Sentencing Disparity in the American Oligarchy

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Judge T.S. Ellis’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort came as a jolt. It should not have. I know better. So do you.

I am an ordained minister of the gospel who has spent lots of time in courtrooms. It was a short step from pulpits of privilege to a criminal defense law firm founded by the American Indian Movement and African-American civil rights center. I left the pulpit, but the faith that points to an essential human dignity went with me. Irrespective of the seriousness of the charges and crimes, I saw, or tried to see, a dignity and worth in defendants no court sentence can take away.

Legal Rights Center clients convicted of serious crimes were sentenced to the state prisons, about as far from the comforts of federal prisons as their neighborhoods were from gated communities and country clubs.

Unlike the inmates of Faribault and Stillwater who have been found guilty of street crimes, a great number of the guests of the federal correctional system are doing time for white collar crimes. There’s a world of difference. Yet, as to sentence disparity, they are the same.

Comparing Judge Ellis’s 13 year sentence of African-American Congressman William J. Jefferson (D) from Louisiana in 2009 with the 47 month sentence of the former chair of the president’s presidential campaign committee draws attention to the ugly realities of race and class we often see but quickly forget or choose not to see at all.

We do not live in a democracy; we live in an oligarchy—
“government by the few, especially despotic power exercised
by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish
purposes.” I’ve been waiting for people in high places to say it.

Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the
Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations4 brought the
elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.

A democratic republic is a constitutional form of government
where the people rule through their elected representatives
gathered in deliberative bodies. The faces and voices of Goldman
Sachs’s executives demonstrated the intransigent arrogance of the
private institutional concentration of the wealth and power of deregulated capitalism.

The matter is growing more serious.

The “small and privileged group” that operates corruptly and
selfishly knows that elections are bought and sold in America. No
one gets elected without big money. Goldman Sachs executives’ testimony Tuesday before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations brought the elephant into the living room, but the name of this species of government remains unspoken for understandable reasons.

Excerpt, gordon c. stewart, “The american oligarchy — 4/29/10,” p.126, Be Still! Departure from collective madness (2017, wipf & stock).

Nine years after publishing The American Oligarchy, the reality is, for the most part, the same. But there is a difference. The selfishness of “despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for corrupt or selfish purposes” (Encylopaedia Brittanica definition of oligarchy) feels heavier now. The judge’s lenient sentence of Paul Manafort caught me off-guard. How quickly we forget!

“The American Oligarchy” was first published by MinnPost.com with the title “They may squirm in hearings, but Wall Street Oligarchs know who has he power.” With Minnpost’s generous copyright permission, it became one of Be Still!’s 49 essays on faith and the news.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 9, 2019.

Elijah stands up for democracy

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Good morning, Bumpa!

Well, good morning to you, Elijah! It’s cold, but it looks like a great day.

Yeah, the sun’s out. I get to see the sunshine on the drive to daycare.

That’s a long drive.

Yeah, last Wednesday it took us two hours! But that wasn’t the worst thing, Bumpa.

What was the worst thing?

Television!

Didn’t the TV work?

No, it worked. It was on all day!

So what was the problem?

We’re a democracy, right, Bumpa?

Well, Sort of. Yes. What’s that have to do with the television?

Democracy’s where everybody votes and majority wins, right?

Pretty much. I’m not following. What’s majority rule have to do the television?

Marissa got the only vote last Wednesday! That’s not fair!

Well, it is her house. It’s Marissa’s television, and she’s the only adult in the house. Majority rule doesn’t apply. Daycare’s not a democracy.

Yeah, it’s authoritarian! She was a tyrant, Bumpa! We couldn’t watch Sesame Street and our other kids programs.

What did you watch instead of Sesame Street?

The Michael Cone Show. All day. In Congress. The people were mean, Bumpa!

You watched the whole hearing?

Well, not all of it. We kept protesting and Marissa was making a lot of noise shouting at the Show.

Was she mad at you?

No.

Was she mad at Michael Cone?

No.

So, who was she mad at, Elijah?

The Publicans! Every time one of the Publicans was mean to Michael, Marissa yelled, El que está sin pecado, tire la primera piedra!”*

— Grandpa (“Bumpa”) Gordon, Chaska, MN, March 4, 2019.

*In English for others of you who don’t speak Spanish: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone!”


The Magician’s Bargain in 2019 America

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Beneath the surface of the obvious turmoil in American lies a fissure deeper than our differences. More than just a fissure. A seismic shift in the ground that has traditionally held the nation together, as suggested by this adaptation of L. Robert Kohl’s “The Values Americans Live By”:

Traditional American Cultural Values

1. PERSONAL CONTROL OVER THE ENVIRONMENT
People can/should control nature, their own environment and destiny. The future is not left to fate.
Result: An energetic, goal-oriented society.

2. CHANGE / MOBILITY
Change is seen as positive and good. This means progress, improvement and growth.
Result: An established transient society geographically, economically and socially.

3. TIME AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Time is valuable - achievement of goals depends on the productive use of time.
Result: An efficient and progressive society often at the expense of interpersonal relationships.

4. EQUALITY / EGALITARIANISM
People have equal opportunities; people are important as individuals, for who they are, not from which family they come.
Result: A society where little deference is shown or status is acknowledged.

5. INDIVIDUALISM, INDEPENDENCE AND PRIVACY
People are seen as separate individuals (not group members) with individual needs. People need time to be alone and to be themselves.
Result: Americans may be seen as self-centered and sometimes isolated and lonely.

6. SELF-HELP
Americans take pride in their own accomplishments.
Result: Americans give respect for self achievements not achievements based on rights of birth.

7. COMPETITION AND FREE ENTERPRISE
Americans believe competition brings out the best in people and free enterprise leads to progress and produces success
Result: Competition is emphasized over cooperation.

8. FUTURE ORIENTATION / OPTIMISM
Americans believe that, regardless of past or present, the future will be better and happier.
Result: Americans place less value on past events and constantly look ahead to tomorrow.

9. ACTION AND WORK ORIENTATION
Americans believe that work is morally right; that it is immoral to waste time.
Result: There is more emphasis on "doing" rather than "being". This is a no-nonsense attitude toward life.

10. INFORMALITY
Americans believe that formality is "un-American" and a show of arrogance and superiority.
Result: A casual, egalitarian attitude between people is more accepted.

11. DIRECTNESS / OPENNESS / HONESTY
One can only trust people who "look you in the eye" and "tell it like it is". Truth is a function of reality not of circumstance.
Result: People tend to tell the "truth" and not worry about saving the other person's "face" or "honor".

12. PRACTICALITY / EFFICIENCY
Practicality is usually the most important consideration when decisions are to be made.
Result: Americans place less emphasis on the subjective, aesthetic, emotional or consensual decisions.

13. MATERIALISM / ACQUISITIVENESS
Material goods are seen as the just rewards of hard-work, the evidence of "God's favor."
Result: Americans are seen as caring more for things than people or relationships.

Adapted from http://“The Values Americans Live By”, L. Robert Kohls

Thoughtful people may quibble with Robert Kohl’s list. But few would erase the 11th valuehonesty/trustworthiness –as bedrock to the American experiment in democracy. 

The Magician’s Bargain

Looking each other in the eye and “telling it like it is” has been chipped away, replaced by the twists of tongue and cunning to get and hold power. In our time, truth has been reduced to a function of circumstance in the road to power. We live with the consequences of what C.S. Lewis called the magician’s bargain.

It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

The surrender of soul in return for power is the seismic shift in the America of 2019. Honesty/openness/directness have never been a fact of our common life. The 11th traditional value is aspirational. There have been and always will be lies. But never in my lifetime has truth-telling been less valued than it is today in the highest places of government. To the chagrin and sadness of George Will and other principled traditional conservatives, it is the children of Jerry Falwell‘s Moral Majority who engage the moral magician’s bargain.

The Irony of the American Magician’s Bargain

Michael Cohen testified last week before the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee. The minority members of the Committee attacked the credibility of the convicted criminal who had served for 10 years as the president’s personal lawyer and “fixer” and chose to ignore the hard evidence the president’s “rat” had placed before them.

The only difference between Michael Cohen and those who refused to exercise their duty to uphold the Constitution was that Michael had confessed.

Do we feel the rumbling of the common ground beneath the partisan divide?

How deep is the loss! How much greater the challenge. Ben Franklin would have a cow!

“We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”  — C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 2, 2019.

We’re better than this!

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Elijah spoke yesterday. Elijah preached yesterday. Elijah spoke from the heart yesterday. Elijah was kind yesterday. Elijah warned us yesterday. Elijah spoke of destiny yesterday. Elijah challenged all of us yesterday:

“C’mon now! We’re better than this! We really are!

Congressman Elijah Cummings, Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform, is named after the Hebrew prophet.

Rep. Elijah Cummings’ closing remarks at House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing examining Michael Cohen, February 27, 2019.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 28 2019.

Elijah made Elijah proud yesterday!


The Cohen Moment

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This morning Michael Cohen testifies publicly before the House Oversight Committee. He’s lied before. Will he lie again? Whether he does or doesn’t, how does one discern what’s true and what’s not?

Michael Cohen walks in the long shadow of Roy Cohn (R in this photo), right-hand man and fixer for Sen, Joseph McCarthy (C in photo), and the lawyer, fixer, mentor for Donald Trump.

Roy Cohn continued to practice law and “fix” things until his fixing led to disbarment five weeks before he died. Like Roy, Michael Cohen will never practice law again. Unlike Roy Cohen, Michael Cohen may yet redeem himself from the darkness and unqualified public scorn.

Michael Cohen is going away for three years. But am I imagining that I see a different countenance since his sentence? That his face looks different — less troubled — and his walk lighter because he has little reason deny or twist the truth? Who’s to say?

Watching Michael on C-Span today, the Leonard Cohen’s There Is a Crack in Everything. That’s How the Light Gets In will play in my head. Will Michael be a Roy or a Leonard? Will Michael “sing” or sing? Or are “singing” and singing the same thing when there’s a crack in everything?

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Feb. 27, 2019.


The Big Truth of a Working Democracy

What goes around comes around. And some things going around now will come around sooner or later. No one knows when or how. We live between what is coming around and what is now going around.

I’ve been reading a gift from son-in-law Christopher that leads me to break the recent silence on Views from the Edge. It’s the result of investigative journalism that zooms in on one of the most prominent figures of American life.

What’s My Line?

Logo of What’s My Line

Years ago What’s My Line?featuring celebrity guests like Groucho Marx and a brilliant panel, took over my family’s living room. Moderated by John Charles Daly, members of the panel, which always included Dorothy KilgallenArlene Francis, and Bennett Cerf, were blind-folded before the mystery guest came on stage to answer the panel members’ questions. The mystery guests disguised their voices, and provided the blind-folded panel a tidbit of information as a clue to their identities.

All these years later, What’s My Line? is gone. Now I listen to Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!Wh

His purpose is power and his strategy to “keep his name in the papers at all costs.”

Patient research into the techniques of his campaigns results in the conclusion that his one all-dominating consideration has been to win at any cost.

To achieve his ends he has failed to repudiate support from . . . some of the most disreputable, hate-mongering, fascist-minded groups in the nation on the far right.

Our danger is that ____ism will gradually grow into a homespun variety of totalitarianism, and will destroy our liberties as surely as Communism would. The antics of ____ism are made to order for the propaganda purposes of international Communism. I am sure that ——ists are not intentionally aiding the international conspiracy of … Communism, but if they were Communist agents they could not be doing a more useful job, from Russia’s viewpoint. The wider ____ism grows, the weaker they leave America, and the stronger the possibility of international Communism.

The Senators unanimously concluded that the ____ election “brought into sharp focus certain campaign tactics and practices that can best be described as. . . destructive of fundamental American principles.”

It was, the report continued, a “despicable back street type of campaign which usually, if exposed in time, backfires.”

Removing the blind-folds

Blind-folded Panel of What’s My Line?

Now we remove the blind-folds. Each of the above clues is a quotation cited in the 92 page 45th Anniversary edition of The Progressive, April 1954 on Senator Joseph McCarthy and McCarthyism. “McCarthyism: A Documentary Record” concludes with these words of counsel:

We of The Progressive are convinced that our best chance to keep the lamps of hope and liberty burning brightly in a world hungry for light and leadership is to deal head-on with the conditions which create the doubts and fears on which McCarthy and Malenkov thrive. The first great step down that road of hope must be to replace “The Big Lie” of Communism and McCarthyism with “The Big Truth” of a working democracy.

What goes around comes around. The Big Lie and the Big Truth come and go with the tides of history.

— Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 4, 2018.

It’s about time!

TIMELY REFLECTIONS OF AN ANACHRONIST

Original movie poster for Being ThereRobert Mueller III’s and the Southern District of New York’s court filings, and the President’s response, confirm that “Individual-1” never should have been administered the oath of office “to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.”

The people around the Oval Office are the only brakes on the man who, like Chauncey (“Chance”) Gardner, played by Peter Sellers, in the humorous film Being There, spends his days watching his favorite television shows, doesn’t read, and reduces complexity to the simplest of terms. 

Ron Steigler: Mr. Gardner, uh, my editors and I have been wondering if you would consider writing a book for us, something about your um, political philosophy, what do you say?

Chance: I can’t write.

Ron Steigler: Heh, heh, of course not, who can nowadays? Listen, I have trouble writing a postcard to my children. Look uhh, we can give you a six figure advance, I’ll provide you with the very best ghost-writer, proof-readers…

Chance: I can’t read.

Ron Steigler: Of course you can’t! No one has the time! We, we glance at things, we watch television…

Chance: I like to watch TV.

Ron Steigler: Oh, oh, oh sure you do. No one reads!

MY SON’S QUESTION

Wooden_hourglass_3Soon after my young son learned to read, he asked a philosophical question: “What’s time?” “Time is what we have” was the best I could do. The other day a photograph of an ill-cared for, deteriorating church with a clock that still works led me back to Douglas’s question. I’m older now. Not wise. Just older. But I tell myself that length of years sometimes brings us closer to the outskirts of wisdom than when our years were few and our days seemed longer. At my age, when speed and virtual reality fill our lives, I would add an addendum: “Time is what we have but refuse to recognize.

A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE

In Being There, Louise, who has raised Chance from early childhood, is watching Chance on television with other poor black seniors.

Louise: “It’s for sure a white man’s world in America. Look here: I raised that boy since he was the size of a piss-ant. And I’ll say right now, he never learned to read and write. No, sir. Had no brains at all. Was stuffed with rice pudding between th’ ears. Shortchanged by the Lord, and dumb as a jackass. Look at him now! Yes, sir, all you’ve gotta be is white in America, to get whatever you want. Gobbledy-gook!”

Chance and Donald are a lot alike. Neither reads. Both watch television all day. Both are white. Both are stuffed with rice pudding between their ears. Both speak gobbeldy-gook. Yet they are also very different. One strikes us as funny. The other does not. One is a pure soul. The other is cunning. One is entertaining. The other is dangerous. 

IT’S ABOUT TIME!

256px-Constitution_of_the_United_States,_page_1It’s time to recognize what time it is. Time for Congress to speak aloud the real name of Individual-1.  Time to act on the sworn testimonies of Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, Manafort, et. al. alleging behavior that “subverts and attacks the Constitution of the United States of America.” Time to care for, and restore, the deteriorating rule of law under the Constitution.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, December 8, 2018,

What do politics have to do with me?

It’s a serious question. Comedian Nato Green answers it with humor. Have a look.

Martin Niemöller (1952)

Rev. Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1952)

“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

— German pastor Martin Niemoller looking back on the rise of fascism.

What does politics have to do with you? VOTE next Tuesday!

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, October 31, 2018.

 

 

 

Faith, Patriotism, and the Administered Consciousness

After a week of contentious struggle in the U.S. Senate that left the nation not just red and blue, but black-and-blue, I harkened back to “the administered consciousness” (Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man) that mutes Cain’s question after he had slain his brother Abel: “Am I, or am I not, my neighbor’s keeper?” And “who is my neighbor?”

Government by Minority Rule

512px-115th_United_States_Congress_Senators

115th Congress Senate party membership by state. Vermont and Maine have one independent senator each, Bernie Sanders and Angus King respectively. [Wikipedia]

INTRODUCTION: Views from the Edge publishes “Government by Minority Rule” with the kind permission of its author, Constitutional law scholar David Rudenstine.

“A minority of the national population now controls all three branches of the nation’s government. Or, in other words, in a democracy where the majority presumably rules, current American politics has turned this basic rule upside down and permits the minority to control the majority.

“The president lost the popular vote. The senate is in the hands of senators representing a minority of the overall population. While one-person-one vote requires that the election districts in the house be equal in population, gerrymandering permits the minority party — the Republicans — to control the house. And now the Supreme Court is in the hands of justices four of whom were nominated by presidents who lost the popular vote and who were confirmed by an undemocratic institution — the senate.

“The US constitution was designed to be anti-democratic in nature. Every state regardless of its population has two votes in the senate; the electoral college selects the president without constraints imposed by the majority vote; a majority of the Supreme Court justices invalidates legislation adopted by politically accountable legislators. The intention was to build safe-guards into the governing system to counter the effects of populism and the mobilized public mob.

“But it is unlikely that anyone who designed the system in the 18th century had the current radically distorted allocation of political power in mind, and I cannot recall the last time the current condition existed — perhaps in the 1920s and1930s. Certainly not since Hoover lost to FDR in 1932.

“And now Kavanaugh will be on the high court joining Roberts, Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch, to make a conservative majority that will more than likely be pro-business, anti-environmental laws, against abortion, hostile to climate change laws and rules, opposed to rights of the LBGT community, rejecting of affirmative action, favoring of the entanglement of religion and government, favoring presidential power, rejecting of the rights of immigrants, and more.

“But after his screed on the left wing Democratic Party political conspiracy Kavanaugh claimed was out to destroy him, his career, and his family, how can Kavanaugh possibly participate in these and other cases which are laced with divisions that mirror Kavanaugh’s own conspiratorial views?

“That was the point that former Justice Stevens made a few days ago. The Supreme Court is possibly hog-tied if one of the nine frequently must recuse himself because of the appearance of a conflict of interest, and it would seem that is what Kavanaugh must do if finally confirmed — not participate in any case that his political screed encompased.

“Unfortunately, the answer may be that Kavanaugh may just tough it out. Scalia did that in a case involving Cheney after Scalia and Cheney went duck hunting together. Rehnquist participated in the design of an Army surveillance program aimed at domestic civilian political dissidents and refused to recuse himself in a 5 to 4 vote almost a half century ago.

“Impeachable? Not likely. Activities that are impeachable are four — treason, bribery, and high crimes and misdemeanors. Of course, Jerry Ford famously stated that those words mean whatever congress says they mean. But then we don’t want Democrats paying games with the impeachment power.

“Now it is true that Kavanaugh’s situation is different from Scalia and Rehnquist’s. In his screed, he has taken on the Democratic Party establishment, and, properly understood, that should cause him to recuse himself in many cases that will be routinely on the Supreme Court’s docket. That in turn will greatly injure the Supreme Court.

“But I doubt if Kavanaugh will recuse himself, and his failure to do so will do great damage to the Court’s legitimacy, as did its 5 to 4 decision in Bush v. Gore.

“Is there a remedy if Kavanaugh does not recuse himself? Perhaps, but I cannot now point to one with any confidence except to secure preferred political outcomes in 2018 and 2020, and then assess matters when Democrats may hold political remedial power.”

— David Rudenstine, Sheldon H. Solow Professor of Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, author of The Age of Deference: The Supreme Court, National Security, and the Constitutional Order (2016, Oxford University Press).