Who should pay?

Jim Crow

Jim Crow

Revisiting slavery reparations
By Jim Coogan

If it’s true that talking about making substantive changes to Social Security is the third rail of American politics, the issue of slavery reparations carries enough dangerous high voltage that any prudent politician should also shy away from bringing it up for discussion. And yet we see a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro pushing for a more national front-and-centered conversation about it.
Just by mentioning slavery reparations I suspect that many will decide to ignore the rest of what I have to say. “It’s not me,” they will react. “I had nothing to do with slavery. My ancestors didn’t even get to America until after the Civil War.”
That was my attitude for a long time. My Italian and Irish family members didn’t have it easy when they arrived in this country in the late 19th century. Times were tough. They were discriminated against and seen by many as a threat to the existing economic, political, and social order. Like many who came with nothing, they started at the bottom and had to claw their way up. Theirs was a hard-fought struggle to achieve success. And yet, through it all, they never had to worry that their advancement was very much dependent on the color of their skin.
When the first Europeans arrived in the Americas there was not a single person of African origin on both continents. Those that arrived later all came as slaves. By the American Civil War there were about four million of them in the United States. Skin color had everything to do with their status. White immigrants who were indentured servants worked off their obligation over a period of time and became free men. Blacks were bound to servitude for life. Consigning an entire people to perpetual bondage was America’s “original sin.”
While the Civil War freed the slaves, there was never a willingness to accept black people as equals. De jure segregation after the war was practiced in the Jim Crow South. De facto segregation became the standard in the North through the use of “red-lining.” It was an intentional, and dehumanizing policy only paralleled by America’s treatment of Native Americans.
I used be a person who said, “It’s not me. Why should I be held responsible for something that I had nothing to do with?” But over time I’ve come to realize that the color of my skin has had a lot to do with my success in America. I’ve had advantages because I am white. It’s not been my experience to worry about where to eat, sleep, ride in a bus, use the bathroom, get a mortgage, or take a walk around in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Every job I’ve ever had was a result of being interviewed by someone who looked like me, viewed the world as I did – even had a name like me. That’s what “white privilege” is. Anyone that wants to dispute this, should ask themselves if they would prefer to have been born a black person in America.
When talking about reparations the question always seems to start and end with who is going to get paid for centuries of systemic racism. Most people say, “There are no more slaves any more so who is owed reparations?” As I’ve listened to what the majority of black people want out of reparations, it’s not money. They know that isn’t going to happen. It’s rather an acknowledgement of what the U.S. government has intentionally and systematically done to them over the last four centuries. It’s a desire that white Americans would finally acknowledge the fact that skin color is a large determinate of where one goes to school, where one works, and where one lives. In short, what is wanted is an apology.
For the first time in a decade Congress will be holding hearings this month to discuss “the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community, and the path to restorative justice.” Rather than dismissing this effort to confront the dark realities of our history, Americans should accept the fact that an honest and sincere evaluation of what was done to an entire group of people is a moral debt that is long overdue.

Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller 2019

My Life as the Mueller Report
By Jim Coogan

Jim Coogan was born in XXXXXXXXXXXX. He attended elementary school and high school in XXXXXXXXXXXX where he achieved XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Graduating from XXXXXXXXXXX college in XXXXX, he XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. In 1968 he XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and later XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He was a dedicated XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. During the Nixon presidency he XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and for that he was XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Joining the staff at XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX in XXXX, Coogan rose quickly to become XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Some said that his rapid rise was due to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He always denied that, preferring to cite XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX as the reason for his XXXXXXXXXXX. His marriage to XXXXXXXXXXX in XXXX produced three children. Their home in XXXXXXXX was the scene of a number of legendary XXXXXXXXXXXXXX.
Always a person who would XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, Coogan became well known as an XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He always said that XXXXXXXX was the high point of his life. Following retirement from XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX after XXXX years, he teamed up with XXXXXXXXXX to form XXXXXXXXXXXXX. That endeavor brought him many XXXXXXXXXXX and saw him named as one of Cape Cod’s most XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. A humble man, Coogan always attributed what he’d become to XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. In 2003, at the age of XXXXX, he began to travel the world, visiting places like XXXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX, and XXXXXXXXXXXX. Coogan always referred to his travels as XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. Few could argue with that. Now in his twilight years, he is usually found XXXXXXXXXX or XXXXXXXXXXXXXX. When asked about this, he says, “XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX are the reason I get up in the morning.” At XXXX years of age, it’s clear that Coogan views his life as XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. “I’ve been very XXXXXXXXXXXX,” he noted recently while standing near his XXXXXX. “No one could have ever XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX.”

Angela and me

Angela Merkle 2019

Angela Merkle 2019

Angela and me
By Jim Coogan

I was in Germany a week ago. While shopping in a little store off Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, I encountered Angela Merkel – literally bumped into her, actually. It wasn’t the first time Germany’s Chancellor and I had come together. A couple of years ago, while in Dresden waiting for a train connection to Prague, I’d noticed her standing on the opposite track platform. It was pretty much the same then. The most powerful woman in the world was still wearing an outfit that was Hillary Clinton, before there was Hillary Clinton. Maybe the color was a bit different but she had the same smile that I remembered from that earlier meeting. It struck me how coincidental it was that we’d meet again by pure happenstance, but there we were. The Chancellor seemed somewhat stiff and I sensed that her formality probably resulted from recognizing me as an American. We stand out like sore thumbs in Europe. I wondered if she was still angry about our National Security Agency tapping her phones a few years ago. Fortunately, I wasn’t wearing a MAGA hat. I knew how she felt about president Trump. Still, she gave no indication of being put off as I approached her. She just stood there. Other shoppers in the store seemed to have no interest in speaking with their leader and they laughed when I asked if someone would take a picture of the two of us – Angela and me. I’ll admit that the entire time our conversation was really one-sided but I knew that she was listening, because when the door to the store opened and a gust of wind came in, she leaned slightly forward as if to hear me better. As I moved to pay for my purchase, I tipped my hat and told her that I hoped her final two years as Chancellor would be good ones. I mentioned that our president was likely in his last two years as well. The two leaders would be going out of office together. As I waved good-bye, her eyes didn’t reveal anything but I did notice that her smile hadn’t changed.

A tale of two writers

A tale of two writers
By Jim Coogan

There is no evidence that the great nineteenth century writers Charles Dickens and Karl Marx ever met. Marx was a few years younger than Dickens but they were contemporaries in a changing world. Both men took different approaches in evaluating the social and economic conditions of their time. Dickens, in his novels, exposed the negative consequences of the new industrial age and its effects on the working class. In books like Oliver Twist, Hard Times, and in the journal “Household Words” that he edited, we are introduced to a dark world of poverty, crime, and hardship. While Dickens is celebrated as a literary genius, Marx, who advocated for economic reforms that would benefit the very class of people that Dickens wrote about, is reviled as a radical extremist whose ideas should be diminished and devalued. Indeed, many conservatives use the word “socialist” as a substitute for mayhem, disorder, and eventual economic ruin. The truth is that both Dickens and Marx were reacting to what some have termed, “capitalism without a conscience.” Each in his own way called for a just world.

Perhaps the negative reaction to Marx is the result of not understanding what socialism is. Too often when the suggestion of any kind of collectivism comes up, the line is drawn directly to Stalinism and Maoism. It’s understandable that this the typical reaction. The Soviet Union and communist China used the Marxist model to enslave masses of people. Politicizing socialism as they did meant the creation of top down dictatorships that benefitted a select few. And economic failure and the loss of individual freedom came with it. That result, however, was not what Marx advocated in Das Kapital. His basic philosophy was anti-capitalist. He decried the negative effects of the class system. While it’s easy to take offense at this today, remember, Marx was writing in a time of extreme social and economic inequality. He saw the poverty and squalor that Dickens wrote about. And like Dickens, he reacted to the inherited privilege of the ruling class that exploited industrial workers with low wages and long hours.

When we examine the lot of the laboring class in the late nineteenth century in both Europe and America, it was dismal. Six day work weeks of 12 hour days at subsistence wages was common. There was child labor and unsafe working conditions. Labor unions were banned. The Chartists in England and the agrarian reformers in America had been beaten down. Meanwhile, in what historians have called “the Gilded Age,” a small group of capitalists lived in unimaginable luxury in virtual palaces, removed from the day to day hardships of people who were barely surviving. This is what Dickens and Marx were responding to. With these conditions, there should be little wonder that the ideas of Marx began to take hold.

Today, we see the continuing erosion of the middle class while the aggregated fortunes of the top 10% amount to almost 40% of America’s wealth — double what the rest of the 90% has. While Republicans tout the increase in stock values in the past two years, the fact is that most Americans haven’t benefitted from this because they aren’t invested in the market. 80% of the worth of the stock market is owned by 10% of the population. The increases in values have gone largely to the wealthy who have seen their portfolios grow just as the capital gains tax has been reduced. We live now in a system where millionaires have literally purchased the government for their own advantage.

With all this, it’s astounding to me that pushing for higher taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations is seen as such a radical notion. When the president and other conservatives slam the idea of making the rich pay a larger share of taxes, claiming that it will kill jobs and crush the middle class, they stand on the side of modern day plutocrats — the 1%. And no wonder. That’s who they are.

We are our Choices

We are our choices
By Jim Coogan

Almost monthly we see newspaper stories featuring people who have reached bottom. Whether it’s a result of substance abuse, a low paying job, loss of employment altogether or maybe facing prison for a crime, these individuals are portrayed as victims of a cruel environment where the cards were stacked against them from the start. .

Reading through these sad stories, one at first is moved at the plight of the featured individual. They are about to be evicted from their motel room, have used up all of the assistance available and are being forced to leave the state. They have no family to turn to. Usually there are children involved so it compounds the tragedy. But there is always more to the story. At about paragraph 12, we find that the person who is down and out dropped out of school. They had a child at 17, another at 20, and now at age 30 have another—all three by different fathers who are nowhere in the picture. If it’s a male, he’s also a school dropout, been in prison for some minor offense and is responsible for a child or two that he can’t support. He’s had a checkered work history and currently can’t find a job.

These are the typical scenarios of most of the people who end up falling through society’s cracks. And as much as their stories are heart wrenching—and they certainly are, the fact is that with few exceptions, most of these poor souls are where they are because they’ve made bad choices.

Am I being judgmental here? Certainly I am. I’ll admit that I’m a bit uncomfortable doing it. And my liberal friends will be aghast at my unwillingness to see the whole picture. “You’re not taking into consideration the circumstances,” they will say. “You can’t hold people responsible for the environments they came from.”

I beg to differ. There’ no doubt that some people clearly have more options than others. A wealthy white person has a wider range than say, a poor person of color. Women have historically had a more narrow range of alternatives than do men. But everyone has choices. Ultimately we decide who we will be when we make them

Rarely do I find myself standing with conservatives on just about anything. But they all agree, as do I, on three fairly basic rules that can give anyone, regardless of background, a better than even chance of success in this society. The first rule is finish high school. The second is not to have a child before marriage. And the third? Don’t get arrested before the age of 25.

It’s hard to argue against that.

Asylum seekers

Jewish refugees turned away

Asylum seekers
In June of 1939 a group of European refugees arrived at the port of Miami aboard the German liner St. Louis. There were almost one thousand people on the ship, most of them Jews trying to escape the Nazi violence that had driven them from their homes. They were denied entry. A number of them ended up back in Europe and were sent to the death camps. America, which bills itself as a generous and compassionate country, has a mixed record of welcoming people who are fleeing tyranny. It seems that if those fleeing oppression fit the model of the dominant culture, the doors open a lot easier for entry then they do for people with the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” color, or the “wrong” language.
Right now the focus is on a large group of migrants who are marching through Mexico toward our southern border. The president has called this an “invasion” and has sent elements of the U.S. military to the U.S./Mexican border to stop them. Whipping up a climate of fear, he has framed this migration as a threat to national security. And this description plays especially well with his political base.
We ought to ask how this group of people, in large measure made up of women and young children, is a threat to American security. Are they armed? Will they storm the border and overwhelm any attempt to stop them. Are they all gang members? Will our military fire on them?
People with any sense of reality know the answers to these questions and will see this for what it is – a manufactured crisis that is being used for political ends. The word invasion seems hardly the proper description for a group of poor people fleeing the murderous region of Central America. El Salvador has the highest homicide rate in the entire world. Law and order has largely broken down. Gangs rule the cities. Honduras isn’t far behind averaging 20 homicides a day.
Illegal immigration is certainly a problem. There is no denying that. Obviously we can’t take all of the people who want to come here. And their might indeed be some bad people in that caravan. We need an orderly process that can screen those who might intend to do us harm from the great majority of whom just want a better life. The sad fact is that both our political parties continue to refuse to craft a solution to the issue, using immigrants as a means of scoring political points. Meanwhile those who are desperate to escape horrible conditions in their own countries have few options. Stay and die or take a long shot to get to the United States.
At a time like this, we should remember people like those Jews aboard the St. Louis who were refused entry and left to a dark fate by a callous nation. We should see clearly that where once America was seen around the world as a beacon of hope and compassion, under this current administration our country has become instead, a place of hate and intolerance. The current leadership goads its supporters to see immigrants as eroding the cultural values and norms of this country. It’s the same fear that has stigmatized every ethnic group that wanted to come to America. On the eve of the mid-term election we should ask ourselves – is this who we are? Is this what we want our country to be? And we should think about our own families and why they came here, all the while realizing the truth that a nation, like a tree, becomes stronger when it is grafted with new stock.

Trump HumpImpeachment is not the answer
By Jim Coogan

As we get closer to the 2018 mid-term elections, many Democrats are hoping to make congressional gains that could stymie president Trump’s agenda. While that may be an understandable goal on their part, the thought that control of Congress could be an avenue to impeach and remove Trump is a bad idea.
Article I of the U.S. Constitution stipulates that civil officers of the United States, including the president, may be removed from office for “high crimes and/or misdemeanors.” It’s a two-stage judicial process where the House of Representatives by simple majority proposes formal charges and then things move to the Senate where a two thirds majority determines guilt or non-guilt. It’s been used sparingly. Only two presidents have been indicted for crimes that allegedly fit these categories. Andrew Johnson and William Clinton were impeached and found not guilty of the charges. Richard Nixon would have been impeached but he resigned from the presidency before the House could bring formal charges against him.
Impeachment is a bad idea because it will, as it clearly has in the past, end up as a purely partisan exercise. In Andrew Johnson’s case it was the still raw political edges still remaining from the recently ended Civil War that saw the effort to remove the 17th president. Johnson, a Democrat, was seen by the Radical Republicans as being too soft on the defeated states of the Confederacy. In Clinton’s case, it was because he lied about the Monica Lewinsky affair and the insurgent Republicans under Newt Gingrich saw an opening to dump a president from the opposing party.
In today’s bitterly divided American political landscape, any call for impeachment by the Democrats would be viewed by Trump loyalists as an end-around move by the party out of power to overturn the legitimate election of a president. It is a fact that a large number of American voters who are already suspicious about anything that comes out of Washington, would feel that they were cheated by a corrupt system. It would lead to chaos and further the social and political instability that we are already experiencing.
Even if the Democrats flipped the House of Representatives in November and regained power in that chamber, it would be a grave mistake to use their majority to introduce articles of impeachment. Even if that could be accomplished, getting two thirds of the Senate to find the president guilty would be impossible. Meanwhile we would have many Americans believing that all of the hysteria about a so-called “Deep State” is true.
Another factor that Democrats should consider is that just floating the idea of impeachment will become a rallying point for the Republican base. And they will work all the harder in mobilizing their supporters to prevent the anti-Trump forces from making congressional gains. In the end, talk of impeachment will just be a distraction from the real issues Democrats should be campaigning about. If it keeps up, our embattled chief executive will become a sympathetic figure. And that’s the last thing Democrats should want to happen.