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“On Johnson’s Watch, And He Did Nothing To Stop It”: ‘Selma’ Got It Right About Johnson, The FBI And King

The debate is sharp over whether the movie Selma got it right about Lyndon Johnson and his relationship with and to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A counter argument challenges the film’s depiction of Johnson as at best wary of King and his mass street action campaigns in Selma in 1965 and the South for the passage of a voting rights bill, and at worst outright hostile to King’s actions. This debate will likely rage for years to come. But even more worrisome, Selma strongly hints that Johnson aided and abetted if not an active plotter in the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s dirty, illegal and covert war against King.

Whether Johnson knew every gruesome detail of Hoover’s assault on King is not known. However, there are tell-tell clues that Johnson’s involvement with Hoover’s covert campaign went deep. The first tip was his executive order on New Year’s Day, 1964 which in effect assured Hoover his tenure as FBI Director for life.

He reaffirmed that in November 1964 in a meeting with his then Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach. Katzenbach had pressed Johnson to rein Hoover’s wiretapping excesses in. Johnson made it clear that he would he not take action against Hoover. He considered him a much valued source for information. That information was the steady stream of illegal wiretaps on the sexual antics and personal activities of any and every one from entertainers to Johnson’s political foes. The biggest haul of tapes though was those that Hoover had stockpiled on King. At the same meeting, Katzenbach explicitly told Johnson that Hoover was trying to peddle the tapes on King’s private doings to cooperative journalists.

At a follow-up news conference, Johnson feigned indignation at both Hoover and King and pledged to damp down the friction between the two. Hoover took that as a tacit endorsement and green light to step up his by then virtually open assault on King. That campaign went beyond simply collecting salacious tapes on King. As Selma graphically showed, Hoover sent one of the tapes purporting to show King in an adulterous sexual liaison to his wife Coretta Scott King. The tape was recorded and sent to Southern Christian leadership Conference headquarters in late 1964 just about the time that Johnson again declared his support of Hoover.

Hoover’s brutal and systematic covert campaign against King had a two-fold aim. One was to discredit King as the nation’s paramount civil rights leader and to discredit the entire civil rights movement in the process.

Hoover, and other top FBI officials routinely spit out these choice expletives about King “Dangerous,” “evil,” and a “colossal fraud.” They didn’t stop at name calling. They talked ominously of “neutralizing” him as an effective leader. And even more ominously they sent him a poison pen letter flatly saying “King you are done” and suggesting he kill himself.

Hoover assigned Assistant FBI director William Sullivan the dirty job of getting the goods on King. Sullivan branded King as the “most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation.” In his book My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI, Sullivan described the inner circle of men assigned to get King. The group was made up of special agents mainly drawn from the Washington and Atlanta FBI offices. Their job was to monitor all of King’s activities. Much of their dirty tactics are well-known. They deluged him with wiretaps, physical surveillance, poison-pen letters, threats, harassment, intimidation, and smear sexual leaks to the media, and even at the time of his murder, Hoover had more plans to intensify the spy campaign against King. Decades later, Sullivan still publicly defended the FBI’s war against him, and made no apology for it. The FBI patterned its spy and harassment campaign against King on the methods used by its counterintelligence division and internal security sections during the 1940s and ’50s. The arsenal of dirty tactics they used included unauthorized wiretaps, agent provocateurs, poison-pen letters, “black-bag jobs” (breaking and entering to obtain intelligence) and the compiling of secret dossiers.

In the 1960s, the FBI recruited thousands of “ghetto informants,” for their relentless campaign of harassment and intimidation against African American groups. The bureau even organized its targets into Orwellian categories agents gave such labels as “Rabble Rouser Index,” “Agitator Index” and “Security Index.”

By the time Johnson assumed the presidency after John F. Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Hoover’s obsession with and campaign against King was in high gear. And the few times, Hoover’s campaign of slander and vilification of King was hinted at publicly, Johnson would shrug it off and reaffirm either publicly and privately Hoover’s absolute invaluable importance to him. What Johnson knew or worse authorized Hoover to do to thwart King will never be fully known. But as Selma pointed out, Hoover’s gutter campaign against King happened on Johnson’s watch, and he did nothing to stop it.


By: Earl Ofari Hutchinson, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights Movement, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The ‘No Child’ Rewrite Threatens Your Kids’ Future”: Congress Is Attempting To Pass The Buck On Federal Funding For Education

In the weeks ahead, Congress will consider rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act and, if some leaders on Capitol Hill get their wish, it will feature dramatically reduced federal oversight of education.

These Congressional leaders point to states’ rights when they argue that the federal government should send $50 billion to 50 states and more than 10,000 school districts each year but ask for little or nothing in the way of results.

Despite America’s long and sordid history of extreme inequity in schooling and in spite of dramatic continuing disparities in educational quality, states’ rights advocates assert the federal government isn’t needed to monitor or assure educational quality and equity.

Whether because of racism, politics, ignorance, or indifference, the brutal facts are that states and school districts have too often neglected their educational responsibilities. The losers have always been children in poverty, children of color, and children with disabilities.

Think back to Topeka, Kan., in the 1950s, where seven-year old Linda Brown was denied the opportunity to attend a nearby public school because she was black. The Supreme Court eventually stepped in and ended legal segregation in the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

Three years later in Little Rock, Ark., despite the Supreme Court’s decision that segregation violated the Constitution, nine young Black students were denied access to a public high school by segregationist Governor Orval Faubus. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne Division to force Faubus to admit the students to Central High School.

The same thing happened over and over again, in state after state, in the ensuing years, including in Mississippi where my mother Marian Wright Edelman, on behalf of courageous black plaintiffs, sued several segregated local school districts. States and local school districts violated Brown, lawsuits or non-violent protests (which often provoked violent reprisals) eventually led to desegregation orders, and then great vigilance was required to ensure those orders were enforced.

On a parallel track, in the 1960s, federal officials recognized that states and local school districts were systematically spending less to educate poor kids compared to wealthier kids. So in 1965, Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to provide federal funds to help make up the difference.

In the 1970s, my mother and many others, including parents of children with disabilities, protested because states and districts weren’t meeting children’s special needs. A seminal 1974 Children’s Defense Fund report called “Children Out of School” chronicled the extent of the problem. The federal government responded by passing a law requiring states and districts to educate children with special needs and providing additional resources (though the feds have never come close to funding the cost of their mandate, which is a huge and largely undiscussed problem).

In 2001, with great fanfare, Congress updated the 1965 ESEA law to require every state and district to assess children’s educational progress regularly and publish results by race, income, disability, and whether English is a second language. The hope was that greater transparency about performance would drive results.

The new ESEA, or No Child Left Behind law, exposed grossly unequal educational outcomes and motivated a range of efforts across the country to address the low performance of low-income children and children of color. That said, the law was deeply flawed. States were encouraged and allowed to lower standards to make it appear they were improving. The tests on which the federal government based its ratings were “dumb”—they assessed students’ knowledge of information not their ability to think, solve problems, or write, and they only measured students within the confines of their grade level. And there was a ridiculous assumption that states would somehow get all of their students to proficiency—that’s right, 100%—by 2014.

In the past five years, the federal government has offered incentives and resources for states to lift academic standards, fix schools that have struggled for decades, offer more choices to parents, and strengthen teaching through more accurate educator evaluations. These incentives and lobbying by state-based education advocates led most states to raise standards, embrace choice, and develop fairer, more rigorous systems for evaluating teachers. (This is happening well in most places, but there’s still a long way to go.)

Now, we all know that federal interventions don’t always work as intended. What sounds good in concept often stumbles in practice, which is why it’s important to revisit laws regularly (that hasn’t happened with No Child Left Behind because of the stalemate in Washington).

That said, it’s patently false and downright irresponsible to suggest states and districts will do the right thing without meaningful oversight from the federal government. The evidence is everywhere that absent real accountability many states won’t ensure that districts protect children at risk.

Today, for example, because education is often funded by local property taxes, states typically spend much less money educating children in the bottom fifth of the economic ladder than the top fifth. In Illinois, for example, a student in the low property value Berwyn North school district just west of Chicago receives $8,588 in combined state and local education funding whereas a student twenty miles further west in suburban Lisle Community Unit School District 202 receives $17,169 in state and local funding.

In addition to getting the short end of the stick on funding in most states, low-income children and children of color are disciplined more severely, have less access to rigorous high school classes, and are more likely to be taught by ineffective teachers. [We only know about these disparities, by the way, because the federal government makes states measure them and publish the results.]

Not surprisingly, fewer than 10 percent of low-income children earn a four-year college degree, compared to about 80 percent of upper-income students.

This is why arguments for little to no federal oversight of education are so disturbing.

There’s also talk by states’ rights advocates of no longer requiring annual testing by states, which would deny parents and educators valuable information about whether students are on track, reduce the ability to measure and improve teacher quality, and make it harder for administrators to know how schools are doing and when they need to intervene. Ironically, this is being proposed just as “smarter” assessments come online that will more accurately measure student learning, including their ability to think critically, solve problems, and write.

If Congress takes the states’ rights, anti-accountability, anti-assessment tack that is being discussed, the outcome will be as predictable as it is tragic. Many states and districts will take the easier path than trying to educate ALL children, disadvantaged students will lose out, and millions of young people who could have become hard-working taxpayers will end up jobless, in prison, or worse.

So when you hear politicians talking about reducing the federal role and restoring states’ rights, what they’re really saying is that they’re passing the buck. They’re saying they don’t want to take responsibility for ensuring ALL children receive a quality public education.

President Harry Truman kept a sign on his desk that read: “The Buck Stops Here.” When it comes to educating our children, Congress should heed that message, not ignore it.


By: Jonah Edelman, The Daily Beast, January 3, 2014

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Congress, Education, No Child Left Behind Act | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Judging The Supreme Court”: A Disturbing Picture, The Court Is Guilty Of Failing To Adequately Enforce The Constitution

After 227 years of history, how should we judge the United States Supreme Court? All of my years of studying, teaching, and practicing Constitutional law have convinced me that the Supreme Court has rarely lived up to lofty expectations and far more often has upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.

My disappointment in the Court is historical and contemporary. Its preeminent task is to enforce the Constitution in the face of majorities that would violate it. The Court is thus especially important in protecting minorities and in safeguarding rights in times of crisis when passions cause society to lose sight of its long-term values.

For the first 78 years of American history until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, the Court enforced the institution of slavery. For 58 years, from 1896 until 1954, the Court embraced the noxious doctrine of separate but equal and approved Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of Southern life. Nor are egregious mistakes by the Supreme Court on race a thing of the past. The Roberts Court has furthered racial inequality by striking down efforts of school boards to desegregate schools and by declaring unconstitutional crucial provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Court also has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that the expression had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their lifelong homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as “concentration camps.”

During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx and Engels, and Lenin. In all of these instances, the Court failed to enforce the Constitution. Most recently, the Roberts Court held that individuals could be criminally punished for advising foreign organizations, designated by the United States government as terrorist organizations, as to how to use the United Nations for peaceful resolution of their disputes or how to receive humanitarian assistance.

For almost 40 years, from the 1890s until 1937, the Court declared unconstitutional more than 200 federal, state, and local laws that were designed to protect workers and consumers. The Court even declared unconstitutional the first federal law designed to prevent child labor by prohibiting the shipment in interstate commerce of goods made by child labor. Minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws were frequently invalidated.

Even the areas of the Supreme Court’s triumphs, like Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainwright, accomplished less than it might seem. American public schools remain racially separate and terribly unequal. Criminal defendants in so many parts of the country, including in death-penalty cases, have grossly inadequate lawyers.

The Court’s decisions from the last few years — preventing employment discrimination suits and class actions against large corporations, keeping those injured by misconduct of generic drug makers from having any recovery, denying remedies to those unjustly convicted and detained — illustrate what has historically been true: The Court is far more likely to rule in favor of corporations than workers or consumers; it is far more likely to uphold abuses of government power than to stop them.

What should we do about it?

Some scholars urge the abandonment of judicial review, but I reject that conclusion. The limits of the Constitution are meaningful only if there are courts to enforce them. For those I have represented over my career — prisoners, criminal defendants, homeless individuals, a Guantánamo detainee — it is the courts or nothing.

But I believe that there are many reforms that can make the Court better and, taken together, make it less likely that it will so badly fail in the future. I propose a host of changes, including instituting merit selection of court justices, creating a more meaningful confirmation process, establishing term limits for court justices, changing the Court’s communications (that is, televising its proceedings), and applying ethics rules to the court justices.

The Supreme Court’s decisions affect each of us, often in the most important and intimate aspects of our lives. I think that we need to focus on the Court’s long-term and historical performance. If we do, it is a disturbing picture and there is only one possible verdict: The Court is guilty of failing to adequately enforce the Constitution.

But it can and must get better in the years and decades ahead.


By: Ewin Chemerinsky; The National Memo, January 5, 2014; Originally Posted at The Washington Spectator


January 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Support Your Local Police, Or Else”: A Lot Of Cops Don’t Understand That They Owe Respect To The Citizens They Are Sworn To Protect

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chief of Police William Bratton should do the one thing they would never dare do to fix the attitude of their police force. They should fire a thousand cops.

In the midst of their hissy fit over the mayor’s lack of adoration for the men and women in blue, the cops are refusing to enforce the law. Arrests in New York City are down 66 percent and citations for petty offenses and traffic violations are down 94 percent from the same week a year ago.

In short, the reaction of the New York cops to being told they sometimes do a bad job is to do the job worse.

De Blasio’s sin is failing to fully back the police who killed Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling cigarettes on a street corner. He had the effrontery to suggest that the people peacefully demonstrating against killing an unarmed man committing a minor crime might have a point. He even said he had to train his own mixed-race son how to deal with police officers so he wouldn’t get killed. He knows his city and his cops.

Even before the assassination of two officers in their car, the police circulated a self-righteous petition saying de Blasio has not given cops the “respect they deserve,” and disinviting the mayor from future police funerals. It says in part that the mayor’s “attendance at the funeral of a fallen New York City police officer is an insult to that officer’s memory and sacrifice.”

The mayor got off wrong with the cops by campaigning for office against the unconstitutional “stop and frisk” policy that had the police bracing an inordinate number of young, black, poor and Latino men randomly on the street. Then came the Eric Garner mess.

Now some police officers actually blame de Blasio for creating an anti-police atmosphere in which two officers were randomly assassinated. At least three times now, New York police officers in uniform have engaged in a political demonstration by turning their backs on the mayor; once in person and twice at the funerals of fellow officers. Chief Bratton, revered as the cop who has turned around policing in America, weakly said it was “inappropriate.” Since when is it merely “inappropriate” to conduct politics in uniform?

The people who carry guns and wear uniforms in the name of public service have to respect and obey civilians and civilian authority or else they are an occupying army. And that’s what everyone demonstrating in the streets of America is complaining about. Too often, the cops act like an occupying army.

Cops demand reverence and special treatment because they claim they “lay their lives on the line” every day protecting the public. They do not. Most police work, like any other job, is routine and boring. No doubt, police officers encounter terrible and dangerous situations that most of us never do, but they aren’t laying their lives on the line every day.

And in some places in America, the cops are the biggest danger innocent civilians face.

Several dozen police officers are killed on the job every year. It’s true and it’s terrible. But the most deadly profession in America is being a lumberjack. More fishermen, aircraft pilots and roofers die on the job every year than cops. Police work is not even among the top ten most dangerous professions.

As a journalist, I’ve seen cops on the job for 35 years. I’ve seen them do great and brave things. I’ve also seen them being mean, arrogant and stupid. I’ve seen cops in Boston beat up demonstrators. I saw the Los Angeles police abandon their city in a riot to prove how necessary they are. I’ve seen cops bully black kids and beat up reporters. More than once I’ve had a cop say to me, “I don’t care what the law says.”

Police officers do not “deserve” respect. Like anyone else in this world, they have to earn it. What a lot of cops don’t understand is that they owe respect… to the citizens they are sworn to protect, and to the civilian leaders they work for.

I’d like to see Bill de Blasio and Chief Bratton walk down a row of New York cops refusing to do their job and poke them in the chest saying, “Yo .. turn in your badge; You, you’re a disgrace. Get out.” Then the cops would have every right to turn their backs on the mayor. And get the hell out of the station house.


By: Brian Rooney, The Blog, The Huffington Post, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Bill de Blasio, NYPD, Police Abuse | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The 100 Rich People Who Run America”: The Ultra-Wealthy Have Taken Over The Political System

We are well past the point that anyone will be shocked or even surprised by how distorted our system of funding campaigns has become, but thanks to some excellent reporting by Ken Vogel at Politico, we now have some interesting new perspective.

We have reached a tipping point where mega donors completely dominate the landscape. The 100 largest donors in the 2014 cycle gave almost as much money to candidates as the 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less (and certainly that number goes from “almost” to “more” if we could include contributions that are not required by law to be disclosed).

Think about this for a minute. This is consequential. It means that candidates running for office are genuflecting before an audience of 100 wealthy individuals to fuel their campaigns. So, whose bidding do we think these candidates are going to do? Is it any wonder that the interests of large corporations and unions get to the front of the line?

Liberal Democrats like to blow their bugles about how all the big money in politics comes from rich Republicans. Actually, as Vogel points out, 52 of the 100 top donors are Democrats, and the No. 1 donor by far is Democrat Tom Steyer, who chipped in $74 million.

At least we’ve achieved some bipartisanship somewhere in our political ecosphere. Both parties are now equal opportunity offenders when it comes to gaming the system.

But I don’t fault Steyer or the Koch brothers for trying to exert their influence on politics and public policy. They have strongly held beliefs and issues they care about deeply, and they are simply spending a lot of their money to try and change things in a direction they believe would be better. Nothing illegal or unethical about that.

But let’s call the system that Citizens United and other rulings and laws have created what it is: an oligarchy. The system is controlled by a handful of ultra-wealthy people, most of whom got rich from the system and who will get richer from the system.

Supporters of the system believe that the $3.67 billion we spent on elections last cycle isn’t really all that much money. An Arkansas poultry company owner and big time political donor, Ronnie Cameron, reflected to Vogel that it’s not so different today than it’s been in the past when, “Our country was founded by the wealthy landowners having the authority and representing all the people.”

He said that out loud. To a reporter. Knowing other people might read those words. Without any apparent irony. Imagine all the poor Americans who will sleep better knowing that a rich Southern chicken farmer is happy to represent their interests.

Vogel gets to the heart of the problem though, reporting that, “When all the donations are tallied and analyzed, 2014 is likely to be noteworthy for two other milestones on the opposite end of the spectrum from the growth of mega-donations: It’s on pace to be the first mid-term election since 1990—the earliest cycle for which the Center for Responsive Politics performed such an analysis—in which the overall number of traceable donations declined. It’s also likely to be the first midterm since 1990 when the candidates’ campaigns spent less than the preceding midterm election.

The decline in candidate spending, though, is more than offset by the increase in spending by super PACs and other groups that can accept huge contributions from the ultra-rich.

That means that fewer and fewer everyday Americans are choosing to contribute to campaigns. In fact, less than 1 percent of Americans donate today. And who can blame them for feeling disenfranchised when they see their efforts dwarfed by the mega donors.

At the same time, campaigns are spending less while the special-interest groups are spending more. So we now have a system that discourages voters from participating and engaging, while rewarding and encouraging special interests to participate even more.

“[O]ur nation is facing a crisis of liberty if we do not control campaign expenditures. We must prove that elective office is not for sale. We must convince the public that elected officials are what James Madison intended us to be, agents of the sovereign people, not the hired hands of rich givers, or what Madison called factions.”

Those are the words not of some liberal Democrat. That’s the prescient echo of Barry Goldwater from 30 years ago.


By: Mark McKinnon, The Daily Beast, January 5, 2015

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Democracy, Mega-Donors | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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