All posts by Trevor Brookins

Brookins Head Shot

The Socialist’s Journal: The Chicken and the Egg

Brookins Head Shot*The situation regarding the geographic territory surrounding Jerusalem will not be settled until three basic issues are overcome.

The parties involved need to be led by a spirit of reunion and liberalism (unlikely). The parties involved need to agree on the historical facts (very unlikely) or decide that the historical facts are unimportant (very very unlikely). The parties involved need to allow that God wants their opposition to occupy some of the territory happily (damn near impossible).

While I generally do not look on issues from a conservative perspective, perhaps the instance in which I, like most people, would embrace a more conservative outlook is when determining territory. If something is mine, I would like it to remain mine. Which is why it is understandable that Israelis and Palestinians are at an impasse most of the time. Israelis can correctly state that they possess territory and should not cede it to Palestinians. Palestinians can correctly state that the territory possessed by Israel was at one point theirs and was forcibly taken from them to create Israel. If Israel shouldn’t give up their land now, how do they justify how it became their land in the first place? If Palestinians want Israel to give up their land now, how do they justify not pursuing a future in which there are two nation states (messy as that solution may seem). A liberal perspective on this issue would yield a more conciliatory mood around negotiations that would eventually allow for both sides to gain something (a nation state for Palestinians and security for the nation state of Israel theoretically).

But even if such a mood is adopted it would only be the first step because…

The cannot agree on what happened in the past as a basis for the two state solution. Again this is very tricky because there is a finite amount of land to be had and nations are generally not in the habit of giving up their claims on it. Nevertheless there needs to be some consensus regarding how the borders shifted and when. I hesitate to recount the military history of Israel because I am sure I will get something wrong from one point of view or another. Broadly speaking though, Israel was established despite objections from some people in that region of the world; some people fought over those objections; Israel grew its territory. For many Israelis and Palestinians the details I’ve left out are critical because some of those facts bolster one side’s claim over the other. And if there were a way to unequivocally state what happened when that would be great. On the other hand it might not really matter because turning back the hands of time is impossible. What is really necessary is figuring out how these two groups of people coexist going forward. And the historical facts (even if agreed upon) are probably not going to help with that.

And figuring out how to coexist is a herculean task because…

Both sides devoutly believe that God wants them to occupy the territory in question. Recently I read (or heard, I’m not sure which it was) a summary of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that simply said: it all starts with “Abraham had two sons” referencing the Bible. I generally do not try to interpret the religion of others or try to get them to disavow their beliefs, but in this case these beliefs are the basic hump that is almost impossible to get over. Why would either side give in at all if they genuinely believe that God favors their claim?

If somehow leaders emerge on both sides of the equation that will allow for the possibility that God wants them to share the land, then somehow those leaders decide to ignore the decades of fighting and bitterness, and can approach things with compromise in mind, then we might get somewhere.

But that is a might big if.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Here We Go Again

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*We have been here before – and more times than I care to count.

I as in a black male, we as in the African American community, and more universally we as in American society, have seen this movie (where the black guy dies at the hands of one or more white men) and we know how the story ends.

If everyone keeps their cool, there will be lots of apologies. If folks start losing their cool, there will be some loss of life, loss of property, loss of freedom, criticism, and less apologies.

The events at issue are the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York. It is important to note that both of these deaths were at the hands of police officers.

American society has come a long way in upgrading the status of men of color so that their civil liberties are not infringed upon by other citizens. There is still a blind spot when it comes to officers of law enforcement.

My first encounter with the phenomenon of a black man dying and his death being determined as justified was Amadou Diallo who was killed by police in 1999. After an inquiry a grand jury decided that the tactics employed by the officers were justified. Regarding Diallo I commented that while law enforcement generally deserves our gratitude and support there is a problem when training dictates that officers respond with deadly force. Furthermore this training is dictated by the neighborhood. In other words, when in a predominantly minority neighborhood and in doubt, shoot to kill.

It seems that police training hasn’t changed very much in the last 15 years. Garner was a large man (over 400 pounds) so I can imagine officers were a bit intimidated and thought they would have a hard time subduing him. I understand. But then that’s what tasers are for, aren’t they? Instead multiple officers physically tackled Garner and in doing so choked him to death even as he stated he couldn’t breathe. Something is wrong with this picture.

In Missouri Brown was shot 6 times as officers pursued him as a suspect in a petty theft. Somehow officers felt that Brown represented enough of a threat that they felt justified in firing 6 times. The fact that the autopsy shows 2 of the shots were to his head either turns the officer into a liar or the worst kind of incompetent officer who is unable to discern when deadly force is necessary and/or no longer necessary. Again, isn’t this why officers supposedly carry tasers?

I once had someone being chased by the police pull into my driveway. Once they put the person in custody the car was left on my property. I went out to ask the remaining officer about it and reminded myself to walk slowly, speak softly, and keep my hands up. Was I being paranoid or just using common sense?

At some point someone will point out that both Garner and Brown were suspected of illegal activity. Certainly true. This is where the criticism starts and the apologies lessen. But being suspected of committing a crime is not the same as having been proven to have committed a crime; and the crimes were selling unlicensed cigarettes (Garner) and petty theft from a convenience store (Brown). Even if Garner and Brown were guilty of these crimes, neither crime would justify deadly force.

It has been proven that there is a correlation between the ethnicity of a person murdered and the likelihood that the convicted perpetrator is sentenced to death. Black victims do not lead to as many death penalty sentences as white victims. The easy interpretation of this is that society does not value black life as highly as white life. Perhaps there is a more nuanced perspective to be taken on this data but the recent events in Staten Island and Ferguson support the simple interpretation.

It’s at times like these that I am particularly thankful that I have daughters. Because how do you tell young black men not to react violently? The looting that has taken place in Missouri is definitely misdirected; as far as I know the stores that are being damaged and stolen from are not owned by police officers. But the desire to strike back physically can be overpowering. And the normal restraint of not wanting to be targeted by police is weakened by the perception that they are already being targeted. And yet the historian in me can confidently state that there is no way in hell that a physical confrontation between men of color and law enforcement ends well for the men of color. At the end of the day there are always more police than are possible to harm and/or evade. So I wish folks would chill just a bit more.

But I also wonder what it would look like if the next Michael Brown were a white American and what the response from the police would be. And more importantly how intense and long lasting the outrage would be.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Brookins Head Shot

The Socialist’s Journal: The New Rules for the Bowl Subdivision’s Super Subdivision

Brookins Head Shot*I love tradition. But at some point you have to take a good look at a tradition and see if it still makes sense.

College football operates by the assumption that traditions should be maintained – often despite all evidence pointing toward devising a new structure and process. The latest consequence of this philosophy is the potential establishment of different regulations for schools in the top five conferences of the bowl subdivision.

Schools in these conferences will have the chance to alter the terms of scholarships to allow more financial aid as well as earn money in other ways not related to the sport they receive a scholarship for. Basically the NCAA is allowing conferences to create rules to allow for more money to go to the players.

I have long advocated for allowing the players to be able to get more money so I won’t argue against these developments. But I will point out the absurdity of the direction the NCAA is allowing things to go with the thought that it can retain control.

Basically the NCAA is allowing these conferences to make their own rules because the NCAA wants a piece of the money the money that big time college football generates. The conferences were tired of following NCAA rules which they argued was affecting that revenue. So the NCAA said “OK. Make your own rules that would be more beneficial.” In doing this the NCAA has basically given authority to the conferences.

The basic rules are still governed by the NCAA but that’s only because the conferences don’t care enough to take the time to create basic rules for themselves – yet. Once that happens what is to stop the conferences from deciding that they don’t need the NCAA for anything? And they don’t really. People will show up for college football no matter what; the schools will gain revenue and can fund the other sports however they’d like. This reminds me of the American Revolution. Quick history tangent – once parliament blinked and repealed some taxes, it was basically a green light to the colonists to say we don’t want any of your taxes. These conferences will soon come to a similar conclusion about the NCAA.

The other ticking time bomb is the double standard it creates among the top five conferences and every other conference. Theoretically the schools in those conferences could also schedule athletic contests among each other (albeit with less revenue being generated) without NCAA input. Theoretically they could decide which rules are important and establish new regulations to abide by.

The service provided by the NCAA (rules and oversight) has always been necessary. But it was never necessary that the NCAA provide it. There is great value in doing something first and then pointing to tradition. The NCAA has been standing on tradition for over 100 years.

But all things come to an end.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.


Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Ray Rice Episode

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Ray Rice has been issued a two game suspension by the NFL for his assault of his then-fiance-now-wife (TFNW). While many have expressed outrage at the apparent leniency, I look at the suspension as appropriate and to be expected.

There are two reasons for my conclusion: money and privacy.

When the setting of an incident is a multi-billion dollar industry, money is usually the first consideration. Ray Rice is one of the primary players for a team that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. When his team plays he is one of the points of focus for the other team and for the people broadcasting the game. Translation: Ray Rice is one of the reasons people watch the game; ergo Ray Rice is one of the reasons the NFL makes money. It was never realistic to expect the NFL to eliminate his presence for an extended period of time because it might affect their bottom line.

But I also think not only would that have been a foolhardy business decision but also one that might not have been able to be justified. Because from all accounts Ray Rice was retaliating when he assaulted his TFNW. The video footage is quite nauseating – Rice is dragging an apparently dragging his fiancée off an elevator after having struck her. I don’t need to defend Rice because his wife is doing that. She went to counseling with him; she spoke to the NFL commissioner with him and on his behalf. It is easy to make an argument that she didn’t and doesn’t want Rice to have a permanent black mark against him because of this incident.

Did Rice overreact? Of course. But what is worth noting, and what I think the TFNW has been highlighting is that a reaction was coming and justified. Rice made the mistake of forgetting that he is a professional football player and can overpower most people on the planet. But when you’re being assaulted with a weapon, you tend to forget yourself and react quickly. Context matters.

Lastly some are criticizing the NFL and his organization for the leniency of the discipline. Hogwash. Toward the end of each NFL season there are a bunch of newscasts that talk about dozens of scenarios in which a bunch of tiebreakers will determine which teams make the playoffs. Two games can be the difference between a losing record or a trip to the postseason and with a little luck a championship. Obviously a four game suspension would have been more severe but let’s not pretend that two games can’t have an effect on the team’s season.

If Rice had assaulted my sister or daughter I would definitely want him to pay. But I can’t imagine why my feelings would (or should) trump those of his TFNW or why I would expect that the people he makes money would agree with me.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Quick Hits 2014 Pt. 1

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*I have to admit that my first reaction was surprise when I learned that someone was bringing a lawsuit based on comments on Twitter.

Twitter is supposed to be something fun and frivolous. But then I thought about it a bit more and concluded that the plaintiff had a case.

Although its origin may be as a leisure activity, Twitter is the way corporations communicate with their patrons, the way entertainers communicate with their fans. Some folks are being paid good sums of money to tweet positive things about products so it isn’t unreasonable to think their tweets can have an equally negative influence.

As long as someone can argue that American interests are tied in the sovereignty of every country, the United States will never be able to look the other way when other countries undergo upheavals.

The Ukraine needs to resolve what they will do about Russian bellicosity. We can help but at the core this isn’t our fight.

Utah hasn’t given its electoral college votes for the liberal candidate in a presidential election since 1996. Arizona hasn’t since 1948, and Truman was seen more as an unknown than a liberal. But if the governors of these two highly conservative states perceive that laws allowing for discrimination based on sexual orientation are a bad idea in their states – it might be time to call this fight over.

While I might disagree with the way in which it was formed, I admire one of the ways Israel maintains its sovereignty: universal draft. Countries like Israel, that exist amidst multiple nations hostile to its existence, should have the “all hands on deck” philosophy they do. And if we are going to continue to stick our nose in everything we should have the same policy.

I understand that coal companies cannot control the weather. But that is exactly why the Environmental Protection Agency exists. The EPA needs to oversee pollution to make sure that just because West Virginia is lenient on emissions that it doesn’t become the problem of neighboring states. The Supreme Court ruled correctly. And yes they were waiting for my confirmation of a job well done.

It is sad to know that girls are being kidnapped in Nigeria simply because they pursue an education. It is confusing that the people taking credit for the kidnapping are so upset that women don’t know their place in society that they believe the answer is forced sex slavery – I don’t’ think that is the role they envision for women generally speaking. But the silver lining is this: their actions are universally recognized as wrong. This would suggest that most women in Nigeria have less to worry about than women in Sudan or Kazakhstan where violence against women sparks less of an outrage.

Everyone should be able to contribute to the political discussion in the United States. Certainly some who are more politically inclined will contribute more than those who are not; ditto for those with more time and the means versus those with less time and means. But if we are to perpetuate the fallacy that corporations are people the same way you or I, then there must be some change to the way “people” can monetarily contribute to the political discussion.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected]

obama & boehner

The Socialist’s Journal: Boehner vs. Obama

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*Since the ratification of the Constitution there has always been a tense balancing act between the three branches of the federal government; each branch trying to gain authority at the expense of the other two.

The lawsuit being brought by Speaker of the House John Boehner against President Obama is simply the latest round of one-ups-man-ship. In other words don’t expect anyone within government to take this seriously – and nor should they.

The President is charged with enforcing the laws of the land, specifically the federal laws. However there are a lot of laws and priorities must be set. So when presidents issue orders to their staff (and the entire executive branch is basically under their direction), from one perspective it is a president emphasizing what should have their attention. From a different perspective it is a president dictating that federal agents ignore what’s important. Which perspective you take usually depends on whether you align with or against the president doing the emphasizing.

That a president would take it upon himself to issue executive orders is not a new phenomenon. And that folks of a differing opinion would be upset is also old news. What is new, at least since the mid 20th century, is the amount of power vested in office of the presidency. The threat of the Cold War made it understandable (even desirable) that the president would act on his own in the best interest of the country. After all he had access to information that Congress and the Supreme Court did not. In this way the Cold War permanently altered the balance of checks and balances set up in the Constitution.

Speaker Boehner’s lawsuit is supposed to be about the dislike of the President taking liberty to nullify the influence of Congress by running the country as he sees fit instead of according to the laws Congress passed. But what Boehner’s lawsuit truly reveals is the change in the country since the presidency has been imbued with extra power. Every president since Franklin Roosevelt has faced similar criticisms and in a way each of them have deserved it. That should tell us something about the nature of the office, not necessarily the nature of the men who inhabit the office.

When the office of the presidency was conceived it was assumed that George Washington would hold the job first. Many of the powers of the presidency that seemed scary were adopted because everyone knew that Washington would not take advantage of them. And yet even Washington believed it was the duty of the president to look at laws that Congress passed and determine if they should be enforced. This was his interpretation of how the executive branch checked the legislative branch and balanced power between them. So when Obama decides if and how to enforce certain laws he isn’t doing anything new or special. Neither is Boehner when he voices disapproval. The lawsuit is a new and interesting wrinkle.

Even if it will go nowhere.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.