MLK history is not well-remembered – posted 1/23/2022

January 23, 2022 Leave a comment

Another Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday has come and gone but I don’t think America is close to celebrating the real Dr. King. We have gotten too far away from the history which isn’t even that long ago.

I wanted to recommend a documentary, MLK/FBI, that recreates the history and grapples with King’s thirteen years of activism from 1955 to 1968. The movie shows how King became the moral leader of the nation by forging a non-violent movement dedicated to overturning segregation and combating poverty.

Instead of welcoming King’s leadership, the American power structure feared him and opposed change. And it was not just the powerful. It is forgotten how many Americans reviled King. In 1966, a Gallup poll determined that 63% of Americans held a negative view of King while only 32% had a positive one.

The FBI was alarmed by King’s charisma and his success in mobilizing people. The FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, worried about the rise of a Black Messiah who could electrify the masses. The FBI worried that King was that man.

Hoover’s number two at the Bureau, William Sullivan, said that MLK was “the most dangerous negro in America” and that “the FBI had to use all means to destroy him”. Sullivan suggested the FBI handpick a new leader to replace King. The FBI waged a vicious, secret campaign to neutralize King. The Bureau had been stung by King’s criticisms about their failure to protect civil rights leaders from racist attacks.

Hoover was the FBI Director for 48 years from 1924-1972. He turned the FBI into his private secret police force. Hoover had been raised in a repressed and reactionary segregationist milieu where white supremacy dominated. Along with being racist himself, he was convinced the civil rights movement was influenced by Communists. He saw King as uppity and a major threat to national security.

As the civil rights movement got stronger, Hoover became obsessed with King. The FBI put King under surveillance 24/7, including using informants, wiretaps, and hidden microphones to spy on him. Initially, the justification was King’s close association with Stanley Levinson, a friend who had some past association with the Communist Party USA.

Hoover, who was an expert at gathering dirt on people, tried to force King to break off his relationship with Levinson. He enlisted President Kennedy and then Attorney General Robert Kennedy to get King to disassociate from Levinson. King told JFK he would break off contact but he ultimately did not. King did not believe the FBI’s allegations and there has never been any evidence that the Communist Party had any influence on King.

King’s actions infuriated Hoover who saw him as a liar and a deceiver. Things between the two men spiraled in a bad direction. Hoover expanded the surveillance on King. FBI wiretaps revealed that King had a non-monogamous private life. They gathered recordings of King having sex with a variety of women who were not his wife.

In 1964, King won the Nobel Peace Prize but Hoover remained totally offended by King’s sexuality. Hoover was probably jealous. He started referring to King as a “moral degenerate “ and a “tomcat”. He publicly called King “the most notorious liar in the country”.

Hoover shared the white southern fear of black sexuality. He treated private sexual conduct as an indicator of virtue. King pushed his buttons.

Hoover fit into the racist tradition of white men who lynched black men for alleged sexual improprieties but instead of killing King, he tried to push King to kill himself. The FBI compiled a taped greatest hits of King’s sexual exploits and sent it to King’s wife. Along with the tape was a letter urging King to kill himself.

The FBI continued to spread stories about King’s sexual indiscretions. It pressured universities not to award him honorary degrees. Knowing what we know now about JFK’s affairs and Hoover’s secret sexuality, hypocrisy is all over the map.

After the JFK assassination, King and LBJ had an alliance of sorts. Voting rights and civil rights bills got fast-tracked but the Vietnam war eventually blew that alliance apart. Long troubled by the American role, King spoke out against the war in a speech he gave at Riverside Church in New York City in April 1967. King said,

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

The speech freaked out the liberal establishment. King was ahead of his time on Vietnam. The majority tide had not yet turned against the war. The New York Times, the Washington Post and even the NAACP rebuked King for opposing U.S. intervention in Indochina.

Later in 1967, King gave a speech in Chicago at the National Conference on New Politics. He stated:

“We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew in prosperity out of the Protestant Ethic of hard work and sacrifice. The fact is capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on this exploitation of the poor, both black and white, both here and abroad.”

King’s last political acts were the Poor People’s Campaign and his campaign to organize sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the Riverside Church speech King called for a “radical revolution in values” in which “we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society”. King was a radical and a democratic socialist who always sided with poor and working people.

James Agee, in his book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, wrote:

“Every fury on earth has been absorbed in time, as art or as religion or as authority in one form or another. The deadliest blow the enemy of the human soul can strike is to do fury honor.”

With Dr. King, official acceptance has meant a relentless effort to water down his message. Gone is King’s critique of capitalism and militarism. In its place is mush. So many tributes to King are phony, insincere and forced. What James Agee described is exactly what has happened with Dr. King.

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The untold story of anti-Chinese racism in America – posted 1/17/2022

January 17, 2022 Leave a comment

On New Year’s Eve, Yao Pan Ma, a 62 year old Chinese-American man, died. Eight months earlier, in April 2021, he had been collecting cans on the street in New York City to try and pay rent money. Ma was a kitchen worker and a cook and he had lost his job when the city went into pandemic lockdown. Out of the blue, a man approached Ma from behind, stuck him in the back and knocked him down. He then stomped Ma, kicking him repeatedly in the head.

Ma was grievously injured and went into a deep coma. Over months, his health deteriorated and he finally succumbed to the beating. Ma was the latest victim of the pandemic scapegoating and hate crimes that became epidemic in 2020-2021. Asian-American violence erupted around the United States. Between March 2020-February 2021, Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative supporting Asian, Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities, reported nearly 3,800 anti-Asian hate incidents in the U.S..

The pandemic hate crimes are not an isolated event in Chinese-American history. They are only the most recent episode of a much longer-term experience. Maybe of any racial group in America, the Chinese experience is least well understood. The history of racism and xenophobia directed against the Chinese is staggering and has generally been left out of the history books.

Going back to the mid-nineteenth century, hostility toward the Chinese pervaded America, not just the west coast. Newspapers across the country inveighed against allowing Chinese into America but there was a demand for labor in the west and, in particular, for railroad workers. There was tremendous excitement about the introduction of coast to coast railroad. In their book, To Serve the Devil, Paul Jacobs, Saul Landau and Eve Pell write:

“The transcontinental railroads were desperate for workers willing to endure the terrible hardship, the burning desert sun, freezing mountain snows, landslides, back-breaking hours with pick and shovel, and the isolation from cities, for months at a time. And all this for low wages. Few white workers were willing to take on these jobs, and, in desperation, the railroad builders turned to the Chinese.”

At the same time, the Chinese workers were needed for their labor, they were also the objects of a national phobia. Americans imagined a yellow horde of poor, diseased, filthy, illiterate coolies pouring off boats. There was a popular belief that Chinese people were criminal, dirty and carried disease.

In that era, white supremacy was an extremely powerful force. Many white people believed that their first duty was to maintain America’s racial purity. Chinese did not speak the same language or adopt white manners or customs. Beating Chinese was considered a form of amusement and offenses committed against Chinese were not considered important nor were they generally prosecuted.

Neither Congress nor state legislatures protected the Chinese. On the contrary, they passed much anti-Chinese legislation. In 1858, California passed a law prohibiting Chinese and Mongolian immigration to the state. Congress followed with a law in 1862 forbidding U.S. ships from transporting coolies. In 1870, Congress approved a Naturalization Act barring Chinese from obtaining U.S. citizenship.

This was followed by the Page Act in 1875 which barred Asian women who were suspected of prostitution. The Page Act was a template for the more influential 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which established the right to regulate foreigners into the country, including their exclusion and deportation.

In 1892, the Geary Act extended the Chinese Exclusion Act and required all Chinese residents in the U.S. to carry a resident permit at all times. Failure to carry the permit was punishable by deportation or a year at hard labor.

The historian, Erika Lee, in her book, America for Americans, shows the pathbreaking significance of the Chinese Exclusion Act. The law categorized Chinese as the ultimate example of the dangerous, degraded alien. Lee wrote:

“No other group had been officially singled out for immigration exclusion or banned from naturalized citizenship based on their race and national origin before. Moreover, the only other immigrants to be similarly banned from the country in 1882 were convicts, lunatics, idiots and any people considered to be public charges.”

The Chinese Exclusion Act exempted professional and elite classes from exclusion. It specifically barred Chinese laborers. The Exclusion Act remained in effect for 61 years. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt repealed the Act because China was then our ally against the Japanese.

Courts, both state courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, failed to protect the Chinese. In 1854, the California Supreme Court held that Chinese people could not testify in court. In 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of allowing Chinese to become naturalized citizens and later, in 1889, it upheld the Chinese Exclusion Act itself.

In the late nineteenth century, xenophobia directed against the Chinese was out of control and resulted in many atrocities committed against Chinese people. A bad economy in the 1870’s particularly led to anti-Chinese hysteria that Chinese labor would take scarce jobs.

When the Chinese did not voluntarily leave the country, xenophobes resorted to violence and removal, particularly in the Pacific Northwest. In 1885, in Rock Springs, Wyoming, a mob murdered 28 Chinese and burned hundreds out of their homes. Only federal troops prevented mass murder of Chinese in Seattle in November 1885.

Also, in 1885, Tacoma Washington witnessed a pogrom. Tacoma’s Chinatown was burned to the ground. City leaders marched the Chinese population of Tacoma through pouring rain to a railroad station located miles outside the city. They forced the Chinese into boxcars with their goods and shipped them to Portland. A similar scenario played out in Seattle. In February 1886, the entire Chinese population in Seattle was forced out of the city.

Lynchings and incidents of organized mass brutality were not unusual. Anti-Chinese vigilantes had no fear of punishment..

Into the twentieth century, the American tradition of welcoming immigrants was not extended to the Chinese. The Yellow Peril racist ideology infected too many minds. Books like Lothrop Stoddard’s, The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, published in 1920, reflected the popular racist and anti-Chinese attitude.

Chinatowns that sprouted around America were more a product of racial segregation and redlining than of any desire to self-segregate.

Winston Churchill once said, “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it”. In the case of Chinese-American history, the victims did not get that opportunity. This past remains whitewashed and not accessible to mass audiences.

The events I cited have been written out but not entirely. When former President Trump talked about the “China virus”, he connected to the nineteenth century belief that Chinese carried germs and diseases. The legacy of xenophobia and racism remain very alive.

It should be clear by now that there is a narrative war going on about American history. I think all the efforts like opposing critical race theory and divisive concepts legislation are really about an opposition to truth-telling about our ugly racial history. They demonstrate a lack of intellectual integrity.

Whether about Chinese-American, African-American or Native American history, we need to increase the consciousness of wrongdoing. We seem addicted to fairy tale history. If we are ever going to move past racism in America, we first have to face it honestly. That has not happened with Chinese-American history.

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The Big Lie explored – posted 1/9/2022

January 9, 2022 Leave a comment

The Big Lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is an undeniable part of Donald Trump’s legacy. I think it is appropriate that if our former president is known for anything, it is dishonesty. No president in my lifetime has ever had less regard for the truth.

To Trump, it did not matter that over 60 courts categorically rejected his Big Lie allegations. Nor did it matter that he could never produce any evidence of voter fraud or even come up with a coherent story.

On election night, Rudy Giuliani, his lawyer, said, “Just say we won”. That became the Trump strategy. Based on nothing, he just said he won. The idea was that if the lie was repeated enough, repetition would get people to believe it and to some extent, that has worked. Millions have bought in.

According to CNN, 36% of Americans do not believe Biden won, including 78% of Republicans. So it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Big Lie has been effective in snookering people. Those numbers are impressive.

Most analysis that I have seen about the Big Lie, however, misses its racial dimension. Trump and his allies spent weeks after the election saying massive voter fraud and irregularities occurred in big cities and counties with large populations of Black and Latino voters. They singled out Detroit, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Maricopa County. Trump ally, Newt Gingrich, said,

“They stole the election in Philadelphia. They stole the election in Milwaukee. They stole the election in Atlanta.”

Congressman Mo Brooks, a Trump ally from Alabama, said:

“If you only count the legal voters, then Trump is the winner.”

It does not take much of a leap to see where that is going. White Trump voters are the legal voters. Those other voters, the Black and Latino Biden voters, should not count. One side is seeing itself as the real Americans entitled to decide the election and the other side falls into some lesser, non-counting category. This voter panorama is fundamentally about white supremacy and the entirely speculative accusation that Black and Latinos were stealing the election.

To those with a sense of history, this has a familiar ring. Professor Carol Anderson of Emory University, has said:

“It’s as vile now as it was during Reconstruction, when Democrats believed that Republicans were illegitimate and that Black voters had no right to be voting, and they did all of these terrorist activities to block African Americans from voting. It’s a very narrow, slippery slope, from saying ‘illegal votes’ to ‘illegal voters’ so this attack on Black voters is real.”

It needs to be said that the Big Lie is fundamentally about racism.

At the same time, it is also about smashing the truth. Election officials around the country and Trump’s own Attorney General William Barr verified that the election was “the most secure in American history”.

The Trump campaign knew its own allegations were false. According to the New York Times, back on November 19, an internal memo from the Trump campaign had determined that claims about rigged voting machines were untrue but that did not stop the voter fraud allegations which got wilder and wilder. Pretty soon there was Italygate, and Hugo Chavez and George Soros in place of any rational argument.

So how could it be that truth became irrelevant and that so many willingly believed nonsense? The best explanation I have seen comes from Jason Stanley, an expert on fascism. Stanley says that fascist movements like Trump’s want to make truth irrelevant. The argument is that if the other side, the Democrats, are an enemy, truth doesn’t matter. Only winning matters.

Fascism is a way of seizing power that relies on propaganda and violence. It utterly rejects core liberal democratic values. The Big Lie of voter fraud becomes a justification for more restrictive voting laws, voter suppression and election subversion.

The Big Lie has billionaire funders from the American financial elite. Hiding behind the Orwellian cover of election integrity, dark money organizations, funded by undisclosed donors, have promoted the myth that voter fraud is epidemic in America. Republicans have made a cynical calculation that as a minority party unable to win voter majorities, their mission is to focus on disqualifying ostensibly illegitimate voters.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has shown how conservative organizations like the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council have refocused obsessively on voter fraud when the evidence of that occurrence is entirely lacking. They fund absurdities like the Arizona audit which contribute to the destruction of faith in the actual integrity of elections.

People seem to forget the dissolution of Trump’s voter fraud commission in 2018. Trump was upset he lost the popular vote in 2016 and he created a sham commission to make it seem like there was a problem.

The Big Lie is also a grift used to motivate the Republican base. Trump, his circle and Republicans generally sell merchandise and fundraise off it. You can buy a Sidney Powell “Release the Kraken:Defending the Republic” drink tumbler, a Lin Wood “Fight Back” unisex fleece hoodie or a Mike Flynn “Fight Like a Flynn” women’s racerback tank top.

One question that jumps out is why so many people buy the Big Lie. I think it should be clear that the Trump appeal is entirely emotional, not intellectual. People are not connecting to MAGA because they have read well-reasoned position papers on public policy. The appeal is rooted in irrationalism and the racism I mentioned is part of that.

Trump has no plans to solve future problems. MAGA is about nostalgia for a past that never happened. It is also about resentment and punishing those you see as enemies. Most mainstream commentary about the Big Lie misses the truly dangerous dimensions of the MAGA movement. In Escape From Freedom, Erich Fromm wrote:

“When fascism came into power, most people were unprepared, both theoretically and practically. They were unable to believe that man could exhibit such propensities for evil, such lust for power, such disregard for the rights of the weak or such yearning for submission.”

The Big Lie offers a window into a racist and fascist world view. Too many Americans remain uncomprehending of the danger represented by the present incarnation of the Republican Party.

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Vincent Jackson, Philip Adams and CTE – posted 1/2/2022

January 2, 2022 Leave a comment

Another football season is drawing to a close and I think there has been less mention of CTE – chronic traumatic encephalopathy – this season. CTE is the neurodegenerative condition affecting football players who have suffered from too many head hits.

In 2021, there were two stories which illustrate the continuing nature of the CTE tragedy. Vincent Jackson and Philip Adams, both former NFL players, killed themselves. Both were in their thirties, Jackson was 38 and Adams was 32. After their deaths, both received diagnoses of stage 2 CTE, a supposedly milder form of the disorder.

Jackson died alone in a hotel room. It appeared he drank himself to death. The coroner found alcoholic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease caused by alcohol abuse. As for Adams, he murdered six people before he shot himself. Their stories are a stark reminder of the dark side of football that receives insufficient scrutiny.

Jackson was a three-time Pro Bowler and he had six years where he gained over 1,000 yards as a wide receiver. He had a twelve year career, earning the nickname “Invincible”. He was a supremely talented athlete and widely considered a great guy, an NFL role model.

Along with his wife Lindsey, Jackson planned to co-write children’s book. He was the devoted father of four kids. He also went into business and had a thriving portfolio of investments. His wife said,

“His whole plan in the NFL was to set himself up to not have these struggles.”

She reported that around the time his career ended in 2016, Vincent started forgetting conversations. He started showing symptoms of depression. His attention span had diminished. By 2018, she said Vincent was becoming paranoid and he started shutting the blinds when he was at home. He described his brain as becoming “fuzzy”. He turned to alcohol as he felt it cleared his thinking.

Jackson was aware of CTE. In 2015, he saw the movie Concussion about the doctor who first diagnosed the condition among NFL players. He refused to allow any of his children to play tackle football until they reached high school. Jackson minimized any concerns of brain injury as he never received a concussion diagnosis. He tried to hide both his declining cognitive health and his alcoholism.

Dr. Ann McKee, an expert on CTE, based at Boston University School of Medicine, studied Jackson’’s brain after his death and diagnosed CTE. She said the brain had “mild frontal lobe atrophy” and a “split in the internal membrane” with multiple lesions in the frontal cortex.

The New York Times reports that according to the CTE Center at Boston University 20% of players found to have CTE never had a diagnosed concussion. The CTE Center does not see concussions as a reliable indicator of CTE. They would argue that a more direct association are the thousands of smaller subconcussive hits Jackson sustained during his football career.

Jackson’s alcohol use was a destructive coping mechanism for his cognitive decline. He drank to feel better but he could not stop.

Philip Adams did not have Vincent Jackson’s superstar career. He was a defensive back who played for six different teams during his NFL career from 2010-2015. His career was closer to the NFL norm for players who were in the journeyman category. He played in 78 games.

Before he murdered six people, Adams’ family said he had complained of excruciating pain, memory loss and difficulty sleeping. Adams’ sister told USA Today that her brother’s “mental health degraded fast and terribly bad”.

Dr. McKee also studied Adams’ brain after his death. She found severe frontal lobe damage, similar to the brain damage of Aaron Hernandez. Adams’ behavior had shifted dramatically near the end of his life. His temper had escalated and he had neglected personal hygiene. Dr. McKee did not think Adams simply snapped. She said his behavioral and cognitive issues “appeared to be a cumulative progressive impairment”.

The Adams family released a statement that said, in part,

“After going through medical records from his football career, we do know that he was desperately seeking help from the NFL but was denied all claims due to his inability to remember things and to handle seemingly simple tasks, such as traveling hours away to see doctors and going through extensive evaluations.”

Adams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It is not clear why he murdered six people before he shot himself. The investigating sheriff found multiple guns, ammunition and writings which he deemed “incoherent” at Adams’ residence.

A few observations are in order. The deeper problem that has been increasingly identified in football is the cumulative effect of repetitive head hits – not just concussions. Both the examples of Jackson and Adams speak to that.

In the realm of risk reduction, pro football could do much more to protect the players’ health. The NFL could shorten the season and get rid of Thursday and Monday night games. It could build in more bye weeks. It is no secret that many players hate not having enough time to recover from games. All the scheduling is about maximizing profit at the players’ expense.

Playing less does not rule out brain injury but it might lessen harm.

Then there is improving football helmet technology. There is a genuine dispute about whether helmet design can be improved. Dr. David Camarillo of Stanford, a nationally respected bioengineer, believes he could design a helmet that could reduce concussions by 75%. On the other hands, opposing experts point out that more sophisticated helmets do not do much about the accumulation of subconcussive hits. They argue that safety should mean no head hits.

Science could help these issues if CTE could be diagnosed while players are living. Now CTE can only be diagnosed through an autopsy. However, in December, scientists at Boston University produced a study that shows MRIs may soon be able to detect CTE while people are alive. That would be a huge breakthrough for early detection.

Finally there are more radical reform idea like moving from tackle football to flag football. Maybe football needs to be reimagined in a less lethal design.

The profit system is a meat grinder. Even with the NFL concussion settlement, the NFL still tries to minimize responsibility. More attention must be paid to the well-being of players after football. Too often, permanently impaired ex-players are left on their own to fend. Ex-players should not be treated like cars with an expired warranty.

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Santa Inc. and why antisemitism is worse now – posted 12/26/2021

December 26, 2021 3 comments

I am a Sarah Silverman fan. I have watched her comedy, read her memoir, The Bedwetter, and I regularly listen to her podcast. As readers may know, Sarah is a New Hampshire native, born in Bedford, and she grew up in the southern tier of our state.

She and Seth Rogen recently did voices in a new animated comedy series, Santa Inc., that is streaming on HBO Max. It is made for adults – not children. Rogen plays the voice of Santa Claus and Sarah plays an elf who wants to become the first female and Jewish Santa. It is dirty and funny and I would describe it as in the Bad Santa tradition of Billy Bob Thornton. It will offend many.

Still, when the Santa Inc. trailer uploaded in November what was shocking was not the comedy. Santa Inc. received a torrent of ugly and creepy reactions from Jew-haters and Holocaust deniers. YouTube disabled the dislikes when the count went over 25,000 comments. Many seemed to dislike the idea of two Jews doing a movie about Santa.

The haters coordinated a troll campaign, brigading Santa Inc.. The response made me think about the origins of anti-semitism in the United States and why this is happening now. Is the antisemitism reflected in incidents like the reaction to Santa Inc. something qualitatively new or is it a continuation of longer-term history?

The United States has largely been a welcoming place for Jews since the beginning. When the Jews of Newport Rhode Island wrote George Washington a letter of congratulations on being elected President, Washington responded:

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation.”

Of course, early on, Jews made up an infinitesimally small percentage of the American population. In 1776, there were about 1,000 Jews in America; by 1840, 15,000; and by 1880, 250,000, which was one-half of one percent of the population. Unlike in Europe, Jews benefited from our constitution that had a First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.

After 1880, things changed dramatically for American Jews. Between 1880-1920, two million Jews fled Eastern Europe and Russia to escape pogroms and state-sponsored terror. And Jews were certainly not the only immigrants. Many millions came to the U.S..

The immigration influx ran headlong into American xenophobia and racism. In 1894, the Immigration Restriction League was founded out of a belief that Anglo-Saxon tradition was being drowned by a flood of racially inferior people from southern and eastern Europe.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, WASP upper class elites looked down on Jews as a greedy, cunning and dishonest people. Protestant and Catholic religious leaders promoted stereotypes of Jews as Christ-killers. This was the heyday of Christian antisemitism before the Christian churches started recognizing their responsibility for acquiescing in the promotion of hate.

Although there was an American tradition of tolerance, antisemitism became more entrenched in all sectors of American society.

In this era, scientific racism and eugenics were used to justify immigration restrictions. A group of intellectual influencers, close to ruling circles, that included Madison Grant, Lothrop Stoddard, and Edward Ripley, argued against interracial mixing and against immigration. They argued that immigrants brought crime, illiteracy and political and labor radicalism. Jews, particularly, were associated with labor militancy.

Presidents Teddy Roosevelt, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge all spoke favorably of Grant.

Grant believed Anglo-Saxons were being displaced by highly undesirable immigrants, particularly Jews, whom he saw as worthless. In his very influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, he outlined the intellectual justification for the 1924 Immigration Act which greatly limited Jewish immigration to America. It was this restrictive law which precluded more European Jews from being able to obtain asylum during the Holocaust.

The gist of the book was that swarms of Jews and other racially inferior people were the cause of the passing of the great white race. Grant’s book was a favorite of Hitler’s. Hitler considered the book his bible.

In the 1930’s and early 1940’s, prominent Americans like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh and Father Charles Coughlin all contributed to an antisemitic upsurge. In his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, Ford published a long-running series The International Jew, claiming there was a vast Jewish conspiracy seeking world domination.

Groups like the German-American Bund sold virulently antisemitic newspapers in cities around the country. In Boston, Irish-Catholic gangs organized “Jew hunts” where a half a dozen young men would drive to a Jewish neighborhood, pile out of a car, beat up Jews and split. Boston had a reputation as the most antisemitic city in the country.

While the oppression was much milder than what African Americans experienced, antisemitism was, to some extent, institutionalized. There were limits for how many Jews would be accepted at upper echelon colleges and universities. There were also restrictions blocking Jews from getting into law firms, medical practices, private clubs, and exclusive residential areas.

Public opinion polls from the 1940’s present an unflattering picture of American antisemitism. A public opinion survey found that 63% of Americans believed that Jews as a group had “objectionable traits”; a majority believed German Jews were wholly or partly to blame for the Nazis’ persecution of them: and a third to a half of the American public would have sympathized with or actively supported an antisemitic campaign. No more than 30% would have opposed it.

After World War II, I do think awareness of the Holocaust changed the thinking of many Americans and moved antisemitism to the sidelines. The Holocaust was such an enormous atrocity that it discredited Jew haters and shrank their visibility and presence.

Over the last fifty years, I would mention the novel, The Turner Diaries, written in 1978, by William Pierce. It has been like scripture to U.S. white nationalists and antisemites. The Anti-Defamation League identified it as “probably the most widely-read book among far right extremists”. It is the most popular antisemitic read since Mein Kampf.

The novel argues that Jews use people of color to conceal their plans for domination. Pierce deemed blacks as not fully human and incapable of action on their own. He saw Jews as the puppet masters.

The Turner Diaries was the forerunner of the Great Replacement theory currently espoused by the far right in America and Europe. The Great Replacement theory is not simply a crazy ideological construct. It has led to attacks on Jews. When the neo-nazis in Charlottesville were chanting “Jews will not replace us”, that was no accident.

I do see antisemitism as getting worse in America and according to public opinion surveys, 82% of American Jews would agree with that assessment. The historical background I described creates context where antisemitic ideas have been insufficiently repudiated. Rather than confronting and rejecting antisemitism, Americans seem to prefer pretending it is not happening.

There are some indicators I would mention. According to the FBI, American Jews are subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite making up only 2% of the U.S. population. Since 2016, there has been a significant increase both in antisemitic incidents and hate crimes more generally.

Among Jews, there is evidence that many have changed behavior out of fear. According to a new report from the American Jewish Committee, 39% of American Jews avoid posting content online that would reveal their Jewish identity. 23% refrain from publicly wearing, carrying or displaying items that might enable others to identify them as Jewish. Synagogues and other Jewish-identified institutions have increased security.

I think former President Trump kick-started the hate. Hate crimes spiked in the days after his election in 2016 and have conspicuously continued. For me though, Charlottesvile was the watershed. Trump’s refusal to clearly and unambiguously condemn the white supremacists and neo-nazis who made up part of his base boosted the racists and Jew-haters. The antisemites saw that as a win.

Kenneth Stern of Bard College’s Center for the Study of Hate has said:

“Antisemitism thrives best historically when people are given ammunition to act on an impulse to see an ‘us’ and a ‘them’.”

That was the Trump presidency. Trump ran against “the other”, especially immigrants, Muslims, Black Lives Matter and Antifa. He gave license to nutty conspiracy theories like QAnon which draw on antisemitic themes like the blood libel.

One other factor that must be mentioned in the worsening of antisemitism is the role of the internet and social media. Online communities connect haters from far and wide. Tomer Persico from Haaretz writes:

“The web connects oddballs and fundamentalists, and it gives extremists the feeling that they are part of a broad movement. A rising, seething wave of toxicity is being ridden by unscrupulous politicians who are aggrandizing the feeling of white victimhood.”

The reaction to Santa Inc. is a sad testament to the increase of Jew-hatred. Americans of all political stripes and persuasions need to publicly stand up against the hate and oppose it. Part of protecting our multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy is protecting all citizens from emboldened haters.

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The 2020 coup as dress rehearsal for 2024 – posted 12/19/2021

December 19, 2021 Leave a comment

So much of the discussion of Trump’s failed coup attempt against democracy is about learning its many details. It is like putting together all the pieces in a huge jigsaw puzzle. Understanding is very important but I think less attention has been paid to what the coup attempt means for the future.

On TV, I saw the historian Timothy Snyder explain that a failed coup is practice for a successful coup. The coup plotters and the Republican Party have been studying why the coup in 2020 failed. They are taking steps now to insure the next coup in 2024 will be successful.

The Democrats appear asleep at the switch. They are not recognizing or responding to the magnitude of the anti-democratic threat. In their desire to normalize and be bi-partisan, they want to believe both sides play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.

The autocratic threat has multiple dimensions and tracks. I would mention the role of state legislatures, intimidation of poll watchers and state election officials through threats and physical pressure, replacing state election officials or stripping them of their powers and destroying faith in democracy. All these dimensions are in play.

Although Trump lost the popular vote by a wide margin of over seven million votes, the currency Republicans are more concerned about is electors. In 2020, Trump needed 38 electors to reverse Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Much of the Trump team’s efforts between November 2020-January 2021 was directed at inducing Republican legislatures in states that Biden won to switch and appoint Trump electors. The vote in the Electoral College was 306-232 in Biden’s favor.

Under our constitution, states appoint electors. States have always respected and deferred to the will of the voters. Electors have reflected majority vote. What the Republican partisans are engineering is a plan to fire the voters and replace them with Trump acolytes in key state legislatures they control. That way even if the Republicans lose the popular vote, a state legislature can appoint electors they desire.

The theoretical underpinning to justify the legal argument is the independent state legislature doctrine, a favorite construct of far right lawyers and jurists. The U.S. Constitution gives state legislatures the sole authority to set all election rules. What if state legislatures believe they can throw out electors and de-certify election results?

In his article in the Atlantic, “Trump’s Next Coup Has Already Begun”, Barton Gellman looks at strategies state legislatures are already pursuing to politicize, criminalize, and interfere in election administration. In a broad way, this is about putting in places of power and decision-making proponents of the Big Lie of election fraud so that next time ballots will not decide elections.

Gellman cites examples from Georgia, Michigan and Arizona. In Georgia, Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State, found no fraud and was censured by the Republican Party and is being primaried by Jody Hice, a U.S. Congress member, promoted by Trump. The Georgia legislature stripped Raffensperger of power as chief election officer. Raffensperger famously would not “find” 11,780 votes for Trump.

Trump also pushed former Senator David Perdue to primary the Georgia sitting governor, Brian Kemp. Trump had urged Kemp to use nonexistent emergency powers to overturn Biden’s Georgia win. Kemp refused and Trump found him insufficiently loyal.

In Michigan, the Republican Party removed Aaron Van Langevelde, a Republican, from the Board of State Canvassers because he rejected false and unproven claims of widespread voter fraud. Van Langevelde’s crime was that he voted to certify Biden’s win.

In Arizona, Trump endorsed Kari Lake for governor over the current Republican Governor, Doug Ducey, because Ducey also certified Biden’s win. Without evidence and after multiple recounts, Lake, a former TV anchor, called the 2020 election “shady, shoddy, and corrupt”. She earned the Trump nod by saying she would not have certified Biden’s win. The Arizona legislature is currently debating a bill to strip the Democratic Secretary of State, Katie Hobbs, of her ability to defend election lawsuits.

Death threats and harassment from Trump supporters have terrified U.S. election workers. There are many examples. One Republican City Commissioner on the Philadelphia Board of Elections, Al Schmidt, received this threat,

“Tell the truth or your three kids will be fatally shot”, along with names of his children, his address and a photo of his home.

Schmidt received other messages: “Cops can’t help you”, “Heads on spikes” and “perhaps cuts and bullets will soon arrive at (his address)”. Schmidt had defended the vote-counting process in the face of unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in Philadelphia by Trump.

Rick Barron, the director of voting and elections in Fulton County, Georgia has been subject to a barrage of threats including a voicemail: “you will be served lead”.

Claire Woodall-Vogg, the executive director of Milwaukee’s election commission has received email threats saying she deserved to go before a firing squad and she was called “treasonous”. Woodhall-Vogg left the state for ten days and put in extra security at her home.

According to an April 2021 survey by the Brennan Center nearly one in three election officials feel unsafe in their job. Many non-partisan election officials are choosing to leave the profession, creating openings for the inexperienced. These code red level threats are a new 2020 phenomena attributable to pro-Trump fanatics.

Law enforcement has largely failed to respond to the threats. A Reuters investigation in September found 102 threats of violence or death against election officials in key battleground states. Reuters could only document four instances in which someone was charged. In August, John Keller, a senior attorney in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section told a meeting of secretaries of state, “The response has been inadequate”.

Instead of responding to the threats, Republican legislators have created new laws that impose tough penalties for election officials who violate rules. In Iowa and Texas, election officials who commit “technical infractions” can suffer big financial penalties.

One of the worst harassment episodes was Trump’s baseless attacks on two Georgia election workers, Ruby Freeman and her daughter Wandrea Moss. Trump and Rudy Giuliani falsely and repeatedly accused them of pulling false ballots from suitcases hidden under tables at a ballot-counting center. Trump slanderously called Freeman “a professional vote scammer” and “a hustler”.

The two African-American women received hundreds of death threats and racist taunts. Harassing strangers showed up at Freeman’s house. Even though local and state officials definitively disproved the fraud allegations, Freeman had to go into hiding. Trump-aligned social media demonized the two women. The most recent bizarre revelation was about how Kanye West’s publicist pressed Freeman to confess to Trump’s voter fraud allegations. Freeman was told she would go to jail if she did not confess.

Make no mistake: 2020 saw a deliberate effort to overturn a fair and free election. The Republican Party has degenerated into believing, without evidence, that Biden cheated. Even worse, in key battleground states, they have put into important positions proponents of the Big Lie while purging non-believers in the fantasy. They have gotten zealous buy-in from tens of millions. The coup almost succeeded in installing Trump as a dictator.

The Trump forces are destroying public faith in democracy. In their world, if fraud won, then democracy is already dead and it doesn’t matter what you do to win.

Gellman says the next coup will rely on subversion, not violence. If state legislatures can override voters, a far right Supreme Court can put the seal of legality on that.

I wish I saw the Democrats as up to the challenge but they are failing. To say their response has been muted is generous. President Biden has not used his bully pulpit to fight aggressively and consistently for voting rights and the Democratic Party remains divided, without clarity of focus or message. They passively watch the fascist advance. Maybe there will be a voting rights bill but who knows.

At the same time, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice have showed little inclination to go after big fish in the criminal coup. That is a failure of leadership that will come back to bite all people who support democracy.

Gellman says there is a serious risk that American democracy as we know it will come to an end in 2024. The urgent response required is not happening.

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CRACKED WINDSHIELD by Josh Baird – posted 12/16/2021

December 16, 2021 Leave a comment

My son Josh sings and I wanted to post his cover of Hiss Golden Messenger’s song “Cracked Windshield “.

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It is time to release Leonard Peltier – posted 12/11/2021

December 12, 2021 Leave a comment

It has now been over five years since I last wrote about the Leonard Peltier case. Back then in 2016, Peltier had hoped President Obama would grant him clemency. That did not happen.

Now, Peltier is 77 years old, residing in a federal penitentiary in Florida. He is not in good health. He suffers from diabetes and an aortic abdominal aneurysm that could rupture. He has served 46 years behind bars and he is hoping President Joe Biden will grant clemency. Peltier is the longest serving political prisoner in America.

The Department of Justice issued a national response to the COVID-19 pandemic authorizing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to release elderly inmates and those with underlying health conditions from federal prison. Peltier’s sentence was life, with parole. He deserves this consideration.

For those who are unfamiliar with the case, Peltier was a leader of the American Indian Movement or AIM on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. In 1975 there was a shoot-out on the reservation and three men died, two FBI agents and a Native American man.

Peltier was one of the three men charged in the murders of the FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. Peltier’s co-defendants were acquitted on grounds of self-defense. No one was ever charged for the murder of the Native American man, Joseph Stuntz. Stuntz was also an AIM member.

The FBI was desperate for a conviction since there were two dead agents. They needed a fall guy. Peltier played that role.

Obviously, at this late date, any recital of the facts can legitimately be considered partial but there have been some new developments on the case since I last wrote about it. The U.S. Attorney, James Reynolds, who played a prominent role in prosecuting Peltier sent President Biden a letter in July.

“I write today from a position rare for a former prosecutor to beseech you to commute the sentence of a man who I helped put behind bars. With time, and the benefit of hindsight, I have realized that the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust. We were not able to prove that Mr. Peltier personally committed any offense on the Pine Ridge reservation.”

Reynolds had previously said, “he (Peltier) didn’t go out there with the intention to kill anybody. He was just trying to protect his people”.

Just to reiterate, the prosecutor has admitted there is no proof Peltier killed the two FBI agents. The government had to drop the murder charges because they had withheld exculpatory evidence, a ballistics test that showed the murder weapon was not Peltier’s gun.

All that has been established is that Peltier was at the scene, shooting along with forty other Native Americans. He was charged with “aiding and abetting” but it was not proved whom he “aided and abetted” and you cannot aid and abet yourself.

The fact that a powerful institution like the FBI wanted to pin the blame on someone should not obscure the proof problem. Being in the vicinity of the shooting proves nothing but it has been enough to put Peltier away for 46 years. The FBI was hellbent on that result.

The trial was riddled with misconduct by the prosecution. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals later wrote about it:

“Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge reservation and in the prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed. “

Even though Peltier’s co-defendants were tried separately and were acquitted based on self-defense, the trial judge, Paul Benson, did not allow Peltier a self-defense argument. Also, one of the jurors acknowledged she was biased against Native Americans. In a decision that is difficult to understand, she was allowed to sit on the jury (and she voted for conviction).

Peltier now has a new lawyer, Kevin Sharp, who was previously a Federal District Court judge. Willie Nelson’s ex-wife, Connie Wilson, who is a Peltier supporter, reached out to Sharp to ask him to take the case.

Via Freedom of Information Act requests, Sharp has uncovered FBI internal memos that showed U.S. Attorneys were directed to put all resources into convicting Peltier. The FBI had a broader strategy to suppress AIM. Sharp has said that the agency plan was to “continually harass and arrest and charge” AIM members to keep them tied up in court.

This fits in with the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (called COINTELPRO) which was directed, in part, against AIM. COINTELPRO was designed to infiltrate, disrupt and destroy a wide range of activist groups. In this period, virtually every known AIM leader in the United States was incarcerated in either state or federal prison. 69 AIM members and supporters were murdered on the Pine Ridge reservation in the period between 1973-1976. 350 others suffered serious physical assaults.

The prosecution of Peltier needs to be seen in the context of COINTELPRO and broader Native American history. AIM was in the forefront of the struggle to realize the rights of treaty-guaranteed national sovereignty on behalf of Native Americans. As Sharp has said:

“Part of what’s going on is an extermination policy. We’re taking your land, your minerals. We’re going to get rid of you altogether…That’s what started it. That’s what the counter-intelligence was running.”

The FBI was still infected by the J.Edgar Hoover racist virus. They pursued Peltier and they continue to fight his clemency petition to this day. It does not seem to matter that all the agents from that era are long gone from the Bureau. The FBI’s pursuit of Peltier was in the racist tradition that defined so much of Hoover’s disgraceful tenure as FBI Director.

In his letter to President Biden, former prosecutor Reynolds also wrote:

“ Leonard Peltier’s conviction and continued incarceration is a testament to a time and a system of justice that no longer has a place in our society…I urge you to chart a different path in the history of the government’s relationship with its Native people through a show of mercy rather than continued indifference. I urge you to take a step towards healing a wound that I had a part of making. I urge you to commute Leonard Peltier’s sentence and grant him executive clemency.”

Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont just became the most senior U.S. government official to support Peltier’s release. Before she became Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, the first Native American Cabinet Secretary, also advocated Peltier’s release. On October 8, eleven members of Congress including Rep. Raul Grijalva, Barbara Lee and Pramila Jayapal requested Peltier’s expedited release and granting of clemency.

Please, President Biden: it is time to turn the historical page. Do the right thing and grant clemency to Leonard Peltier.

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Varian Fry, American Holocaust Rescuer – posted 12/5/2021

December 5, 2021 3 comments

Up until very recently I had never heard the name Varian Fry. I think that hardly makes me unusual. Yet, Varian Fry was one of our most important Holocaust rescuers. He was the American Oskar Schindler.

How is it that almost no one knows his story? I did not know about Fry until I read the novelist Dara Horn’s book People Love Dead Jews. Horn has a lengthy biographical essay that discusses Fry’s life and also raises many good questions.

Fry was born in New York City in 1907 to a Protestant family and he grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. His grandfather was an important person in his early life. He was active in the Children’s Aid Society in New York. That organization placed homeless children with foster families in the American West. Fry often accompanied his grandfather on trips. It is hard to know how much this experience influenced his later life choices.

Fry went to Harvard, graduated in 1931, and after college he became a magazine editor in Manhattan. He worked for a foreign affairs magazine called The Living Age. In May 1935, he took a business trip to Berlin, Germany that changed his life. While there, he witnessed an anti-Jewish riot with Jews being kicked, beaten mercilessly and spat upon. Crowds in a festive mood chanted, “The best Jew is a dead Jew”.

Fry was in a downtown cafe and he saw two Nazi youth approach a man who was quietly drinking a beer. Fry thought the man might be Jewish. When the man put out his hand to pick up his mug, one of the Nazis pulled out a dagger and with it he nailed the man’s hand to the table. The experience floored Fry.

When the Nazis took France in 1940, Fry was moved to action. He helped to found the Emergency Rescue Committee, a group of activists who opposed the Immigration Act of 1924 that severely restricted immigration from southern and Eastern Europe, particularly Jews and Italians. Many people who had fled Germany were living in the south of France along with anti-Nazi activists and escaping Jews. The Nazis only occupied northern France at the time. Southern France was something of a refuge.

Although the Vichy government in southern France collaborated with the Nazis and had agreed to surrender on demand anyone the Nazis wanted captured, there was not the level of control the Nazis enforced in areas where they were in physical control. The Nazis were after anti-Nazi activists, leftists, Jews, and artists they considered “degenerate”.

Fry wrote Eleanor Roosevelt to argue there was a need to get Jews, artists and intellectuals out of France. He suggested there was a need for rescuers to go to France to save people from the Gestapo. When no one else stepped up, Fry volunteered to go to southern France himself to begin a covert rescue operation. He strapped $3000 to his leg, took 200 visas he wrangled from the government and left New York.

Initially Fry intended to bike around Provence for four weeks, distributing travel documents and visas to a handpicked list of artists and intellectuals. He ended up staying thirteen months rescuing hundreds of Jews, artists, activists, writers, musicians, composers, philosophers and their families.

Among those rescued were some very famous people including Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Claude Levi-Strauss, Victor Serge and Andre Breton. Here I am barely scratching the surface of the list of luminaries rescued. It was an All-Star team of the European intelligentsia of that era. Victor Serge wrote:

“Our mob of fugitives includes first-rate brains of all types who now count for nothing through the mere fact of daring to say No! (most of them rather quietly) to totalitarian oppression…If it had not been for Varian Fry’s American Rescue Committee, a goodly number of refugees would have had no reasonable course open to them but to jump into the sea from the height of the transporter bridge, a certain enough method.”

After Fry arrived in France, he quickly assembled an underground team that assisted with the creation of false forged passports, provided money and physical transport across the Pyrenee mountains from France to Spain. The cover story of the group was that they were on a humanitarian mission to provide refugees money while they waited for legal visas. One participant in Fry’s group, Miriam Davenport, described the team:

“We were misfits. We didn’t fit the pattern of human behavior, of staying out of trouble and keeping your mouth shut.”

Fry placed himself in extreme danger. The Nazis were closing the window of escape. Fry was in a race against time to rescue as many people as possible. He anguished because he saw the need for rescue greatly surpassed his limited circumstances.

You might think the U.S. government would have supported Fry’s mission. If you believed that, you would be wrong. The State Department turned against Fry’s mission. Even though Fry and his organization had rescued an estimated 2000 people, the State Department arranged for Fry’s arrest and expulsion from France by the Vichy government in 1941.

When Fry returned to America, he tried to promote public awareness of the Nazi barbarism but he was ignored. In late 1942, he wrote a cover story for the New Republic titled, “The Massacre of the Jews”. In his story he provided hard evidence of the murder of over two million Jews in Europe. Horn writes:

“He pleaded for the one thing he knew would have saved the Jews of Europe: offering them asylum in the United States. His plea was roundly ignored, to the tune of four million more murdered.”

When we tell the story of World War II, the story we like to tell is the heroic narrative of the Allied powers triumphing over the fascists. That is a good story but the darker subterranean story of U.S. complicity with the Holocaust remains untold. As the filmmaker Pierre Sauvage has written:

“We live on two myths – that we didn’t know and that we couldn’t do anything even if we did know. This is the religion and it isn’t true. We knew plenty and could have done a lot. Varian Fry was a hero but he was also a maverick who flew in the face of American policy.”

After the war, Fry became a nobody. His story remained unknown. He never successfully re-adjusted to life in America. He became a Latin teacher at a high school in Connecticut. In 1967, he died at age 59 of a heart attack.

Thirty years after he died, in 1997, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum honored Fry as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations”.

I will offer an opinion why the Fry story was ignored. The story of American inaction in the face of the Holocaust is rooted in American anti-semitism. Our Immigration Act of 1924 that restricted Jewish immigration reflected the racism and xenophobia of the time. America strongly opposed more Jewish immigration and the law stood behind that.

In the 1930’s and 1940’s, anti-semitism played a big role in American life and culture. Partly this was because of the influence of far right movements in America but the hate went much farther. Influential people like Henry Ford and Father Charles Coughlin publicly disparaged Jews as greedy and dishonest people who were out to control the world.

The popular McClure’s Magazine featured articles on “The Jewish invasion of America”, describing Jews as “unassimilable aliens” who were taking control of New York City businesses, real estate and city government.

Jews were excluded from law firms, medical practices, universities, private schools, country clubs, hotels and from living in certain residential communities. Restrictive covenants targeting Jews were common.

Anti-semitism was the primary reason the American government did not do more to save the millions of Jewish lives lost at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators. The government did not publicize the mass death, did nothing to relax immigration quotas, and did not take doable actions like bombing the Nazi machinery of death at the extermination camps.

Back then, most Americans retreated into their personal lives, kept their heads down or looked away. A small number cheered the Nazis. It is a shameful story and many prefer to bury it.

Fry was not only unappreciated (even by many he saved) but he went unnoticed.

There is a parallel now between the treatment of Jews in Europe and the treatment of those fleeing the Northern Triangle countries of Central America. While it is certainly nothing on the scale of the Holocaust, very compelling reasons have led to the Central America exodus. Again, due to racism, America is closing the door. As Fry showed, we are capable of doing so much better.

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Lawyer misconduct and January 6 – posted 11/27/2021

November 27, 2021 Leave a comment

January 6 is a story that keeps unspooling. There are layers and layers and we keep finding out more. Jonathan Karl’s new book, Betrayal, is a treasure trove of revealing details.

Our former president was obsessed with staying in power. As Karl shows, his coup attempt went deeper than has been recognized. Much planning, especially by lawyers, went into the coup effort.

We recently learned that not only Trump lawyer John Eastman had a blueprint for a coup but so did Jenna Ellis, a promoter of biblical law and another member of the Trump legal team. Ellis’s memo was very much like Eastman’s.

Ellis saw Vice-President Mike Pence as potentially the key January 6 actor. Ellis believes that the Vice-President has unilateral power as President of the Senate to decline to count electors sent to Congress by the states. She wanted Pence on January 6 to reject electoral votes from Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Her notion was very outside the traditional view that the constitutionally prescribed role of Vice Presidents is ceremonial during the electoral vote count. Ellis’s memo argued that Pence should halt the Electoral College vote count on January 6 and give until January 15 for states to send a new set of votes. If no new votes arrived by January 15, Ellis argued those states’ votes would not be counted.

At that point, with no candidate having 270 electoral votes, the election would be thrown into the House of Representatives pursuant to the 12th Amendment. Because each state gets one vote and because the Republicans controlled a majority of state delegations, Ellis argued that throwing the election to Congress would result in a Trump victory. She conveniently overlooked the fact that Joe Biden won the six battleground states she cited.

On New Years Eve last year, Mark Meadows, Trump’s last Chief of Staff, emailed Ellis’s memo to Vice President Pence. Trump’s plan was to ratchet up the pressure on Pence. Trump also had his baggage handler turned head of Presidential Personnel, Johnny McEntee, write a historically inaccurate memo to Pence entitled “Jefferson used his position as Vice President to win” . McEntee passed this memo along to Marc Short, Pence’s Chief of Staff, on January 1.

At the rally on January 6, Trump told supporters:

“If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. Mike Pence is going to have to come through for us, and if he doesn’t, that will be a sad day for our country.”

I also should mention the scheme engineered by lawyer Jeffrey Clark that preceded January 6. Clark was head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division and he was in cahoots with Trump. On January 3, Clark told Jeffrey Rosen, the Acting Attorney General, that Trump was planning on installing him in place of Rosen. Clark wanted the Department of Justice to send a letter to state legislatures suggesting they convene special sessions and appoint new electors due to alleged election improprieties.

Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General, Richard Donaghue nixed Clark’s proposal. Donaghue told Clark that the Justice Department leadership would resign en masse if Trump appointed Clark. According to Donaghue, White House counsel Pat Cipollone referred to Clark’s proposal as a “murder-sucide pact”.

The actions of Eastman, Ellis and Clark are in a different realm than simply offering crackpot advice. They were furthering a criminal scheme to use pseudo-legal theories to overturn the will of the people. Trump was attempting to stay in power despite losing. To try and achieve their goals, Trump’s lawyers consistently pushed the Big Lie of election fraud. Over 60 court decisions later, no court supported any allegation of voter fraud.

Lawyer misconduct usually is about mundane things like stealing client money, routine incompetence, conflict of interest and failing to advise clients in their cases. Lawyers sometimes get fined, suspended from practicing or disbarred.

There seems to be a problem though when the lawyer crimes are bigger. It is almost like we lack the words to describe the crimes because the crimes are supersized. Professional conduct committees that oversee lawyer conduct are unfamiliar with cases where lawyers lie to advance seditious conspiracies designed to obstruct Congressional proceedings like the Electoral College.

I would suggest that lawyers like Eastman, Ellis and Clark are not engaged in offering “legal” advice. Professional lying to advance the fascist overthrow of a constitutional republic is something else. It is entirely predictable that these lawyers will claim executive and attorney-client privilege but privilege does not extend to communications by lawyers who are participating in a crime.

One federal judge who has had the courage to call out what is going on is Judge Linda Parker of Michigan. She ordered Trump lawyers, Sidney “Release the Kraken” Powell and Linn “Q’Anon” Wood, to pay legal costs of state and local officials in Michigan who had to respond to the phony voter fraud allegations. In her opinion, Judge Parker wrote:

“This lawsuit represents a historic and profound abuse of the judicial process. It is one thing to take on the charge of vindicating rights associated with an allegedly fraudulent election. It is another to take on the charge of deceiving a federal court and the American public into believing that rights were infringed, without regard to whether any laws or rights were in fact violated. This is what happened here.”

Judge Parker lambasted lawyers Powell and Wood for building a case on “fantastical claims and conspiracy theories”. She ordered them to complete twelve hours of legal election on litigation and election law. She also ordered that copies of her opinion be sent to authorities where Powell and Wood are licensed to investigate attorney misconduct. Judge Parker found Powell and Wood violated their obligation to the Court and the ethical rules they are bound to follow as licensed attorneys.

Broadly speaking, the response by the American Bar and Judiciary to the authoritarian threat posed by the coup-engaged lawyers has been weak, almost somnolent. The best response I have seen was a December 2020 letter signed by over 1500 lawyers and two former American Bar Association presidents who called for an ethical probe of lawyers making false claims of election fraud.

After January 6, the American Bar Association President, Patricia Lee Refo, released a statement condemning the assault on the Capitol and supporting the peaceful transition of power. Since then, from what I can see, the response from the legal community has mostly been silence. You have to ask: where is the outrage?

Normalizing the behavior of the Trump lawyers who routinely file frivolous claims and make false statements only guarantees more of the same. History shows that the best cover for the advance of authoritarianism is the appearance of legality.

The constellation of Trump lawyers has run the gamut from conventional Republican establishment (Cleta Mitchell), publicity-seeking (Rudy Giuliani), deranged (Powell), conspiracist (Wood) to far right ideological (Eastman and Ellis). Karl reported that no less than William Barr, Trump’s previous Attorney General, told Trump his legal team was a “clown show”.

To one degree or another, all violated their ethical duty of candor to the tribunal by spreading a false narrative on behalf of Trump. Some like Eastman and Ellis furthered a conspiracy to interfere with the electoral vote count. In California, the States United Democracy Center, a non-partisan organization advancing free, fair and secure elections, has requested an investigation of whether Eastman violated California’s Rules of Professional Conduct. I am unaware of any proceedings against Ellis or Clark.

The Trump lawyers, especially those most involved in the coup attempt should face discipline up to and including disbarment. Being a hired gun should not mean you get a pass on conspiring to kill democracy.

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