Category Archives: Civil Liberties

California Scheming: Democrats Betray Single-Payer Again

Nothing better illustrates the political bankruptcy of the Democratic Party—for all progressive intents and purposes—than California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon’s announcement on Friday afternoon that he was going to put a “hold” on the single-payer health care bill (SB 562) for the state, effectively killing its passage for at least the year.

The Democratic Party finds itself in a bind in California. They hold the governorship and a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, so they can pass any bill they want. SB 562 had passed the Senate 23-14.

There was enormous enthusiasm among California progressive activists, who, with organizations like Campaign for a Healthy California (CHC,) and  the National Nurses United (NNU,) and the California Nurses Association (CNA) were working tirelessly, and hopeful of success.  After all, Bernie’s people were taking over the California party from the bottom since the election. I recall a night of drinking last year with an old friend who has been spearheading that effort, as he rebuffed my skepticism, and insisted that this time there would be a really progressive takeover of the California party, and single-payer would prove it. After all, once enough progressive pressure was been put on the legislators, the bill would be going to super-progressive Democratic Governor, Jerry Brown, who had made advocacy of single-payer a centerpiece of his run for President in 1992, saying: “We treat health care not as a commodity to be played with for profit but rather the right of every American citizen when they’re born.” Bernie foretold.

Unfortunately, today that Governor is, according to Paul Song, co-chair of the CHC, “doing everything he can to make sure this never gets on his desk.” And it won’t. Unfortunately, all the Democrats like Rendon, who “claims to be a personal supporter of single-payer,” will make sure that their most progressive governor is not put in the embarrassing position of having to reject what he’s been ostensibly arguing for for twenty-five years, of demonstrating so blatantly what a fraud his, and his party’s, progressive pretensions are.

Thus unfolds the typical Democratic strategy: Make all kinds of progressive noises and cast all kinds of progressive votes, while carefully managing the process so that the legislation the putatively progressives putatively support never gets enacted. Usually, they blame Republican obstructionism, and there certainly is enough of that, and where there is, it provides a convenient way for Democrat legislator to “support” legislation they know will be blocked and wouldn’t really enact themselves if they could.

In the California case, the dissembling is obvious. The Republicans can’t be blamed. The only thing standing in the way of single-payer in California is the Democratic Party. As it was on the national level in 2009, when Obama and the Democrats could have passed any healthcare bill they wanted, just as they passed the Republican-inspired, gift to the for-profit health insurance industry, the ACA—without a single Republican vote. It was true-believing capitalist Democrats like Max Baucus, led by Obama and his sidekick Rahm Emanuel (who called leftists “fucking retarded”) who arrested single-payer activists (including doctors) in order to prevent single-payer from even being considered. It was they who strong-armed reluctant Democratic legislators, who had signed an oath not to do so, into passing a bill that leaves 28 million Americans without health insurance, and forces the rest into plans whose premiums rise and networks of coverage shrink every year.

In fact, the perfectly reasonable discontent with that plan probably had more to do with helping Trump win than did any actions of bad-old (as opposed to good-new) James Comey. As Marcy Wheeler pointed out, in a analysis that’s contested but should certainly not be ignored, Hillary’s fatal slide in the polls began before Comey’s notorious letter of October 28th, and coincided with the announcement, four days before, of steep Obamacare premium increases. You decide whether you think Anthony Weiner’s sexting emails, part three, had more effect on voters than anger over being hit with stiff premium increases (22% average, 25% in 20 states, 60% in some) on increasingly crappy policies:

So the Democrats create the ground for Trump by passing a lousy healthcare law that’s sure to piss people off rather quickly, then use the even worse plan that the Republicans come up with to do nothing but trash Trump, while blocking real progressives’ attempts to get the only plan that would actually cover all Americans and save money. In Colorado last November, Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper refused to support a single-payer referendum because he “didn’t want to disrupt” the “strides [made] under Obamacare.” The Democrats’ ACA marched the nation straight into the shoals of Trump and the Republicans’ ACHA, and now the Democrats are blocking the only plan that solves the problems of both.

As Deborah Burger, Co-President of the California Nurses Association put it, Assembly Speaker Rendon, “Acting in secret in the interests of the profiteering insurance companies late Friday afternoon abandons all those people already threatened by Congress and the Trump administration.”

The excuse, of course, from California Democrats and Governor Jerry Brown is that they don’t know how they are going to pay for it, especially on the state level. That would be the same Jerry Brown who explained in 1992 exactly how single-payer would cut costs:

You cut out all the private health insurance. You have one single payer either at the national level or through the 50 states. And that one single payer will be the one that negotiates with the doctors, the hospitals, and the other providers. And since you have only one source of income in the whole medical establishment, you can drive down the cost.

Leaving aside the indispensable point that healthcare, like education and clean water, should be considered a non-discretionary expense, one of the main advantages of single-payer is precisely that it’s the only plan that can cut costs significantly. Not having single-payer will not mean healthcare will cost less; it will cost more every year, for every person and in the aggregate. It just means the for-profit insurance and pharmaceutical companies won’t care. The real problem with single-payer isn’t about costs to the people or to the state; it’s about profits for those companies.

Besides, an economy the size of California has immense power. We’re not talking about Utah. All the hospitals and doctors and pharmaceutical companies are not going to stop selling their goods and services in California. And once single-payer becomes a reality in California, it will catalyze a movement in every other state and on the national level. That—the fact that it will start a wildfire of imitation—and not the fact that it’s too expensive, is what the California Democratic Party is desperate to avoid, and what its donors and lobbyists are ordering it to block.

This is the Democratic Party. Lying losers who will do anything to avoid taking an effective stance for a healthcare policy that would immediately solve one of the worst horrors American families face every day, that would be immediately and concretely helpful to everyone, and, to top it all off, would be immensely popular. The dissembling Democrats are throwing away just about the most popular policy anyone could imagine—something people are literally dying for. As Charles Idelson, spokesman for the NNU, says: “There is broad support for single-payer not only in California, but nationally, even among registered Republicans and Republican and conservative business leaders.”

Passing single-payer in California and fighting for it everywhere else would guarantee the Democrats electoral victories. But they will not do it—they’ll say they will, but they will not—because they are fervent supporters of the capitalist market system in healthcare (and everything else), and they are corrupt agents of the health insurance and pharma industries.

Because it captures and cages the energies of so many well-meaning progressives, the Democratic Party is the most effective obstacle to, and enemy of, single-payer, and it has to be fought. People in wheelchairs and cancer patients and all their healthy friends should be sitting in and obstructing Democrat Rendon’s, as well as any Republican’s, office, until he lets the bill through. Then they should move on to the Democratic governor’s office. And thence to Pelosi’s and Schumer’s offices as well as Graham’s and Ryan’s. This is not a Trump problem, and not a Republican problem, it’s a bipartisan capitalist elite problem.

We have to engage in this kind of fight against all of these politicians. Anyone who thinks such a fight can be avoided in order to play the Democrats’ game of defending the for-profit insurance plan called Obamacare while obsessing about Trump being a Russian spy, is helping to perpetuate this rotten healthcare system. Twenty-eight million people are now without healthcare, and, if the Republicans’ edited version of Obamacare passes (which it probably won’t, because even many Republicans know they can’t get away with making things worse than they are), there’ll be twenty-four million more. There is no time for either of these contemptuous parties and their contemptuous bullshit.

by JIM KAVANAGH/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

James Baldwin FBI Files: How the Author’s Fearlessness Led to a Decade Long Witch-hunt

One of the many paradoxes of American society is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become both destroyer and archivists of 20th-century American radicalism. It has consistently provided to the public the intellectually sexiest of all public government documents — an FBI file on the life of an American radical. The bureau’s counter-intelligence program (COINTEL-PRO), a division of the FBI that spied on and attempted to disrupt and destroy American radical movements from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, produced tons of paper that scholars and others have asked for, read and studied for the past 40 years.

Enter William Maxwell, a major scholar of the FBI and Black literature. In his new book, he shows that from the 1960s through the mid-1970s, the bureau treated James Baldwin, the Negro writer, as a “civil rights VIP” because the author and activist was at the crossroads of every shade of Black American activism of that period — Martin Luther King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the radical Black leftist Robert Williams, the Nation of Islam under Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad, and the Black Panther Party. Because he kept this level of company and integrity, the FBI put Baldwin in its “Independent Black Nationalist Extremist” category.

The book shows not only how the novelist was monitored by the FBI, but how Baldwin, who often claimed in interviews and speeches that he knew that the bureau and the Central Intelligence Agency were stalking him, fought back by publicly claiming he was going to write about the bureau’s devilish acts. The intellectual’s public threat enraged FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who had become one of the most powerful men in 20th-century America by mastering the sinister art of spying and disruption. Baldwin referred to Hoover as “history’s most highly paid (and most utterly useless) voyeur.”

“James Baldwin: The FBI File” is exciting and humorous in all the right and wrong historical ways. The disturbing civil liberties and privacy issues aside, it is always historically entertaining to see how afraid and ignorant white authorities were of Black people, particularly Black activists. One burst-out-laughing moment was when one agent described Baldwin’s elegant, flamboyant diction as a French accent. “Both uncloseted homosexuality and open criticism of the FBI were capital offenses in Hoover’s extra-legal criminal code,” reminds Maxwell, “and Baldwin was especially suspect for combining them in one super-articulate package. … The more Baldwin spoke out against FBI failings, the more dangerous he was judged and the more starkly this tension was set: one of America’s greatest living writers was also one of America’s most wanted.”

Baldwin made statements in these pages that in 2017 would get him banned from sitting on an MSNBC live roundtable but would get detailed negative coverage from Fox News. In a summary report, the FBI took the writer/activist’s quotes from a 1963 Washington, D.C., newspaper account of him speaking at Howard: “I wonder how long we can endure — stand and not fight back. … Many … even members of my own family who would think nothing of picking up arms tomorrow.” He was not afraid to often say that it was revolution that the United States needed — and not the mostly symbolic, electoral one Bernie Sanders is talking about today. One of Baldwin’s softer statements, translated from French, states, “We represent around 10 percent of the American population. Without talking about starting a revolution, it is certainly enough to destroy society.”

The bureau, which also created internal reviews of Baldwin’s books, officially gave up harassing the writer in 1974. Wrote Maxwell: “The nearly 2,000-page Bureau biography of Baldwin that took off with his speech before the Liberation Committee for Africa in 1961 thus landed with a whimper, a delisting rather [than] an arrest, an escape or a hard-to-imagine conversion to Hooverism.”

Like his Black activist contemporaries, Baldwin’s FBI files remind the reader how powerful Black activism was before it was co-opted by desegregation, Corporate America, the Democratic Party, the expansion of local and national broadcasting and film (and now, social media), and white nonprofit grant givers. That time’s political and social improvisation, along with the audacity of optimistic public self-determination, well documented here, makes the spirit hum.

Not surprisingly, this story of FBI easedropping doesn’t hide the movement infighting. Reading about how Stanley Levinson, Dr. King’s (white) leftist aide and ghostwriter, used the homophobic card in attacking Baldwin for saying (white) liberals were partly responsible for the bombing of the four little girls in a Birmingham, Ala., Baptist church, was fascinating. (Hoover, who saw Baldwin as both militant Black terrorist and homosexual pervert, enjoyed that tidbit.) The reports remind us now in 2017 how angry and militant Black activists were after that bombing.

The book’s major disappointment, however, is that the publisher, literally photocopying the bureau’s file, didn’t take the time, spend the money or make the effort to digitally clear up the unnecessarily unreadable English-language articles and translate the French interviews included. Even if this scholarly book supposedly triples as a coffee-table text and an advertisement for the author’s historically significant website archiving the FBI files of major Black American writers, Arcade’s refusal to do the extra work makes the total product pointlessly annoying; the author should be slightly embarrassed. Showcasing the powerful, public resistance of this world-historical figure should involve the most effort possible, because his words, public associations and open-air acts were so brave, bold and inspiring. No idea, no statement, should be left undocumented, untranslated and unanalyzed. History demands better, and Maxwell and Arcade know that and should have done better.

Maxwell, who correctly describes the FBI’s COINTEL-PRO files as “strange documents of both literally criticism and secret police work,” is yet another intellectual who has taken the academic field of Baldwin Studies a significant public step toward the full biographies that will one day exist now that Baldwin’s family has finally released much of his papers to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. “James Baldwin: The FBI File” includes a particularly powerful introduction by Maxwell comparing Baldwin’s public work and government harassment to the largely Facebooked and Tweeted, and therefore heavily monitored, Black Lives Matter movement: “Likely the single thing that Hoover’s bureau shares with Black Lives Matter, in fact, is the once-uncommon judgment that Baldwin was the ’60s’ most significant Black author.”

This collection of documents reminds Black America what real power looked like and could look like again. It should be experienced along with Raoul Peck’s superb Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro.” It must be purchased, read, passed around Black America and discussed in and out of the classroom immediately. Maxwell should be congratulated for allowing the reader, the recipient of Baldwin’s life and work, to read (into) the raw rage and fear of those faraway, somewhen days and nights filled with revolutionary fervor — that powerful time the pen and the sword threatened to merge.

By Todd Burroughs/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Taking on the Alt-Reich

Hitler’s American Model: the United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law, by James Q. Whitman, brings into full view the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924’s place in the context of Nazi theory and practice, writes Scott McLemee.

Finding himself in prison following the beer-hall fiasco in Munich in 1923, Adolf Hitler had time to put his thoughts about politics and destiny into order, at least as much as that was possible. The United States was part of his grand vision, and not as someplace to conquer.

“The racially pure and still unmixed German has risen to become master of the American continent,” he wrote in Mein Kampf, “and he will remain the master, as long as he does not fall victim to racial pollution.” He was encouraged on the latter score by what he had learned of American immigration policy. With its stated preference for Northern Europeans, its restrictions on those from Southern and Eastern Europe, and its outright exclusion of everyone else, the Immigration Act of 1924 impressed Hitler as exemplary. It manifested, “at least in tentative first steps,” what he and his associates saw as “the characteristic völkisch conception of the state,” as defined in some detail by the Nazi Party Program of 1920.

Revulsion is an understandable response to this little traipse through the ideological sewer, but it is wholly inadequate for assessing the full measure of the facts or their implications. The admiration for American immigration policy expressed in Mein Kampf was not a passing thought on the day’s news (Hitler had been in prison for about two months when Calvin Coolidge signed the act into law) nor a one-off remark. Its place in the full context of Nazi theory and practice comes into view in Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law (Princeton University Press) by James Q. Whitman, a professor of comparative and foreign law at Yale Law School.

Many people will take the very title as an affront. But it’s the historical reality the book discloses that proves much harder to digest. The author does not seem prone to sensationalism. The argument is made in two succinct, cogent and copiously documented chapters, prefaced and followed with remarks that remain within the cooler temperatures of expressed opinion (e.g.: “American contract law, for example, is, in my opinion, exemplary in its innovativeness”).

Hitler’s American Model is scholarship and not an editorial traveling incognito. Its pages contain many really offensive statements about American history and its social legacy. But those statements are all from primary sources — statements about America, made by Nazis, usually in the form of compliments.

“The most important event in the history of the states of the Second Millennium — up until the [First World] War — was the founding of the United States of America,” wrote a Nazi historian in 1934. “The struggle of the Aryans for world domination thereby received its strongest prop.” Another German author developed the point two years later, saying that “a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged” without American leadership on the global stage following the war.

Examples could be multiplied. The idea of the United States as a sort of alt-Reich was a Nazi commonplace, at least in the regime’s early years. But it was not just a matter of following Hitler’s lead. The white-supremacist and eugenicist writings of Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard — among the best-selling American authors of a 100 years ago — circulated in translation in the milieu that spawned Hitler. (I don’t recall Hannah Arendt mentioning Grant or Stoddard in Origins of Totalitarianism, oddly enough.) A popular Nazi magazine praised lynching as “the natural resistance of the Volk to an alien race that is attempting to gain the upper hand.” European visitors noted the similarity between the Ku Klux Klan and fascist paramilitary groups like the Brownshirts, and they compared the post-Reconstruction order in the South to the Nazi system.

But the journalistic analogies and propaganda talking points of the day, while blatant enough, don’t convey the depth of American influence on Nazi race law. The claim of influence runs against the current of much recent scholarship arguing that Nazi references to the Jim Crow system were “few and fleeting” and that American segregation laws had little or no impact on the Nuremberg Laws. (At the Nuremberg rally of 1935, the Nazis proclaimed citizenship limited to those “of German blood, or racially related blood” and outlawed marriage or sexual relations between Jews and German citizens.)

While the Nazis did call attention to segregation in the United States — so the argument goes — it was to deflect criticism of German policy. The error here, as Whitman sees it, comes from treating the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson as the primary or quintessential legal component of racial oppression in the United States, and presumably the one Nazi jurists would have looked to in reshaping German policy. But, according to Whitman, “American race law” in the 19th and much of the 20th century:

sprawled over a wide range of technically distinct legal areas … [including] Indian law, anti-Chinese and -Japanese legislation, and disabilities in civil procedure and election law …. Anti-miscegenation laws on the state level featured especially prominently … [as] did immigration and naturalization law on the federal level ….

Even before the outbreak of World War I, German scholars were fascinated by this teeming mass of American racist law — with a particular interest in what one of them identified as a new category of “subjects without citizenship rights” (or second-class citizens, to put it another way) defined by race or country of ancestry. By the 1930s, the anti-miscegenation laws in most American states were another topic of great concern. While many countries regarded interracial marriage as undesirable, Nazi jurists “had a hard time uncovering non-American examples” of statutes prohibiting it.

A stenographic transcript from 1934 provides Whitman’s most impressive evidence of how closely Nazi lawyers and functionaries had studied American racial jurisprudence. A meeting of the Commission on Criminal Law Reform “involved repeated and detailed discussion of the American example, from its very opening moments,” Whitman writes, including debate between Nazi radicals and what we’d have to call, by default, Nazi moderates.

The moderates argued that legal tradition required consistency. Any new statute forbidding mixed-race marriages had to be constructed in accord with the one existing precedent for treating a marriage as criminal: the law against bigamy. This would have been a bit of a stretch, and the moderates preferred letting the propaganda experts discourage interracial romance rather than making it a police matter.

The radicals were working from a different conceptual tool kit. Juristic tradition counted for less than what Hitler had called the “völkisch conception of the state,” which demanded Aryan supremacy and racial purity. It made more sense to them to follow an example that had been tried and tested. One of the hard-core Nazis on the commission knew where to turn:

Now as far as the delineation of the race concept goes, it is interesting to take a look at the list of American states. Thirty of the states of the union have race legislation, which, it seems clear to me, is crafted from the point of view of race protection. … I believe that apart from the desire to exclude if possible a foreign political influence that is becoming too powerful, which I can imagine is the case with regard to the Japanese, this is all from the point of race protection.

The lawyers whom Whitman identifies as Nazi radicals seemed to appreciate how indifferent the American states were to German standards of rigor. True, the U.S. laws showed a lamentable indifference to Jews and Gentiles marrying. But otherwise they were as racist as anything the führer could want. “The image of America as seen through Nazi eyes in the early 1930s is not the image we cherish,” Whitman writes, “but it is hardly unrecognizable.”

By Scott McLemee/InsideHigherED

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Supreme Court Strikes Down Ban on Offensive Trademarks

  A Washington Redskins helmet. (AP)

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday struck down part of a law that bans offensive trademarks, ruling in favor of an Asian-American rock band called the Slants and giving a major boost to the Washington Redskins in their separate legal fight over the team name.

The justices were unanimous in saying that the 71-year-old trademark law barring disparaging terms infringes free speech rights guaranteed in the Constitution’s First Amendment.

“It offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court.

Slants founder Simon Tam tried to trademark the band name in 2011, but the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office denied the request on the ground that it disparages Asians. A federal appeals court in Washington later said the law barring offensive trademarks is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court agreed.

The Redskins made similar arguments after the trademark office ruled in 2014 that the name offends American Indians and canceled the team’s trademark. That case, before a federal appeals court in Richmond, had been on hold while the Supreme Court considered the Slants case.

Tam insisted he was not trying to be offensive, but wanted to transform a derisive term into a statement of pride. The Redskins also contend their name honors American Indians, but the team has faced decades of legal challenges from Indian groups that say the name is racist.

Tam said the band was “beyond humbled and thrilled” with the ruling.

“This journey has always been much bigger than our band: it’s been about the rights of all marginalized communities to determine what’s best for ourselves,” he said.

Despite intense public pressure to change the Redskins name, team owner Dan Snyder has refused, saying in the past that it “represents honor, respect and pride” for Native Americans.

Snyder issued a quick statement after Monday’s decision: “I am THRILLED. Hail to the Redskins.”

Redskins attorney Lisa Blatt said the court’s decision effectively resolves the Redskins’ longstanding dispute with the government.

“The Supreme Court vindicated the team’s position that the First Amendment blocks the government from denying or cancelling a trademark registration based on the government’s opinion,” Blatt said.

Trademark office spokesman Paul Fucito said officials are reviewing the court’s ruling and planned to issue further guidance on how they will review trademark applications.

Indian groups opposing the Redskins said the ruling does not change the fact that the name “is a dictionary-defined racial slur.”

“If the NFL wants to live up to its statements about placing importance on equality, then it shouldn’t hide behind these rulings, but should act to the end this hateful and degrading slur,” said a joint statement from the National Congress of American Indians and the group Change the Mascot.

The ruling means offensive trademarks can no longer be denied, even for names that intend to disparage individuals or groups of people, said Megan Carpenter, dean at the University of New Hampshire School of Law and an expert on trademark law.

While the justices all agreed on the outcome, they split in their rationale. Alito rejected arguments that the government has an interest in preventing speech that is offensive to certain groups.

“Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought we hate,” Alito said in a part of his opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer.

Writing separately, Justice Anthony Kennedy stressed that the ban on disparaging trademarks was a clear form of viewpoint discrimination forbidden under the First Amendment.

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all,” Kennedy said in an opinion joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonya Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Justice Neil Gorsuch took no part in the case, which was argued before he joined the court.

Government officials said the law did not infringe on free speech rights because the band was still free to use the name even without trademark protection. The same is true for the Redskins, but the team did not want to lose the legal protections that go along with a registered trademark. The protections include blocking the sale of counterfeit merchandise and working to pursue a brand development strategy.

Critics of the law said the trademark office has been wildly inconsistent over the years in deciding what terms are too offensive to warrant trademark protection. The government has in the past rejected trademarks for the terms “Heeb” and “Injun,” but allowed those for companies such as Baked By A Negro bakery products, Midget Man condoms, and Dago Swagg clothing.

By Sam Hananel/Associated Pres

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Supreme Court Ruling On Ohio Voter Purge Will Have Long-Range Impact on Black Votes

The United States Supreme Court’s decision to review a challenge to Ohio’s voters roll purge policy brings the question of voter discrimination to the forefront again.

In a case brought by Black trade unionist organization the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Larry Harmon, an Ohio voter, Ohio’s “Supplemental Process” is being challenged as a violation of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby v. Holder that gutted Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Southern states with a history of discrimination to get Justice Department approval before changing their voting laws, a stream of new “voting laws” have become commonplace. Be it voters roll purges, restricting voter registration or access to actual voting, the growing number of voter disenfranchisement cases speaks of a changing populace and the lengths some will go to to hold on to power.

To a certain extent, federal law mandates voters roll purges. The Help America Vote Act — which passed under George W. Bush to help eliminate the “dangling chad” problem of the 2000 presidential election, where punch-card ballots led to the spoiling of almost two million votes — requires the maintenance of accurate and timely registration databases. The problem is that the law does not clearly enumerate how this is supposed to happen. Many states have developed poorly or maliciously designed purging rules that have led to the disenfranchisement of lawful, eligible voters.

“Ohio’s practice of purging infrequent voters from the rolls has prevented countless eligible Ohioans from casting their votes and making their voices heard, and violates the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA),” Brenda Wright, vice president for policy and legal strategies at Demos, said in a statement. “The NVRA clearly prohibits states from systematically preventing eligible persons from exercising their right to vote by removing voters from the rolls based on their failure to vote.”

Understanding Voters Roll Purges

To begin with, it should be noted that voters roll purges are not necessarily a bad thing. Just as a shark is an important part of the ecosystem, voters roll purges are meant to keep the voting ecology on track. As envisioned by the Help America Vote Act, voters roll purges are meant to shrink voter registration rolls of the nonvoters that could slow down or otherwise impede same-day registration or on-site voting.

Most states remove voters either at the request of the voters themselves or with tangential proof, such as notification of voter registration from another state, notification of change of state driving license, notification of address change or notification of death. Ohio’s strategy however is to target “occasional” voters for exclusion. Ohio, one of a few states to punish nonvoting with the possibility of de-registration, defined “occasional” as not voting in a two-year period.

This is problematic because many Democrats only vote in presidential elections. The way Ohio’s law is set up theoretically punishes voters that sit out mid-term elections or voters who abstain from voting during a federal election, without consideration of why they may not be voting. Many working-class voters, for example, may not be able to get time off from work to vote — despite federal labor laws that mandate employers provide employees with paid voting time, if needed — or may not be able to secure transportation or child care.

“Ohio has purged hundreds of thousands of people from the voters rolls simply because they have exercised their right not to vote in a few elections,” Freda Levenson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said in a statement. “This purge process violates the National Voter Registration Act. We are confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the correct decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and will ultimately ensure that eligible Ohio voters may not be stricken from the rolls.”

According to Reuters, the repercussion of Ohio’s voters roll purge could be extreme. An examination of Ohio’s three largest counties — which include the cities of Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus — found that purging efforts disenfranchised neighborhoods with a high proportion of poor, Black residents the hardest. The Reuters analysis found that, because Republicans participate in mid-term elections at a higher rate than Democrats, Ohio’s voters roll purge mandate hits Democrats 2:1 to Republicans. With more than 144,000 residents purged under this law between 2012 and 2016 in just the three counties — more than Barack Obama’s margin of victory in the state in 2012 — this can make a significant difference in a swing state that has been instrumental in presidential elections.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon A. Husted, who supports the law and who is running to be the Republican nominee for governor in 2018, argues that voters who do not vote have themselves to blame. The Ohio law requires voters who have been contacted regarding potential removal to contact their board of elections by postcard or to engage in an electoral action — such as voting, requesting a change of address with the board or filing an application for an absentee ballot — within four years following the notice. “If this is really an important thing to you in your life — voting — you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” Husted said in an interview.

Ohio’s law also requires that de-registered voters re-register 30 days before an election. This, in effect, excludes those who learned of their loss of registration at the voting place from getting emergency relief. This includes many of the “occasional” voters who helped to elevate Obama to the presidency in 2008.

The National Voting Rights Act prohibits states from eliminating voters from voting rolls for simply not voting. However, because HAVA gives the states dominion to decide how to manage their own rolls and because the Supreme Court has traditionally been lax in protecting voting rights, Ohio’s voters roll law has a fair chance of surviving the conservative-slanted Court.

“It is hard to prove if all of this is being done for partisan reasons,” Rich Saphire, professor emeritus at the University of Dayton School of Law and advising attorney with the ACLU, said. The ACLU is monitoring this and other voters roll purge cases and has spoken out against the use of the practice for discriminatory reasons.

“The data simply does not show a pattern that can be easily pointed out,” Saphire said. “However, as we do know who these laws would likely hurt, we can make a guess at the motivations behind them.”

Redefining the Right to Vote

This case follows the tide of recent Supreme Court challenges to race-based redistricting in North Carolina and Georgia. The attempt to curtail voting access continues a chain of voting challenges that started with the controversial 2013 Supreme Court ruling to overturn the Voting Rights Act coverage formula. The coverage formula determined which areas of the United States the Department of Justice could request pre-clearance from for any potential voting access change. These areas were regions that were identified as being the most likely to pass restrictive or discriminatory voting access legislation.

Without the coverage formula, the Justice Department has no prescribed regions to oversee, effectively killing the prerequisite requirement. Former pre-clearance states have taken full advantage of their new freedom. Texas, for example, has since passed a redistricting map that exploited “racial packing” and other methodologies — such as stricter voter ID rules — to maintain and strengthen Republican control of the state, despite a growing Latino population.

North Carolina issued what was called the worst voter ID bill in recent history. The law reduced the number of voting sites, slashed the days of early voting, eliminated same-day registration and pre-registration of 16- and 17-year olds, prevented counties from extending voting hours to accommodate long lines, banned the use of college IDs as voting IDs and outlawed certain types of voter registration drives. This was topped with an aggressive redistricting effort that created two majority-minority “super-districts” that effectively siphoned the Black vote from the majority of the other state districts.

These efforts have been driven by the republican accusations of massive voter fraud. Despite the fact that voting fraud is statistically exceptionally rare in the United States, the reality is that incident rates of voter fraud are between 0.0003 and 0.0025, per the Brennan Center for Justice. It’s statistically easier to get struck by lightning in the United States than to successfully commit impersonation voter fraud. Republicans however use the specter of electoral misdeeds to justify restrictive voting legislation.

Since the inception of the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which permitted state departments of motor vehicles to include voter registration forms on applications and renewal forms, the GOP has argued that the ease of registration could invite possible fraud, especially in light of the fact that no federal agency was in charge of supervising this expansion.

Today, this false narrative of voter fraud is interwoven with the Republicans’ core platform. Donald Trump’s oft-repeated claim that millions of votes in the 2016 presidential election were falsely recorded and his promise to “investigate” this may be more than just his effort to sooth a bruised ego that can’t get passed winning the presidency despite losing the popular vote. It may be an effort to silence voters who may vote against him and the Republicans in 2020 and throughout the foreseeable future.

Partisanship Today

With partisanship in the United States on the rise, there is a valid concern that the aggressive use of discriminatory voting practice may turn the United States into effectively an oligarchy, where politicians choose who can vote and who they can vote for.

“This can definitely be considered a crisis of our system of democracy,” Wright said. “The problem is not that there are too many people voting. The problem is that there are eligible voters that cannot vote. We must put our energy into working to get these people registered and ensuring that there are no encumbrances toward their implementation of their constitutional right.”

Wright pointed out that the level of voter disenfranchisement today makes this time in American history unique. While the nature of party politics suggests that the party in power takes advantage of the situation to enhance and maintain its power, not since Reconstruction has a party taken the steps the Republican Party has to not only limit the size of the electorate but also to deny voters the right to pick a representative who actually represent them. Wright states. “If we as a democracy are to continue, we must be willing to hear everyone and not just those that agree with us.”

By Frederick Reese/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

10 Things Everyone Must Know About Terrorism

(TFC) Terrorism is a complex subject, but the key elements can be distilled and presented in an internet-friendly format. Welcome to the definitive listicle on terrorism. This is the bare bones, so process all of it. Don’t skim this one.

Terrorism is “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear. It is intended to coerce or intimidate governments or societies. Terrorists usually pursue political, religious, or ideological goals. Enemies who cannot compete with Army forces conventionally often turn to terrorist tactics. Terrorist attacks often create a disproportionate effect on even the most capable conventional forces.” (FM 3-0, 9-37) Even within the United States government, there are varying definitions related to terrorism. Most agencies tailor the definition to suit their mission and therefore increase their budget. The above definition is as close to a consensus as can be found.

Terrorism is not an ideology. It is a military strategy and a set of tactics. That’s it. While in today’s politically charged climate, the following statement will certainly be viewed with contempt, it needs to be said. Terrorism should not be a dirty word. Some of the world’s greatest heroes employed terrorism. That’s why you’ll find many writings use the term “asymmetrical warfare”. It’s terrorism by another name. Specifically, it’s the name the US government uses to describe the tactics of its allies who engage in terrorism.

 Terrorist success rates are high. Most estimates suggest that 85 to 90% of initiated terrorist attacks are successful. If a group is committed to using these tactics, they will be successful at the operational level. 

Terrorist attacks are militarily ineffective. The most spectacular terrorist attack in history occurred on the morning of September 11th, 2001. It’s still talked about and used as a justification for military actions today. Without a doubt, the 9/11 attacks were the most successful terrorist attacks in history. They did not hinder the US warfighting capability in the slightest way. So why do terrorists use a militarily ineffective tactic?

Terrorism is an advertising campaign. An act of terrorism is designed to bring attention to a specific grievance or list of grievances. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the IRA’s short term goal of “Brits out!” Other times, it’s a more complicated series of demands relating to ideology or religion or even a desire to completely undermine entire societal systems. The Unabomber wasn’t killing simply to kill and scare people. He was killing to draw attention to his beliefs.

The public reaction to an attack is more important than your actual emotions. Most of the world saw the man fleeing the London terrorist attack with his pint of beer in hand. That image is an image that defeats terrorism. The “Keep calm and carry on” mantra defeats terrorism. 24-hour news coverage, changing your social media profile, or hashtagging #PrayForPickTheNextCity encourages terrorism. Why? The goal of terrorism is advertising. It’s about dominating headlines. When you prolong the coverage, you are helping the terrorist. By the same token, emotional displays of anger and fear, such as the one from the Representative from Louisiana, Clay Higgins, provide the terrorists with exactly what they want. His rant can already be found on Al-Jazeera and will undoubtedly be used in ISIS propaganda videos. Islamic State strategists couldn’t have written a more useful response themselves.

“All of Christendom… is at war with Islamic Horror.” Thank you, Mr. Higgins, for providing the Islamic State with the perfect propaganda quote to promote the idea of Jihad to non-radicalized Muslims. You said it. It’s a Holy War between “all of Christendom” and Islam. I don’t say this lightly, but you’re an idiot and if you can’t control your emotions, you need to resign.

Terrorism is not new, nor is it going away. The use of surprise, unconventional, dirty, and horrifically brutal attacks against soft targets is as old as warfare itself. Modern incarnations of terrorism didn’t originate in the Middle East. They originated in Ireland after the Easter Rising in 1916. Car bombs, assassinations on public streets, and other modern terrorist tactics were pioneered by a man widely regarded as a hero today. Think back to the legends of Disney cartoons. Robin “taxation is theft” Hood fits the role of terrorist quite well, does he not?

Acts of terrorism create two kinds of victims. The obvious victim is the one who is maimed or killed in the actual attack. The second victim is in the viewing audience. The victim is the person who becomes overwhelmed by horror and allows emotion to override reason. If you believe we should “kill them all,” you’re a victim of terrorism. If you look the other way while your country bombs civilians, you’re a victim of terrorism. If you’re scared of a woman wearing a hijab, you’re a victim of terrorism. If you understand the above, you’re less likely to become one of the less obvious victims of terrorism. If you understand what’s below, you will never surrender to terrorism no matter what the cost may be.

The most important thing to know about terrorism is about you, personally. Many will claim the terrorists are out to destroy our way of life. The last time I checked, our way of life didn’t involve murdering civilians in reprisal. It didn’t involve being afraid of our own shadows. Either what we believe to be good and noble and true is good and noble and true, and is worth defending even to the point of death, or it isn’t worth defending at all. If you’re willing to kill children in airstrikes, you aren’t making tough decisions and you aren’t displaying the measure of a man. You’re a coward. You’ve sold out your proclaimed principles because you’re scared. Our civilization made a very quick descent from “you have nothing to fear but fear itself” to a President who talks about murdering the families of the opposition. If you think murdering families is ok, you’ve allowed your fear to override your reason. You’ve betrayed any beliefs you once held regarding honor simply because you’re scared. You’ve just become another butcher. Don’t try to paint that as being tough. It isn’t. We see you for what you are. You know the relatives of those murdered indiscriminately will take up arms and kill other civilians, you’re just banking it won’t be you. You aren’t a better man because you want to do it for a red, white, and blue flag and the other guy wants to do it for a black and white one. Indiscriminate murder is still indiscriminate murder.

Do not be misled by the cowardice of elected officials. Be braver, be stronger, and maintain your honor. If you want to “make America great”, you can’t sell out the principles that might accomplish that. If you’ve become so afraid that you’re willing to commit the same atrocities as those we claim to stand against, there’s nothing left to fight for. Today’s officials react from a place of fear, they do not lead from a place of honor or principle. You have to lead yourself. You have to steel your own resolve. Nobody will give you encouraging speeches to remind you that without our principles of justice, we are the Islamic State. It’s too hard. It requires too much to display the courage to say do your worst and we will remain. It’s easier to simply engage in a war of attrition and hope we walk away the victors. There is no victory if we surrender who we are.

If you want to win the war on terror, you cannot allow yourself to be terrorized by anyone. That includes the cowards in office.

By Justin King/TheFifthColumnNews/AntiMedia

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Who Will Check the Police If the Justice Department Doesn’t?

The attorney general doesn’t plan on using his oversight authority to monitor and intervene in local departments. California provides examples of how states can compensate for that absence.

California policing played a significant role in the development of federal oversight of local law enforcement more than 20 years ago. Now, with the new Justice Department resistant to that power, California could show state and local governments how they can exert more control.

Rodney King’s infamous 1991 beating by Los Angeles police officers, and the subsequent L.A. riots, prompted Congress to expand the attorney general’s authority to monitor police departments. Former President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a law frequently criticized today as fuel for mass incarceration, included a small statute that authorized the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer to investigate and file civil litigation against departments that demonstrate a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional conduct.

The administration of former President Barack Obama embraced its oversight authority, particularly in its final years; it investigated 25 police departments, including those in Baltimore and Chicago. But President Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has no intention of following suit. He has sharply criticized federal investigations, arguing that they’re bad for police “morale,” and has said it’s “not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law-enforcement agencies.”

Critics perceive Sessions, and the president he serves, as more interested in protecting the police than public safety—a quality often attributed to the larger Republican Party. But even heavily Democratic areas have mixed track records when it comes to addressing police misconduct. That includes California, which is one of the country’s most liberal states but home to some of its deadliest police. Both California’s reforms and shortcomings are worth examining during the Trump era, as activists and researchers consider state-level measures to counter possible federal inaction.

One policy currently being debated among police-reform advocates is the adoption of a statute that would allow state attorneys general to investigate and mandate structural changes within troubled departments, just as the federal Justice Department can. These changes can vary, but could include amending a department’s use-of-force policy or requiring bias training. The proposal has its origins in California, as it is the only state in the country that explicitly authorizes its attorney general to intervene in this way.

William Lockyer was the first California attorney general to exercise that power, after four Riverside police officers shot and killed a 19-year-old black woman in 1998. The shooting ignited community protests and attracted attention from civil-rights activists Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. The Riverside County district attorney invited Lockyer to review the evidence and circumstances of the case.

Though the state did not have enough to bring criminal charges against the officers, Lockyer told me, he launched a civil-rights investigation into the Riverside Police Department’s policies and practices. In 2001, he filed a judgment forcing the department to implement specific reforms within a five-year period. The changes included using more experienced officers on overnight shifts and implementing community policing: assigning officers to monitor specific neighborhoods on a long-term basis and build trust with residents.

“The police chief and many others said after the fact that this was the best thing to ever happen to the Riverside Police Department; it really professionalized the force,” Lockyer said. “I think it makes sense to have some external review, whether federal or state, as a way to check local politics and pressures that can stand in the way of reform.”

The Riverside reform agreement presents one case study to examine stronger state intervention in local policing, but state oversight is not an easy fix. The California attorney general has had intervention authority for 16 years, but has only used it a handful of times. That includes investigations launched in December 2016 by then-state attorney general and current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris. Even police-reform researchers who say these statutes have potential acknowledge they can run into problems when it comes to execution.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, said he suspects that political pressures and ambitions deter California attorneys general from exercising their authority more frequently. University of Virginia law professor Rachel Harmon suggested state funding might also present a barrier. “I don’t think mirroring the federal statute, section 14141, is likely to be the most successful state reform effort,” Harmon said, referring to the order granted by Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. “It took the federal government a long time to get that train rolling, and I think it’s very unlikely that the resources or expertise exist in most states to engage in a similarly effective effort.”

Another way for state lawmakers to potentially deter misconduct is through the issuance of professional police licenses. Much like certifications for health-care professionals or lawyers, these licenses can be revoked and prevent police from getting law-enforcement jobs in the state again. This is an area where California lags behind. It is one of about five states without such a mechanism to use after a serious offense. As a result, police chiefs in these states can have complete discretion over the hiring and firing of officers. In an interview last month, Roger Goldman, a law professor emeritus at Saint Louis University in Missouri, told me chiefs rarely exercise their authority to let officers go.

That can have wide-ranging implications for public safety. Sometimes employers hire an officer with a record of misconduct because they simply don’t have access to his or her work history. But other times, Goldman said, departments know a prospective hire’s troubled background, but may hire the officer anyway to reduce training expenses.

Goldman argues that all states need a strong licensing system, but that plan faces its own set of challenges. A critical problem is data—or lack thereof. It’s a multilayered issue involving both individual departments and their broader communities. For example, Frontline has reported that black and Latino communities are less likely to report officer misconduct due to fear that they won’t be believed or may face retaliation. Lawyers and police officials may also keep quiet about officer improprieties to reduce their liability.

Without thoroughly reporting and tracking misconduct, the state law-enforcement training and standards boards tasked with overseeing certifications cannot accurately assess which officers should be considered for decertification. Officers can then quietly resign and potentially find another law-enforcement job. This problem is even worse in states like California that have strict laws preventing the public release of records on police misconduct and the outcomes of internal investigations, said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Ultimately, state governments have wide-ranging authority to adopt measures for reform. So do cities, though at a more micro level. The key is whether these jurisdictions deem changes necessary on their own, or if they’d only take them under pressure from the federal government.

By CANDICE NORWOOD/TheAtlantic