The Laws That Killed Eric Garner

From Ferguson to Staten Island, America’s Failure of Justice

No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.
No Justice, No Peace: Demonstrators protest a grand jury’s decision not to indict a New York police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

By Jay Michaelson in The Jewish Daily Forward

My hands are quaking with rage right now, but I will choose to write rationally. I can’t believe this has happened again, and happened here, in my own backyard.

“This” being a grand jury failing even to indict a white police officer for killing an unarmed black man. Not even a trial. Not even a public hearing of the evidence.

And this time with a video of the entire incident, which is your moral responsibility to watch.

But I fear that my own city is soon to be engulfed in violence, and the violent people are right. So for that reason, I will try, if I can, to take refuge in reason, and in law.

It’s true that the forces that killed Eric Garner include white supremacy, racism, anger, violence, fear, a broken criminal justice system, a broken healthcare system, and ignorance. And yet another overreacting white police officer.

But I want to focus on law, because it’s something we can do something about. Right after the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, after all, the Bible famously goes into a thousand tiny details of mishpatim, laws. By detailing everything from rules of evidence to the damages for a stolen lamb, the book of Exodus makes a strong claim: that the lofty moral imperatives of Sinai only have meaning if they are translated into just laws. The God is in the details.

American law, however, helped kill Eric Garner – and it will kill more black men like him in the future. Specifically, there is a lethal nexus between judicial deference to police officers on the one hand, and the expansion of police power on the other. Each alone is problematic, but together, they make justice nearly impossible.

Read more at The Jewish Daily Forward

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

The Moral Siege

The militarization of Jewish supremacism in Israel

Bills posted for a Rabbi Meir Kahane memorial rally. Photograph: Yossi Gurvitz
Bills posted for a Rabbi Meir Kahane memorial rally. Photograph: Yossi Gurvitz

By Assaf Sharon in the Boston Review

Addressing Israel’s offensive in Gaza, John Kerry said: “Israel is under siege by a terrorist organization.” Living in Israel, I found the secretary’s comment baffling. In my city, Jerusalem, the sirens have sounded only three times. Tel Aviv and its vicinity has had it worse, with three dozen sirens or so over the last month. Yet daily routine has not been greatly affected. In the south, near the Gaza strip, things are different. With numerous rockets daily, life in some Israeli towns and villages has become what happens between one rush to the shelter to the next. This is certainly not acceptable, but it is not a siege either. In Jewish history, the archetypical siege is the Roman siege of Jerusalem, described by the first-century historian, Josephus, thus: “Throughout the city people were dying of hunger in large numbers, and enduring unspeakable sufferings. In every house the merest hint of food sparked violence, and close relatives fell to blows, snatching from one another the pitiful supports of life.” In Zionist history, the paradigm comes from 1948, when Jerusalem was once again stricken with hunger and want of basic supplies. Here is how one mother described it in a letter to her son who was fighting in the north: “Whoever doesn’t have food simply goes hungry. There’s no gas for cooking, people gather wood and cook in the street. Other than bread, (and this too only 200 grams per person daily) there’s almost nothing to buy…. Water is delivered in a carriage with an allowance of 1.5 cans per person for a week (can=eighteen liters), which is precious little. And as there is no fuel for cars, the water must be brought (from great distance) from wells.” Today, this description is more suitable to Gaza than to Israel.

But there is another siege haunting Israel today. This siege is internal rather than external, moral rather than physical. The murder of sixteen-year-old Muhhamad Abu-H’deir, burned alive by Jewish extremists on July 2, made headlines worldwide. But the context in which this crime was hatched receives less attention. The day before, as the three Israeli youths kidnapped and murdered three weeks earlier were being buried, hundreds of extremists gathered in Jerusalem under the banner “We want Revenge!” And their slogans clarified: “Death to Arabs” and “Death to Leftists.” As the mob marched to the city center, they pounded on store fronts, demanding Arab blood. A large group gathered outside McDonald’s shouting for its Arab employees to be brought out. Smaller groups roamed the streets looking for Arabs to abuse. A wave of racist violence has been washing the streets since then. Organized mobs of extremists have been marching through the streets of Jerusalem shouting racist slogans, calling, “Death to Arabs!” Like scenes taken from revolutionary films, they block cars and busses mid-street, checking whether there are Arabs inside. If found, they are assaulted verbally as well as physically. Many Palestinians refrain from traveling on the city’s light rail because it has become a regular venue for racist attacks.

Sadly, Jerusalem is not unique. An anti-war demonstration in Tel Aviv was attacked by hundreds of right-wing hooligans led by a rapper going by the nickname “the shadow.” Some of them were wearing the “Good Night Left Side” T-shirts popular among white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Europe. A week later this violent scene recurred in Haifa, where right-wing hooligans assaulted an Arab deputy mayor and his son as they were approaching an anti-war demonstration. In Jerusalem’s old city, a mother and her two young children survived an attempted stabbing by Jewish extremists. Amir Shawiki and Ahmed Kasuani, twenty-year-old Jerusalemites, were less fortunate. Both were severely beaten by a Jewish mob simply because they were Arabs. Omar Diwani, a city bus driver in Jerusalem, was hospitalized after four young men assaulted him upon detecting his Arab accent. Dozens of similar attacks against Arabs and “lefties” have taken place recently in the streets, in cafes, in shopping centers, on busses and trains. Israel’s radical right is on the rise.

Jewish radicalism is not a new phenomenon. Its current incarnation traces back to Rabbi Meir Kahane, who, after forming the militant Jewish Defense League in the United States, emmigrated to Israel and founded the ultra-nationalist Kach party. Kahane advocated the forced eviction of all Palestinians residing west of the Jordan river, subordinating state law to Jewish religious law (Halakha), and revenge as punitive policy. Although strongly liberal on economic issues, his ethics were utterly collectivist: the moral agents were not individuals but nations. Any harm to a Jew was an affront to the nation, and revenge should be taken not necessarily on the perpetrator but on “the Arabs.” I vividly remember classmates of mine who, under his influence, would retaliate against random Palestinians following attacks on Israelis. Retaliation quickly morphed into preemption and then into naked aggression. In his short tenure in the Knesset, Kahane proposed outrageous legislation, such as revoking the citizenship of all non-Jews, or criminalizing sexual relations between Jews and Arabs. The core of his ideology was a militant form of Jewish supremacism, best expressed in the slogan frequently heard these days “a Jew is a soul, an Arab the son of a whore.” But with Kahane the medium was more significant than the message. Fusing populist rhetoric with strong-man authoritarianism, he appealed both to religious zealots and to underpriviledged Israelis. Playing on their resentment, he riled them against the “elites,” whom he portrayed simultaneously as all-powerful—controlling the media, the education system, and the courts—and as weak and degenerate. Weak in their treatment of the Arab enemy, and degenerate in their morality, which for him meant the loss of their Jewish fiber. His hostility toward Arabs, however, sometimes seemed second to his loathing of the left. These “fifth column” “destroyers of Israel,” as he biblically labeled them, were subject not only to derision but also to very thinly disguised threats.

Read more at the Boston Review

Either With Us or Against Us

As Turkey’s ruling party consolidates its power, the space for free expression narrows.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
(By Randam (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“A militant in the guise of a journalist — a shameless woman. Know your place!” This is how three-term Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chose to describe Amberin Zaman, the Economist’s longtime Turkey correspondent, during a campaign rally on Aug. 7, just three days before he won the country’s first-ever direct presidential election. Erdogan lashed out at Zaman for having allegedly “insulted” Muslims in an interview with opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on the 24-hour TV news channel CNN Turk — and she was likewise vilified in the conservative press and aggressively harassed online by Erdogan supporters.

The next day, Enis Berberoglu, editor in chief of Hurriyet, one of the country’s highest-circulating dailies, abruptly resigned. Because Hurriyet is owned by Dogan, the same media group that owns CNN Turk, many doubted that Berberoglu’s move was coincidental. Erdogan went on to win the election with 52 percent of the vote. By the time of his inauguration at the end of August, several journalists at other newspapers had also lost their jobs — for reasons widely regarded as political.

These events followed a pattern that has become disturbingly familiar in recent years. As Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has grown increasingly entrenched since it first came to power in 2002, the space for free expression has narrowed perceptibly. This trend has been particularly evident over the past 15 months, starting with the protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and which then swept the country in the summer of 2013, when dozens of journalists were fired or forced to resign after expressing critical viewpoints. Most recently, Turkey’s trouble with press freedom made headlines this weekend when Erdogan denounced the New York Times for, he said, implying that the Turkish state was connected with Islamic State (IS) militants.

In 2013, Turkey remained the world’s top jailer of journalists (followed by Iran and China) for the second year in a row. As of the end of the year there were 40 reporters behind bars — one of several factors that led Freedom House to downgrade the country from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2014 press freedom rankings. Turkey came in 134th out of 197 countries.

Social media has not been spared. In the lead-up to local elections on March 30, the Turkish government shut down Twitter for two weeks and YouTube for 67 days in an effort to suppress the leak of damning wiretapped recordings that surfaced in a police and judicial investigation into government corruption at the highest levels.

“The main problem is that pro-AKP media is not only the dominant media, it’s the obligatory media,” said one Turkish journalist who asked not to be named. “If you’re not with them, you’re against them.”

Read more at Foreign Policy

World News Forum Commentary

101B1190_0064
© 2010 by Paul Kennedy

Hello, Jewel. I vaguely remember this last CPAC convention. Basically, a bunch of rich donors to the Republican Party gathered to go over their talking points and write big checks.

This is sad stuff. This is the best they can do. Red state-blue state? Really, Rick? Texas ranks 21st among states in per capita income in the United States–New York ranks fourth, and most of the rest of the top twenty are blue states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And Texas has more citizens without health insurance than any other state, according to a Gallup poll taken in 2011:

Texas continues to be the state with the highest percentage of residents without health insurance. At 27.6%, its rate is more than four percentage points higher than the next highest state, Mississippi. This is the largest gap Gallup has measured between the first and second state since it began tracking health insurance in 2008.

During the last presidential election campaign, as I’m sure you’ll remember, Rick Perry’s Texas was lauded by Republicans as a model of sensible Republican fiscal management. Never mind that he used billions in Federal bailout funds to balance his state budgets, even while bashing Obama over federal stimulus spending:

But the reality of Perry’s relationship with fed-stim is complicated. Through the second quarter of this year, Texas has used $17.4 billion in federal stimulus money — including $8 billion of the one-time dollars to fund state expenses that recur over and over. In fact, Texas used the federal stimulus to balance its last two budgets.

Source: The Texas Tribune.

Because Republicans have no earthly idea how to grow an economy, they are desperate to slash spending whenever and wherever they can, except for rich people, because the very, very wealthy are, after all, the minority interest they represent.

America incarcerates a larger percentage of its population than Putin’s Russia or Communist China, and those countries put people in prison just for making the government mad by saying unpopular things. And Texas, by the way, executes more people than Saudi Arabia.

Republican governors have discovered that, in the long run, it might actually be cheaper to spend money on things like education than on incarcerating people. Republicans have had a sudden revelation: after decades of pushing for harder and stiffer sentencing laws, that maybe it doesn’t really make all that much sense to put every kid convicted of a minor drug offense into prison for decades.

Republicans are the party of bold new thinking. Trouble is that it’s progressive thinking from the 1930s.

Quixotic ’80 Campaign Gave Birth to Kochs’ Powerful Network

The Libertarian Party’s 1980 presidential candidate, Ed Clark, center, with his running mate, David H. Koch. Credit Randy Rasmussen/Associated Press

He backed the full legalization of abortion and the repeal of laws that criminalized drug use, prostitution and homosexuality. He attacked campaign donation limits and assailed the Republican star Ronald Reagan as a hypocrite who represented “no change whatsoever from Jimmy Carter and the Democrats.”

It was 1980, and the candidate was David H. Koch, a 40-year-old bachelor living in a rent-stabilized apartment in New York City. Mr. Koch, the vice-presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, and his older brother Charles, one of the party’s leading funders, were mounting a long-shot assault on the fracturing American political establishment.

The Kochs had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the burgeoning libertarian movement. In the waning days of the 1970s, in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam and a counterculture challenging traditional social mores, they set out to test just how many Americans would embrace what was then a radical brand of politics.

It was the first and only bid for high office by a Koch family member. But much of what occurred in that quixotic campaign shaped what the Kochs have become today — a formidable political and ideological force determined to remake American politics, driven by opposition to government power and hostility to restrictions on money in campaigns.

Read more at The New York Times

Thanks to the Roberts Court, Corporations Have More Constitutional Rights Than Actual People

By William Greider on May 20, 2014 – 12:00 PM ET


Members of the Supreme Court (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

The big media talk a lot about stalemate in Congress, but they are missing the real story. While representative democracy is dysfunctional, the Supreme Court has taken over with its own reactionary power grab. In case after case, the court’s right-wing majority is making its own law—expanding the power of corporations and the very wealthy, while making it harder for ordinary citizens to fight back.

Worst of all, the Roberts Court is trying to permanently inhibit the federal government’s ability to help people cope with the country’s vast social and economic disorders.

This is not a theoretical complaint. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the conservative Republican Court is building a barbed wire fence around the federal government—creating constitutional obstacles to progressive legislation in ways that resemble the Supreme Court’s notorious Lochner decision of 1905. That case held that property rights prevail over people and the common good.

For more than thirty years, the conservative Justices used that twisted precedent to invalidate more than 200 state and federal laws on major social and economic concerns like child labor, the minimum wage, bank regulation and union organizing. New Deal reformers were stymied by Lochner at first, and they only managed to overturn it in 1937 and only then when FDR mobilized a take-no-prisoners campaign to reform the Supreme Court by weakening its unaccountable power.

The Roberts Court has so far produced a slew of precedent-smashing decisions designed to hobble left-liberal reform movements before they can gain political traction. Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate money; McCutcheon scrapped the dollar limits on fat-cat donors. Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, implicitly endorsing the GOP’s crude campaign to block racial minorities from voting. The US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable have won numerous victories, large and small, expanding the rights of their corporate sponsors.

The Roberts Court has so far produced a slew of precedent-smashing decisions designed to hobble left-liberal reform movements before they can gain political traction. Citizens United opened the floodgates for corporate money; McCutcheon scrapped the dollar limits on fat-cat donors. Roberts gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, implicitly endorsing the GOP’s crude campaign to block racial minorities from voting. The US Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable have won numerous victories, large and small, expanding the rights of their corporate sponsors.

Despite his genteel manner, Justice Roberts is a “smart strategist” who plants provocative phrases in his decisions that he can cite later as false precedents, according to Law Professor Gregory Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis. “Roberts tells a story that sounds like they are not making radical change,” Magarain said. “But they are still making things up, still making up social policy. And the judgments are still pointed toward the past.”

Read more at The Nation

Support quality, progressive journalism. Subscribe to The Nation, America’s oldest continuously published newspaper.

Fools of Fascism

(Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout)

By Manash Bhattacharjee

The most crucial thing to note about fascism is that it doesn’t need thinking. That’s why, be it in Germany or India, fascist thought failed to inspire or include any brilliant mind. The only brilliant thinkers during Hitler’s regime were the suffering Jews and anti-fascist Germans. Barring Martin Heidegger’s momentary mad folly, those whom Nazism could inspire were merely henchmen in thought and practice. In India, all that Savarkar and Golwalkar did was to define India as a nation as strictly as possible, borrowing Western intellectual sources, so that Muslims could have no claim over it. Thinking in reverse, having fixed your conclusions in advance, is the martyrdom of thinking.

Read more at Truthout

Support progressive journalism. Donate to Truthout.