Drenched in misogyny – posted 8/6/2022

August 7, 2022 2 comments

I have been trying to think of the right metaphor to describe the U.S. Supreme Court’s last term. I would settle on “train wreck”. The major problem with the characterization of train wreck is the fact that most train wrecks can get cleared away relatively quickly and trains can get back on the tracks and running. The damage is not necessarily long-lasting. That cannot be said about the Supreme Court’s last term.

The damage done will be long-lasting. Whether it is guns, climate change, criminal defendants’ rights, Native American tribal sovereignty or religious liberty, the defeats were epic. But they pale next to the harm done to abortion rights in the Dobbs case.

Taking away a constitutionally protected right that has been guaranteed for 50 years has never happened before. Up until the Dobbs case, the Constitution safeguarded women’s right to decide for herself whether to bear a child. Now the Court has given that right to the state.

The idea that a court would take away a given right is counter-intuitive. While American courts have a checkered history, we generally expect that courts will bestow rights – not short-circuit them.

What is disturbing about Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbs is not just the holding that there is no right to abortion, it is also his reasoning. It reeked of misogyny as well as a one-sided grasp of history.

Women simply do not figure in the decision. That is true even though as an issue abortion could not be more exclusively about women.

Justice Alito argues that the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in our nation’s history and traditions. He says the right to abortion is not mentioned in the 1787 Constitution. Nor is it an unenumerated right. Of course, the words “woman” or “sex” are not mentioned in the Constitution. That did not change until 1920 when the nineteenth amendment was added to the Constitution and gave women the right to vote.

In reading Justice Alito’s opinion, you get no sense of the profound sexism that has shaped American history. Fifty-five white men crafted the Constitution. As Jill Lepore has written, women were not “part of the political community embraced by the phrase “We the People” “.

In every respect women were second class citizens. There were no women judges or legislators. Neither could women run for or hold office. A patriarchal system relegated women to the domestic sphere to be wives and mothers. Men virtually owned their wives. When women married, they lost their legal identity. They couldn’t own property, control their own money or sign legal documents.

Domestic violence was practically a norm. There was no such thing as marital rape. Married women had no right to say “no” to sex. Both English and American jurisprudence did not see husbands as ever guilty of rape of a wife.

Based on the Dobbs opinion one might conclude that Justice Alito had never heard of women’s liberation. Alito conveys no sense of appreciation of any women’s history.

It is telling what legal authorities he cites in Dobbs. Alito has a fixation on medieval men. Most prominently he cites a 17th century English jurist, Sir Matthew Hale, who he calls a “great” and “eminent” legal authority. He mentions Hale more than 10 times. Hale lived from 1609-1676.

In 1662, Hale presided over the trial and execution of two women, Rose Cullendar and Amy Duny, for witchcraft. The trial became a model for the Salem witch trials which were held 30 years later.

Hale found independent women to be a threat to society. If not owned by a husband or a father, Hale believed women could become satanic.

Hale believed women’s bodies belonged to men. He was steeped in the Christian religious view that women were made from Adam’s rib. Beating your wife was encouraged as a corrective tool.

Probably Hale’s most significant “contribution” to legal scholarship was his defense of marital rape. It remained the legal standard in the U.S. until the 1970’s. Law Professor Jill Hasday writes that she has read hundreds of American judicial opinions, citing Hale. For centuries, male legal authorities like Hale did not believe women had any bodily autonomy.

Professor Hasday goes on to say that the reason Alito cites Hale is because he wants to establish that the early American legal system was opposed to abortion. But Alito botches the history. Although little remarked on, the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians issued a joint statement criticizing the Court decision. They wrote:

“… the court denies the strong presence in U.S. history and traditions at least from the Revolution to the Civil War of women’s ability to terminate pregnancy before the third to fourth month without intervention by the state.”

The Court majority chose to disregard the historians. Before the Dobbs decision, both American historian organizations had written an amicus brief outlining the historical and legal precedents of abortion in the U.S..The amicus cut directly against Alito’s argument that abortion was not deeply rooted in American history.

How anachronistic and messed-up is it that Alito would rely on a man from the Dark Ages who believed women could be witches as his authority on reproductive rights. Even by the seventeenth century, Hale was considered a misogynist. Back then, many were already doubting allegations of witchcraft.

By sending abortion back to the states. Alito knowingly is transferring power back to the white right wing men who control so many state legislatures. He knows his decision will result in abortion care being severely restricted or outlawed in roughly half the states. Now we can return to the era of coat-hanger abortions.

The Republican Party owns this debacle. This was their male supremacist project for the last 40 years. As happened in Kansas, the voters must make them pay.

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Some questions I would like answered about January 6 – posted 7/30/2022

July 30, 2022 Leave a comment

Many aspects of former President Trump’s January 6 coup attempt have become clearer because of the work of the January 6 Committee. We know there was nothing spontaneous about the coup effort. As with Trump’s other attacks on democracy like his fake elector scheme, this was a highly planned operation.

From right after the time that Trump tweeted on December 19 for his shock troops to come to Washington D.C. for something “wild” until January 6, a plan evolved. Much money, strategizing and organizing were behind the insurrection.

However, there are many unanswered questions that deserve further exploration. The January 6 Committee hasn’t explained everything and I have more questions.

How much coordination existed between Trump operatives and the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers? What went on at the Willard Hotel war room command center leading to January 6? Key members of Trump world like Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone, Alex Jones, Steve Bannon and John Eastman were part of the war room planning. From Cassidy Hutchinson we know that Mark Meadows called in to the war room on the evening of January 5.

Was there a developed plan in place for the violent attack on the Capitol that included Trump and his operatives? Was the violence planned by the Trump team?

Were the Proud Boys put in place early by Trump operatives to initiate the violent attack? We know from Nick Quested, a documentary filmmaker, that hundreds of Proud Boys cased the Capitol around 10:30am on January 6, long before Trump’s speech. I guess I don’t believe in “accidents”. We know that leaders of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers met in a Washington DC parking garage on January 5. Why did Enrique Tarrio, Proud Boys chairman, post on Parler on December 29:

“We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will be spread across downtown DC in smaller teams.”

Why were so many of the insurrectionists armed with lethal weapons like pistols and assault weapons? Why did they have flex ties and bear spray? Why did they stash an arsenal of firearms and ammunition at the Comfort Inn in Ballston, Va, a 15 minute drive from the Capitol? Why did Trump urge the removal of magnetometers on January 6 when he knew his supporters were armed?

Why were the Oath Keepers decked out in full tactical gear, wearing hard-knuckled gloves, tactical vests, camo helmets, ballistic goggles and radios with earpieces? Why did they march in stack formation? Were they expecting some order from Trump to justify military action?

Who planted the pipe bombs that did not explode? How did the bombs fit into the plot?

Did any of the far right groups plan to execute leaders they considered enemies like Nancy Pelosi or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Did they actually plan to hang Mike Pence? Would that have happened if Pence was captured? Were there murder cells? When Trump tweeted at 2:24pm that he was disappointed in Pence for lacking courage was that seen by Trump supporters as an implicit order to carry out Pence’s execution?

How close were we to martial law being declared by Trump? We know that Mike Flynn advocated that. Even as late as January 17, 2021, a few days before Biden’s inauguration, Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene was texting Mark Meadows, presidential chief of staff, that members of Congress wanted Trump to declare martial law so Trump could stay in power.

Was the Willard Hotel war room plan that Trump was going to march on the Capitol with his supporters and declare himself President/dictator? Why didn’t Trump end up marching to the Capitol as he said he was going to do?

What was the Secret Service actually up to on January 6? Were some Secret Service agents in cahoots with Trump’s coup? Why was Mike Pence unwilling to get in the vice presidential limo with the Secret Service and leave the capitol? Were agents going to fly him to Alaska or remove him so that Trump’s scheme could move ahead?

Did Trump really grab the steering wheel of his limo and forcefully argue to get the Secret Service to allow him to march on the Capitol? Did the Secret Service say “no” simply because they could not guarantee his safety in the crowd?

Why did the Secret Service delete text messages around January 5 and 6? As federal government employees they know the importance of maintaining and safeguarding records. It is legally required. How could they disappear evidence on days they knew in advance would be historically important even with a system migration?

The Secret Service received a letter on January 16, 2021 from the chairs of four congressional committees instructing preservation of all January 6-related documents. The erasure took place after the oversight officials’ request. The January 6 Committee received only one text message from the Secret Service after issuing a subpoena on July 15. Did the Secret Service calculate the risk of exposure was worse than intentionally covering up?

Homeland Security Chief Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli also deleted text messages around January 6. Coincidences like this stop looking like coincidences. Looking back on Watergate, the Rosemary Woods tape gap was 18 minutes. Here there is a more widespread pattern of cover-up. Remember Trump also disappeared records for hours on January 6. This adds greatly to the impression of a systemic cover-up. Was cover-up part of the war room plan?

We know that for hours Trump gleefully watched TV coverage of the assault on the Capitol and he didn’t order police or military intervention. Was the reason he did not order such intervention part of.a plan to stop election certification? The more chaos created, the more impossible it became for Congress to conduct any business. Delay prevented the feared goal: certification.

Why did the police or military not anticipate what was going to happen on January 6 when there was so much advance notice of the insurrectionists’ intentions? There were so few defenders at the Capitol to face the mob. On the night of January 5 on his podcast Steve Bannon said “to strap in”. He said “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”. He called it “game day”. Why was that not taken seriously as the attack on the Capitol was entirely foreseeable?

How much did the Trump team have to do with disabling military or police response before and on January 6? Did the Trump team keep the National Guard away from the insurrection deliberately? Again, was delay part of the Trump plan to allow more time for his coup scheme to unfold?

Did the Trump operatives coordinate their violent insurrection plan with Congressional allies including people like Reps. Boebert, Greene, Jordan, Gaetz, Gosar and Sens. Hawley and Cruz? In the two month period prior to January 6, how many Congressional tours were actually reconnaissance missions so that future insurrectionists knew where to find legislators they targeted? Why was Boebert tweeting “1776”?

If they did nothing wrong, why, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, did Reps Biggs, Gohmert, Perry, Greene and Gaetz seek pardons from Trump? Doesn’t that show consciousness of criminality and guilt?

Hopefully, the January 6 Committee will look at questions like these and seek answers. Even without knowing all the answers, it is clear that MAGA fascism came close to succeeding on January 6. If Pence had gotten in the limo, if demonstrators had killed congressman or senators or if Trump had declared martial law, who knows? All supporters of democracy of whatever party should be very alarmed. The threat remains.

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Craig McNamara’s story – posted 7/24/2022

July 24, 2022 3 comments

As a sixties survivor, I am conscious of being part of a shrinking community. So many comrades are already gone. Because the sixties are invoked so much, I also admit to being hyper-critical about depictions that attempt to convey that time. There are not many that pass muster but Craig McNamara’s book, Because Our Fathers Lied, is unique. The title comes from a Rudyard Kipling poem:

“If any question why we died
Tell them, because our fathers lied”

Craig McNamara is the son of Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense and the architect of the Vietnam war under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. His book exposes a lifelong struggle to come to terms with being the son of a war criminal but a war criminal he loved. It also honestly recounts a 60’s story in the best hippie radical tradition.

It is difficult to transmit now how much the Vietnam war was hated by my generation then. The pointlessness, the body counts, the abject racism toward the Vietnamese and the sheer imperialist waste of it all were not lost on us. Some of us became perpetually alienated skeptics or radicals. The journalist I.F. Stone used to say all governments lie and Vietnam taught us that truth. Vietnam was our education in empire.

What is unique about Craig McNamara’s story is how he manages to balance love of a father with angry reckoning about his father’s deeds. Craig never was able to confront his father, though. His father always evaded that confrontation.

His father was the exemplar of the Camelot mythology, the best and the brightest. Robert McNamara was the data-driven whiz kid who had been plucked from running Ford Motor Company to become JFK’s Secretary of Defense. The fact that he knew little about Vietnamese history or culture did not stop him from designing disastrous policies which killed massive numbers of human beings. This is what C. Wright Mills, author of The Power Elite, would have dubbed “crackpot realism”.

Craig ended up striking out away from any well beaten paths. After starting at Sidwell Friends, he transferred to St Paul’s School where he bombed out academically. He was dyslexic but that wasn’t recognized at the time. Still, he managed to get accepted at Stanford. But college was not for him. Like so many, he connected to the anti-war movement and activism. He experienced “a burning sadness” and deep trauma related to his father’s role. He suffered stomach ulcers. He wrote:

“This template of protest was the only thing available to make sense of the ugliness in my inner world.”

Craig describes what he calls the “chipper gene”. Typically his father would say things like “It’s a glorious day” no matter what kind of day it was. He never allowed Craig into any honest discussion of Vietnam although he vaguely acknowledged “mistakes”.

Needing a change and being determined 4-F for the draft, Craig dropped out of college and with two friends decided to ride motorcycles through Central and South America all the way to Chile. Craig spent two and a half years traveling. He and the others spoke no Spanish. They contended with motorcycle accidents, nightmarish bugs, potholes, impassable roads and unfriendly police. They had little understanding of the political landscape through which they were passing.

Arriving in Santiago, Chile in September 1971, Craig’s stay coincided with the new presidency of Salvador Allende. Allende’s election was an epic event in Latin America. He was a democratically elected Socialist, a precedent that tremendously worried then-President Nixon. Allende’s election released enormous enthusiasm and revolutionary fervor among the Chilean masses. This was Craig’s education in revolution.

Craig also was drawn to farming which really became his passion. He moved to an island where he lived in an underground cave and started a dairy cooperative. During this period, he was almost entirely cut off from his past life.

He left Chile around the time of the military coup that toppled Allende. His father had failed upward to presidency of the World Bank. The World Bank had cut off lending to Chile during the Allende years but resumed lending under the fascist Pinochet regime. Craig was horrified. After the coup in Chile, in his personal journal, Craig wrote:

“My soul is weeping and my heart is anguished. My passion for Chile and my companeros consumes me…Companero Allende, you will never be forgotten”

Upon his return to the U.S. Craig decided that farming would be his way forward. He wrote that he could not utter the word Vietnam without wanting to cry. He re-entered college at 25 to study agriculture at University of California Davis where he got a degree. His dream was to buy and run a farm.

Craig found a walnut farm in Winters, California which is in the northern part of the state. With financial help from his father, he purchased it in 1980. Craig describes worrying that others would think he rode on his father’s coattails although getting help from parents is hardly unusual.

For 42 years now, Craig has diligently worked the walnut farm. The work is very hard and not that lucrative but Craig has lived a life of integrity.

His story touches the universal theme of the difficulty of father and son relationships but it also raises questions about how to live a moral life in 2022. In watching the January 6 hearings, I have been struck by the overweening ambition and careerism of people who worked in the Trump White House, even people like Matthew Pottinger and Sarah Matthews who did the right thing and resigned.

The lure of professional success seems to have a powerful hold even when navigating a moral swamp. Whether it is love of power, prestige, desire for fame or money, professionals in the Trump orbit have seemed able to push moral considerations into the background. January 6 was hardly the start of venality and corruption in that administration

Craig McNamara’s example stands in total contrast to the get-ahead-at-any-cost mentality. Career advancement was never his yardstick.

I think the peace movement of the 1960’s played the role of necessary corrective to the sick vision of Robert McNamara and other war planners. A peace movement is something we are sorely lacking now. There are inadequate checks on the forces now pushing war and militarism. Craig McNamara stands in an honorable tradition of those who did not go along and who swam against the tide.

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Dirt road revival as a way forward for Democrats in rural America – posted 7/17/2022

July 17, 2022 2 comments

Anyone concerned about the future of the Democratic Party has to be concerned about how poorly the party has performed in rural America over the last few election cycles. On TV, I remember looking at the red and blue counties of America after 2016 and 2020. There are blue coastlines and blue pockets in a largely red sea.

How did it come to be that Democrats are getting politically wiped out in so many rural places? I have seen different statistical explanations. One in Politico said two-thirds of rural voters chose Trump. Another said the Democrats lost 90% of rural counties. Trump actually did better with rural voters in 2020 than 2016. Whatever the numbers actually are, there is a basis for Democrats to be very worried.

It hasn’t always been like this. The red trend in rural America has accelerated over the last decade.

Two young Democrats, Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward, who co-authored the new book, Dirt Road Revival, take up the Democrat/rural voter question. And they do not speak as academics. In 2018, Maxmin and her campaign manager Woodward, flipped a state representative seat in a heavily red district in Maine. Then in 2020, they flipped a state senate seat running against the Maine Republican Senate Minority Leader.

Maxmin and Woodward argue that the Democrats have largely ignored rural America. The Democratic message to rural America: you don’t matter. They say Democrats stopped trying to persuade people who disagreed with them, focusing on running up big margins in urban and suburban areas.

The two young activists point to a long-standing pattern of neglect. In their 2020 campaign they describe how the Maine Senate Democratic Campaign Committee told them it didn’t believe in talking to Republicans. Maxmin and Woodward recognized this as bad politics.They committed to reaching out much more to independent and Republican voters. Their strategy paid off.

Our octogenarian Democratic Party leadership is seriously out of touch. The party keeps losing in rural America but there is incomprehension in the face of the repeated losses. You might think the extent of the losses would lead to some soul-searching. Just the margin of the losses matter.

Many people in rural America see the Democratic Party leadership as elitist and not speaking to their needs. That is also true of the Republican Party leadership but Democrats have held themselves out as fighting for working people.

Democrats need to be self-critical. In the not so distant past, our leaders have called rank and file voters “deplorables” or “clinging to guns and religion”. It was our party leadership under Bill Clinton that presided over Wall Street deregulation, disastrous trade policies, continued de-industrialization of America, and mass incarceration. Neither party has clean hands.

Maxmin and Woodward show a different way forward. They lay out a how-to roadmap for organizing rural America. Maxmin emphasized door-to-door canvassing and the personal touch. She and Woodward dispensed with expensive party campaign consultants and conventional election literature, creating their own original signs and literature.

She focused more on listening than offering solutions. She engaged people in hearing what was on their minds. She was always respectful of people and their views even when she disagreed. She focused on values, not party. Maxmin also ran a 100% positive campaign. She refused to slime her rivals.

During the Covid lockdown in 2020, Maxmin and Woodward organized socially distanced phone banks oriented to relief for seniors who needed help. The campaign connected a network of volunteer drivers to pick up prescriptions for neighbors, deliver groceries, drop off toilet paper or find large-print books for people with eyesight problems who could not access public libraries which were closed. Their campaign was more of a social movement than traditional politics.

Campaigns of all political stripes strive for authenticity. That is why you see candidates shooting guns, wearing cowboy or baseball hats or riding a horse. Even Trump who looks like he sleeps in a suit wears a baseball hat. Maxmin was straight forward as a progressive Democrat. She never hid her views.

In her book, she describes a conversation with a guy who opposed Medicaid expansion in Maine. At first he had told her to get off his property but she persisted in asking him for his perspective. He explained that he had grown up without electricity or running water. He had worked hard to build a life, including buying his own health care. Maxmin thanked him for explaining. She said her support of Medicaid was not to take anything away from his hard work. It was about supporting others who remained in need. At the end of the conversation, the guy said he would vote for her.

Maxmin and Woodward point out the harm of negative stereotypes. There are many Democrats who will, out of frustration, dismiss people as “Trumpers”, “backwards” or “racist”. While there are no doubt many Republicans who will never be won over, that is not true for many others. Finding areas of agreement is possible but the Democrats have to try.

Working people across America have been screwed. Many do not bother to vote, feeling it makes no difference. When Biden ran against Trump he talked about returning things back to some type of normalcy, the way they were before Trump. That view is wrong.

Things are in a far worse and more precarious place than the ancient Democratic leaders seem to realize. Whether it is the climate emergency or the fascist threat to democracy, Democrats must be the Big Change party, recognizing the gravity of our present moment.

As Maxmin and Woodward explain, Democrats have failed to act on an understanding of the class structure of rural America. Too often they have not fought for rural low income or working people who all have the same needs everywhere. Rural families want to close the wealth gap with better incomes. They want their kids to have opportunities. They need broadband, affordable housing, affordable education, student loan debt relief, and universal health care.

But the Democrats have been shrinking violets. They will come up with $40 billion for Ukraine but American restoration remains off the table.

The future of the Democratic Party lies with outstanding young people like Maxmin and Woodward, not with corporate lobbyists tied to Wall Street. The young activists are right that the Party needs to reinvent itself so that we could actually hope to re-take some state legislatures.

The Democrats have an abysmal record at the state level. In 1978, Democrats controlled both chambers in 31 state legislatures. By 2017, that number was down to 13. During Obama’s presidency Democrats lost almost 1000 seats in legislatures. We need to look at that and not accept it.

In rural America, a dirt road revival is the best hope for fighting the Republican authoritarians. The Republicans have utterly debased themselves but the Democrats have only weakly shown themselves worthy. The stakes could not be much higher.

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Walter F. White, early civil rights hero – posted 7/10/2022

July 10, 2022 Leave a comment

Before Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, there was Walter F. White. From 1931 to 1955, he was a leader of the NAACP. He made an enormous contribution to the cause of civil rights in America but he remains a virtual unknown. White deserves to be far better known.

A big part of the story of American history is filling in the gaps of the conventional story we have been bequeathed. A new biography, White Lies, by A. J. Baime, tries to correct the disappeared record. Walter White’s life was contemporaneous with the Jim Crow era.. White was born in 1893 and he lived until 1955. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote:

“Only five-thirty-seconds of his ancestry was Negro. His skin was fair, his hair blond, his eyes blue and his features Caucasian. He could easily have joined the 12,000 Negroes who pass the color line and disappear into the white majority every year in this country.”

But White always identified as black. His parents were born into slavery. As a teenager, he lived through the Atlanta race riot of 1906. White’s family home was almost torched by a racist mob. That experience left an indelible impression.

As a very young person, White took the initiative to start an NAACP chapter in Atlanta. He invited the legendary James Weldon Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and who was the national leader of the NAACP to come and speak in Atlanta. In that era, the NAACP was considered the most militant organization fighting for civil rights. Johnson was so impressed with White that he recruited him to move to New York City and work for the organization. White arrived in the city in February 1918.

At the same time White arrived in the city, the national NAACP was contending with an epidemic of lynchings, mostly in the South. In Estill Springs, Tennessee, a mob of 1500 people burned a black man, Jim McIlherron, at the stake. McIlherron was believed to have shot and killed two white men. The New York Times reported “hot irons were applied to his body for about ten minutes in an effort to get him to make a confession”. Before he was set on fire, members of the mob unsexed him.

The NAACP telegrammed President Woodrow Wilson and Tennessee’s governor, appealing for them to break the silence and denounce the terrible mob acts. A U.S. assistant attorney general responded that under the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, the federal government had no jurisdiction over matters of this kind. The Tennessee governor said he would only take action if requested by local officers, something that would never happen.

This was the heyday of lynchings and Ku Klux Klan resurgence. Racist crimes were not investigated and perpetrators were never punished. Those who lynched had no apprehension about adverse consequences.

White came up with an idea. Beginning with the McIlherron case, he decided to go South to investigate lynchings as an undercover investigator. Once back home, he would publish his findings. Because of his skin color, he could go to the scene of lynchings and do first hand investigations. He did not find it difficult to penetrate to the heart of these crimes as perpetrators were often willing to talk freely.

Following in the anti-lynching tradition of Ida B. Wells, White published expose after expose in a range of newspapers and magazines. Between 1918 and 1930, White made 41 undercover investigations, repeatedly placing himself in great danger.

On one occasion, he almost got himself lynched. After a racist massacre in Arkansas, word leaked that there was a black man posing as a white reporter. White hightailed it to a train to get out of the South. A mob was looking for him. Not realizing who he was, the train conductor told him he was “about to miss some fun”.

White asked the conductor “What’ll they do with him? The conductor replied “ When they get through with him, he won’t pass for white no more”.

White wrote a book about lynching disputing the false narrative that lynchings were a result of black men sexually assaulting white women. He found that blacks were getting lynched for being successful at business. It was part of a disenfranchisement effort rooted in white supremacy. Lynching was meant to keep black people down through intimidation. White wrote:

“..mobbism has inevitably degenerated to the point where an uncomfortably large percentage of American citizens can read in the newspaper of the slow roasting alive of a human being in Mississippi and turn, promptly with little thought, to the comic strip or sporting page. Thus has lynching become an almost integral part of our national folkways.”

His courage and advocacy were so remarkable that at the age of 36 White was catapulted into national leadership of the NAACP. He pushed hard on both President Roosevelt and Truman to support anti-lynching law. Initially in 1934, FDR would not support the law out of fear it would block the rest of his agenda. He was trying to hold together a coalition that included Southern Democrats. Finally in 1938, FDR supported the anti-lynching bill. Eleanor Roosevelt helped behind the scenes.

Although he was not ultimately successful in passing anti-lynching legislation (that just passed in 2020), White pushed FDR to issue an Executive Order in 1941 that outlawed discrimination in employment. It was the first time the federal government ever issued such an order.

In 1946, this was followed by an Executive Order issued by President Truman creating a President’s Commission on Civil Rights. White had access to the White House and he educated Truman about lynchings and other horrible acts like the blinding of Isaac Woodard. Truman was genuinely shocked and said, “My God! I had no idea it was as terrible as that!! We’ve got to do something”. White succeeded in raising the profile of civil rights as a national issue.

With help from Charles Houston, White also recruited a young Thurgood Marshall to join the NAACP legal staff. To say this move worked out is a giant understatement. In a series of blockbuster cases, Marshall deconstructed laws upholding segregation in education and voting rights. Marshall’s biographer Juan Williams has written that White “opened Marshall’s eyes to the idea of civil rights as theater and the power of using dramatic situations to the NAACP’s advantage”.

About himself, White wrote that he embodied the “enigma of a black man occupying a white body”. Although he was married, he had a long-standing secret affair with a white woman, Poppy Cannon. He divorced his wife and married her. Angry mail poured into the NAACP headquarters. At that time, interracial relationships were far from accepted. White’s reputation took a hit.

In considering why Walter White has been disappeared historically it would appear his affair contributed as did his skin color but any fair assessment must acknowledge his over three decades of outstanding advocacy. White wrote:

“I am one of the two in the color of my skin; I am the other in my spirit and my heart. It is only a love of both which binds the two together in me…I am white and I am black, and know that there is no difference. Each casts a shadow, and all the shadows are dark.”

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Mail and wire fraud are part of the January 6 story – posted 7/3/2022

July 3, 2022 Leave a comment

As the January 6 Committee continues its investigation into the Capitol insurrection, there are some lesser-discussed aspects of the story that deserve more attention.

In their second hearing, the Committee showed that Donald Trump and his campaign raised $250 million dollars for a Trump “Official Election Defense Fund”. That fund did not exist and, in fact, it never existed. The scam began on November 4, the day after the election. By that point, Trump and his aides were well aware he had lost even though the election was not definitively called on TV until November 7. Trump sent out an email from the address contact@victory.donaldtrump.com:

“Friends, the Democrats are trying to STEAL THE ELECTION. I’ve activated the Official Election Defense Fund and I need EVERY PATRIOT, including YOU, to step up and make sure we have enough resources to PROTECT THE INTEGRITY OF OUR ELECTION.”

The Trump team followed with a fundraising email claiming that “President Trump will easily WIN the Presidency of the United States with only legal votes cast”. They asked for supporters to donate any dollar amount to the “Election Defense Task Force”. This was followed by a barrage of emails over a nine week period, as many as 25 a day, pleading with Trump supporters to contribute to prevent the “Radical Left from DESTROYING America” These emails continued until January 6.

In the first week after the election, the Trump campaign raised $100 million. They got donors to kick in $150 million more all supposedly for the goal of helping legal challenges to the election results. However, according to the video testimony of Amanda Wick, the January 6 Committee’s chief investigative counsel, the Trump “Official Election Defense Fund” never existed. This was corroborated by the Committee testimony of two Trump campaign aides Hannah Allred and Gary Coby.

The $250 million was diverted into a new Trump entity, Save America PAC. The PAC made contributions to Trump hotels, to a conservative organization employing former Trump staffers and to the company that organized the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol on January 6.

Asking for money for election defense and then switching to using it to pay other debts sounds like a fraud. It is a deception and a misrepresentation, bilking your own supporters.

It is significant that many advisors, including Attorney General William Barr, had told Trump there was no voter fraud. According to the video testimony of Jason Miller, a Trump advisor, the campaign’s head of data told Trump “in pretty blunt terms that he was going to lose”. Yet, it did not stop Trump and his organization from aggressively dishing out fundraising emails even when they knew there was no evidence of voter fraud.

The January 6 Committee has subpoenaed the Republican National Committee’s digital marketing vendor, Salesforce, to obtain information about who initiated and signed off on the emails and about the whole fundraising scheme. The Republican National Committee is fighting the subpoena in court.

Paul Ryan, vice-president of policy and litigation with Common Cause has said,

“Donald Trump is a one-man scam PAC. Bait and switch is among his favorite fundraising tactics.”

Most of the public discussion about Trump’s crimes have focused on conspiracy to commit sedition as well as his efforts to intentionally obstruct Congress’s certification of Biden’s win. We never had a President attempt a coup before. Still, the scam fundraising should be considered too. It is not simply unethical – it is mail and wire fraud.

I would compare the crime to the Build the Wall fraud committed by Steve Bannon and his co-defendants. They advertised that fundraised money was going to build the wall between Mexico and the U.S. but it was actually used for other purposes like funding luxury lifestyles. Bannon pled not guilty to pocketing $1 million before he was pardoned by Trump. Two of Bannon’s co-defendants pled guilty and were sentenced to prison.

Mail fraud and wire fraud are both serious federal offenses. They are punishable by $1,000,000 fine or imprisonment up to 30 years. The crime is when a person knowingly devises a scheme to “obtain money” through “false or fraudulent pretenses, representation or promises”. The crimes must be committed through the U.S. mail system or a private delivery service or through phones or emails, among other means.

No doubt it is often difficult for prosecutors to prove criminal intent but a fraud case against Trump and his campaign has a very strong factual basis. As Elie Mystal has pointed out, the Department of Justice could pursue getting records from the RNC’s digital marketing vendor, Salesforce. Maybe Trump himself signed off on the plan for his election defense fund.

Many have pointed out that Trump learned lessons from Roy Cohn, who was his mentor. Trump has generally not been careless about leaving his finger prints at the scene. The Election Defense Fund scam is textbook fraud. It remains unclear if the will and prosecutorial zeal to pursue this case exists at the Department of Justice.

There is tremendous cynicism about our justice system. I think the public expects Big Fish to routinely commit crimes and get away with it. A long time ago, Eugene V. Debs captured the problem. He wrote:

“There is something wrong in this country; the judicial nets are so adjusted as to catch the minnows and let the whales slip through.”

Time will tell if the whale again slips through.

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Misunderstanding the Julian Assange case – posted 6/26/2022

June 26, 2022 1 comment

There is no doubt that Julian Assange has been a polarizing figure. He has been hated by both liberals and conservatives.

Many liberals hate him for Wikileaks’ role in releasing John Podesta’s Democratic National Committee emails before the 2016 presidential election. It was a factor that helped Trump at a critical time in the campaign. It showed the Democrats’ national committee favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the primaries. This probably depressed the election turnout for Clinton.

Conservatives have hated Assange on an entirely different basis. They have argued Assange’s work placed U.S. personnel and agents in danger. They have hated that he exposed military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Republican politicians like Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sarah Palin have called Assange a “high-tech terrorist”.

Along the way, Assange was also accused of sexual misconduct by two Swedish women. These charges were eventually dropped by Swedish prosecutors but they also placed Assange in a most unflattering light.

I believe the hatred and anger stirred up has confused the public’s view about what is at stake in Assange’s legal case. The government is turning investigative journalism into a criminal act. Assange, through Wikileaks, published classified documents in 2010. He didn’t leak them – Chelsea Manning did that.

Wikileaks published hundreds of thousands of documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The documents revealed the U.S. had killed hundreds of innocent civilians in these wars. Wikileaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video which showed 2007 footage of U.S. soldiers gleefully murdering a crowd of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters journalists.The Iraq war logs also showed over 66,000 Iraqi civilians were murdered by Iraqi forces.

In addition, the documents exposed torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Over 150 innocent Afghans and Pakistanis were held for years without charges. Prisoners included an 89 year old man and a 14 year old boy. The files revealed the government was holding prisoners to try and extract intelligence. The government relied heavily on evidence obtained from people who had been tortured, including at black sites. The files showed that many of those being held at Guantanamo were not considered dangerous.

Without Wikileaks, none of this information would have been made public. Knowing your government is conducting state torture at black sites and at Guantanamo is not some minor detail. So far, U.S. authorities have been unable to name one person who could have been shown to have died as a result of these disclosures.

George Orwell once wrote:

“Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations.”

Assange is being prosecuted for revealing war crimes. I believe he was engaged in protected First Amendment activity. Assange was publishing truthful information that was in the public interest to be disclosed. This is particularly true because of the continuing disastrous record of American engagement in foreign interventions.

To me, it is significant that Daniel Ellsberg, exposer of the Pentagon Papers and one of the heroes of our time, has spoken up so forcefully on behalf of Assange. He has said he feels “a great identification” with Assange’s work. Both were charged under the Espionage Act of 1917.

Ellsberg has asked President Biden to drop any prosecution of Assange. The Obama Administration, after a thorough review, declined to pursue Assange’s prosecution. It was the Trump Administration that initiated the prosecution and Biden is seemingly carrying the Trump effort on. Biden can decide to drop the prosecution.

Assange faces 17 counts of violation of the Espionage Act with a possibility of having to serve 175 years behind bars. Considering he is being charged under an Espionage Act, you might think Assange was acting as an agent of a foreign power. He was not. Nor did he sell any documents Wikileaks acquired. He simply made them available to the public.

The Espionage Act has an ignoble history. It was first used to prosecute Socialist Party leader Eugene V. Debs for opposing World War 1. Assange’s prosecution represents the first time in American history that a journalist, rather than a source, has been charged with Espionage Act violations.

A free press exists to serve citizens – not the government. In the Pentagon Papers case, the Supreme Court wrote:

“The press was protected (by the Founders) so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fever and foreign shot and shell.”

The indictment of Assange threatens press freedom. His prosecution has a chilling effect on journalists who are shining sunlight on dark places. The government message is unmistakeable: reveal secrets and you will pay a big price. There is no way to distinguish Assange’s actions from investigative journalism practiced by the New York Times or the Guardian. They too rely on publishing information that was deemed “secret” or “classified”.

The ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, PEN International and Human Rights Watch, among others, have asked the Justice Department to drop the case against Assange. Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, has written:

“President Biden should avoid setting a terrible precedent by criminalizing key tools of independent journalism that are essential for a healthy democracy.”

Assange is being held in maximum security Belmarsh prison in England. He has been in Belmarsh for three years without being convicted of any crime. Assange has had a stroke and is in poor physical and psychological condition.

The British Home Secretary Priti Patel very recently approved his extradition to the U.S. to face trial here. That decision is under appeal.

Former President Trump has demonstrated no respect for press freedom and clearly hates journalists. It is hardly surprising that he would not care about the First Amendment or journalism. However, we have a right to expect better from President Biden.

The job of a journalist is to question governments and to put out information that governments hate having disclosed. We do not need journalists who act as courtiers to power. History shows that survival of democracy necessitates journalists like Assange who are willing to expose the powerful. Without such journalists, the public is much more likely to be led into more imperialist misadventures like Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq..

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My sister, Lisa Baird, circa 1970 – posted 6/22/2022

June 22, 2022 3 comments

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Hiking and swimming around Wilmot on Juneteenth long weekend – posted 6/20/2022

June 20, 2022 2 comments
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The dark history of the Second Amendment – posted 6/18/2022

June 18, 2022 4 comments

With mass shootings practically a daily event, defenders of unrestricted gun owner rights typically invoke the mantra of the Second Amendment. Attention is rarely paid though to the historical circumstances surrounding the origins of the Second Amendment.

As part of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is shrouded in a benevolent mist. That mist obscures more than it enlightens.

The truth is that the Second Amendment was largely a response to Southern interests who feared slave revolts. Slaveholders wanted the firepower through militias to repress slave uprisings.

James Madison crafted the Second Amendment to strike a balance. He believed a strong central government was necessary but he also wanted to assuage pro-slavery interests. Southerners feared the federal government would try to destroy slavery and Madison was determined to keep the South on board as part of the United States. Patrick Henry and George Mason led the Southern advocacy. They had threatened to shatter the shaky union that did exist.

The historian Carol Anderson has best described the historical circumstances around the Second Amendment. In her book, The Second, she wrote:

“The Second Amendment was, thus, not some hallowed ground but rather a bribe, paid again with Black bodies. It was the result of Madison’s determination to salve Patrick Henry’s obsession about Virginia’s vulnerability to slave revolts, seduce enough anti-federalists to get his Constitution ratified and stifle the demonstrated willingness of the South to scuttle the United States if slavery was not protected.”

Anderson argues that the role of the militia is key to understanding the Second Amendment. Recall the Second Amendment’s language: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the rights of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Anderson’s perspective is obviously quite a departure from the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence as best exemplified by Justice Scalia’s opinion in the Heller case. Responding to the gun lobby, Scalia downplayed the militia part and emphasized the individual right to gun ownership. Anderson says the primary function of the militia was slave control.

As a historian, Anderson does not deny that militias in that era had multiple purposes. Many American revolutionaries feared a standing army. Militias were used to wage war against Native Americans and to quell slave revolts. They were also seen as needed to repel any possible foreign invasions.

The eighteenth century featured a huge importation of kidnapped Africans to America. Plantation owners brutalized the Africans with absolutely barbarous treatment. The goal was to induce submission in the quest for maximum profit. Slaves were the principal basis for Southern wealth.

As far back as 1639, Southern states prohibited Africans from carrying guns. In the eighteenth century Black people were forbidden from owning or carrying firearms but white men were required to own “a good gun or pistol” to give them the means to “search and examine all negro houses for offensive weapons and ammunition”.

As noted, the right to own firearms generally did not extend to Black people. New Hampshire, Delaware, Massachusetts and New York banned Blacks from military service in the Continental Army and the militias. It was only when there was a manpower shortage during the revolutionary war that the Continental Army reconsidered its “whites only” policy.

There was also the matter that in 1775 Virginia’s royal governor, the Earl of Dunsmore, said the British would emancipate every male slave of a rebel “who could and would bear arms for King George III”. There was fear that the enslaved might opt for the British side.

A deep fear of slave revolts permeated the white power structure in the South. In 1739, the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina saw a series of pitched battles in which a bloody slave rebellion was mercilessly put down. According to Anderson, the enslaved were tortured, shot, hanged and gibbeted alive”. Then another fifty slaves “were taken by their Planters who Cut off their heads and set them up at every Mile Post they came to”. Serving in slave patrols was required for all able-bodied white men.

Later in the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century, the fear of slave uprisings only increased. The Haitian revolution which began in 1791 terrified American slave owners. Gabriel Prosser’s rebellion in 1800, the German coast rebellion of Louisiana in 1811 and Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 all demonstrated the slave desire for freedom.

Those slaves who did try to escape were hunted down by militias and bounty hunters. Both horses and dogs were used by slavers. Slave patrols subjected Black people to questioning, searches and floggings. Guns were a key instrument in a regime of systematic control.

In the nineteenth century, the fugitive slave laws contributed to the growth of militias. The South wanted escaped enslaved people to be returned to their masters. Before our civil war, huge political battles were fought around the issue of fugitive slaves’ rights.

Many on the political right seem to think the Second Amendment was carved in marble by God. On TV, I just saw a political ad about how President Biden was supposedly trying to take away our “god-given” Second Amendment rights. Former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke was spouting this.

The irony could not be more extreme. Instead of being god-given, the Second Amendment emerged as an instrument to protect slavery and slavers’ rights to control black people. Its history is anything but noble.

Rights, even constitutional rights, do not come out of nowhere. They are rooted in a historical context. Those who want to whitewash American history ignore the centrality of slavery in our past. Unlike other constitutional rights in the Bill of Rights which have had a more positive and civilized evolution, I would argue the Second Amendment is unique. It was a gift to Southern slave interests to bribe them to stay part of the U.S..

The historian W.E.B. Dubois once wrote “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”. I think that statement is true for all of American history. It is impossible to understand where the Second Amendment came from without placing it in the middle of the American battle around the maintenance and preservation of white supremacy.

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