Posts Tagged With: civil rights

FROM SLAVERY TO FERGUSON AND BEYOND

To better understand the tumultuous riots taking place in many American cities due to the recent killings of young black men by white cops, one needs to go back in time, to almost 400 years ago, and the beginnings of slavery in the Americas. Because what happened in Ferguson, and Staten Island, and Cleveland, (where the black victim was only 12) can be directly linked to decisions and actions initiated by by our earliest settlers in North America. Historians place the origins of slavery in the North American territories as beginning in 1619, or not long after the first pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It was the discovery of tobacco in Virginia and Kentucky, and what a valuable commodity it turned out to be, especially for export back to England and the rest of Europe, that set the whole process in motion. That’s when people of European descent, whose skin color was pinkish-beige, decided that great profit could be gained by enslaving people of African descent, whose skin color was ebony-toned, to grow and harvest this commodity. Free labor enabled those early settlers to charge rock bottom prices for tobacco and still make a handsome profit. Huge profit was also made by ship owners willing to sail to Africa and round up defenseless natives and return them to the Americas for sale at auctions. If some potential slaves died during the voyage back, due to being confined in the most squalid and filthiest quarters, and thereby contracting various diseases, well, that was just part of the cost of doing business. Charge it off to overhead.

With the discovery of the cotton gin, early in the 18th century, growing and marketing cotton turned out to be an even more profitable venture than tobacco, and the demand for slave labor increased significantly. Cotton was largely grown on Southern plantations where the weather was almost always hot an humid, similar to conditions in Africa. The slave trade mushroomed, and would not be discontinued until the early 19th century. By then there were so many millions of slaves in the U.S., that there was little need to import any more from Africa. Slaves on the cotton plantations usually worked from sun-up to sundown, at least 6 days a week. They were housed in tiny shacks with dirt floors, and fed barely edible slop that no plantation owner would allow his wife to put on his own dinner table. Their work in the hot, humid cotton fields was usually overseen by a white foreman, who would not spare the whip if he felt they weren’t working hard enough. They could be shot and slaughtered like cattle, if they somehow displeased the foreman or plantation owner, with no legal consequences. So if you ever wonder why there is still so much residual anger among so many black citizens, you might give a thought back to those wondrous days of yesteryear, when slavery was in full bloom.

And it didn’t just exist in the United States. England had a thriving slave market for working the sugar plantations on British colonies in the Americas, such as in Jamaica and British Honduras, (known today as Belize.) Finally, toward the middle of the 19th century, movements began forming in this country, that denounced the practice of slavery as being so morally reprehensible, that it must be totally abolished. The Abolitionist movement began growing in strength, and it resulted in the nullification of slavery in all Northern states. But the South refused to budge on this issue; and it was backed up by our Supreme Court in the infamous Dredd Scott decision in the 1850s, which ruled that the practice of slavery was permitted by the state’s rights clause of our constitution. We all know what ensued after that. The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 resulted in a massive Civil War between the North and South with hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides. The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Lincoln in 1862, and later codified by passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 finally freed blacks from the horrors and degradation of slavery forever in this country, after almost 250 years. But did it really? Well, not so much, as we shall see.

Lincoln made one fatal mistake, regarding this issue when he decided to run for re-election in 1864. He picked as his Vice-Presidential running mate, a Senator from Tennessee named Andrew Johnson. This man was a racial bigot in every conceivable way; but Lincoln chose him because he was one of the few prominent Southerners who opposed the South from seceding from the Union. Remember that Lincoln’s primary objective was to hold the Union together, and the abolition of slavery was secondary. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Johnson, of course, ascended to the Presidency. Under Johnson’s regime, white Southern politicians were allowed to establish a series of race-based segregation laws known as Jim Crowism. Schools, factories, restaurants, lunch-counters, housing, public bathrooms and water fountains, etc. were all strictly segregated. Poll taxes and other discriminatory laws made it virtually impossible for blacks to vote in national or local elections. If any “uppity” black person sought to challenge these laws and customs, the was always the Ku Klux Klan to act as enforcers, usually through public lynchings. Because he had allowed all this to transpire, the House approved articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson; but the Senate, by one vote, refused to convict and remove him from office. Hence, blacks in the U.S., if not technically enchained by formal slavery, were forced to live in a state of semi-slavery, or Jim Crowism,  for the next 100 years.

It wasn’t until the tumultuous 1960s that massive protests against Jim Cow laws and customs began to take place. In the 1950s that the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision, finally outlawed segregated schools. But schools did, in in fact remain mostly segregated, until the 1960s; when led by a young Reverend out of Alabama named Martin Luther King, passive resistance and peaceful protest marches against Jim Crow laws and customs began occurring. King had actually adopted the passive resistance methods used by Ghandi to free India from British shackles in the 1940s. After huge peaceful and sometimes violent demonstrations during the 1960s the walls of segregation and Jim Crowism finally began to come tumbling down. Civil rights legislation was passed affecting voting rights, employment and housing practices, and many other areas where blacks had been denied equal opportunities by Jim Crow. The President pushing for these civil rights for blacks was, ironically, another Southerner named Johnson. This time it was Lyndon Johnson from Texas. So it seemed that blacks were on their way to achieving the same equal rights and opportunities as whites and other minorities. Somewhere along the way, however, it didn’t quite turn out that way.

Because of 350 years of slavery and semi-slavery, most blacks were ill-prepared to mesh seamlessly into a mostly-white dominated society. Today, inner-city slums that are rife with drugs, prostitution, and crime are almost totally populated by the black and Latino communities. Black household income is, on the average, 40% lower than comparable white households. Blacks, although comprising about 12% of the U.S.population, make up about 38% of the U.S. prison population.Unemployment for young black men is more than double what is for young white men. Black on black crime, especially in the inner cities, is at horrific levels. I believe that all the anger and rage emanating from the white police killings of black men has a lot to do with the feelings that many blacks have of being second class citizens. They’re fed up and refuse to take it any longer.

The election of a black President in 2008 was supposed to have healed most racial wounds and scars that have occurred over the past 400 years. Instead race relations in this country have been frozen into prior and current recriminations. Since Barack Obama was elected, there has been a steady stream of invective and vitriol hurled on a daily basis at the first black President and the first black Attorney-General of the U.S. by the right-wing of the Republican Party. Rush Limbaugh, on talk radio that I wrote about previously, bellowed on his program that “I WANT HIM TO FAIL” before Obama was actually sworn into office. Now, who could possibly infer that there has been anything racist going on.

I won’t pass judgement on the Grand Jury findings in the cases of the 3 killings of black men by white police. Except to say that I’m still naive enough to believe that all the evidence was carefully weighed, without racial bias, in reaching their conclusions not to prosecute the individual cops. I could be wrong. But in any case, if you’re ever stopped by the police for anything, whether you’re white or black, no matter how wrong you think it is, never, ever resist arrest. If, in fact, the police did make a wrongful arrest, you can always hire a lawyer after, and sue their asses off.

 

 

 

 

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FAKING SINCERITY

To appreciate the full ramifications of the Republican sweep of last Tuesday’s election, one has to explore various and complicated aspects of the human condition.  For example, as I wrote previously, the election results in most cases were decided by the people who didn’t vote, versus those that did. About 45% of eligible voters did cast their ballots, which is actually slightly higher than most off-year elections. But a solid majority of eligibles couldn’t be bothered to show up at the ballot station, or couldn’t care less about who won. Supposedly, most of those that did vote were turned off by Obama Administration and Democratic ineptitude and failures, and that prompted a fairly strong turn-out for the Republican cause. This was best illustrated in the state of Virginia, where Democratic Senator Mark Warner was supposed to have coasted to an easy re-election win over a Republican hack named Ed Gillespie. Instead the election was a nail-biter through the entire evening with Gillespie leading most of the time. Warner finally edged out a win by the skin of his teeth in the early morning hours. The reason for Warner’s near loss- people in southern Virginia were motivated to turn out in heavy numbers to vote Republican as a protest against Obama; while Democratic strongholds in northern Virginia saw meager numbers of voters at the polling booths. Ironically, people that benefit most from Government assistance, such as the poor, the sick, and the unemployed, tend to vote in light numbers, while those opposed to Government redistribution vote much more heavily. Also, young voters who generally are more liberal tend not to show up at the polls, while oldsters, like myself, who are usually more conservative, will vote in heavier numbers, even in off-year elections. What else do they have to do with their time.

Then, there’s the way candidates appeal to the voting public, as a crucial factor. In 1946, both Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon had returned home from fighting in WWII, and both were elected to Congress that year. In Kennedy’s case, it was part of family tradition to run for high public office. But in Nixon’s case, no political aspirations were initially in evidence. Not until a group of wealthy businessmen from southern California approached him, and said they liked his style and that he should consider entering the political arena. They, the businessmen, would provide the necessary financial support for such an effort. Nixon was grilled on variety of issues to ensure that his views were sufficiently conservative to suit the businessmen’s interests. But most of all, Nixon was told, to become a viable candidate, he had to appear thoroughly sincere in belief of the issues he would be promoting. “Well, hell,” replied Nixon. “I can fake that; at least as well as the next guy, if not better.” Since I wasn’t at that meeting, perhaps the exchange of verbiage didn’t go down in exactly those words. But I’m pretty sure that it was very close to that. Nixon was so good at faking his sincerity, that he would go on to be elected Congressman and then Senator from California. Next he was chosen to be Eisenhower’s running mate in the 1950s. From there, after some political setbacks, Nixon was elected to the Presidency in 1968. He made huge accomplishments as President; but was eventually done in and disgraced by his own paranoia during the Watergate scandal, which forced him to resign the Presidency. Faking the sincerity factor no longer worked for him.

Another good example of the fickleness of the average American’s political thought-proceesses also occurred during the tumultuous 1960s. In 1968, America had already been devastated by the assassinations of two leaders of monumental consequence, namely, John Kennedy and Martin Luther King. In 1968, Robert Kennedy, affectionately known to his supporters as Bobby, decided to enter the fray for the Democratic nomination for President. He had been Attorney-General in his brother’s administration, and then was elected Senator from New York. Possessing much of his brother’s charisma, he generated huge popularity and seemed well on his way to securing the the Democratic nomination, when he too was assassinated in June of that year. It was a shattering loss for most Americans. I remember writing at the time that no nation, not even one as powerful as the U.S., could sustain such devastating losses in leadership without going into a tailspin. Hubert Humphrey, a decent enough Senator from Minnesota would go on to obtain the Democrat nomination while Richard Nixon was the GOP nominee. But there was a third player in that year’s election.

His name was George Wallace, and he was the racist Governor of Alabama. In 1968, segregation and Jim Crow laws were still alive and well throughout the South. Wallace decided to run as an independent in the Presidential race that year, figuring that he had as good a shot as the main-stream party candidates. So, who was George Wallace? Five years previously, he had declared, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” That racist statement occurred when Wallace stood in the school house door to block black students from entering the University of Alabama, as had been decreed by the courts.  He eventually was forced to back down by an edict from then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who had to federalize National Guard troops to provide protection for those black students. But that wasn’t the most interesting part of that 1968 scenario.

The most interesting part was that the very  people that had actively supported and voted for Bobby Kennedy in the Democratic primaries, were now turning out in huge numbers to listen to, and support George Wallace on the campaign trail after Kennedy’s assassination. Even though you couldn’t have two politicians who were more diametrically opposed to each other. Kennedy was a liberal who was for civil rights, and strongly opposed segregation and Jim Crowism. He was opposed to the war in Viet-Nam and promised disengagement if elected. He vigorously favored Government intervention to help the plight of the poor and sick. Wallace was just the opposite. He was not only a strict segregationist, but he was also one of the few public supporters of the Viet-Nam war. He couldn’t care less about reducing poverty, as noted by the fact that Alabama was the second poorest state in the union, with Mississippi being dead last. And yet many of the same people who were enthusiastic about Bobby, became similarly enthusiastic about Wallace.

How does one account for that? It’s the sincerity factor. When questioned about this supposed anomaly, voters were unapologetic. Bobby was a good man because he wasn’t talking out of both sides of his mouth, said one man. Now, Wallace is the only guy who means what he says and isn’t trying to please everyone at the same time. One woman added that “they say what they mean and they don’t try to beat around the bush.” So, in the end, it’s not about ideology. It’s about which candidate can sell the public on the fact that they are the authentic, real-deal. After all, politics is a game of salesmanship. The one that can best fake sincerity will usually rise to the top.

 

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SECURITY VS. PARANOIA

Once again the denizens of both left-wing and right-wing looney-tunesville have teamed up in an unholy alliance that has resulted in a mindless chorus of howls of protest. This time the kerfuffle seems to be over the National Security Agency’s ability to listen in on phone calls or intercept e-mails or texts sent my both Americans and foreigners, in an attempt to uncover terrorist plots. The left sees black helicopters swooping overhead ready to discharge deadly missiles upon their residences, while the right sees tanks rolling down their streets ready to confiscate their guns and ship their asses off to concentration camps. Or is it the other way around. Hard to keep up with the latest thinking projections coming out of looney-tunesville. But first a little background.

The Department of Defense has several intelligence agencies which include (but are not limited to) the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and separate Army, Navy and Air Force intelligence agencies. There is of course also the CIA, which is technically not part of Defense, although it gets its funding from DOD. By far, the largest of these intelligence agencies is NSA, which is housed in a building the size of a squared city block, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington,D.C. NSA has recently built a second facility, about the same size, out West, in Utah or Idaho, I believe. Most of NSA’s data gathering is accomplished through electronic eavesdropping, although a smaller portion is obtained through human resources, or HUMINT, as the NSAers would say. The latest computer technology allows NSA to gather massive amounts of intelligence sent via electronic means, and then process all this data through its enormous computer capability. The idea is to uncover bits of communications that might disclose a terrorist plot in the making, or imminent terror actions about to be undertaken. NSA has always done this. The only difference these days is that technological advances have enabled NSA to accomplish this on a much larger scale.

Many years ago, when I worked for the Pentagon, I was among the first group of DOD auditors that were given special intelligence security clearances, and told to go audit the DOD intelligence community. This included NSA, DIA, and the Service intelligence agencies, all of whom were used to getting rubber-stamped approval for all their budget requests, with no one looking over their shoulders to see how the money was being spent. As can be expected in such situations, we uncovered massive amounts of wasteful spending, useless acquisitions, and unnecessary duplication. The amounts of waste we reported on ran into the billions. (That’s when billions were still considered significant. Now, “it don’t mean a thing” unless you’re talking trillions.) What we DID NOT find, however, was a single instance of where any of the intelligence agencies were abusing the rights and privileges of any American citizens, or anyone else for that matter.

One must keep in mind that there are a considerable number of some very nasty people all over the world that are plotting, every minute of every day, to do serious harm to the U.S. and its allies. This includes getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction that, when used by terrorists, could result in casualties numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, if not more. If all the NSA or other intelligence agencies snooping can prevent just one of these events, all the money and effort that went into uncovering such a plot would be well worth it. I feel certain that such intelligence efforts have prevented these types of plots from occurring in actuality. Unfortunately, security concerns prevent their public disclosure.

Thus, if NSA electronic eavesdropping comes across certain texts between Fred Waternobby and his wife, in Ames Iowa, I fail to see where any harm is done. Fred may have texted his wife, one Friday, that instead of coming straight home from work, he’s going out for a couple of beers with the boys. Which is fine with Mrs. Waternobby, because she has to take their daughter to her soccer game anyway. Which is only fair, because Fred had to previously endure their son’s little league baseball game. Can you imagine if, instead of computers processing this data, some poor intelligence analyst to to read through all this rubbish every day. Guaranteed, he’d but a bullet in his brain before the first day was over. It’s all but certain that 99.9% of all communications processed by NSA are of a similar nature. But that one-tenth of one-percent that NSA may be lucky enough to pick up on, could dramatically save lives and prevent devastation.

Nevertheless, as I’ve said, such considerations never seem to enter brain cells of right-wing tea partyers, or left-wing ACLU lawyers. After all, one must never violate the purity of people’s individual rights. No matter that they have been violated out of necessity, almost from the time the Constitution was put to paper. Of course, in the case of the right-wing whackos, it’s just another pretext to bash Obama. Had this been occurring under a Republican president, as it had under George W. Bush, there would be much less objection, if any at all. Thus, the tea-party thinking is that lets pile this NSA surveillance “scandal” on to all the other issues being used to attack the Obama administration. What’s more important- keeping us safe or getting revenge against Obama for winning the election. On the other hand, the far left will never come out of their delusional ivory tower concerning the purity of civil rights. Even if it means enduring another 9/11 or Boston marathon terrorist attack. Even though NSA is merely doing what they’ve always been doing, only on a more massive scale due to enhanced technology.

All of this further illustrates that the far right and far left, are, in the end, blood brothers. Their common genetic inheritance is living in a continual state of delusion, from which they can never emerge.

 

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VOTING RIGHTS

The essence, and entire premise of democracy in this country is, majority rules. Yes, we have a constitution that spells forth certain basic rights that cannot be denied by a majority of the people. Such as freedom of speech and press, or the right to due process if criminally accused. Of course, these basic human rights have often been infringed on from time to time. It’s all in the way the constitution is interpreted. But outside the enumerated basic rights that are constitutionally mandated, the machinery of government functions on the basis of majority rule. And that rule is determined through the process of voting. We go to the polls and our vote establishes who goes to Congress or sits in the Oval Office. Majority voters determine who will be handed the responsibilities to make the government function or dysfunction, as the case may be. (These days, it’s primarily dysfunction.) But what if that vote can be illegally manipulated or otherwise distorted so, in essence, it doesn’t represent the will of the people. Then the basic political foundations of democracy in this country are made a mockery of. Unfortunately, such has been the case for too many times throughout our history.

All this came to mind because of a current case being presented before the Supreme Court, relating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Certain southern states are suing to have parts of this Act overturned. First a little background. After slavery ended through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th Amendment, virtually all southern states established a series of racist Jim Crow laws. These laws established strict segregation laws between whites and blacks in all public venues, including public schools for children. In addition, since most southern states had large black populations, the white establishment wanted to assure that blacks were denied any influence at the polls when voting for political candidates. So most southern states established the poll tax, whereby it would cost an individual money if he wanted to vote. (Women, at that time in history, had no voting rights.) The poll tax could be as small as $10-$25, or perhaps as much as $50-$100, but it didn’t matter. Most blacks, especially in the south, were dirt poor at the time. So given the choice for a poor black laborer of paying for the right to vote or using that money to put food on the table for his family, the decision was easy. Besides, the white establishment would always find a way to rig the election, with or without black voting. Such was the thinking and reality in those days.

Thus, 150 years of slavery in this country was followed by another 100 years of semi-slavery, known as Jim Crowism. Which, by the way, also existed in many parts of the north. Things finally came to a head in the early 1960s with the great civil rights marches and demonstrations, often led by Martin Luther King. In 1965, under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson, Congress, with strong bi-partisan support, passed the Voting Rights Act which banned the existence of poll taxes, or any other form of discrimination, concerning the right to vote. (In those days, there were many in the Republican Party that actually worked for the good of the people, instead of catering to looney-tunes, crackpot, fringe elements.) In any event, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turned out to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history. Almost immediately after passage, large numbers of black voters were added to the enrollment columns. Today, black voter enrollment is on a par, or even exceeds white registration throughout the south.

Part of the 1965 Act requires southern and even a few northern states to obtain prior approval of the Dept. of Justice for any changes they seek to make in voting procedures. Hence, southern states are suing the federal government to have these provisions declared unconstitutional. They argue that the days of the poll tax, or any other form of racial bias in voting, has long been swept away. They point to black state legislators, and Congressional representatives that have been elected throughout the south. Which is all very true. So the early indication is that the Supreme Court will buy their arguments and rule in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that unscrupulous individuals throughout the entire country are not plotting and scheming to manipulate the voting process for their partisan purposes. And unfortunately, most of this scheming is taking place under Republican auspices.

Florida is a good example in the election we just held this past November. Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Republican State Secretary, went on a frenzied binge in the weeks before the election, to remove registered voters from the eligibility rolls, on the basis that these people were really not citizens of Florida. Tens of thousands of eligible voters were thus denied access to the voting booth. The trouble is, that virtually all those removed were poor, or low -income individuals that normally vote Democratic. Despite this blatant manipulation, Obama carried Florida by a narrow margin, which is a minor miracle in itself. Another attempt to put a damper on Democratic turnout in upcoming elections, are laws requiring picture ID that have been passed in many states that the GOP controls. Millions of people don’t drive and, thus, have no driver’s license. Thus no voter ID. (My driver’s license is the only picture ID that I own.) And, of course, those without driver’s licenses tend to be on the low-end of the economic totem pole, and, again, more likely to vote Democratic. A good example is Indiana which Obama carried in 2008. Then a Republican Governor working with a Republican legislature passed a picture ID requirement for voter eligibility. And Obama then lost this state in 2012.

Of course, the biggest fiasco to the election process, and which makes a mockery of the entire concept of democracy in this country is the Electoral College. This body of unknown individuals determine who will be declared the presidential winner in each race. As Al Gore found out in the election of 2000 when he won the popular vote but was still denied the presidency. It came down to several hundred votes in, again, the state of Florida. A Republican Secretary of State refused to allow the recount of thousands of disputed votes which could have swung the election to the Democrat. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court agreed with her and Al Gore was left to whistle dixie.

Now, GOP strategists are plotting to enact new laws, especially in the so-called swing states, that will award electoral votes on the basis of county election results. Since most counties in this country consist of thinly populated small towns, and always vote Republican, it would give the GOP a lock on the White House. Democrats win by carrying the much fewer heavily populated counties that usually contain major cities. If Republicans can pull this one off, it will truly destroy any semblance of a democratic process in this country. Even without a poll tax.

As I’ve said previously, a monarchy form of government is beginning to look better all the time.

 

 

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