Thursday, December 27, 2007

Somerset, Somersett, or Sommersett: Slavery is the Root of U.S. Law

The most central judicial decision for American politics, history and law took place in Great Britain on the eve of the American Revolution. Few citizens of the United States have heard of the case. It is not covered by law schools. It is not to be found in the history curriculum of American high schools, or even in colleges. It is not even mentioned in leftist tomes such as A People's History of the United States.

I came across the case by accident, while browsing an old law book in a used book store in New York City. Its significance struck me at once. I have mentioned it repeatedly over the decades, hoping to bring it to light. But even the publishing of an entire book on the subject by a distinguished professor of law in 2005 has failed to raise the veil, so far.

Imagine my surprise when I found the case mentioned in The Outline of History by H. G. Wells. This was once a widely read book in England, the United States of America, and indeed around the world. It is a wonderful, if now forgotten, book. Allow me to quote Mr. Wells (from page 852 of my Third Revised Edition):

"Throughout the middle part of the eighteenth century there was an active agitation against negro slavery in Great Britain a well as in the States. It was estimated that in 1770 there were fifteen thousand slaves in Britain, mostly brought over by their owners from the West Indies and Virginia. In 1771 the issue came to a conclusive test in Britain before Lord Mansfield. A negro named James Somersett had been brought to England from Virginia by his owner. He ran away, was captured, and violently taken on a ship to be returned to Virginia. From the ship he was extracted by a writ of habeas corpus. Lord Mansfield declared that slavery was a condition unknown to English law, an "odious" condition, and Somersett walked out of the court a free man."

Before going on I should note that spelling was irregular in the 1700's, and while Mr. Wells and others give the name as Somersett, in the book Slave Nation the spelling Somerset is used, and it was published as the Sommersett case in a law journal. Also the ruling was given in 1772, though the case probably started in 1771. Mr. Well's highlights the case because it is a significant turning point in world history, not just English or American history.

There is a bit of an underground current of knowledge of the Somerset case in "radical" literature in the U.S., notably among Abolitionists and early 20th century civil rights activists. If you want to know more about details of the case and how it caused an elite group of slaveholders and their lawyers to initiate the American Revolution, I suggest you read Slave Nation. Here I will outline the implications of the violent rejection of the court's decision by Jefferson, Washington, and crew. In later articles I hope to enlarge upon these themes.

In America it was decided that men (male and female) could be property. This was part of a larger agenda, the agenda of greed, of wanting more. Property was more important than people. A man was only as important as the property he possessed. This theory of law was enshrined in the common laws of the U.S., in state constitutions, and then in the U.S. Constitution. In effect the men who held the pens did not write the laws; they were a mere instrument of the properties that co-possessed them. Men talk about the Rule of Law, but in the United States the Law is a front for Property. Owning a substantial amount of property used to be required before a person could register to vote.

We see this again in the Dred Scott Decision. Then the Republican Party reversed Dred Scott in the aftermath of the Civil War. Then we were subjected to the weird and cruel law given in Santa Clara that property (corporations) has rights that some people do not have. Though since the Thirteenth Amendment people have not been slaves or property, only a few decades later, in Plessy versus Ferguson, it was affirmed that race could be a basis for discrimination under the rule of law.

The status of people, and of classes of people (women, "negros", children), has fluctuated throughout the last century. What has stayed supreme has been the prioritization of property. In our legal system humanity is seldom favored when weighed against property concerns.

We need to educate American citizens about the Somerset case, starting in our public schools. We need to see the American Revolution on a factual basis, rather than wrapped in false glory. We need to see our military, commercial, cultural and legal history in a clear light. Then we can begin to understand and change our current reality so that people are not subservient to property.

We need a rule of justice. Then the Rule of Law might be worth something.

More data:

Somerset v. Stewart pretty complete site with links

Sommersett case, photo of summary published in a British law journal, 1775

Want to learn more? Try my Politics page.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Sunlit California Corruption

It is almost an election year, and first district Assemblywoman Patty Berg, who represents northern coastal California including Mendocino and Humboldt County, is ready. I know because I received a "Senior Resource and Services Guide" from her. And I'm not even a senior.

Corruption in California seldom takes the form of briefcases filled with non-sequentially numbered Federal Reserve Notes, as you might see "fictionalized" in the Sopranos set in New Jersey or The Wire set in Baltimore. No, its all perfectly legal. Systematized. Its a racket.

What's wrong with sending California citizens a senior guide? Nothing, except that it should be sent by a government agency and have no politician's name on it. The design of the guide, printed on glossy paper, shows its real purpose. There are 8 panels total. One acts as a front cover: a nice white haired couple flying a kite. One panel is the mailer, with Patty Berg prominent in the return address. Two panels are a letter from Patty saying that, hey, this is a brochure for seniors: her name is in big letters. One page has 911 on it. Three panels have telephone numbers. They are the same numbers that are in a Yellow Pages or on the Internet.

So the whole thing is a taxpayer-paid campaign flier.

People get the impression that Democrats and Republicans at the state legislature are at each others throats. Well, not on some things. They all agree that incumbents should be re-elected. They drew (gerrymandered) their districts to make sure that a Republican seat rarely becomes a Democratic seat, and vice versa. They must have agreed to mail out campaign brochures thinly disguised as useful information, at taxpayer expense.

And everyone may work for several masters, but one master rules them all: the real estate industry. Just check all the donor lists if you don't believe me.

But we have the Brown Act in California, which means everything has to be done in public. And we have an awful lot of committees where former legislators supplement their jobs as lobbyists by doing tiny amounts of work for large amounts of government money.

I don't think Patty Berg meant to be a bad person when she ran for the State Assembly. She had never held public office before. The jackals who run the Democratic Party machine in the district came to her and said "We think you'll be a great candidate." She said she had never run a campaign before. They said, "Don't worry about that, we'll help you with it." She said, "It takes a lot of money to win a campaign." They said, "Don't worry, we've got this donor list we've developed over time." She said some good progressive things in her first campaign: better schools, universal health care, protect the environment, etc. Then she got to Sacramento and there is so much to do and the bills are too long to read and some of the same people who ran her campaign are running her office. What to do? Why, when in doubt follow the Democratic Party leadership.

The Democratic Party in California was founded for the purposes of trying to make California a Slave state. While slavery is no longer an issue, the party can't be said to have improved in any substantial way in the last century and a half. The only thing the Democrats have going for them besides their own corruption is that they are not Republicans.

I'll be writing more about California and its strange political ecosystem, so stay tuned.

Meanwhile, here's Patty's web site:

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Somalia Spinning

In an article titled "Somali President Hospitalized," published December 4, 2007 in the New York Times, attributed to Associated Press writer Tom Maliti, by way of background readers are informed:

"Yusuf's government, with help from neighboring Ethiopia, has been battling a ferocious Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year in what U.N. officials call a major humanitarian crisis."

Talk about turning black into white. Abdullahi Yusuf's "government" is a creation of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), established in a tradition going back to the CIA-engineered coup that brought the Shah to power in Iran in August 1953.

Somalia entered the 21st century with clan-based or warlord rule. U.S. policy makers installed Abdullahi Yusuf in 2004 and nearly everyone else in Somalia went about their businesses as if the new government did not exist. It was a mere fiction. But in 2005 a democracy and justice movement started sweeping the country. It has started because people were tired of the fighting, corruption, and theft of the warlords and clan leaders. It was called Islamic Justice Courts. In areas controlled by the people themselves, through the Islamic Justice Courts, peace and even a bit of prosperity prevailed. Other Somalis looked at the situation and joined the Islamic Justice Courts in droves. Only a few CIA-backed thugs like Abdullahi Yusuf stayed with what the U.N., U.S., and global media conglomerates called the "provisional government."

The U.S.'s pro-Christian, pro-economic injustice, anti-Islam, policy is exceptionally clear in Somalia. The U.S. paid the Ethiopian government to invade Somalia and sent CIA agents and special forces troops to aid in the effort. The result was a slaughter; no one could even count the bodies of the good citizens of Somalia who were slain by the U.S. Government and its puppets.

At first it looked, from the U.S. imperial point of view, that all was well. Many of the warlords and clan leaders who had lost power to the Islamic Justice Courts gave tentative backing to the new regime. The roadblocks and thefts started back up. And so those who backed the Islamic Justice Courts saw they had no choice but to fight the new, U.S. backed tyranny.

Read Maliti's statement again: "Yusuf's government, with help from neighboring Ethiopia, has been battling a ferocious Islamic insurgency that has killed thousands of people this year in what U.N. officials call a major humanitarian crisis." The CIA itself could not have written a finer piece of propaganda. The major humanitarian crisis was caused by the U.S., U.N., and Ethiopia.

And while George W. Bush haters will simply add this to the list of reasons for impeachment, please notice that this all happened with a Democratic Party majority in the U.S. House and Senate. The Democratic Party leadership wants the Peace vote, but they aren't against taking any anti-Islamic or pro-war votes they can get, and certainly intend to dip into the rich gravy of Pentagon contracts now that they control key Congressional committees.

Note the phrase: "ferocious Islamic insurgency." After a peaceful, democratic, justice oriented movement is crushed, radicals and those who like war tend to come to the forefront of any resistance movement. But given the history here, I'll take the insurgent side over the CIA side.

We really need a Green Party president and Congress if we are ever to have peace and justice in the world.

See also my Somalia page.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Forget Iowa, New Hampshire: California Primary Will Rule

Everyone is worrying about the Iowa caucuses, but they will be totally inconsequential this year for everyone except possibly Mike Huckabee. The caucuses are on Thursday, January 3rd. A cold day in Iowa. You can't just show up and vote. Only the most politically motivated will be at the caucuses, and then no matter what happens there is a real primary on Tuesday, January 8th in New Hampshire. And who cares about that, when Michigan has a primary on the 15th?

But more important, most California citizens who bother to vote now vote by mail. While election day is February 5th, you can vote by mail in California beginning January 6th. That is before the New Hampshire primary and just after the Iowa beauty contest. Californians favor Clinton and Giuliani.

February 5 is also Super Tuesday, with about 22 states voting (See primary schedule). After Super Tuesday, unless the race is close between front runners, the game is essentially over.

Which means come November you will probably be allowed to choose between the two Candidates from Wall Street, Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is well ahead in the polls in California as well as nationwide; so is Clinton.

Aside from the possibility of heart attacks narrowing the field, it is hard to see any surprises. Things will happen too fast. Even if Barack Obama does well in Iowa, even if he continues to raise a lot of money, it is hard to see him surging. People surge when they look like winners, and Barack looks like a lightweight who wants so badly to be President that he acts like a pile of gelatin next to the beautiful predator Hillary. Think of Hillary as the creature in the Alien movie, no, better still, think of Barack as the creature in the Alien movie (he was cute when he popped out of the corpse of Chicago politics, not unlike Adlai Stevenson), but Hillary is the Sigourney Weaver character, Ellen Ripley, and in the end Barack will feed the vacuum. The corporate ore will get to Earth and Ripley will get her share.

On the Republican side Mike Huckabee is pretty lovable as right-wing populists who like their women barefoot and pregnant go, but a surge in Iowa won't lead him anywhere. Sure, a lot of Republican's don't like the fact that Rudolph did not round up New York City's gay boys and use them for target practice; they don't like his divorces; they don't like his letting women decide for themselves whether to kill their potential babies or not. But those idiots aren't in charge right now. Republicans have two "realistic" choices: Giuliani and Romney. Mitt Romney could have had a chance if he had an honest hair on his head, but instead he decided to lie about his pro-abortion, pro-gay record and pretended to be one of the Southern Baptistas just as they had totally succeeded in discrediting themselves. It isn't that conservative Christian leaders have a big problem with hypocrisy; they just don't like it freshly minted. It needs to be practiced for decades to really get it down.

So, odds are it will be Giuliani versus Clinton come November. The commercial media want to pretend that is not so, because it is so amazingly boring.

One oddball outlier: enough independents will vote for Ron Paul to pull an upset in California. In California, under our odd election rules, independents (called Decline to State here) can vote in the Republican or Democratic primary, but not in the Green Primary. I don't think that will happen, I'll be surprised if Ron Paul hits 10% of the vote, but it is not impossible.

The Green Party has seven people on its primary ballot in California. Ralph Nader will probably win because he has name recognition, but he has declined to campaign or even say if he would accept a nomination if offered. Most activists in the state are getting behind the Cynthia McKinney campaign. If she can top Nader in California she will probably get the nomination. Elaine Brown, former Oakland Black Panther Party leader, will also be on the ballot and may get most of the ultra-left Green votes. California activist Kent Mesplay is a good man but has never held political office and is having trouble getting people to take him seriously. Unknowns Kat Swift, Jesse Johnson and Jared Ball round out the Green ballot.