Tennessee gov. says he regrets wearing Confederate uniform
By JONATHAN MATTISE and SCOTT STROUD
Friday, February 22
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was 17 when he joined the Kappa Alpha fraternity at Auburn University, which every spring held an “Old South” party where he and other members dressed in Confederate uniforms.
The fraternity has since ended the tradition, and Lee, four decades removed from his undergraduate days at the Alabama university, says he regrets attending and wearing the uniform, and has come to see his participation in the event differently.
A spokeswoman for Lee confirmed on Thursday that Auburn’s 1980 yearbook includes a photo of the governor and another man in Confederate uniforms.
“While I never intentionally acted in an insensitive way, with 40 years of hindsight, I have come to realize that was insensitive and have come to regret that,” the Republican governor said.
The scandal involving two Virginia politicians who once wore blackface has brought renewed scrutiny to the past behavior of elected officials around the country when it comes to race. Lee’s comments came during interviews The Associated Press conducted with governors across the country following the scandal in Virginia. Comments from Lee were first reported Wednesday by The Tennessean.
Lee, who was sworn in as governor in January, spoke to the AP briefly about how he has come to view his actions. He later said through a spokeswoman that he has never worn blackface or attended parties where others were doing so, nor has he taken part in other activities or organizations since college that would be considered racially insensitive or offensive.
Kappa Alpha’s annual “Old South” parade at Auburn ended in 1992, said university spokesman Preston Sparks. The fraternity’s national organization, meanwhile, prohibited the use of Confederate flags at any chapter in 2001 and the wearing of uniforms and parades in 2010, a spokesman told the AP.
In the 1980 yearbook photo, Lee is wearing a Confederate soldier uniform and is standing with a woman in an antebellum dress. Lee’s office said it did not immediately know the identity of the woman.
Another unidentified woman and man are also in the photo wearing the same kind of outfits.
Two other photos with different people in Confederate clothing are on the page, which has the caption, “The South shall rise again, right Bill! When the band plays ‘Dixie’, a tear comes to our eyes. I’d do anything Lee, but she comes first.”
The page also explains that Kappa Alpha was based on ideals that “constituted the frame and fabric of Southern Culture” and that its founding fathers saw in Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee “chivalry, valor, loyalty and reverence for womankind.”
Auburn’s yearbook from 1978, Lee’s freshman year, called the party sponsored by Lee’s Kappa Alpha fraternity “one of the biggest social events on campus.”
It described the festivities this way: “Preliminary parties last for a week and finally culminate on Saturday night. The sound of rebel yells and horses’ hooves can be heard as the KA’s parade down College Street – reminiscent of one of the South’s hardest, yet grandest times.”
The yearbook noted that Kappa Alpha also sponsored an event called Convivium, a celebration of Robert E. Lee’s birthday. The yearbook said he was “exemplary of the Southern gentleman” and represented attributes “that KA strives to uphold — to mold leaders not simply followers.”
Old South parties were a Kappa Alpha tradition on other campuses, including at the University of Georgia in 1983, when Georgia’s current governor, Republican Brian Kemp, was a student. Kemp was a member of a different fraternity, and there is nothing in his yearbooks to suggest he attended the parties.
Kemp did not respond to the AP survey.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey attended Auburn a decade earlier than Lee. Her sorority’s 1967 yearbook photo shows five members with black masks portraying “minstrels” in a rush skit, but Ivey said she is not in the photograph. Its caption reads, “Alpha Gam Minstrels welcome rushees aboard their showboat.”
The photo is on the same page as a description of the sorority and the accomplishments of its members. The page notes that Ivey was vice president of the student body.
Ivey, a Republican, said she did not recall the skit.
“When I was shown that picture, it had to be a rush skit or something at the sorority at some point in time, but no, I didn’t remember it,” she said. “I certainly wasn’t a part of it.”
Ivey said “there is no place” for blackface and that she had never worn it. When asked if she had ever made a remark perceived as racially insensitive, she replied that she hoped not.
Associated Press writers Meghan Hoyer in Washington; Ben Nadler in Atlanta; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; and Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville contributed to this report.
Kentucky teen at center of viral encounter sues over stories
By DAN SEWELL
Thursday, February 21
CINCINNATI (AP) — The Kentucky teen at the heart of an encounter last month with a Native American activist at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington is suing The Washington Post for $250 million, alleging the newspaper falsely labeled him a racist. His attorneys are threatening numerous other news organizations, including The Associated Press.
President Donald Trump cheered the lawsuit, tweeting Wednesday that “Covington student suing WAPO. Go get them Nick. Fake News!” The legal action, and possible future ones, comes at a time of intense scrutiny of Trump’s relationship with the press, which he has repeatedly labeled the “enemy of the people.” Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas this week suggested revisiting a cornerstone of modern press freedom, the 1964 New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case, which established knowing or reckless disregard of falsity as a pre-requisite for libel actions by public officials, a standard later extended to libel actions by public figures as well.
In papers filed Tuesday in federal court in Kentucky, Nicholas Sandmann and his parents alleged that the Post had engaged in “targeting and bullying” and modern “McCarthyism.”
“The Post ignored basic journalist standards because it wanted to advance its well-known and easily documented, biased agenda against President Donald J. Trump … by impugning individuals perceived to be supporters,” according to the complaint.
In a statement Wednesday, the Post said it was “reviewing a copy of the lawsuit” and planned “to mount a vigorous defense.”
Sandmann’s attorneys also are threatening legal action against The Associated Press and other news organizations. In a letter to the AP, dated Feb. 15, Atlanta-based attorney L. Lin Wood called on the news cooperative to “retract and correct” what his letter asserts are “defamatory statements.” Sandmann also provided his version of the events.
The Associated Press took great care to ensure its stories were measured and fair, reporting the facts of what transpired and adding details as they emerged, said spokeswoman Lauren Easton, adding that AP stands by its stories.
The actions of Sandmann and his Covington Catholic High School classmates have been intensely debated since video and photographs emerged of them wearing “Make America Great Again” hats and facing off against Omaha Nation elder Nathan Phillips.
Both Sandmann and Nathan Phillips say they were trying to defuse tensions that were rising among three groups on a day Washington hosted both the anti-abortion March for Life, attended by the Covington students, and the Indigenous Peoples March. But video of Sandmann and Phillips standing very close to each other , with Sandmann staring and at times smiling at Phillips as he sang and played a drum, gave some who watched it a different impression.
Interpretations changed over the days following the incident as witnesses released more cellphone video footage. Phillips had approached Sandmann, but well before that, both his group and Sandmann’s were confronted by a third group that appeared to be affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
Videos show members of the religious group yelling disparaging and profane insults at the students, some of whom shouted back. Video also shows the Native Americans being insulted by the small religious group. Sandmann’s legal team has released its own video , “Nick Sandmann: The Truth in 15 Minutes.” It shows scenes from the confrontation, clips from news coverage and interviews, and examples of harsh Tweets and comments aimed at Sandmann and his high school.
Phillips did not immediately return efforts to reach him for comment.
First Amendment lawyers contacted by the AP were hesitant to comment without reading the full legal complaint. Floyd Abrams, who worked on the landmark Pentagon Papers case of 1971, wrote in an email that “the press does get a good deal of leeway in voicing opinions about matters they have seen and are commenting on.”
One legal question might be whether Sandmann would be treated in court as a public or private figure. Abrams observed that “sometimes individuals involved in newsworthy events are treated as involuntary limited purpose public figures,” meaning they would have to meet a higher legal standard than would a private citizen.
AP National Writer Hillel Italie contributed to this report.
Opinion: Atticus Finch is Right — on Criminal Justice, More Work Must Be Done
By Cliff Maloney
As the Broadway rendition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” captivates America, criminal justice reform has never been more timely. We can celebrate how far we’ve come since the days of the fictional Atticus Finch and Tom Robinson, while still recognizing how much work remains to be done.
I recently saw the Broadway play, and it makes you reflect on America’s past — the racial injustices that shaped our history (and stubbornly persist today). Jeff Bridges, in his portrayal of Finch, looked right at me when he said, “You can’t understand someone else until you jump into their skin and walk around.” The entire audience felt the gravity of that moment.
I certainly felt it, although I’m as far removed from the backdrop of Maycomb County as anyone. I’m a 27-year-old who grew up in the blue-collar suburbs of Philadelphia.
But that doesn’t mean I cannot sympathize with those oppressed by the criminal justice system. My father served three years in prison for a non-violent drug possession. His life, as you can imagine, was changed forever by that sentence. After conviction, your social encounters, employment status, and very livelihood are never quite the same.
While my dad, now 30 years sober and a well-respected landscaping business owner in my community, has been able to restart his life, millions of Americans are still suffering at the hands of a criminal justice system built on excessive punishment — a broad brush that often lumps non-violent drug offenders with violent criminals. What is left is a booming prison-industrial complex and a nation of broken families.
Here are the facts: roughly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners are in American prisons and jails, even though we only hold 5 percent of the world’s population. Our prisons and jails are home to more than 2 million people — a 500 percent increase over the last 40 years. The U.S. incarceration rate — 670 per 100,000 people — is higher than those of Brazil, China, France Germany and India combined.
The War on Drugs shares the blame for the rise of America’s prison-industrial complex. Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people in prisons and jails for drug offenses — like my dad — skyrocketed from just under 41,000 to nearly 470,000.
Many landed in prison or jail because of a mandatory minimum sentence. These were first established in 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Mandatory minimums were then expanded under the Anti-Drug Abuse of Act of 1986, which set a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for offenses involving 100 grams of heroin, 500 grams of cocaine, or five grams of crack cocaine. Two years later, Congress added a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine, with no evidence of intent to sell.
Simply put, mandatory minimums are abhorrent, and especially harmful to minority communities. While African-Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, the imprisonment rate of African-Americans for drug charges is almost six times higher than that of whites. African-Americans represent 12.5 percent of illicit drug users, but 29 percent of those arrested for drug offenses and 33 percent of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
We’ve come a long way since the 1930s, but mandatory minimums should have no place in the land of the free. Why are law enforcement officers hunting down non-violent criminals in the hundreds of thousands? This is not to say that drug-related crimes should go unpunished, but we should make violent criminals the top priority. Murderers, rapists and burglars should feel the full force of the criminal justice system.
More than anything else, we need to rethink what it means to be incarcerated — and consider the life-altering impacts of a mandatory minimum. The First Step Act is, indeed, a step in the right direction. The new law, signed by President Trump last year, eases some of the most punitive prison sentences at the federal level and allows thousands of people to earn an earlier release from prison.
But criminal justice reform is by no means complete. Until mandatory minimums are left on the ash heap of history, the words of Atticus Finch will continue to ring painfully true.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Cliff Maloney is the president of Young Americans for Liberty. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Sexual selection in action: Birds that attract multiple mates change their songs more quickly
February 21, 2019
Nicole Creanza, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University
Kate Snyder, Ph.D. Candidate in Biological Sciences, Vanderbilt University
Disclosure statement: Nicole Creanza has received funding from Vanderbilt University, the Ruth Landes Memorial Research Fund, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Stanford Center for Computational, Evolutionary, and Human Genomics. Kate Snyder receives funding from Vanderbilt University Department of Biological Sciences and the Vanderbilt University Graduate School.
Partners: Vanderbilt University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
How do individuals choose their mates? Why are some more successful at attracting mates than others?
These age-old questions are broadly relevant to all animals, including human beings. Darwin’s theory of natural selection offers one way to answer them. Sometimes phrased as “survival of the fittest,” the theory can also apply to mate choice, predicting that it’s beneficial to choose the mate who’s best adapted to surviving in its environment — the fastest runner, the best hunter, the farmer with the highest yields.
That’s a bit simplistic as a summary of human sexuality, of course, since people pair up in the context of complex social norms and gender roles that are uniquely human. Researchers like us do think, though, that mate choice in other animals is influenced by these kinds of perceived adaptations. It fits with scientists’ understanding of evolution: If females choose to mate with well-adapted males, their offspring might have a better chance of surviving as well. Advantageous traits wind up passed down and preserved in future generations.
But in many species, males try to attract mates by displaying characteristics that seem to be decidedly non-adaptive. These signals – such as a dazzling tail on a peacock or a beautiful tune from a songbird – were originally a big wrench thrown into Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Traits like these seem to do the opposite of making an animal more likely to survive in its environment. A flashy tail display or a showy melody is cumbersome, and it announces you to predators as well as love interests. Darwin got so upset by this inconsistency that he said “The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick.”
Thinking about this conundrum led Darwin to another major theory: sexual selection. Instead of directly displaying adaptations, males might need to produce costly, non-adaptive signals if females prefer those features when choosing mates. For the females, these signals might indirectly communicate that a male would be a good mate because he’s able to survive and succeed — in spite of the ornament, not because of it. Under this model, the costliest traits are the most attractive.
But what if the stakes are raised, as in species that are polygynous, with males trying to attract and form bonds with multiple females? A logical next step to this theory might predict that the pressure to produce beautiful signals would skyrocket, compounding the rewards for individuals with elaborate ornaments. If the most successful males have the most extraordinary traits, an ensuing arms race over many generations could shift the population toward more extreme characteristics. This is an intuitive theory – increased competition for mates would lead to increasingly elaborate sexually selected traits – but it hasn’t been tested across the tree of life.
Do non-monogamous mating systems truly increase sexual selection in real animals? As the strength of sexual selection increases, do sexually selected characteristics become more extreme? Do tails get longer? Songs, more beautiful? As two biologists with expertise in computational methods, the evolution of behaviors and songbirds, we decided to investigate.
Building up the bird database
Evolution is as complex as life itself. New computational abilities allow researchers like us to go beyond testing whether certain traits simply tend to occur together. Instead, we can delve into the past and try to discern the path that species have traveled through history to arrive where they are today.
To test the theory that males trying to attract multiple mates would amplify sexual selection and drive the evolution of increasingly elaborate displays, we needed both a new dataset and innovative methods.
Songbirds are an excellent system with which to study this question. First, many species are socially (though not necessarily sexually) monogamous, which is otherwise exceedingly rare in the animal kingdom, but there have been numerous independent transitions to polygyny over the course of their history. That makes it easy for us to compare the songs of birds searching for a single partner to the songs of those looking for multiple mates. Songbirds also have an incredible diversity of song, from the simple tweets of the house sparrow to the elaborate cadenzas of the mockingbird.
By searching published literature and field guides, we gathered mating system data on almost 700 species and song data for over 350 species, the largest database of its kind to date. We obtained a recently published phylogeny – essentially a “family tree” that stretches all the way back to the ancestor of all birds – that covered all of avian evolutionary history. This would serve as our map through the songbird lineages.
We merged our trait data with the phylogeny to trace backwards in time, estimating how the ancestors of each group of songbirds might have sounded and behaved.
This approach is kind of like if we dropped in on a human family reunion and noticed that the vast majority of family members have blonde hair and were speaking Swedish – we’d guess that a long-gone matriarch of the family probably also had blonde hair and likely spoke Swedish. Then, we could visit another family reunion, distant relatives of the first, to find blonde people speaking mostly Norwegian. At yet another gathering, perhaps we’d see brown-haired people speaking Spanish. By doing this hundreds of times, researchers could figure out whether there was any association between hair color and language in these families’ histories.
Using similar methods with the bird family tree, we were able to test not only how mating behavior correlates with the songs of living species, but also how these behaviors affected one another over thousands and even millions of years of songbird evolutionary history. By estimating the likely behaviors of the ancestors of modern-day songbirds, we could calculate the rate of evolution of these traits, including how rates of song evolution might be influenced by mating behavior, or vice versa.
Sexual selection, but not in one direction
When we performed this deep analysis, the results surprised us. We did not find the expected relationship that songs became more elaborate in species where males were seeking multiple mates. Instead, we found an interesting evolutionary pattern: Songs seemed to be evolving faster polygynous lineages, but not in any particular direction.
Instead of these ancestral males trying to outcompete one another with more elaborate songs, songs seemed to oscillate between simple and complex like a swinging pendulum over the generations – changing quickly in the moment, but not in a consistent direction over the long term. If these polygynous species’ songs got too simple or too elaborate, they started moving back towards the middle.
These results challenge our initial broad intuitions about reproductive success and evolutionary pressures. By studying the songs of many monogamous and polygynous bird species across the evolutionary tree, we found results that stood in contrast to the prevailing wisdom: Species that attract multiple mates did not have more complex songs overall, but their songs were evolving faster. This is a new piece of evidence that may alter classical hypotheses on non-monogamy and sexual selection in evolution.
Our work shows that when scientists study sexual selection in the future, we need to think not only about the magnitude of the traits being studied, but also how fast they change.