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Who Are The Barbarians?

During this election cycle, a cry goes up from the fearful masses, “The Barbarians are coming!”. This, however, begs the question, who are we and who the Barbarians? The Oxford English Dictionary[1] defines five meanings of the noun barbarian.

  • 1. etymologically, A foreigner, one whose language and customs differ from the speaker's.
  • 2. Hist. a. One not a Greek. b. One living outside the pale of the Roman empire and its civilization, applied especially to the northern nations that overthrew them. c. One outside the pale of Christian civilization. d. With the Italians of the Renascence: One of a nation outside of Italy.
  • 3. A rude, wild, uncivilized person. b. Sometimes distinguished from savage (perh. with a glance at 2). c. Applied by the Chinese contemptuously to foreigners.
  • 4. An uncultured person, or one who has no sympathy with literary culture.
  • 5. A native of Barbary. Obs.

Let us first examine the Republican presidential candidate who began his long and odious campaign on June 16, 2015 with the statement on Mexican immigrants: 'They're bringing drugs,' crime and are 'rapists'. This seems to imply, based on definitions one and three, that he believes that Mexicans fit the model of a barbarian. Later he adds Muslims and most immigrants to his list. This sentiment has fed the fires of fear and hatred, long a smoldering sentiment, in his far right political base. If you witness the fervor of a Trump rally, listening to the pronouncements of his supporters, you can visualize people with torches and pitchforks, rushing to repel the barbarians at the gate. So that makes immigrants and Mexicans the barbarians, but not so fast.

Before some of my readers become smug, a leading liberal news site, in an article entitled , “The Alt Right: Barbarians At The Gates…” stated in counterpoint; “The alt right movement is an insurgent, racially tinged one that seeks to dismantle traditional conservative institutions to provide a political voice to an array of exiles on the far right. These include, but are not limited to, a unified array of influential hard-core racists and conspiracists, who oppose contemporary political processes, institutions, and both political parties as threatening not only national security, but the Euro-centric traditions of the nation as well with ‘white genocide.’ ”[2]

Mr. Trump, the founder of this vitriolic feast, himself fits definition three and four of a barbarian. The bastion of center, The New York Times, supports this in op-ed by Charles M. Blow entitled “Donald Trump, Barbarian at the Debate”. Trump has planted the seeds of hate deep and watered them well. We, as good, caring and sane people, must take up the challenge to prevent the harvesting of this crop. Our first duty is to ensure that Mr. Trump never sits in the Oval Office. Our second duty, equally important, is to change the dialog between the right and left, addressing the extremes at both ends of the spectrum. Those at these limits are driven by real or perceived fears that we should address with action, not belittlement and scorn. Labeling


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbarian

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-levin-jd/the-alt-right-barbarians_b_11706250.html

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A Tale of Too (Many) Cities

A Tale of Too (Many) Cities

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times[1],” at no other time in history have we been more connected to others, yet hate still flourishes. “It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” we have the knowledge to cure many of man’s ailments, but price them out of the reach. “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” with the election of Obama as President we hoped that racism was a thing of the past, but the scene of black men being shot, beaten and choked to death belies this. The news is replete with overreach and callous use of authority as embodied in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, Newark and many more cities we do not know.

An April 30th report from the Police Executive Research Forum, reported on St. Louis County, MO; where Ferguson is located. The PERF report found that an "inappropriate and misguided mission has been thrust upon the police in many communities: the need to generate large sums of revenue for their city governments.[2]"   We see police departments in Baltimore, New York and Newark, NJ accused of imposing clandestine arrest quotas on their officers. This drives a corrosive atmosphere where police essentially harass minorities on real and imagined minor offenses; such appears to be the fate of Freddie Gray.

This problem of police brutality or misconduct is not only across the country but also in our own backyard. In a recent rally in Newark, attended by Rosemary Lontka, Deb Huber, and Vicky Stapleton from our chapter, there were three mothers and a daughter who lost loved ones from police actions. Larry Hamm, director of POP, spoke about at least five people who have died in police custody in Newark. He also stated that a civilian complaint review Board is being set up in Newark and that the ACLU has so many cases of this police misconduct that they have referred this problem to the federal Department of Justice. The DOJ issued a scathing report [3]on Newark. They are soliciting applications for individuals and organizations to act as a Federal Monitor.

Morris County members, Rosemary and Vicky in partnership with the NAACP have participated in a program about criminal justice and policing policies. The NAACP is advocating more community involvement, body cameras, civilian complaint review boards of police activities, and legislative reform. These are just a few of the policies but these are good first steps in helping to end the suffering of wives, mothers, brothers and sisters. If we all continue to be vigilant and hold police and elected officials to the highest of standards then “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done.”1

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The Party of Hobson

In the 17th century, Thomas Hobson owned a livery stable in England. Afraid that his customers would always choose the best horses and wear those out, he would give a choice to take the horse in the stall nearest the door or to not take one at all.¹ Today we characterize this as a “take it or leave it” philosophy, an illusion of a free choice. The Conservatives that rule the Republican Party, following the example of Tom DeLay in Texas, have mastered the technique by gerrymandering Congressional districts. The 19th century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill, wrote of this, "When the individuals composing the majority would no longer be reduced to Hobson's choice, of either voting for the person brought forward by their local leaders, or not voting at all." ² This “I’ll make him an offer that he can’t refuse” mentality appears to be the motivation behind Conservative efforts to limit options for women. It often seems that the ultimate social goal of attacking abortion, birth control, equal pay and a myriad of other women’s issues, is to reinstate a misogynistic hegemony over women. As noted by Mill almost 150 years ago, "Those who attempt to force women into marriage by closing all other doors against them, lay themselves open to a similar retort. If they mean what they say, their opinion must evidently be, that men do not render the married condition so desirable to women, as to induce them to accept it for its own recommendations. It is not a sign of one's thinking the boon one offers very attractive, when one allows only Hobson's choice, 'that or none'....” ³ In world affairs, the Conservative reaction to threats follows a predictable pattern. We are offered Hobson’s choice between the drum beat for military action, closing borders, putting “them” in prison etc. or doing nothing, suffering defeat. This perpetual fear reflex works well on the rabid, low-information base. We must offer clear choices, real choices between our positions and the “My way or the highway” attitude of our opponents. We must not be dissuaded from voting by false Hobson’s choices that seem discouraging. We must affirm that this is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning of the resurgence of progressive action.

______________________________

¹http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobson%27s_choice#cite_note-6

²Mill, John Stuart (1861). Considerations on Representative Government (1 ed.). London: Parker, Son, & Bourn. p. 145.

³Mill, John Stuart (1869). The Subjection of Women (1869 first ed.). London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer. pp. 51–2.

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A Christmas Carol

Stave One

The Progressive was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed on November fourth by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. The Conservative signed it. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come from the story I am about to relate. (Dickens, 1843, p. 1)

In her biography of Charles Dickens, Claire Tomalin observes that the story of his cold-hearted miser, Scrooge, is a parable for the condition of the working class 1843. During that year of the industrial revolution, the first bored underwater tunnel is built, “The Economist” begins publication and Ada Lovelace writes the first computer program for the Babbage Engine. Then as now, however, the poor and unemployed are considered a lazy lot and a burden to the “makers” in society. As we first meet Scrooge, he is approached by two “Progressive” gentlemen who are attempting to create a fund to help the poor and destitute. To them he utters the now (in)famous lines “Are there no prisons … are there no Workhouses … the treadmill and poor law are in full vigor?” These are references to the general practice in this era to imprison or indenture debtors for failure or inability to repay. The poor laws and debtors’ prison were generally abolished by the end of the 19th century but ever-creative States in the U.S. have used legal chicanery to effectively reincarnate them. Debt collectors in Missouri, Illinois, Alabama and other states are using these loopholes to jail the poor who cannot legitimately pay their debts.

First, explains St. Louis Post-Dispatch[1], the creditor gets a judgment in civil court that a debtor hasn't paid a sum that he owes. Then, the debtor is summoned to court for an "examination": a review of their financial assets. If the debtor fails to show up for the examination -- as often happens in such cases -- the creditor can ask for a "body attachment" -- essentially, a warrant for the debtor's arrest. At that point, the police can haul the debtor in and jail them until there is a court hearing, or until they pay the bond. No coincidence, the bond is usually set at the amount of the original debt. As the Dispatch notes:

"Debtors are sometimes summoned to court repeatedly, increasing chances that they'll miss a date and be arrested. Critics note that judges often set the debtor's release bond at the amount of the debt and turn the bond money over to the creditor -- essentially turning publicly financed police and court employees into private debt collectors for predatory lenders."

Marley’s ghost, nevertheless, may have been active. In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a new law restricting body attachments for civil debt. In New Jersey, bill S-946/A-1910 was signed in August and passed by the voters in November. This bill allows for non-monetary options rather than jail time to be applied to minor, non-violent offenses where the defendant does not have the ability to pay.

In St. Louis County, MI, the practice, however, is undeterred and extended to exploit excessive collection of revenue from “predatory traffic tickets” creating an endless treadmill of jail time for minorities guilty of driving while black. But, the events in Furguson, MI have shed a light on this practice, spurring Missouri Attn. Gen. Chris Koster to file lawsuits against 13 St. Louis Co. municipalities.

The ghosts of past, present and future may also have appeared to both Republicans and Democrats in Congress where there is clear bipartisan support for general prison reform.

“A coalition of unlikely allies has coalesced in recent months to advance criminal justice reform. These strange bedfellows -- from liberal Democrats such as Sen. Dick Durbin to tea party darlings such as Sen. Mike Lee, from the NAACP to Americans for Tax Reform -- are all proposing reductions in mandatory minimum sentences.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's calls for such reductions have been cheered by some of the same Republicans who otherwise want to impeach him. In Texas, a conservative group called Right on Crime has led the way on prison and sentencing reform -- earning plaudits from, among others, California progressives.” [2]

We must keep the pressure on our legislators to reduce and remove incentives for states and municipalities to view fines as a major surreptitious revenue stream couched in an Orwellian concept of deterrence. Additionally, we must collectively rebuke the for profit “prison factory” mentality in our courts. If we do this, maybe we will be worthy of Tiny Tim’s wish “God Bless us, everyone.”

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Alice in Wonderland

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.” [1] This proclamation by the Queen of Hearts to Alice neatly sums up the plight of 27.5% of the households in New Jersey as documented in a 2014 report by the United Way of Northern NJ.[2] This is a report about ALICE, not Lewis Carroll’s Alice, but the “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed” people in our society. These are individuals or households that, although employed, cannot afford basic household necessities, as defined by United Way, of housing, childcare, transportation and health care. While many in this group are earning more than the official National Poverty Level, they are at or below the survival level for New Jersey. 

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