The LGBTQ Movement is an Intersectional Fail

In recent years “intersectionality” has been the biggest buzz word in progressive circles, liberally sprinkled in activist conferences and social media. Yet few movements have been as long on intersectional talk, and little on action, as the LGBTQ movement.

Few events point up this fail more clearly than the impending release from prison this Wednesday of Transgender heroine Chelsea Manning. She is by far the single most important, impactful anti-war activist and whistle-blower that the LGBTQ movement has ever produced.

She exposed war crimes by the U.S. and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, including murder and torture, such as the infamous “Collateral Murder” video of two Reuters journalists and ten other civilians. She gave the most expansive documentary evidence ever provided of U.S. support for a host of corrupt and vicious dictators across the Middle East. This information helped fuel the wave of Arab Spring revolts, the largest democracy movement ever seen in the region, knocking out a number of these dictators.

Yet from 2010 arrest through her subsequent arduous trial and most of her incarceration – the longest imprisonment of a whistleblower in U.S. history – none of the big LGBTQ non-profits defended her.

You might think that her 2010 incarceration would have produced a “perfect storm” of intersectional and identity politics support. Here you had a working class person who identified as gay, and later came out as a Trans woman, who exposed some of the most scandalous secrets of the U.S. military and State Department in what was to that date by far the largest document dump in U.S. history.

You would think, for example, that in the heart of the most powerful military empire that the world has ever seen, that an activist who opposed the savaging of other countries by the U.S. military would receive intersectional support from a broad section of the U.S. left. And particularly since this activist identified as LGBTQ, the LGBTQ left would particularly be in her corner.

But no. Years earlier a top official in what is now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force told me that “we will never” again come out against a U.S. war, following the Task Force’s public opposition to President George H. W. Bush’s first war against Iraq. He said that the Task Force’s coming out against that war had “nearly destroyed” the organization, as wealthy donors pulled their donations and threatened to never support it again. And this was with the Task Force, the group that likes to posture itself as the “hippest” of the big LGBTQ non-profits.

But it was not the first, nor certainly the last time that LGBTQ non-profits – rightly derided as “Gay Inc.” – prioritized donors’ dollars to fund their salaries and offices, over alleged adherence to intersectional principles.

For all their talk of “grassroots organizing” – another phrase that’s become hackneyed thru repeated misuse – Gay Inc. organizations are staff-driven at best, and at worst, controlled by self-selected boards chosen for their ability to tap contributions from wealthy donors. In this way the wealthiest LGBTQs control the political agenda of what passes for our movement, a pink version of the class stratification talked about in straight society, but rarely mentioned in the movement.

Some say that the reason for this conservatism is Gay, Inc.’s affection for “heteronormativity” – the aping straight people. This is said to explain their recent emphasis on winning equal marriage rights, for example. But this interpretation doesn’t adequately explain where “heteronormativity” itself comes from, and it also radically mis-reads the chronology of how the marriage issue became center-space in our movement.

For many years almost all of the large organizations of LGBTQs opposed pushing for equal marriage rights (the one exception being the Metropolitan Community Church). As late as at its 2005 “Creating Change” conference, for example, the Task Force had only anti-equal marriage speakers at one of the conference’s two plenaries – with no opportunity for proponents to rebut.

More recently, of course, Gay Inc. mercilessly mined the marriage issue for donations, not unlike how they have done with Transgender issues for the last couple of years. The cynicism in both instances is quite breath-taking, especially when you consider, for example, the Human Rights Campaign’s well-documented betrayal [2] of Transgender employment rights under the tutelage of gay Congressman Barney Frank.

The root of Gay Inc.’s betrayal of Chelsea Manning, and their flip-flops on marriage rights and Trans rights, lie directly in their being joined at the hip with the Democratic Party. The incestuous revolving door between military contractors and ex-military officers is only exceeded by Gay Inc’s revolving door with the Democratic Party.

The pollsters and media “professionals” who gave us the disastrous failed campaign against Proposition 8, for example, were drawn directly from the Party. The current president of Gay Inc’s biggest and wealthiest group, the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, “got his start in politics volunteering for the Bill Clinton presidential campaign, which led to a position in the White House Press Office at the age of 19. Following his stint in the White House and his graduation from Georgetown University, he led a number of political campaigns advocating for or against various California ballot initiatives, as well as a number of fundraising efforts for political candidates, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

A big reason why Gay Inc. was initially so loath to take on the equal marriage issue was because their main guy, President Bill Clinton, was directly implicated in the worst measure enacted against it – the Defense of Marriage Act – and the series of failed Democratic presidential candidates who followed him also opposed equal marriage rights. As I’ve written elsewhere,

“After Bill Clinton appeased the right by passing the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (and NAFTA, and Anti-Terrorism & Effective Death Penalty Act, etc, etc), he took out ads on Christian Right radio stations bragging about it, as part of his re-election bid.”

Similarly with Chelsea Manning. Besides exposing George W. Bush’s dirty laundry, she also exposed the Obama White House’s illegal support for the military coup which overthrew the elected government in Honduras, with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton providing crucial support for the murderous regime that took over.

Only when an issue is considered acceptable to leading Democrats – or forced onto their agenda by incessant campaigning by truly grassroots activists – has Gay Inc. switched up its issues list. So only after years of polling numbers showed that marriage was a top issue for LGBTQs – reacting to the religious right beating us up on the issue – did Gay Inc. change its tune and decide the issue was “realistic.”

Left to their own devices, Gay Inc. groveled to the Party’s needs. This is why after the 1998 lynching of Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard and the protests in hundreds of cities that followed it, Gay Inc. quickly moved to divert the movement into meaningless, if not positively reactionary, calls for “hate crimes” legislation, feeding the racist mass incarceration boom then underway.

Gay Inc. was loath to embarrass then-President Clinton for his support for the Defense of Marriage Act two years earlier, or the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military employment ban three years before that, in enabling the anti-gay hate that killed Shepard.

All of the pro-LGBTQ reforms of the past two decades that were eventually supported by the Democrats have one thing in common:  They cost virtually no money. From hate crimes legislation to marriage rights to Trans people’s access to public restrooms, all cost the profit system little, if any, serious money.

In the meantime, class issues have crept up on the LGBTQ community as they have all other working class people in the United States. Twenty-somethings today, if they are lucky enough to be employed, make on average 20% less than baby boomers did when they were that age. Whereas young adults of the baby boomer generation typically moved away from home upon reaching age 18 or shortly thereafter, nearly half of 25-year-olds and one-third of 18 to 34-year-olds were living at home in 2015. A quarter of those living at home don’t even have the temporary escape from nosy relatives of work or school.

This has had a direct impact on what traditionally is the most dynamic section of any political movement – its youth. By dint of their lack of economic and residential independence, LGBTQ youth are much more vulnerable to abusive relatives, even though anti-LGBTQ attitudes are at historic lows among all generations (at least for the time being).

About 40% of homeless youth are LGBT…[and nearly] seven in 10 (68%) respondents indicated that family rejection was a major factor contributing to LGBT youth homelessness, making it the most cited factor. More than half (54%) of respondents indicated that abuse in their family was another important factor contributing to LGBT homelessness.”

One would think that youth homelessness and joblessness, simultaneously affecting the most vulnerable and potentially most dynamic sectors of the LGBTQ movement, would be top priorities of the movement. Reflecting their structural “last hired, first fired” role in the U.S. economy, one would think that youth of color’s predicament in this generational economic disaster would merit special intersectional and identity politics concern.

But we live in a neoliberal age where the only reforms acceptable to the Democrats are those that don’t cost the system any money. We have a party whose leaders and enablers think that the main reasons why they lost the last election was not their presiding over the last eight years of a decades’-long economic slide in working class incomes, but rather, Russian meddling and the vicissitudes of former FBI Director James Comey’s public pronouncements.

Taking its lead from the Democrats, Gay Inc. gives lip service, if that, to the class issues directly bearing on the overwhelming majority of those whom they purport to represent. Democratic mayors ruling most large U.S. cities, while catering to the upper middle class gayborhoods that house just a small part of their cities’ LGBTQs, offer at best token solutions to these expensive problems.

The massive public housing and jobs programs that were forced out of Roosevelt-era Democrats during the Great Depression are the furthest thing from the minds of their neo-liberal descendants.

Hopes that a Sanders-type movement, working with Gay Inc. and other non-profits might take over the Democratic Party and turn it into an instrument of the 99% to take over the government, ignore the true history of how the New Deal programs came about. And Sanders’ notion that massive New Deal-like programs are possible while maintaining a military that consumes almost as much resources as the militaries of all the other governments of the world, is not only economic nonsense, it violates the very intersectionality, or solidarity, with “Third World” struggles that most U.S. leftists claim they support.

Back in the day, it wasn’t elite non-profits working hand-in-hand with the Democrats that won the gains of the New Deal.  Quite the opposite. It was bottom-up solidarity between different groups of workers, across different industries, employed and unemployed, and crucially, working independently of  the Democrats – that allowed strikes against individual employers to blossom into the three citywide general strikes of the era, and win massive, costly concessions from the 1%, despite far more desperate economic times.

Rather than courting the Democrats, an LGBTQ movement worthy of the name will see them and their Gay Inc. enablers as impediments to the kind of movement we need in this era of austerity and increasing class polarization.

by ANDY THAYER/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

When the World Is Led by a Child

Photo

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

Mandatory minimum sentences are cruel and ineffective. Sessions wants them back.

As a federal prosecutor and judge, we saw that these policies do not work.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions instructed the nation’s 2,300 federal prosecutors to pursue the most serious charges in all but exceptional cases. Rescinding a 2013 policy that sought to avoid mandatory minimums for low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, Sessions wrote it was the “moral and just” thing to do.

Sessions couldn’t be more wrong. We served as a federal prosecutor and a federal judge respectively. In our experience, mandatory minimums have swelled the federal prison population and led to scandalous racial disparities. They have caused untold misery at great expense. And they have not made us safer.

Mandatory federal drug sentencing is unforgiving. A person with one prior drug felony who is charged with possession of 10 grams of LSD, 50 grams of methamphetamine, or 280 grams of crack cocaine with intent to distribute faces 20 years to life. With two priors — no matter how long ago they occurred — the penalty is life without parole.  As one federal judge has written, these are sentences that “no one — not even the prosecutors themselves — thinks are appropriate.”

They waste human potential. They harm the 5 million children who have or have had a parent in prison — including one in nine black children.  And they wreak economic devastation on poor communities. Studies have found, for example, that formerly incarcerated employees make 10 to 40 percent less money than similar workers with no history of incarceration and that the probability of a family being in poverty increases by almost 40 percent when a father is imprisoned.

Still, in 2003 then-Attorney General John Ashcroft pushed line prosecutors to charge mandatory minimums whenever possible. His policy helped grow the federal prison population from 172,000 to nearly 220,000 over the next 10 years.  This was part of a wider national trend that grew the country’s incarcerated population to 2.2 million, almost 60 percent of them black and Latino.

In 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized that this system of mass incarceration was at odds with the Justice Department’s values. He told attorneys to reserve the most severe penalties for the most serious offenses. That meant charging cases in a way that would not trigger mandatory minimums for a specific group of defendants: nonviolent, low-level drug offenders, with no ties to gangs or cartels, no involvement in trafficking to minors, and no significant criminal history.

Holder’s policy was part of an emerging criminal justice reform movement. Since 2009, more than half the states have passed legislation to relax mandatory minimums and restore judicial discretion — including deep-red GeorgiaLouisianaMississippi, Oklahoma, and South Carolina. A new crop of prosecutors is openly questioning the use of long prison terms for minor drug crimes. And a bill to ease federal sentencing has bipartisan support in Congress.

Sessions is bent on reversing this progress.

It would be one thing if Holder’s reform efforts had failed — but they did not. The federal prison population fell for the first time after 40 years of exponential growth.  It is down 14 percent over the past 3½ years. While we need a wider conversation about how we sentence all offenders, including violent offenders, state and federal, this was a start. The 2013 policy sent a message about the need to be smart, not just tough, on crime, and the role of prosecutors in that effort.

Sessions’s assault on the past few years of progress might also make sense if mandatory minimums for minor drug offenses were necessary to combat crime — but they are not. A 2014 study by the U.S. Sentencing Commission found that defendants released early (based on sentencing changes not related to mandatory minimums) were not more likely to reoffend than prisoners who served their whole sentences. That is, for drug charges, shorter sentences don’t compromise public safety. Indeed, research shows it is the certainty of punishment — not the severity — that deters crime.

Sessions’s fixation on mandatory minimums might also be more palatable if they were cost-effective — but they are not. Federal prison costs have ballooned to $7 billion, more than a quarter of DOJ’s budget, driven by a population that is nearly half drug offenders.  And yet as detailed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council last year, most experts believe that expending public resources to incarcerate these offenders is profoundly inefficient.

Sessions’s defenders will say his policy only requires prosecutors to charge the defendant’s true conduct and apply the statutes Congress enacted. But floor statements from legislators show that Congress intended these mandatory minimums to be used against “kingpins” and “middle-level dealers,” not the minor offenders to whom they have been applied.

One of us served as a federal prosecutor under Holder and had mandatory minimum charges at his disposal. The message from the top down was that prosecutors were to pursue justice. Winning did not mean getting the longest sentence possible. It meant getting the right sentence, one that fit the crime and that respected the interests of victims, defendants, and the public.

The other of us served as a federal judge for 17 years, including during the heyday of the Ashcroft regime. She believes that roughly 80 percent of the sentences she was obliged to impose were unjust, unfair and disproportionate. Mandatory penalties meant that she couldn’t individualize punishment for the first-time drug offender, or the addict, or the woman whose boyfriend coerced her into the drug trade.

Under Sessions, prosecutors will be required almost always to charge mandatory minimums, however unjust. They will bind judges’ hands even when the facts cry out for more measured punishment. The result will be great suffering. And there is no good reason for it.

By Nancy Gertner and Chiraag Bains/WashingtonPost

Posted by The NON-Conformist

NC NAACP leader William Barber stepping down to help national effort on poverty

The Rev. William J. Barber II will step down as head of the state chapter of the NAACP in June, after more than a decade of leadership that has given the civil rights organization a prominent voice in state politics and its leader a higher profile on the national stage.

Barber will help organize a new Poor People’s Campaign in Washington, D.C., and 25 states even as he continues to serve as pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro. He also will remain on the national NAACP board.

In a phone interview Thursday, Barber, 53, stressed that he still will be based in North Carolina and paying attention to what happens in his home state. But he said he’ll be turning his attention to a national effort that will focus on many of the same issues he has been highlighting here for much of the past decade.

“I’m not leaving the state,” Barber said. “I’m accepting a call, a very spiritual call.”

Barber’s legacy includes the “Moral Monday” movement, a series of protests at the General Assembly and elsewhere on behalf of the poor and the disenfranchised. He says those experiences will help him as he continues to work with other states, including Tennessee and Georgia, which already have created similar models.

When Barber rose to leadership in the state NAACP almost 12 years ago, his goal was to give new energy and a new battle cry to an organization that he worried had been become too lethargic.

“We have to move from banquet to battle,” Barber said in 2006 during an interview at his Goldsboro church. “We have to broaden the membership.”

Since then, Barber, a preacher with a booming voice, has been a presence in many of North Carolina’s high-profile moments. He urged people to be patient as questions swirled around the Duke lacrosse case and let the wheels of justice turn toward the truth. But he did not back down from an opportunity to highlight issues of racism, classism and sexual violence threaded through the narrative of the case.

In Wake County, he led opposition to an attempt by the school board in 2010 to dismantle the diversity policy for the state’s largest school system.

In 2013, the first year Republicans held control of both chambers of the North Carolina General Assembly and the governor’s office, Barber organized regular protests in Raleigh that led to more than a thousand arrests.

Though his leadership on such efforts had led to many followers and supporters, Barber also has critics. Some say he works more to divide people than unite divergent voices with a common goal. They say he acts too much like a politician and too little like a preacher.

Claude Pope, former chairman of the N.C. GOP, said Thursday that he had not seen Barber in a while, but remembered having a pleasant one-on-one conversation with him. They talked about Barber’s father, an educator who brought his family to Eastern North Carolina during the civil rights movement.

Pope said he did not think it was surprising that people on the opposite side of the political spectrum from Barber found him grating, though.

“If he’s talking about concepts that you don’t agree with, that’s not that unusual,” Pope said. And he questioned Barber’s effectiveness.

“If he’s moving on the national scene, my gut is that he’s attracted enough attention to himself to make people think he’s effective,” Pope said. “He has a message they want to hear. But if you go by election results, I’m not sure how effective he’s been.”

Irving Joyner, a Durham lawyer and N.C. Central University law professor, disagrees with Pope and counts the successes of Democrats Roy Cooper as governor, Josh Stein as state attorney general and Mike Morgan, an African-American judge elected to the state Supreme Court, as evidence to the contrary.

Joyner, who has known Barber since he was a youngster traveling through North Carolina with his father and as a student at N.C. Central University, says the state NAACP was transformed over the past decade.

“There’s no way that Barber can be replaced in terms of his charisma, his energy, his contacts,” Joyner said. The state organization has four vice presidents and one of them will likely step into the role until October, when the next NAACP elections will take place.

Joyner said Barber took over the state NAACP in 2005 at the right time for his goal of creating an organization that tried to pull together lots of groups to work toward a common goal. Barber early on was championing voting rights and the need to expand opportunities for more people to cast ballots. By 2008, when Barack Obama was seeking his first term as president, Joyner said, measures were in place so more North Carolinians could cast ballots.

Five years later, Barber was vocal about the legislative efforts to require voter ID at the polls and to roll back some of the statewide measures that had made it easier to vote. Barber was there to lead voters challenging the law in lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Robin Hayes, chairman of the state GOP, said Barber’s messages are important to the state.

“The issues he has brought to the table are extremely important and ones we need to be keenly and constantly aware of,” Hayes said. “That said, I think style makes a difference. I think it would have helped him and his causes had he been more of a negotiator than an agitator.”

The Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, has marched alongside Barber and taken the stage with him at numerous rallies, admiring his ability to extend a message that resonates.

“This place we’re in as a state and a nation is just so confusing to people,” Petty said. “There’s this thing that Rev. Barber has the ability to do that is just unmatched by any other civics leader or religious leader that I’ve seen in my lifetime – and that is to make sense of what’s going on. Really once in a lifetime you find people who can do that as effectively as he does it. It’s pretty rare. It’s a gift.”

Barber addressed the Democratic National Convention in July, telling listeners in his characteristic fire-and-brimstone preaching style that the country’s democracy was at stake in the November elections.

Barber, who often repeats that a movement cannot be measured by one election, says he has no interest in being a politician.

“I’m a pastor at heart,” Barber said Thursday. “But I believe we need to have pastors in the public square.”

Barber cites the Bible on issues such as helping the poor as a guide for his work and his next steps.

“This moment requires us to push into the national consciousness a deep moral analysis that is rooted in an agenda to combat systemic poverty and racism, war mongering, economic injustice, voter suppression, and other attacks on the most vulnerable,” Barber said in a statement released Thursday. “While I am stepping down as president, I will continue working to advance the moral movement here at home as well as support the leadership in our conference to move North Carolina forward together.”

Barber said he will speak more about the Poor People’s Campaign at a press conference Monday.

“I’ve been in deep conversations of prayer with other leaders around the country,” Barber said. “We look at the national narrative we have when we go through these national elections – and we’re not talking about just one election or one party – but there have been no real discussions about the poor.”

Those conversations, Barber said, should include voting rights, health care proposals, systemic racism and more.

“We have a moral defect when we talk about spending more money on a bloated military than we do on public education,” he said.

BY ANNE BLYTHE/New&Observer
Posted by The NON-Conformist