Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid - the Outrages

The Erickson Report, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid - the Outrages

Now we turn to the Outrages.

Late in September, the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling making it impossible for graduate student workers to unionize.

How? By issuing a regulation "establishing that students who perform any services for compensation, including, but not limited to, teaching or research, at a private college or university in connection with their studies are not 'employees'" under the National Labor Relations Act. The rule, if it gains final approval after a public comment period, will overturn an earlier rule that said grad student workers could, in fact, unionize. I mean, yeah, they're workers, duh.

You see, the thing is, graduate student workers do much of the actual work of teaching undergrads - doing the backgrounds, gathering the materials, doing research, and conducting many of the classes. They do the work, they get paid for it - not enough, but they get paid - they have regular hours, they have a boss to who they report and who assigns their duties, but somehow, according to the now-rightwing NLRB, they still are not employees of the university that pays them.

In recent years, graduate student workers, along with another underpaid group, adjunct professors, have been very active in the labor movement, which may be why they were targeted here. And yes, since the Board didn't even wait for an actual case to come before it to try to strip these workers of their rights, it certainly looks like they were targeted for this Outrage.

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Next, I earlier noted a case where a teacher was claiming that their religious belief - more honestly described as their religious bigotry - freed them from having to follow the rules, in that case their employer's requirement to use male pronouns in referring to a student transitioning to male.

Here is a more ominous application of the same idea.

Joshua Payne-Elliott is an educator fired in June from his job at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, a Catholic high school in the Indianapolis archdiocese.

He was fired because he is married to Layton Payne-Elliott and the Archbishop of Indianapolis, one Charles Thompson, demanded the school get rid of him because he regards all Catholic school teachers as “ministers” - no matter their actual beliefs - who are therefore required to uphold church teachings, which as we all know do not include same-sex marriage.

Layton and Joshua Payne-Elliot
The school was supportive of Payne-Elliott but faced serious repercussions, including losing its nonprofit status, its diocesan priests, and its ability to offer the Eucharist, a key Christian rite, if it resisted Thompson's demand.

In fact, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis was temporarily kicked out of the archdiocese for refusing to meet Thompson’s demands that it fire Layton Payne-Elliott. The Vatican has suspended the ouster pending an appeal of the move, but it shows the threat from the archbishop was very real.

Joshua had worked as a social studies and world language teacher at the school for 13 years and Cathedral had offered to renew his teaching contract for another year. But in June, the school told him it was terminating his employment “at the direction of the Archdiocese.”

But right there in those two sentences is the crux of the matter: Joshua did not work for the archdiocese. He worked for Cathedral High School. That's who his contract was with. The school, not the archdiocese, was his employer.

So he sued, charging that the archdiocese had illegally interfered in his employment contract with Cathedral, which it seems pretty clear it did.

Not, however, and here we come to the important point, not according to the US Dept. of Injustice, which has filed a statement of interest in the case defending the archdiocese on the grounds of - you got it - "religious freedom" and calling for the suit to be dismissed.

The brief argues that the First Amendment bars courts from interfering in how a religious group interprets and applies its teachings - even if, apparently, that application consists of bullying a school into firing what the brief itself calls "an excellent teacher" because that group, the Catholic church, doesn't like who he married.

Again, according to the Injustice Dept., claiming a religious belief is supposed to override all civil rights and all civil rights laws - even if means a religious group illegally interfering with a business contract to which it's not a party.

Vanita Gupta, who headed the DOJ’s civil rights division during the Obama administration, summed it up well on on Twitter, writing that "[The administration] is once again using religion as a shield against core anti-discrimination principles that protect LGBTQ people.”
       
Using bigotry to uphold bigotry. Which is truly an outrage.

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Saving what is probably the worst for last.

In the summer of 2017, police in Southaven, Mississippi, were searching for a domestic violence suspect. They got the address wrong and went to a house on the other side of the street.

There, they shot and killed an innocent man, 41-year-old Ismael Lopez.

According to various news reports I found, police first alleged Lopez appeared at the front door with a handgun and then tried to run away. At another point, they claimed they saw a rifle poking though the now only partly open door. They also said a dog ran out which of course they immediately shot at and they then fired through the door - which in fact they did, killing Lopez with a shot to the back of his head.

Ismael Lopez
Despite the changing details, in July 2018, a local grand jury - surprise! - declined to indict the two officers involved in the fatal shooting, after which the prosecutor refused to release either the names of the cops involved or the investigative file, which attorneys for the family had to pry loose.

But that's not why this is here; cops getting away will killing brown and black people is old news. No, this one has an extra twist of the knife.

About a year after the failure of the grand jury, that is, this past summer, the family filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Southaven, the chief of Southaven police, and the officers involved in Lopez’s death.

In responding to the suit, the city declared in open court that it is their policy that if you are an undocumented immigrant, which Lopez was, if you have no “legally recognized relationship” with the US, you have no constitutional protections, you have no constitutional rights, not even the right to not be wrongfully killed.

Quoting attorney Katherine Kerby, arguing for the city,
If he ever had Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment civil rights they were lost by his own conduct and misconduct. He may have been a person on American soil but he was not one of the "We, the People"
and so lacked all protections.

Murray Wells, an attorney representing Lopez’s family, lambasted the city’s argument as both “chilling” and “insane” and said “We’re stunned that someone put this in writing.”

It's hard to grasp how totally demented, totally vicious, the city's position is. If accepted, it would turn all police into a version of the Tonton Macoute, able to abuse and even kill any undocumented person with total impunity.

Happily, it's also total crapola, as the Supreme Court has ruled on multiple occasions that people on U.S. soil are guaranteed certain basic rights, no matter their immigration status, and the cases the city cites in support of its contention are grossly misapplied and have absolutely nothing to do with the case at hand.

As an illustration of how vacuous the city's position was, one case it cited involved courts finding that an undocumented immigrant did not have a Second Amendment right to a firearm - in a ruling that said in so many words that this did not impact Fourth Amendment rights.

But while that makes the city's attempt grounds for a Clown award, it is much too vile, much too appalling, for that. Even the term Outrage barely contains it.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid - the Clowns

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid - the Clowns

Now for one of our regular features, it's Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. And as we usually do, we start with the Clowns.

And we start with a return appearance by rightwing big brain Ben Shapiro, who, on his radio show a couple of weeks ago, praised America’s healthcare system by touting the country’s life expectancy - which according to the Centers for Disease Control has been declining for the past three years - as being “pretty good when you take out all the confounding factors” such as auto accidents, murders, and suicide. Note that gun deaths and suicides are both considered public health issues.

In other words, Shapiro was saying, our life expectancy is great - as long as you ignore a lot of the people who died.

I swear to you, Shapiro really is considered an intellectual by the right.

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Next up, we have George Murdoch, a former pro-wrestler going under the names Brodus Clay and later Tyrus who now has a show on Fox. He considered the climate strike that involved millions of people around the world as being not of any significance because, to quote him, “If it's pre-planned, it's not really a protest.”

He didn't go on to explain what in that case it was.

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Next up is Charles Payne, a host at Fox Business.

According to Payne, having to work multiple jobs to get by is not a problem, it's not a bad thing, it's an "opportunity," something to be "celebrated" as part of the gig economy - you know, that economy where no one has a regular job, no one has benefits, no one has job security and you have to scramble every day. You know. That thing Charles Payne thinks we should celebrate

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And here ya go, there almost had to be an entry for Tweetie-pie. Reports are that during the first week of October, Tweetie-pie is planning to sign an executive order calling for further privatization of Medicare by expanding "plans offered through Medicare Advantage."

The purpose, it's said, is to "protect" the government-run program of Medicare from being subjected to "socialist destruction" under a Medicare for All program.

Remember the classic case of the woman who at a town meeting during the debate over Obamacare had a sign reading "Keep your government hands off my Medicare?" It seems she is now working at the White House.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Five Things Noted in Passing

Okay, moving to Five Things Noted in Passing, a collection of a few things I couldn't let pass without at least mentioning.

First up, a combination of bad and at least no-so-bad news on net neutrality.

On October 1, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals largely upheld the FCC's repeal of net neutrality. It was a cause for celebration among AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon and a hard blow for consumers - particularly because the main argument pushed by the corporations to eliminate the rule, that it stifled investment in broadband, has been shown to be a lie by multiple studies.

But there was victory for our side as well - and by the way, I do mean our side as against the Dark Lords: More than 85 percent of voters, including 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats, support net neutrality - we did get one true victory in that the court ruled the FCC could not block states from passing their own net neutrality rules, as at least nine states have done in the wake of the FCC's repeal of its rules.

Net neutrality could be restored and placed beyond the reach of the FCC if Congress passed the Save the Internet Act, which has already passed the House but which Fishface McConnell refuses to bring up in the Senate. So what we are more likely to see is a rush by corporations to fast-track legislation to give the FCC the authority block state-level net neutrality - but chances of such a bill passing the House right now seem pretty dim. So the fight is going to the state level.

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Greta Thunberg
Next, just an observation: According to the right wing - these are all quotes - Greta Thunberg is an “annoying, foreign, communist propagandist” who "channeled Hitler In [a] Hate-Filled Rant” "instilling fear in millions of kids around the world" who should be “Tase[d] and arrest[ed].”

But at the same time, she is also "an obsessive, mentally troubled young girl" and a victim of "child abuse" who is a “creation of powerful Marxists, Soros-backed NGO's, Al Gore, and more" who is now “being exploited by her parents” and other adults.

Consider it an illustration of the old adage: If you can't attack the message, you attack the messenger.

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Some good news here: On Tuesday, US District Judge Steve Jones blocked Georgia's restrictive new abortion law from taking effect. It was supposed to go into force on January 1.

The law bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even realize they're pregnant.

It also declares that an embryo or fetus is a "natural person" once cardiac activity can be detected, giving the fetus the same legal standing as an actual born child, potentially making any woman or health provider involved in an abortion that is not state-approved liable to be charged with murder.

This so-called heartbeat law is one of a wave of such laws passed recently by GOPper-controlled legislatures in a coordinated attack on Roe v. Wade. Happily, none of the bans has taken effect: Some have already been blocked, the rest are under challenge. But the threat remains.

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Then there's the fact that as of October 1, the second anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre, some teachers in Florida can enter classrooms armed with guns. In fact, Florida is one of eight states that allow some teachers and coaches to carry guns in schools.

Some 36 of the state’s 67 school districts are participating in the so-called Guardian Program, apparently operating under the notion that the more guns there are around the safer everyone is - no matter how many times that notion is knocked down, it rises like a zombie to walk again - and security is found in a vision of recreating the gunfight at the OK Corral.

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Finally, here is a case to watch because of what its success - if it succeeds - will indicate.

Peter Vlaming was a teacher at West Point High School in West Point VA. He had in one of his classes a female student who was transitioning to male. Vlaming refused to use male pronouns such as "him" and "his" in referring to the student and was accused of using female pronouns when discussing him with other people.

When the school found out, administrators told Vlaming to either use male pronouns or risk losing his job. He refused and ultimately was fired for insubordination.

Now he is suing the school and the school board for $1million, accusing them of violating his religious conscience and requiring him to, in the words of the suit, "take sides in an ongoing public debate regarding gender dysphoria and" - here comes the tell - "use pronouns that express an objectively untrue ideological message."

That is, being transgender is "objectively untrue" and an "ideological message."

Again, and it is becoming a real trend, religion - and let's be blunt, every time of which I am aware it has been conservative Christianity - is being used as a weapon to justify bigotry.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Listen Up! on impeachment

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Listen Up! on impeachment

So - I go away on vacation for a couple of weeks and the domestic political world explodes.

I'm not even going to try to talk about impeachment news because it would likely be outdated by the time I finish recording this, much less by the time you see or read it. So instead I'm going to make some broad comments.

I'll start by addressing the issue of Nancy Pelosi, who all through the spring and summer and into the fall was against impeachment.

Against it because her only - okay, her primary - concern is electing Democrats to the House and she was afraid that pursuing impeachment will hurt the party's chances in the 2020 Congressional elections, particularly the chances of those "vulnerable" incumbents, those Democrats from relatively moderate or conservative districts, where, it's thought, impeachment will get the right wing all hot and bothered and turning out in droves. chances. That's why she was against it.

It had nothing to do with Tweetie-pie "not being worth it," as she said at one point; even less did it have anything to do with the notion that he would "self-impeach," whatever the hell that wqas supposed to mean. It was strictly a political calculation about 2020.

Now that she has embraced the idea, she is being praised by some on the left as some sort of brilliant strategist who was instead just wait for the precise right moment to strike.

That is just nonsense. Nancy Pelosi is still against impeachment because she still has the same concerns about 2020.

But by late May, over half of the entire House, which of course meant most of the Democrats, wanted to open an impeachment inquiry. By the end of September, 90% of House Dems openly supported doing so.

Nancy Pelosi's caucus was running away from her and major committee chairs such as Adam Schiff at Intelligence, Elijah Cummings at Oversight, and Jerry Nadler at Judiciary seemed to be moving on their own, creating what amounted to an impeachment inquiry, just without the official designation. Endorsing impeachment was the only way Pelosi could reassert some control.

On that score, it's notable, I think, that in endorsing an inquiry, she insists on it being limited to one issue, to focus solely on the Ukraine business.

Which I do not want to minimize: In addition to being a remarkable abuse of power and a betrayal of the public trust - using his position as president and let's not forget taxpayer money to pressure a foreign government to dig up some dirt on a potential political opponent, that is, for his own personal benefit - the fact that it was tied to Congressionally-approved military aid or future sales to Ukraine (oh no, not explicitly, there was no specific quid pro quo, like there ever is) marks it as at the very least a form of extortion. Do you imagine that President Zelensky didn't know that the aid had been held up for months for no apparent reason; do you imagine that when Tweetie-pie said "we want you to do us a favor, though" that Zelensky didn't get the meaning? The conversation played out like someone with a bent nose doing their best Marlon Brando impression and saying "Nice military aid package ya got there. Would be a shame if something happened to it. By the way, on this other matter, you can do me a favor...."

In fact, the call and what surrounded it could involve four separate felonies: illegally soliciting campaign help from a foreign government, bribery, misappropriation, and conspiracy.

But getting back to Pelosi, the fact remains that, again, she is still unhappy with the whole business, she has the same concerns she did before. And limiting the inquiry to a single issue, particularly an easily understood one, is the best way to control that inquiry and get it over with so fast that it, the idea is, won't be an issue in 2020 or at least not as big an issue as it would otherwise be.

But the hard fact is, we should not, we must not, let this be limited to a single incident, a single issue, a single case. There is so much more that should be addressed.

The fact is, if we ignore these other issues, it means we are saying that obstructing justice, ignoring the emoluments clause and openly profiting from the office, breaking campaign finance laws, abusing the classification system for personal gain, undermining constitutional government and corrupting the political process, colluding with a foreign government to influence a national election, ignoring subpoenas, refusing to obey laws even if the plain black letter of the law says otherwise, subverting the very rule of law by turning the Attorney General into his personal lawyer, subverting free speech by encouraging violence against protestors; subverting the free press with lies about "fake news" and declaring his own twitter feed the only source of truth, engaging in witness tampering and now witness intimidation, suggesting whistleblowers should be executed and members of Congress arrested for treason, even refusing to recognize Congress as a co-equal branch of government - if that is not part of impeachment, we are saying that none of it is important enough to address.

In the very first edition of The Erickson Report, back in May, I said we can't not impeach, that even if we thought there was no chance in the Senate, we had to throw down a marker saying "this is not acceptable."

That remains true. And as significant as that phone call to Ukraine is, it remains true for more than that. We cannot not impeach on more.

The Erickson Report for October 2 to 15






The Erickson Report for October 2 to 15

This episode:

Listen Up: Impeachment must not be limited to one issue

Five Things Noted in Passing

Two Weeks of Stupid: the Clowns

Two Weeks of Stupid: the Outrages

Saturday, September 07, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 4: A Longer Look at Our Criminal Law System

The Erickson Report, Page 4: A Longer Look at Our Criminal Law System

And that brings us to A Longer Look at that profound failing at the heart of our legal system, because these cases are linked by more than the fact that they're both about convictions for murder.

Larry Swearingen was legally murdered because there was no error in the procedures, there was no misstep in applying the rules of the courts, and there is no requirement for a court to consider newly-discovered evidence or to believe it if it's produced. Johnson is still in prison because the court system was more interested in "the integrity of the legal process" than the fact of a wrongful conviction.

The court system, that is, the courts as part of what we call the criminal justice system, is more interested in the technicalities of legal procedure than it is with truth or with justice. It has been said before that "The law is not about justice. The law is about the law." And despite what we call it, we do not have a criminal justice system; we have a criminal law system.

So what happened in these cases is not the fault of Judge Edwards. It is not the fault of Judge Hogan. It is the way the system is designed: The original trial court is the place, the only place, where facts are to be determined, where truth or falsehood are to be found out. After that, at any higher court, it's all about procedure, about rules and regulations, and the truth of the original charge, indeed the very personhood of the convicted person, fades to insignificance.

Oh, certainly if you can show corruption on the part of the police or prosecution you can get a conviction overturned, but that's because they broke the rules; it has nothing to do with the truth or falseness of the charge.

Larry Swearingen
The profound flaw at the heart of our criminal justice - properly criminal law - system is that it equates justice with the process, not with truth or fairness or decency or even the accuracy of a criminal charge and sees nothing wrong with innocent people being imprisoned or even executed as long as they got "a fair trial."

To be convicted, the evidence has to show guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But once you are convicted, the system is designed to assume that result was correct, so in the absence of some demonstration of official misconduct, of clear and undeniable rule-breaking, getting reconsideration on the basis of new evidence of innocence is like changing the mind of someone who already has firmly made theirs up - particularly because if a case is sent back to consider new evidence, it usually goes back to the original trial judge, who is now in the position of being asked, in effect, to confess that they were partly responsible for sending an innocent person to prison or even to Death Row. Such a change of mind happens, but it's rare. The system that claimed a bias in favor of the defendant at trial now has a far stronger bias in favor of the prosecution.

Lamar Johnson
It goes so far that the Supreme Court has never actually found that it is unconstitutional to execute a person known to be innocent of a capital crime, not so long as all the correct procedures were followed.

For example, in the 1993 case Herrera v. Collins, the Supreme Court denied habeas relief to a Texas death row inmate, ruling that in the absence of other constitutional grounds, newly discovered evidence of actual innocence would have to meet an "extraordinarily high" threshold - a threshold far higher than that required for conviction - to be grounds for a new trial. The court said he didn't meet that requirement. He was later executed.

The only sliver of hope on this particular front is found in the case of Troy Davis, another possibly innocent man executed by the state, in this case the state of Georgia in 2011. Responding to a 2009 petition from Davis, the Supreme Court ruled that "the District Court should receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could not have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes petitioner’s innocence."

Troy Davis
That is indeed an "extraordinarily high" threshold, requiring evidence that could not - not was not, could not - have been obtained at time of the trial and which "clearly establishes innocence" - not "creates reasonable doubt about guilt" and note again that it's not necessary to "clearly establish" guilt in order to convict. But it at least suggests - but again does not say - that it would be unconstitutional to officially murder an innocent person even if all the legalities were seen to.

And in any event the failing - the devotion to procedure rather than justice - remains. I don't have an answer for this, I don't have a grand proposal for thoroughgoing change. I admit in fairness that a lot of the incantation-encrusted structure that has grown up around the law arose from attempts to prevent personal biases and cruel arbitrariness from determining outcomes of legal proceedings, but in so doing is has also for the most part locked out concepts such as compassion and completely rejected the concept that sometimes it's necessary to slip outside the rules in order to do what is right.

Meanwhile, as our legal system has become a nearly impenetrable, self-referential, high priesthood where most of us can find ourselves blocked from the courthouse for not knowing which official form to file or missing a deadline of which we were never informed because it was up to us to know, that failing continues to eat away at the justice we foolishly believed the system was about and the names like Larry Swearingen, like Lamar Johnson, like Troy Davis, like all the others wrongly convicted, even wrongly executed, will continue to haunt us.

Again, I don't know the answer. But I do know this: At his legal murder, Larry Swearingen said "Lord forgive them. They don't know what they are doing." I think he was wrong. They know exactly what they are doing. They are serving the system.

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

Now the Outrages, and there are two of them, linked by the way they demonstrate a profound flaw, a profound failing, at the heart of our criminal justice system. And I'm not talking about racism or classism - the advantages the rich have over others - or anything like that, I am talking about the philosophy that undergirds the system itself.

The first involves one Larry Swearingen, who on August 21 was legally murdered by the state of Texas.

Swearingen had been convicted in 2000 of the 1998 rape and murder of 19-year-old Melissa Trotter. The evidence was strictly circumstantial, consisting largely of the fact that he was the last person seen with her before she disappeared and some signs of what could have been a struggle in his home. No physical evidence connected him to the crime; the closest thing to actual hard evidence was that a cell phone tower noted his phone signal that evening, meaning he was in the vicinity of a certain road potentially relevant to the case at the time.

Swearingen never denied knowing Trotter and maintained his innocence literally to his last breath. His attorneys had mounted a major effort through the legal system to defend him, fending off four previous dates for execution over the years, arguing that the prosecution relied on "junk science."

So what's the deal? It's that a number of influential Texas pathologists, together responsible for thousands of death investigations every year, say that the evidence proves that Trotter had not been dead very long when her body was found more than three weeks after she disappeared. In which case, Swearingen could not have killed her, since - the ultimate alibi - he was in prison on an outstanding warrant and had been there since a couple of days after Trotter vanished. Even the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy, Dr. Joye Carter, recanted her trial testimony in 2007, admitting that the ease with which she was able to weigh and dissect Trotter’s organs, which would have been seriously deteriorated had she been killed in the time before Swearingen was arrested, made the state’s timeline impossible.

Larry Swearingen
Here's the crucial point: The courts didn't care. As an example, a nine-day hearing was held in 2012, laying out expert testimony on why Trotter had to have been killed not long before her body was found, thus long after Swearingen was in prison. Even before the final transcripts were filed, Judge Fred Edwards, who presided over the original trial, dismissed the science presented by the defense as "junk."

And so it went: The rulings were issued, the procedures were followed, there was no error in the operation of the machinery of the law, all the i's were dotted and the t's crossed according to formula, and so finally Swearingen was officially killed and the law was satisfied - as a quite likely innocent man lay dead.

Our second Outrage involves Lamar Johnson, who has been in prison in Missouri for 24 years, having been sentenced to life without parole for a murder even prosecutors now say he did not commit.

Johnson was convicted of murdering Marcus Boyd in 1994, in a case that even at the time should have left everyone scratching their heads. Prosecutors claimed that in the space of just five minutes, Johnson left a friend's apartment, traveled 3 miles to Boyd's home, killed Boyd, and then traveled by foot back to his friend's apartment.

But what's brought renewed attention is the fact that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner's Conviction Integrity Unit has filed a 67-page motion seeking a new trial for Johnson, based on having uncovered a staggering amount of misconduct on the part of homicide detectives and prosecutors, including inventing witness statements, paying the single eyewitness, and pressuring that person into making a false identification. Then there was the fact that two other men confessed in 1996 and 2002 that they were the ones who killed Boyd in a botched robbery.

Lamar Johnson
But Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan rejected the motion on August 23, saying in effect it was 24 years too late, citing a provision of Missouri law that, believe it or not, requires a motion for a new trial to be made within 25 days of trial's end. Hogan's decision gives no evidence of there being an exception for evidence discovered after that time.

In fact, in her ruling, Judge Hogan seemed much more concerned with a question of if prosecutors and Johnson’s lawyers had violated some rules of court procedure in pressing for his freedom. She wrote that she was "concerned about the integrity of the legal process in this case" even as she could not spare a word for what one of Johnson's lawyers called "the clear, convincing, and overwhelming evidence" that Johnson is innocent.

She did, however, for some reason find it relevant to include in laying out the background to the case that the same day that Gardner filed her motion, she "also released a copy of its motion and exhibits to the national media," an irrelevant observation which bluntly doesn't say much for Hogan's impartiality.

And so Johnson still sits in prison, hoping against hope for a successful appeal although it's hard to see on what basis if Judge Hogan cited that law about filing for a new trial correctly, since there is then no visible error, even if the aside about releasing the motion to the media could be taken as an indication of personal bias against Gardner or her office.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Okay, we turn now to a popular feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. We start, as usual, with the Clowns and oh do we have a carful this time.

Our first Clown is conservative radio host and poster boy for privilege Ben Shapiro, who said on his show a couple of weeks ago that people who have to work two jobs are actually just, well, stupid:
If you had to work more than one job to have a roof over your head or food on the table, you probably shouldn’t have taken the job that’s not paying you enough. That’d be a you problem.
Put another way, if you have to take a second - or a third, or a fourth, or whatever - job in order to provide for your family, it's your own damn fault because you should have refused to take any job at all until one that paid enough came along.

He got scorched on Twitter, provoking him to shift into damage control mode, claiming - I shouldn't even have to tell you this - claiming he was taken out of context, the context being, it seems, that the government should take no steps at all toward establishing a living wage because The Market (pbui) "knows more than you do."

Ben Shapiro
How that affects his blaming struggling people for their problems goes unexplained. Which is pretty typical for a Clown.

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Next up, and we're sort of taking these chronologically, is the Hasbro company, which has come out with a variation on the board game Monopoly, this one called "Monopoly Socialism." You immediately can get a flavor of the game by noting the tagline is "Winning is for capitalists."

Historian Nick Kapur described the game in a lengthy Twitter thread, including noting the lame jokes about vegetarianism - how that got to be about socialism is beyond me - and the "We Are All Winners" school as well as pointing out the mockery aimed at environmentalism and, get this, voting.

the game
The whole idea seems to be that no one in the game gets anywhere, the "community fund" that finances projects which individual players can't afford is designed to be constantly going broke, and from time to time any wealth that the community has actually accumulated is simply destroyed.

I could have done without Kapur's suggesting the target audience is "hate-filled baby boomers who grew up during the cold war and are triggered by anything done by anyone under 40," but the fact remains that the whole thing is so thoroughly lame it is hard to imagine just who it is for and it is clearly the product of the minds of Clowns.

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We move on to the fact that last week, in response to a report that bedbugs had been found in the New York Times newsroom, a George Washington University professor named named David Karpf tweeted that "The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens," Stephens being a right-wing Times op-Ed columnist.

Bret Stephens
His tweet got, Karpf later said, nine likes and zero retweets and was not sent to Stephens.

Now personally, I think the joke is not funny and in fact a bit creepy but Stephens, who somehow heard about it, went out of his little mind. He wrote to Karpf complaining about his tweet and essentially daring Karpf to come to his house and say it to his face - a letter which he copied to the the university provost, that is, Karpf's boss. Oh, not to threaten his job of course, not to get him in trouble at work, oh no perish the thought, rather it was merely that he thought the provost should be aware of his underling's behavior. He then wrote a whole column about about attacks on Jews in World War II referencing insect comparisons and saying "the rhetoric of infestation is back."

To top is off, he then took advantage of his place as a contributor on MSNBC to get face time to bloviate about his side of his by-then-viral tiff with Karpf, who of course was afforded no such opportunity.

And if all that doesn't add up to Clown status (with the Times and MSNBC as enablers), then how about this:

James Inhofe
Despite cc'ing Karpf's boss, when it came to the case of Tucks Carlson saying Iraqis are "semi-literate primitive monkeys," Stephens defended him, saying threatening someone's career is an assault on free speech - in addition to which, insect and "infestation" references are not new to him, as he once compared Palestinians to a giant mosquito.

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Okay, an old favorite Clown is Sen. James Inhofe. He has introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to limit the authority of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to regulate lake levels and flood control related to a dam on Grand Lake in northeastern Oklahoma.

Folks upstream of the damn, including local Native American tribes and officials in the high-poverty town of Miami, say that maintaining high water levels on the lake has contributed to repeated floods as water backs up from the dam. Two dozen floods in less than 30 years, in fact, with 150 homes torn down and more abandoned as a result. This spring’s floods forced the Eastern Shawnee tribe to evacuate, its ceremonial grounds covered in three feet of water.

LeBron James
Inhofe wants higher water levels at Grand Lake on the grounds that it "makes the lake a better place for recreation and commerce." We're all sure here that the facts that he has a vacation home there and a company in his wife’s name holds $1 million in property around the lake has nothing to do with his enthusiasm for deregulation.

Inhofe's middle name, no joke, is Mountain. Which seems entirely appropriate for a Clown who has rocks in his head.

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And the Clowns keep on coming. LeBron James has reportedly filed for a trademark for the phrase "Taco Tuesday," apparently based on his popular series of social media posts on the theme.

According to the application, James wants to trademark the phrase for "advertising and marketing services" through "indirect methods" that include social media and blogging.

So be careful: If you ever want to have tacos on a Tuesday, you may have to pay a fee to LeBron James, professional Clown.

the shirt
As a footnote to that, of course the phrase "Taco Tuesday" has been around a long time, long before LeBron James became a fabulously rich man who wants to be a fabulously richer one. You're not supposed to be able to trademark a common phrase or expression, but in a world where money speaks louder than law and the patent office is hopelessly overburdened, that principle did not keep Paris Hilton from trademarking "That's hot!" or Rachel Zoe from getting a trademark on the word "bananas" referring to something crazy, even though that's an expression that dates back to at least 1935.

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Then there are the Clowns of the administration of the Highland Hills Middle School in Highland Hills, Indiana, where a 13-year-old girl got in trouble over a t-shirt.

What was wrong with it? Well, it had a slogan that read "Why be racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic when you can just be quiet?" which the principal declared inappropriate and disrespectful, along with claiming the words “Sex” and “Homo” were too eye-catching. As you can see in the picture, yeah, they really do just pop out at you, don't they.

The school's dress code bans shirts that are "suggestive, obscene or promote alcohol or drug products or use" or are sheer. It seems that "oppose bigotry" needs to be added to that list - unless doing so is already considered obscene by the Clowns at Highland Hills Middle School.

Dan Rehill
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Finally for this time, we have the Rev. Dan Reehil, a Clown pastor at the St. Edward School, a Roman Catholic grammar school in Nashville, Tennessee. He just sent an email to parents of students telling them that the Harry Potter books have been removed from the school library because they "risk conjuring evil spirits." Seriously.

Quoting the email:
These books present magic as both good and evil, which is not true, but in fact a clever deception. The curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.
Personally, I think that's just Riddikulus.

Clowns to the right of me, Clowns to the left of me, Clowns in front of me, volleyed and thundered....

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Following Up on Three Items

The Erickson Report, Page 1: Following Up on Three Items

We start this time by Following Up on three things previously discussed.

On the very first episode of The Erickson Report, we took A Longer Look at Venezuela and its disappearance as a news story after the US-backed attempt to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in favor of self-declared president Juan Guaidó fizzled out.

As part of that, I noted how the Tweetie-pie White House had imposed two rounds of damaging economic sanctions against Venezuela, the first in 2017 and the second in January of this year.

Following Up: On August 5, there came a third round of sanctions, these intended to be economically crippling.

The executive order blocks all property and assets of the Venezuelan government and its officials, and prohibits any transactions with them, including the country's Central Bank and the state oil company, essentially creating an economic wall between the US and Venezuela. What's more, it threatens that any non-US company that does any business of any sort with Venezuela may itself be subject to US sanctions.

In April, a study published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that US sanctions against Venezuela had already resulted in 40,000 deaths between 2017 and 2018.

Now, referring to the latest round of this economic terrorism, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights warned of the severe impact on the human rights of the people of Venezuela, saying the new sanctions could deny food, medicine, and other necessities to millions of people.

The story may have disappeared from the US media, but it remains real for the people of Venezuela, who are being told by the US "give us the government we tell you to - or starve."

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Next: A couple of weeks ago I took A Longer Look at the Boycott-Divest-Sanctions (BDS) movement and Israel, in the course of which I discussed the reports that between the end of March and the end of December 2018, Israeli snipers had killed 180 unarmed Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip and wounded over 6100 more - both numbers higher now - and referred to the fact that Gaza has been rightly called "the biggest outdoor prison in the world."

Here's indication of what I meant.

COGAT stands for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories. It is the Israeli government agency that scrutinizes every package entering Gaza in search of banned items, including allegedly deadly "dual-use" items that could, Israel insists, be used for "military purposes." Such "dual-use" items go well beyond what you would think as a norm. The label can be arbitrarily put on items such as drones, cameras, and radios, for which you can at least imagine a military use, to microscopes, medical equipment, construction material, and spare parts for assembly lines.

And now COGAT has attained a real coup: The beginning of August, the agency breathlessly tweeted that it had uncovered "dozens of pairs of military shoes that were hidden in a shipment of civilian goods, in an attempt to smuggle them into Gaza for terrorist purposes," adding that "This is another miserable and failed attempt by terrorist groups in Gaza to hide behind the civilian population."

The tweets were illustrated with pictures of the military shoes, terrorist contraband. Yes, those shoes. The picture is from the tweet COGAT sent out. Pictures of ordinary, everyday, lace-up hiking boots.

It was so absurd, at least some people thought the tweet was a joke. But it wasn't. Instead it is testimony to the deeply paranoid, deeply cruel, and deeply destructive blockade Israel has placed around Gaza. It needs to stop.

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Finally for this time, around the end of July, I noted the argument being raised against Medicare for All that polls say that people love their private insurance plans, so anything that suggests getting rid of those is doomed to failure.
Here's the thing[, I asked at the time], are those people really happy with their insurance? Are they happy with the premiums, the co-pays, the deductibles, the medically-necessary procedures put on hold until you find out if "insurance will cover it," the not being able to choose your doctor because they are "out of network?" Or are they just happy that they have insurance?
A recent Business Insider poll seems to answer that question.

It showed that 59 percent of respondents who have employer-provided insurance "said they would support switching their employer-based health insurance to a government plan under Medicare for All" as long as quality of coverage would remain the same or improve - which bluntly it would or there is no point in doing single-payer in the first place.

As Business Insider put it,
[t]he results highlight the fact that ... mainly people just like being covered, bearing little loyalty to a specific insurer.
Incidentally, the poll also found that among those Americans on government-run healthcare plans - Medicare, Medicaid, and military coverage - 57% love their plan, which is 16 percentage points higher than those on employer-provided plans and 18 points higher than those with privately-purchased insurance.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

The Erickson Report for September 4 to 17



The Erickson Report for September 4 to 17

This episode:

- Following Up on Venezuela
https://whoviating.blogspot.com/2019/05/the-erickson-report-page-3-deeper-look.html
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/06/economic-terrorism-after-failed-military-coup-attempt-trump-imposes-total-embargo
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/09/warning-severe-harm-millions-people-un-human-rights-chief-condemns-trump-embargo

- Following Up on BDS and Israel
https://whoviating.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-erickson-report-page-5-longer-look.html
https://www.commondreams.org/further/2019/08/07/banning-terrorist-boots-what-occupation-looks
https://electronicintifada.net/blogs/maureen-clare-murphy/terror-boot-claim-kicks-twitter-scorn

- Following Up on Medicare for All
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2019/08/09/undermining-right-wing-attack-poll-shows-most-americans-employer-provided-insurance
https://www.businessinsider.com/most-americans-employer-based-plans-healthcare-medicare-for-all-2019-8

- Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]
https://splinternews.com/ben-shapiros-advice-for-poor-people-have-you-ever-cons-1837248752
https://www.mediaite.com/online/ben-shapiro-roasted-over-blaming-poor-people-for-having-to-take-a-second-job-thats-what-a-spoiled-rich-kid-says/
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https://splinternews.com/new-edition-of-monopoly-is-all-about-the-horrors-of-soc-1837475885
https://twitter.com/nick_kapur/status/1164233656799506433
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https://twitter.com/davekarpf/status/1166094950024515584
https://twitter.com/davekarpf/status/1166159027589570566?s=20
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/30/opinion/world-war-ii-anniversary.html
https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/politics-news/professor-labeled-bret-stephens-bedbug-here-s-what-nyt-columnist-n1046736
https://splinternews.com/gw-professor-officially-throws-bret-stephens-in-the-tra-1837640830
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https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2019/8/27/1881779/-Powerful-Republican-senator-puts-his-lake-house-over-flood-prevention-for-a-nearby-town
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https://twitter.com/JoshGerben/status/1167771202397626368/video/1
https://www.theroot.com/lebron-james-vying-to-trademark-taco-tuesday-1837795463
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https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/teen-dress-coded-for-wearing-shirt-that-reads-why-be-racist-sexist-homophobic-or-transphobic-when-you-can-just-be-quiet-223631447.html
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https://www.aol.com/article/news/2019/09/02/catholic-school-reportedly-removes-harry-potter-books-from-library-because-they-risk-conjuring-evil-spirits/23805519/

- Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]
https://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Lord-forgive-em-Larry-Swearingen-14369155.php
https://splinternews.com/texas-executes-man-for-murder-conviction-whose-alibi-wa-1837459947
https://www.thenation.com/article/death-row-prisoner-larry-swearingen-may-be-innocent-do-texas-courts-care/
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https://www.theroot.com/late-charge-judge-says-prosecutors-demand-to-free-in-1837596264
https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/stltoday.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/7/5c/75c4e19c-9220-5b21-acae-14d9aad821d0/5d6032524f933.pdf.pdf
https://www.stltoday.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/st-louis-judge-denies-lamar-johnson-s-motion-for-new/article_add3e1eb-2d62-518b-8ed8-5b56b9af8f94.html

- A Longer Look at the flaw at the heart of our criminal law system
https://supreme.findlaw.com/legal-commentary/did-the-supreme-court-recognize-an-innocent-persons-right-not-to-be-executed.html
https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/news/u-s-supreme-court-orders-historic-hearing-on-innocence-claim-in-troy-davis-case
https://www.innocenceproject.org/
http://www.criminaljusticedegreesguide.com/features/10-infamous-cases-of-wrongful-execution.html

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

An addendum to all that, not for on-air

I thought I would throw this in just for the heck of it. As long as I am, as I'm sure some of you think I am, wallowing in aging hippie nostalgia, I figured why not.

A while back, I came across a discussion among some young folks - and as I was pushing 70 at the time, I think I can use that expression - who were complaining about what they said was all the attention given to the '60s, particularly regarding the political movements of the time.

I replied that I didn't see this mass of fawning attention, indeed most of what I saw seemed more sneering than swooning, "but," I added, "eye of the beholder and all that." Still, I went on to say, if you're looking at us old farts and want to shut us up, then show us up: Use the '60s as a marker and turn it into BFD material.

"If you do that," I said or at least as close to this as memory allows, "I guarantee you'll find us old farts cheering you on and standing right there beside you."

The reason I bring this up is that as part of that, I threw together a short list of signs of the cultural impacts of the '60s. I noted that none of these originated in the '60s, but it was that time in which they were brought into the mainstream. This was the list:

- When you see people not blinking at an interracial couple - that was us.
- When you see men wearing colors - that was us.
- When you see women comfortably wearing jeans - that was us.
- When you see two adults unselfconsciously holding hands in public - that was us.
- When you see two men unselfconsciously holding hands in public - that was definitely us.
- When you think about being environmentally-conscious - that was us.
- When you see companies finding it necessary to try to convince everyone how environmentally-conscious they are - that was us.
- When you see companies actually being environmentally-conscious - that was definitely us.
- When you see people admitting that there is a glass ceiling - that was us.
- When you see women challenging the glass ceiling - that was us.
- When you see women actually breaking the glass ceiling - that was definitely us.
- When you hear anyone defining patriotism in terms of willingness to challenge authority when it's wrong - yeah, that was us.

Again, I'd never claim that any of that originated in the '60s and you can certainly find antecedents in earlier times, sometime multiple decades earlier. But I still say that in terms of widespread acceptance? Yeah, that was us.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Woodstock: Is any of that relevant now?

The Erickson Report, Page 3: Woodstock: Is any of that relevant now?

Does any of this matter for today, is it relevant in any way other than historical ones? I think it does and is. I see around me today multiple campaigns for change but I don't see a Movement, I don't see any evidence that the people involved in these various efforts conceive of themselves as part of a bigger whole.

Do those who identify with #MeToo feel a kinship with Black Lives Matter or the discussions over reparations? Do those who focus on global warming see themselves as part of the same cultural or political whole as the fight to raise the minimum wage or protect voting rights? I don't think they do, to the loss of each and every one of them.

I was struck by something just recently: Bernie Sanders gave a speech which covered a number of topics. Afterwards, there was a commentator who slammed the speech and Sanders because he didn't mention race or gender until 23 minutes in and yes, she said she clocked it. Actually, she was wrong; he first mentioned the topic less than five minutes in, but that's not really the point. Be clear here: She didn't attack him for what he said about race and gender, which apparently was to her at the very least unobjectionable, she was attacking him because he didn't say it early enough in the speech; he didn't give her focus privilege of place.

Bluntly, in the '60s the response to that criticism would have been along the lines of "What the hell difference does that make? This was a speech, not a Top 10 list ranked according to importance." When the order in which topics are addressed in a speech becomes a basis for criticism, we do not have a Movement, we have a collection of atomized, isolated efforts incapable of drawing strength from each other.

Worse, it seems to me that there has developed a basic divide between the two fundamental types of activism, which I call "inside" and "outside."

By inside, I mean what might be called "Inside the Beltway" thinking - and I note that is not a matter of geography but of a way of thinking, one that focuses on political campaigns, elections, and lobbying to the exclusion of other means. That thinking will fail you in the long run because the apparent distaste some have for street actions does genuine damage to our cause. Elections surely have their place, a necessary place, in the process of change. But not only are they not the only part, they're not even the first part of that process because change starts from outside - as Margaret Mead is supposed to have said, "never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world, indeed it is the only thing that ever has."*

But those who go outside, those who favor street action, pickets, rallies, mass demonstrations and marches, civil disobedience, and the like - and I confess that for all the lobbying and political campaigning I have done, the streets is where my heart is - people, then, like me need to understand that we need those working the inside route, because our demands and proposals will remain unfulfilled demands and proposals if no one is there to act on them.

These sides of activism, inside and outside, should be mutually reinforcing, should be, if I can use a cliche, two sides of the same coin, but now it seems like they are different worlds with each observing the other from a distance. And every bit of lobbying and campaigning, every rally-driven demand, is weaker for it.

Yes, there have been victories, have been successes, and don't think for even an instant that I am denigrating the efforts of oh so many people or any of what has been achieved. But I can't help but be distressed by how many of those efforts have been aimed at preventing losses of what has been gained in years past by movements of years past rather than on going further, gaining more. We need to do better. We can do better. You can do better.

I will leave you with this: I am hardly the first to raise the idea of the lack of an over-arching message among progressives, which simply means that others have noted the same atomized nature of our efforts that I am critiquing here, except that I would change it from a lack of an over-arching message to a lack of a feeling of connection, a lack of a feeling that despite our particular focuses, we are family, we are of the same tribe, even if the connection lies more in convictions than any outward sign, much like the members of a religious congregation can feel a connection to each other, even as they outwardly may appear diverse.

So for your consideration I offer for what I suppose you could call a shared religion, a set of shared convictions, a secular religion that stands on three mutually-supported legs, my over-arching message for progressives: Justice, compassion, and community. Conceive of every political action you take or for that matter anyone takes, whether inside or outside, as a reflection of one or more of those principles and realize how as you are in one particular effort, you are one of multiple strands that very much need to be woven together to make a capital M movement far stronger than the sum of its parts.

One more very important piece of advice: Do not repeat the mistakes of the past. I'm sure you won't repeat my generation's mistakes of overconfidence, but don't repeat the mistakes of other generations. Don't slice away your friends and supporters in a foolish attempt to avoid criticism or look "more mainstream." It will not help you; it never has and it never will, it merely narrows the field of fire for the forces of reaction. And don't divide yourselves into sectarian camps where people are dissed and dismissed for not using quite the preferred language of for having a different focus from you. That way lies madness and the death of dreams.

*There is no record of Mead having said this but her family believes it to be a real quote because it accords so well with her thinking. They suggest it probably came from a QandA session or an unrecorded interview.

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Woodstock: the political life around it

The Erickson Report, Page 2: Woodstock: the political life around it

Okay, there is another reason besides aging hippie nostalgia that I wanted to bring this all up. Because Woodstock did not exist, did not occur, in a social or cultural vacuum.

For one thing, the Vietnam War was at its most intense levels. Casualty figures for the Indochinese are hard to come by, even overall totals of how many millions died are estimates. But for Americans, we have year-by-year totals and in 1968, 16,592 US soldiers were killed in Vietnam; in 1969. the figure proved out to be 11,616. But look at that 1968 figure. Those 16,600 killed are more than double the number of Americans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined, across the entire history of those war, right up to the present.

Opposition to that war was also becoming more and more intense. There were major demonstrations on college campuses across the country throughout 1969. A few months before Woodstock, in April, there were mass antiwar demonstrations in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and other places. On October 15, two months after the festival, the National Moratorium against the War generated thousands of local actions across the country including mass rallies, some of them quite large, along with parades, teach-ins, forums, candlelight processions, prayers, and the reading of the names of the war dead, with the estimates of total participation ranging from two to five to seven million. A month after that, on November 15, a half-million turned out in Washington, D.C. to protest the war with 100,000 more in San Francisco.

But that wasn't the only issue. Civil rights had seen some legislative successes in the preceding years, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but the inadequacies of those gains was clearly demonstrated in what became known as "the long hot summer" of 1967, when riots driven by frustrations and economic desperation broke out in black neighborhoods in 159 US cities. At the time of Woodstock, the phrase "black liberation" and a discussion of what that meant was a part of every conversation about civil rights or race.

But in turn it was the very strength of those two movements - peace and civil rights - that gave strength to, gave extra vigor to, a third, as women in the movement began to get fed up with being always expected to keep to the background, to do the work but get little or none of the credit. The expression "male chauvinist pig" came into circulation, sometimes as a teasing warning when preceded by "don't be a" but also as a sneering dismissive putdown of deserving targets.

And speaking of being fed up, less than three weeks before Woodstock, in Greenwich Village in New York City, some patrons of a gay club and dance bar known as the Stonewall Inn decided they had had it with being hassled, assaulted, and arrested by cops for essentially nothing more than being gay or lesbian. What become known as the Stonewall Riots - more properly the Stonewall Uprising - continued on and off for five days, giving birth to the modern LGBTQ rights movement, with the first gay pride marches occurring just a year later.

Meanwhile the long-standing movement against nuclear weapons was beginning to expand into opposition to nuclear power, merging or at the least overlapping with the environmental movement, which continued to gain strength - recall the first Earth Day, in some ways the only real occasion of that now corporate- and government-approved event, came just eight months after Woodstock.

All this and more was swirling around and through the culture in the summer of 1969. That was the atmosphere, the if you will cultural milieu in which Woodstock happened. Woodstock was by no means intended as a political event, but it was a cultural event, as it proved, a major cultural event, and as such did not and could not stand apart from the political currents of the time. What Woodstock was, what it became, was affected by what was going on around it.

Now, I am certainly not saying that all those at Woodstock were dedicated political or cultural activists who went straight from the festival to the frontlines, even less that people went to Woodstock with the idea that the act of going was itself a conscious political statement. In fact, I expect most of those to be seen in tie-dye t-shirts, jeans, and sandals in 1969, whether at Woodstock or anywhere else, had no more interest in the world at large other than how it immediately impacted their personal lives than those sporting whatever hipper-than-thou gear is currently fashionable do today.

But at the same time, going was by its nature a statement of sorts. Semiotics is the study of sign process, that is, it is the study of signs and symbols as a significant part of communication. That includes the way cultures and subcultures sign themselves. Ever since Monterey Pop in 1967, you pretty much knew that by going to a big rock festival, you would be surrounded by people with long hair dressed in colorful clothes and yes, tie-dye t-shirts, jeans, and sandals, people who were thereby signing that you and they shared a set of cultural values, that you were with your tribe.

The point here is that while you can't say Woodstock was a consciously political event nor can you say that those attending were all political or cultural activists, you can say that those political and cultural activists who attended the festival shared a number of cultural assumptions with those around them, certain cultural principles that had become emblematic of what had become known as the counterculture, cultural principles such as sharing, rejection of competition, and embracing of exploration and discovery, both physical and spiritual.

That is, they pursued a political activism rooted both in cultural, not just intellectual or traditionally political, concerns as well as in a lifestyle that knew the words “others” and “future” as emotional touchstones, not merely statistical measures - the precise difference between the so-called "New Left" of the '60s and the "Old Left" of previous generations, whose adherents could quote chapter and verse of political theory and chant slogans with the best of them but too often sounded as if they regarded the people on whose behalf they were trying to speak more like exhibits in a court case than living, breathing people.

Indeed, a significant part of ‘60s activism was almost purely cultural: The “live your life as an example to others” idea and the "conscious" or "intentional" communities that set out to prove that there are juster, fairer ways to organize our social relations.

Beyond that, one positive result of that footing in cultural as well as more traditional political concerns was the (relative) ease with which the movement became multi-issue: Whenever those distressing, depressing arguments about the issue or the tactic arose, a significant portion of the movement just couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. “You work on what you think is important and I’ll work on what I think is important and whenever we can make the two overlap we’ll work together. Simple! We’re all after pretty much the same end, anyway, right?” The “same end” bit wasn’t always (maybe not even usually) true, of course, but it was true enough to keep things bubbling along without the movement getting bogged down in endless, unresolvable disputes about the relative importance of the arms race vs. feminism vs. the environment vs. racism vs. economic issues vs. and so on.

In short, I firmly believe, I argue, that a main - perhaps the - core energy source for the movement of the ‘60s was that area where political involvement and cultural/spiritual concerns overlapped to form a politically-involved counterculture.

That energy gave us the sense that you could make a difference, that your dreams could be lived out, that they really could come true, that the future was wide open and all things were possible. And it enabled us to keep trying. For all the sexism we came to acknowledge in the counterculture and the peace movement, people kept trying to live more egalitarian lives. For all the undercurrents of racism we dug out of white activist’s relations with black groups, people kept trying to work it out and live more justly. For all the awareness of our umbilical cord connections to the consumer society, people kept trying to live more simply, with greater ecological awareness. There was a sense that you could make it better both in yourself and in others by both your social example and your political actions.

It was that sense, especially when slammed up against the reality of the chasm between the America we saw around us and the America we were taught to believe in, in school that produced the anger and the joy, the tough determination and gentle compassion, the bitter awareness and sweet dreams that marked a movement that over a several-year span was powerful enough to end the draft, limit and finally stop a war, force one (and maybe two) Presidents from office, shake the foundations of a society’s judgements about half its population, open millions of eyes to the reality of racism, force the nuclear power industry to a virtual halt, set in motion other movements for justice, and change - perhaps not by much but clearly permanently - that society’s sense of its relationship to the environment.

And it's good to have that record of success, of progress, because it is of course true that ultimately, in many ways, we failed. Our dreams could not be lived out, at least not full force, the future was not wide open, and not all things were possible. Sexism and racism persist. Poverty and hunger still haunt us. Climate change is a Sword of Damocles over us. Yes, we stopped one war - but the changes we made weren't enough to prevent new wars and more wars, wars that, just like Donovan sang in 1970, "drag on." We got hemmed in, in some cases weighed down, by commitments and obligations of a different sort, commitments and obligations not to the whole community, but to the narrower community of spouses, of children, of aging parents, and the jobs and careers that sustained those commitments.

That doesn't mean we simply surrendered; the '60s generation went disproportionately into what are called "helping" or "caring" fields, fields such as health and medicine, education, social work, public interest law, and so on. But it does mean that the task we set for ourselves was bigger than we ever let ourselves imagine. Our community, our tribe, came together so easily, so naturally, that we just assumed it could stay together just as easily - which, and in retrospect it's easy to say "of course," it couldn't. The result was that when those other commitments arose, we didn't do the work, we didn't put in the effort, to maintain that community in part because we had fooled ourselves into thinking that effort wouldn't be necessary.

So we lost our tribe, we lost the sense that we were all part of the Movement, the Movement with a capital M, that vaguely defined but still somehow an organic whole of which we were part. Between that and the end of the Indochina War, which for a non-insignificant number had been the whole reason for their political activism, that core energy was gone - and so was, I would say, the '60s as a political movement.
 
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