arguments of Wilentz are persuasive, but The 1619 Project should continue by encouraging scholarly and citizen debate over slavery and racism in the U.S.

============================================

[1] Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020).

[2] Bynum, McPherson, Oakes, Wilentz & Wood, We Respond to the Historians Who Critiqued The 1619 Project, N.Y. Times Magazine (Dec. 29, 2019; updated Jan. 4, 2020).

[3] The other authors of the letter were Victoria Bynum, distinguished emerita professor of history, Texas State University; James M. McPherson, George Henry Davis 1886 emeritus professor of American history, Princeton University; James Oakes, distinguished professor, the Graduate Center, the City University of New York; and Gordon S. Wood, Alva O. Wade University emeritus professor and emeritus professor of history, Brown University.

[4] Editor’s Response, N.Y. Times Magazine (Dec. 29, 2019).

[5] See Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 11, 2020).

[6] Wilentz, American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen,’ N.Y. Review of Books (Nov. 19, 2019).

 

Historian Wilentz’ Response to Senator Tom Cotton on the Issue of Slavery 

U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) recently has been criticizing The 1619 Project ‘of the New York Times. The Project, he said, was “a racially divisive, revisionist account . . . that denies the noble principles of freedom and equality on which the nation was founded” although slavery “was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.”[1] The latter comment was made by the Senator in a recent interview by Tucker Carlson of FoxNews, in which Cotton claimed to draw support from prominent American historians, one of whom was Sean Wilentz of Princeton University.

Wilentz’ Response to Cotton[2]

Although four other American historians and I have “fundamental publicized objections to the project, . . . these in no way mitigate Cotton’s serious misrepresentations of the historical record for evident political gain.”

“Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has introduced a bill in Congress that would punish school districts that use The New York Times’s 1619 Project in their curriculum by withholding federal funding. In so doing, he announced in a newspaper interview that America’s schoolchildren need to learn that the nation’s Founders said slavery ‘was the necessary evil upon which the union was built.’ His statement is as preposterous as it is false: presuming to clarify American history, Cotton has grievously distorted it.”

“None of the delegates who framed the Constitution in 1787 called slavery a ‘necessary evil.’ Some of them called slavery an evil, but not a necessary one. Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, for example, declared to the Constitutional Convention that he would ‘never concur in upholding domestic slavery,’ that ‘nefarious institution’ based on ‘the most cruel bondages’—’the curse of heaven on the states where it prevailed.’ The great majority of the Framers joined Morris in fighting to ensure that slavery would be excluded from national law.”

“James Madison, the most influential delegate at the convention, explicitly repudiated the idea of building the union on slavery, stating that it would be ‘wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men.’ Though himself a slaveholder, Madison wanted to guarantee that the Constitution, while it might tolerate slavery in the states where it existed, would neither enshrine human bondage in national law nor recognize it as legitimate.”

“A minority of the Framers, from the lower South, disagreed, but they believed slavery was no evil at all. ‘If slavery be wrong,’ Charles Pinckney of South Carolina declared, ‘it is justified by the example of all the world.’ Far from a necessary evil, Pinckney thought slavery was a necessary good, as it had been for time immemorial. ‘In all ages,’ he claimed, ‘one half of mankind have been slaves.’”

“There was, to be sure, one delegate who resembled Senator Cotton’s description: Pinckney’s cousin, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, also from South Carolina. At one point in the convention debates, a perturbed Cotesworth Pinckney registered a complaint, seeming to desire, Madison noted, ‘that some provision should be included in favor of property in slaves.’ That would have based the Union firmly on the constitutional right of slavery. And Cotesworth Pinckney did come close to calling slavery a necessary evil, noting that without it the Carolina economy could not survive (which was technically correct). But the convention majority, far from agreeing with anything he said, dismissed his objection out of hand.”

“The Constitution was hardly an antislavery document. Through fierce debates and by means of backroom deals, the lower South slaveholders managed to win compromises that offered some protection to slavery in the states: the notorious three-fifths clause giving an allotment of House seats and Electoral College votes based on a partial counting of enslaved persons; a twenty-year delay in authorizing Congress to abolish the nation’s involvement in the Atlantic slave trade; and a fugitive slave clause. Most importantly, the Constitution by implication barred the new federal government from directly interfering with slavery in the states where it already existed.”

“But neither did the Constitution, as Senator Cotton wrongly claims, establish slavery as necessary to the Union. It’s true that a few proslavery delegates threatened that their states would refuse to join the Union unless their demands were met. This occurred with particular force with regard to the Atlantic slave trade. A majority of convention delegates wanted to empower the national government to abolish the horrific trade, striking the first blow against it anywhere in the Atlantic world in the name of a sovereign state. Appalled, the lower South delegates, led by South Carolina’s oligarchs, threatened to bolt if the convention touched the slave trade in any way, but the majority called their bluff.”

“In the end, the proslavery delegates carved out the compromise that prevented abolishing the trade until 1808, salvaging a significant concession, though there could be little doubt that the trade was doomed. Even with this compromise, the leading Pennsylvania abolitionist Benjamin Rush hailed the slave trade clause as ‘a great point obtained from the Southern States.’ His fellow Pennsylvanian and a delegate to convention, James Wilson, went so far as to say that the Constitution laid ‘the foundation for banishing slavery out of this country.’”

“History, of course, proved Wilson wrong—but not completely wrong. With the rise of the cotton economy, based on the invention of the cotton gin, which Wilson could not have foreseen, American slavery was far from stymied, but grew to become the mightiest and most expansive slavery regime on earth, engulfing further territories—including Cotton’s own Arkansas.”

“The Framers’ compromises over slavery had little to do with it, however. The problem was not primarily constitutional but political: so long as a substantial number of Northerners remained either complacent about slavery’s future, indifferent to the institution’s oppression, or complicit in the growth of the new cotton kingdom, the Constitution would permit the spread of human bondage.”

“Even so, in fact, the Constitution contained powerful antislavery potential. By refusing to recognize slavery in national law, the Framers gave the national government the power to regulate or ban slavery in areas under its purview, notably the national territories not yet constituted as separate states. The same year that the Framers met, the existing Congress banned slavery from the existing territories north of the Ohio River under the Northwest Ordinance, a measure reflected in the Constitution, which the new Congress quickly affirmed when it met in 1789. Later antislavery champions, including Abraham Lincoln, always considered the Northwest Ordinance to be organic to the Constitution; proslavery advocates came to regard it as an illegitimate nullity.”

“In time, as antislavery sentiment built in the North, the condition of slavery in the territories and in connection with the admission of new states became the major flashpoint of conflict, from the Missouri crisis of 1819–1821 to the guerrilla warfare of ‘Bleeding Kansas.’ Proslavery champions like John C. Calhoun of South Carolina invented an argument that denied the Congress any power over slavery in the territories; Lincoln and his fellow Republicans refuted that argument. And upon Lincoln’s election as president in 1860, this constitutional issue was enough to spark the secession that led to the Civil War and Emancipation.”

Senator Cotton has some mistaken things to say about that history, too. The Framers, he asserts, built the Constitution ‘in a way, as Lincoln said, to put slavery on the course to its ultimate extinction.’ This absurdly imputes to the Framers powers of clairvoyance. Although Lincoln sometimes suggested that the Framers had purposefully designed slavery’s abolition—even Lincoln could wishfully exaggerate—the Constitution hardly ensured slavery’s doom. It took Lincoln’s and the antislavery Republicans’ concerted political efforts to vindicate the Constitution’s antislavery elements that set the stage for what Lincoln in his ‘House Divided’ speech of 1858 called ‘ultimate extinction.’”

“Far from establishing a Union based on what Senator Cotton calls the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery, the Founders fought bitterly over human enslavement, producing a document that gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise. The slaveholders, unable to abide that power, eventually seceded in an effort to form a new slaveholders’ republic, with a new Constitution built entirely on slavery: its cornerstone, as the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens declaimed, was ‘the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.’”

“As far as a Union founded on the ‘necessary evil’ of slavery is concerned, Cotton appears unaware of how profoundly the Constitution of the United States of America differed from that of the Confederate States of America.”

Wilentz’ Longer Account of the U.S. History of Slavery[3]

In November 2019, Wilentz, delivering the fourth annual Lecture in honor of Philip Roth, drew upon the novelist’s insight that history was “the relentless unfolding of the unforeseen” or “where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page [of history] as inevitable.” For “the centrality of slavery to American history,” Wilentz says, “the United States was defined, from the start, neither by American slavery alone or by American antislavery but in their conflict” and “few things if any in modern history were more unexpected than the eradication of human bondage in the Atlantic world.”

This was so even though “the ideals that propelled the American Revolution shared crucial origins with the ideals that propelled antislavery. Yet American slavery did not die out as most expected” with “revolutionary America” as a “hotbed of antislavery politics.” In fact, slavery “expanded, turning the American South into the most dynamic and ambitious slavery regime in the world” with “slaveowners [stiffening ] their resolve to affirm their property rights in human beings” and coming “perilously close to establishing an American empire of slavery.”

Conclusion

These ideas of Wilentz help us understand why he and the other four prominent American historians dissented from at least one of the major premises of The Project of 1619, which will be discussed in a future post.[4]

Although I was a history major many years ago at Grinnell College, I do not have the intimate knowledge of the slavery and antislavery conflicts that are discussed by Professor Welentz. Nevertheless, I wonder whether he is overreacting to Senator Cotton’s comment.

The Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia convened in 1787 to consider whether and how to amend the existing Articles of Confederation after Alexander Hamilton’s report on the  unsuccessful attempt to do so at the Annapolis Conference of 1786 coupled with his forceful criticism of those Articles and recommendation of the calling of a convention to “render the constitution of the federal government adequate to the exigencies of the union.”[5]

For the first two months or so of the Constitutional Convention there were debates between delegates from large and small states, between those favoring states-rights and those wanting a strong national government. “By the end of June the convention seemed in danger of dissolving, with nothing accomplished.” That, however, was prevented when the Convention accepted a proposal by Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut (“the Great Compromise”) for equal representation of the states in the Senate and proportional representation by population in the House. Thereafter other compromises were reached, including counting three-fifths of the slaves for representation in the House.[6]

In other words, many compromises were necessary in order to obtain agreement on the new Constitution before it could be submitted to the states for ratification. Some of those compromises accommodated slavery while others did not. As Wilentz said, the Constitution “gave slavery some protection even as it denied slavery national status and gave the federal government the power to restrict its growth—and so hasten its demise.” In short, compromises with the evil of slavery were necessary in order to create the new Constitution.

=============================

[1] Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommentaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020);  Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of The 1619 Project, dwkcommenataries.com (Aug. 10, 2020).

[2] Wilentz, What Tom Cotton Gets So Wrong About Slavery and the Constitution, N.Y. Review of Books (Aug. 3, 2020).

[3] Wilentz, American Slavery and ‘the Relentless Unforeseen,’ N.Y. Review of Books (Nov. 19, 2019).

[4]  See Historian Wilentz and New York Times Editor Exchange Views About The 1619 Project, dwkcommentaries.com (forthcoming Aug. –, 2020).

[5] Williams, Current & Freidel, A History of the United States [To 1876], pp. 170-72  (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1959.) (This is my book from college and comments from others with more detailed knowledge of the Constitutional Convention are solicited.)

[6] Id. at 172-77.

Senator Cotton Continues Criticism of the 1619 Project 

In a July 30th interview by Tucker Carlson of Fox News, U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (Rep., AR) reiterated his attack on The 1619 Project of the New York Times. [1]

The Senator told Carlson, “The 1619 Project is a radical work of historical revisionism aiming to indoctrinate our kids to hate America. To teach them that America was founded not on the natural equality of mankind and the freedom that flows from that as the [Declaration of Independence] . . . says but rather founded on racism. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Cotton added, “The 1619 Project debunked by leading historians of the era like Sean Wilentz, and Gordon Wood, and James McPherson. . . . And some of those are liberals. Even the lead author recently admitted in response to my legislation that The 1619 Project is not a work of history, it’s a work of journalism. I would say it’s a work activism. But your tax dollars should not be going to fund an effort to teach our kids to hate America. ‘The New York Times’ should not teach American history to our kids.”

Conclusion

These comments by the Senator  have prompted objections by one of the referenced historians, Sean Wilentz, which will be examined in a future post while yet another future post will examine  previous criticisms of the Project by Wilentz and four other leading American historians and the response thereto by the Times’ editor of the Project.

========================

[1] Schwartz, Sen. Cotton: “The 1619 Project” A Radical Work of Historical Revisionism That Aims To Indoctrinate Kids, RealClear Politics (July 30, 2020). Senator Cotton’s previous criticism of The 1619 Project and his proposed legislation to prevent its being used in U.S. public schools  is discussed in a prior post. (Evaluation of the Report of the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights and Its Endorsement by Secretary Pompeo, dwkcommenbtaries.com (Aug. 3, 2020).)