Stephen Gottlieb | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb

Lawyers can get cynical, especially in fields they see up close. A judge called me over in the halls of a courthouse to tell me he believed what one of my clients said. And when I asked him why he didn’t acquit him, the judge said, “I couldn’t do that to the police.” My client went to jail so the police wouldn’t be embarrassed. Other judges told me they believed the police only half the time – but they didn’t know which half. Their decisions suggested it never mattered. A federal Marshall told me he would not tell the truth about theft by cops even if I subpoenaed him. Police in a course designed for them who told me they arrested Black people carrying hunting rifles in a completely legal and unthreatening manner, realizing they themselves were violating the law they were sworn to protect. You can get pretty cynical.

This week the Senate is considering the For the People Act. The House has already passed it. I mentioned the bill in my March 2 commentary. The For the People Act would:

Stephen Gottlieb: Government Work

Mar 23, 2021

Democrats pile onto misbehaving Democratic officials, as they seem to be in New York. Republican response to Republican misbehavior seems to be, “Go get those suckers; do it some more,” as in the last four years in Washington. When chief executives start thinking of themselves as untouchable alpha-males they need to be pushed out. But there’s a larger story.

Stephen Gottlieb: Dealing With Iran

Mar 16, 2021

The only thing wrong with democracy in America is that some people don’t agree with me! Seriously, I have my blind spots too.  But it’s also true that the public finds it difficult to hold different things in mind at once. That’s one of the hardest things about playing the piano – one has to control two hands doing different things at the same time. Coordination is hard and hard for the brain, although over time we learn to do it for the things that we have to do every day. When it gets to law or foreign affairs, coordination is a constant issue, enough to give one a headache. But good law and good policy depend on it.

Stephen Gottlieb: What We’re Worth To Each Other

Mar 9, 2021

In this time of crisis, when many are sick, grieving or out of work, and the new Administration is trying to address their needs, I’ll resist the politics, and just talk about what we’re worth. Some people define our value by whatever it would cost to replace us at work. That’s the capitalist answer. Whatever someone else will do the work for, that’s what you should get. When people complain about having to help or support others, they seem to be saying people are worth whatever they get, and no more.

Everyone talks about needing a national conversation. We’ve been hearing that for a long time. But without real proposals it’s either just talk or it’s an attack on the other guys for not listening. Mostly it’s aimed to tell decent folk to listen to extremists who of course already know everything. I love the Republican twist – blaming Democrats for Republican intransigence. Talk or attack, it’s not constructive without mechanisms to make it come about.  How?

Before we leave Black history month, I want to address what we used to call brotherhood – I’ve looked for a gender-neutral term but I haven’t found one with the same resonance so I hope you’ll understand my use of the older term.

This should be a time to celebrate the romance of Valentine’s Day. My wife and I have now celebrated 54 as husband and wife, and we had a lovely dinner brought to our door. But I’m still overwhelmed by what happened Saturday.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Senate

Feb 9, 2021

The “small” states at the Constitutional Convention insisted on equal representation in the Senate, which became two votes per state. As a result, a relatively small part of the American population can block what the rest of us want to do. For most of our history that meant that states which tried to break the US up by seceding and going to war on our country have been able to resist the equal rights and opportunity that the rest of us tried to secure for all Americans.

Stephen Gottlieb: Section 230 And Free Speech

Feb 2, 2021

The spread of false claims, conspiracy theories, and organization for events at which people have shown up armed at state houses and the U.S. Capital, has led to a lot of commentary about section 230 of the 1996 copyright revisions. That section reads:

The Republican Party has been dominated by Donald Trump and it still appears that his followers continue to dominate it’s ranks. That makes the party dangerous because it is not dedicated to democratic government, norms or rules. We survived Trump, barely, but would we survive another term with someone like Trump intent on becoming dictator and tearing down all the democratic structures, restrictions and barriers to dictatorship and despotism? Political scientists see a path to a nondemocratic takeover after the ground has been broken by an unsuccessful first try. Therefore it is crucial that the Republican Party emerge from the Trump nightmare. It is not enough that the rest of the country rejected him. We all have a stake in a loyal opposition – not one dedicated to pulling down the pillars of the temple.

Stephen Gottlieb: Liberty And Terror

Jan 21, 2021

Some things sadden us: Cries of election rigging started long before anything happened perhaps because Republicans had spent years very publicly trying to rig the election against Democrats by excluding or gerrymandering Democratic voters. People stick to rumors of election rigging despite repeated counting and recounting of votes, repeated failure to produce evidence of wrongdoing and numerous decisions in which judges of both parties made clear that they saw nothing more serious than trivial mistakes. Armed groups mimicked battles for power in dictatorships, stormed and vandalized the Capitol, attacked Capitol police, and attempted to stop the count. Even some Congressmen still insist on forcing their way past metal detectors intended to keep all weapons out.

Stephen Gottlieb: A Taste Of Their Own Medicine

Jan 12, 2021

I find myself getting angrier by the day and wanting to give the extremists, the alt-WRONG, the Trumpistas, the people who think the road to greatness is violence against each other, a taste of their own medicine. They chanted “Lock her up” and I want to lock HIM up, and THEM too.

Stephen Gottlieb: New Year's Wish For The Green New Deal

Jan 5, 2021

For my own peace of mind I’m going to go ahead with the commentary I planned about global warming rather than the latest anti-American actions of the person in the White House, so:

Stephen Gottlieb: Trump's Final Days

Dec 29, 2020

There’s been much news about whether Trump would use force or declare martial law to stay in office. Trump bumped that off the news by declaring he wouldn’t sign the stimulus and relief bill, then signing it after widespread criticism. Perhaps he’s abandoned using force to stay in office. But he’s taken many steps to set up the possibility. Ignoring the Senate confirmation process and civil service protections, he put his most reckless and irresponsible supporters in acting positions. He tested which federal forces would and which would not respond to his commands to take over parts of America, in defiance of state and local officials. Typically, Trump sends ambiguous messages to his [quote] “Second Amendment supporters” and others, to get them thinking about how they can keep Trump in power. If they create enough chaos, he’s ready to take advantage. If not, he’ll claim he was trying to keep the peace.

Stephen Gottlieb: Blame And Public Safety

Dec 21, 2020

At this time of year we celebrate kindness and generosity. We celebrate helping each other and breaking down mutual distrust and dislike. I love the lyrics Rogers and Hammerstein put into the mouth of Julie Andrews in The King and I:

Stephen Gottlieb: Peace And Penalties

Dec 15, 2020

A recent email from Tom Huf struck me as a clear and succinct statement about the problem with American policy toward Iran. Tom, like my wife and myself, was a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Iran, and follows developments in Iran closely. Here’s what he wrote:

Stephen Gottlieb: To Heal The Climate

Dec 1, 2020

I was delighted that President-elect Biden named John Kerry as special envoy to deal with the climate. Our earth and climate have been taking many hits. Unless we heal the damage and deal with global warming, things will get much worse fast. But talking about the threat of climate change paralyzes some people who make it harder to get anything done. So I’d like to focus on the positive.

Stephen Gottlieb: To Heal The Pandemic Economy

Nov 24, 2020

I’d like to give thanks for those whose lives we can save and whose futures we can restore. To do that, there’s no choice between defeating the virus and rebuilding the economy; we've got to do both.

Stephen Gottlieb: Blame And Public Safety

Nov 17, 2020

The Governor charged communities to re-examine their police departments, and several pieces in the local paper described the disproportionate treatment of African-Americans, ending up with the question whether police are racist. I like and respect the authors and there’s a lot of wisdom in those pieces but, to make progress, I question focusing on blame. Segregation was “inherently unequal” regardless of what the officials thought they were doing. Blame is about fault. I want improvement, not some Grand Inquisitor looking for purity. That makes everything harder.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to address aspects of how we can heal from the damage of the Trump years. We’ll have to change the politics to communicate with each other, the economics to take care of the whole country, policies to protect the climate, gun rights to define where and when they belong, and we have to get to know each other better.

Stephen Gottlieb: Election Night Rag

Nov 3, 2020

Depending on where you live, there are a few hours left to vote. If you haven’t, it would be an excellent use of your time.

Stephen Gottlieb: My Feelings About This Election

Oct 27, 2020

It’s hard to describe my feelings. The great founding documents of our country seemed like they’d always be with us. When we participated in the Civil Rights Movement we thought were working for a better America. We never believed it could all disappear. We were brought up reciting the Gettysburg Address. We knew parts of the Declaration of Independence by heart. Some of us knew deals with the devil of slavery underlay the creation of the Constitution but also knew it had given us a platform to make a better world for everyone. We took it all for granted. Until the White House tenant threatened to take it all away.

Stephen Gottlieb: For The Left Wing Of The Party

Oct 20, 2020

Did you feel safer in the Biden-Trump debate with Joe, who spoke like a caring uncle, or Donald with the demeanor of a raging bull? We know enough about Trump’s admiration for Hitler, his bringing extremists into Republican politics, to realize that his coy remarks  about what his supporters could do with their “Second Amendment rights,” his calls to “Liberate Michigan”, “Liberate Minnesota,” “Liberate Virginia,” and to “go into the polls and watch very carefully” while intended to protect deniability, were in fact aimed at the extremists among his supporters, the Klan, Proud Boys, Nazis, white supremacists, and gun toting extremists, inviting them to keep Black and Brown people and others likely to vote Democratic away from the polls or at least prevent their votes from counting. That world’s not safe for any of us.

Stephen Gottlieb: Voting Rights Vs. Big Donald

Oct 13, 2020

It is illegal to injure, coerce,  threaten, or intimidate people trying to vote or conspire to. So-called “Second Amendment rights” are no defense to those crimes, merely the means of committing them.

Workingmen and women, white and black, have real grievances. Big shots want you to play Let’s You and Him Fight because then nobody gets anything and all of us slave for the bosses. That’s a game of rhetoric. The big shots bellow about bad people coming across the southern border – women and children mostly – or Black people with the effrontery to suggest that cops shouldn’t be shooting them in the back just because they’re Black. Some whites object that Blacks are trying to be higher on the pecking order but there isn’t a single job produced by that rhetoric and it won’t shrink the deaths of despair that have been taking too many white lives. White men and women want, need and deserve jobs – decent ones that you can take care of your families with. But all Trump gave you is that bellowing. Everyone knows how to create jobs – things need to be built and improved – some talk about infrastructure ‘til they’re blue in the face but Republicans block it – first they didn’t want a Black president to take credit for improving our infrastructure but they insist everything should be produced by capitalistic magic – a fancy way to say they don’t want to do anything for you or the country. The internet and electrical grids need to be improved and hardened – including the retraining that could create a real income stream. But they stopped Obama, and they stopped the work. What good did that give you? Bragging rights? Try and feed your families bragging rights.

Stephen Gottlieb: For Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Sep 29, 2020

I dearly wanted to talk about Justice Ginsburg last week. But because a family member needed my help it was impossible. There are new issues, but Ginsburg, a Justice who actually believed in justice, is worth a few more words.

Stephen Gottlieb: Of Course, Black Lives Matter

Sep 22, 2020

I was on a Mohonason panel, talking with students about the Civil Rights Movement. The panel included Reggie Jackson, an African-American folk singer who sang on the front lines of the iconic demonstrations, his friend, Greg Greenaway, a southern-born white deeply committed to civil rights, and Nell Stokes, an activist raised in the segregated South before moving here and spending her life fighting for freedom. I have enormous respect for all of them. I was invited because I walked over from my apartment to the March on Washington where Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech, and because I worked on civil rights in several legal offices.

Every economist understands that there are some things a capitalist economy won’t do for us. I won’t bore you with the technical reasons, but there are lots of things that depend on government. Trump and his Republican friends assume that calling them socialist will scare you away. Let’s understand that their claim is flawed from the get-go because public health, Armed Forces, police, fire departments and many others are all socialist in that sense. The interesting question is why they are trying to tar the programs they call socialist?

Stephen Gottlieb: Kleptocracy's Consequences

Sep 8, 2020

America, until recently, was one of the world’s cleanest places to do business. You didn’t have to pay people off to do what you wanted – indeed you couldn’t. Regulation was not about having a handout – it was about protecting the public. Public servants weren’t allowed to take anything for doing their jobs – from the president on down. Your job was your job. Taking anything was corrupt.