Righteous Indignation in Ferguson

By Simon Waxman in the Boston Review

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I am not against using violence in self-defense. I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-defense, I call it intelligence. —Malcolm X

The grand jury’s decision to forgo indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown compels us yet again to recognize that there is more to violence than its dictionary definition.

In clinical terms, violence is physical force intended to cause injury. But when officer Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown this past August, he did not engage in violence. He engaged in self-defense. He was justified.

After the jury’s decision was announced, black Americans and their supporters, who see in the non-indictment a form of impunity, took to the streets of Ferguson and St. Louis. Their righteous indignation amounted to a “night of violence,” according to The Guardian and USA Today. KSDK, a St. Louis NBC affiliate, used a common volcanic metaphor: “Violence erupts in Ferguson: Fire, looting, arrests.” Look at any of the major news outlets—shattered store windows and overturned police cruisers. That is violence, and there need be no inquiry into its justification.

Violence is a moral category, not an act. Where aggression is presumptively unjustified, it is violent. Where it is deemed acceptable by the norms of the community in which it occurs, it is not violence.

It is perilous to extrapolate too greatly from a single case, but that peril is not at issue in Ferguson, where Brown’s shooting reflects a widespread and historically endless pattern of white lawmen, and white men acting under cover of law, injuring and killing black men without engaging in what the society calls violence. Here again, the court asked what the victim did to warrant his fate. But the political problem, which courts can’t consider, is who has access to justification.

Read more at the Boston Review

Simon Waxman is the managing editor of the Boston Review.

Also by Simon Waxman: Zimmerman: The Criminal Trial Is a Privilege of Whiteness

Obama, Down but Not Out, Presses Ahead

By PETER BAKER and JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVISNOV in The New York Times

 President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw.   Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
President Obama on Thursday attended a meeting of leaders of Southeast Asian nations in Myanmar’ s capital, Naypyidaw. Credit Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Obama emerged from last week’s midterm election rejected by voters, hobbled politically and doomed to a final two years in office suffering from early lame-duck syndrome. That, at least, was the consensus in both parties. No one seems to have told Mr. Obama.

In the 10 days since “we got beat,” as he put it, by Republicans who captured the Senate and bolstered control over the House, Mr. Obama has flexed his muscles on immigration, climate change and the Internet, demonstrating that he still aspires to enact sweeping policies that could help define his legacy.

The timing of the three different decisions was to some extent a function of separate policy clocks, not simply a White House political strategy. Mr. Obama, for example, had been scheduled to travel to China for a summit meeting in mid-November, and American officials have been trying for most of the year to negotiate a climate agreement for him to announce while in Beijing.

Still, even if by happenstance, the back-to-back moves have reinforced Mr. Obama’s desire to assert himself in a period when his poll numbers and political capital are at their lowest ebbs. While losing Congress was a grievous blow that will further challenge his capacity to govern, advisers said that he feels liberated. He can now pursue his long-term agenda, they said, without being tethered to the short-term electoral concerns of his party’s leadership in Congress.

In the process, though, Mr. Obama has angered Republicans who accuse him of essentially defying the message sent by the electorate. All of the talk by the White House in recent days of working together with the new Congress seems belied by a president who has wasted little time advancing some of the same policies that were renounced just a week ago, Republicans said.

“The president is completely ignoring the will of the American voters, who turned out on Election Day and overwhelmingly elected people who wanted to change the direction of the country,” Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said in an interview. “Even today, the new polls show Americans would rather have Republicans make the agenda changes than the president.”

Read more at The New York Times

Bored voters produce lowest California voter turnout ever

 Dan Kysor's guide dog, Harry, lies next to him as poll workers help him vote using an adaptive computer at the California Museum in Sacramento, California, November 4, 2014.

Dan Kysor’s guide dog, Harry, lies next to him as poll workers help him vote using an adaptive computer at the California Museum in Sacramento, California, November 4, 2014.

SACRAMENTO —Democrats won every statewide office and a comfortable majority of the congressional delegation and legislative seats. Yet at Capitol Weekly’s election postmortem confab Thursday, Republicans were giddy and many Democrats were, well, agitated.

Even for California Republicans, Tuesday was heavenly. To start, they spent Tuesday night watching the GOP make big gains nationally — a happy change of pace. In state, it’s true as Democratic strategist Jason Kinney pronounced, Dems had a “wildly successful year.” The Dems won every statewide office on the ballot and the majority of legislative districts. Still, the GOP well may have poached three Democratically controlled congressional seats. Longtime incumbent Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, was trailing against a little-known Republican dairy farmer named Johnny Tacherra — even though Costa’s seat was not on politicos’ watch lists.

Republicans picked up seats and prevented the Democrats from holding supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature. It’s the first time, wrote California Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum, that any Democratic incumbents were defeated since 1994. What’s more, the GOP put three Asian American women in the Legislature.

So the Dems should have been high-fiving each other, right? Instead, California Democratic Party Chief Financial Officer Angie Tate told the audience that people juggling two jobs and families didn’t feel like they had time to vote. And: “Did we lose some races? Most definitely. Did we know coming in we’d lose some races? Duh.”

The folks who watch these things believe that when all the ballots are counted, the turnout will be lower than the state’s record low turnout of 50.6 percent of registered voters in November 2002. Panelists predicted a new low, a turnout below 40 percent. Sacramento has passed a rash of laws to make it almost automatic to register, as easy as going to the mailbox to pick up your ballot, and Californians are increasingly less likely to vote.

And that is the big takeaway from the 2014 midterm election: Even where it was easier than ever to register and vote, people didn’t.

Read more at the San Francisco Chronicle

Ted Cruz’s Big Adventure

If Republicans win the Senate, expect a ferocious tactical clash between Cruz and the actual leader Mitch McConnell

Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)
Ted Cruz (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)

“Ted Cruz’s big (awful) plans: Why a clash is coming if GOP wins majority” by Jim Newell in Salon

No one’s more excited about the prospects of a Republican takeover of the Senate than the incoming Senate majority leader, Ted Cruz. He’s already been serving as Speaker of the House for two years, and come Tuesday night, he may well have control of both chambers of Congress. Once he’s elected President in 2016, he’ll be the first man in history to serve concurrently as Speaker of the House, Senate majority leader, and President of the United States. Whenever as the next Supreme Court justice keels over, he’ll appoint himself to that, too. This is ultimately the America that America deserves.

You may be asking how a junior Senate backbencher who’s not in line to chair any committee will effectively serve as Senate majority leader. He’ll do so the same way that, as a junior Senate backbencher, he’s effectively served as Speaker of the House the past two years. Through whatever feats of raw political talent and nimble exploitation of congressional process, Cruz positions himself as the go-to vehicle through which all far-right rage is channeled in Washington. He’s the front man for the interests of radicalized “outside groups” (well-funded organizations with presences in Washington D.C.) like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, Tea Party Patriots, and so forth. Whenever the specter of practical governance — funding the government, raising the debt ceiling — sweeps its way into the corridors of the Republican leadership, there materializes Ted Cruz, exorcising the demon. We simply do not care for Texas Senator Ted Cruz here at Salon dot com, but hey, the man fills a space.

Read more at Salon

You Can’t Quarantine Stupid: Ebola & Unconstitutional Health Policy

WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases
WWI propaganda poster warning soldiers against catching venereal diseases

The year was 1918. After two and a half years of uneasy neutrality, America had finally entered The Great War and had committed over 4 million men to the war effort. As one would expect—or at least hope—the United States government took great care to prepare newly enlisted men for military service, making sure that those who had no prior military experience would be adequately trained and ready to fight when they reached Europe. However, the United States government understood that their soldiers would not only face dangers abroad, but at home as well, and worked tirelessly to keep them safe from that most dreaded of all military foes: syphilis.

Yes, at the beginning of the 20th century, venereal diseases were a massive problem for the US military, with 13% of all Americans drafted by Uncle Sam for WWI testing positive for syphilis or gonorrhea. At the time, there was a more intensely moral stigma around venereal diseases than there is today, and the primary mode of transmission for such diseases was widely thought to reside solely in sex acts that occurred outside of traditional marriage, the most pernicious of these sex acts being prostitution. In response to this, US, state and local governments eschewed the simple solution of providing their soldiers-in-training with prophylactics should they purchase a few moments of a woman’s time and tried to take away the opportunity for soldiers to contract the diseases by dismantling the prostitution trade.

In the summer of 1918, US Congress took matters into its own hands and passed the highly unconstitutional Chamberlain-Kahn Act, which granted the military $1 million to be used in a “civilian quarantine and isolation fund” that could be used to indefinitely detain prostitutes and “promiscuous women and girls.” The exact number of women who were unjustly detained as the result of this program is unknown, but estimates generally suggest a number somewhere around 30,000. The women were held in quarantine for an average of 70 days in federal detention centers and 1 year in reformatories near Army and Navy training camps.

Only 1/3 of the women that were held in these detention centers and reformatories were ever charged with prostitution. The other 2/3 were simply detained for having a venereal disease or for a host of arbitrary reasons ranging from how they dressed to the way they danced. In no way were any of the decisions on who to quarantine based on the most recent scientific findings or public health concerns. Rather, these decisions revolved around the personal moral judgements of men in power concerning women who had little or no rights. As a member of the military’s newly formed Commission on Training Camp Activities from New Jersey described after “investigating” the behavior of local women, “the manner of dancing by certain of these girls was so suggestive as to constitute almost positive proof of their indulging in sexual intercourse.” In other words, they’re whores because we say they’re whores.

The most egregious example of this pseudo-scientific posturing is from the bipartisan duo of New York and New Jersey Governors Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie, who apparently obtained masters degrees in Public Health overnight and have enacted strict quarantine policies for people returning from West Africa who have had contact with Ebola patients. Governor Christie echoed the inane violations of civil rights perpetrated nearly a century ago on prostitutes and “impure” women by quarantining Kaci Hickox, a nurse who had been working with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) to help people in Sierra Leone who were enduring the ravages of Ebola. Upon landing in New Jersey, Hickox, who was asymptomatic for Ebola or any other disease for that matter, was promptly detained and quarantined in a tent equipped with the luxury of a portable toilet, but without a shower or television.

Read more at the Daily Kos