Stephen Gottlieb | WAMC

Stephen Gottlieb

We’ve almost pulled out of Afghanistan and some are already looking for the next target for our superpower – Iran? North Korea? Americans like to act tough, with fists, muscle, knives, bullets and bombs. To demonstrate our overwhelming force we need another war. Ronald Reagan got that right. We showed them in Granada!

Those of you who are regular listeners to my commentary may have guessed that I’ve been working on a study of the American Constitutional Convention. So, going systematically through some of the records, I happened on a statement by Gouverneur Morris – that’s his name, not a title. He and his family were quite wealthy – they owned much of what is now the Bronx – but he had good friends in Pennsylvania and his friends there invited him to join the Pennsylvania delegation to the Constitutional Convention, in which he played a prominent role. A few years later, he wrote a letter to the President of the New York State Senate about the method of choosing the President of the United States, a subject which drew a lot of discussion in the Convention, both for and against. Morris wrote:

On the current term’s last day, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled the 9th Circuit and allowed Arizona to minimize the number of African-American and other minorities who could get to the polls to vote.

Having just celebrated Independence Day, the birthday of our country, it’s worth looking at a letter from GEORGE WASHINGTON, long celebrated as the Father of Our Country, to the Marquis de LA FAYETTE who had crossed the ocean to help the Revolutionary cause. Washington wrote him from his home in Mount Vernon, on April 28th, 1788, a few months after the Constitutional Convention, over which Washington presided. Here is what Washington wrote:

So the latest seems to be that the political wrong wants their kids taught fairy tales and shielded from reality. Imagine – some schools and teachers are teaching what they call “critical race theory.” I would defy anyone to define it – academic language is like that and we fight endlessly about meaning and method. But never mind, whatever it is, that’s what they claim they’re attacking. In one form or another they want to make sure that their kids, and our kids, are never exposed to the idea that white people in America could have done something wrong or white cops either – wrong behavior is only for people of color but white people are by definition correct. Woopy, nothing new there.

Stephen Gottlieb: Mass Suicide, From Jonestown To America

Jun 22, 2021

I recently met a woman who grew up near the site of the Jonestown mass suicide. Digging through the rubble to find the bodies, tore her father’s heart out. Many civilizations died for lack of knowledge of impending disaster. We have the knowledge and can prevent the extinction of humanity just by making our votes depend on it. Most of our religious traditions categorically prohibit suicide. So why are so many of us talking about the impending mass suicide of humanity, and then why haven’t we been able to stop it?

Stephen Gottlieb: Prejudice

Jun 15, 2021

Jack the Ripper and Mother Theresa are both likely to be in any large crowd in New York City and other densely populated places. Obviously, one can’t generalize. New Yorkers are neither all vicious like Jack the Ripper nor angels like Mother Theresa. Similarly you can’t generalize from either of them to people who shared their gender, color, national origin, religion or any other large group defined by biology or parentage. Their presence in New York crowds is simply a statistical probability – in any large crowd there are both wonderful and terrible people. I remember witnessing a dispute between two drivers, one of whom jumped out of his car and yelled as loudly as he could “You Iranian!” That was obviously silly, they didn’t know each other from Adam, but Iranian was the curse de jure. It was all too common but by erasing all the nuances, that kind of loose mudslinging didn’t help this country figure out how best to negotiate with Iran.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Stress Of Race

Jun 8, 2021

There’s a moment when we first experience race. As a kid, I remember reading something about my team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, that described a player, not a star, but a good ballplayer, in a hotel room, trying to rub the black off his skin. That image was deeply disturbing. Even as a kid I understood or maybe what I read explained the deep hurt that racism inflicts.

Stephen Gottlieb: Refunding Policing

Jun 1, 2021

I attended a zoom meeting on the various attempts to reformulate policing in New York. The effort to reform policing was no more productive than I expected, with the panelists largely describing the failure and explaining why it didn’t have better results. At one point I wrote in the chat that we should consider eliminating the 911 calling system. I think the moderator took it as a joke. Actually I was trying to point out how police are asked to do many things they shouldn’t be asked to do. Breaking 911 down into separate components could sidestep some of that – provided that there are other services available to call. That of course is the rub – everything depends on funding: other services have been beggared to pay for too much policing.

Stephen Gottlieb: Payback For Election Rigging

May 25, 2021

It couldn’t be clearer that Republicans claim that Democrats rigged the 2020 election because they can’t imagine winning an election except by rigging it. Now preparing for the 2022 elections, they aren’t bothering to revise their policies to gain popularity among the American public, and instead are busily doing what they kept claiming Democrats did – rigging the election. Among other forms of chicanery:

Stephen Gottlieb: A Fairness Doctrine For The Internet

May 18, 2021

What will it take to restore a responsible, truth-telling, media?

Stephen Gottlieb: Enough Already - The US, Israel And Iran

May 11, 2021

On a recent Friday evening, the rabbi asked a congregant to sing a traditional song based on Psalm 133, “Hinneh mah tov umah na'im, Shevet achim gam yachad,” which means “Behold how good and how pleasing, to sit together in unity.” Except she wasn’t singing the tune as I learned it in the summer of 1948 at the age of seven. The rhythm and cadence I remembered was a version being sung in Israel, like many of the songs we learned that summer. For years we were fired by the Israeli example, by the kibbutzim or farms on which people shared everything, and by the struggle for independence. I grew up thrilled by their example and wanting to learn Hebrew the better to enjoy traveling there – until our Temple kicked me out because I‘d become a young critic of our Sunday school and refused to go.

Stephen Gottlieb: For A Healthy World

May 4, 2021

One of the effects of serving abroad, call it benefit or burden, is that one sees the relics of lost pasts, civilizations that have destroyed themselves by overusing the resources available to them or by using materials that poisoned the community. It’s quaint, and interesting, but the lesson is humility – we can destroy ourselves, and may be doing it.

Stephen Gottlieb: The Meaning Of The Chauvin Verdict

Apr 27, 2021

Thank heavens Derek Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. The jury came back relatively quickly which signaled to many of us that they had reached a guilty verdict. Hung juries take a long time. This jury was obviously convinced by the video.

Stephen Gottlieb: Racial Solidarity Helps All

Apr 20, 2021

Too many whites lack the security of a livable wage because so many resist letting African-Americans have it. Somehow whites think they’ll do better if Blacks don’t. That’s a mistake. White craftsmen and laborers became abolitionists because competing with slave labor dragged their earnings down. The American labor movement understood the importance of unity. Arthur J. Goldberg, then General Counsel of the Congress of Industrial Organizations or CIO, filed a brief supporting integration in Brown v. Board of Education on behalf of the union, which shortly merged to form the AFL-CIO. Full disclosure, at law school, I argued in moot court in front of then Justice Goldberg and learned at close range the power of his mind and instincts.

Stephen Gottlieb: Living With Complexity

Apr 13, 2021

A friend invited me to a discussion of blasphemy in Islamic law. Watching, I realized that the issue was sparked by extremist reactions to complexity, modernity and changes that make our lives more complex, and affect all of us, all religions, races, and nationalities.

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: