FLOTSAM & JETSAM

Monday, August 19, 2019

Beimg a cop is more than being a tough guy

Sam Smith - An interesting view expressed by the NYC police commissioner in talking about the Eric Garner case was that if he had been a cop, rather than commissioner, he would have reacted differently.

This is precisely the problem with policing that is largely ignored as 5000 civilians were killed by cops in the past five years. A police officer should have the same standards of a police commissioner.  Being a streeet cop doesn't give you the right to ignore the law.

I have long noted this problem, in part because as a Coast Guard officer at the Second District headquarters, I was impressed by the fact that the chief legal officer, a lieutenant commander, said that any Coast Guardsman who wanted to talk to him about legal matters was welcomed in his office. In other words, he quietly helped raise their understanding of the law to a level not normally available. A similar service could be provided to police precincts by local district attorneys and, on another level, by social workers. The idea would be to raise the view of police officers of their role as something more than tough guys with guns.

The capacity to deal with more sophisticated matters than mere force would make police officers both wiser and less dangerous. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The part of the civil war that continues

Sam Smith - As I've argued before, Donald Trump's politics are remarkably similar to that of the southen Dixiecrats in the era before the civil right movement. Just as in the old South, he is trying to convince lower income whites their real problem is blacks and immigrants rather than the new plantation owners aka corporate executives.

Further, Trump won every formerly confederate state except for Virignia when he ran for president and our regular accounting of objective rankings of states finds every confederate state other than Virginia and Florida to be among the lowest 15 ranked states.

As noted here before, the Civil War ended slavery and secession but not an awful lot else.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The election so far

Sam Smith - Biden and Sanders are the two candidates who show, in national polls, that they would beat Trump

Trump's average favorable ratings are unchanged since April.

The most popular candidates among Democrats are Biden who has a 29 point recent average and Sanders who has a 17 point recent one.

Biden leads other Democrats in non-blue states such as Nevada, Mississippi, Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina

Democrats who lead against Trump:
  • Biden in Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, North Carolina, South Carolina 
  • Sanders in Wisconsin, Florida North Carolina
The Democratic debates have been strange and not all that helpful. For example, some issues, like foreign policy, have been largely ignored. The candidates actual achievements had not attracted any attention, thus downplaying the real life experience of former governors and mayors. 

Also the health care debate was not really about philosophy or ideals, but about the sort of tactical differences you would expect to hear in Congress before a vote on something. My own tactical suggestion as a next step towards healthcare for all: lower Medicare age to 55 and have a public option for the rest.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

What Washington isn't talking about

Sam Smith - The one thing that Robert Mueller, Donald Trump, the Justice Department, Congress, the media and elite Washington implicitly agree upon (although some may not realize it) is that the President can commit any crime - including murder, rape and pedophilia - and be subject to no punishment other than removal of office - and that only if the Senate is controlled by  the party in opposition to the White  House. Mueller says the president can be charged with obstruction of justice after he leaves office but by then the damage is done. This is a pretty  good description of a dictatorship. This is a pretty  good description of a dictatorship.

Monday, July 15, 2019

If the Democrats lose to Trump, here are a few reasons why

Sam Smith - While the media and public follow political changes in our society, cultural changes take a back seat. This is unfortunate because often political change is the result of things happening in  our culture.

For example, when I started covering Washington in the late 1950s, over half the reporters in the country only had a high school degree. How did this fact affect journalism in general? A more natural relationship to lower working class Americans and their concerns.

Last year the Washington Times ran a story that showed another cultural shift:
According to a Pew Research Center poll released this week, Democrats are now the party of college graduates, especially those with post-graduate work. Meanwhile, people with a high-school degree or less, by far the larger group, slightly lean toward Republicans.

According to Pew, 54 percent of college graduates either identified as Democrats or leaned Democratic, compared to 39 percent who identified or leaned Republican. One-third of Americans have a college degree.Just 25 years ago, those numbers were perfectly reversed in the Pew survey, with the GOP holding a 54-39 advantage among people with college degrees
 In other words, an increasingly well educated Democratic Party had lost the support of a class of people that helped to define it during the New Deal and Great Society. It is small surprise that the last truly liberal administration - the Johnson years - started over a half century ago.

Key to this sihft - and hardly mentioned today - was the decline of labor unions. Aside from being an organizing tool, these unions were also importnat educational institutions. If we had strong unions today, the Trump con would have a much harder time being believed by working class Americans.

In 1960 about 30% of workers belonged to unions. By 2012 that was down to 11.3% (0r 6.6.% for private sector workers). In other words almost two thirds of union workers had lost their labor mentors. The now much better educated Democrats have paid little attention to this and the Republican right filled the gap.

Of course, it's quite possible for the well educated to work with high school grads, but it has to be seen as desirable by both and in a climate of increasing class distinction becomes less likely. One result: the common assessment of liberals as "elitists."

As a Harvard graduate who was introduced to politics in Philadelphia as a 12 year old stuffing envelopes around union guys, and who later was involved in the civil rights movement and edited a newspaper in a poorer part of town, I know this is not a matter of politics or ideology. It is the result of experience, culture and inclination. You just have to care what people who aren't like you worry about.

This tendency has weakened in no small part due to cultural reasons, one of the classic ones being that the Internet has encouraged us to deal primarily with those like ourselves.  This limited approach can also be seen in identity culture which ignores the possibility that one's own identity can be strengthened by building natural alliances with people not like you. As one of six children I learned early that others were different from me and from each other. and if you were only one-sixth of the total you needed some friends and allies.

And what brings us together: common interests and common causes.About a decade ago I described in an interview one way I had been involved in doing this back in the 1990s:
.We had a conference here in Washington, in which we invited members of, I think it was something like fifteen third parties, state or local or national. We had Libertarians there and we had Perot people there.  I think 120 people come to this conference from all over the country, and here's what our game was.  We were going to try to find consensus on a bunch of issues.   

Now mind you, we had a group that ran from the old leftist from the 1930s, all the way to the Libertarians and the Perot people.  We came up with seventeen points of agreement, using some very, very simple principles.  One was that we were in that room not to talk about the things we disagreed with each other on, but to find the things we agreed upon.  One of the Libertarians came up to me and said. "You know, we're going to have to fight you on healthcare, so maybe you don't want us here any more." I said, "No stick around, we'll find some things to agree about."
We sat around at different tables that each took different issue areas.  And the way we did it, we had a board on which we would list the ideas people proposed. And then you each had three stickers, and you'd get up and you'd put your three stickers with your nameon it all on one, or one on three, or two on one and one on another, and it was sort of fun because everybody got out of the normal political mode.

If you got all through this and you had,say, ten or twelve issues that had a lot of stickers on them; there were also  some that only had one. You could go up and you could get your sticker from the one that only had one on it and move it to some place else.  At every table we came up pretty much with a consensus on a number of issues.

We also had a fishbowl negotiation.  Where there was a problem, these ten tables would appoint someone to go bea  negotiator.  And then we would sit behind the person who was our negotiator, and if we didn't like what that person did we'd call a timeout and then we'd negotiate with our negotiator. 
 I'd never seen anything like this.  This wasn't my idea.  This was all new to me.  I came up with the sticker idea; that was my only contribution to the thing.  At the end of the day we came up with seventeen points of agreement.  
What if blacks, latinos, women, labor union members and others came together and discovered what they agreed upon and put it out as a political declaration of a new coalition?  It wouldn't damage their identities in the slightest, but would create a major force of common interest. And that coalition, far more than anything that is happening now, could change the course of the election as well as improving its relations with each other. .

The Democrats have a fine collection of candidates but this isn't a political Apprentice show,. It's about creating a forceful projection of what would happen no matter who was elected. It's about changing the lives of millions of Americans. And convincing them, as the Democrats have been so often unable to do this past half ceenury, that they have the force and support to do it. 



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Sunday, July 07, 2019

A few things to keep in mind

Sam Smith

Politics is not religion. You're not proving how virtuous you are. You are finding the best Demcorat who can beat Trump.

If you are a liberal you represent only 26% of the voting population. To win, you have to find someone who can attract support from the rest. Check who's doing the best in non-blue states.

National politicians are not activists, they're reactivists. You're not choosing the best candidate, but the best battlefield.

Liberals are considered elitists by much of the country. One way to deal with this is to concentrate on issues that affect the most number of voters, such as basic economic ones.


Thursday, June 20, 2019

Who really won the Civil War?

As long as some have become newly interested in slavery reparations, who Joe Biden's friends were fifty years ago and so forth, this article might be useful. My own view (shared by many psychiatrists) is don't refight the past; take on the present and the future. The former may have deeply impacted the latter, but it's the present and future we can change. For example, as mentioned below,  Lyndon Johnson's past would have in no way predicted what he did for civil rights. 

And incidentally, Biden's former pal Strom Thurmond actually had a black daughter. As someone said at the time - not sure it was about Thurmond: "Oh he's just one of those sun up to sun down segregationists"

Sam Smith, 2011- The 150th anniversary for the Civil War will be heavily commemorated over the next four years, but one question will probably not be seriously asked: who really won?

We tend to view wars in the isolation of their military events. By such a standard, there is no doubt the North won. But what about the social, cultural and economic aftermath?

For example, while the Civil War ended slavery, it would take more than a hundred years to begin enforcing effectively the equality that was presumed to result in its wake.

Right into the present the South enjoys a disproportionate influence on our politics and values. When was the last time you saw a politician afraid of what New England might think?

Further, the increasingly hegemonic structure of our business, political and cultural life has far more in common with the southern past than with that of the anarchistic old west or more democratic early Northeast.

I'm a southerner by birth - yes, Washington was once clearly part of the South while also being a door into the north - and I was long aware of what was at times an almost triumphal southern influence over the capital and, by consequence, the rest of the nation. After all, one key reason DC is still effectively a colony of the U.S. is because powerful southerners long made sure that the city's black population would remain under their control.

I recall, as a young reporter, northern friends coming to work on Capitol Hill and beginning to pick up a southern accent just by being there. It eventually took a southerner - Lyndon Johnson - to substantially change that culture through civil rights and other legislation.

But traditional southern values still strongly affect our economic and military policy. We wouldn't, for example, be anywhere near as warlike were it not for southern culture.

But none of this gets discussed because we judge military triumphs on such a narrow basis, despite there being much more to it all.

Which is why we still negotiating with the North Koreans and why the Germany economy did so well after World War Ii.

If there is any moral that should be drawn from the commemoration of the Civil War - but almost certainly won't be - it is this: just because your troops win doesn't mean that you did.



 

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Impeachment: The Senate majority wouldn't be allowed on a normal jury

Sam Smith - As noted here before, Donald Trump could murder one or more people and, according to the Department of Justice and much of the media, nothing could be done about it except to have him impeached for which even conviction would only amount to loss of office.

But it becomes even more absurd when you realize that the judgement - as opposed to merely impeachment - would be carried out by a majority clearly in the pocket of the accused. Any sane judge would not allow, say, Mitch McConnell on the jury in a case where he was as deeply involved with the accused. In other words, as long as the president has a majority in the Senate he can get away with all sorts of stuff. The Justice Department has implicitly argued that Trump is actually a dictator about whom we can do little.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Diversity is more than two

Sam Smith - One of the reasons it's so hard for America to come together these days is that we have increasingly divided the nation into twos: black and white, male and female, old and young, rich and poor, socialist and capitalist. One of the few exceptions is LGBT+ - a bizarrely bureaucratic phrase, to be sure, but one encompassing the varieties of alternative sex.

Ironically a lot of this bifurcation is done on the premise that it is helping to reduce racism, sexism and so forth. In fact, the more you minimize the complexity of groups, the more the results become cliches. including highly derogatory ones that work counter to the presumed goal.

For example, applying the term "white privilege" to all whites ignores the fact that there are more poor whites than there are blacks in total and that applying the term, say to a mine worker or a car builder is not likely to help your cause.

And, as noted here before, Barack Obama is almost universally described as our first black president yet, in fact, spent less time with a black parent than he did at Harvard Law School. What is rarely noticed is that one reason Obama may be as popular as he's been is because he understood  both cultures and the complexities in their relationship.

In fact, Obama, as a child of an interracial couple, reflects 17% of all marriages today and 10% of all married folk. Back in 1967 only 3% of marriages were cross-cultural.

Further, while strong  identity may have considerable psychological and cultural value, it can work against one's political goals for the simple reason that if you don't represent a majority you have to find allies. Finding issues that one shares with others won't damage your self-identity; it will in fact improve the view of that identity in the minds of those with whom one works. This has been perhaps most strongly exemplified in the past by groups like the Irish and Jews who learned that one of the best ways to advance is for a minority to lead the majority - as, for example, Martin Luther King Jr did so effectively.

In reaching this goal, it helps to educate both children and adults in the true complexities of various cultures. If, for example, you teach kids about the varieties of history and culture within blackness, they will be less likely to reduce it all to a cliche.If the media would stop oversimplifying it to an either/or matter, adults would be helped as well. For example, the media might admit that our society is partly socialist already and we're not about to dump our public fire departments.

i learned about cultural complexity as one of six kids with the same last name and skin color but different in many other respects. I like to tell the tale about having my older brother - then energy secretary of Puerto Rico - working to build an oil port there at the same time that my youngest sister was fighting one in Maine.

And living in DC where, for five decades, we whites were in the minority. skin color didn't hold a candle to neighborhood, job, politics, education, achievements and so forth. After all, in many elections you had to choose between two or more black candidates. You learned to replace race with a name and a record.

According to the latest projections, America will become like DC in a couple of decades. Whites will be in the minority. The best way to handle this is to stop dividing American into twos. And for the media to report the true complexity of our various demographic groups instead of quietly supporting the damaging cliches about them. And let's stop treating cultural diversity as a two sided coin rather than countless variety. After all, the more true diversity we recognize, the more likely we will find something in common.


Saturday, June 08, 2019

Politicians aren't our saviors, just slow students

Sam Smith - Having been introduced to politics in Philadelphia and Boston, it has never occurred to me that politicians would be our saviors. Even at its best, politics is the final high hill that advocates of change have to climb in  order to reach their goals.

The recent criticism of Joe Biden changing his view on the Hyde Amendment is an example of how we have come to ignore this reality and, instead often act as though we were judging politicians by whether we should accept them into our private club of the virtuous. I prefer looking at such politicians more as a teacher would a poor student - and praising them if they finally get a topic right.

A few months back, I mentioned the example of Lyndon Johnson - who got more good legislation passed than any president since Franklin Roosevelt, yet as Barack Obama pointed out:

During his first 20 years in Congress, he opposed every civil rights bill that came up for a vote, once calling the push for federal legislation “a farce and a sham.”  He was chosen as a vice presidential nominee in part because of his affinity with, and ability to deliver, that Southern white vote.  And at the beginning of the Kennedy administration, he shared with President Kennedy a caution towards racial controversy. 
Politics - especially national politics - is not the cause of positive change; it is the result of it. One need look no further than the recent changes in drug policy that sane folks have been pushing for almost a half century, to realize that at no time did politicians take the lead on the cause; they just eventually caved. They weren't activists, but reactivists.

The goal of the real changers - those who have pressed issues like the environment or abortion or civil rights - has been to create a political and social climate where it is attractive to politicians to do the right thing.  This is precisely what women have done with Joe Biden in the case of the Hyde Amendment.  

Biden is not my favorite candidate for President by a long shot. But given my views, my favorites likely can't win because the country isn't ready. Right now Biden is the candidate with leading strength in non-blue states and I would rather join fights with him as president than suffer another four years of the misery we currently experience. Remember: we are choosing a battlefield and not a savior.

Could this all change? Sure. Am I supporting Biden? No, but I am also not going to knock him for changing his position on something for the better.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

What Mueller and the Justice Department are telling us

According to rules laid out by Robert Mueller and the Justice Department, President Trump could murder several people in the White House and not be arrested, let alone convicted, as a result. We would just have to wait until the House and the Senate decide to impeach and convict him. And his only belated punishment would be removal from office. Not only that, the Vice President and all civil officers of the United States could do the same and we would still have to wait on impeachment. Pu another way, law no longer applies to high ranking federal officials.




Tuesday, May 21, 2019

How to handle the impeachment issue

Sam Smith - The issue is not whether to impeach or not, but how to reach a conclusion on the matter. The happy middle ground between  Nancy Pelosi and her critics would be to announce a full investigation of matters that might result in an impeachment. If the evidence is strong enough, the politics of the issue will take care of itself.

One problem is the refusal of Trump regime officials to testify before Congress. According to Wikipedia this is handled like this:
 In 1857, Congress enacted a law that made "contempt of Congress" a criminal offense against the United States.The last time Congress arrested and detained a witness was in 1935. Since then, it has instead referred cases to the United States Department of Justice.

Since then, it has instead referred cases to the United States Department of Justice.The Office of Legal Counsel has asserted that the President of the United States is protected from contempt by executive privilege.
The criminal offense of "contempt of Congress" sets the penalty at not less than one month nor more than twelve months in jail and a fine of not more than $100,000.
Following a contempt citation, the presiding officer of the chamber is instructed to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia; according to the law it is the "duty" of the U.S. Attorney to refer the matter to a grand jury for action.
The argument that the Justice Department can ignore matters of law on grounds of executive privilege, essentially gives the Presidenet and the executive branch dictatorial status. The President can not fairly enforce federal law and simulatanously be exempt from it.

The proper next step is for the House to find Don McGahn in contempt and refer the matter to the US Attorney in DC.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

National politics doesn’t invent change; it reacts to it

Sam Smith – I’m having a hard time talking about politics even with friends these days because my view of it differs dramatically from what so many think. For example, I don’t see politics as an expression of beliefs comparable to religion, but rather as a pragmatic game you have to play in order to help your ideals come to fruition. 

In more than 60 years of journalism and activism, I have learned to separate how I form my goals from how I engage in politics, not because the latter is irrelevant to the former, but because I view politics – especially national politics - as a battlefield on which one must fight in order to move goals towards acceptance by the establishment. I don’t view national politicians as mentors, saints or guardians, but as the final hassle between dreams and a better reality.  Politics – especially national politics - doesn’t invent change; it reacts to it.

And positive change rarely comes from the top until it is forced to react to popular trends. I discussed this in my book, The Great American Political Repair Manual:

In 1992 alone, the 100 largest localities pursued an estimated 1700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government between 1983 and 1991. Another example has been the drive against smoking. While the tobacco lobby ties up Washington, 750 cities and communities have passed indoor smoking laws. And then there is the Brady Bill [to control hand guns]. By the time the federal government got around to acting on it, half the states had passed similar measures.

More recently consider how important state and local government have been in passing laws related to abortion, gay rights and marijuana.

And as I argued last year in Green Horizons:

Greens not only do better at the lower levels, they actually have more power to change things. For example, although I can't prove it, I believe that twenty years of active Green politics in Maine helped to produce successes this year on several referenda including ranked choice voting (the first state to approve it), a tax on the wealthy for education, a public works bond, and an increase in the minimum wage.

There is, unfortunately, an assumption in Green and liberal Democratic circles that the federal government is the best place to get big things done. But history - including abolition and women’s right - tells us that it only typically happens after much hard work lower down.

The other factor that today’s liberals and Greens tend to ignore is the multi-cultural aspect of change. For example, I noted in the Green Horizon piece:

From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical. On the divisive issue of "reform vs. revolution," the Socialist Party from the beginning adopted a compromise formula, producing platforms calling for revolutionary change but also making "immediate demands" of a reformist nature. By World War I it had elected 70 mayors, two members of Congress, and numerous state and local officials. Milwaukee alone had three Socialist mayors in the 20th century, including Frank Zeidler who held office for 12 years ending in 1960. And Karen Kubby, Socialist councilwoman, won her re-election bid in 1992 with the highest vote total in Iowa City history.

Coalition politics requires putting issues ahead of identity. This is not a denial of identity; it is only a recognition that if fellow blacks make up only 12% of the country or fellow union members represent only 11% of the workforce, a primary political job is to find friends. They may not agree with you on all your concerns, but the mere fact you find something to work together with them about will start to lessen your differences.

We have lost this drive for coalitions for a variety of reasons including the atomization of culture thanks to the Internet and urbanization, but if it worked in the past – as in the 1960s – it can work again. You just have to find issues you can join with others on despite the fact that you don’t agree with them on everything. And you have to start at the local and,  as you move upwards in politics, don’t look for saints, but for the most electable candidates whom you can influence in a positive way. Your politics and activism are not to be judged by standards of religious virtue but by the best candidates and coalitions that offer the opportunity of further change.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Sirius XM fires distinguished black radio host


Sam Smith - In a bizarre and unexplained manner, Sirius XM laid off and then fired its distinguished black host, Mark Thompson. The action came after Thompson had been confronted by a activist with ADOS - Americans Descendants of Slavery - which actually is believed to have ties to anti-immigrant and other rightwing groups. After the ADOS activist refused to let Thompson move on, the host of Make It Plain shoved him in a manner that may have provoked the action by Sirius XM. But the radio network has declined to offer any explanation.

I have known and admired Thompson - who is also a minister- for decades and have been a repeated guest on his various talk shows. I also worked with him on a NAACP group he had formed to train DC police officers to act more responsibly in cross-ethnic situations.

Lauren, Victorial Burke, Black Press of America In a letter dated April 23, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC) wrote to Sirius XM CEO James Meyer highlighting the issue of diversity at the billion-dollar company.

"We write to express our deep concern about the lack of African American representation in the C-suite and on the board of Directors at Sirius XM Radio. In February 2019, Sirius XM announced the finalization of its acquisition of Pandora Media for $3.5 billion, forming the world's largest audio entertainment company," the letter from the Congressional Black Caucus began.

"We believe a media company of this size and reach should be much further along in ensuring diverse, equitable, and inclusive leadership and agree that Sirius XM has a great deal of work to do," the letter pointed out.

Sirius XM has recently come under pressure on social media around the issue of diversity, as Mark Thompson, who hosts the popular show "Make It Plain,'' was inexplicably taken off the air during the second week in April.

"We find your corporation's lack of diversity especially problematic given the fact that African Americans and Hispanics drive consumption among streaming services. According to Nielsen, 52% of African Americans and 45% of Hispanics drive consumption among streaming services," the Bass, Lee, Butterfield letter detailed. The letter also pointed out that their staffs met with Sirius XM officials in late January.

Policon -  Mark began his broadcast career in 1988 with Radio One, Inc. under the guidance of Cathy Hughes. His show, Make It Plain, was the first talk show to sign on XM Satellite Radio in 2001… He is the first and only African American talk host on SiriusXM Progress… .

His ministry, broadcasting and activism have taken him to Sanford, Florida, Ferguson, Missouri, Moral Monday in North Carolina-where he was arrested and jailed live on air-and even to South Africa, where he received the name, Matsimela Mapfumo, which means "firmly rooted soldier."

As a Georgetown University freshman undergrad in 1985, he organized the shanty town which led to the University's divestment from apartheid South Africa. … Also, while at Georgetown, he worked with one of his mentors, Men's Basketball Coach John Thompson, Jr., as a manager for the Hoyas. Later matriculating at the University of the District of Columbia, he was organizer and spokesperson for KIAMSHA, the 1990 eleven-day student protest and boycott, and was named one of the "100 Most Powerful People in Washington" by Regardie's magazine.

In 1993, after organizing the weekly civil disobedience on Capitol Hill that helped win the first-ever Congressional vote on DC Statehood, Mark was jailed for 20 days. Both the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition and Mark received the United Nations Association 2004 Human Rights Award…

Mark chaired the NAACP Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force for the DC Branch. In that capacity, he co-authored legislation establishing the Board and Office of Police Complaints, and facilitated the beginning of an unprecedented study on racial profiling. He also taught courses in diversity awareness and cultural sensitivity at the DC Police Academy.

Media Matters -  American Descendents of Slavery  is an obscure pro-reparations group that has been attacking prominent Black progressives who also support reparations. There is evidence that ADOS is actually advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes anti-immigrant views. Supporters of ADOS have carried out harassment campaigns against political activist, rapper, and reparations supporter Talib Kweli and against progressive radio host Mark Thompson. Thompson is in favor of reparations, but he criticized ADOS on MSNBC and got into an altercation with an ADOS supporter who was harassing him and now ADOS supporters are attempting to get him fired from his job at Sirius XM.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How to pay for public works

Now that Congress and the White House are talking about public works aka "infrastructure", it would be good to take another look at how we pay for it. Here's an approach we proposed over 20 years ago.

Sam Smith - An alternative to Congress borrowing money to pay off its debt would have been using Congress's constitutional power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof." Instead Congress began a long tradition of borrowing the money that many believe we can neither bear nor relieve ourselves from. 


In the early 19th century, the little British Channel island of Guernsey faced a smaller but similar problem. Its sea walls were crumbling. its roads were too narrow, and it was already heavily in debt. There was little employment and people were leaving for elsewhere. 


Instead of going still further into debt, the island government simply issued 4,000 pounds in state notes to start repairs on the sea walls as well as for other needed public works. More issues followed and twenty years later the island had, in effect, printed nearly 50,000 pounds. Guernsey had more than doubled its money supply without inflation.

A report of the island's States Office in June 1946 notes that island leaders frequently commented that these public works could not have been carried out without the issues, that they had been accomplished without interest costs, and that as a result "the influx of visitors was increased, commerce was stimulated, and the prosperity of the Island vastly improved." By 1943, nearly a half million pounds worth of notes belonged to the public and was so valued that much of it was being hoarded in people's homes, awaiting the island's liberation from the Germans.

About the same time that Guernsey started to fix its sea walls the town of Glasgow, Scotland, borrowed 60,000 pounds to build a fruit market. The Guernsey sea walls were repaid in ten years, the fruit market loan took 139. In the first part of the the 20th century, Glasgow paid over a quarter million pounds in interest alone on this ancient project

Monday, April 29, 2019

Six decades on the case

Sam Smith

Sixty years ago I got my first full time journalism job, working for a Washington radio station and a news service for 26 stations around the country. I covered everything from murders and fires to White House news conferences. driven in part by the assumption that given the facts, the public and its leaders would do the right thing.

For the next two decades the changes occurring in America lent support to this idea. From civil rights to getting out of Vietnam it was just a matter of working hard enough at it.

Even my own role changed. I no longer just wrote about things, I became a part of things - like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the DC anti-freeway movement. I started one of the early publications of what would become known as the underground press and brazenly turned my back on job offers from the NY Times and the Washington Post.

There were plenty of things to do. For example:

In the 1970s we published a first person account of a then illegal abortion.
In 1971 we published our first article in support of single payer universal health care
In 1970, we ran a two part series on gay liberation.
In 1970, we proposed DC statehood and explained how it could be achieved. We also proposed an elected district attorney which the city would get in 2014. Today statehood is supported by 80% of DC's residents.
In 1966 we published two articles on auto safety by Ralph Nader
In 1965 we called for the end of the draft.
In the 1960s we proposed community policing
You didn't know when change would come, but you knew it would if you and your friends just worked hard enough. Even such things as the DC riots or the heavy struggle over Vietnam didn't slow you down.

But forty years ago something began happening that would ultimately climax in the mob regime of Donald Trump. Something that would turn action based on heartfelt optimism into a grim existentialism in which you tried to do the right thing regardless of the outcome. As one existentialist had put it, "Even a condemned man has a choice of how to approach the gallows."

A decade ago when my wife and I left Washington I put it this way:
Washington has contributed so little to the nation other than to endorse, codify and promote policies leading to the collapse of the First American Republic. Since 1976 Congress has passed more laws than it did in the previous two centuries. And to what end? To place us in the dismal condition in which we now find ourselves.

I sometimes find myself reciting the lines of Tennessee Williams in Camino Real: "Turn back stranger, for the well of humanity has gone dry in this place. And the only birds that sing are kept in cages."
Those of us who have fought for alternative approaches have constantly been met with contempt and disinterest by those in power, whether in politics or the media .... One of the privileges of power is to set standards, even if they are the standards of the slowest kids in the class. Another privilege is never having to say you're sorry. Which is why, beginning in the 1980s, we began to lose the struggle and have been doing so ever since.

In considering what caused this change I often turn away from traditional news and think about the changes in our culture, those alterations often massive yet under-reported because they don't have public relations agents. Here are a few things that come to mind:

Corruption has changed massively. As I have noted before, prior to television corruption was a feudal arrangement in which power was traded for services. If you examine the big bosses of an earlier time - like Mayors Curley, Daley or LaGuardia - you find men of great influence without great wealth. But with television, service was replaced by image, and the question became who could could get the most money to pay for the best image. Actual service to the community became irrelevant.

The corporatization of America over the past forty years has not merely been an assault on economic justice. It has vastly changed the nature of our culture, as I wrote some years back:

About sixty years ago, America was just a decade past the last war it would ever win. The length of the average work week was down significantly from the 1930s but real income had been soaring and would continue do so through the 1970s. We had a positive trade balance and the share of total income gained by the top 1% of the country was only around 8%, down from 24% in the 1930s.

As Jermie D. Cullip describes it:

"From 1950 to 1959, the total number of females employed increased by 18%. The standard of living during the fifties also steadily rose. Most people expected to own a car and a house, and believed that life for their children would be even better. . . The number of college students doubled. Getting a college education was no longer for the rich or elite

"Over the decade the housing supply increased 27 percent . . . Growth in the economy also led to increasing popularity of other financial intermediaries. Life insurance companies flourished for the first half of the decade and a large number of new private firms entered the market to absorb the excesses of personal savings.

"By mid-1955, the country had pulled out of the previous year's recession and gross national product was growing at a rate of 7.6 percent. The boom was so great that the budget for 1956 predicted a surplus of $4.1 billion. With the surges in production and the economy, the 1950s is often recognized as the decade that eliminated poverty for the great majority of Americans. Over the decade, GNP per capita almost doubled and the public welfare reacted accordingly as the cost of living index rose by just 1 percent and unemployment dropped to 4.1 percent'"

But here is the truly amazing part - given all we have been taught in recent years: America did it even as its universities were turning out less than 5,000 MBAs a year. By 2005 these schools graduated 142,000 MBAs in one year.

In other words, even the economy was doing well before the corporatists took over. Now we not only have a tougher and far less fair economy, the corporate values we have been taught have overwhelmed the country's traditional community, religious and moral standards.

The rise of the gradocracy: MBAs wasn't the only degree that exploded in recent decades. For example, when I started over half the reporters in the country only had a high school education. I didn't let my sources or my colleagues know I had gone to Harvard because often it would have worked against me. Also, in 1977 there were 10,000 lawyers in DC. Now it is about 55,000. That's 788 per 10,000 Washingtonians vs. only 89 per 10,000 in New York.

The rise of a gradocracy in the capital and in the country had a number of effects. For example, the politicians I covered when I was young were notable because of their social intelligence. They were able to relate personally with their constituents.

Again, before television, politicians knew how to make real contact with real people. But as pols became better educated they thought and spoke differently. For example, the plethora of MBAs and lawyers put the emphasis on approved process rather than wise politics.Lyndon Johnson, for example, would never have proposed legislation as complicated and hard to decipher as Obamacare. The old pols talked about public works, not infrastructure

The growth of education has also affected liberalism generally, moving it away, for example, from the working class approach to things. I can still remember a couple of labor songs I learned when I was young because liberals back than thought unions were important: "When you see a sign on a picket line saying this place is unfair, just pass it by like a real nice guy. The stuff is just as good elsewhere."

The average liberal today speaks much more like someone trained in class rather than in the 'hood. One of the prices of this is an emphasis on analysis over action. Thus racism is constantly dissected even as actual efforts to rid us of it are weak. And being verbally correct on an issue has become more important than dealing with it effectively.

The atomization of liberalism - When I got involved in activism, one of my mentors had been trained by Saul Alinsky. Among Alinsky's principles was bring different groups together to combat those at the top. As Wikipedia puts it, "He wanted them to start 'banding together to improve their lives' and discovering how much in common they really had with their fellow man."

Today we have a strong atomization of those groups that could reach their goals far easier were they in alliance with others. Aided by the niches of the Internet and the sanctity of analysis taught by colleges, it hard to find cross-cultural alliances. There is little understanding, for example, that there are more poor whites than there are blacks in total or that while ethnic prejudice is bad, economic disparity can be more damaging. And if a low paid white guy sees someone attacking "white male privilege" on television it's not a particularly useful way to bring him into the cause.

The Dixiecrat revival: While there has been a lot of talk about the similarities between Trumpism and fascism, America's own South may be a better model. In fact, even the Nazis got some of their ideas from the segregated south, as Becky Little notes:
In 1935, Nazi Germany passed two radically discriminatory pieces of legislation: the Reich Citizenship Law and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor. Together, these were known as the Nuremberg Laws, and they laid the legal groundwork for the persecution of Jewish people during the Holocaust and World War II.

When the Nazis set out to legally disenfranchise and discriminate against Jewish citizens, they weren’t just coming up with ideas out of thin air. They closely studied the laws of another country. According to James Q. Whitman, author of Hitler’s American Model, that country was the United States.

“America in the early 20th century was the leading racist jurisdiction in the world,” says Whitman, who is a professor at Yale Law School. “Nazi lawyers, as a result, were interested in, looked very closely at, [and] were ultimately influenced by American race law.”

In particular, Nazis admired the Jim Crow-era laws that discriminated against black Americans and segregated them from white Americans, and they debated whether to introduce similar segregation in Germany.

Yet they ultimately decided that it wouldn’t go far enough.
What Trump has done is to revive the spirit and strength of an anti-black predominately southern culture that had been suppressed by the civil rights movement. As with the Dixiecrats, it is dependent upon the powerful giving license and language to those who hate. And the essential trick was for rich whites to convince poorer whites that their problem is poor blacks.

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In thinking how to tackle these problems, it is worth remembering that good change is most easily driven by the young and by the local. The young did it in the 60s and it can happen again. And we tend to ignore the fact that most change is started by local activism, including, for example, the environmental and marijuana movements.

It is also worth remembering who creates and controls our problems. They are not the folks who have been badly misled by the likes of Trump; they are a small group of the powerful who are actually quite afraid. Bear in mind that as far back as the Middle Ages, the powerful were scared enough to live behind moats and castle walls.

Today's elite is just as afraid. How do we take them on? By bringing all who feel screwed together. To find what your identity and subculture can share with others. Not everything to be sure, but if blacks, Latinos, women and labor unions sat down and reached a consensus on things that mattered to all, the powerful would not only be scared, they could be beaten.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Dealing with a criminal president

Sam Smith - There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits arrest and indictment of a president who commits a crime. As noted here before, should the president murder one or more people it would be absurd to not hold him accountable or, worse, to let him him commit a crime and not be vulnerable for it until both his term and the statute of limitations had expired..

Given that neither the Justice Department nor the media is interested in the real law and that the GOP Senate would override n impeachment, probably the best route is an indictment by an attorney general at the state level which would have to be assessed by the courts.

Meanwhile, the House should hold extensive hearings on the criminal activities of Trump and his administration and then pass a resolution of censure, which would have political power but which the Senate would probably just ignore.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Noted black radio host in trouble with Sirus XM

Sam Smith - Mark Thompson (on whose show I'm on every Monday morning) has apparently been suspended by Sirius XM after a brief incident in which Mark was confronted by a critic who blocked his departure from an event. I say "apparently" because Sirius XM has said nothing over the past eight days about why Thompson is not on the air. 

My own suspicion is that Sirius XM has found Thompson too progressive for its liking - including his criticism of them for providing Steven Bannon a show - and so this minor and incredibly brief incident is being used against him.

As Politcon notes:
As a Georgetown University freshman undergrad in 1985, he organized the shantytown which led to the University’s divestment from apartheid South Africa . . . Later matriculating at the University of the District of Columbia, he was organizer and spokesperson for KIAMSHA, the 1990 eleven-day student protest and boycott, and was named one of the “100 Most Powerful People in Washington” by Regardie’s magazine.

In 1992, Mark teamed with the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization to Abolish the Death Penalty, and a young fellow activist by the name of Ben Jealous, who would go on to head the NAACP, to organize and lead a campaign against a Congressionally-imposed ballot initiative forcing the death penalty on the District of Columbia. The “Thou Shalt Not Kill” campaign mobilized voters to defeat the initiative on Nov. 3, 1992.

In 1993, after organizing the weekly civil disobedience on Capitol Hill that helped win the first-ever Congressional vote on DC Statehood, Mark was jailed for 20 days. Both the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition and Mark received the United Nations Association 2004 Human Rights Award. In 1996, He joined Dick Gregory, Cong. Maxine Waters and journalist Gary Webb in exposing the CIA’s role in the crack cocaine epidemic.

... He helped to organize the National African American Leadership Summit which grew out of the NAACP, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, and he co-chaired the 1996 National Black Political Convention. He has emceed the Million Man March, every anniversary of the March on Washington, and the annual commemoration of Bloody Sunday in Selma, Alabama. He recently emceed the 20th Anniversary of the Million Man March.

Mark chaired the NAACP Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force for the DC Branch. In that capacity, he co-authored legislation establishing the Board and Office of Police Complaints, and facilitated the beginning of an unprecedented study on racial profiling. He also taught courses in diversity awareness and cultural sensitivity at the DC Police Academy.
For details on the current incident check out this article from the Washington Blade by a longtime friend,  Richard J. Rosendall, who notes:
My friend Rev. Mark Thompson, morning drive host at SiriusXM Progress and a frequent MSNBC commentator, was suspended on April 9 after defending himself when accosted in Newark by professional provocateur Thomas “Afrika” Ibiang. The hashtag movement #ADOS, which stands for American Descendants Of Slaves and has been attacking Thompson for months, is defending Ibiang and exploiting the incident to get Thompson fired.
ADOS, like Thompson, supports reparations, but from a very different angle. Co-founder Yvette Carnell, as musician and social activist Talib Kweli Greene writes, “has videos titled ‘Why Is Everyone So Afraid of Steve Bannon’ and ‘Trump Is Right About Black Poverty.’ … She has tweets … about how Trump is correct about birthright citizenship. She uses her Twitter account to push anti immigration propaganda, and she uses nazi slogans like ‘blood and soil.’” Carnell is also a board member of white nationalist think tank PFIR.
If all of this sounds bizarre, I feel you. Just understand that Carnell is deliberately driving a wedge between descendants of slaves and other black Americans. Thus Sen. Kamala Harris, of Indian and Jamaican heritage, has her authenticity questioned. But the malign fruits of four centuries of American racism hit all black people regardless of how or when their ancestors got here.
You can follow the follow the story as it develops at Make It Plan on Facebook. And you can add your name in support of Mark at IStandWithMarkThompson.com

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Why liberals lose elections

Sam Smith - I'm no fan of Joe Biden but the current uproar over a few hugs and kisses he gave in public offers more than a hint that we may be once again on our way to another liberal election disaster. I was raised on the local politics of Philly, Boston and DC where few politicians were worth emulating or admiring. You supported them to get something done - not the way you might pick a pastor for your church. And as noted here before, LB Johnson and Adam Clayton Powell got more good legislation passed in less time than almost anyone in our history but you wouldn't want either one of them near your daughter.

True, I helped to start two third parties - the DC Statehood Party and the national Green Party - but unlike many members of the latter group I thought of them as instruments for new policies, not in order to get two percent of the vote in a national campaign. And it's worked: 80% of DC residents now support statehood and many of the current Democratic presidential candidates are echoing ideas pushed by the Greens for years.

 It would be great if we could win -  as some 600 Socialist mayors did before WWI -  but the rules aren't like that any more. And so, you have to treat politics as a battlefield and not as a religion that proves your virtue.

As things stand now, Joe Biden is the candidate who shows the best chance of beating Trump in non-blue states where the election will be decided. To reject him for the way he kissed some hair or lips is to play right into the goals of a guy who not only has abused women much of his life, but wants to do away with national healthcare, dump immigrants into concentration camps and turn the Supreme Court into a major anti-democratic force.

Is Biden my choice? No, but if he wins the nomination I'll support him just as I backed Hillary Clinton despite the fact that three of her close business partners went to prison and the real estate hustle she and her husband ran caused over 50% of the purchasers to lose their lots. She was, however, running against Donald Trump.

I hope one or more of the other Democratic candidates  will show surprising strength and change the game, but I also don't want Trump to win again because of a handful of misplaced hugs. Liberals have to learn that politics is not where you prove how noble you or your candidate are, but what will be the best way to get some good things done.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Some Democratic primary concerns

Sam Smith - There are several concerns about the Democratic primary race that are worth keeping in mind, not because they are decisive but because they might have an insufficiently noticed effect. They include:

- Are there too many candidates? It's an extraordinary number and one of the problems is that it will distort the results of state primaries. In other words, someone might win a state by, say, 29% but not be the collective second or third choice of that state's voters. In other words, the biggest niche beats the consensus. Among other things, this reflects the lack of clear leadership in the Democratic Party. Of course, still to be enacted ranked choice voting would deal with the problem but that's for the future.

- Is show business going to beat substance? Trump is our greatest example of image defeating reality, but it is an increasing character of much of American politics. It helps to explain the number of candidates who have personalities but are weak on policy and experience. And it helps to explain why someone of real substance  - like Elizabeth Warren - (who comes across as sort of teacherish)  isn't doing as well as she might.

- Are the two leading candidates - Biden and Sanders - too old? Your opinion on this doesn't matter. It is a decision voters in general are going to make and it could be something of a sleeper. Bear in mind that only 8.4% of those 75 or older work full time in U.S.

- How do you attract white voters if you attack them? Too much liberal talk includes sweeping criticism of whites. Bear in mind the next time you talk about "white privilege" that there are more whites in poverty than there are blacks in total. The rhetoric needs to focus on the guilty leaders and not their followers.