October 18, 2015 § 1 Comment
Unarmed Victims of Police Violence: The Constitution and Our Criminal Justice System
This week we learned of two new episodes relevant to the present national conversation about our criminal justice system and, especially, the nature of the relationship between citizens and police. Both episodes are evidence that fundamental changes are necessary, not only in our laws,but also in our cultural attitude toward this subject.
A Polceman Shoots A Child Armed With a Toy Gun
In Cleveland, Ohio, a police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun in a public park. The officer responded to a 911 call from a person who reported a person brandishing what appeared to be a gun. The caller stated that the “gunman” appeared to be a juvenile and that the gun might be a toy. This information was not conveyed to the police officer. The officer drove to the park, claimed he saw the child make a “move toward his waistband” and opened fire. As shown by the camera that recorded the incident, the shots came 2 seconds after the police car arrived at the scene, obviously not enough time for the officer to do more than aim his pistol at the kid.
The Cleveland police department launched an investigation into the event. The investigation, for reasons neither apparent nor disclosed, went on for eleven months. Yesterday, reports written by two men described by the District Attorney as “experts”, were released. Both concluded the officer was justified in shooting the child. Both “experts” had expressed their opinions earlier during interviews after the shooting. Both had defended the officer’s conduct and judgment. The District Attorney said both reports would be presented to the grand jury considering whether or not to indict the officer for wrongfully killing the child.
The District Attorney insisted that he would neither approve nor disapprove the conclusions reached in the reports. The parents of the child have asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to handle the grand jury presentation of the case.
Here is a link to an ABC News account of the shooting: http://abcnews.go.com/US/cleveland-cops-recklessly-shot-boy-12-toy-gun/story?id=27402837
Eaton County Michigan Deputy Sheriff Tasers and Shoots 7 Bullets Into Unarmed 17-year-old Boy After Stopping Him For Flashing Headlights At Oncoming Car
On June 17, 2015, Deputy Sheriff Jonathon Frost stopped Deven Guilford, a teenage boy, for flashing his car’s headlights at the Deputy’s oncoming car because the Deputy car’s headlights were unusually bright. This, according to one (disputed) interpretation of a local ordinance, was a traffic violation for which a ticket could be issued. The boy did not have his drivers’ license with him. Instead of admitting that he didn’t have his license with him, the boy argued with the officer and refused to comply with his instructions. After repeatedly ordering the boy to comply, the officer told him to get out of his car. The boy at first refused, but finally got out of the car. The officer ordered him to lie down on the ground and he did so, but tried to make a phone call on his mobil phone instead of putting his hands behind his back. The officer grabbed the phone and kicked it away. The boy objected and appears to have gotten to his feet, at which point, the deputy tasered him. [There seems to be some dispute about the tasering. One account is that the taser did not actually work.] A scuffle ensued and the officer was struck by the boy multiple times and sustained minor cuts and bruises to his face. The officer drew his pistol and shot the boy seven times, killing him.
The County Prosecutor declined to file any charges against the officer and returned him to active duty.
Here is a link to one account of the incident: http://www.copblock.org/129681/mi-cop-kills-unarmed-teen-during-traffic-stop-for-flashing-lights-no-charges/
Here is a link to several pictures of the officer’s bruised face: http://interactives.wlns.com/photomojo/gallery/20157/361569/officer-frost-injuries/officer-frost-injuries-march-1/
Criminal Justice In America: The Constitution, The Cops and Our Culture
The proper beginning point in this or any discussion about the boundary between individual liberty and government power is the Bill of Rights.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:
“Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” [emphasis added]
The Civil War settled the boundary lines limiting the sovereignty of states to abuse or violate the right of citizens. It did so by adding amendments to to the Constitution, among them, the Fourteenth Amendment:
Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9,
All born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [emphasis added]
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When Does a Law Enforcement Officer Have a Right to Kill?
In Tennessee v. Garner, a Supreme Court decision rendered in 1968, the Court stated the limits on a police officer’s right to kill a person. That case involved a fifteen-year-old child who had stollen $10 from a home. When the policeman arrived, the woman who lived there was outside complaining about the theft. The boy was on the porch and, disregarding the officer’s shout to stop, began running away. As he started to climb over a fence and escape, the officer shot and killed him. The officer acknowledged that he did not believe the boy was armed, but defended his decision to kill him as the only means of apprehending him.
The Supreme Court ruled that the interest in making an arrest when there was no apparent risk that the suspect posed a risk of killing either the officer or anyone else was not reasonable and, therefore, violated the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. Tennessee had a law that authorized the use of deadly force to effect an arrest when the suspect was thought to be guilty of a felony. The Court held that law to be unconstitutional.
Here is the essence of the Court’s reasoning:
“The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”
The key thing to understand, based on this ruling is: The question is NOT what the officer THOUGHT or BELIEVED when he pulled the trigger. The issue is what a reasonably prudent adult policeman would have thought and how a reasonably prudent policeman would have behaved. In the Tennessee case, the officer thought, based on the Tennessee law, that he was entitled to kill the boy. The Court ruled that he was mistaken and that he had violated the Constitutional rights of the boy.
How These Ideas Should Shape the Analysis of the Two Killings of Unarmed Boys
The Twelve-Year-Old With a Toy Gun
It seems to me that a “reasonably prudent man” would have chosen more than a 2-second reflection before deciding that the scene in the Cleveland park required that he kill someone. If he wanted to be “prudent” perhaps he should have stopped the patrol car far enough away to observe, safely and carefully, what was happening there before parking close enough to be in danger. He was warned that a person in the park had a weapon. He heard no shots being fired and had no reason to believe anyone was in danger. Why didn’t he take some precaution against placing himself in a position where he might have to kill somebody? Finally, if he was close enough to see, as he claimed, during those crucial two seconds, that the boy was “reaching for his waistband” in a threatening way, how did it not escape his notice that the “gunman” was twelve years old? I don’t suggest that cops need to be adept at guessing the age of children but, unless this kid was a very unusual boy with some sort of glandular disorder, he surely had not reached the size and appearance of an adult.
Surely the officer knew that it was not unusual for young boys to play with toy guns. The problem is that the Cleveland officer took no time to discover anything about the boy or the relevant circumstances. He just pulled his car up, aimed and fired, with no more care or deliberation than he would have used to deal with a rabid dog. There was no indication that he regarded the event with the seriousness that taking the life of a child deserved.
I know the standard response to these complaints: “You weren’t there. You can’t know what was in the officer’s mind. He says he was scared and who are we to say otherwise?”
I think that idea is unacceptable for several reasons. First, it makes every police officer immune from prosecution for murder. All they have to say is, “I thought I was in danger of being killed.” “Bingo! You can go!” “If you say so, that’s good enough for me!”
Our law does not afford police officers that kind of blanket immunity. The test is NOT what Officer trigger-happy or Officer panic-button thought. It’s what a “reasonably prudent adult who chose to become a police officer and subject himself to dangerous situations and was properly trained to react to them with mature judgment and appropriate concern for the Bill of Rights would have thought under all the circumstances.” THAT’S THE TEST.
Second, it adds a death penalty offense to our criminal justice system. Scaring a police officer warrants a death penalty without any appeal and without the involvement of any judge or jury. That may not bother middle-aged white folks who lead uneventful lives. It is, however, an issue that threatens the stability and security of a large swath of citizens in our country.
The Death Penalty Headlight Violation
Finally we come to Deputy Johnathan Frost’s escalation of a traffic stop for a headlight ordinance violation to a violent confrontation with a teenage boy. After dragging the boy out of his car, wrestling him to the ground and kicking his cell phone out of his hand, Deputy Frost engaged in a fistfight which left him with some cuts and bruises. Despite those wounds, the Deputy won the fight by using a taser and a pistol to kill the boy with seven shots fired at close range.
The cuts and bruises proved to be a lucky break for the Deputy because they apparently convinced law enforcement agents of Eaton County Michigan that they fully justified his killing of the unarmed boy. No charges were filed; no grand jury action was considered and the Deputy wasn’t even temporarily suspended from performing his role as as a respected Michigan peace officer. Everybody expressed regret about the “tragedy” but nobody thought Deputy Frost bore any blame for it. In Eaton County, it’s not safe to say “No” to a Deputy Sheriff.
Except for its final 10 or 15 seconds, this episode is fully recorded on camera. The Deputy demands a drivers’ license from the boy. The boy refuses. The demand and the refusal are repeated seven times. Finally the boy admits that he does not have his drivers’ license with him. The Deputy then orders him out of the car to be arrested. The boy resists and continues to argue with the Deputy. The Deputy gets him out of the car and lying prone on the ground. Then the picture blurs, but we can see the boy’s cell phone skidding away from him on the pavement. We can hear him moaning and he rises from the ground. Then we hear a series of shots fired. The boy is dead.
In my opinion the Deputy caused and provoked this outcome with some very bad judgment calls. When the boy confessed that he did not have his license with him, the Deputy could have stopped to think: “I now have a right to handcuff this kid, take him to jail and, maybe get charged with resisting an officer, a felony. But, should I do it? After all, his offense is flashing his headlights at me, not exactly a serious matter. Why should I try to do something that might wreck his young life because he is arguing with me? I’m an adult. He obviously doesn’t have the maturity or judgment to understand the possible serious consequences of how he’s acting. Should I take advantage of his bad judgment or should I use my own good judgment? He is not a threat to me or to anyone. It was understandable for him to flash his headlights. I’ve already ticketed two other motorists for the same thing. The new headlights on this patrol car are unusually bright, even on low-beam.”
“After thinking it over, I’ll use the license plates on his car to identify his parents. I’ll call them, maybe go by and talk to his dad. Tell them to protect their son by giving him some stern advice about arguing with cops who carry firearms. That’s what I would hope a cop would do with a child of mine. So what if I forego a chance to make an arrest. That’s not what I’m hired to do. I’m hired to enforce the law with judgment and common sense, not to gratuitously injure kids who make mistakes.”
If Deputy Frost had reacted this way, the boy would be alive, Frost would not have gotten bruised and some grateful parents would have appreciated a law enforcement officer going out of his way to help them raise a son.
I think the above alternative behavior is what a reasonably prudent adult peace officer would have done. Even if this expects too much from Deputy Frost, the question still remains: Why was it necessary for him to kill an unarmed teenage boy? Did he really believe that the kid was going to beat him to death? Was he completely helpless to defend himself?
He claims he was afraid that the boy would get his pistol and kill him with it. How likely is that? Merely because it is theoretically possible does not mean that he was reasonable to expect it to happen. After all, Deputy Frost was not disabled. If he thought he could not handle the boy, he could have retreated instead of drawing his pistol and firing seven bullets into the boy. Is there some unwritten but cast iron rule that cops must never retreat? If so, maybe it should be revised. The notion that a peace officer must, at all times and regardless of the measures required, be in control of everyone in his purview, is a stupid and dangerous rule. It is unfair to law enforcement officers and dangerous to innocent citizens. It does not appear in the Constitution. Only in the movies are cops expected to be invulnerable and invincible.
Deputy Frost made the exact mistake that the officer in Tennessee v. Garner made: Acting as if he had unlimited authority to arrest Devin Guilford, even it required him to kill him. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise almost fifty years ago. Instead of pulling his pistol and pumping seven bullets into the boy, Deputy Frost should have backed off and let him go. The death penalty was not appropriate for a headlight violation.
I am not naive. After over 50 years of trial practice as a lawyer in Texas I have no illusions about the contempt with which my above-stated ideas would be met by law enforcement agencies and their supporters. I am convinced, nevertheless, that, unless police are trained and taught to be helpers peacemakers, and facilitators instead of armed and dangerous bullies, we will continue to have the needless killings and hostility toward police that are now like a plague in our country.
Here is the tough part: The initiative must come from the police. It will not come from their victims, mostly black and brown. The key is establishing trust. Trust is necessary before fear can be replaced with cooperation. When armed police now confront black and brown citizens, they do so with acute awareness of the hatred and distrust that results from 300 years of abuse, discrimination and brutality. That history is stitched into the fabric of our culture and it can be erased only by demonstrable changes in the behavior and ethos of our law enforcement community.
It expects too much to require the peacemaking and trust from the victims. The trust and acceptance must be earned by the creation of a new history of fairness and willingness to abandon the “cops are always right” mentality. Changes will not come without costs. Some innocent officers will pay a price for hesitating before resorting to lethal force. I mourn in advance those costs just as I am repelled by the senseless killings chronicled here. But the reward for building trust and confidence in our law enforcement agents will be a reduction in crime and a more peaceable community, priceless goals.
Finally, and here again, I know how politically un-correct this is: The only way to initiate the kind of cultural change I am writing about is to have a few, well publicized convictions of peace officers who behave like the Cleveland officer who gunned down a twelve-year-old and Officer Frost who escalated a confrontation that ended with the bullet-riddled body of a teenager. That, more than anything else, will motivate law enforcement agencies to change their attitudes and practices. Nothing changes when there are no consequences for leaving things as they are.
I dream of a nobel effort. It will require brave leadership and wisdom. It is possible if well intentioned intelligent and courageous men and women are determined and steadfast.
August 28, 2015 § 2 Comments
Yesterday, August 27, 2015, could be an important date in the history of our country. The National Labor Relations Board issued a decision that empowered employees of a franchise business, like a MadDonald’s, to organize and bargain collectively, not only with the owner of the franchise, but also with the parent franchisor. Both the local owner and the parent company will be liable for unfair labor practices infringing the protected rights of the workers to organize and bargain collectively for wages, hours and working conditions. Here is link to the NY Times story: http://nyti.ms/1En49pk .[You must copy this link and paste into your browser. Then it works fine. Sorry, the Times, for some reason didn’t allow me copy a clickable link.]
This Ruling is a Weapon
Why is this obscure administrative ruling so important? Because most workers in America no longer work in factories. They work in retail stores and restaurants, many of which are locally owned through franchises purchased from giant multinational corporations.
Yesterday’s ruling changes the NLRB’s treatment of these business arrangements. Since 1998, according to the Time’s story, if a local franchise location became the target of union organizing effort likely to succeed, the parent issuer of the franchise reacted by terminating the franchise, finding a new owner and nullifying the rights of the employees. As a result of yesterday’s ruling, this kind of union busting is no longer available because it will be an unfair labor practice for which injunctive relief and money damages in the form of backpay will be remedies enforceable by the Labor Board.
A month ago I posted a short essay on this blog entitled “It’s The Power, Stupid”. in which I advocated the organizing of these franchise businesses. I had doubts about the willingness of any union to become involved in that kind of organizing. Even with yesterday’s ruling, I still have doubts about the willingness and ability of present unions to tackle this kind of organizing. Low skilled workers can be easily replaced. Low wage workers will not have savings sufficient to sustain themselves during a strike. Secondary boycotts are still prohibited by our present labor laws.
These were my reasons for suggesting that organizing retail employees should be done by informal organizing techniques led by a cadre of trained organizers. Farm workers in South Texas benefited from the fact that their organization did not have a fat treasury vulnerable to lawsuits filed by the growers. The growers were able to use state courts, presided over by anti union politicians, to cripple their organizing. Yesterday’s NLRB ruling means that those weapons will no longer be available. Despite these developments, however, I still think this kind of organizing should follow the model created by the farmworkers, not by the steelworkers or the oil workers unions.
Workers Must Be Made Aware of This Weapon and Trained to Use It
Our present unions should support and encourage the organizing of retail workers just as the United Auto Workers supported and encouraged the farmworkers. Remember, the U.S. Supreme Court case that affirmed the legal rights of South Texas farmworkers to organize free of interference from Texas Ranger thugs is entitled Medrano v. Allee. The “Medrano” in that title was Pancho Medrano, an organizer from the United Auto Workers. I don’t think Pancho ever picked a melon in his life, but he helped thousands of other Chicanos from the melon fields gain power and dignity.
The Weapon Requires Federal Protection and Federal Money
Lobbyists and lawyers whose multimillion dollar salaries depend on protecting multinational corporations from their employees’ demands for economic justice are meeting today to plan ways to gut yesterday’s NLRB decision. Ever;y Congressman and Senator who can be bought has just learned that new laws drafted by corporate lawyers will be arriving in his or her mailbox marked “URGENT”. The publicity will probably be carefully manipulated to warn and scare employers without alerting workers.
The wrecking crew will have two objectives: First, to enact federal laws designed to overrule the NLRB decision. Second, to cut the budget of the NLRB and any other federal agency having any enforcement authority to implement the decision.
This is a test for the Democratic Party. The question is: Will the Democratic Party prove its relevance to the economic issues affecting the working class in America? Or, will the pollsters, handlers and donors convince the Democratic Party candidates for election in 2016 that enthusiasm for enabling American workers to organize and claim wage rates and working conditions allowing them to stop their slide toward poverty is too controversial and divisive; that the issue should be, therefore, avoided and ignored?
The budgets for the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission should be dramatically increased. Those two federal agencies should launch community education programs designed to inform American workers of their rights and remedies based on these two agencies. Evening classes should be conducted in churches and union halls and other public venues. Local union leaders could be used as adjunct professors or teachers. Over time these efforts could re-establish trust that the federal government is a source of useful and practical ways for ordinary citizens to improve their lives.
I believe this issue is a perfect way for political candidates to focus the 2016 political campaign on wealth inequality. We have waited long enough for a “rising tide to raise all boats”. A tidal wave is required and tidal waves begin when the seabed is shaken or gale-force winds white-cap the gentle rocking surf. Our Democratic Party sailors should not be huddled amidships. They should be on deck, in slickers, Sou’westers firmly buckled, welcoming the wind.
July 19, 2015 § 4 Comments
I keep thinking about Thomas Piketty and the relentlessly increasing degree of wealth and income inequality he describes. Every month when a new report comes out and news anchors talk about the state of our economy, the story is, “Our economy is doing better, but wage rates are lagging.” The working class is going back to work, but they’re not being paid as much for their work. As the Chicanos say, “Mucho trabajo. Poco dinero.” [Actually the rest of this old toast, which I will edit, goes “Ching**** tu madre. Viva Madero!” LIke most gringos, I learned to curse in Spanish before I learned anything else.]
I’ve been thinking about what governments should do to reverse this process. I now believe my reasoning has been flawed. Government policies are based on political power. A tiny percentage of our voting population exercises giant influence on government policy. Their influence results from control of money contributed to candidates and so-called “PACs”. In other words, their money translates to political power.
Our state and federal capitols are brokerage houses where political power shapes bargains between the interests of the wealthy and interests of the working class. There is a growing imbalance of that power. So, the solution to the inequality described by Piketty must focus on that imbalance.
The Private Sector
There is another component to Piketty’s inequality: In our capitalist system most bargains are struck in the private sector, between workers and employers. There, again, is a glaring imbalance of power. When I look and listen to the political rhetoric leading toward the 2015 election season, I hear and see nothing about this private sector power imbalance. I don’t believe redistribution of wealth through reform of the tax system will occur unless it is accompanied by a re-balancing of bargaining power in the private sector.
That private sector re-balancing can be accomplished only if workers are allowed to use their power the same way that employers use theirs: By making strategic choices of how and where they use their power. Employers control where and how to invest their money. Workers must be allowed to control where and how they invest their work.
How can workers empower that control? There are three ways. First, workers have the power to control where and how they and their supporters consume goods and services. That power is called boycott. Second, workers have the power to control where and how they work. That power is called the power to strike. Third, workers have the power to use social media, mass media and the internet to recruit and persuade their families and supporters to join them in their struggles and bargains with owners and managers.
Politicians who seek support of working class Americans should support workers’ rights to exercise all three of those powers. Union organizing should be facilitated and encouraged. Campaign rhetoric should feature lifting legal restrictions on secondary boycotts. Politicians who rely on the votes of workers should show up on the picket lines of labor disputes and worker demonstrations seeking workplace justice.
The problem with “Occupy Wall Street” was its focus on a workplace where the working class could not exercise power. Fast food chains and retail shopping chains are appropriate targets for worker power, not Wall Street. The labor movement needs to broaden its focus and labor’s political allies need to join in that effort.
Making Political Parties Relevant
It is absurd that Scott Walker is basing a strong political challenge in Wisconsin on his union busting credentials. Every Democratic candidate should spend time in Wisconsin denouncing him as an enemy of worker justice.
The deafening silence of Democratic Party leaders concerning issues discussed here threatens to render the Party irrelevant to the most pressing issues of our time. We cannot correct unjust distribution of power in our country as long as every mention of Bernie Sanders by the TV talking heads includes dismissive comments comparing him to Hillary Clinton. We have intelligent, experienced attractive political leaders. Our problem is: They fear to speak the truth about wealth inequality. That injustice will not be solved by government hand-outs. It will be solved by empowering the working class and re-balancing bargaining between workers and employers.
How Can Low Wage Employees be Organized?
We need new models for strikes. It is unrealistic to expect workers earning minimum wage incomes to walk off jobs and stay off until employment contracts are negotiated. Social media could be used to direct carefully planned one-day strikes. The workers in a particular location can be recruited and given a coded direction and asked to keep it secret. When all, or a majority, of the staff at a particular location have agreed, they wait for an email or twitter message with the code phrase. The next day, they fail to show up for work. The next day they return to work. If this works, the pattern of low-wage targets could be like the bumpers in a pinball machine.
Of course, the chain could fire all of them, but that would compound the disruption of its business. If the recruitment process occurs in multiple locations, a retaliatory one-day shut-down at another location would discourage the mass discharge strategy. Also, the present labor laws have protection for “concerted activity” and there might be a remedy for management’s retaliatory discharge.
What I am suggesting is a strategy requiring months of preliminary planning and education. An online campaign to identify employees of a specific chain in a specific area should precede “one-day pinball strikes”. Google has a program called “Google Groups” available for this kind of organizing. I assume it would attract “fink” members who would rat out the workers, but unions have been surviving finks forever. There are risks in any strategy.
Suppose a campaign to organize MacDonald employees: Justice At McDonalds “JAM”. A JAM Google Group would be created. Some cheap radio advertising would invite McDonalds employees to sign on the JAM group. Joiners would be identified by email addresses. Some pamphlets would be handed to some McDonalds employees at shift change times. When the recruitment campaign has progressed far enough, a meeting would be scheduled at a community center or a church.
After most or all of the employees at a particular McDonalds were identified, the above “pinball one-day strike” procedure would be implemented.
This kind of organizing would be initiated by one or more of our established unions. The Teamsters or SEIU (Service Employees International Union) are likely candidates. They would not be trying to organize the fast food workers into their union. This would follow the model of the Mine Workers launching the Steelworkers in the ’30’s. Minimum wage workers at McDonalds would not be able to pay the dues of a major international union and their needs differ from those of the sponsoring union. The JAM members would elect their own leaders.
The established unions could offer training, money and advice, but not domination and incorporation. This would have to be done carefully because established unions have assets and are vulnerable to damage suits. The kind of JAM union I am suggesting should take care to operate without assets. It should operate like an AA organization. No dues, some hat-passing at meetings, no buildings, no vehicles. Some friendly groups might contribute funds for particular projects. This “business model” would discourage creative corporate lawyers from filing law suits complaining about boycotts, trespassing, trade libel etc. Judgement proof is handy insulation from damage suits.
I can’t anticipate the goals of a JAM union. I would suggest a simplified contract with a “just cause” requirement for discipline or discharge, a grievance procedure and some small increase in the wage scales.
80% of McDonalds restaurants are owned by franchisees. This would complicate collective bargaining but this could be overcome by targeting a few of the most popular locations in an area, posting a prominent sign at those with JAM contracts and waging a boycott campaign against those who refuse the JAM effort. This would follow the model of the New Deal’s “Blue Eagle” campaign. That was ruled unconstitutional by a recalcitrant Supreme Court. Because JAM boycotts would not be sponsored by the government, constitutional issues would not apply.
These Sunday afternoon musings are born of frustration. I have small confidence that a political system dependent on billion dollar contributors will ever redistribute the wealth necessary to save America’s working class from wage slavery and global exploitation. Nibbling around the edges of the problem will not work. The descamisados must be organized because they are numerous enough to counter the money-driven forces of wealth.
July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment
Some Idle Speculation
It appears to me that the EU is not making a good faith effort to guide Greece toward a viable economy. My suspicion is that, led by Germany and some European financial oligarchs, the EU is really dead set on forcing the Greek people to disavow the results of its recent election of a left-wing government. If I am right, the EU is becoming a sinister enemy of democracy, not a healthy alliance of European economies.
This smells to me like what the United States tried to do when Fidel Castro and Che Guevara freed Cuba from the oppression of Batista. We are now, decades too late, making amends for that effort. The bad odor of the EU’s treatment of Greece is more pungent because it seems to be driven by Germany. Some of the virulent rhetoric attacking Greece sounds like an echo from the 1930’s.
Yes, I know it has become verboten to make reference to Germany’s Nazi past, but we, during the past few months, have witnessed how ugly pasts are like crab grass, aggressive and hard to kill. Half our country, a hundred and fifty years ago, embraced government protection of an economy based on slavery. A brutal war was required to end slavery. But, for the past few months, a significant segment of our citizens have been passionately defending its symbols, referring to them as respected relics of cultural pride. Today, as South Carolina congratulated itself for lowering the Confederate flag, I heard a TV commentator remark that a recent poll showed that 57% opposed the decision to do so. Those opposed contend the flag represents a valued “heritage” and should be regarded as homage to their ancestors who fought in the Civil War.
I assume there are many Germans who have similar feelings about WWII and their “heritage” and ancestors. But, just as Southerners who honor the Confederate flag don’t discuss the horrors of slavery, I suspect the Germans who still recall with pride the glory of the 1930’s, don’t discuss the horrors of the Holocaust.
My suspicion is that, while the rhetoric has changed, most of those who honor the Stars and Bars have no enthusiasm for ending the continuing prejudice and racism that remains a shame and a plague in our country. I also suspect that there is a broad overlap between the German minority who feel some bitterness about the outcome of WWII and those who are prominent in Germany’s right wing political faction bitterly opposed to the democratic socialist government of Greece.
If I’m Right
If I’m right, Germany will not abide by any reasonable effort to save Greece from an economic meltdown. Unless, of course, its elected leaders resign and call for a new election. Angela Merkel will have the same reluctance to oppose the extremists in her parliament as has been exhibited by some GOP presidential candidates toward lowering the Confederate flag. The political right wing in America successfully delayed the recognition of Cuba for fifty years and, even now, Obama’s executive decision to right this wrong has not been supported by the GOP leadership.
I wish both the Russian and Chinese governments were not going through an economic crisis. The timing is terrible. I think it would be great if either of those governments would send an emissary to Greece with this message:
“It seems you guys are having some trouble getting your so-called friends to lend you money on terms allowing you to stabilize your economy. Tell you what: How about we lend you some money with a structured pay-out that will permit you to survive your problems with dignity and compassion for your people. Of course, part of the deal will be: We partner with you in deals with African nations and we get to establish military, especially naval, bases in your country on favorable terms. See, we Russians have been troubled for centuries with limited access to the Mediterranean Sea. And we would like to have a convenient base from which to launch favorable trade deals with Africa. We think this could be the beginning of a great alliance. We communists are flirting with privatizing some of our economy and you Greeks have taken some steps toward socializing some of your economy. If we’re smart, that could be the basis for mutual success.”
I know this ain’t gonna happen. The Chinese don’t know how to manage a stock market and the Russians have never learned how to manage their economy. When they have to choose guns or butter, they always choose guns. [We make the same choice, but we do a better job of marketing our guns.] Still – it’s fun to speculate what such a deal would do the European bullies who are enjoying pushing Greece around. It would give Angela something else to think about – might get her mind off the right wingers who are making so much noise about Greek socialism. Nothing like a nuclear-armed commie neighbor to focus the mind.
June 20, 2015 § 3 Comments
Jon Stewart last night got it right. We will grieve and pray about the murders in Charleston, but we won’t make changes that address the racism that produced them. I just listened to a CNN program featuring three commenters on Hillary Clinton’s speech in which, among other things, she called for gun control legislation and changes in the criminal justice system that makes a mockery of our claim of “equal justice under law”. One of the commenters was Brian Morgenstern, billed as a “GOP strategist”. He said he thought it was a mistake for Hillary to include a “divisive issue” like gun control in her speech. He is an appropriate representative of the GOP. Every single idea for changing racism in this country is opposed by the GOP.
Blacks don’t have equal health care: don’t mention it; too divisive.
Blacks don’t have equal employment opportunities: don’t mention it; too divisive.
Blacks don’t receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system: don’t mention it; too divisive.
Blacks are harassed, beaten and killed by racist cops: don’t mention it; too divisive.
Black median incomes are about ten percent of the value of white median incomes: don’t mention it; too divisive.
In other words, in the words of an old Woody Guthrie song: “Watch and pray; Live on hay; there’ll be pie in the sky when you die. That’s a lie!”
Our system of government does not make dramatic change difficult. It does not require long delays or cumbersome processes. The Twin Towers in New York were bombed on September 11, 2001. On October 2, 2001, the President signed the Patriot Act which fundamentally changed the balance between government power and individual liberty. When the will is there, the way is no problem.
Gun control and all of the above listed effects of racism have been debated, analyzed, politicized and pondered for decades. We all know there are too many guns in too many hands in this country. We know the 2d Amendment is compatible with reasonable regulation of gun ownership. Reasonable legislation has been drafted and proposed for decades. If politicians in Washington wanted to do something about hateful bigots shooting innocent people, they could have enforceable federal laws on the books by July 4th.
The same thing is true of the other problems. We know how to solve them. The problem is twofold: First, the corporate oligarchs that own our political system don’t want any significant changes that involve money because they are winning the game according to its present rules. Second, there are too many American voters whose attitude toward the plight of black citizens is neatly expressed in an old expression from the 1940’s: “F___ you buddy; I’ve got mine!”
When I listen to pontificating jackasses like Brian Morgenstern, my imagination begins running film clips of how it would feel to smash my fist into his smug face. And don’t lecture me about the First Amendment. It doesn’t apply to private action.
May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment
Last Thursday evening I read three articles. two new and one old, that, for me, were like being in the woods at night, lost and lonely, stumbling over fallen tree branches, feeling fear that began in the pit of my stomach and ended in my throat, then emerging on to a clearing where, a half mile away, a coal oil lamp cast a pale yellow glow from a window. Sometimes the future and the past loom so dark that the friendly light of intelligent hope is more comforting than stimulating.
One of the articles was a biographical character study of Bernie Sanders, the man with a distinctive accent and usually unkempt hair; the socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become president of the United States. Here is a link: Sanders . It was easy for me to identify with him, not only because of his political beliefs but also because of his personal history. He spent the early years of his adult life engaged in futile political efforts. He wrote articles advocating policies that were generally ignored by his fellow citizens of Vermont. He lost four statewide races, two for state senate and two for governor. He was finally elected mayor of Burlington, his first job with a salary sufficient to finance a middle class life style.
I can identify with that history, although, instead of losing statewide races as a candidate, I worked on the staff of candidates who lost statewide races. My record was 0-6.
I found the title for this essay in a vignette from Bernie’s early life. When he was without a job, which was often, his friends took him in. One was Richard Sugarman, who shared many of Bernie’s beliefs. Every morning Bernie would greet his friend, not with “Good Morning”, but with “We’re. Not. Crazy.”
Albert Einstein’s Gentle Socialism
The Bernie Sanders article included an embedded link to a 1949 essay written by Albert Einstein entitled “Why Socialism”. Here is a link: Einstein Like the Bernie Sanders story, Einstein’s essay was a beckoning lamplight seen from a dark place. It is the only reasoned argument for abandoning capitalism I have read that did not assume violent revolution would be necessary.
Einstein, instead, describes a dichotomy of needs and influences that shape our lives: The drive for individuality, what Abraham Maslow later called “self actualization”, and an equally competitive identification with and support for the needs of society. He contends that those different forces can be accommodated and acknowledged without sacrificing either one. The secret is awareness of and respect for those forces in others and willingness to mobilize government’s power to support them.
This essay captivated me. Einstein acknowledges his limited background in social science but he insists that the same rigorous discipline required by physics and astronomy can be applied to social and economic issues. He charmed me with evidence that he had studied Thorstein Veblen and relied on Veblen’s evolutionary analysis of our progress, or not, from what Veblen called the “predatory phase” of human development. Einstein contends that the democratic socialism he advocates would facilitate emerging from that “predatory phase” to one less brutal, more intelligent and more capable of satisfying our need for security and contentment.
Einstein also, having observed the results of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, acknowledged the problem it poses. Here is the somewhat sad and plaintiff penultimate paragraph of his essay:
“Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?”
How indeed. I know the answer. We have it in our hands. It is our Constitution. It may require an amendment or two but the concept has been left to us by our forefathers. With two amendments and commitment to rigorous enforcement our Constitution would be an adequate response to Einstein’s question.
The two amendments? First, “The words ‘person’ and “people’ in this Constitution apply to living natural persons. They do not apply to any legally created entity. Neither do they apply to a person not yet born.” Second, “In this Constitution the protection of freedom of expression does not apply to the spending or investment of money.”
With those two amendments, our Constitution is, I believe, entirely adequate to prevent government bureaucracy from becoming a threat to individual freedom. Political vigilance and common sense would be required and an independent federal judiciary would, as always, be essential but those requirements apply to any government scheme. Soviet Russia had an admirable constitution but it was useless because the judiciary was powerless to enforce it and the police were allowed to ignore it.
Dean Baker’s Demolition of TTP
The third article that illuminated my dark feelings was a critical analysis of the arguments for the Trans Pacific Partnership by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a Washington DC think tank. I have expressed my own hostility toward this “Partnership” in a previous essay posted here. Dean Baker adds authority and devastating contradictory data to support his identification of this proposal as a threat to the fair distribution of international trade benefits. Here is link: Baker
The House of Representatives will vote on “fast tracking” this abomination within the next couple of weeks. The Senate has failed to kill it. We can only hope that the Democrats in the House will save Obama from being responsible for burdening our working class with this unjust agreement for the next two or three decades. If he succeeds, he will join Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who betrayed the hope and promise that motivated those who voted for them.
Conclusion and a Personal Note
I feel I owe an apology for the emotional language in this effort. I have been affected by the bombardment of hopelessness that has pelted me recently. Netanyahu’s re-election followed by his empowering the most passionate politicians determined to convert Israel into a theocratic bully was a disappointment. David Cameron’s Conservative Party wipe-out of the British Labour Party in the recent election was another. The growing strength of ISIS and the apparent unwillingness of Iraq’s military forces to effectively oppose it is another. The dismemberment of Syria accompanied by the threat of ISIS involvement there is another.
My real nightmare is the probable symbolic terrorist attack in the United States or a mass beheading of Americans broadcast in living color. Other countries, Britain, Spain, Holland – bear such attacks and react with mourning and redoubled efforts at prevention. In America our leaders choose endless war and thousands of needless deaths as the appropriate response. I’m sure ISIS is aware of this grotesque fact. I fear they will use it to their advantage.
All this bad news comes at the beginning of what promises to be an extravaganza of hateful stupidity from a jackass choir of Republicans eager to compete for the allegiance of the lowest common denominator tranche of the American right wing. And who will be our St. Jeanne d’Arc? Why Hillary from the House of Clinton of course! Her head is already bloody but unbowed and her baggage, packed in a truckload of trunks just waiting to be unpacked by reporters, political archivists and GOP flacks, follows her everywhere. But, having spent a billion dollars, she may become our next president. And if not, we will be led by Jeb the Timid or Brash Young Rubio or, worst of all, by the union scalp hunter, the Bible thumper from Wisconsin, Scott “Bring ’em On” Walker.
I plan to stay sober for the next seventeen or eighteen months but only by many repetitions of the Serenity Prayer.