Ralph and our resident constitutional scholar, Bruce Fein, discuss how they compiled letters they sent to various government officials and representatives that have gone unanswered into a book titled “The Incommunicados” and how this unresponsiveness violates our First Amendment right to petition our government for redress of grievances. Then Washington Post opinion columnist, Helaine Olen, highlights the corporate equivalent, how hard it is to reach a human being for customer service and how all of this plays into the free-floating anger and general unrest of an American population that feels unheard.
Bruce Fein is a Constitutional scholar and an expert on international law. Mr. Fein was Associate Deputy Attorney General under Ronald Reagan and he is the author of Constitutional Peril: The Life and Death Struggle for Our Constitution and Democracy, and American Empire: Before the Fall.
Today, I couldn’t have gotten through to members of the Senate or House on the auto safety issue. We couldn’t have gotten through for them to even consider (much less pass) the auto safety legislation that they did in 1966. Because I could get on the line and even if I couldn’t get a member, I could call and get the chief of staff or get the legislative director in order to have access. I could go down to Capitol Hill and get the hearings, get the media attention, and get the law to save millions of lives. So, this is serious. It isn’t just a matter of literary courtesy here.
What we have in the right to petition for the redress of grievances is an effort to prevent a repeat of the deaf ear that King George was turning to the grievances of the colonists. And the right to petition implies a corollary obligation to respond… That’s the heart of what democratic discourse is about. Part of what holding government officials accountable is about— requiring them to explain their decisions. They don’t have to agree with us, but they can’t just ignore us and treat us as though we’re not human beings.
Helaine Olen is an expert on money and society, and an award-winning columnist for the Washington Post. Her work has appeared in Slate, the Nation, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and many other publications, and she serves on the advisory board of the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. She is co-author of The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn’t Have to Be Complicated and the author of Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry.
This is part of why Americans are so angry. Is our lives as consumers. In the United States we often confuse our consumer lives with being a citizen. We think if the phone line isn’t working if the airline isn’t working, if we can’t get through to the doctor’s office, there’s something wrong with the state of the country. And every time one of these interactions deteriorates, there’s this sense of ‘things don’t work,’ which I think is pervasive in the United States… and I think it translates into this free-floating anger that then gets turned around and leveled at random people at the government, fill in the blank.”
There’s this dominant narrative out there right now that American consumers are becoming greedy and grasping and they’re abusing the help— which happens, I don’t want to say every consumer is a perfect citizen by a long shot— but I think it is partly a response to the fact that people are often treated very very badly. And there’s really no one to complain to that will actually do anything about this.
In Case You Haven’t Heard with Francesco DeSantis
1. The Screen Actors Guild, SAG-AFTRA, has joined the Writers Guild in going on strike following the collapse of negotiations with the studios. This new strike covers 160,000 actors and coming as it does amid the writers strike, will effectively shut down Hollywood production for the foreseeable future. In a widely shared video, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher decried the studios for "plead[ing] poverty…[while] giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs."
2. The Intercept reports that AOC has authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring “the CIA, Pentagon, and State Department to declassify information related to the U.S. government’s role in the Chilean coup that brought dictator Augusto Pinochet to power.” Much of what the public knows about the Chilean coup came out through the legendary Church Committee hearings, and it is encouraging that someone in Congress is interested in taking up that mantle.
3. In Florida, a joint investigation by the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald uncovered the disturbing reality underlying Governor DeSantis’ revamped Florida State Guard. While recruits were initially told they would be trained for a nonmilitary mission – to “help Floridians in times of need or disaster” – they were instead taught how to “rappel with ropes, navigate through the woods and respond to incidents under military command.” Major General John D. Haas, charged with overseeing the program, is quoted saying the State Guard is a “military organization” that will be used not just for emergencies but for “aiding law enforcement with riots and illegal immigration.”
4. Longtime civil rights leader and two-time presidential candidate Reverend Jesse Jackson has announced that he is retiring from his role as president of the Rainbow-PUSH Coalition, per The Hill. He had led the group for over 50 years, even after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2017. President Biden said of Jackson, “I’ve seen him as history will remember him: a man of God and of the people; determined, strategic, and unafraid of the work to redeem the soul of our nation.”
5. Uruguay, the small South American nation sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, is experiencing its worst drought in 74 years. The situation has become so dire that authorities are mixing salt water into the public drinking water. Now, the Guardian reports that Uruguayans are protesting a planned Google data center that would consume two million gallons of water per day. In response to this crisis, a new group has cropped up – the Commission to Defend Water and Life, backed by the country’s trade unions – and their slogan has become ubiquitous: “This is not drought, it’s pillage.”
6. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Progressive Caucus, got herself into trouble this week by calling Israel a “racist state,” in a speech to the progressive summit Netroots Nation, per CNN. While clumsily worded, Jayapal’s statement actually vastly understates the issue. According to mainstream groups like Amnesty International, Israel is in fact an “apartheid” state.
7. More on Israel, the New York Times reports that “At least 180 senior fighter pilots, elite commandos and cyber-intelligence specialists in the Israeli military reserve have informed their commanders that they will no longer report for volunteer duty if the government proceeds with a plan to limit judicial influence by the end of the month.” While media coverage of the protests against this judicial overhaul has slowed, the protests themselves are very much ongoing and these resignations prove there is significant discontent among secular Israelis. It remains to be seen whether the opposition by mainstream Israeli society to authoritarian creep will substantively address any of the underlying issues, such as the occupation of Palestine.
8. In an update to the Guatemala story from last week, Al Jazeera reports that in a statement, “the public prosecutor’s office denied accusations that its actions were aimed at derailing the [anti-corruption] Seed Movement’s prospects as it competes in the final round of voting.” This prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche, has “previously targeted anti-corruption campaigners and has been placed on the US Department of State’s Engel List for ‘corrupt and undemocratic actors’.” The decision to ban the party has already been reversed by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in that country. The party’s leader, Bernardo Arevalo, has stated “We are in the electoral race, we are moving forward and we will not be stopped by this corrupt group.”
9. The Houston Chronicle reports that “Officers working for [Texas Governor Greg] Abbott’s border security initiative have been ordered to push children into the Rio Grande, and have been told not to give water to migrants” These abuses were revealed in an email from a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who described the actions as “inhumane.”
10. Finally, Universal Studios appears to have unlawfully trimmed trees on the public sidewalk outside of their building in Los Angeles, a transparent attempt to discourage picketers by denying them shade during the ongoing heatwave. City Controller Kenneth Mejia has announced that his office is launching an investigation. Ironically, this shows Hollywood executives are perfectly capable of cuts at the top.