Monthly Archives: November 2014

15 random thoughts about Ferguson

I wasn’t in the grand jury room. But, like everyone else, that hasn’t prevented me from having opinion, theories and observations.

1. Michael Brown apparently was no candidate for citizen of the year.

2. Darren Wilson apparently is no candidate for police officer of the year.

3. I heard a lot about how big Michael Brown was. I didn’t know Darren Wilson is also a big man — 6-4, 210 pounds.

4. Did these two know each other? From Wilson’s statements, I get the impression they did.

5. If Michael Brown was such a scary guy, why did Wilson let himself get put in a position where Brown could overpower him, or almost overpower him? This seems like a training issue to me, but I’m not in law enforcement and I wasn’t there. This part of Wilson’s story just seems odd to me.

6. Why do you have to shoot someone who’s a distance away and is unarmed. Even if Michael Brown was about to bull rush Darren Wilson, which I understand is what Wilson says he believed, he has pepper spray to bring him down. We had a somewhat similar situation in Tulsa in which police shot and killed a wounded man who was obviously in mental distress and not much of a threat to anyone. The man in the Tulsa case happened to be white, so race did not become an issue, but it seemed it might have been an unnecessary use of deadly force. Again, I’m not a cop and I wasn’t there, but I can’t help wondering.

7. Some people just like to tear up stuff.

8. People get mad for a reason. Usually, it’s a good idea to figure out why they’re mad, even if you think they’re wrong.

9. Not everything is about race.

10. When it is, white folks want to believe it isn’t.

11. The law makes it very difficult to indict a law officer — or anyone else — for homicide in situations involving confrontation.

12. The prosecutor in this case did everything he could to make sure this case did not break the pattern.

13. Guns ought to be a last resort; seems like maybe they’re not anymore.

14. Some people live to stir things up, and not in a good way.

15. Anybody hear about this guy shooting up downtown Austin?

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David Boren: The student body and the body politic

Twenty years ago on Monday, U.S. Sen. David Boren because President David Boren. Not President of the United States David Boren, as it once appeared he might someday be, but President of the University of Oklahoma David Boren.

Twenty years ago, Boren saw what Congress was going to become — what it was already becoming — and wanted no part of it. The keenest political mind this state has ever produced, elected to a third term just four years earlier with 83 percent of the vote, decided it was time to move on.

The national polarization and the rightward shift in Oklahoma politics that Boren’s inner Geiger counter detected two decades ago nears toxic levels. Politically, the differences between Boren and the man who succeeded him, Jim Inhofe, grow wider with each passing year.

Parenthetically, it is interesting to note the career trajectories of Boren and Inhofe. They entered the Oklahoma Legislature the same year, in 1966, and Boren defeated Inhofe in the 1974 gubernatorial race. The way Inhofe tells it, Boren was supposed to beat up embattled incumbent David Hall in the Democratic primary, leaving the way open for Inhofe to win the general election. Inhofe didn’t count on the 33-year-old Boren winning the whole thing.

Politically, Boren remained in the ascendency until 1994. Inhofe, by then First District congressman, defeated Boren-like Democrat Dave McCurdy in a bare-knuckled fight that effectively ended Democratic dominance of Oklahoma politics.

This shift did not occur only in Oklahoma or only from one party to another. In Kansas, Republicans such as Nancy Kassebaum and Robert Dole gave way to Sam Brownback, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran. In Texas, conservative Democrats such as John Tower and Lloyd Bentsen — one of Boren’s mentors — have been replaced by the likes of John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. One can theorize but only that about the causes and effects of such a startling evolution.

Boren became a university president because he believed it was his best chance to have a lasting impact on his state. His proteges are just now beginning to move into positions of state leadership. One, a Republican, is speaker of the House of Representatives. Several are in the Legislature. Thousands of others are scattered through the state, through all walks of life.

Twenty years from now, we will know better whether David Boren did indeed leave the legacy he so much desires.

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A few random things I don’t understand

I UNDERSTAND the national debt is a problem. I know this because I’ve been hearing about it since I was a boy in the 1960s. Same with the budget deficit. Taxes and spending are something we need to keep an eye on at all times.

Here’s what I don’t understand. The big pickle we found ourselves in around 2008, and that we’ve never quite gotten out of since, was not caused by the national debt or the federal deficit. It was caused by private sector debt — specifically, an overextended mortgage market ginned up by brokers and bankers more concerned with their bonuses and quarterly statements than making good loans. Some of them tried half-heartedly to blame it on federal fair housing laws but the truth is no one forced anyone to make a loan they didn’t want to make.

So:

(A) Why aren’t we, and why isn’t Congress, at least as concerned about addressing the conditions that actually caused the great recession as we are the national debt?

(B) Given how much the American economy depends on housing, cars and consumer goods for expansion; how much that economic activity is dependent on credit; and how badly many Americans were burned by credit during the great recession, why is it a surprise the recovery has been so slow?

I UNDERSTAND that whenever any government decides to do something, it winds up costing at least twice as much as it ought to. Or at least it seems that way.

What I don’t understand is that some of the same people who say government can’t create jobs howl the loudest when there is talk of closing a federal installation, especially a military base, or cancelling a defense contract because of the impact it will have on the local economy. Same with transportation. Just seems inconsistent to me.

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The fragile right to vote

The U.S. Constitution, as originally written, did not include the right to vote. Neither did the first 10 amendments, adopted immediately as the Bill of Rights. The common practice among the various states was to grant the franchise to white males property owners 21 years of age and older, but there were variations. New Jersey allowed some women to vote. Four states allowed free blacks who met the property requirement to vote. Some states barred Jews from casting ballots.

Various philosophical reasons were advanced for limiting access to the ballot box, and some individuals were — and are — no doubt more qualified than others to vote, but the underlying issue was simple and timeless: control. Benjamin Franklin, for one, thought property requiresments made no sense. He wrote:

“Today a man owns a jackass worth 50 dollars and he is entitled to  vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the mean time has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers—but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?”

Voting rights have evolved through our nation’s history and have been a frequent source of conflict between the states and the national government. It could be said that the Civil War was fought in part over voting rights, for it was not until the post-war amendments of 1865-70 that voting rights were formerly incorporated into the Constitution. Some historians believe Lincoln’s suggestion that some blacks should be allowed to vote may have pushed John Wilkes Booth over the edge, turning from presidential kidnapper into presidential assassin.

States continued to evade the intent of the Reconstruction amendments with voting laws explicitly designed to disenfranchise certain classes, especially blacks and poor whites. And, of course, women of all classes.

In 1910, Oklahoma passed a state constitutional amendment subjecting African Americans and only African Americans to a literacy test. The measure included a “grandfather clause” that excluded anyone descended from someone eligible to vote in 1865, or who had immigrated to the country since then. Voting against the amendment required marking through it on the ballot. Unmarked ballots counted as “yes” votes.

The grandfather clause was declared unconstitutional in 1915, in the first case involving the newly formed NAACP. By that time, state leadership was alarmed at least as much by the rise of the state Socialist Party, which had given voice to poor, rural whites, as it was concerned about blacks. So it passed a new voting law that limited voter registration to two 10-day periods a year; in those days, there were no permanent locations for registering, such as county election board offices. Rather, registering involved tracking down a precinct registrar, who might then effectively refuse the applicant by claiming not to have the proper forms available.

Well within the memory of people living today, the right to vote in America has been denied through legislative malpractice, intimidation and violence, so it is not surprising that some object to surrendering it in any way.

What is surprising is that so many surrender it voluntarily, by default, by failing to exercise it.

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