Lawyers, Judges, and the Road to Fascism – posted 3/14/2018P

March 14, 2018 1 comment

Back on February 16, the New Hampshire Bar Association held its annual mid-year meeting. This year the program was a little different. Instead of the usual continuing legal education event, the Bar brought in two historians, Anne O’Rourke and Willliam Meinecke Jr., from the United States Holocaust Museum, to look at how German lawyers and judges responded to the destruction of democracy and the establishment of the Nazi state.

Their presentation showed that the worst horrors of the Nazi regime did not arrive full-blown. Rather, the road to fascism was taken in gradual incremental steps, each one preparing the way for the next.

While German lawyers and judges might have opposed Hitler’s authority and the legitimacy of the Nazi regime, they failed to do so. Not only did they fail, they collaborated and interpreted the law in a way that broadly facilitated the Nazis’ ability to carry out their agenda.

Admittedly, there was a very narrow window to dissent. Courts interpreted every appearance of coolness toward the regime as a breach of professional standards. insufficient enthusiasm for the regime could be a basis for getting disbarred.

O’Rourke and Meinecke pointed to a number of decrees by the Nazis that they used to consolidate their power and advance their program. After the February 1933 fire in the Reichstag, the German parliament,  the Nazis suspended critical provisions of the German constitution, including right to assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

They also removed all restrictions on police investigations. They rounded up political opponents, particularly Communists, Socialists and Social Democrats, holding them in preventive detention and sometimes disappearing them altogether. Relying on the Reichstag Fire Decree, the Nazis held people without specific charges. Defendants had no right to appeal, no access to a lawyer or right to judicial review.

The German Supreme Court did not balk at the new power arrangement. Sadly, the Court failed to challenge or protest the loss of its judicial authority.

Less than one month after the Reichstag Fire Decree, the Nazis enacted an Enabling Act that allowed them to promulgate and establish laws that violated the Weimar Constitution. Under the Enabling Act, they did not need the approval of then-President von Hindenberg or the parliament. The passage of law had previously required a two-thirds majority vote in parliament.

The Nazis prevented their parliamentary opponents from taking their seats, detaining them in camps. They stationed their thugs in the parliamentary chamber to intimidate remaining representatives.

The German Supreme Court did nothing to challenge the Enabling Act. The Court saw itself as a loyal state servant, owing allegiance to Hitler. Law became a means to serve the Aryan race. What was defined as good for the race became good law.

In July 1933, the Nazis enacted another new law against the founding of new political parties. With this law, they outlawed all other political entities and made themselves the only allowed party in Germany.

When President von Hindenberg died in August 1934, Hitler assumed power as Reich Chancellor and Fuhrer. The oath of loyalty for all state officials was changed. Rather than pledging loyalty to the German constitution, a new oath required loyalty to the Fuhrer.

O’Rourke and Meinecke showed how anti-semitism and the persecution of the Jews were a centerpiece of the Nazi enterprise. During the first six years of Hitler’s dictatorship, Jews were subject to more than 400 restrictive decrees and regulations. Among other things, the Nazis removed Jews from government service, forbid their admission to the Bar, banned Jews from editorial posts, and prohibited them from marrying or having sexual relations with persons of “German or German-related blood”.

By April 1933, the state ministries of justice suspended from duty all Jewish judges, public prosecutors and district attorneys. Also all professors of law who were Jews and those few who were not conservatives were driven out of universities and dismissed.

About this time period, the Holocaust historian Raul Hilberg wrote:

“… a lawyer necessarily had to face at every turn the critical question of harmonizing peremptory measures against Jews with law. In fact this alignment was his principal task in the anti-Jewish work. Yet in the end lawyers, no less than physicians, mastered those mental somersaults.”

It is impossible to know what degree of ambivalence or conflict German lawyers and judges had with the Nazification of the law. Hilberg wrote that the Nazis were obsessed with a need for legal justification. Even with the death of due process and any semblance of individual rights, the Nazis craved the appearance of legality.

Years before the Holocaust, the German judiciary had already rationalized the absolute debasement of law at the service of the Nazis. Considering the early years, what came later cannot be too surprising. There was never any outrage about the systematic removal of Jewish lawyers and judges from the German legal world.

So what lessons can we learn from the German experience? Why did the lawyers and judges turn out to be so weak, pliable and accommodating?

First, I would cite the failure of critical thinking by both lawyers and judges. They offered themselves up to the Nazis to do their bidding. The legal profession proved to be either too conformist or careerist to take chances and rock the boat. Lawyers and judges played it safe to try and get ahead.

By going along, they gave the Nazis a big gift, what the historian Timothy Snyder has called “anticipatory obedience”. If lawyers and judges had said “no” that would have caused significant problems. The Nazis desperately wanted at least the appearance of lawyer/judge buy-in to give themselves legitimacy.

Sadly, as Snyder pointed out in his book On Tyranny, most of the power of authoritarianism was freely given. The Nazis’ rise to power relied on zealous support from German conservatives and nationalists in the courts.

There was a massive failure of professional ethics. Somehow doing the right thing was replaced by subordination to a demagogue. We should remember that lawyers were vastly over-represented among the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen. The Einsatzgruppen were the death squads of Nazi Germany who were responsible for mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, Polish elites, Communists and the handicapped.

The experience of German lawyers and judges shows the need for a genuinely independent judiciary, regardless of what political party holds power. Without genuine independence, justice as an ideal disappears. What is left is glorification of power.

In all that has been written about the Nazis, I find it surprising how little attention has been paid to the collaborationist role of lawyers and judges. In an allegedly rule-of-law state, the Nazis needed lawyers and judges. For Americans today, the German experience provides a sobering example of how a nation’s legal and judicial systems can be made to aid and abet a rogue regime’s gradual descent into barbarism.


SNAP Food Assistance Reductions Are Playing With Fire – posted 3/4/2018

March 5, 2018 Leave a comment

The President’s 2019 budget proposal shines a spotlight on his priorities and values. I think it is safe to say his priority is not the well-being of Americans of modest means.

Only a short time after he signed a tax cut law that enormously benefits himself and his 1% friends, he proposed a budget that features devastating cuts for low-income working families, children and the elderly.

I think the proposed SNAP food assistance cuts are probably the worst. SNAP is the program that used to be called Food Stamps. The program still reaches huge numbers of Americans: over 41 million people in 21 million households. SNAP has been a bulwark against hunger and malnutrition. The Administration is playing with fire with these cuts.

Among human needs, hunger holds a centrality. Cutting off utilities or getting evicted certainly has downsides but hunger is about life itself. Hunger leads to its own brand of desperation. If food stamps are drastically reduced, the need for food does not go away. Hunger is a need that must be at least partially met.

Those experiencing hunger will turn to their families, friends, and then local authorities for help. Downshifting costs to cities and towns would be one result . Those unable to get any assistance will either go hungry or try other means, outside the law.

The President proposes to reduce SNAP spending by an astronomical $213 billion over 10 years. That would amount to nearly a 40% cut. The largest cut would come from cutting household benefits.

SNAP participants get an average of $126 per month in food assistance. That is about $1.40 to spend per meal. Two-thirds of SNAP participants are children, elderly or disabled. No policy rationale or evidence-based study has been presented to justify the reduction.

There are a multitude of cuts embedded in the specifics of the proposal. It is a death-by-a-thousand-cuts strategy. For example, the proposal would force states to time-limit food assistance to unemployed individuals who live in high-unemployment areas. It would eliminate state flexibility in exempting vulnerable individuals from the time limit.

It punishes older workers by subjecting them to a time limit. Food Stamp law currently restricts benefits to three months out of 36 months for individuals age 18 to 49 who are childless unless they are working 20 hours a week. The proposal changes the upper age for that restriction to 62.

The biggest SNAP cut comes from the proposal to restructure how food stamp benefits would be distributed. Under the proposal, instead of letting households that receive more than $90 a month use their SNAP benefits to buy food at their local grocery store, about half the funds would be provided in the form of a box of non-perishable foods such as shelf-stable milk, juice, ready-to-eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans, and canned foods.

The so-called “Harvest Box” would be scaled to the household’s size and benefit amount. The budget proposal suggest that participants would have no choice in what food they receive. Things that are not liked would go to waste and there is no accommodation for dietary or cultural need. The proposal fails to explain how the Harvest Boxes would be delivered.

It is hard to know where to begin in cataloguing what is objectionable in the Harvest Box idea. First, I think of the denial of agency. The SNAP participant now can decide for themselves what to buy and when they want to buy it within the parameters of the program. The government, to a significant degree, would usurp control and decide what people eat and when they get it.

We would be replacing a very efficient system where benefits are issued monthly via an electronic benefits card (EBT) with a new government bureaucracy. The USDA and states currently lack the operational capacity and infrastructure to get this job done and that would have to be created.

Instead of SNAP participants purchasing food at local businesses, we would have the government providing a pre-assembled kit. Harvest Boxes would be a negative hit on food retailers.

Nutritionally, the Harvest Box would actually restrict access to fresh fruits and vegetables which are generally more expensive than non-perishable packaged foods. By reducing food purchasing power, the proposal would leave less dollars for healthier foods.

Related and relevant to nutrition, the budget proposes to terminate funding for SNAP nutrition education grants. These grants, long a part of the program, have been designed to address obesity, junk food choices, and to improve nutritional levels among low-income households. In our state, UNH Co-op Extension has played a critical role on this front.

Probably most objectionable is the matter of stigma. The EBT system was consciously designed to reduce stigma as the use of EBT cards was very consistent with how Americans shop. Replacing EBT with a model requiring SNAP participants to go to a government food distribution center is a step backwards. This is particularly true if people think the pre-assembled food kit does not contain food they want to buy.

The Boston Globe’s Devra First calls the Harvest Box “a box of low esteem”. You have to wonder about the mentality behind this program design. I believe the intent is public shaming. Many will not partake in this scheme because they will not want to go to a government food distribution center to receive food they would not be likely to buy.

The Administration’s SNAP cuts reflect a hardened and heartless view of people who need food assistance. Rather than seeing legitimate need, the assumption is that SNAP participants are scammers or people who are trying to get out of work.

Contrary to much public perception, SNAP already has work requirements. In SNAP households, with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, 58% were employed but did not make enough to leave SNAP. 82% were employed prior to or after receiving SNAP. Work rates are even higher among households with children.

Whether the SNAP cuts move forward probably depend on politics since 2018 is an election year. There are indications that conservatives fear running on the cuts because the optics stink. They look mean both decreasing benefit amounts and tightening eligibility requirements.

I am reminded of the old demonstration chant, “they say cutback, we say fight back”.

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Ida B. Wells, Unknown Heroine – 2/18/2018

February 18, 2018 Leave a comment

February is Black History Month. While it is important to acknowledge Black history, I am struck by how little of that history is integrated into America’s mainstream narratives. There is awareness of historical moments like the Civil Rights Movement and icons like Martin Luther King Jr. but so much history is buried.

Such is the case with Ida B. Wells, a true heroine, who has received insufficient attention as a historical figure. In a very dark time, at the risk of her life, she challenged the nation on a critical and ignored moral issue. She must be considered one of the most courageous leaders in American history and yet, few of us know who she is or what she did.

Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862. She lost both her parents at age 16 when they died in a yellow fever epidemic. As an orphan, she became the primary caretaker for six brothers and sisters.

While caring for her siblings, Wells was still able to complete her studies and earn a college degree. Wells’ biographer, Paula Giddings, says that Wells gravitated to creative expression as a way to cope with the loss of her parents.

Wells moved to Memphis Tennessee in the 1880’s and she became a school teacher. She loved literature and she participated in the Memphis Lyceum,  a forum for readings, debates, music and poetry.

The Lyceum was a place where Wells had an opportunity to develop her creative sensibilities, read and write her own work, and perform. She became known for her oratorical skills.

Wells’ first act of protest on behalf of black Southerners came in 1884. Like an early day Rosa Parks, she refused to give up her seat on the train from Memphis to Woodstock, where she taught school. Wells had purchased a first-class ticket. She refused to leave her seat when a conductor told her she had to move to the train’s smoking car.

It took the conductor and two passengers to physically extricate her from her first class seat. She did not go willingly. She bit the hand of the conductor who strong-armed her.

Wells retained a lawyer and she sued the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company. The trial court ruled in her favor, awarding her $500 in damages. The railroad company appealed and the Supreme Court of Tennessee reversed the judge and the court ordered Wells to pay court fees.

The Tennessee Supreme Court of that era was filled with Confederate veterans who continued to maintain a segregationist outlook.

Just to give a flavor of the times, in 1883, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that the 1875 Civil Rights laws that prohibited discrimination in public accommodations were unconstitutional. The highest court in the land disgracefully served up racism and support for Jim Crow laws.

Wells was the first African American to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a state court.

This experience kicked off Wells’s career as a journalist. She started writing editorials in black newspapers that challenged Jim Crow laws across the South. In addition to continuing her teaching duties, she became editor and part owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, a black-owned paper. She wrote:

“It was through journalism that I found the real me.”

For African Americans of that period, lynching had become a central issue because lynchings were happening with increasing frequency. In 1892, the issue became personal for Wells. Three friends, who owned a popular store, the People’s Grocery, in Memphis were arrested and jailed after a scuffle with a group of white men.

A white mob broke into the jail, removed Wells’s three friends, and proceeded to lynch them in a nearby field.

The lynchings incensed Wells and she decided to conduct her own investigation of lynching. Initially, in 1892, she wrote a pamphlet entitled “Southern Horrors”. She challenged the mythology that black men were being murdered for raping white women. She showed that in the 728 lynchings which had happened over the preceding decade, only a fourth of the lynching victims were even accused of rape, let alone found guilty of it.

Wells argued that many lynching victims had either successfully competed against whites in business or they were outspoken and had somehow challenged white authority. She revealed that many lynching victims were black women and girls.

Wells’ writing did not make her popular in Memphis. In editorials, she urged the black community to leave Memphis since “it will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons”. Over 6000 black people fled Memphis in the next three months.

Wells received death threats and there was a price on her head. She herself was threatened with being lynched and she fled Memphis on May 27, 1892. A mob destroyed the offices of her newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. The mob left a note saying anyone attempting to publish the paper again would be punished by death.

Raising the profile of the lynching issue to an international level, in 1893-1894 Wells went to England to speak, write and lobby. She was not getting help from our own government.

Wells called for the immediate implementation of federal policies that would protect black lives from lynching. She saw lynching as a tool used by white supremacy to prevent any Black social advancement. She early recognized lynching as a national crime that required a national remedy. For an article published in 1900 entitled “Lynch Law in America”. Wells wrote:

“Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of the hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculating deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an ‘unwritten law’ that justifies them in putting human beings to death…without trial by jury…and without right of appeal.”

No issue better illustrates the failure of states’ rights to protect black lives than lynching. Between 1877 and 1950, there were over 4,000 lynchings in the United States. Until her death in 1931, Wells fought doggedly for anti-lynching legislation at the federal level. For decades, Southern senators blocked this legislation.

Many people continued to oppose federal government jurisdiction over what was seen as a state crime even though the record of the states was beyond dismal. In the rare cases when white people were arrested and charged at the state level for lynching, they were repeatedly acquitted by all-white juries.

Lynchings eventually declined in the 20th century but not until 1952 did a full year pass without a recorded lynching in the United States. Wells probably did more than anyone to raise popular awareness about the crimes committed and to advocate for solutions. No person is more associated with the anti-lynching movement in America.

Wells was a forerunner of today’s Black Lives Matter movement. The historian Isabel Wilkerson has described the epidemic of police shootings of black people as a continuation of lynching culture in the United States.

As part of Black History Month, part of our collective responsibility as Americans should be to rectify our historical records and history books. One way to do this is to recognize and celebrate figures from the past who deserve a place of honor, but who have been overlooked or shunted aside because the stories present unpleasant truths or conflict with our popular narratives. Ida Wells is such a person.

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Deporting way more than “bad hombres” – posted 2/7/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 2/14/2018

February 7, 2018 1 comment

This piece ran in the Concord Monitor on 2/14/2018 under the title “Jorge Garcia is no ‘bad hombre'”.

When President Trump ran for the office of president, he promised to get rid of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He also, in his typical contradictory fashion, said folks who have DACA status have nothing to worry about. It has been impossible to get a straight answer on DACA from Trump.

Last September Trump terminated the DACA program. Trump gave Congress six months for a legislative fix. That time is almost up and there is no agreed-upon solution.

Trump is responsible for stripping deportation protections from 800,000 people who have been raised as Americans. Never in my lifetime has a president messed so carelessly with so many lives.

Lately, Trump, in playing to his base, has been badmouthing immigrants and he has repeatedly cited crimes committed by immigrants. Appealing to nativism, he has been advocating much more restrictive legal immigration.

Deportation of “bad hombres” has been a central Trump theme. Bad hombres were ostensibly those who had committed multiple criminal violations.

In practice, the Trump administration’s pledge to deport bad hombres has turned out to be lip service only. They have gone after any immigrant classified as “illegal” they could get their hands on. The tag “illegal”, regardless of circumstance, has been the acid test for deportation.

The single best example to support what I am saying is the deportation of a Michigan man, Jorge Garcia. That happened on January 15. The government deported Garcia back to Mexico.

Garcia was brought to the United States illegally when he was ten years old. He lived in the United States for 30 years. He married and he and his wife Cindy have two adolescent children. Garcia’s wife and children are U.S. citizens.

Garcia worked as a landscaper. He has no criminal record. For years he fought unsuccessfully to gain legal status paying lawyers over $100,000. A lawyer he hired took retainer money and then filed wrong paperwork, setting back his case. For 13 years, he checked in regularly with Immigrations, Customs Enforcement officials. He never left Detroit, where he lived, without permission from immigration authorities.

He had received multiple stays of removal during President Obama’s presidency although he was one year too old to qualify for DACA. He always paid his taxes.

In the end, 30 years of good behavior counted for nothing. You have to ask: what happened to the focus on bad hombres? The Jorge Garcia example has been replicated over and over. A more accurate characterization of Trump’s approach to immigration is family-wrecking. It is beyond callous.

I know there are those who will say Jorge Garcia was “illegal” but I would suggest illegality in immigration is not such a simple or clearcut matter. The circumstances of illegality vary dramatically. Much depends on the underlying facts you consider when drawing conclusions about illegality.

In her book Undocumented, Aviva Chomsky gets at the complexity:

“Most of the citizens who brag that their ancestors came here “the right way” are making assumptions based on ignorance. They assume their ancestors “went through the process” and obtained visas, as people are required to do today. In fact, most of them came before any legal process existed – before the concept of “illegality” existed.”

Chomsky points out that illegality as we now know it did not come into existence until after the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Before that, immigration was not depicted in negative terms nor did the public demand legislation about it.

Until 1924, the border between the United States and Mexico was essentially unpoliced and migration flowed without limitation. U.S. business interests required the labor of Mexicans. Employers depended on that labor in a wide variety of industries including agriculture, mining, automobile factories and railroads.

Mexican migrants came to the Southern border without papers and were admitted into the country. Later the U.S. government created the Bracero program. From 1942 to 1964, millions of Mexicans migrated seasonally, especially for farm labor.

Where Congress had concerns about illegality in the 19th century it was not about Mexicans because they were needed for the economic development of the Southwest. There was a racist focus on the Chinese, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This kind of racist focus was repeated in the 1924 Immigration Act when quotas were instituted, in part, to stop European Jewish immigration to the United States.

I would point out that many of those excluded from immigrating to the United States by the 1924 Act ended up in the Nazi death camps. Anne Frank was one of these. In this instance, immigration “legality” fed innocent victims to a machinery of death. Historical experience with racism in immigration policy suggests a need to be circumspect so there is not a repetition of past experience in a different context.

I think of Ellis Island when I think of immigration to the U.S.. Ellis Island was established in 1892. People did not wait in line or follow some legal process before they came to Ellis Island. They gathered their family members, got the money together for the trip, and headed to America. They just showed up at Ellis Island.

My family emigrated from Russia and my father showed me a name change document from 1915 where our family name was changed from Bardichevsky to Baird. At that time the United States had minimal entry requirements for European and Russian immigrants. The U.S. Public Health Service tested for infectious diseases. They also looked at whether you might become a public charge but practically everyone who came got into the country.

Many undocumented who are trying to enter the United States now have fled countries because of a fear they will be persecuted, tortured or murdered if they are returned to their home country. Following World War II, the United Nations established a principle of international law known as refoulement or non-return. The principle forbid the return of asylum seekers who were likely to be tortured or murdered.

This principle which became enshrined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as well as the 1980 Refugee Act is frequently being ignored by Customs and Border Protection officers. Many refugees are not even getting to see an asylum officer. This reality was devastatingly portrayed by Sarah Stillman in an article “No Refuge” that appeared in the January 15 New Yorker.

The Trump Administration has been in such a hurry to deport people they see as “illegal” that they are massively violating human rights. Our government has not been keeping track of how many people who have been refused asylum have ended up dead once they were returned to their home countries.

To put the matter of immigration illegality in a truly correct context, we have to consider a matter that is almost universally overlooked. English colonizers aggressively displaced a large network of Native American nations when they invaded the North American continent. They seized land and resources; waged a savage war; forced the Indian nations into treaties and then systematically violated those treaties. We are the inheritors of that genocide.

While victors typically write the history, American historical experience weighs against any self-righteousness where immigration is concerned. Crime and immigration are a tricky subject.

The immigration crime narrative cooked up by Trump is a toxic stew of sensationalism and xenophobia designed to appeal to racist instincts. We must resist a deportation policy which is out of control.

Categories: Uncategorized

On Being a Philadelphia Eagles Fan – posted 1/27/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on Super Bowl day 2/4/2018

January 27, 2018 Leave a comment

In honor of the Eagles Super Bowl appearance a week from tomorrow, I revised and updated an earlier piece written in 2013 about being a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Go Eagles! The piece was published under the title “Flying with the Eagles” 🦅

It is not easy being a Philadelphia Eagles fan while living in New England. You are definitely part of a minority group: a leper in Patriotland. I know there are some geographical transplants who successfully make the transition to rooting for the Patriots. This is harder when you come from Philadelphia and grew up as an Eagles fan.

Patriot fans are passionate but Eagles fans are rabid. I went to my first Eagles game in 1957 when I was 6 years old. The Eagles played the Detroit Lions at the old Shibe Park also known as Connie Mack Stadium. The Lions were led by legendary quarterback Bobby Layne.

The Eagles lost that day and I remember that I cried. It was the first of many losses to come that I witnessed. The Eagles are one of those NFL teams who have never won a Super Bowl, a fact never far from the minds of Eagles fans. In the Philadelphia mind, whatever our successes, we are still in sports hell.

I learned about football from my parents. Both were sports nuts. They were hardcore Philadelphia fans, especially the Eagles and Phillies. My dad got season’s tickets to Eagles’ games starting in the late 50’s. He and I used to park far away and schlep across the often freezing bridge to Franklin Field, the University of Pennsylvania stadium, where the Eagles played before they moved to the Vet.

I do want to mention the year 1960. There are some happy Philadelphia football memories. 1960 was the last time the Eagles won the NFL championship. It was in the era before Super Bowls. I was there with my dad, watching the Eagles beat the Packers 17-13.

Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, nicknamed the Dutchman, led the Eagles. He was the MVP in 1960 and an eventual Hall of Famer in 1971.

I went to Friends Central School with Van Brocklin’s daughter, Karen. Norm seemed like a really nice guy. When he came to school in the afternoon to pick up Karen, he went to the school playground and he threw the football around with us kids. How cool was that! He also punted to a small army of students who wanted to receive his kicks. Van Brocklin actually was the Eagles punter, something you would never see today. There are not any pro quarterbacks who double as punters now.

Van Brocklin was surrounded by some great players. I would mention Chuck Bednarik who played both ways, center and middle linebacker; Tommy McDonald,a small, speedy and gifted wide receiver; and tight end Pete Retzlaff, a 5 time pro bowler. The Packers had Bart Starr, Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. Ray Nitschke anchored their defense. That was a great win with Buck Shaw besting Vince Lombardi. That 1960 Eagles team was the only team to defeat the Packers in a playoff game during Vince Lombardi’s tenure as Packers’ head coach.

However, as I noted, that championship win has not been duplicated. I do not think Patriot fans can understand the feelings of Eagles fans because of all the Patriots success. Patriot fans are spoiled rotten. It is not just the Patriots. In the last decade, Boston has had the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins all win as well. Before the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, it had been 25 years since any Philly team won a major sports championship. We are talking the 1983 Sixers with Doctor J and Moses Malone as the last winners. That qualifies as a sports drought.

After the 1960’s, I admit I lost interest in football for a long time. I was not at Franklin Field in 1968 when that famous episode in Eagles history happened: the booing of Santa Claus. It was December 15, 1968. The Eagles were 2-11 at the time. They had started the season 0-11. Still, 54,000 loyal Eagles fans showed up. The weather was miserable that day, snowing and sleeting. It was biting cold with a whipping wind chill. Fans had to clear their seats of three inches of snow and slush.

The half time show was supposed to feature Santa making an entrance on an ornate sleigh dragged by eight life-sized fiberglass reindeer. The sleigh float quickly got stuck in the field which had turned to muck. That necessitated the entrance of Santa by foot. The other problem was that the Santa who had been hired for that day was a no-show. Not clear whether Bad Santa was drunk but he did not appear. As a result, the Eagles entertainment director approached a young fan, Frank Olivo, who, in the holiday spirit, had dressed in a red corduroy Santa outfit. Olivo was recruited on the spot to step in and play Santa.

As the 50 piece brass band played “Here Comes Santa Claus”, Olivo entered the field between two columns of Eaglette cheerleaders who were dressed as elves. Olivo recalled what happened next:

“That’s when the booing started (when the band played “Here Comes Santa Claus”). At first, I was scared because it was so loud. But then I figured, hey, it was just good-natured teasing. I’m a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny…
When I hit the end zone and the snow balls started, I was waving my finger at the crowd, saying, “You’re not getting anything for Christmas.”

Olivo says he was actually hit by several dozen snowballs. Maybe 100 were thrown. People joked that some of the people sitting in the upper deck were more accurate passers than the Eagles quarterback. Olivo commented that he was thankful for the snow. When the Eagles entertainment director asked if he wanted to play Santa the next year, he declined. “I told him, no way. If it doesn’t snow, they’ll probably throw beer bottles”.

I know the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl in 1981 under Dick Vermeil although ultimately they lost to the Raiders. I came back to football in the late 80’s/early 90’s. The names Randall Cunningham, Buddy Ryan and Reggie White come to mind. I remember the Fog Bowl in Chicago but not that much else about the team. I did go to a few games at the Vet.

The Vet itself deserves a bit of comment. It was famous for its concrete-like turf and its court in the basement. I never saw the Eagles Court. They were full service: starting in 1998, the Eagles had a court, a judge, and a jail at the stadium. Apparently, justice was dispensed quickly for drunk or unruly fans. Penalties included forcing offenders to give up season’s tickets, pay a $400 fine and sit in jail for the rest of the game. There is no Eagles Court at the Linc.

Philadelphia had so many lean years. All the losing seasons, bad coaches and bad teams are a blur to me. I do remember the name Joe Kuharich which I associate with multiple 2-12 years. Football got somewhat redefined during those years. A good year was not about making the playoffs. A good year would be defined as a year when the Eagles beat the Cowboys or Giants. To some extent, that is still true.

Then along came the Jeff Lurie/Andy Reid era. That changed the Eagles’ fortunes. From being a team of perennial losers, Reid turned the franchise around. Eagles’ fans became used to winning. For almost a decade, the Eagles were contenders and usually they were the best team in the NFC East.

While Eagles fans are typically critical of Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb for not winning a Super Bowl, by any rational standard, this was a special time in Eagles history. They never won so consistently for so long. They made it to 5 conference championship games and 1 Super Bowl.

In his early years, Donovan was a genuinely exciting player. Besides having a great arm, he was a running threat. Repeated injuries took their toll on him but he was a tough guy. I remember him playing in 2002 against the Cardinals and throwing 4 TDs while playing on a broken ankle. Eagles fans tend to remember all the wormburners and the alleged throwing up in the Super Bowl. That is very uncharitable.

My dad used to call me on the phone multiple times during Eagles games to report on developments. That went on through almost the whole Andy Reid time in Philly until my dad died. We had some wonderful times following those games and the team. I knew a lot without watching myself because of my dad’s reports.

I am not going to say much about the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. It could have gone the other way. It was a close game and the Eagles lost 24-21. That game was not Andy Reid’s finest hour.

One player I do want to mention – Brian Dawkins. For heart, grit, and for giving his all on the field, I would rate Dawk as possibly my favorite Eagle player of all time. I think that opinion is widely shared in Philadelphia.

Post-Andy Reid came the short-lived Chip Kelly era. Hailed as an offensive genius, Kelly had some success in his first two years. He helped develop Nick Foles into a fine quarterback. However, he made some devastatingly bad personnel moves, trading Lesean McCoy and letting Desean Jackson walk. He also let Jeremy Maclin go in free agency. Kelly became infamous for his autocratic tendencies and his lack of emotional intelligence. Jeff Lurie fired him before the end of the 2015 season.

Lurie then hired Doug Pederson, who had once been an Eagles quarterback and who was an Andy Reid assistant with the Chiefs. By any fair assessment, Pederson has done a remarkable job. Not only have the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl in his second year but they have a core of players who make them look very good for a decade to come. Here I have to mention Carson Wentz, a once in a generation player. What is not to love about that guy!

When Wentz was injured against the Rams, most observers gave the Eagles up for dead. Except the team never got that message. The defense, led by Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins, has been lights out. This team has a great vibe and resiliency, overcoming many injuries. While they are certainly big underdogs, that is nothing new. In the playoffs, they were underdogs against both the Falcons and the Vikings. The Eagles have embraced the underdog role, even wearing dog masks.

In the time since the Eagles have made it to the Super Bowl, I have heard much trash talk about how lunatic Eagles fans are. Supposedly, they are the worst-behaved fans in football. This has come from friends of mine who are Giants fans but I have also heard this from Boston TV news anchors. No doubt Giant and Patriot fans are angels but I would point to a Washington Post survey from a few years ago that looked at fan arrests at football games. Guess what? The Patriots averaged more arrests per season than the Eagles.The Giants averaged way more than either the Pats or the Eagles. No team fan base has cornered the market on bad behavior.

Before my dad died, he said, “Jonny, maybe you will get to see the Eagles win a Super Bowl.” Being fatalistic, I said, “Dad, I doubt it”. This team has made me a believer though.

Fly Eagles Fly!

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Daniel Ellsberg, the Doomsday Machine, and Thinking the Unthinkable – posted 1/15/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/24/2018

January 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Daniel Ellsberg is best known as the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers. In 1971, as a high government official, he photocopied thousands of pages of secret documents which showed successive administrations had lied to the public about the war in Vietnam. He shared the information with the New York Times and the Washington Post, becoming one of the most famous whistleblowers ever.

Unknown until recently was the fact that Ellsberg also photocopied thousands of pages about nuclear war planning. Ellsberg had had a long career at the highest levels of government before the Vietnam War. In his earlier incarnation, Ellsberg, a former Marine and protege of Henry Kissinger, worked as a Pentagon and White House consultant, drafting plans for nuclear war.

Ellsberg had passed the nuclear war planning documents onto his brother Harry for safe-keeping. Things were too hot for Ellsberg to keep the documents after the Pentagon Papers story broke. For taking the Pentagon Papers, the government charged Ellsberg under the Espionage Act of 1917. He faced a maximum prison sentence of 115 years.

Ellsberg’s brother first buried the papers in a cardboard box inside a green garbage bag in his compost pile. Worried that the FBI would come looking (which they did), Harry Ellsberg moved the papers to a hidden spot in his town trash dump in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.

That summer, a near-hurricane, tropical storm Doria, hit Hastings-on-Hudson and caused the slope where the papers were buried to collapse down and over a roadway. Although much effort went into finding the papers, they were never found.

For 45 years, Ellsberg remained silent about the secret nuclear documents but now he has published a new book, The Doomsday Machine, which recounts his personal history around nuclear war planning as well as the evolution of his thinking.

The book is a revelation and it raises so many essential questions which have been very inadequately discussed about nuclear war, realistic appraisal of its consequences, and nuclear winter. Ellsberg places his discussion inside a history of the law of war since the early 20th century.

The book is appropriately named after the classic 1964 movie, Dr. Strangelove. In the movie, an unhinged Air Force General, Jack D. Ripper, orders a nuclear first strike attack on the Soviet Union. The president contacts the Russian premier and finds out that they have created a doomsday device which will detonate automatically if there is any nuclear strike within the USSR.

The doomsday device cannot be disconnected or untriggered if there is an attack on the Russian homeland. The Russians advise that their device would result in a radioactive shroud which would wipe out all human and animal life and make the surface of the earth uninhabitable for 93 years.

The movie was so dead-on that Ellsberg saw it as a documentary.

A turning point for Ellsberg came in 1961, He had drafted a question for President Kennedy to ask the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“If your plans for general (nuclear) war are carried out as planned, how many people will be killed in the Soviet Union and China?”

The answer came back in the form of a graph. The lowest number was 275 million. Within six months, after the nuclear attack, the number was 325 million.

Ellsberg drafted a follow-up question for the Joint Chiefs over the President’s signature. He asked for a total breakdown of global deaths from our attacks, including all countries that would be affected by fallout. The total death count was 600 million.

This was Ellsberg’s response:

“I remember what I thought when I first held the single sheet with the graph on it. I thought, this piece of paper should not exist. It should never have existed. Not in America. Not anywhere, ever. It depicted evil beyond any human project ever…From that day on, I have had one overriding life purpose: to prevent the execution of any such plan.”

Ellsberg’s revulsion propelled him into a later career as an anti-nuclear weapons activist. He came to believe the military had not thought through the consequences of nuclear war, minimizing and rationalizing the acute harm to the whole planet. Or, as he put it, they were in the grip of institutionalized madness.

The late, great sociologist, C. Wright Mills, would have called it “crackpot realism”.

In the Doomsday Machine, Ellsberg revisits episodes from the Cold War. As a bureaucratic in-fighter, he played a critical role in getting the Kennedy Administration to limit nuclear war plans. At the time, the military targetted every city in both the USSR and China with a population over 25,000 with at least one nuclear weapon.

Ellsberg argued that destruction of China should not be automatic if a war was only with the Soviet Union. The military wanted to attack China even if they had no role in a conflict. Some of our military leaders like Air Force General Curtis LeMay acted exactly like characters from Dr, Strangelove. Ellsberg did get the Kennedy Administration to exclude automatic attack on China in the event of armed conflict with the Soviet Union.

In the Cuban Missile Crisis, Ellsberg shows how close we came to an all-out nuclear war. It was far closer than the public knew. The world barely escaped an almost unimagineable cataclysm.

Ellsberg busts mythologies like the president with his nuclear football being the only one who can launch a nuclear war. The military has many contingencies in the event communications are cut off. He shows there has been a much more widespread delegation of authority to launch. The picture is not reassuring.

Among the dangers, Ellsberg worries that a nuclear weapons launch could be triggered by a false alarm, a terrorist action, initiative by unauthorized individuals or a rash miscalculation in a military escalation scenario.

Ellsberg ends the book with a chapter on dismantling the doomsday machine. He recognizes the enormous institutional resistance to such an idea but he makes an extremely compelling argument for how it could be done. He specifies achievable reforms. He thinks it is astonishing that people will put up with more than a non-zero chance of a nuclear holocaust.

Possibly the most unsettling aspect of the Trump presidency has been the threat escalation with North Korea, a nuclear weapons state. Trump has been far too casual about the risks inherent in a nuclear war. He should not be talking about totally destroying any country or playing nuclear chicken. That is the height of irresponsibility.

The idea that a nuclear war would be limited and would not cause absolutely unacceptable consequences is folly and insane. The blowback from multiple nuclear explosions could cause a catastrophic nuclear winter where the living would envy the dead.

Have current American nuclear war planners arrived at a figure of how many millions dead would be acceptable to them? The public has a right to know the answer to that question.

Ellsberg has performed his greatest public service yet with the publication of this book.

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White privilege is a wrong-headed construction – posted 1/7/2018 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/14/2018

January 7, 2018 Leave a comment

This piece ran in the Concord Monitor on 1/14/2018 under the title “Poor is Poor”.

I read with interest John Meinhold’s opinion piece about white privilege that appeared in the Concord Monitor on December 14. Meinhold complained about the treatment of poor white folks in America. He argued that poor whites have been slurred as “white trash”. He noted the many white people who live in poverty and he questioned whether liberal Democrats have demonstrated caring about the struggles of poor whites.

I think Meinhold is right that poor whites have been denigrated and exploited. He is absolutely right that millions of white folks live in poverty. Since even before our nation’s founding, there have been masses of desperately poor white people living here. He is also right to complain that liberals, among others, have failed to sympathetically address poor whites.

Meinhold legitimately criticizes the idea that poor whites experience white privilege. I agree that is a wrong way to conceive of poor white folks’ experience.

When you are getting clobbered economically, you do not want to hear that you are somehow privileged.

I think it is a mistake to get into comparative victimology about whom has been exploited more. Poor whites and poor people of color have both been victimized by the 1%. Both compete for crumbs from the table. It is important to look at the different forms the exploitation has taken but I find the concept “white privilege” unhelpful to understanding.

The fact that black people experience compounded deprivations does not minimize the class oppression poor whites experience. It does not have to be one or the other and blacks and whites should not be set against each other as is the method of the alt-right and neo-nazis.

Those hate groups try to appeal to white people on the basis of their skin color. This is what the writer Kurt Vonnegut used to call a granfalloon, a group who affect a shared identity but whose mutual association is meaningless. Race haters are a discredited anachronism.

Both poor whites and people of color have been oppressed but the form of the oppression for each group is historically different.

Class remains the dirty, unacknowledged secret of American politics. We have been conditioned to think of America as a classless society, which is an absolute lie. Class remains a significant and often determinative fact of life.

Poor white people are not oppressed because of their skin color. Their oppression has everything to do with their class position in American society. In her book, White Trash, the historian, Nancy Isenberg, uncovers the untold story of how poor whites have been treated in America for the last 400 years.

Poor treatment is nothing new. While early American history typically highlights the Founding Fathers and their accomplishments, Isenberg explores colonial beginnings from the perspective of the poor. She shows that the great majority of early colonists were classified by the British as surplus population and expendable “rubbish”. The British hoped to use America as a dumping ground for populations they did not want.

Much public discussion of colonization in early America focuses on the quest for religious liberty. Isenberg shows that only a minority came to America for religious reasons. The British wanted to thin out their prisons and remove vagrants and beggars from their society and a forced one-way ticket to America was one way to do that.

Many poor whites came to America as indentured servants. They were forced to sign a contract by which they agreed to work for a certain number of years in exchange for the costly transportation to the new world. These contracts often lasted 4 to 7 years before they could be evaded. Other poor white immigrants came to escape debts that might have put them in prison. Many left tarnished reputations and economic failures behind hoping to make a fresh start in America.

While slavery brutally oppressed many hundreds of thousands in the late 18th century, very harsh labor conditions and early death awaited huge numbers of poor white migrants.

When Shays Rebellion, an uprising against aggressive tax and debt collection, occurred in western Massachusetts in 1786, Abigail Adams wrote Thomas Jefferson: “Ferment and commotion had brought forth an abundance of Rubbish”. Newpapers referred to the Shays insurgents as “ragamuffins of the earth”.

Isenberg traces the evolution of the terms “cracker” and “squatter”. She says the terms were shorthand for landless migrants. In early America, many poor whites disappeared into unsettled territory and would occupy land without a land title. She quotes a British officer on the subject of “crackers”: they were “great boasters”, a “lawless set of rascals on the frontier of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their place of abode”. They were recruited to be Indian fighters and they were known to be ruthless.

Isenberg says many poor whites in 19th century America lived as scavengers and vagrants. They worked as tenants and day laborers. They had no access to free soil or homesteads. They typically occupied poor quality land. Poor whites became known as “sandhillers” and “pineys” because they were consigned to the worst land.

By 1850, Isenberg says poor whites became a permanent class. She cites the infamous Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court which had very negative implications for poor whites as well as for slaves. Chief Justice Roger Taney, author of the majority opinion in Dred Scott, turned pedigree into a constitutional principle, finding that the Founders’ original intent was to classify members of society in terms of bloodlines and racial stock. Poor whites were way below the slaveholders, landed gentry, and aristocrats who ruled.

The term “white trash” gained widespread use in the 1850’s. Proslavery Southerners defended the low station of poor whites as natural and a result of biology. Southern elites saw the white poor as riff raff. They feared class equality and educational literacy of both blacks and poor whites.

Later in the 19th century, the term “redneck” came into wider use, followed later by “trailer trash” and “po’ white trash”. The racist actions of some poor whites during the civil rights movement gave these slurs more of a lease on life. These terms are still with us.

Over the last 100 years, pseudo-science has also played a role in justifying the mistreatment of poor whites. Eugenics divided America on the basis of good and bad blood. The rural South of poor illiterate whites were seen as the epitome of eugenic backwardness. Eugenics offered a convenient biological explanation to justify the terrible treatment of poor whites and people of color.

The exploitation of poor whites must never be used as an excuse for racism. For all people of conscience and awareness, given American history, the struggle against racism must always be a central struggle of the fight for justice. At the same time, attitudes that belittle poor whites are equally unacceptable.

I would say, to date, no political party has embraced poor whites or has advocated for them. Republican rhetoric masks their slavish devotion to corporate power and their 1% funders. I would acknowledge the Republicans have had some success in conning poor whites as they have tried to get the vote. The Democrats, on the other hand, have demonstrated cluelessness where poor whites are concerned. The Democrats have made a minimal effort to even seek that vote. Unfortunately, many liberals remain as committed to corporate power as the Republicans.

To have a chance to attract poor whites, the Democrats need to junk their corporate-friendly worldview and they need a populist message that critiques concentrated wealth and power. Too many liberal yuppies maintain an upper-middle class snobbery toward poor whites. It is no wonder the Democrats have earned a hostile reception.

Poor whites have long maintained a place of invisibility in America. Before anything can change, we all need to open our eyes and see them.

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