Note—Four years ago after a sadder Inauguration I posted this contemplation. It is relevant again because the former
Cheeto-in-Charge spent his last day issuing pardons and commutations. He surprised many when he did not pardon
himself, his children and accomplices in numerous crimes, and close cronies
like Rudy Giuliani. He disappointed the
followers who stormed the Capitol at his behest, Proud Boys, Q-Anons, and
suburban moms alike. The list did
include the reptilian fascist Steve Bannon—at best an on again, off again ally
who probably has some very damaging dirt on him. Also the brother of former Chicago Bears
great Brian Urch and an Illinois village president charged with an illegal
gambling scheme, politically connected business moguls, real estate barons and
disgraced former members of Congress. He
played a see-I’m-not-a-racist card by including
rappers Lil Wayne and Kodak Black and former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. Most of his list included low level drug
offenders serving long sentences, but on the balance those leand heavily to “nice
White guys” over Blacks. Of course Barack
Obama pardoned or commented three times that total as he left the Oval
office. That prompted the following
Barack Obama spent the last days of his
days in office churning out sentence commutations. Hundreds were given to non-violent
drug offenders facing draconian sentences under the exceptionally
harsh Federal Sentence Standards, the most vindictive in the
world. But there are so many of those victims
of the failed war on drugs that the commutations hardly made a dent
in the American gulag. Also given
leniency were some white collar criminals, the kind of offenders that
drew the more stingy grace of Obama’s predecessor George W.
Bush. Even a beloved baseball
icon, Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants who was convicted
on Income Tax evasion was one of 64
that drew and outright pardon from
controversially Obama commuted the
sentences of whistleblower Chelsea
Manning, the former Army Private
Bradley Manning, and Puerto Rican
nationalist leader Oscar Lopez. Inexplicably
he did not commute the sentence of ailing
American Indian Movement leader Leonard Peltier who has been behind bars for 40 years and will now
surely die in prison.
Barack Obama was unusually active with clemency orders and pardons in his last days in office.
and mystifying that travesty of justice was, Obama gets
credit for at least wrestling with the catastrophic
effects of the lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key
No one, except possibly sex offenders, gun nuts, and White
nationalist terrorists should expect any such displays of mercy from
the incoming occupant of the Oval Office. On the contrary. Look for him and his administration to swell the
prison population with those who resist
his autocratic rule, immigrants,
and minorities of every sort.
years ago today another incoming
president on his first day in office, January 21, 1977 issued a blanket amnesty of most draft
evaders, including those who went to Canada
or assumed new identities and went underground in the states.
Jimmy Carter’s controversial act, which brought harsh criticism from veterans’
organizations and near mutinous
grumbling from some high level
officers in the military, was not unexpected. It fulfilled a campaign promise. The idea was to put the bitter national divisions
over the Vietnam War and Nixon years behind us, or in Carter’s
own words, “to bind up the nation’s wounds.”
The accidental President, Gerald
Ford, had issued a conditional
pardon for draft offenders, including those who were abroad, in September
of 1974. That was mainly to
provide cover on the left for his pre-emptive pardon of his predecessor, Richard Nixon for any offenses that he “may
have committed.” The Ford conditional pardon is generally better remembered than Carter’s much more substantial action because of that
linkage despite requiring those who accepted
the pardon to work in alternative service occupations similar
to those of conscientious objectors for
six to 24 months. Far fewer men
than expected took Ford up on his offer.
Carter’s action was much more
sweeping, but a little noticed provision
said that amnesty would be given to all offenders who requested one. Some resistors refused to make a request
because to do so was an admission
that they had committed a crime in the first place. Many,
many more were unaware, because of
hazy press coverage, that they had
to make a request. The Justice
Department did not even make a cursory
effort to inform the eligible by a letter to a “last known
The wording also was unclear on an important point for men like me—did the
amnesty cover those who were already convicted
and had served sentences for
draft offenses? I don’t think that last point has yet been fully answered.
None-the-less tens of thousands of
draft refusers, evaders, and military deserters acted on the assumption that they were covered and the Justice
Department de facto ceased actions against anyone who could
have been covered by amnesty.
During the war, and continuing after
it ended until Draft call-ups stopped
in 1973, 209,517 men were accused of violating draft laws, and another 360,000
were never formally charged.
Around 100,000 went abroad, 90% of them to Canada.
The exact number who went “underground” has never been established, but is
thought to be in the tens of thousands.
Upwards of 50,000 of those in Canada
chose to stay there rather than
return home. Most were granted Landed
Immigrant status and eventually Canadian
citizenship. A highly educated
group with significant resources,
these people had an impact on Canada.
Many became leading figures in academia, the arts, and in politics.
They are widely credited
with/accused of moving Canadian politics generally to the left.
Likewise a good, but unknown, number
of those who went underground chose to continue to live their lives under the identities that they assumed. In the 1960’s and early
70’s it was absurdly easy to establish a new identity. It is thought that as this cohort becomes
eligible for Social Security or die many of these assumed identities
As for an old Draft con like me, I never got any amnesty papers. But I have lived my life quite openly, and even drawn some modest attention to myself. So far so good.