SECESSION OBSESSION UNABATED

 

THESE COLORS MAY RUN

The big word on secession on Monday was “ignored,” as in the ABC headline “TEXAS SECESSION PETITION IGNORED BY WHITE HOUSE,” which was appeared in dozens of slight variations in media coverage online and elsewhere. The petitions (at least one from every state) were filed on the White House “We the People” portal, a high tech democracy widget that makes seceding from the US and establishing a post-modern Confederacy seem almost as easy as buying a gun.

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The White House refused to confirm or deny rumors that the President has been adding joke names to the secession petitions as a way to “blow off steam from the daily grind of calling drone strikes on terrorists, coordinating disaster relief and other mind-numbing chores.”

The site does say that once a petition has achieved the threshold of 25,000 digital signatures in a 30-day period, it shall merit an official response from the White House. (Secession petitions have been filed from all 50 states, including Hawaii, one of the other states which, like Texas, was once independent; and a handful of those petitions have also reached the minimum number for a response.)

The “We the People” widget does not, however, give a time frame for when that response would be issued. If the Texas secessionists that on Day 30 there would be an announcement in the Rose Garden from President Obama saying something like, “OK, bro, you guys are outta here… See ya on the links over at Civil War Land.” (By the way, your reporter admits that he stole that concept — the post-modern Confederate’s dream vacation — a secessionist theme park — from a book titled Civilwarland in Bad Decline, written by George Saunders. I haven’t read it, but I always enjoyed reading the reviews.)

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Dead horse on battlefield, Gettysburg, PA

We wonder sometimes if this was only a Beta release of the “We the People” gizmo. You’d think the creators would have put a few disclaimers on there, maybe an automated response for requests that are pretty much unreasonable, like, for instance, promising everybody in the country a slice of Italian cream cake before bedtime, or a new pony for every child reaching the age of five. Not to mention insisting that the President allow your state to secede every time your candidate doesn’t win, or whenever the Cowboys aren’t in the Super Bowl, and I am fairly certain it would be unconstitutional for him to let Texas, Louisiana or Georgia go ahead and become the Sovereign Nation of Whatever.

These people used to be so crazy about the Constitution, too. I guess they just fell out of love with it. That and the old notion of “My country, right or wrong.”

 It’s hard to say how these people will take when the White House says no. They’ll need something to soften the blow. What if the widget-makers had programmed it with a universally loved character’s personality and voice. Like, say, Robbie the Robot.
Hearing the chunky analog dude say “That does not compute” would let them down easy.

 

There’s a strange conundrum here. Obama’s harshest critics ascribe to him all manner of maniacal, tyrannical attributes, but even if he was indeed Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Kenyan tribesman rolled into one, having the power to granting a state’s petition to secede as if it were a second grader wanting to use the restroom, it’s a little much.

 

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Confederate sharpshooter killed by a shell at Gettysburg

In the last concerted movement to leave the Union, a lot of people got hurt, and after the dust and smoke and amputated limbs settled and the jigsaw map of the US all glued back together again, the question of whether or not states were free to come and go as they pleased had been rather forcefully addressed, and the answer, for those of you who were updating your Facebook page during American history class, was no.

Even the most caffeinated members of the Tea Party will usually admit that the current White House tenant (whose four year lease was recently renewed, by the votes of a significant majority of American voters)  is a very gifted speaker, so whenever there is an official announcement, I expect it to be, at the very least, a memorable statement.

 

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Not all the petitions to secede have come from disappointed voters of the right wing variety.

If the news and editorial coverage from El Paso-based HispanicBusiness.com is any indication, El Pasoans are not generally big supporters of the Post-Election 2012 Whine-and-Secede Party, as the above petition on the “We the People” widget would suggest. The online news magazine has been regularly covering the secession efforts and not looking kindly upon them. One of the sharpest Op Ed pieces in that category was penned by Dana Milbank, a member of the Washington Post Writers Group and a frequent contributor to MSNBC News, or, as some of us like to refer to the liberal news network, “The exact opposite of Fox News except that the stories happen to be factual most of the time.” Milbank’s November 16 piece, “A Confederacy of Takers,”  raised a number interesting points about the reddest of the states actual dollar contributions to the federal government which is taking away their liberty with Obamacare,  social security, medicare, consumer protection laws,  the interstate highway system and other socialistic ideas that either came from The Communist Manifesto or Mein Kampf, I forgot which one they’re talking about this week. Milbank pointed out that “red states receive, on average, far more from the federal government in expenditures than they pay in taxes. The balance is the opposite in blue states.” Therefore, says Milbank, if President Obama wanted to create a more perfect Union, or rather, one that need not worry about the “fiscal cliff,” he could offload the reddest of the red ink states.

For every dollar in federal taxes paid out, these states receive the following amount in federal aid:

  • Louisiana $1.45
  • Alabama $1.71
  • South Carolina $1.38
  • Missouri $1.29

Milbank says that if these states were allowed to secede from the Confederacy of Makers (the blue states of the Union), “what would be left, is a Confederacy of Takers, including relatively poor states such as Alaska, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.”

Of course we haven’t mentioned Texas, which is one of the few wannabe Confederates that pays out more than it receives back in federal aid. That’s because of oil money, which brings the state close to break-even at 94 cents of benefits for its tax dollar. But we’ll come back to Texas in a minute.

Milbank points out that culturally, and in other ways, the country would be poorer without the takers. On the other hand, there’s this: “Once the handout states left the union (and took with them a proportionate share of the federal debt), the rest of the country could enjoy lower taxes and the high level of government service typical of the Northeast, the Great Lakes and the West Coast.”

Milbank is also concerned about what the secessionists would do to the poor and otherwise vulnerable citizens within their borders. Judging from the ideas we’ve heard in recent years from the right wing, it’s not a pretty thing to contemplate. Recognizing that cities like Austin, New Orleans, south Florida, Houston, Dallas, and, as we have seen, El Paso,  would be adamantly opposed to secession, special arrangements would have to be made for these islands of sanity. Milbank uses the concept of “protectorates,” such as old Hong Kong, which be preferable to the example of West Berlin, as it existed for those decades between the end of World War II and the fall of the Iron Curtain  in 1991.

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If people had to venture behind a new Iron Curtain to visit the Austin and the Continental Club, or SXSW or ACL, would anyone come to Texas at all?


But let’s not even go there. These are just a piddling few examples of the problems that the secessionists apparently have not considered. Houston, like Dallas, Austin and El Paso, overwhelmingly favored Obama for reelection. If Houston retained control of the Houston Ship Channel and countless other petroleum industry facilities, the spigot of oil money Texas relies on would be drastically curtailed. What would Texas be without Austin? Forget the state capitol building and other government offices; without the Continental Club, Barton Springs, the lakes, Broken Spoke, Alamo Draft House, the Texas Chili Parlor and Threadgill’s, to name just a handful, Texas would be infinitely less desirable–also a great deal less celebrated and much less visited. So let’s not go there.

In fact, now that we’re on the subject of people not wanting secession, we must point out that the numbers of signatures on these petitions is really not all that impressive. The pace of new names being added has slowed considerably in the past week or so, but assume that the total reaches 800,000 by year’s end. To be generous, let’s say a million. In 2011 the population of the US was 311,591,917. A million petition signers represents .03 (three-tenths) percent of the population. Is that really a movement?

Is it really a movement when the thing the people are asking for is unattainable and impractical?

Here’s an alternative idea. Let’s say that when push comes to shove, these 700,000 or 800,000 or even 1 million petition signers are really done with USA. They HAVE HAD IT with universal health care, National Parks, protection for endangered species, abortion rights, laws against discrimination and minimum wage and crazy stuff like that. But they can’t secede. The vast majority of citizens wherever they live will not go along with secession, even if they themselves signed one of these things. But if there are still 200,000 or 300,000 people left who really, really hate the USA now and can’t stand it here anymore, they could go somewhere else and set up their own little country.

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Ruins in Richmond, VA, Andrew Russell, April 1865

Surely there’s an island for sale somewhere they could afford. If 200,000 people contributed a few bucks, they could probably score something nice, not just a pile of rocks with a few palm trees on it. We’re talking something with some paved roads, parking, maybe a helo pad, shuffle board, etc. A lot of these folks hate the EPA because it protects animals, plants and other useless things, so there shouldn’t be a big demand for furry creatures and greenery to keep them happy.

A few million dollars would be enough, I’d think, for a place where they could be happy, home school their kids, shoot guns and pray all day, all the things white people do. Ted Nugent could fly in and play a gig now and then. Hank Williams Junior could retire there and be among his Obama-hating kind.

The Koch brothers and Donald Trump could get in on this thing, kick in a few million. Trump could probably get some kind of Mt. Rushmore erected in his image. It would be a win-win for everybody.

They could even reenact the Civil War any time they wanted to. Whether they could convince extras to go there and play the parts of the black people, I don’t know, but that’s what they invented blackface for, right?

In the next installment of Secession Chronicle, we’ll try to figure out just what the government and society of the Nuevo Confederacy would look like.

UPDATE: A month late, I found Forrest Wilder’s disconcerting piece in the Texas Observer on Election Night in Texas. Correction: Forrest relates the manner in which Obama’s reelection was viewed in SOME very dark corners of Texas. I grew up in this state, so I’m not easily shocked by racism or hateful stupidity, but still, this stuff is like a caricature. If it was in a movie you’d be forgiven for saying it’s too shallow, too Central Casting. But it’s real. Real awful.

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Take that hand off your heart, sonny.

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