Category Archives: government

The Death of the Republic

Mr. Fish / Truthdig

The deep state’s decision in ancient Rome—dominated by a bloated military and a corrupt oligarchy, much like the United States of 2017—to strangle the vain and idiotic Emperor Commodus in his bath in the year 192 did not halt the growing chaos and precipitous decline of the Roman Empire.

Commodus, like a number of other late Roman emperors, and like President Trump, was incompetent and consumed by his own vanity. He commissioned innumerable statues of himself as Hercules and had little interest in governance. He used his position as head of state to make himself the star of his own ongoing public show. He fought victoriously as a gladiator in the arena in fixed bouts. Power for Commodus, as it is for Trump, was primarily about catering to his bottomless narcissism, hedonism and lust for wealth. He sold public offices so the ancient equivalents of Betsy DeVos and Steve Mnuchin could orchestrate a vast kleptocracy.

Commodus was replaced by the reformer Pertinax, the Bernie Sanders of his day, who attempted in vain to curb the power of the Praetorian Guards, the ancient version of the military-industrial complex. This effort saw the Praetorian Guards assassinate Pertinax after he was in power only three months. The Guards then auctioned off the office of emperor to the highest bidder. The next emperor, Didius Julianus, lasted 66 days. There would be five emperors in A.D. 193, the year after the assassination of Commodus. Trump and our decaying empire have ominous historical precedents. If the deep state replaces Trump, whose ineptitude and imbecility are embarrassing to the empire, that action will not restore our democracy any more than replacing Commodus restored democracy in Rome. Our republic is dead.

Societies that once were open and had democratic traditions are easy prey for the enemies of democracy. These demagogues pay deference to the patriotic ideals, rituals, practices and forms of the old democratic political system while dismantling it. When the Roman Emperor Augustus—he referred to himself as the “first citizen”—neutered the republic, he was careful to maintain the form of the old republic. Lenin and the Bolsheviks did the same when they seized and crushed the autonomous soviets. Even the Nazis and the Stalinists insisted they ruled democratic states. Thomas Paine wrote that despotic government is a fungus that grows out of a corrupt civil society. This is what happened to these older democracies. It is what happened to us.

Our constitutional rights—due process, habeas corpus, privacy, a fair trial, freedom from exploitation, fair elections and dissent—have been taken from us by judicial fiat. These rights exist only in name. The vast disconnect between the purported values of the state and reality renders political discourse absurd.

Corporations, cannibalizing the federal budget, legally empower themselves to exploit and pillage. It is impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil. The pharmaceutical and insurance industries can hold sick children hostage while their parents bankrupt themselves trying to save their sons or daughters. Those burdened by student loans can never wipe out the debt by declaring bankruptcy. In many states, those who attempt to publicize the conditions in the vast factory farms where diseased animals are warehoused for slaughter can be charged with a criminal offense. Corporations legally carry out tax boycotts. Companies have orchestrated free trade deals that destroy small farmers and businesses and deindustrialize the country. Labor unions and government agencies designed to protect the public from contaminated air, water and food and from usurious creditors and lenders have been defanged. The Supreme Court, in an inversion of rights worthy of George Orwell, defines unlimited corporate contributions to electoral campaigns as a right to petition the government or a form of free speech. Much of the press, owned by large corporations, is an echo chamber for the elites. State and city enterprises and utilities are sold to corporations that hike rates and deny services to the poor. The educational system is being slowly privatized and turned into a species of vocational training.

Wages are stagnant or have declined. Unemployment and underemployment—masked by falsified statistics—have thrust half the country into chronic poverty. Social services are abolished in the name of austerity. Culture and the arts have been replaced by sexual commodification, banal entertainment and graphic depictions of violence. The infrastructure, neglected and underfunded, is collapsing. Bankruptcies, foreclosures, arrests, food shortages and untreated illnesses that lead to early death plague a harried underclass. The desperate flee into an underground economy dominated by drugs, crime and human trafficking. The state, rather than address the economic misery, militarizes police departments and empowers them to use lethal force against unarmed civilians. It fills the prisons with 2.3 million citizens, only a tiny percentage of whom had a trial. One million prisoners work for corporations inside prisons as modern-day slaves.

The amendments of the Constitution, designed to protect the citizen from tyranny, are meaningless. The Fourth Amendment, for example, reads: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, 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.” The reality is that our telephone calls, emails, texts and financial, judicial and medical records, along with every website we visit and our physical travels, are tracked, recorded and stored in perpetuity in government computer banks.

The state tortures, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantanamo Bay, but also in supermax ADX [administrative maximum] facilities such as the one at Florence, Colo., where inmates suffer psychological breakdowns from prolonged solitary confinement. Prisoners, although they are citizens, endure around-the-clock electronic monitoring and 23-hour-a-day lockdowns. They undergo extreme sensory deprivation. They endure beatings. They must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. They can write only one letter a week to one relative and cannot use more than three pieces of paper. They often have no access to fresh air and take their one hour of daily recreation in a huge cage that resembles a treadmill for hamsters.

The state uses “special administrative measures,” known as SAMs, to strip prisoners of their judicial rights. SAMs restrict prisoners’ communication with the outside world. They end calls, letters and visits with anyone except attorneys and sharply limit contact with family members. Prisoners under SAMs are not permitted to see most of the evidence against them because of a legal provision called the Classified Information Procedures Act, or CIPA. CIPA, begun under the Reagan administration, allows evidence in a trial to be classified and withheld from those being prosecuted. You can be tried and convicted, like Joseph K. in Franz Kafka’s “The Trial,” without ever seeing the evidence used to find you guilty. Under SAMs, it is against the law for those who have contact with an inmate—including attorneys—to speak about his or her physical and psychological conditions.

And when prisoners are released, they have lost the right to vote and receive public assistance and are burdened with fines that, if unpaid, will put them back behind bars. They are subject to arbitrary searches and arrests. They spend the rest of their lives marginalized as members of a vast criminal caste.

The executive branch of government has empowered itself to assassinate U.S. citizens. It can call the Army into the streets to quell civil unrest under Section 1021 of the National Defense Authorization Act, which ended a prohibition on the military acting as a domestic police force. The executive branch can order the military to seize U.S. citizens deemed to be terrorists or associated with terrorists. This is called “extraordinary rendition.” Those taken into custody by the military can be denied due process and habeas corpus rights and held indefinitely in military facilities. Activists and dissidents, whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, can face indefinite incarceration.

Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations are criminalized. The state assumed the power to detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.

The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are meaningless theater. No one who lives under constant surveillance, who is subject to detention anywhere at any time, whose conversations, messages, meetings, proclivities and habits are recorded, stored and analyzed, who is powerless in the face of corporate exploitation, can be described as free. The relationship between the state and the citizen who is watched constantly is one of master and slave. And the shackles will not be removed if Trump disappears.

By Chris Hedges/Truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Comey Memo Says Trump Asked Him to End Flynn Investigation

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James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.

“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.

The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey.

Such documents, Mr. Chaffetz wrote, would “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the F.B.I.

Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.

Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey, according to the memo. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Mr. Trump told Mr. Comey that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong, according to the memo.

Mr. Comey did not say anything to Mr. Trump about curtailing the investigation, replying only: “I agree he is a good guy.”

In a statement, the White House denied the version of events in the memo.

“While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” the statement said. “The president has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”

Mr. Chaffetz’s letter, sent to the acting F.B.I. director, Andrew G. McCabe, set a May 24 deadline for the internal documents to be delivered to the House committee. The congressman, a Republican, was criticized in recent months for showing little of the appetite he demonstrated in pursuing Hillary Clinton to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s associates.

GRAPHIC

The Events That Led to Comey’s Firing, and How the White House’s Story Changed

New disclosures on Tuesday allege that in February, President Trump asked James B. Comey, then the F.B.I. director, to shut down an investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

OPEN GRAPHIC

But since announcing in April that he will not seek re-election in 2018, Mr. Chaffetz has shown more interest in the Russia investigation, and held out the potential for a subpoena on Tuesday, a notably aggressive move as most Republicans have tried to stay out of the fray.

In testimony to the Senate last week, Mr. McCabe said, “There has been no effort to impede our investigation to date.” Mr. McCabe was referring to the broad investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. The investigation into Mr. Flynn is separate.

A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Comey created similar memos — including some that are classified — about every phone call and meeting he had with the president, the two people said. It is unclear whether Mr. Comey told the Justice Department about the conversation or his memos.

Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey last week. Trump administration officials have provided multiple, conflicting accounts of the reasoning behind Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Mr. Trump said in a television interview that one of the reasons was because he believed “this Russia thing” was a “made-up story.”

The Feb. 14 meeting took place just a day after Mr. Flynn was forced out of his job after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of phone conversations he had had with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Despite the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey, the investigation of Mr. Flynn has proceeded. In Virginia, a federal grand jury has issued subpoenas in recent weeks for records related to Mr. Flynn. Part of the Flynn investigation is centered on his financial links to Russia and Turkey.

Mr. Comey had been in the Oval Office that day with other senior national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When the meeting ended, Mr. Trump told those present — including Mr. Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to leave the room except for Mr. Comey.

Alone in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump began the discussion by condemning leaks to the news media, saying that Mr. Comey should consider putting reporters in prison for publishing classified information, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

Mr. Trump then turned the discussion to Mr. Flynn.

After writing up a memo that outlined the meeting, Mr. Comey shared it with senior F.B.I. officials. Mr. Comey and his aides perceived Mr. Trump’s comments as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the F.B.I. agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation.

Mr. Comey was known among his closest advisers to document conversations that he believed would later be called into question, according to two former confidants, who said Mr. Comey was uncomfortable at times with his relationship with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Comey’s recollection has been bolstered in the past by F.B.I. notes. In 2007, he told Congress about a now-famous showdown with senior White House officials over the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s account, but the F.B.I. director at the time, Robert S. Mueller III, kept notes that backed up Mr. Comey’s story.

The White House has repeatedly crossed lines that other administrations have been reluctant to cross when discussing politically charged criminal investigations. Mr. Trump has disparaged the continuing F.B.I. investigation as a hoax and called for an inquiry into his political rivals. His representatives have taken the unusual step of declaring no need for a special prosecutor to investigate the president’s associates.

The Oval Office meeting occurred a little over two weeks after Mr. Trump summoned Mr. Comey to the White House for a lengthy, one-on-one dinner at the residence. At that dinner, on Jan. 27, Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey at least two times for a pledge of loyalty — which Mr. Comey declined, according to one of Mr. Comey’s associates.

In a Twitter post on Friday, Mr. Trump said that “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

After the meeting, Mr. Comey’s associates did not believe there was any way to corroborate Mr. Trump’s statements. But Mr. Trump’s suggestion last week that he was keeping tapes has made them wonder whether there are tapes that back up Mr. Comey’s account.

The Jan. 27 dinner came a day after White House officials learned that Mr. Flynn had been interviewed by F.B.I. agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak. On Jan. 26, the acting attorney general, Sally Q. Yates, told the White House counsel about the interview, and said Mr. Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians because they knew he had lied about the content of the calls.

Trump Creates a ‘Voter Fraud’ Commission, Taps a White Supremacist to Lead It

President Trump has signed an executive order to create a commission to address voter fraud. This is a nonexistent issue tied to Trump’s fallacious, unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and cost him the popular vote. The measure is part of a larger effort at voter suppression, to deny Black people and others the franchise and to deprive them of their voting rights — a cause of concern among civil rights and civil liberties groups. One of the leaders of this newly created body is a driving force behind voter suppression and anti-immigration laws across the nation and a figure with white supremacist sentiments and ties to white nationalist groups.

On May 11, Trump established a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which is charged with identifying the following:

(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;

(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and

(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.

The election integrity commission will have a staff to carry out its mission and will engage with federal, state and local officials and election law experts. Vice President Mike Pence is the chair of the commission, while Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the vice chair. The selection of Kobach raises red flags and speaks to the insidious motives of the commission.

Kobach, who was once considered a contender to head the Department of Homeland Security, according to Politico, has gained a reputation for his controversial anti-immigration stance and for supporting draconian voter suppression laws that federal courts have struck down for discriminating against nonwhite voters. According to civil rights advocacy groups, Kobach is a racial extremist with white supremacist ties. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Yale-trained lawyer who also has degrees from Harvard and Oxford is a “central figure” in the nativist movement and the author of Arizona’s “papers please” law, SB 1070, which amounted to a racial profiling law for Latinos. The U.S. Supreme Court found most of the measure unconstitutional in 2012. Kobach also played a key role in enacting similar legislation in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

Since 2004, Kobach has served as counsel to the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR, according to SPLC, has “historical ties to white supremacists and eugenicists” and has received $1.2 million from the Pioneer Fund, an organization founded by Nazi sympathizers. Kobach was a supporter of birtherism during his run for Kansas secretary of state, and called for President Obama to release his “long-form” birth certificate to answer questions about his birthplace. SPLC reported that in 2014, Kobach also led an effort to purge voter rolls known as Interstate Crosscheck. The program compiled a master list of the names of one-seventh of all Black voters in 27 states, people who officials alleged were suspected of voting twice in the same election, as Al Jazeera America reported. In 2015, Kobach also gave himself the power to prosecute voter fraud, making Kansas the only state allowing its secretary of state with such authority. Kobach has urged states to require not only photo identification as a requirement to vote, but proof of citizenship, including a birth certificate or passport. This draconian measure had its impact in Kansas in 2015, where 37,000 people who attempted to register to vote were placed on a “suspense list” barring them from voting unless they provided documentation, as The Washington Post reported.  That year, Kobach was a featured speaker at The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist writers’ workshop created by FAIR.

Kobach’s ties to the organization led to his defeat in a 2004 race for Congress.  In a statement opposing Kobach and calling him unfit to serve and his appointment “nothing less than an outrage,” SPLC said Kobach “is a longtime lawyer for far-right extremist groups with ties to white nationalists” and “a leader in the movement to suppress the votes of minorities.” The statement added that voter suppression is the real threat to democracy.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump claimed the election was rigged, and that if he lost, his defeat would be attributed to rampant, nonexistent voter fraud and so-called illegal immigrants voting. After he won the Electoral College in November, he then said the margin of his deficit in the popular vote was due to voter fraud. Without providing a shred of proof of his allegation, Trump tweeted on November 27 that “in addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” As FiveThirtyEight reported, Trump misused research from an Old Dominion University study to falsely claim that 14 percent of noncitizens were registered to vote.

I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….

even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!

Last week, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Vice President’s office demanding evidence to back up Trump’s claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election. Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said the commission is a “boondoggle” and part of Trump’s plan to “spread his own fake news about election integrity” as The Hill reported.

“The president … has alleged that ‘millions of votes’ were ‘illegally’ cast ‘for the other side.’ No concrete evidence has been provided thus far to support the president’s serious indictment against American democracy. Yet the president’s allegations are the basis of an executive order … to establish a ‘Commission on Election Integrity,’” the FOIA request from the ACLU read. “This FOIA demands that the government release the factual basis and evidence supporting the president’s allegations.”

In its FOIA request, the ACLU noted that Trump has suggested he will enact new voting restrictions based on a Department of Justice investigation. The civil liberties group stated that for 150 years since the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 to today, “politicians have consistently perpetuated unsupported claims of widespread voter fraud to justify discriminatory restrictions on the right to vote.” The request added that if federal and state governments plan to rely on the Department of Justice investigation to justify voting discrimination, “then the health of our democracy urgently demands that the public know the bases for such potential discrimination immediately.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, has noted that the issue has been studied and widespread voter fraud does not exist in the U.S. “But there is no evidence that millions, thousands or even hundreds of instances of in-person voter fraud occur in the United States,” she wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in February. “One of the most reliable studies found only 31 instances of fraud in more than 1 billion votes cast over nearly 15 years. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”

Trump’s executive order comes as the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will not reinstate North Carolina’s draconian voter ID law, which was regarded as one of the most restrictive in the nation and designed to discriminate against African-Americans.

By David Love/AtlantaBlackStar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

When the World Is Led by a Child

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President Trump in Washington on Monday. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.

He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.

Which brings us to the reports that Trump betrayed an intelligence source and leaked secrets to his Russian visitors. From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

By David Brooks/NYTimes

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Court fines and fees: Another barrier to North Carolina’s ballot box

How much money do you have to pay before you cast your ballot on Election Day?

Image result for court fees
Image: myfloridalaw.com

For most North Carolinians, the answer might seem obvious: none. As the cornerstone of our democracy, voting is supposed to be fair, accessible – and free. But for an increasing number of North Carolinians, the right to vote can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars.

How is that possible? The answer is because North Carolina denies the right to vote to people who have felony convictions but cannot afford to pay their court costs, even if they have satisfied all other probation requirements.

Thanks to an ever-growing system of mandatory fines and fees, those caught up in the criminal justice system can be forced to pay anywhere from $40 to hundreds of dollars a month for the cost of their court administration, jail fees, probation, electronic monitoring, drug testing, even community service – and more. If they are unable to pay, they face a penalty fee for nonpayment, increasing their fees and lengthening their probation period.

These costs have increased substantially over time. In 1999, the base cost a person would pay for a superior court date was $106. Today the base cost is $198 with the potential to grow to more than $10,000 in serious cases as additional penalties snowball. Even if they have served all the terms of their sentence, even if they have had no probation violations, low-income people often remain on probation simply because they are low-income. And in far too many North Carolina courts, judges will not conduct hearings on a person’s inability to pay, as is required by law.

More from NC Policy Watch

Posted by Libergirl

White House Close to Finalizing Over $100 Billion in Arms Sales to Saudis

White House Close to Finalizing Over $100 Billion in Arms Sales to Saudis

Earlier this month, US officials said the US was seeking to reach “billions” of dollars in arms sales to Saudi Arabia as part of Trump’s visit to Riyadh. With a week left before the visit, officials now say the White House is very close to the deal, and that it will amount to over $100 billion in sales.

Details are still emerging, but the plan is for this to set out a series of growing deals over the next decade that will involve more than $300 billion going to arms dealers, not just to arm the Saudis, but in extra aid to Israel to ensure their “qualitative military edge” over the Saudis.

White House officials said the move would be good for the economy, and insisted that building Saudi Arabia’s already substantial military was “essential” because of regional problems. Saudi Arabia, of course, spends much of its military budget invading Yemen and trying to reinstall former President Hadi in power.

Given Saudi Arabia’s Yemen-centric foreign policy, US sales are likely to be heavily on warplanes and bombs to drop on northern Yemen, as the conflict has lasted far longer than the Saudis anticipated, and there is little sign they are interested iin extricating themselves from the conflict anytime soon.

How much this means Israel will get greatly depends on the sort of weapons the US is giving Saudi Arabia, and particularly if there is anything “new” in the shipments, or just more of the same old stuff. The US commitment to ensuring Israel has an advantage over the rest of the Middle East militarily, while at the same time selling large amounts of arms to the rest of the Middle East, has been icing on the cake for US arms makers, who end up supplying all sides of this arms race.

by Jason Ditz/AntiWar

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Black People and Obama’s Legacy

Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency was a curse on black America’s political heritage.
— Margaret Kimberley, Black Agenda Report

It is no secret that the folks over at Black Agenda Report have never cottoned much to ex-President Obama.  It was, after all, BAR’s executive editor Glen Ford who, long before Obama’s 2008 election, and in reference to the great bulk of black elected officials throughout this nation-state, including most especially, the Congressional Black Caucus, coined the term “black misleadership class.”  Once Obama actually took the oath of office in ’08, Ford promptly placed him at the head of that class. And, throughout the ensuing eight straight years, BAR’s senior columnist Margaret Kimberley has wielded an especially sharp pen against this country’s “First Black President” (a sobriquet Ford, Kimberley and Company derisively employ as a way of reminding us exactly who and what Obama  is not).  BAR’s postmortems of Obama’s late presidency have been equally rough – and directly on point.

“Obama Gets Paid”

In her May 2nd column entitled “Obama Gets Paid,” Kimberley, as she routinely does, excoriates Obama apologists as they feverishly defend his recent acceptance of a $400,000 check for speaking to those Wall Street hedge fund managers and investment bankers – the selfsame ones who helped crash the US (and damn near world) economy in ’08.  Again, for eight solid years, Obama, President Obama, steadfastly refused to prosecute nary a one of them.  The principal defense deployed by Obama die-hards is, basically, that “everybody does it,” especially everybody, that is, who’s ever been president.  They point to the 1990 tour of Japan by then former President Ronald  Reagan.  St. Reagan (one of Obama’s two most favorite presidents) collected a cool $2 million for delivering a few stock speeches in the land of the rising sun over eight days.

Or, Obamaphiles remind us of ex-prez Bill Clinton’s apparently innate ability to still garner whopping speaker’s fees and honoraria from any venue anywhere even to this day –  if and only if, of course, the price is right.  According to CNN, since 2001, that proclivity has yielded both Bill and wife, ex-Secretary of State Hillary, a jaw-dropping $153 million and counting.

Yes, it is now common practice among certain ex-presidents:  Bush (I & II), even Nixon, eagerly embraced what St. Reagan referred to as the “mashed potato” circuit.  Yet, somehow Obama’s most ardent supporters conveniently skip over or ignore altogether former President Jimmy Carter.  That may be because Carter has consistently refused to partake of either the mashed potatoes and/or rubber chickens. Instead, to this day, despite brain cancer and his 90-plus years of life, ex-prez Carter devotes his entire presidency to a wide array of ways and means of delivering real goods and real services to real people.

Of Presidential Libraries and Largess

Obama was in town the other day, fully refreshed from his three-month Hawaiian vacation, a $65 million book deal, and, as noted, his $400,000 oration.  Obama was here to hobnob with Chicago’s One Percent and to finalize plans for his presidential library, to be set in a 200,000 square foot space age building just south of his old employer’s (University of Chicago) campus.

Obama also actually stopped in at the University itself where he mingled with a few star-struck students.  And then he and Michelle dropped an unsolicited $2 million on Chicago’s summer jobs program.  Why so generous?  The purpose of this money, so sayeth Obama, is to “train the next generation of leadership…the Michelle Obamas of today and the Barack Obamas of today.”

That money is certainly needed and much appreciated, especially given the fact that Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first presidential chief of staff, seems to miraculously find funds for any and everything except Chicago’s South and West Sides – where the bulk of Chicago’s one million black citizens just happen to reside.

President of All the People

The obvious question, which has many black Chicagoans (and black people nationwide) scratching their heads, is this:  Where was all of this heartfelt concern, and more importantly, money and resources, for black folk when Obama for eight whole years reigned as this nation-state’s “First Black President”?

He and his blinkered supporters still argue that:

  • The Big Bad Racists Republicans would not let Obama do anything to specifically help black people.
  • That he is “president of all the people of America, not just black people. (But aren’t we Americans, too?)
  • That, as St. Reagan taught us, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Thus, programs and policies which specifically and purposely benefit Hispanics, gays, white women, the “working class” and the poor naturally, automatically “trickle down” to black people.
  • That targeting black people would alienate those oh so sensitive and always aggrieved “white middle class” folk who see the world as a zero-sum proposition: If blacks win (at anything), they lose (everything).

Black resistance, black revolt and black struggle against white supremacy and white racism began when those very first Portuguese, Spanish, English, French and Dutch slave ships appeared off Africa’s West Coast as far back as 1444.  That freedom struggle continued unabated right up until 2008 when black people basically decided that having a putatively “black” man in the White House was more important than the freedom struggle itself. Prior to Obama’s ascendancy, the standard that all presidents and presidential candidates had to meet as far as black people were concerned was this: What will he do for us as a people? At least, that is the standard I was taught as a child by my parents, who, until John Kennedy came along in 1960, voted for both Democratic and Republican candidates at all levels of government based on this simple question.

After 2008, at family gatherings I was often persona non gratis because I dared to continue to ask this question.  One of my elderly aunts actually stood  up at the Thanksgiving table in 2014, pointed an accusatory finger at me, and said, “Blasphemy!” For her and millions like her, Obama’s blackness was enough.  He didn’t really have to do anything for black people because just seeing him and his black family in the White House wiped away the 400-year-old still festering wounds that had been, and continue to be, inflicted upon black people as a whole. That is all Obama did for black people – get elected.

And now?  Now that Obama is safely out of office and in no position to help anybody except (as detailed above) on a very occasional, very personal and very individual level, well….that is what his recent foray into Chicago means. Margaret Kimberley is absolutely right: Because of Obama, black people are in the worst shape they have been in since Dr. King was so brutally murdered forty-nine years ago.

Because of Obama, we must now contend with a straight up and open white supremacist/white racist in the once again lily white White House.

But on a more optimistic note, we will survive Donald Trump.  It’s what we do best.

By Herbert Dyer, Jr./DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist