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Mississippi Legislature Votes to Remove Confederate Symbol From State Flag

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Mississippi State Flag at the Capitol in Jackson on Thursday, via Rogelio V. Solis & Associated Press
  • Mississippi is one step closer to changing its state flag, which prominently features the Confederate Battle Flag.
  • On Sunday, the legislature voted in favor of a bill that would remove the emblem. The bill is expected to be signed by the Governor in the coming days.
  • Mississippi will design a new flag for voters to decide on in November.
  • However, Mississippi is not the last state with a flag design that draws heavy inspiration from the Confederacy.

Confederate Flag Change

In a landslide vote on Sunday, the Mississippi legislature agreed to change the state’s flag and remove Confederate imagery. The bill is currently on Governor Tate Reeves’ desk, where it is expected to be signed after the Republican governor made it clear that he would sign any bill that changed the flag.

This is the latest event in a long-running cultural shift regarding figures and symbolism from the breakaway state. Since 2010, there has been increasing support to remove statues of Confederate figures. Particularly because many of these statues weren’t built during the Confederacy, but decades afterwards in the 20th century and Civil Rights era to glorify people who are widely considered racist.

Mississippi’s new bill tackles the same debate from another angle. Mississippi in particular has been fighting over the Confederate symbols within their flag for nearly two decades. Their state flag was adopted in 1894 and clearly features what a lot of people call the Confederate Flag. While that symbol was eventually put on later versions of the official Confederate National flag, it didn’t start out like that. It was originally the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Although Mississippi’s soon-to-be old flag is also influenced by the first national flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars.

The first National Flag of the Confederacy, known as the Stars and Bars

The recent move to change Mississippi’s flag was relatively quick. On June 9, 2020, Mississippi Today reported that lawmakers were starting efforts to draft legislation and gather support for a change. Republican Speaker of the House Phillip Gunn said if his party could get the support of 40 Republican lawmakers, along with the 45 House Democrats, he’d move to suspend House rules and allow for a bill to change the flag to be introduced. 

Nearly twenty days later on June 27, the House passed Concurrent Resolution 79, which suspended rules in the legislative chambers in order to vote and debate on the flag bill. Later that day the Senate followed suit, and debate over changing the flag officially began.

By the next day, House Bill 1796 was passed by the House in a 91-23 vote and in the Senate by 37-14. The bill would require public institutions to remove the state flag within 15-days of the bill being signed.

The bill does more than just remove the current state flag, it also sets up a mechanism to make a new one. The state will set up a commission to design it and it specifically cannot have any Confederate symbolism. It also requires the words “In God We Trust” to be on the flag. Then in November, voters will have a chance to approve the new flag in a referendum.

This isn’t the first time there’s been a push to change the flag. In 2001, there was an attempt to redesign the flag, but 64% of voters said “No” to the change. In 2015, there were multiple attempts after the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting, but they all failed to even get out of committee.

Following Sunday’s vote lawmakers like Democratic State Rep. Jeramey Anderson, Moss Point called it “a beautiful moment of unity.”

Following Saturday’s vote that allowed the bill to be introduced, Bertram Hayes-Davis said on CNN the “battle flag has been hijacked” and “does not represent the entire population of Mississippi.”

He continued by saying, “It is historic and heritage-related, there are a lot of people who look at it that way, and God bless them for that heritage. So put it in a museum and honor it there or put it in your house, but the flag of Mississippi should represent the entire population, and I am thrilled that we’re finally going to make that change.”

Hayes-Davis is the great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy.

More to the Confederacy Than Mississippi

With this recent vote, it seems like one of the most prominent symbols of the Confederacy is finally leaving the South; however, it doesn’t mean that the South won’t be without reminders still. While the Battle Flag has been tied to racist and white nationalist groups, the Confederacy had other flags and symbols that are prominently displayed on other state flags.

Looking at Mississippi’s flag, if the only change was that the Battle Flag is removed from the corner, it’d still just be the Stars and Bars with a slight color change. Although the law specifically states that no Confederate symbols be used.

Mississippi is just the tip of the iceberg though, because multiple Southern flags draw inspiration from the Confederacy.

Alabama’s flag is a red and white St. Andrews cross. That cross isn’t racist on its own, even Scotland uses it as their flag, but it’s a prominent feature of the Battle Flag. Their flag was adopted in 1895, and in 1915 there was confusion over whether it was supposed to be a rectangle or a square.

At the time, the director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History interviewed people who were around when the flag was introduced. He concluded that the flag was intended to “preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag, particularly the St. Andrew’s Cross.”

From that finding, he noted the flag was to be square like the original Battle Flag. In 1987 the state finally changed it to a rectangle.

Florida also prominently features a St. Andrew’s cross, although there is debate over whether its cross is supposed to be a callback to the Confederacy. The flag was adopted in 1900 by their then-governor who served in the Confederate army. It might just be a coincidence that it was adopted during a time where Jim Crow laws were being instituted.

There’s another possibility, though; Florida’s flag may be a callback to the flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain, which included Florida when the Spanish colonized it.

The flag of the Vice-royalty of New Spain

Another flag with controversial symbolism is Arkansas. It was adopted in 1913 and features a motif that riffs on the colors of the battle flag. The three stars below the state’s name represent France, Spain, and the U.S.

The star on top of the word “Arkansas” represents the Confederacy, but it’s not from the original design. It was added later in the 1920s and reaffirmed by a 1987 signed by then-Governor Bill Clinton.

Tennessee’s may look like it’s inspired by the Battle Flag, with its similar coloration, but there isn’t much historical evidence to suggest that it is based on Confederate symbolism.

North Carolina’s flag is very similar to the flag they adopted after seceding from the Union and was an intentional callback when it was adopted in 1885. It later had its proportions altered in 1991.

North Carolina’s Civil War-era flag, from 1861 to 1885.

Finally, there’s Georgia’s flag. The flag is just the Stars and Bars with the state’s emblem in the corner. Unlike many of the other flags listed, Georgia’s flag is recent, designed in 2003. Before then, the state’s flag, which was adopted in 1956, had a Battle Flag that put Mississippi’s to shame. It took up over two-thirds of the flag.

Georgia’s Flag from 1956-2001. It was adopted to feature Confederate symbolism during the Civil Rights era.

In 2001 the state decided the flag needed to be changed, so they made a new one that featured all of its older flags. In a 2001 survey that ranked all U.S. State and Canadian Provincial flag designs by the North American Vexillological Association, it ranked dead last.

After public outrage, in 2004 the current flag beat the 2001 version in a referendum where over 70% of voters preferred the Stars and Bars.

While the Battle Flag has clear ties to extremist and racist groups, these other symbols of the Confederacy are often ignored.

See What Others Are Saying: (CNN) (CBSNews) (Washington Post)

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Purdue Pharma Agrees To Plead Guilty To 3 Opioid-Related Charges in $8B Settlement, But Don’t Expect Them To Pay the Full Amount

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  • As part of a more than $8 billion settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Purdue Pharma will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and two counts of violating anti-kickback, or bribery, laws.
  • Because Purdue filed for bankruptcy last year, that full figure likely won’t be collected by the government.
  • Under the settlement, which will need approval in bankruptcy court, Purdue would become a public benefit corporation that is controlled by the government, with revenue from opioid sales being used to fund treatment options and programs.
  • A number of state attorneys generals and Democratic lawmakers have said the settlement does not hold Purdue or its owners fully accountable and could derail thousands of other cases against the company.
  • They have also argued that the government should “avoid having special ties to an opioid company… that caused a national crisis.”

Purdue to Plead Guilty to 3 Criminal Charges

The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Purdue Pharma has agreed to plead guilty to three criminal charges related to fueling the country’s opioid epidemic. 

Notably, those guilty pleas come as part of a massive settlement worth more than $8 billion, though Purdue will likely only pay a fraction of that amount to the government.

Purdue is the manufacturer of oxycontin, which is a powerful and addictive painkiller that’s believed to have driven the opioid crisis. Since 2000, opioid addiction and overdoses have been linked to more than 470,000 deaths. 

As part of the settlement, Purdue will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. There, it will admit that it lied to the Drug Enforcement Administration by claiming that it had maintained an effective program to avoid opioid misuse. It will also admit to reporting misleading information to the DEA in order to increase its manufacturing quotas.

While Purdue originally told the DEA that it had “robust controls” to avoid opioid misuse, according to the Justice Department, it had “disregard[ed] red flags their own systems were sending up.”

Along with that guilty plea, Purdue will also plead guilty to two anti-kickback, or bribery, related charges. In one charge, it will admit to violating federal law by paying doctors to write more opioid prescriptions. In the other, it will admit to using electronic health records software to increase opioid prescriptions.

According to a copy of the plea deal obtained by the Associated Press, Purdue “knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with others to aid and abet” the distribution of opioids from doctors “without a legitimate medical purpose and outside the usual course of professional practice.”

The $8 billion in settlements will be split several different ways.

In one deal, the Sackler family — which owns Purdue — will pay $225 million to resolve civil fines. 

As part of the main deal, another $225 million will go directly to the federal government in a larger $2 billion criminal forfeiture; however, the government is actually expected to forego the rest of that figure.

In addition to that, $2.8 billion will go to resolving Purdue’s civil liability. Another $3.54 billion will go to criminal fines, but because Purdue filed bankruptcy last year, these figures also likely won’t be fully collected — largely because the government will now have to compete with other claims against Purdue in bankruptcy court.”

Purdue Will Become a “Public Benefit Company”

Since Purdue is in the middle of bankruptcy proceedings, a bankruptcy court will also need to approve the settlement.

“The agreed resolution, if approved by the courts, will require that the company be dissolved and no longer exist in its present form,” Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said. 

However, that doesn’t mean that Purdue’s fully gone or that it will even stop making oxycontin. In fact, as part of this settlement, the Sacklers would relinquish ownership of Purdue, and it would then transform into what’s known as a public benefit company.

Essentially, that means it would be run by the government. Under that setup, money from limited oxycontin sales, as well as from sales of several overdose-reversing medications, would be pumped back into treatment initiatives and other drug programs aimed at combating the opioid crisis.

For its part, the Justice Department has endorsed this model. 

Should Purdue Be Punished More?

There has been strong opposition to this deal, mainly from state attorneys general and Democratic members of Congress who say it doesn’t go far enough.

Those critics argue that the settlements don’t hold Purdue or the Sackler family fully accountable, especially the Sacklers since — unlike Purdue — they didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing.

“[W]hile our country continues to recover from the pain and destruction left by the Sacklers’ greed,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “this family has attempted to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis. Today’s deal doesn’t account for the hundreds of thousands of deaths or millions of addictions caused by Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family.”

“If the only practical consequence of your Department’s investigation is that a handful of billionaires are made slightly less rich, we fear that the American people will lose faith in the ability of the Department to provide accountability and equal justice under the law,” A coalition of 38 Democratic members of Congress said in a statement to Attorney General Bill Barr last week.

While this settlement doesn’t include any convictions against the Sacklers specifically, as the Justice Department noted, it also doesn’t release them from criminal liability and a separate criminal investigation is ongoing. 

Still, last week, 25 state attorneys general asked Barr not to make a deal that includes converting Purdue into a public benefit company, urging the Justice Department to “avoid having special ties to an opioid company, conflicts of interest, or mixed motives in an industry that caused a national crisis.” 

Part of their concern is that the government would essentially run this new company while also holding the original one accountable. Those attorneys general instead argued that Purdue should be run privately but with government oversight. 

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (The New York Times) (Fox Business)

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Parents of 545 Children Separated at U.S. Border Still Can’t Be Found

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  • A Tuesday filing update from the ACLU and Department of Justice revealed that a Steering Committee in charge of reuniting families that were separated at the U.S.-Mexico border has not been able to find parents of 545 separated children. 
  • Efforts to reach these parents via telephone have been unsuccessful and those involved are not hopeful that will change. Two-thirds of these parents are believed to be in their respective countries of origin.
  • So far, parents for 485 kids have been reached.
  • Finding these parents is an already complicated process made even more strenuous by the coronavirus pandemic. On-the-ground searches were suspended because of COVID-19 but have now picked up in limited capacity.

Parents of 545 Children Remain Unfound

A Tuesday court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice and American Civil Liberties Union revealed that the parents of 545 children who had been separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have not been found or contacted.

Two thirds of those parents are expected to be in their respective country of origin. While there have been efforts to reach these families via phone, they have not been successful. Other efforts to reach these parents are in the works. 

Thousands of families were separated in 2018 under President Donald Trump’s zero tolerance policy, but a federal judge ordered that those families should be reunited. Soon after, many were, but in reality many more families had actually been separated. It was later revealed that the Trump Administration had been separating families back in 2017 under a pilot program. A court order reuniting those families was not issued until last year. 

A Steering Committee, of which the ACLU and other organizations are members, is now searching for these parents. According to the filing, the government provided a list of 1,556 children. The current focus on reaching children whose membership in this case is not contested and who have available contact information for a sponsor or parent. The Steering Committee has attempted to reach the families of all 1,030 children who fit that bill, and have successfully reached the parents, or their attorneys, for 485 kids. 

“There is so much more work to be done to find these families, Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, told NBC News, which broke the story.

“People ask when we will find all of these families, and sadly, I can’t give an answer. I just don’t know,” he continued. “But we will not stop looking until we have found every one of the families, no matter how long it takes. The tragic reality is that hundreds of parents were deported to Central America without their children, who remain here with foster families or distant relatives.”

Efforts to Find Parents

Because so much time has passed between family separation practices and today, initiatives to find those parents are difficult. They are also further complicated by the fact that during the pilot program, U.S. officials did not collect thorough information from these parents, and many were deported before courts ordered they be reunited with their kids. 

Nan Schivone, the legal director for Justice in Motion, which carries out on-the-ground searches for parents, told The Washington Post that attorneys “take the minimal, often inaccurate or out-of-date information provided by the government and do in-person investigations to find these parents.” 

Schivone said it is an “an arduous and time-consuming process on a good day.” Sometimes, these lawyers might find themselves in remote villages where outsiders are suspect and language barriers can slow down communication.

The pandemic halted these efforts as lockdowns and curfews made it impossible for Justice in Motion to look for parents abroad. Though, Tuesday’s filing revealed that “limited physical on-the-ground searches for separated parents has now resumed where possible to do so.” 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (NBC News) (Washington Post)

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Scott Peterson’s Murder Convictions To Be Re-examined

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  • Scott Peterson was convicted in 2004 of murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn child.
  • He was sentenced to death for the crimes, but the California Supreme Court overturned the death sentence in August of this year after finding that the trial court improperly dismissed potential jurors. The court did, however, uphold the convictions.
  • Now, the CA Supreme Court has ordered the San Mateo County Superior Court to review the convictions and determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the grounds that one juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings.”
  • That juror had not disclosed the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant.

Peterson’s Death Sentence Was Previously Overturned

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a review of Scott Peterson’s 2004 convictions for murdering his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.

Peterson was sentenced to death by lethal injection for those crimes in 2005, but in August of this year, the California Supreme Court overturned his death sentence. 

We reject Peterson’s claim that he received an unfair trial as to guilt and thus affirm his convictions for murder,“ the court said at the time. “But before the trial began, the trial court made a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection.”

As far as what errors the court is talking about, it said the trial judge wrongly discharged prospective jurors who expressed opposition to capital punishment but said they would be willing to impose it.

Court to Decide on Potential New Trial

Now, weeks later, the California Supreme Court has ordered that the case return to the San Mateo County Superior Court to determine whether Peterson should be given a new trial on the ground that a juror “committed prejudicial misconduct by not disclosing her prior involvement with other legal proceedings, including but not limited to being the victim of a crime.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, that juror had not shared the fact that she was granted a restraining order in 2000 against her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend for harassing her when she was pregnant. 

Peterson’s lawyers even say that when all potential jurors were asked whether they had ever been a victim of a crime or involved in a lawsuit, the juror said no to both questions.

They also say she was one of the two holdouts for convicting Peterson of first-degree murder for killing his unborn child, with the jury ultimately convicting Peterson of the first-degree murder of Laci and the second-degree murder of the unborn child. 

For now, it’s up to the San Mateo Court to decide what happens next, but the California Supreme Court did say that prosecutors could again seek the death penalty for Peterson at a new hearing.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Los Angeles Times) (NBC News)

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