Friday, April 7, 2017

Racism is Real. “Race” is Not.

My book, Overcoming the Lie of “Race”: A Personal, Philosophical, and Political Perspective, is now available in its Second Edition. It contains a new Epilogue that addresses the current political situation and the alarming rise of bigotry. It also contains some additions and clarifications. You may order it from your local bookstore (from Ingram distributor) or from or

Overcoming the Lie of “Race” relies on history, genetic studies, and the author's personal experiences to expose the politically inspired false concepts, lies and deceit that underlie the idea of "race." It proposes how we should move forward in acknowledging that racism is real, “race” is not.

Here are a few selections from the book:

Prefatory quotations--

“The legacy of the past racism directed at blacks in the United States is more like a bacillus that we have failed to destroy, a live germ that not only continues to make some of us ill but retains the capacity to generate new strains of a disease for which we have no certain cure.”

“Racism is, and always has been, the way America has sorted and ranked its people in a bitterly divisive, humanity-robbing system.”

“’Race’ itself is a fiction, one that has no basis in biology or any long-standing, consistent usage in human culture.”

Quotation introducing the new Epilogue:

“The first American revolution protected slavery; the second—the Civil War—destroyed it, but exposed a racism that maintained the subordination of black people.”

From Chapter 11:

“Every solution to the problem of racism in our society must begin with the explicit realization that human ‘races’ do not exist. If we are to eliminate racism, we must rid ourselves of the very idea of ‘race.’”

To inform yourself about combating racism, you should read this book. Remember: Racism is real. “Race” is not.

For more information, go to

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Continuing the growth of democracy in spite of setbacks

     The growth of democracy is a zig-zag through history.  As a young teenager, I saw the devastation spread by Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. The country recovered with the help of a few courageous individuals. Please read:
     We are now at the beginning of a similar retreat from the values of democracy. The more we are passive observers, the longer the retreat will last, assuming we do in fact recover from it. As I stated in my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop, "Democracy . . . is not something we delegate to a ruler or authority but is work that is up to each of us." Often this means resisting and confronting those in power, as the Vietnam anti-war movement did in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
     To keep a perspective and follow up from my previous letter and blog, I wrote the following letter published today, January 1, 2017, in The Boston Globe (in print, page K4, and online):

Democracy has grown from its infancy, but has far to go

HOPEFULLY, STEPHEN Kinzer’s obituary for democracy is premature (“The Enlightenment had a good run”).
Two hundred years ago, America was sustained by slaves. Married women were, in effect, the property of their husbands. Unmarried women usually fared worse.
One hundred years ago, women still did not have a constitutionally protected right to vote, a right that former slaves had but often were violently prevented from exercising. America’s apartheid, benignly called “Jim Crow,” was in full force throughout the nation. Black lives did not matter, and no one would have dared to proclaim otherwise.
Then we were living in a partial democracy in its infancy. Today, democracy has become an adolescent but not an adult. The lives of the poor and of those just above poverty do not matter, or matter too little. Many of them are rebelling with just cause, but in a desperate, self-defeating way, funded by others who will gain at their expense. There is a big problem to be solved.
Democracy is taking a pause but is not dead yet. We need to reflect on where it should go so that it can continue to grow. It will not grow until it eliminates the poverty that fails to treat everyone with the respect that all deserve.
John L. Hodge
Jamaica Plain

Monday, June 6, 2016

Poverty would not exist in a fully democratic society

My letter to the Boston Globe about poverty was printed online and in the Sunday printed edition on June 5, 2016. It is reprinted below. 

The letter (with its restricted word limit) is a reflection of the position I presented in my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop. There I stated (p. 107):
A democratic society must provide sufficient food, clothing, shelter, transportation and health care to enable its members to live and participate as they choose and to the extent they are able. This is what it means to value each human life equally.
I pointed out that the U.S. official poverty line is too low to provide a healthy diet for urban dwellers, which means that actual poverty is significantly higher than the current official level of 14.8 percent (more than 1 in 7 Americans). 


Poverty persistent in ‘land of opportunity’

(Boston Globe, June 5, 2016, online and p. K2 of printed edition.)

JEFF JACOBY writes, “Affluence in America is dynamic, and our economic system is biased toward success” (“From the land of the Medicis to the land of opportunity,” Ideas, May 29). This blithe view ignores one of America’s greatest defects, its persistent poverty level that has increased over the past twenty-four years.
In 1990, the poverty rate was 13.5 percent. In 2000, it had briefly dropped to 11.3 percent, still quite high for a nation with so much wealth. In 2014, it had risen to 14.8 percent. In 2014, approximately 20 percent of school-aged children lived in families below the poverty level. These poverty levels are not the signs of an economic system “biased toward success.” Instead, it is an economic system that is persistently structured to maintain poverty, a system that guarantees that many cannot succeed.
I would agree with Jacoby’s implication that attacking the 1 percent is merely a popular focus that misses the point, but not because the wealthy members of the 1 percent will change, but because a more serious problem is that those in poverty suffer. Blaming poor individuals and welfare benefits for poverty is the callous route many take to avoid addressing America’s structural problem of increasing poverty.
John L. Hodge

Jamaica Plain

Copyright © 2016 by John L. Hodge. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What is the law?

Many think that law is simply a clearly written statement of what is or what is not allowed. Many children are brought up by parents who state the rules their children must follow, and that’s that. Their model for law is, perhaps, the Ten Commandments, where the rules are a matter of black and white, purportedly handed down from God. The child is not to question the rules themselves. They mean what the parents say they mean.

Laws in the real world are not like that. They contain words that are subject to interpretation. Even a simple word like “or” has at least two meanings. “A or B” can mean “A or B but not both” or “A or B or both.” When a logician was asked if the baby his wife had just had was a boy or a girl, he replied, correctly, “Yes.”

Over many centuries judges have had to interpret the meaning of laws full of words subject to interpretation. Some of these laws are lengthy statutes consisting of thousands of words. The courts have developed rules of construction to help them in their tasks. These rules themselves are subject to interpretation, but the rules can be applied to themselves to understand what they mean. This world of interpretation, thus, is not black and white but varying shades of grey. Those raised in the artificial environment of black and white rules are uncomfortable with the more difficult reality of grey.

While I know nothing of the child rearing of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, his recent editorial criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that effectively upheld a key component of what is popularly known as “Obamacare” reflects this desire to live in the artificial world of black and white. He stated in his editorial, “Since the law explicitly restricts subsidies to ‘an exchange established by the state,’ the answer should be obvious. . . . [Justice Roberts] turned the straightforward meaning on its head. ‘An exchange established by the state,' he wrote, also means an exchange not established by the state.” Jacoby concluded, “The rule of law . . . is corroded by judges who act like superlegislators — never more so than when torturing the plain words of the law, forcing them to say what they don’t mean.”

In response, I wrote a letter to the editor which was published by the Globe (online on July 8, 2015, and in print the following day). This is the letter:

Courts must look at statute as a whole

JEFF JACOBY ignored one of the fundamental principles of statutory interpretation when he concluded that the Supreme Court distorted the law in the Obamacare subsidy case, King v. Burwell (“Torturing the law,” Opinion, July 2). This principle, often repeated, is that courts must interpret or construe statutes by looking at the statute as a whole and not in isolated parts. The principle, also known as a rule of construction, empowers courts to disregard single sentences if they conflict with the purpose and intent of the whole statute.

The purpose of this rule is to give effect to legislation, not to override it. It is Jacoby who ignores this rule when he simplistically concludes that it is the Supreme Court that ignored the law.

John L. Hodge, Jamaica Plain
The writer is a retired lawyer.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Do Non-American Lives Matter?

In April we learned three months after the event that an American drone strike in Pakistan inadvertently killed Warren Weinstein, an American held as a hostage in Pakistan. President Obama made a public apology, stating “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”  (“American killed by US drone in Pakistan,”, April 24, 2015.)
Unfortunately this was not the only innocent person killed by drone strikes. An Associated Press article by Sebastian Abbot attempted to make the case that few civilians have been killed by U.S. drones (e.g., “Most killed by US drones are militants, study finds,” Boston Globe, Feb. 26, 2012, p. A3). The article establishes that 30%, meaning “only” 30%, of those killed by drones in Pakistan were civilians or other non-militants. That 30% at that time—over three years ago—amounted to about 56 civilians or other non-militants killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan. The killed included children. Later, on July 22, 2013, the London-based non-profit The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported that a Pakistani document revealed that “of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes . . . at least 147 of the dead . . . are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children.” This is not counting civilians killed by drone strikes in other countries.
The killed civilians were not in a war zone. They were not on a battlefield. They were killed similar to the way Warren Weinstein was killed, inadvertently in an attempt to kill the active perpetrators of violence.
There was no public official apology from President Obama for the death of those innocent Pakistanis.   The reports of these deaths of innocents, when such reports existed at all, were mostly hidden in small articles in back pages, often under reassuring headlines like the one above.
The only conclusion I can draw from this sequence of events is that the United States regards the life of an innocent American far more highly than that of an innocent Pakistani. (Did you make the distinction in your own mind: “Oh, those were not Americans, they were Pakistanis?”)
There has been a persistent national preference for preserving American lives over other innocent lives. The 2003 invasion of Iraq and its aftermath cost several hundred thousands of Iraqi civilian lives, all in the name of advancing democracy and perhaps civilization. Iraqi civilians, including children, were pawns in a global contest for power. Their lives apparently did not matter—
at least not enough to warrant the kind of official regret expressed by the President about Mr. Weinstein.
It should not surprise us, then, that there are people in Pakistan and the Middle East who hate the United States and are resorting to terrorism in an attempt to destroy it. Unfortunately, the behavior of our country towards innocent lives is creating its own enemies. This behavior and the reactions to it cannot but help lead us down the road towards greater conflict and more war, increasing the threat of involvement of those with or developing nuclear weapons.
It should be clear from these events that reflect relative indifference to non-American civilian deaths that we as a nation continue to be headed in the wrong direction.
What can we do to turn our nation around and make it a force for lasting peace? Killing innocent civilians of any nationality in any country is not the way to do it. Regarding civilian deaths as merely collateral damage is not the way to do it. Treating American lives as more important than the lives of non-Americans is not the way to do it.
             What this indifference to non-American civilian lives reveals is a rejection of the values underlying democracy, values that maintain that all people are of equal worth.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Former President Richard M. Nixon: Documented Racist

Historians have examined the rise to power of Adolf Hitler in Germany and asked, “How did this happen?” We must now examine the rise to power of Richard M. Nixon, former President of the United States, and also ask, “How did this happen?”                               

Fortunately the U.S. Constitution, the balance of powers in the U.S. government, and Nixon’s demise for other reasons prevented Nixon from doing as much harm as Hitler. Otherwise Nixon might have fulfilled his stated desire to end the Vietnam war by bombing Southeast Asia into oblivion.
But why, after the success of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, was a racist elected President of the United States twice, in 1968 and 1972?
The racism of Nixon is now documented, using Nixon’s own words from his secret tapes, in this YouTube series produced by Harry Shearer, “Nixon’s the One.” Boston Globe staff writer Matthew Gilbert nicely summed up this series in his review, “Nixon,word for word” (Boston Globe, November 23, 2014, N16).
Nixon’s racist comments are shocking. His words are what we could expect from a leader of the Ku Klux Klan. He blames Jews for the nation’s ills, insults blacks and Latinos, and thinks homosexuality caused the decline of ancient empires.
Probably most people who voted for Nixon did not know of his racism. Why, and how, were Nixon’s racist views kept from the public? Surely he must have expressed them before his election to President. He had been Vice-President for eight years, and before that a senator from California.
Just as many Germans alive in the 1940s said that they did not know that Jews were being exterminated, now Americans who voted for Nixon may say that they did not know that Nixon was a racist.
Perhaps they are correct. But why didn’t the public know?
In response to Gilbert’s review, I wrote the following letter that was published in the Boston Globe, Sunday, November 30, 2014, N20 (“Feedback” in the SundayArts section)(not online):

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Racism certainly exists, but there is no “white America” and there is no “black America.”

Although I usually agree with Derrick Z. Jackson’s piercing op-eds in the Boston Globe, I objected when he turned the police state in Ferguson, Missouri into an indictment against “white America” (“White America’s racial blinders,” Boston Globe, August 20, 2014.) Today the Globe published my response, reproduced below, with the Globe's title. It also publish another letter that I thought was particularly insightful, “How have we come to accept shoot-to-kill approach as normal?” by Paul Czerny (link).

WHILE I share Derrick Z. Jackson’s outrage about the shooting of black men by white police officers, I disagree with his accusation against “white America” (“White America’s racial blinders”). Referring to “white America” lumps all whites together into one stereotype.
He reports, for example, that 37 percent of white respondents agreed that the shooting in Ferguson, Mo., raises important issues about race, while 80 percent — and only 80 percent — of blacks agreed that this was so.
Those in the significant minority of that 37 percent should not be disregarded and treated as though they are the same as the remaining 63 percent.
Just as I do not want to be lumped together with all “African-Americans” as though we all think alike, I will not lump together all whites as though they all think alike. They clearly do not.
There is no “white America” and there is no “black America.”
But there is racism.

Jamaica Plain

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Human Rights and Culture Review*: Three Key Books on Democracy

The Founders would not recognize American society today. While some of them would applaud where we are today, others would be appalled and join the Republican Tea Party.

In 1790, a year after the U.S. Constitution became effective, slave holding was legal in all states including northern ones (except Vermont, which made slave holding illegal in 1777); women and free blacks could not vote; white men who did not own property could not vote; those accused of non-federal crimes had no right to a lawyer; and states were not bound by the Bill of Rights. 

There was no Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security. There were no national laws against discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, religion or nationality. There were no labor unions or minimum wage laws. Gay marriage would have been an absurd idea. 

In the 224 years since then, our democracy has grown considerably and come closer to embracing the idea of human equality.

This process of growing could end and even retreat. Many issues still face us, including, among many other things, extreme poverty and hunger, loss of privacy, contraction of women’s rights, the distortion of electoral politics due to lack of reform of campaign financing, and the increasing power of the executive branch to define our “enemies,” domestic and foreign, and confine, torture or assassinate them.

 Lack of awareness of what democracy means and complacency are the primary enemies of preserving democracy and furthering its growth. (I have explained these dangers and the mentality behind them in my book, HowWe Are Our Enemy—And How to Stop: Our Unfinished Task of Fulfilling the Valuesof Democracy.)

I have picked three books that provide critical parts of the basic understanding that we all need to understand the human rights that are the foundation of democracy. By no means are these the only books worth reading on the subject. There are too many to name. But I have picked these three books, because they (1) elucidate essential ingredients of a democratic society, (2) are quite interesting, enjoyable and even fascinating to read, and (3) will whet our appetite for more reading, thinking and discussion about what kind of society we want to live in and how to attain it. Those who have already read them can encourage others to do so too and add their favorites to their own lists.

Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, Stateand the Birth of Liberty, by John M. Barry

This book helps us to understand why and how democratic ideas took hold in America.

The Puritans who arrived in Massachusetts from England in the early seventeenth century to escape from oppression were not seeking democracy. Instead, they replicated the very oppression from which they were escaping. Their vision of a perfect community required conformity not only of actions but also of thought. Anyone who insisted on not agreeing with them could be banished or executed, and many were. 

Roger Williams, banished from Massachusetts in 1635, escaped on foot through a life-threatening blizzard with the critical help of Native Americans, to a place he called Providence in an area that was to become a part of Rhode Island. Providence became a refuge for others banished or fleeing from nearby intolerant settlements. There, unlike any place known then to England or Europe, he guided this new community to accept total freedom of conscience, full separation of church and state, and the radical idea that the power of government comes not from some higher divine authority but from the people treated as equals. These concepts were not widely accepted in America until a century and a half later. 

This book tells the fascinating story of America’s early beginnings in exquisite and often shocking detail, giving full credit to concepts of liberty and science that were nascent in England during Williams’ youth.

Freedom for the Thought That We Hate, by Anthony Lewis
The title speaks for itself. Democracy requires the freedom to think freely and speak freely. In clear and easy to read language, this book describes the struggles this freedom has had to survive and grow. We have come a long way since the Puritans’ arrival on these shores. Yet, this freedom is still not safely secured.

Gideon’s Trumpet, by Anthony Lewis

It is easy to overlook the importance of the right of a defendant to have an attorney in a criminal trial when the defendant cannot afford to pay for one. Without legal assistance, people in poor communities were defenseless against local police and prosecutors and often subject to their racial and ethnic prejudices. Clarence Earl Gideon, white, poor and poorly educated, led the way to changing the law of the United States--remarkably, not until 1963--to require provision of legal counsel to indigent defendants. 

That an ordinary and impoverished citizen could change the law of the nation is itself a fascinating story. While this book focuses on Mr. Gideon’s mission, it also provides an extensive and clearly stated education on constitutional law and the critical role of the judiciary.

If you read (or have read) these three books, you will know more about human rights and American democracy than you were taught in college or even in law school.


* Human Rights and Culture Review is a new series on this blog, starting today. The previous series on Corporations (which has not closed) can be located on the “Contents by Topic” page of this blog.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Website Restored: How to Get There; How to Protect Your Website

My website at has been restored.

But you may need to go to instead if you have visited in the past and are using the same browser. If so, the browser you used before to connect to has a memory and may try to redirect you to the old website that no longer exists. You avoid this problem by adding the "www." You can also avoid this problem by using another browser or by emptying your browser's cache (directions here).

PLEASE NOTE: Hacking is an international sport. People all over the world do it for "fun." If you have a website using WordPress or Joomla, you can protect yourself by updating to the latest version. The latest versions of WordPress and Joomla have additional security features. Be sure to use a long password without extensive repetition of characters. When you update, be sure that your theme or template is compatible with the latest version. Also, before updating, copy your website files and take other advised precautions. Do not wait to update.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Website hacked--this blog is OK

My website,, was hacked and will be unavailable until the website can be replaced. (There was no indication that I was specifically targeted; it appeared to have been hacked by an apolitical source.)

Meanwhile, you can go to my author's page at to connect to my books.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Has the U.S. killed a future Mandela?

I addressed this question in a Letter to the Editor published by The Washington Post online on December 11, 2013. Here is the letter, with the Post’s headline and links that the Post nicely provided for more information. (A slightly different version of this letter, revised by the Post and approved by me, was published in the print edition of December 12th, Page A18.)

Mandela ‘terrorist’ label calls into question U.S. drone policy

Beginning in 1988, the U.S. officially considered Nelson Mandela’s political party, the African National Congress, to be a terrorist organization. Mr. Mandela himself was placed on the U.S. terrorist watch list until 2008.

In his speech at Northwestern University, on March 5, 2012Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. defended the killing of terrorists, designated as such by the executive branch, as legal and as requiring no judicial review. Mr. Holder was responding in particular to the prior Sept. 30 drone killings of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son. Prior to and since then, numerous such “terrorists” have been killed.

If the U.S. government can err so completely as to view Mr. Mandela as a terrorist threat until 2008, then it can err today in deciding who is and who is not a terrorist. If the United States had had the drone capability and “legal” rationale in 1988 that it has today, it might have killed Mr. Mandela. There may be someone who would have been a Mandela of the future had not he or she been killed, quite “legally,” by the U.S. government in a drone attack.

John L. Hodge, Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Another article, an op-ed in The Boston Globe by Boston civil liberties attorney Harvey Silvergate and his assistant, Juliana DeVries, points out the threat to freedom of speech contained in the U.S. government’s concept of a “terrorist”: “Terrorism ruling assaults civil liberties.” 

The creeping expansion of the “terrorist” label is similar to what happened in the 1950s, which led to the frequent labeling of anyone who advocated for social change from the left, including Martin Luther King, a “communist.” Many people so labeled lost their jobs and some went to jail. Similarly, as the Silvergate/DeVries article indicates, “terrorists” are being targeted and sent to jail, and perhaps killed, based not on what they do but on what they think and say and their associations.

In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually put an end to the prosecution and jailing of “communists” based on their beliefs, expressions, and associations. (See its opinions, particularly the concurring views of Justices Black and Douglas, in Yates v.United States, 354 U.S. 298 (1957).) That Court was probably more liberal than the Court today: In Yates the conservative side of the bench produced only one dissent that favored the prosecution.

The only thing that separates us from a repeat of the oppressive anti-communist crusades of the 1950s, renamed the “war on terror,” is the time between now and the potential future. What that future will be, and when it might arrive, will depend on what we do today.

Also see my prior blogs on this subject:

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Myth of "Race" and Remedies for Past Harm--Part II.

The New York Times published the complete "Sunday Dialogue" yesterday online and today in print, titled "The Meaning of 'Race'" (link). This consists of my initial letter (also posted here July 16), five responses from readers, and my response to the readers.

My response is reprinted here:

The Writer Responds
Most responders would seem to agree with Mr. Rumbaut: “ ‘Race’ is a social status, not a zoological one.” But, as Mr. Bennett suggests, rational arguments are not enough to change our societal reality.
That reality is not changed by a “full mixture of genetic pools,” as Mr. Bennett proposes, because that mixture already exists. The idea of “race” prevents us from seeing it. As Dr. Monac points out, people we identify by a “race” are mixed with other “races.” Anyone who observes people riding the Manhattan subways sees a broad range of mixtures.
When we cannot tell what “racial” category a person fits into, we say the person is “mixed race.” But when you mix two myths, you get a third myth. The mixing of people we now identify as of different “races” is as old as the migrations of Homo sapiens out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago.
“Race” is a mental construct, not a physical reality. It is false construct that should be abandoned, not redefined. But while discussing the construct like academics, we have avoided discussing how to remedy the harm it has caused.

Boston, July 19, 2013

I address remedying the harm racism has caused in Chapter 5 of my book, How We Are Our Enemy--And How to Stop, in the section titled "Go Beyond Affirmative Action to Eliminate the Effects of Past Discrimination--and Poverty."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Myth of "Race" and Remedies for Past Harm

My letter below was published in the New York Times (online today; in print tomorrow) criticizing the concept of "race" while affirming the need for remedies for past harm. This is an "Invitation to a Dialogue" which requests responses to NYT by Thursday. On Sunday (according to the normal procedure) NYT will reprint my letter along with responses and my reply to the responses. 


Invitation to a Dialogue: The Myth of ‘Race’

To the Editor:
What should we do about “race”?
Over many decades, those who study genetics have found no biological evidence to support the idea that humans consist of different “races.” Based on such scientific data, Ashley Montagu published “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race” in 1942. New discoveries have confirmed what he said then. So why, over seven decades after his book, do we keep talking and living as though biological “races” exist?
Not only are certain “racial” classifications flawed, as suggested in “Has ‘Caucasian’ Lost Its Meaning?” (Sunday Review, July 7); all “racial” classifications are inherently flawed, because they are based on the false idea of “race.”
The myth of “race” has supported the horrors of slavery, apartheid, segregation, eugenics and the Holocaust. It continues to support racism. We cannot simply ignore the harm this myth has caused and pretend that the myth never existed.
The scientific, democratic and ethical goal should be to eliminate the false idea of “race” completely. But how do we both destroy the myth and remedy the harm it has caused?
We can begin by mentally changing how we see people. When we look at someone and automatically think about that person’s “race,” we must realize that we are not seeing “race” but instead seeing an arbitrary and harmful societal classification imposed on a continuum of physical differences.
When we want to ask how someone is classified by the myth, we should always put “race” or “racial” in quotation marks (as I have done here). Such questions still need to be asked, for example, on applications for college or a job, or for the census, for the answers provide the data needed to maintain diversity in education and the workplace and to monitor and remedy the harms the myth has caused and continues to cause. The long-term goal, however, is to make these questions obsolete.
Boston, July 15, 2013
The writer is a retired lawyer, former professor of philosophy and the author of books, essays and a blog on democracy, ethics and human rights.
Editors’ Note: We invite readers to respond by Thursday for the Sunday Dialogue. We plan to publish responses and Mr. Hodge’s rejoinder in the Sunday Review.

A version of this letter appeared in print on July 17, 2013, on page A24 of the New York edition with the headline: Invitation to a Dialogue: The Myth of ‘Race’.

Florida wild-West law gives freedom to Zimmerman

The reason George Zimmerman was recently acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin is the consequence of Florida law. In accordance with this state law, the jury instruction at Zimmerman’s trial stated, “A person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself.” This means that in Florida, if you have good reason to fear that someone is going to rob you or assault you, even if they are unarmed, you can shoot them dead and not be prosecuted.

In accordance with this law, the jury instruction went on to state, “If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in anyplace where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” This is why he was acquitted.

As today’s editorial in The Boston Globe stated, “Zimmerman’s acquittal reflects a presumption that, in Florida, one can pick a fight with a stranger for entirely dubious reasons, and if that stranger seems to be gaining the upper hand — as Martin did, in Zimmerman’s account — it’s acceptable to pull out a gun and shoot.”

This kind of law is commonly referred to as “stand your ground law.” As stated by Curt Anderson in the March 22, 2012 Huffington Post, “Florida is among 21 states with a ‘Stand Your Ground Law,’ which gives people wide latitude to use deadly force rather than retreat during a fight." In other states, the law generally is that if you can safely escape from harm, you should do so, and if you cannot escape, you can only use as much force as is reasonably necessary to protect yourself or another. “Stand your ground law” is the law of the wild West that is not appropriate for civilized countries. Combine this law with the lack of gun regulation, and you have murders like that of Trayvon Martin where the murderer goes free--not because of racism in this case, but because of the law.

The only way “stand your ground” laws can be changed is by the state legislators or state courts in the states where such laws exist, or by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Like marriage, the law of self-defense is a matter for states. Such laws are most likely protected from federal oversight by the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

As with marriage and health care, the sanctity of your life still depends on the state in which you live. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

VII. Is a corporation a person?

(This post is the seventh in the series on corporations--see links below for previous posts. If you like this or other posts, share it with your friends.)

A corporation is a legal person but not a human one.

Unfortunately, the criticisms of Citizens United that attack the idea that a corporation is a human person miss the point and thereby divert attention away from the real need for campaign finance reform. (See my earlier post, The Misguided People’s Rights Amendment.)

A corporation has never been considered to be the same as a human person. There is a difference between a legal person and a human person. Corporations in U.S. law are legal persons, not human ones. This difference is important and negates the attempts to mock Citizens United as affirming that corporations are the same as people.

An example of the distinction between a human person and a legal person was made evident in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Federal Communications Commission et al. v. AT&T Inc., 562 U.S. ____, 131S. Ct. 1177 (2011).

This case began with an investigation of AT&T by the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC sought certain documents from AT&T under the Freedom of Information Act. The Freedom of Information Act states that the Act does not require the disclosure of certain specified kinds of documents. Among those documents that are excluded from the Act’s disclosure requirement are "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes" that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" -- §552(b)(7)(C).

AT&T argued that, as a corporate person, it had personal privacy rights. Thus, AT&T claimed that it, as a corporation, did not have to disclose records that invaded its personal privacy. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit agreed with AT&T. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed and held for the FCC.

The Supreme Court’s opinion was unanimous except for the absence of Justice Kagan who did not participate. Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, stated, “’Personal’ ordinarily refers to individuals. We do not usually speak of personal characteristics, personal effects, personal correspondence, personal influence, or personal tragedy as referring to corporations or other artificial entities” (my emphasis). Thus, the Court held that corporations do not have “personal privacy” for the purposes of the personal privacy exemption in the Freedom of Information Act.

Note particularly that the Court referred to corporations as “artificial entities.” The Court thus has clearly established that there is a difference between human persons and corporate persons.

As we know, Citizens United did not make use of this distinction. Why? Later in this series I will post an examination of that case. In any event, Citizens United handled difficult legal issues that cannot be easily dismissed by incorrectly mocking the Court for saying that a corporation is a human person. The Court is quite aware that a corporation is a legal person, not a human one.

Thus, those jumping on the simplistic bandwagon of “corporations are not people” are shooting themselves in the foot by not addressing the more difficult constitutional issues that Citizens United present. These are difficult issues that require careful thought, not slogans.


Links to previous posts this series:

                II. Corporations: Their Early Beginnings (2/18/12)

                III. Corporations--an Example of Extreme but Conditional Power (7/3/12)

     IV: The First American Corporations--pre-1776 (12/31/12)
V: The Transformation of the American Corporation (2/24/13)