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Civil Rights / Liberties
By Linn Washington, Jr.
I was seething inside as I watched the live television coverage of the recent rebellion/riot in Baltimore as we witnessed yet another explosion caused by America’s historic failures to reign in abusive police. Then I received a text message that lead to a conversation that absolutely broke my heart.
The conversation was with my 11-year-old grandson, who himself was seething from what he saw going on in his hometown of Baltimore.
My grandson told me he was mad…mad because police “keep killing black men.”
When I probed further into his anger he said he feared for his own life -– not because of what might happen when he gets older because of what could happen even now if he encountered a police officer.
There just might be a big boost in government honesty soon, as both houses of Congress have now passed with two-thirds votes and sent to the states for ratification a potential 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution bearing the unofficial title "The Truth in Advertising Amendment." This is the text as passed by Congress:
Preamble: The first through tenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States are hereby repealed.
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, apart from tax breaks for churches, and other than appropriate surveillance, entrapment, and drone strikes for members of any non-established religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof except where that exercise withholds taxes that fund war; or abridging the freedom of campaign bribery in any way or the freedom of speech from within adequate caged areas at an appropriate distance from potential listeners, unless that speech reveals wrongdoing by the government; or of the press cartel or of its right to propagandize for war; or the right of white people peaceably to assemble when not organizing a union, opposing a war, or protesting injustice, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, and to peaceably contemplate the Government's wisdom in ignoring any demands.
2. A well-armed world, being necessary to the profits of the weapons makers, the right of the people, police, government, and foreign nations to keep and bear any weapon they can afford to purchase, shall not be infringed, nor facts about the damage done be openly discussed.
3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be educated in the optional, unnecessary, counterproductive, uncontrollable, murderous, and trauma-inducing nature of war, nor any war veteran be quartered in any house without the proper funding or loan to purchase or rent that house in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4. The right of white people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated much, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, unless the Government deems it appropriate to collect any electronic or other communication, or to record or film any behavior, or to kidnap, imprison, torture, or murder any person.
5. No police officer shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger, in which cases fuggedaboutit; nor shall any white person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall any high-ranking official be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor any non-whistleblower be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, except as stipulated in section 4; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation, unless someone has smoked marijuana.
6. In all criminal prosecutions of extremely wealthy defendants, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty million dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the White House Office of Legal Counsel.
8. Excessive bail shall not be required of white people, nor excessive fines imposed on high-ranking officials, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted on non-whistleblowers, nor on anyone who has not been designated a military-aged male.
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, including the right to shop.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people, at the discretion of the President.
A powerful new film on what's wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It's called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I'll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)
Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.
Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians' access to the public and to bribe politicians with "campaign contributions" -- this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.
The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin's reports for CBS on Nike's labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its "journalists" wear Nike logos during their olympics "coverage."
Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn't be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)
The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can't be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media's own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!
Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb's reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller's role that blamed her principally for not correcting her "mistakes" when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime -- and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn't subtract any blame from the employees.
To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA's giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will "follow the lead of silence."
The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she'll spend on TV ads.
The bad media's greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other "journalists" who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.
The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.
The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.
According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of "news" is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.
The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that's how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn't object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won't be protesting you anytime soon. And there's never any need to worry about being reelected.
Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it's all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.
Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won't achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of "objectivity," understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.
Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it's already far superior to the Washington Post.
No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn't glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers" while the film shows dead bodies -- as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment, a new book by Burt Neuborne, at first appears an unlikely work to serve much purpose today. Who wants to celebrate slave owner James Madison's view of freedom as embodied in a long outdated Constitution in desperate need of updating or rewriting? And who wants to hear it from a former legal director of the ACLU who just signed a petition supporting the hiring of Harold Koh, defender of drone murders and presidential wars of aggression, to teach human rights law at New York University, a petition by a bunch of stuffy corrupted professors countering the moral stand being taken by students?
But Neuborne's main thesis is not the worship of James Madison, and he merely suffers the same blindness to war as the rest of his society, believing, as he writes, that the world is "dependent on the anchor of American power" (whether the world wants it or not). While legalizing murder may not be a problem for Neuborne's view of the Constitution, legalizing bribery is. And that's where Madison's Music becomes useful. Each time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of plutocracy it is ruling against precedents, common sense, basic decency, and a coherent and plausible reading of the Bill of Rights that reads the various amendments as aimed at strengthening democracy.
It's also ruling against a Constitution that nowhere gave it, the Supreme Court, any right to rule on any such things. While there is, sadly, no way to read the Supreme Court out of the Constitution, it can be quite easily understood as subject to the laws of Congress rather than vice versa. Not that today's Congress gets us any closer to democracy than does today's Supreme Court, but when our culture is ready for reform, the paths available will be numerous and each and every institution subject to reform or abolition.
The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Neuborne, to his credit, does not choose to read this as the ACLU does, namely as including a defense of bribery and private election spending.
Madison's original draft, severely edited by the Senate -- one of those institutions worthy of abolition, and one for which Madison himself was in part to blame -- began with protection of both religious and secular conscience. The final draft begins by forbidding the government from imposing religion, and then forbids it from prohibiting anyone's religion. The point is to establish, in an eighteenth century manner, the freedom of thought. From thought, one moves on to speech, and from ordinary speech one moves on to the press. Each of these is guaranteed freedom. Beyond speech and press, the trajectory of an idea in a democracy proceeds to mass action: the right to assemble; and beyond that there remains the right to petition the government.
As Neuborne points out, the first amendment depicts a functioning democracy; it doesn't simply list unrelated rights. Nor is freedom of speech the only real right it lists, with the other rights being simply particular instances of it. Rather, freedom of thought and press and assembly and petition are unique rights with their own purposes. But none of them are ends in themselves. The purpose of the whole array of rights is to shape a government and a society in which popular thought (at one time of wealthy white males, later expanded) has at least some significant impact on public policy. Currently, of course, it does not, and Neuborne puts much of the blame for that on the Supreme Court's choices over the centuries, well meaning and otherwise, in how to read the first amendment.
As Neuborne suggests, the right to petition the government has been neglected. Nothing goes to a vote in the House of so-called Representatives unless approved by the majority party leader. Forty-one senators representing a tiny sliver of the population can stop almost any bill in the Senate. A democratic understanding of the right of petition might allow the public to compel votes in Congress on matters of public interest. In fact, I think this understanding would not be a new one. Jefferson's Manual, which is part of the rules of the House, allows for petitions and memorials, which are often submitted to Congress by local and state governments and groups. And at least in the case of impeachment proceedings, it lists a petition and memorial (written statement of facts accompanying the petition) as one of the means of initiating impeachment proceedings. I know because thousands of us collected millions of signatures on petitions to begin the impeachment of President George W. Bush, the desirability of which also reached a majority in public opinion polls despite zero action or discussion in Washington. The public was unable to even compel a vote. Our grievances were not redressed.
The right of assembly has been confined in free-speech cages, the right of free press has been corporate-monopolized, and the right of free speech has been shriveled away in the right places and expanded in the wrong places.
I'm not convinced by those who argue against all limits on speech. Speech is, appropriately enough, not considered free when it comes to threats, blackmail, extortion, false statements causing harm, obscenity, "fighting words," commercial speech urging illegal action, or egregiously false and misleading commercial speech. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, "any propaganda for war" must be prohibited, a standard which, if enforced, would eliminate a big chunk of U.S. television viewing.
So, we must choose where to allow speech and where not to, and as Neuborne documents, this is currently done with zero respect for logic. Spending money to elect a plutocratic-friendly candidate is considered "pure speech," deserving of the highest protection, but contributing money to that candidate's campaign is "indirect speech," deserving of a bit less protection and therefore subject to limits. Meanwhile burning a draft card is merely "communicative conduct" and when a voter writes in a name as a protest vote that gets no protection at all and can be banned. The Supremes do not allow judges to hear cases in which one litigant is a major benefactor of the judge, yet allow elected officials to govern people who buy them their seats. Corporations get first amendment rights despite lacking the human dignity to qualify for the fifth amendment's right to remain silent; are we supposed to pretend corporations are human or not? The Court upheld an Indiana voter ID requirement despite understanding that it would disproportionately harm the poor and despite not a single case of voter fraud being found anywhere in Indiana. If the right to outspend anyone else and effectively buy a candidate an election is the highest form of protected speech, why is the right to vote the lowest? Why are long lines to vote in poor neighborhoods allowed? Why can districts be gerrymandered to guarantee election of a candidate or party? Why can a criminal conviction strip away the right to vote? Why can elections be designed to benefit a two-party duopoly rather than the voters?
Neuborne writes that, "the robust third-party culture of the nineteenth century rested on ease of ballot access and the ability to cross-endorse. The Supreme Court has wiped out both, leaving a Republicrat cartel that stifles new ideas that might threaten the status quo."
Neuborne suggests many of the usual, and very good, solutions: creating free media on our air waves, providing tax credits to effectively give every person money to spend on elections, matching small donations as New York City does, creating automatic registration as Oregon just did, creating an election day holiday. Neuborne proposes a duty to vote, allowing an opt-out -- I'd rather add an option to vote for "none of the above." But the real solution is a popular movement that compels one or more branches of our government to view its purpose as supporting democracy, not just bombing other countries in its name.
Which brings us to the primary thing our government does, which even its detractors among law professors approve, namely war. To his credit, Neuborne favors the right to conscientious objection, as well as the free-speech right of groups or individuals to teach nonviolent action techniques to groups labeled "terrorist." Yet he supports hiring as a teacher of so-called human rights law a man who used his law background to tell Congress it had no war powers, to legitimate a brutal and blatantly illegal attack on Libya that has left behind a possibly permanent catastrophe from which helpless people are fleeing by boat, and to sanction the practice of murdering men, women, and children in large numbers by missile from drone.
I would love to see the explanation from Professor Neuborne as to how it can be the government's right to murder him (and anyone near him) with a hellfire missile, while it is simultaneously his right to be secure in his person against unreasonable search and seizure, his right not to be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, his right to a speedy and public trial, his right to be informed of the accusation and to be confronted by the witnesses, his right to subpoena witnesses, his right to a trial by jury, and his right not to suffer cruel or unusual punishment.
Our rights are forgotten: The Government/Corporate Encryption Debate is About How Best to Spy on You
By Alfredo Lopez
A debate, going on in the quasi-private and well-catered halls of government-corporate collusion, has reached the post-smoldering stage. It's now a virtual forest fire in full public view.
It pits government spies against corporate cannibals and is about the often misunderstood and somewhat tedious issue of encryption.
From KCNC, the CBS affiliate in Denver, comes this completely unsurprising “news”: TSA clerks at Denver International Airport deliberately messed with the strip-search scanners to alarm on attractive male passengers so one of the blue-shirted goons could grope them.
by Debra Sweet One may think that police murder of unarmed civilians, particularly people of color, in the U.S. has no connection to the wars perpetrated by the U.S. government across the globe, but there are striking parallels. When police killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner, grand juries did not deliver justice; no policewere prosecuted. Black and Latinos, particularly young men, continue to be criminalized, targeted, and outright murdered with impunity, while the U.S. claims to be number one in human rights!
From a thread started at Reddit by someone who is just now discovering that the TSA is abusive. Duh. Sorry, patience is admittedly not one of my virtues, but I really can’t take it anymore — not only the surprise exhibited by people who seem to have been living under a rock for the past, oh, years and years, but worse, those who deny, deny, deny what’s right in front of their faces. Read the whole Reddit thread to see what I’m talking about. The ignorance on display is breathtaking.
Read the rest at TSA News.
Execution by medical neglect?: Pennsylvania’s Prison System is Torturing Mumia Abu-Jamal and his Family Too
By Dave Lindorff
Mumia Abu-Jamal, the radical Philadelphia journalist convicted of killing a white Philadelphia police officer in a trial fraught with prosecutorial misconduct, witness coaching and judicial prejudice back in 1981, spent nearly three decades in solitary confinement in the deliberately designed hell of Pennsylvania’s supermax SCI Green prison before a panel of federal Appeals Court judges eventually ruled that he’d been unconstitutionally sentenced to death.
Selective case of ‘standing on principle’: PA’s Top Lawyer Defends Illegal Law Silencing Prisoners and Jouralists Who Cover Them
By Linn Washington, Jr.
In July 2013 Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane made a bold move when she refused to defend a Pennsylvania state law in federal court that banned same-sex marriage. Terming that ban “wholly unconstitutional,” Kane declared that ethical directives applicable to lawyers barred her from defending a "legally indefensible" law.
Everyone's been sending me the article from First Look/The Intercept about the latest "confidential" TSA document.
The article in question is titled "Exclusive: TSA's Secret Behavior Checklist to Spot Terrorists." Okay, yes, it's exclusive in that the reporters actually got their hands on a document that outlines the TSA's so-called behavior detection procedures. But we've been writing about these procedures for years now, calling attention to their inanity, fraud, and complete lack of scientific support.
17 Years and still brutal and corrupt: Feds Rediscover Police Brutality in City of Brotherly Love...er...in Beat City
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The report slammed the Philadelphia Police Department for its historically flawed use of fatal force, directed primarily at non-whites, underscoring a repeated finding that Philadelphia’s Police Department has long owned one of the worst reputations of any police department in the United States.
By Dave Lindorff
When I lived in China, there was a story going ‘round about a China Airlines flight in which both the pilot and the co-pilot had left the cockpit and then, on their return, found the door locked. They reportedly got a fire ax, and with the whole planeload of freaked out passengers watching, started wailing at the door. The co-pilot then turned, and seeing the panic developing, calmly drew the curtain across the aisle, hiding their work from view. The axe bashing continued until they broke the latch and got back to the controls.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
The report released in early March by a panel President Obama appointed to examine serious shortcomings in police practices across America, including the shooting of unarmed people, mostly non-white, listed problems and proposed solutions that are hauntingly similar to those found in a report on police abuses released 47 years ago by another presidential panel.
By Alfredo Lopez
For many people reading this, there are at least two concepts that will offend.
By Kathy Kelly
That is also us, the possibility of us, if the wonderful accident of our birth had taken place elsewhere: you could be the refugee, I could be the torturer. To face that truth is also our burden. After all, each of us has been the bystander, the reasonable person who just happens not to hear, not to speak, not to see those people, the invisible ones, those who live on the other side of the border.
- Karen Connelly, The Lizard Cage
It was a little over two weeks ago that Marlo entered Atwood Hall, here in Lexington federal prison. Nearly all the women here are nonviolent offenders. When I first saw Marlo, her eyes seemed glued to the tiled floors as she shuffled along hallways. I guessed her age to be 25 or so. A few days later, she came to a choir rehearsal. She was still shy, but she looked up and offered a quiet smile when she joined the soprano section. The next time our choir gathered, Marlo raised her hand before we ended our rehearsal. "I got something to say," she said, as she stood. "When I first came here, I can tell all of you now, I was terrified. Just plain terrified. I have 70 months, and I felt so scared." The intake process for this, her introduction to the prison system, had badly frightened her, but before sundown that same day, a second intake process had occurred, with several inmates finding her, reassuring her, and getting her beyond that first panic.
During my four stints in U.S. federal prisons, I've witnessed long-term inmates' unconquerably humane response when a newcomer arrives. An unscripted choreography occurs and the new prisoner finds that other women will help her through the trauma of adjustment to being locked up for many months or years. Halfway through a three-month sentence myself, I'm saddened to realize that I'll very likely adapt to an outside world for which these women, and prisoners throughout the U.S. prison system, are often completely invisible.
U.S. state and federal prison populations have risen, since 1988, from 600,000 to an estimated 1,600,000 in 2012. This trend shows inhumane behavior on the part of lawmakers and myriads of employees who benefit from the so-called "criminal justice" system. But our entire society bears responsibility for what now can aptly be labeled a "prison-industrial complex." Constructing prisons and filling prisons with people who posed little or no threat to our security didn't happen secretively, without our consent. We watched, mesmerized perhaps, and allowed ourselves to become a country with the world's largest prison system.
A friend from home recently sent me encouraging news of Illinois Governor Rauner's initiative to address the problems in some of the United States' most brutally overcrowded prisons. A Chicago Tribune article from several weeks ago notes that Rauner plans to reduce the state's prison population by 25% over the next ten years, establishing the reduction as a goal through executive order. The article, by columnist Eric Zorn, cites a widely-cited recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice that "nearly 75% of the population of both sentenced offenders and pretrial detainees are in jail for nonviolent offenses like traffic, property, drugs or public order violations."
Skyrocketing costs of incarceration have finally convinced some lawmakers to work toward "reducing prison populations." Yesterday, I read a long report about how the California Department of Corrections has responded to a court-ordered demand that the state reduce the numbers of people locked up in California state prisons. The order was first issued in 2009 by a three-judge panel. The state appealed the order, but in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld it, ordering the state of California to comply by 2013. The California government sought and was granted two extensions. As of now, the order insists that California must reduce its prison population, by 2016, to "no more than 137.5 percent of the design capacity" of its state prisons.
Whatever plans Gov. Rauner's committee proposes for Illinois, the notoriously incarceration-minded Illinois state legislature is likely to put up just as vigorous a fight. Meanwhile the California report discusses "cost-effective measures," "recidivism reduction results," "rehabilitative programming" and "programming slots" at "in-state contract facilities." The language, highly impersonal, suggests warehousing. I wonder if zookeepers might be more attentive to the individuality of the beings they cage.
Trapped in a cruel and uncaring system, women here in Atwood Hall reliably find humane ways to cope. Among many signs of daily generosity, one of my favorites is the practice of "window shopping." Women place extra items they can spare in the window sills nearest the stairwells. A new prisoner can find new fresh socks, a warm knit cap, books, magazines, pitchers – items that quickly disappear and are soon replenished.
Perhaps we'll begin to see a trend toward finding humane ways to cope with seemingly intractable problems in today's criminal justice system. The U.S. Supreme Court's insistence that the State of California must release many thousands of prisoners signals a trend in which, as Gov. Rauner's order recognizes, "States across the country have enacted bi-partisan, data driven and evidence based reforms that have reduced the use of incarceration and its costs while protecting and improving public safety." Zorn notes that the Mac Arthur Foundation recently granted $75 million for a 5 year "Safety and Justice Challenge" meant "to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about its prisons and jails."
I can't imagine a figure too high to pay, in dollars or in human work hours, to effectively challenge the way U.S. people think about safety and justice. In describing a class that he taught in a New Jersey maximum-security prison, Chris Hedges wrote:
The mass incarceration of primarily poor people of color, people who seldom have access to adequate legal defense and who are often kept behind bars for years for nonviolent crimes or for crimes they did not commit, is one of the most shameful mass injustices committed in the United States. The 28 men in my class have cumulatively spent 515 years in prison. Some of their sentences are utterly disproportionate to the crimes of which they are accused. Most are not even close to finishing their sentences or coming before a parole board, which rarely grants first-time applicants their liberty. Many of them are in for life. One of my students was arrested at the age of 14 for a crime that strong evidence suggests he did not commit. He will not be eligible for parole until he is 70. He never had a chance in court and because he cannot afford a private attorney he has no chance now of challenging the grotesque sentence handed to him as a child.
Here in Atwood Hall, guards and administrators know that they imprison humane, caring, generous and talented women, people not very different from their own relatives, friends and co-workers. Where are the "bad sisters" that could ever justify the punishment of isolating women like Marlo from their children and other loved ones for long and wearying years? I imagine that many BOP guards admire, as I do, the courage and fortitude of the women facing long sentences here. Do they wonder, sometimes, what courage would be required, in their own lives, to stop working as enforcers of the prison system? Or do they perhaps wish, sometimes, that the general public could muster up the will to stop voting for the prison system?
There is a cynical quote which a cynical friend of mine likes to quote to me, from the philosopher David Hume: "A prisoner who has neither money nor interest, discovers the impossibility of his escape, as well when he considers the obstinacy of the gaoler, as the walls and bars with which he is surrounded; and, in all attempts for his freedom, chooses rather to work upon the stone and iron of the one, than upon the inflexible nature of the other." It's the cliché of the prisoner attempting escape: the prisoner sees more hope tunneling out through bricks than appealing to the stone-faced jailer.
But who are the jailers? These prisons were built, and filled, in our name - in the name of making us "safer". More guards, more lawyers, judges, wardens, marshals, probation officers and court personnel would be hired even if the present ones resigned. Meanwhile the creative work to create real security, real community in the face of social dislocation and crime, would still need to be done. We, the broader public, must be the jailers. Sometimes we seem to be a stone rolling down the path of least resistance. But we're not stone. We can choose not to be jailers, and choose, instead, to be ever more inflexible in our resistance to injustice and to hatred born of fear.
I'm here among women, some of whom, I've been told, are supposed to be "hardened criminals." Fellow activists incarcerated in men's prisons likewise concur that the system is futile, merciless and wrongheaded. Our jailers, I'm convinced, can see this. Men like Governor Rauner, it seems, can see it, or his advisers can. Where are the inflexible ones keeping women like Marlo isolated from and lost to the world, trembling for their future for the next five years? I would like to make an appeal to you, and to myself two months from now when I've left here and once more rejoined the polite society of these women's "inflexible jailers." I choose to believe that we can be moved and these women can escape. I am writing this, as many have written and will write, to see if we're easier to move than iron and stone.
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (email@example.com), is in federal prison for participation in an anti-drone protest. She can receive mail at: KATHY KELLY 04971-045; FMC LEXINGTON; FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER; SATELLITE CAMP; P.O. BOX 14525; LEXINGTON, KY 40512.
Today we have news of yet another TSA agent arrested for child sexual abuse.
Well, why not? So many of his colleagues are in the same boat, at least the ones who have been caught.
Honoring NSA's Binney and Amb. White
Editor Note: In our age of careerism, it’s rare for high-ranking officials to sacrifice their powerful posts for principle, but that was what NSA’s William Binney and the late U.S. Ambassador Robert White did. Their sacrifices and integrity were honored by likeminded former government officials in Berlin on January 22, 2015.
By Ray McGovern
By Dave Lindorff
There were two times Republicans broke into fervent applause during this lame duck president's seventh State of the Union speech: the first was when he called for passage of "fast track" authority to negotiate and send to the Senate a Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact -- basically a NAAFTA for the Pacific region; the second was when he noted that he "won't be running for president again."
By Dave Lindorff
If you’re planning to commit an act of terror in the US and want to be left alone by the FBI, make sure your target is something, or someone, that the US government doesn’t like or care about.
By John Grant
By all means let’s mourn together; but let’s not be stupid together.
The costly debacle known as the Iraq War put the US government in a tough spot that's now exacerbated by the rise of the Islamic State in Anbar Province and western Syria.
By Dave Lindorff
When I was starting out as a reporter back in 1972, working for a little family-owned daily, the Middletown Press in central Connecticut, I had editors and a publisher who demanded the best from us. If I was covering a story -- whether it was a police blotter report, a town meeting, or a controversial decision by a local zoning board -- and I failed to ask an important question, I inevitably got a call from the editor telling me to get it answered and inserted into my article.
By Gary Lindorff
My ax is grinding
All by itself!
I can hear it giving itself to the grinding wheel
Every day when I wake up,
Most nights when I go to bed.
I am just grinding it.
What would I use it for?
To cut down my enemies to size?
To swing against the foundations of the NSA?
To destroy the diabolical machinery
That is excavating the tarsands in Alberta?
To obliterate all the missiles and missile silos...
By Dave Lindorff
Is it just me or does anyone else think like me that this whole uproar over the supposed foreign “threat” to Americans’ freedom in the form of warnings against showing a low-brow Hollywood comedy, “The Interview” is a pathetic farce?
I couldn't tell you about it and couldn't tell you why: ‘Gagged’ by the Government: a Police State Story
By Alfredo Lopez
For the past three months, I and other leaders of the organization May First/People Link have been under a federal subpoena to provide information we don't have. During that time, we have also been forbidden by a federal court "gag order" to tell anyone about that subpoena, although we had already announced it and commented on it before the order was sent. Finally, we were forbidden from telling anyone about the gag order itself.
Review of The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. 596 pages. Notes, Index. Hardcover $29.95; paperback $16.95).
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
In recent years, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has come under fire for disallowing scientists working for the Canadian government to speak directly to the press.
Photo Credit: U.S. Department of State
An article published in August by The New Republic said "Harper's antagonism toward climate-change experts in his government may sound familiar to Americans," pointing to similar deeds done by the George W. Bush Administration. That article also said that "Bush's replacement," President Barack Obama, "has reversed course" in this area.
Society for Professional Journalists, the largest trade association for professional journalists in the U.S., disagrees with this conclusion.
In a December 1 letter written to Gina McCarthy, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the society chided the Obama administration for its methods of responding to journalists' queries to speak to EPA-associated scientists.
"We write to urge you again to clarify that members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB) and the twenty other EPA science advisory committees have the right and are encouraged to speak to the public and the press about any scientific issues, including those before these committees, in a personal capacity without prior authorization from the agency," said the letter.
"We urge you...to ensure that EPA advisory committee members are encouraged share their expertise and opinions with those who would benefit from it."