Episode 4 explores women’s fight for equality under the 14th amendment.
Once again, it begins with historic Supreme Court cases
In Bradwell vs the State of Illinois (1872), a female publisher sued the state for refusing her admission to a state law school. The SCOTUS ruled discrimination against women is allowed because women are naturally “more timid and delicate.”
Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg specialized in sex discrimination cases. Her first successful Supreme Court case acknowledged the US military discriminated against female officers by failing to provide housing for their husbands.
In Griswold vs Connecticut (1965), the Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut law prohibiting the use of birth control. The SCOTUS ruled it violated a couple’s right to marital privacy.
This would pave the way for the historic Roe vs Wade decision (1973) overturning most state abortion laws because they violated a woman’s right to privacy. The written majority opinion acknowledged the state also had an obligation to protect the interests of a fetus because it can’t speak for itself. Owing to the court’s inability to pinpoint exactly when life begins, they held a woman only had a right to terminate her pregnancy in its earliest stages.
The last third of the episode focuses on feminists’ efforts pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The latter states explicitly states that 14th Amendment equal protection apply to women as well as men. Approved by Congress in 1979, the ERA amendment was three states short of the required 38 when the deadline expired in 1982.
This Netflix series provides good information about the 14th Amendment to the conception and it’s role in defining the qualification for being a US citizen and in stating explicitly that a US citizen can’t be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law. However I’m not convinced there is sufficient educational content to justify dragging it out to six episodes.
I was also troubled to see the heavy reliance on the Supreme Court (a legal process only open to people who can afford to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees) required for many Americans to enjoy basic rights supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution. This narrow focus on reform by court decree also fails to address the more important question: why no one looks to Congress to enact social justice legislation. The answer, in my view, is that members of the House and Senate are so tightly controlled by corporate lobbies (who fund their election campaigns) that they can’t.
Episode One focuses mostly on the work of Frederick Douglass in campaigning first to end slavery and then to have African Americans recognized as citizens via the 14th Amendment. The latter was ratified in three years after the Civil War ended in 1868.
The most interesting part of this episode concerns a meeting Douglass and other Black leaders had with Lincoln during the Civil War. At this meeting President Lincoln asserted that Blacks would never be the equal of Whites and tried to persuade Douglass to start a colony in Central America.
The 14th Amendment would overturn the Supreme Court’s 1856 Dred Scott decision. In it, the SCOTUS declared that the Constitution never intended either freed or enslaved Africans to be US citizens.
This episode focuses on Spriro Agnew’s resignation and the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre.” Many analysts view as the turning point in Nixon’s battle to clear his name.
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigns after pleading guilty to corruption charges. Two days later, Nixon nominates Congressman Gerald Ford as Vice President, and he’s confirmed by the Senate.
Although the Nixon administration seals off the special prosecutor’s office following Cox’s firing, they forget to fire the attorneys under Cox and they continued their investigation.
On July 24, 1974 the Supreme Court rules unanimously (8-0) that Nixon turn over the White House tapes. According to the new special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, three of the tapes were missing and one tape had an 18 1/2 minute gap. Nixon’s secretary blamed this on accidentally hitting the record button as she transcribed them.
The following week the House Judiciary Committee conducting impeachment hearings begins listening to the tapes. In one of the most publicized conversations, former White House counsel John Dean advises Nixon he needs another million dollars to continue payoffs to the burglars. Nixon indicates he will have no difficulty finding a million dollars. However as Russ Baker points out in Chapter 11 “Downing Nixon” of his 2009 book Family of Secrets, there is no evidence that he ever paid a million dollars (legally or legally) to the Watergate burglars or played any direct role in the Watergate payoffs.*
Part 3 is mainly about the collaboration between New York City mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Roosevelt to end joblessness, hunger and starvation in Depression-era New York.
One of the first things FDR did following his 1933 inauguration was to close banks for four days (to end the bank runs responsible for an epidemic of bank failures) and pass a $2 billion emergency banking bill to pay off depositors who lost savings due to bank failures.
He also created 10 new agencies during his first 100 days to address the economic crisis caused by the Great Depression. The first three were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which used federal money to put 250,000 jobless Americans to work restoring the national forests; the Federal Emergency Relief (FER) agency, which provided direct financial relief to the unemployed and their families; and the National Recovery Administration (NRA), which set profit and wage limits for businesses.
During the winter of 1933-34, FDR and La Guardia worked together to establish the Public Works Administration, a temporary jobs program that employed 1.5 million jobless Americans in infrastructure projects (building roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, etc). One-fifth of these new jobs went to New York, America’s largest city. Under the leadership of Reverend Adam Clayton Powell, New York’s black community organized to protest overt discrimination against black workers, especially by white-owned businesses in Harlem.
In 1935, the NRA, which was very unpopular with the business community was overturned by the Supreme Court and replaced with the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The latter banned racial discrimination, as well as creating numerous jobs for writers, actors and artists, as well as infrastructure projects.
One-seventh of WPA funding went to New York City.
This episode neglects to mention the attempted 1933 Wall Street-initiated coup against Roosevelt foiled by General Smedley Butler.
The US is the only country in the world to sentence children to life imprisonment without parole. Until it was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2005, the US permitted the execution of juveniles. After an extended campaign by human rights advocates, in 2010 the Supreme Court ruled it illegal for courts to sentence children to life imprisonment for crimes other than murder. This ruling made many lifers eligible for sentence review if they were underage at the time of their offense.
This documentary follows the heartbreaking sentence rehearing of a 26 year who who was fifteen when he participated in four armed robberies. Like the vast majority of offenders serving life sentences, Kenneth is African American. And like 70% of juveniles given life sentences, he accompanied an older adult in committing the crime.
Kenneth maintains the older man (his mother’s drug dealer) forced him to participate in the armed robberies by threatening his mother’s life. She owed him money over a cocaine deal. Ironically the adult received a lesser sentence than fifteen year-old Kenneth.
The filmmakers also interview sentencing reform advocates who make a compelling case that their emotional immaturity makes juveniles extremely susceptible to adult manipulation.
At the sentencing rehearing, it is the judge’s sole discretion whether to reduce a juvenile’s life sentence. Although the judge in this case acknowledges Kenneth has been rehabilitated (in eleven years of incarceration he has received only one disciplinary write-up in eleven years – for not making his bed), he inexplicably sentences him to another ten years in prison.
Sadly Florida courts continue to be dominated by an extreme racial bias that labels African American youth offenders as “superpredators” incapable of being rehabilitated.
This verdict is presently being appealed to the Supreme Court.
Chevron vs the Amazon is an Abbey Martin documentary about Texaco-Chevron’s deliberate dumping of oil and toxic waste in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and the vicious dirty tricks they have engaged in to avoid responsibility for cleaning it up.
Texas began drilling for oil in Ecuador in 1964, under a US-installed dictatorship that agreed not to regulate their activities. The amount of oil they spilled into the Amazon was 1700 times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and 140 times that of BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. Indigenous groups filed suit for the extensive damage to their water, health and livelihoods in 1993, a year after Texaco abandoned their Ecuadoran well sites. Texaco settled this first suit by agreeing to a phony remediation scheme that never happened.
Part 1 consists of great footage of the vast amount of oil remaining in Ecuador’s Amazon rain forest and interviews with indigenous Ecuadorans whose entire families have been devastated by the health effects (cancer, leukemia, rashes, miscarriages, birth defects) of the contaminated water they are forced to drink.
Part 2 provides background to the second class action lawsuit brought against Texaco by 30,000 indigenous residents – the largest environmental lawsuit in history. Texaco has a really ugly human rights history, beginning with the bankrolling of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco and illegal provision of oil, financial support and secret intelligence to Hitler and Mussolini. After losing a series of punitive lawsuits over its environmental crimes, they were forced to merge with Chevron in 2000.
The latter has its own history of human rights and environmental crimes in Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Chad, Cameroons, Equatorial Guinea and Richmond California.
After fighting the suit for eight years in US courts, Chevron eventually won a court ruling that that the suit had to be tried in Ecuador instead. When it was re-filed in Ecuador, Chevron engaged in blackmail, extortion, bribery, illegal surveillance, “judicial terrorism” (bringing 30 lawsuits against oil spill victims for “racketeering”), and “financial terrorism” (suing all the non-profit groups supporting the indigenous plaintiffs).
In 2011 the Ecuadoran plaintiffs ultimately won their suit for $9.6 billion – a ruling confirmed by Ecuador’s supreme court. Instead of paying up, Chevron forced them to file suit in various countries where Chevron has financial assents (including Canada, Brazil and Argentina). A 2016 ruling in US court makes it illegal for Ecuador to file a claim against Chevron’s US holdings.
Part 3 explores the long history of US economic colonization in Latin America (on behalf of Wall Street corporations) via direct military intervention, the installation of puppet dictators and the paramilitary death squad terrorism carried out through Henry Kissinger’s notorious Operation Condor. All this has changed with the 2007 election of Rafael Correa (who granted Julian Assange asylum in London’s Ecuadoran embassy).
At present Chevron seek to perpetuate their economic imperialism via a secret World Bank tribunal in the Hague. There 20 hand picked corporate “judges” have found that the successful lawsuit against Chevron retroactively violates of the 1997 US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty (Texaco-Chevron left Ecuador in 1992) and ordered Ecuador to pay Chevron $112 million in damages.
2017 update: In March 2017 lawyers representing the Ecuadoran plaintiffs have petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn the flawed (by bribery and corruption) racketeering conviction against the Ecuadoran plaintiffs and their lawyers. (See Chevron in Ecuador )
Part 10 of Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the United States covers the Bush II and Obama presidency.
The Bush II Presidency
Stone begins this section by reminding viewers that Al Gore won the 2000 election by 540,000 votes. He asserts Gore would also have won the electoral college if the Supreme Court hadn’t intervened and stopped the recount in Florida.
Under the heavy influence of Vice President Dick Cheney and other Project for a New American Century (PNAC) members, Bush immediately withdrew from the International Criminal Court treaty (which Clinton supported), the Nuclear Test Ban Treat, the Kyoto Accord and the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty. He also suspended US-led talks for Korean unification and for peace in Israel-Palestine.
Following 9-11 (which Stone refers to as the new Pearl Harbor PNAC called for), Bush launched illegal wars of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition to authorizing the illegal indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, he also authorized the use torture and significantly expanded the US of “extraordinary rendition”* by the CIA, a program started by Clinton.
During his two terms as president, Bush doubled the defense budget, forcing massive cuts in domestic spending – which Stone maintains destroyed the US economy.
Meanwhile he pushed the Patriot Act through Congress to suppress domestic dissent against these policies.
The Obama Presidency
Stone begins this segment by reminding us that Obama rejected public campaign financing in 2008. His opponent John McCain, in contrast, accept public financing. As a result, Obama received all the major donations from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks. This enabled him to significantly outspend McCain.
Stone blasts Obama for campaigning as the anti-war, change candidate. Who immediately on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, massively increased troop numbers in Afghanistan, as well as expanding the war on terror to Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and the Philippines.
In addition to continuing NATO expansion to increase the likelihood of war with Russia, Obama significantly expanded the southern military command (SouthCom) to target democratic populism in South America (eg Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and Argentina). In 2008 he created AfriCom a sixth military command aimed at countering Chinese investment in Africa.
Obama has also significantly increased the likelihood of war with China by encircling them with new troop deployment and sophisticated nuclear weapons systems.
*Extraordinary rendition is the term used when the CIA kidnaps criminal or terrorist suspects in a foreign country and secretly (and illegal) transports them to a country known to engage in torture.
Thanks to climate change, California’s wildfire season got an early start in 2016 – in February. According to the BBC, 30 percent of California’s firefighters (roughly 4,000) are state prison inmates. They make $2 a day while at fire camp, and $1 an hour while on a fire line – saving state taxpayers $80 million a year. Inmates also earn two days off their sentence for every day they’re on a fire. The work of battling a 100 foot high fire wall is incredibly dangerous, and inmate firefighters suffer a “handful” of injuries every year – usually from falling branches and debris.
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
While the BBC feature quotes inmates as being honored by the “privilege” of fighting fires, the inmate fire fighting program is taking place against the backdrop of a federal court order requiring California to reduce overcrowding. In 2011, the The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling ordering California to cut their prison populations (by reducing the sentences of low level offenders).
State correction officials complied by offering an early prison-release program to all minimum security offenders – but only “so long as it proves not to deplete the numbers of inmate firefighters.” In 2014, state Attorney General Kamala Harris argued against the program, concerned it would severely impact fire camp participation “a dangerous outcome while California is in the middle of a difficult fire season and severe drought.”
The New Jim Crow
In other words, California is openly balancing the state budget on the backs of prison slave labor.
Given that low income minorities comprise the great majority of California’s prison population – for circumstances largely beyond their control – this policy clearly violates the UN Convention on Human Rights (which forbids slavery and involuntary servitude).
In fact, it sounds a lot like southern Jim Crow laws.*
In The New Jim Crow , lawyer Michelle Alexander describes in detail how urban police deliberately target minority neighborhoods for enforcement of drug possession and other victimless crimes. She also cites numerous examples of minority arrestees forced to cop guilty pleas owing to their inability to obtain competent legal representation.
Below prisoners fight a 2014 fire in Shasta County.
*In the Jim Crow system that followed Reconstruction, most southern states passed arbitrary vagrancy laws that were used to imprison black males and force them into unpaid slave labor on plantations, on the railroads and in factories and mines. See 1941: The Year Slavery Finally Ended
This film is about a 1967 Supreme Court case in which an interracial couple successfully challenged a Virginia law prohibiting miscegenation.
Mildred and Richard Loving legally married in Washington DC in 1958. However they were arrested and thrown in jail when they returned to their home in Central Point Virginia. The court ultimately ordered them to leave Virginia for 25 years or face a one year jail sentence.
Relocating to Washington DC, they were jailed every time they tried to visit Mildred’s family in Central Point.
In the early sixties, Mildred wrote to attorney general Robert F Kennedy, who referred the couple to the ACLU. The latter appealed the Lovings’ sentence in the Virginia Supreme Court and lost. A 1967 appeal to the US Supreme Court prevailed, effectively abolishing the anti-miscegenation laws that remained in sixteen southern states.
As late as 1947, thirty states, including California and Oregon, had laws against interracial marriage.
The documentary is in three parts – Parts 2 and 3 launch automatically.