Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Baltimore -- history lessons not learned, now repeating.

If you read my blog, you likely already have read elsewhere about rioting the last couple of days in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

I'm a child of the 1960s. Rochester, NY was home for my first thirteen years. My parents read to me as a young child. In fact, I learned to read with the Cat in the Hat at around the age of 4. It was contemporary literature back then.

I can recall reading newspapers upside down sitting across the table from my aunt before I even started Kindergarten in 1959. Later, there were headlines about riots in my home city in 1964.
Police brutality was the hot-button issue that was the universal experience of blacks. Numerous cases of alleged abuse were common knowledge in black neighborhoods.
One of the most flagrant cases was that of Rufus Fairwell in August, 1962. The police department promised to publish the findings of an investigation into the incident. At the last moment it refused to do so. No officers were disciplined for the brutality. A Grand Jury investigated the case and delivered its findings: Fairwell did not assault the policemen; they did not assault him. Yet Fairwell suffered two cracked vertebrae and severe damage to his eye. He appeared at his hearing in a wheelchair.
Other cases of brutality were reported... 
In the 1960s, race riots took place in numerous cities in the US. Harlem (NY), Watts (LA), Philadelphia, Detroit, Newark, and too many more.
Over the course of three days and two nights in July 1964, thousands of Rochester’s African American residents rioted in the streets of the city’s low-income neighborhoods. In the stifling summer heat, rioters smashed storefront windows, looted neighborhood merchants and clashed with police, exposing the city’s long-simmering racial tensions. In the seven years following the Rochester riots, more than 750 race riots erupted in numerous American cities, leaving over 200 dead, injuring nearly 13,000 and leaving many African American urban neighborhoods in ruins.
Obviously, I was too young then to realize the significance of President Johnson's major civil rights initiatives, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since then, however, I've come to recognize the 1960s -- a century after the Civil War -- to have been a significant remnant of the inability of American government and civil society to adequately carry out the charge(s) in the Preamble to the Constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
If the laws and public policy of our country and state do not advance those ends, it's time to rethink them. The laws and public policy that is, not the purposes set forth in the Preamble.

President Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to try to figure out what happened and how to fix it.
President Lyndon Johnson formed an 11-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders in July 1967 to explain the riots that plagued cities each summer since 1964 and to provide recommendations for the future. The Commission’s 1968 report, informally known as the Kerner Report, concluded that the nation was “moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” Unless conditions were remedied, the Commission warned, the country faced a “system of ’apartheid’” in its major cities. The Kerner report delivered an indictment of “white society” for isolating and neglecting African Americans and urged legislation to promote racial integration and to enrich slums—primarily through the creation of jobs, job training programs, and decent housing. President Johnson, however, rejected the recommendations. In April 1968, one month after the release of the Kerner report, rioting broke out in more than 100 cities following the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.
This makes me reflect back on the movie Selma, which portrayed Johnson as somewhat reluctant to take action to intervene regarding racial tensions.

So, last evening, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston posted an op-ed he wrote that echoes MLK's sentiments from the 1960s.
Monday’s riots in Baltimore offered a powerful warning about what lies ahead for America if its epidemic of inequality continues. But will we understand the message in the chaos?
“A riot is the language of the unheard,” the Rev. Martin Luther King said. What gets lost in translation is the logic that motivates rioters, whose inability to articulate their frustration finds expression in rocks thrown at police, looting neighborhood stores and setting fires. To outside observers, these actions appear irrational and self-defeating.
But their rhetoric is as old as civilization. Riots are a way for the oppressed to make their frustration known in the vain hope that those in power will respond with better policies. 
This insight is nothing new, for there is no new thing under the sun.

Professor Robert Reich has been calling attention to the problem, without reference to race, because the fundamental issue is the inequality, not ethnic heritage.

Another Pulitzer winner, Chris Hedges regularly calls attention to related issues. In 2012, he published Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt. Next month, his latest book, Wages of Rebellion, will be released. Notice in the left hand column of this blog, I quote Hedges.
The inability of the liberal class to address our reality leaves the disenfranchised open to manipulation by demagogues.
Liberal politicians, elected leaders and business leaders have been at a dramatic disadvantage in their efforts to address our reality since the publication of the Powell Manifesto in August 1971. 

Hell, even the Arizona Republic is or at least has been in deep denial over what constitutes voter suppression. They blew off concerns over the efforts of the GOP controlled legislature, and our new Secretary of State Michele Reagan, to further disenfranchise voters. 

In 2013, we succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put HB2305, Reagan's Voter Suppression Act, on the 2014 ballot so voters would have the chance to veto it. Thinking themselves clever for devising a way to subvert the referendum, the first act of the Arizona Legislature in January 2014 was to repeal HB2305. 

In 2015, that august body proceeded to enact some of the provisions from HB2305. Broken out into separate bills, some passed and were signed into law, some died. You and I both know they are already scheming to go at it again in 2016 to further disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.

That is why Hedges is audacious enough to use R words like "revolt" and "revolution."

The course that America and Arizona have been on since I was in high school has only exacerbated the disenfranchisement of the poor and ethnic minorities.

The problem, my friends, is Capitalism Gone Wild.

The social tensions driving rioting in Baltimore or in Ferguson or in whichever city is next (and there WILL be more) will only be relieved by addressing the underlying problems caused by unregulated capitalism which manifest as unfair labor practices such as ever lower wages under threat of off-shoring jobs. The same threats push uncompensated overtime and plenty of other stress inducing practices. And that stress causes physical and mental illness and domestic violence which are now epidemic in America.

Given time, I could tie numerous other contemporary societal ills to this argument.

But really, it is well past time for a revolution of economic and political thinking and action.

David Cay Johnston wrote that, "Upheaval will end when political classes listen to more than just the rich."

That is nothing you and I can expect anytime soon from elected officials or candidates for policy or lawmaking offices anywhere in our state or country... UNTIL those officials recognize the threat of THEM losing their power as elected officials. 

What you'll read from commenting trolls, perhaps some newspaper editorials and most certainly from people like Ted Cruz running for president, instead will be rhetoric to blame the poor and the minorities. This time, there could be enough academic documentation and historical record to demonstrate just how wrong those Republicans are and have been.


To that end, I offer a Christian solution. No, not the Dominionist or Kochtopus gobbledygook that has dominated the Arizona Capitol for years. A different kind of Christian. More like what we could reasonably expect if Jesus Christ were actually making the rules. The Presbyterian Church of the USA recently published a report titled, Tax Justice: A Christian Response to a New Gilded Age.
In fulfillment of the assignment of the 220th General Assembly (2012) to provide a biblically-grounded witness for current discussions of tax reform, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy recommends that the 221st General Assembly (2014) approve the following statement of principles and recommendations on justice in taxation, and receive the supporting rationale and resources for study:
I. Principles and Covenant Framework 
It is a basic mark of a healthy social covenant that all share in the society’s benefits and burdens. Just taxation is a foundational part of a moral society’s answer to poverty and its close relatives, inequality, economic insecurity, and social immobility. Just taxation is also a key tool for enabling communities to thrive, for advancing science and culture, and for sustaining democratic institutions. Each citizen has an affirmative duty to contribute to the common good by paying their fair share of taxes. 
I emphatically recommend reform-minded Americans become familiar with this 40-page report.

Today it is a case of the grasshopper pitted against the elephant. But tomorrow the elephant will have its guts ripped out. Le Loi, Vietnamese emperor, 15th Century.

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