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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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China Imposes Retaliatory Sanctions on US Officials Over Xinjiang Criticisms

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  • The U.S. imposed sanctions on Chinese officials last week over the treatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.
  • The decision was the latest escalation during a time of heightened tensions between the two nations over policies in Hong Kong, the trade war, and questions about sovereignty in the South China Sea, among other matters.
  • In response, China announced retaliatory sanctions against U.S. officials, including Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
  • However, what exactly the Chinese sanctions will do is currently unclear as officials haven’t given specifics yet.

Sanctions and Counter Sanctions

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) were sanctioned by China on Monday over their involvement in criticizing the nation’s actions in Xinjiang. Two other American officials faced sanctions as well for interfering in “China’s internal affairs,” as characterized by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese sanctions were in retaliation over earlier sanctions the U.S. placed on Chinese officials last Thursday. The U.S. was able to do this following the passage of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act last month. That law allows the U.S. to place sanctions, in line with the Global Magnitsky Act, on officials who are involved in the ongoing repression of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang.

When the law was passed in mid-June, China warned that if the U.S. actually imposed any sanctions they would do the same in retaliation. after Thursday’s announcement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry stated, “We urge the US to immediately rescind its wrong decision and stop making any remarks or moves that interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s interests. The Chinese side will firmly fight back if the US obstinately pursues such agenda.”

Zhao Lijian, Spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry speaking to reporters about US-imposed Sanctions. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China)

Despite China’s threat, the U.S. imposed sanctions on certain Chinese officials and organizations involved in Xinjiang on July 9. The sanctions include freezing the assets these officials hold in the U.S., as well as restricting the ability of the officials and their immediate family members’ to enter the U.S.

In a statement on July 9, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote, “The United States will not stand idly by as the CCP carries out human rights abuses targeting Uyghurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and members of other minority groups in Xinjiang, to include forced labor, arbitrary mass detention, and forced population control, and attempts to erase their culture and Muslim faith.”

Out of the four named individuals in the sanctions, one stands out: Chen Quanguo. Chen is the Communist Party secretary for Xinjiang and part of the Politburo and the highest-ranking Chinese official to ever be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. He first received infamy for his actions while doing the same job in Tibet from 2011-2016.

The Treasury Department named three other individuals who would have their assets frozen for helping Chen set up the surveillance and detention families in Xinjiang.

Additionally, the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau (XPSB) was also sanctioned by the Treasury Department, and the State Department added that officials who worked with the XPSB were also liable to have themselves and their families denied entry into the U.S.

When speaking about the sanctions, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “The United States is committed to using the full breadth of its financial powers to hold human rights abusers accountable in Xinjiang and across the world.”

Tit-for-Tat Hostilities

However, these sanctions will likely end up being largely symbolic because these officials don’t travel to the U.S. in the first place. It’s also believed that their assets aren’t based in America but in China.

Even as a symbolic act, it still made China upset. On Monday, the country imposed its own sanctions against the four U.S. officials in retaliation, including the aforementioned Senators Cruz and Rubio.

Cruz was likely placed on this list for his work as part of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China. Two other officials part of that committee were also named, including Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), and Sam Brownback, a lawyer who also serves as the US Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.,

Rubio was likely named over his co-sponsorship of the Uighur Human Rights Policy Act. Interestingly though, China avoided issuing sanctions on the other co-sponsor, Sen. Robert Menedez (D-NJ).

As far as what these sanctions will actually do, that’s a little unclear. So far, China hasn’t given any specifics as to what the penalties would be.

These recent sanctions are just the next step in ongoing tit-for-tats between the two countries. There’s an ongoing trade war, tensions over how Hong Kong is being treated by the mainland Chinese, issues over the sovereignty of the South China Sea, and major problems with how the Chinese are treating ethnic minorities in the Xinjiang region.

The problems in Xinjiang are so bad, that there are pundits and experts calling it a cultural genocide.

Even outside of the US, China has increasingly been pressured to change course over Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Al Jazeera) (NPR)

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San Francisco Lawmaker Proposes CAREN Act to Make False, Racist 911 Calls Illegal

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  • San Francisco City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced an ordinance this week called the CAREN Act, which would make false, racially discriminatory 911 calls illegal.
  • The acronym stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. It is named after “Karens,” a nickname for white women who throw unwarranted fits in public.
  • These fits often appear racially motivated and have led to “Karens” calling the police on people of color.
  • California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has also introduced a similar piece of legislation that would outlaw these calls throughout the state.

Why the “CAREN” Act?

A lawmaker in San Francisco has introduced an ordinance that would outlaw making false, racially discriminatory 911 calls, dubbed the CAREN Act.

City Supervisor Shamann Walton introduced the ordinance. In a tweet announcing the act on Tuesday, he called racist 911 calls “unacceptable.”

The CAREN Act stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies, but its name bears much more weight. A “Karen” is an Internet nickname for white women whose privilege and entitlement leads to loud complaints, threats of legal action, calling supervisors, and often, calling the police. The unjustified outrage of Karens has been documented in countless viral incidents, and in many cases, they show a clear prejudice against people of color. 

One video that went viral in May has been pointed to as a prime example of this. In that clip, Amy Cooper, a white woman in New York, called the police on a Black man named Christian Cooper. Both were in Central park at the time when the man asked her to put her dog on a leash, as she was required to do in that area.

However, that confrontation escalated when she desperately told a 911 operator that she was being threatened when she was not. Many felt her instinct to weaponize her white privilege and make a false claim could have had serious consequences considering the fact that Black Americans are more likely to face police brutality and die in police custody. She has since been charged with filing a false report after much public outrage.

While videos of this nature have often gone viral, this incident came at a cultural tipping point. Not long after it made its way across the Internet, another story received national attention: a video of George Floyd being killed by police officers in Minneapolis. This sparked a movement of people confronting systemic racism and police brutality, and since then, more “Karen” videos have spread online in an effort to hold people accountable for their racist behavior.

What the Ordinance Does

While filing a false police report is already illegal, Walton is pushing for more to be done to stop people from calling the authorities on people of color for no real reason. The CAREN Act would make it illegal to fabricate a report based on racial and other kinds of discrimination. 

“Within the last month and a half in the Bay Area, an individual called the police on a Black man who was dancing and exercising on the street in his Alameda neighborhood and a couple called the police on a Filipino man stenciling ‘Black Lives Matter’ in chalk in front of his own residence in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights,” he said in a statement. 

This is not the only proposal of its kind. California Assemblyman Rob Bonta has introduced a similar ordinance. His proposed legislation, AB 1150, would make state that “discriminatory 911 calls qualify as a hate crime, and further establish civil liability for the person who discriminatorily called 911.”

“AB 1550, when amended, will impose serious consequences on those who make 911 calls that are motivated by hate and bigotry; actions that inherently cause harm and pain to others,” Bonta said in a statement. “This bill is incredibly important to upholding our values and ensuring the safety of all Californians.”

See what others are saying: (SFist) (The Hill) (CNN)

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Catholic Church Granted at Least $1.4 Billion in PPP Loans

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  • An analysis from the Associated Press found that the Catholic Church received at least between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid.
  • The report identified 3,500 loans the Church received from the Paycheck Protection Program, but leaders have previously stated that as many as 9,000 bodies of the Church received funding.
  • However, government data only shared who received loans over $150,000. Smaller churches that received under that amount were not on the list, meaning the Catholic Church could have collected even more than records show.
  • Usually, religious groups would not be eligible for funding from the Small Business Administration, but the Church allegedly spent a good chunk of money lobbying so that there would be an exception for the PPP.

Catholic Church Receives Billions in PPP Funds

The Catholic Church received between $1.4 and $3.5 billion in federal coronavirus relief aid, according to a Friday analysis from the Associated Press.

While houses of worship and religious organizations are usually ineligible for federal aid from the Small Business Administration, an exception was made for the Paycheck Protection Program, which was designed to keep American businesses afloat as the pandemic shut the country down.

The AP found records of 3,500 forgivable loans for Catholic dioceses, parishes, schools, and other ministries. That number, however, is likely higher.

The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference has claimed that 9,000 Catholic bodies received loans. Government data only shared loans over $150,000, so smaller churches who got less were not on the list, meaning the Church may have pocketed even more than $3.5 billion. 

“The government grants special dispensation, and that creates a kind of structural favoritism,” Micah Schwartzman, a University of Virginia law professor told the AP. “And that favoritism was worth billions of dollars.”

According to the AP, the Archdiocese of New York received $28 million just for executive offices. St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City received $1 million. Diocesan officials in Orange County, California received four loans worth $3 million. The AP’s analysis suggests that the Catholic Church and its entities were able to retain 407,900 jobs with this loan money.

“These loans are an essential lifeline to help faith-based organizations to stay afloat and continue serving those in need during this crisis,” spokesperson Chieko Noguchi told the AP.

How Did the Church Get Aid?

Like many businesses throughout the country, churches had to shut their doors as large gatherings became unsafe as the coronavirus’ spread continued. Masses were canceled or moved online and celebrations for the Easter holidays were dropped, causing the Church to to fall behind financially. 

While its global net worth is not known, the Catholic Church is considered the wealthiest religious organization in the world. It is also one of the most powerful groups of any kind, with an estimated 1.2 billion followers all over the planet. According to the AP, its deep pockets and far-reaching influence helped it receive federal aid. 

The Catholic Church lobbied heavily to make sure religious groups were allowed to receive money from the PPP, the AP says. Their report found that the Los Angeles archdiocese spent $20,000 lobbying Congress to include “eligibility for non-profits” in the CARES Act, the legislation that formed the PPP. Records also show that Catholic Charities USA spent another $30,000 in CARES Act lobbying.

With its wealth and power, the Catholic Church is also plagued with controversy and scandal. For years, there have been reports that the Church has covered up for priests and other leaders who have been accused of sexual abuse. Many entities of the church have had to shell out large sums of money in legal fees and settlements. 

The AP found that around 40 of the dioceses that have paid out “hundreds of millions of dollars” to related compensation funds or bankruptcy proceedings received loans. These loans totaled at least $200 million.

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Business Insider) (Market Watch)

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