13 of Truman’s 21 policy points from 1945 are relevant today

In an address to Congress just days after the celebration of V-J Day in the United States, President Harry S. Truman outlined to Congress what the country must do after World War II. 13 of those 21 policy points remain fully or significantly relevant in 2015, seventy years later.

harry-truman

“Special Message to the Congress Presenting a 21-Point Program for the Reconversion Period” – September 6, 1945
1. Unemployment compensation
2. Fair Labor Standards Act

5. Full Employment
6. Fair Employment (non-discrimination)
7. Harmonious Industrial-Labor relations
8. Job creation for returning veterans and in regions where job opportunities are scarce
9. Sustainable agriculture

11. Housing for all (urban and rural) and socially responsible city planning
12. Support for research (academic, industrial, governmental)
13. Responsible tax policy (matching revenues to expenditure needs, balancing burden distribution)

15. Support for small business
16. Support for returning veterans in all arenas of life (GI Bill and health care)
17. Investment in public works and conservation of national resources

(These points are all elaborated in greater detail at the link above to the full speech. The points not included all relate more specifically to the World War II situation itself or its immediate aftermath.)

Complicated former longtime president of Benin dies

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil's president.

February 2006 Photo: President Mathieu Kérékou (right) of Benin receives Brazil’s president.

One of Africa’s most unusual and complicated leaders — Pastor Mathieu Kérékou of Benin — has passed away at age 82. The former radical military dictator and later civilian democratic president led Benin through several major transformations in its history, eventually earning him the surprising nickname “father of democracy.” BBC News:

Mr Kerekou had two spells as president totalling nearly 30 years, first coming to power as the head of a Marxist regime in 1972.

But he then accepted the idea of multi-party democracy and organised elections, which he lost in 1991. […]
He stepped down in 1991 after losing to Nicephore Soglo in a multi-party poll, but returned to power in 1996 having beaten Mr Soglo at the polls and then went on to win a second and final five-year term in 2001.

 
From 1972 to 1991, Kérékou served as the country’s military president, pursuing a radical new nationalism in his first two years and then a hybrid of nationalism and revolutionary Marxism-Leninism, backed by the Soviet Union. Much of it was marked by totalitarian violence and incompetent policy management. Over the course of his first presidency, the economic doctrines would grow less and less radically leftist and more moderate, eventually moving even to the center-right by the late 1980s.

During the early period, however, he renamed the country from Dahomey to Benin, in an effort to shed the French colonial legacies and avoid favoring one ethnic group over another, although both labels applied to pre-colonial African states in the area. Eventually, after facing down many coup attempts and amid growing economic stagnation and political unrest, he realized that his days were probably numbered if he clung to power — particularly with the Soviet Union’s fading influence and then disintegration — so he accepted a transition to multi-party democracy when it was demanded by a 1990 National Conference to fix the unraveling domestic situation.

Perhaps most importantly, however, Kérékou did not fight or cancel this transition when it became clear he would not be kept in power democratically, and he gracefully exited the political stage, even asking for forgiveness on national TV for whatever errors and crimes his regime had committed. He was permitted to remain president (albeit with an outside prime minister) through the 1991 elections, which he contested but lost by a landslide. 1991 in Benin became sub-Saharan Africa’s first successful direct handoff of power by a free election since the end of colonialism. This peaceful and stable transition likely helped spark or reinforce the coming wave of democracy in West Africa during the 1990s.

The onetime Marxist and atheist (rumored possibly also to have dabbled with Islam) staged an impressive comeback one term later, in 1996, this time as an evangelical Christian pastor, to become the second civilian president of Benin. This political comeback itself set its own precedent whereby former African military rulers would rehabilitate themselves as wise and experienced civilian candidates for the offices they once held by force.

Kérékou served two five-year terms as a civilian, from 1996 to 2006, before retiring again. Announcing, in 2005, his planned departure from the presidency per the constitutional term limits, Kérékou explained that a lifetime of high-level service had taught him one lesson many times: “If you don’t leave power, power will leave you.” Once again, he was strengthening democracy in Benin and the region.

His successor, President Thomas Boni Yayi, now nearing the end of his own second term had widely been rumored to be considering trying to remove the term limits provision but seems to have bowed earlier in 2015 to similar pressure to leave power before it leaves him. This decision to retire was likely reinforced by the Burkina Faso revolution in 2014 over an attempt to lift presidential term limits and the chaotic political violence in Burundi after the president sought a third term on a technicality. For now, the unexpected legacy of Kérékou, born-again democrat not totalitarian dictator, will live to see another day.

Taking steps to repair Bay State’s role in Alaska Native history

Turning to indigenous peoples news relating to my hometown, Newton MA, this troubling story popped up on my radar last week…

July 1878: Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. (Library and Archives Canada)

July 1878: Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. (Library and Archives Canada)

Alaska Dispatch News – “Massachusetts college cancels sale of Alaska Native art”:

A Massachusetts theology college has abandoned plans to sell off art from 52 Native tribes, including Tlingit and Haida items, as the federal government investigates.

The Andover Newton Theological School could face penalties for quietly planning the sale of 80 Native art pieces this summer, possibly violating a federal law that would require some items to be returned to the tribes, reported KTOO-FM [Juneau AK].

The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., has displayed the collection since the 1940s and alerted hundreds of tribal leaders to Andover Newton’s plans.
[…]
Andover Newton president Martin Copenhaver didn’t comment but forwarded KTOO-FM a letter that said the school “will proceed to repatriate artifacts if feasible and appropriate ways can be found to do so.”

 
The collection of Alaska Natives objects included many items of spiritual significance under traditional religions of the Alaska and Pacific Northwest coasts, which Christian missionaries seized in their efforts to force the Native populations of the Alaskan Panhandle and coastal British Columbia to convert (or just stay in line under White authority). One item was a decorated halibut hook, emblematic of the Native coastal fishing cultures.

The school now faces a formal investigation by the Federal government’s Interior Department, under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 and could potentially face fines of close to $20,000 for violations from the attempted sale.

Massachusetts has long had complicated and destructive ties with Alaska Native communities because of the New Bedford-based global whaling industry, which often hunted whales industrially in Alaska’s Pacific and Arctic waters traditionally harvested (at a much lower impact) by Alaska Natives. Christian missionaries from the Bay State often followed their economic counterparts into other parts of the world.

While I wish Andover Newton had been more diligent and thoughtful, I’m glad the Peabody Essex Museum did its part to help stop this illegal sale and encourage the restoration of Alaska Native artifacts to the opposite coast, where they rightfully belong. The Museum has an excellent collection (well beyond these items) of Native American Art, past and present, from many different Native cultures of North America.

In 5th grade at Newton’s Angier School, after I had been lucky enough to be assigned the Haida peoples of the Pacific Northwest for a research project on Native heritage, I got to go on a field trip to the Peabody Essex Museum and see some distinctive Haida and Tlingit art in person — an experience that has stuck with me for all these years. The collection will remain strong and vibrant even after the Andover Newton items stolen from Alaska’s and British Columbia’s Tlingit and Haida people by missionaries are repatriated.

This is an important symbolic step in repairing the hurt and pain that some of our state’s citizens caused many years ago in that part of the world.

Revisiting the Mayflower Compact, 395 years later

Cape Cod and Plymouth (NASA Satellite image, April 1997)

Cape Cod and Plymouth (NASA Satellite image, April 1997)

In November 1620, the Mayflower was bound for Virginia but found itself diverted by storms to what is now Massachusetts. The leadership on board made a decision to establish a colony there instead of attempting to continue to the Mid-Atlantic. They also made a hasty decision to draw up their own emergency charter for a new, separate colony. While this may have been a bid to retain control over a ship full of passengers who weren’t all part of the religious mission or colonial vision of the elites leading the mission, the result was the Mayflower Compact. The lost original document likely occupied a single page in large handwriting. Yet in that limited space, it explained the premise and goal for any future governmental structures or laws in the colony: a just and equal self-governance dedicated to the common good.

We also know approximately what it said. Here is an excerpt from the core of The Mayflower Compact:

“Having undertaken, for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine our selves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions and offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.”

 

While that’s pretty easy to read for an early 17th century charter, it also certainly is still a bit confusingly written and “old-timey.” Here is my attempt at a somewhat cleaned up and streamlined paraphrasing of the key objectives that could also be applied in a more general context:

Those present — solemnly and mutually, in the presence of one another — covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation. [For this purpose, we pledge to] enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices as shall be thought most convenient for the general good, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience.

 
This, in essence, means that government is a mutual compact between a collective of people. They promise each other that this government will be dedicated to establishing order in and ensuring the survival of society. To achieve this, the government must be based on laws, ordinances, acts, and structures which apply equally and justly to everyone in the society and which promote the “general good.” And to make it all work, everyone promises to submit to this rule of law and follow the order established by this collective government, as far as was reasonable to expect. (The words “all due” before “submission and obedience” — in my opinion — qualify that it is not requiring unlimited obedience without challenge to unjust authority.)

At the time, of course, they meant this self-government really to apply to wealthy and free men aboard the ship. But as you can see, they never actually specified that in the text. Thus, these become universalizable principles for participatory collective self-governance in a free, fair, and just society for the promotion of the common good and common self-preservation.

The Compact is so simple, brief, and non-specific that its core elements — with very few points removed — can apply to any society that wishes to adopt its principles.

It is a bold and noble compact with one another that we the people would do well to renew, as we approach its 400th anniversary in 2020.

AFD Micron #37

If you think acknowledging America’s awful history of slavery, genocide, and discrimination necessitates that you don’t love America, then guess what? You don’t love America! Because those things did, in fact, actually happen. So to call someone out for discussing them is less a sign that they don’t love America than a sign that you only love some vague, nonexistent fantasy version of America, and find the real thing detestable.

arsenal-micron-logo

Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965 turns 50

statue-of-liberty-Daniel-Schwen

Although it didn’t take effect until 1968, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was signed into law on October 3, 1965 — 50 years ago today — by President Lyndon Johnson. It was instrumental in transforming the racist eurocentric immigration quota policies that preceded it into a truly global immigration system focused on worker skills and family reunification.

However, as The Atlantic explained this week, the latter point was almost accidental — and its effect was unanticipated. The White supremacist faction in Congress at the time, disappointed in the abandonment of explicit national quotas, introduced family reunification in the hopes that it would encourage recent European immigrants to bring their extended families over and thus keep the balance of immigration overwhelmingly White and European. Instead, it created a beachhead for so many other countries’ migrants to make a new home in America.

In the subsequent half century, the pattern of U.S. immigration changed dramatically. The share of the U.S. population born outside the country tripled and became far more diverse. Seven out of every eight immigrants in 1960 were from Europe; by 2010, nine out of ten were coming from other parts of the world.
[…]
The heightened emphasis on family unification, rather than replicating the existing ethnic structure of the American population, led to the phenomenon of chain migration. The naturalization of a single immigrant from an Asian or African or Hispanic background opened the door to his or her brothers and sisters and their spouses, who in turn could sponsor their own brothers and sisters. Within a few decades, family unification had become the driving force in U.S. immigration, and it favored exactly those nationalities the critics of the 1965 Act had hoped to keep out, because those were the people most determined to move.

 
The large numbers of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian immigrants and naturalized citizens in the United States today are here thanks in large part to the family reunification provisions passed in 1965.

The Russian Revolution & the 1918 Massachusetts Convention

I’ve been reading very heavily from the “Debates in the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention 1917-1918” (particularly Volumes III and IV) — published by Wright and Potter Printing Company (the state printers) in 1920 and freely available today from Google Books — and it’s pretty fascinating for both its detailed discussions of political theory and practice and its time-capsule-like preservation of the tumultuous historical time period in which the convention occurred.

The convention was convened in early 1917, before the U.S. entered World War I and as Russia was beginning to collapse. By the time it ended in mid-1918, the U.S. intervention was in full swing — as was the Bolshevik October Revolution and the Russian Civil War. The delegates in the heat of debates toward the end of the convention could not help but be swept along by the momentous history unfolding around the world.

While there are many historical points I hope to explore more, the convention’s discussions of the Russian Revolution interested me for a first post. Just a few selections are included below.

One important Somerville delegate thought ballot initiatives were as bad as the Russian Revolution:

Mr. Underhill (Somerville): I may be unduly alarmed. The initiative and referendum are not in operation in Massachusetts as yet, and possibly the recent publicity given to the chief backer of the initiative and referendum, Mr. Hearst, and his newspapers may cause the people of Massachusetts to pause and consider whether anything advocated by that gentleman or his newspapers is for the best interest of the community, and it will be defeated. But, sir, if it should be adopted, I should like to remind you that since the Convention passed the initiative and referendum, we have had an illustration of the will and rule of the majority, in Russia. We have had an example of popular government without restraint and without restrictions, which could occur in Massachusetts as well as in Russia. And, sir, it seems to me that if we are going to open the doors wide, we are going to have every demagogue from Cape Cod to the Berkshire Hills telling the people “All you have got to do now is to vote for a homestead and the Government the State or the municipality is going to give it to you.”

 
In reality, contrary to Delegate Underhill’s belief at the time, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia proved to be a coup by a small minority faction, rather than an expression of majority will. He made repeat appearances in the convention debates labeling every left-leaning constitutional proposal a Bolshevik plot, including the idea of having state-subsidized housing as a right for every citizen. Another point of contention in the debates was when Underhill implied that the Russian immigrant population in Brockton at the time was a Bolshevik sleeper cell.

Ironically, a Boston delegate argued that ballot initiatives might actually help conservatively counteract the (what he believed to be) undue militant leftist influence upon state legislators, who he felt would actually be easier to pressure behind closed doors than the whole electorate:

Mr. Herbert A. Kenney (Boston): What do we find in this situation? President Wilson has called the initiative and referendum “a gun behind the door.” My distinguished friend from Brookline (Mr. Walker) spoke very forcibly on those lines. Suppose, for instance, that the House and the Senate say that the minimum wage shall be, – as they do in Russia under the Bolsheviki, – say, $100 a week. Now the Legislature must vote for that; why? Because if one single member of the Legislature votes against that the labor element will center its fire on that man. They might not get him in one year but they can get him in two years or three years or perhaps ten years. He is a marked man. The same way with the Senate.

 
In a discussion of the minimum wage (and whether to guarantee it under the Constitution), one of the more leftist delegates argued that it was a necessity to avoid a revolution or takeover by industrial labor — and described his own evolving viewpoints on the future of labor politics in the U.S. over the momentous course of 1917 and early 1918: Read more