Category: The Law

The Jeff Sessions War on Drugs Revisited

George S LedyardWhat we now know as the “war on drugs” was begun back in the Nixon days as a means of quashing political opposition. His advisers agreed that they couldn’t make being a hippie or being Black illegal. But they could use the war on drugs to go after the anti-war and civil rights movement leaders and get them in jail.  CNN Article

Going on fifty years, the US incarcerates more of its citizens than any other nation in the world. The incarceration rates fall dis-proportionally on people of color (as predicted by the Nixon team).

Richard Nixon and advisers - war on drugs
The war on drugs is now a multi billion dollar industry. Huge anti-drug government institutions, private prisons, etc have created an inertia that makes the system resistant to change. But slowly we had started making moves towards changing things.
Under President Obama there had been a de-emphasis on drug enforcement against a minor drug like marijuana. The government even looked the other way as several states legalized the use of marijuana. The President had also moved to start closing the private prison structure, and many states had begun to look at our substance abuse problem more as a public health / mental health issue rather than a criminal issue.
Jeff Sessions war on drugsNow, we have an Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, about whom many had concerns based on a past history of racism. And what is the very first initiative this man attempts? Going back to the bad old days of the war on drugs, an effort that even conservative thinkers have declared to be ineffective at achieving it’s stated goals and has created more negative consequences to our society than benefits. Washington Post Article
Whether or not you think there is a connection between Sessions alleged racism, and his support for escalating the war on drugs, the single fact is that the war on drugs has been a disaster. It plays a major part on our inability to solve our wealth divide problem. It has condemned a substantial segment of our society to multi-generational poverty and the hidden costs to our nation are many times the overt costs.
We have to do what we can to resist the Jeff Sessions effort to reverse our progress in this are.

Libertarian-ism and the Corporate State

George S LedyardThere are two kinds of Libertarians on the political scene today; the actual members of the Libertarian Party and the members of the Republican Party with strong Libertarian views.
The Libertarian Party folks are where you find the true believers, the ones who are radically anti-government and pro individual freedoms. The one thing that you can say about these folks is that they are consistent in their application of these principles. They are fine with just about any behavior as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home between consenting adults. You don’t get the socially conservative tendency to legislate morality with these guys. But the party is also where you find the true nut cases, the ones who are so Libertarian that they are pretty much anarchists. At the Libertarian Convention in 2016 one candidate actually suggested that drivers licenses were an imposition by the government on our personal liberty. It’s pretty clear that the official Libertarians are not where you look for people to govern your country.
Most people with Libertarian leanings are to be found in the Republican Party. And they are far less concerned with being consistent. They favor small government and maximum personal freedom, or so they say, but are often the first in line to legislate morality that fits with Christian fundamentalist values, which hold a lot of sway in the GOP. Really, they mostly skip the personal freedom aspect and focus on the property rights side of things.
People shouldn’t be told what to do with their property by some central government. In fact Federal government ownership and management of public lands is suspect. Corporations are people, so all the rights of the individual are extended to the corporations and a overwhelming trait of the philosophy held by these people is an almost religious faith in the market place as the most efficient force in managing an economy.
These folks are the Über Capitalists. The current Republican crusader for Capitalism sees his personal mission as undoing virtually every piece of regulatory legislation passed since the New Deal and dismantling the Federal regulatory structures that performed this oversight.
These people have waited for years and years for the Holy Grail of a Republican Congress and Presidency full of truly radical right wing conservatives. With Donald Trump, they may not have found the guy who will pursue the radical social conservative agenda he seemed to promise in his campaign, but they definitely have a champion of the billionaire corporate class willing to destroy virtually all of the protections offered by our government against corporate malfeasance.

Donald Trump has asked Corporate representatives to make their recommendations as to what regulatory legislation they would like to see undone. This is asking the fox to guard the hen house. This is giving a group of folks whose sole interest is in delivering short term profits to their share holders free rein to pollute, to discriminate, to have unsafe working conditions, and so on.
If you look at the America proposed by Republican libertarian / Tea Party advocates, it is an America in which business is free to pursue its own course as dictated by the market place. The problem with all of this is that we have already been here before. From an historic point of view there is absolutely zero evidence that a corporation will ever choose to forego possible financial gain when it conflicts with maximizing profits.

Smog
LA smog in the 70s

When business did have pretty much free rein we had our nations rivers full of undrinkable carcinogenic waters. In the most famous case, the Passaic River in New Jersey actually caught fire. The air on our major urban areas was toxic and in the worst cities, like Los Angeles, toxic smog clouds hovered over the city, virtually obscuring the city from the view in the mountains. Our national bird, the bald eagle, was on the edge of extinction dues to the use of the pesticide DDT, lung cancer due to smoking killed tens of thousands of Americans every single year, and so on.
Child LaborThe fact is that when our US government was run on a more libertarian model we had unsafe air, unsafe water, unsafe food, unsafe working conditions, child labor, no social safety net, rampant sexual harassment, housing discrimination, racial discrimination,  massive economic fluctuation due to unrelated speculation in the stock market and so on. The economy would crash and serious economic depressions happened with some regularity.
This is the world of the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We had it already and we chose to change it. Now, people with absolutely no historical perspective, who derive their political philosophy from the works of Ayn Rand, are ready to take our country backwards in time to a world that will look more like Charles Dickens than anything we’ve see for 150 years.

asbestos is toxic
Removing asbestos from a home

The idea that the market place and unrestrained capitalism with voluntary self regulation by the corporations would do anything but open us up to the predations of corporate pirates is laughable. These are the same people who for decades denied that asbestos was terribly dangerous and was killing people. They sponsored studies that faked research and they lied through their teeth in order to preserve their profits.
These are the same people who for decades knew, from their own research, that tobacco caused cancer but fought all attempts to acknowledge that fact in court while simultaneously working to develop a product that was even more addictive than it was naturally.

Unsafe at any speed
Ralph Nader exposes the auto industry and the Corvair

These are the same people who produced an automobile that they knew was unsafe but chose to not correct the problem because it was cheaper to settle the law suits than it was to correct the problem.
It is simply an observable fact that every single instance of attempts to institute clean water standards, clean air standards, work place safety standards, equal rights, the list goes on and on, was resisted tooth and nail by the industries concerned. It’s history. You can read it and verify it.

The fact is that the only thing that stands between our citizenry and total corporate control of our nation like something out of a science fiction novel, is the Federal Government. No other entity in our society has the power to stand up to the power of the corporations derived from the vast wealth concentrated under their control. That’s why the wealthy and the corporations spend so much money trying to subvert it.  Every single positive step this nation has taken on the environment, worker’s rights and safety, auto safety, child labor, every single instance was IMPOSED on unwilling industry by the government.

desegregation of the schools
Women resisting school desegregation

This is also true on the equal rights front. Without the power of the Federal Government and the forcible imposition of civil rights legislation on the Southern States, we would still have segregation. Without the Fair Housing Act we would still have redlining and rampant discrimination in all areas of real estate.
LGBT rights, Women’s rights, the rights of the disabled, none were voluntarily enacted by most of the country. Supreme Court decisions backed by the enforcement power of the Federal Government were what forced the nation to start living up to its stated values. It was not voluntary. People did not voluntarily decide to act better, As society began to evolve, it needed to reach a tipping point at which it was ready to change. But it was the government that made that change happen in the larger society. It has been both the mechanism for making positive change happen and the guardian of those changes once they did.
So, we are now looking at the dismantlement of the only agency in our society that effectively stands up for our rights, for our environment etc. The right has hijacked the Supreme Court and they wish to cripple enforcement. Donald Trump’s invitation to private industry to suggest what legislation it wishes to repeal is just the start. It’s just one step away from total corporate control of our nation. The wall that has protected us from the self serving, profit before the public good, predations of the industrial pirates is slated for demolition. We must do what we can to ensure that this effort does not succeed.
From the New York Times EPA is major Target

Watergate and Its Relevance to the Trump Administration Scandals

George S LedyardFor those that are impatient to be rid of Donald Trump, it is good to remember that Watergate, the worst scandal in US history, took 26 months to unfold.
The Nixon people had a war with the journalistic establishment every bit as vicious as what we are seeing with Donald Trump and company.
Initially, the GOP attempted to shield the President but as more and more information came out, they hung him out to dry and began to distance themselves.
The importance of having an independent investigation in bringing Nixon to justice can’t be overestimated nor should the integrity of various members of his administration who refused to go along with his attempts to shut the investigation down.
Our current scandal isn’t just one of political evil doing… it’s about foreign influence over our electoral process, possible collusion with a foreign power by current members of our administration,and even potential penetration of the administration by Russian FSB agents.
I was in college when the Watergate scandal broke. I was quite the aficionado of all the details. I knew the names of all the Watergate burglars, the names of all the “Plumbers” inside the white house. Everyone in the country watched the Senate hearings presided over Sam Ervin. Every day more details emerged of just how much illegal activity has been occurring. It was stunning.
The biggest thing I came away with was the extent to which people will go when they are “true believers” in a cause. Nixon and comp[any really believed that everything they did was necessary and justified in order to protect the nation from Socialism at home, Communism abroad, and dissent from liberals, minorities, women, etc who didn’t understand the realities of world power politics.
These people had a “mission” and they believed that it was their job to save the rest of us, often from ourselves. The law was inconvenient and could justifiably be circumvented for the greater good, as determined by… themselves.
The similarities with today are too many to ignore. We have a sociopathic leader for whom truth is what currently suits him, surrounded by zealots. Some are religious zealots some are captains of capitalism once again saving us from creeping socialism. Some are single issue zealots on issues like abortion, others are big picture Global strategists in the East West culture wars fighting for the lest vestiges of white Eurocentric American culture. But the one thing that Trump’s people all have in common is that they are all “true believers”  in much the same mold as the old Nixon minions.
They all are on a “mission”, they all see themselves as important figures in turning back the forces of progressivism, of undoing just about every advance we have made since the New Deal in terms of the government role in protecting civil rights, providing the social safety net, and managing those areas we have deemed “public goods” such as clean air, drinkable water, workplace safety, safe food, and so on. Some are fighting what they see as the result of globalization which is diversity itself. They are “crusaders” for America first”. which really means white America first.
I bring this out as a way of understanding that for “true believers” there is seldom any behavior that is out of bounds in advancing the agenda. Couple that with the very real possibility that one or more of the administration figures may have been compromised by the Russian FSB and are compelled to do their bidding and one can see just how threatening the current situation is to our democracy. This is a crisis of the first order, potentially worse than the Watergate scandal.
Robert Redford has written a wonderful piece on Watergate and its relevance to what is happening now. Take a look, it’s a great piece of work.
45 Years After Watergate, The Truth is Again in Danger
Trump as Nixon and Watergate - Russian Hacking

The Health Insurance Debate

George S LedyardThe issue of health insurance in America should be a lot simpler than it’s made out to be. All the way back in the 1930’s our country made the decision to go a different way that every other major democratic nation by opting for an employer based health insurance system. This decision was entirely ideological in nature. Right wing opposition to anything that even hinted at the great bugaboo “Socialism” made it impossible for us to have a national health care system like every other major nation.
This decision made major problems with our health care in the US inevitable right from that moment. Our system virtually ensures that millions of citizens have no insurance whatever. First of all, there are the unemployed. No job, no insurance. Add to that, our massive number of “underemployed”. Congress rightly decided that small businesses couldn’t afford to provide insurance to their employees so they were exempted. Additionally, only full time workers generally received benefits so larger corp[orations used as many part time workers as was feasible to avoid paying benefits. The chronically “|underemployed” could be working two, even three part time jobs, just to pay the bills and receive zero benefits.

Eventually a patchwork system of work-arounds brought the number of uninsured down. Medicare covered the citizens over retirement age. Medicaid was set up at the state level to cover the poor who otherwise couldn’t afford to be covered. Of course this left large disparities between the states as to how well they took care of their poor.

So, even with the additional programs filling in some of the gaps, as many as 48 million citizens were still uninsured (a 2012 figure). These many millions tended to end up using the emergency care infrastructure for their basic health care which was, by far, the most expensive way to provide health care services. Additionally, we got to the point at which even for those who had coverage of some sort, many had plans that denied coverage for existing conditions, had huge deductibles which made it impossible for the unwell to afford to get care. The result was that under our system, the number one cause for personal bankruptcies in the US is medical costs.

So now, the Republicans are in power. They have steadfastly opposed the provisions of the ACA, also known as Obamacare, since it was passed. But the effort to repeal and replace the ACA is revealing an ideological divide on the right. The Trump / Ryan plan does a massive tax cut that goes mostly to the wealthiest Americans, puts up to 26 million people back into the ranks of the unemployed, pushes more costs onto the consumer and also places a heavier burden on the states, which probably do not have the tax base to fill in the void.

But, the repeal is running into problems, not from the outnumbered Democrats who appear to be 100% against the repeal on principle, but from the ultra right wing of the party. These folks are the radical “libertarian” wing known as the Freedom Caucus in the House. These people, if left completely to their own devices, would have almost no government role in health care at all.

health care reform, Ryancare, Trumpcare, uninsured

So, what the Republicans are struggling with is a choice between two plans, one of which screws the poor, the elderly, disadvantaged women, and so on and reduces the share the wealthiest pay to support the system and a complete devastation of the health care system that would pretty much screw everyone not able to afford his own insurance at free market rates. This is a fight that totally leaves out GOP moderates… It is between far right  Congressional representatives who wish to shrink the government role in providing health care but are mindful of voter back lash and are worried about pushing the effort so far that they get demolished in the 2018 mid-terms and the ultra right libertarian fanatics who simply do not care about the voters at all and see themselves as fighting for small government and maximum privatization, screw the folks who can’t afford it. These are the folks that see any and all government benefits as removing the incentives of the poor to get jobs and get to work.

In other words, Democrats may rejoice that the GOP is divided and this temporarily is delaying the repeal of the ACA, but the negotiations about how to compromise on the Trump / Ryan plan and get the Freedom Caucus people on board will not result in any improvement but rather result in a compromise plan that is even worse, if possible, than the original. It will result in tens of millions losing coverage, sky high deductibles, more excluded conditions, the middle class covering more of the costs relative to the super rich, and so on. It is an unmitigated disaster for health care in the US and will result in far higher medical costs for the country in the end.
Once again we see the Republican commitment to take from the poor and give to the rich fully revealed. It is a morally bankrupt effort and we as a country should be ashamed that this is the direction we are choosing to go.
Check out:
How We Ended Up with Employer Based Healthy Care

Five Charts Which Explain the Ryan Plan

House Vote to Repeal is Delayed

The Logan Act – Why It Doesn’t Matter

George S Ledyard

The revelations of Mike Flynn’s talks with the Russian government during the campaign and the clear attempt to undermine the foreign policy of the sitting President, Barrack Obama have been in the news this week. Much justified outrage is being expressed and once again, as happens every so often, the public gets reminded of the Logan Act.
Passed in 1799 the Act takes its name from George Logan who attempted to negotiate foreign policy with France on his own. So Congress made it very clear that it is the President of the United Sates and him alone who has the power to negotiate on behalf of the country with foreign powers.  Period.
Mike FlynnSo, given that this is quite clearly stated in US law, why won’t Mike Flynn face indictment and prosecution for what seems like a clear violation of the Logan Act? Because, as it turns out, the Logan Act is one of the singularly most useless laws on the American books. No one, not even the original George Logan, has EVER been prosecuted under this law. The only person to even be arrested was in 1803. This despite a number of truly egregious violations over the years.

Nixon, Paris Peace AccordsIn 1968, one of the most turbulent years in American history, the Nixon campaign secretly contacted the North Vietnamese using Anna Chennault as a go between. They attempted to convince the North Vietnamese at the Paris Peace talks not to sign a peace deal until after Nixon was elected. While it is unclear whether this actually made any real difference in prolonging the Vietnam War, it is about as clear an example of what the Logan Act was meant to prevent as any one could find. But no one was charged, it never went to court, and no one was held accountable.

Another heinous violation, never proven of course, was the accusation leveled at the Reagan campaign that they had secretly contacted the Iranian government in an attempt to ensure that the American hostages would not be released while Carter was still President so that he couldn’t claim the credit. Given the proven charges of other nefarious negotiations with the Iranians that became known as the Iran Contra Affair that sent people to jail, a certain amount of credibility exists for these accusations. But they were never pursued.Iranian hostages released, Ronald ReaganAside from various attempts to use the law to discourage overseas visits by the opposition Party’s Congressional figures, like George McGovern and John Sparkman visiting Cuba on a “fact finding mission” or Reagan’s outrage with Jesse Jackson returning from Cuba after securing the release of some political prisoners, suggested violations seem to have been fairly minor until the March 2015 open letter by Republican members of Congress seeking to undermine President Obama’s conduct of foreign policy with the Iranians.
Open letter to IranThat was probably the most clear cut violation in our history of the Logan Act since it was done quite publicly by members of Congress seeking to undermine the foreign policy of the President of the United Sates, which was PRECISELY what the law was written to prevent. A number of calls to prosecute the offending members were made but, once again, nothing actually happened.
So, my researches into this statute indicate that the Logan Act is a singular piece of legislation that is never actually enforced and only serves as a bludgeon used by one party or another to beat up their opponents periodically. It is not at all clear why it is never enforced… perhaps because each side knows that if they use it against their enemies now, they might later be on the receiving end later. Rather like the US and the Soviets agreeing not to shoot each other’s spies. In the end, the chance that the Logan Act will be used to prosecute Mike Flynn are just about zero. It would totally unprecedented for it to happen.