Sunday, March 13, 2016

Today, on the website Slate, Jamelle Bouie penned their cover article, How Trump Happened: It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama. While she makes many valid points and I am sure that white racism form a significant part of the problem, I think she misses the bigger picture.

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, we were taught that once you got out of school, regardless of whether it was high school or college, you looked for a job with a good solid company. If the first one did not fit or proved unstable, there were others. You had about five or six shots before recruiters would discount you as a suitable employee. You then stayed with that company until you retired. If you were good, you might get promoted into management and up the corporate chain. We knew that most of us would not make it that far. In return, we expected a steady paycheck with regular increases and the promise of a pension when we reached retirement age.

Sound too good to be true? Not to us! We are the "Baby Boomers!" We saw our parents, especially our fathers or our friends' fathers, do it successfully! Our families moved from the racially and ethnically segregated neighborhoods of the cities into the suburbs. Instead of renting an apartment, our families owned a little piece of land. While most of us were white, there was a sprinkling of non-whites in our suburban blocks (at least in my part of the country) – although I am of German-American stock, the ancestors others within a block of my parents house hailed from Ireland, England, Spain, Italy, Mexico, Romania, Egypt, the Netherlands, the American Midwest and the American South. The non-whites were just like us, with jobs in the defense industries, auto repair, banking, retail, restaurants and teaching. Racism and ethnic-ism were rampant, with derogatory slang for each of us – you learned to live with it and get into fights about it.

Perhaps I am presenting a romanticized version of life when I was growing up. But remember, I was a child. I now know that many families never escaped from the cities, living in much less comfortable surroundings with what is now called "food insecurity."

The first real crack in the bubble was the Vietnam War, when many of my classmates got shipped off to Southeast Asia. Some never returned. Some returned to be interred. The rest came back changed in a way that I, as someone who was not drafted, can never understand.

The next crack was the 1970s, when the "oil shocks" and serious inflation hit. Wages, both for us and our parents, just could not keep up with the cost of living. Major US corporations began to curtail their pension plans and the unions. Unions, who had grown fat on corruption from the 1940s through the 1960s, failed to take notice or take action. Our parents were squeezed out, years before they would be eligible for the promised pensions.

It has been all downhill since then. Instead of secure, stable jobs, the companies we worked for kept hiring, laying off and often, reorganizing in bankruptcy. My own resume is littered with companies that no longer exist. Only two of the companies I worked for will pay me anything in my retirement. Prices keep going up, but wages do not. I currently earn over twice my father's top salary, but that wage buys less than his did.

None of what I have just described is racial or ethnic. We, the Baby Boomers, are now at or beyond the "normal retirement age," but have little to show for it. We cannot wait ten or twenty years for our nation to recover from the last fifty years of stupid, wasteful policies. President Obama is just another politician that says, "Wait, things will get better." We have heard this lie from administration after administration. On the promise of "Hope and Change," we voted Obama into office, but he has left us without either hope or change: the rich got richer, our paychecks are stagnant and, every day in little ways, prices deliberately left out of President Franklyn Roosevelt's Consumer Price Index keep crawling up, especially food and medical care.

Now, eight years after electing Obama, we are more desperate. Who are we to turn to? Hillary Clinton? Her husband's policies led to the "Great Recession" ten years later. Bernie Sanders? He talks a good game and is getting significant Baby Boomer support from those of us who have, in spite of the odds, done reasonably well. Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz? They are too inexperienced – we had that in Obama. Of all of the candidates for this cycle, only Donald Trump is promising to make America great again. Although it is probably pie-in-the-sky, it sounds as attractive to us as FDR's "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage" did to our parents.

To put it succinctly: Trump is offering us hope. It is probably a false hope, but it is hope nonetheless. None of the other candidates, with all their pretty speeches and proposed programs, are offering that. God help us all!

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Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Bill of Rights, Part II - The Second Five

The Bill of Rights

Amendment VI

Another "dirty trick" that has long been used by governments around the world to silence someone is to arrest the person but then never quite get around to charging the person with a crime or bringing the person to trial. Or, if the person is actually brought to trial, it is done in a way that makes it very difficult for the press, relatives, defense witnesses and often the defense counsel to attend.

During the Colonial period in America, the British often dragged alleged criminals to England for trial. Often, after the trial, the defendant could not afford to return to the Colonies and remained in England. From this practice, the Sixth Amendment was born:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Over the years, American law enforcement, quite famously, denied many alleged criminals their rights. Police detectives would arrest a suspect, question them for hours, until they would confess to anything. The suspects did not know about their rights to a lawyer or that they did not have to incriminate themselves. As alleged criminals became more aware of their rights, cases worked their way up to the US Supreme Court. The Court decided, in 1966, the case of Miranda vs Arizona that this police tactic was illegal. This led to the "Miranda Warnings" which American law enforcement officers must give to suspects when they are arrested, either verbally or on a card such as this:

Amendment VII

A key concept of British law was trial by jury. Unfortunately, in the Colonies, many civil legal decisions were decided by a judge in camera, often following the payment of a "fee" to assure that the judgment was in favor of the fee-payer. Twenty dollars, at the time, was a considerable sum of money. Thus was born:

In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Unfortunately, this still happens today — usually, with a little more discretion. Today, instead of a private decision and a fee, the judge announces the decision in open court for which he receives a political favor at some point in the future, usually during their next political campaign either for re-election as a judge or for election to a higher office.

Amendment VIII

The purpose of bail is to ensure that the defendant will appear in court to face a criminal charge. Under a British law, The Statute of Westminster in 1275, bail was granted only when the accused owned considerable real property and only for certain offenses. The granting of bail allows the accused to work with legal counsel to prepare the best defense possible. This can be very difficult to do while jailed, especially with limited or virtually non-existent visiting hours.

Governments around the world today still jail suspects pending trial, regardless of how long they chose to wait prior to setting a trial date. Not only does this make planning a defense difficult, it prevents the accused from earning an income from which to pay the legal counsel and other costs related to the defense.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This amendment also prohibited punishments such as torture, maiming, and depriving a prisoner of food and water.

Amendment IX

Our Founding Fathers knew that they had not listed all of the rights that should be accorded to Americans. They assumed that, although they tried their best, the States and the people would consider routine actions needed for day-to-day living, such as hunting or privacy, as a right. This amendment allows the Supreme Court to declare judicially that this is an unlisted right.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The Founding Fathers firmly believed in limited government. They added this amendment in an attempt to prevent the Federal government from usurping all the power.

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

This amendment says to the Federal government: if a power is not listed here in the Constitution, then it is not yours to usurp or exercise. It says to the States: all other power belongs to you and the Americans unless this Constitution reserves it to the Federal Government. This leaves most of the power in the hands of the States and, through state and local elections, in the hands of the people.

This does make sense. Laws and programs enacted by the Federal government must apply to the whole country — a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem. Our nation is so varied that a law that makes perfect sense in cold mountainous state like Alaska or Montana often seems nonsensical to a warm, flat state such as Florida or Louisiana.

Next - Amendments XI Through ??

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