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“Is It Bad Enough Yet?”: “True Citizenship” In The Words Of Jefferson, Is “People Continually Protesting”

The police killing unarmed civilians. Horrifying income inequality. Rotting infrastructure and an unsafe “safety net.” An inability to respond to climate, public health and environmental threats. A food system that causes disease. An occasionally dysfunctional and even cruel government. A sizable segment of the population excluded from work and subject to near-random incarceration.

You get it: This is the United States, which, with the incoming Congress, might actually get worse.

This in part explains why we’re seeing spontaneous protests nationwide, protests that, in their scale, racial diversity, anger and largely nonviolent nature, are unusual if not unique. I was in four cities recently — New York, Washington, Berkeley and Oakland — and there were actions every night in each of them. Meanwhile, workers walked off the job in 190 cities on Dec. 4.

The root of the anger is inequality, about which statistics are mind-boggling: From 2009 to 2012 (that’s the most recent data), some 95 percent of new income has gone to the top 1 percent; the Walton family (owners of Walmart) have as much wealth as the bottom 42 percent of the country’s people combined; and “income mobility” now describes how the rich get richer while the poor … actually get poorer.

The progress of the last 40 years has been mostly cultural, culminating, the last couple of years, in the broad legalization of same-sex marriage. But by many other measures, especially economic, things have gotten worse, thanks to the establishment of neo-liberal principles — anti-unionism, deregulation, market fundamentalism and intensified, unconscionable greed — that began with Richard Nixon and picked up steam under Ronald Reagan. Too many are suffering now because too few were fighting then.

What makes this an exciting time is that we are beginning to see links among issues that we have overlooked for far too long.

In 1970, after spending a year in New York absorbed by concerns seemingly as disparate as ending the war, supporting the rights of Black Panthers to get fair trials (and avoid being murdered) and understanding the role of men in the women’s movement, I — and others — had conversations like this: “Let’s make people understand that all of those issues, plus poverty and racism and the environment and more, are all part of the same picture, and that fixing things means citizens have to regain power and work in their own interests.”

Of course we failed, as others did before and since. But these same things can be said now, and they’re being said by people of all colors. When underpaid workers begin their strikes by saying “I can’t breathe,” or by holding their hands over their heads and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” they’re recognizing that their struggle is the same as that of African-Americans demanding dignity, respect and indeed safety on their own streets.

And of course it’s the same struggle: “It’s the same people,” says Saru Jayaraman, the director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “Young people working in fast food are the same people as those who are the victims of police brutality. So the Walmart folks are talking about #blacklivesmatter and the #blacklivesmatter folks are talking about taking on capital.”

The N.A.A.C.P.’s Rev. Dr. William Barber II, a leader of the Moral Mondays movement in North Carolina, captures the national yearning this reflects. “I believe that deep within our being as a nation there is a longing for a moral movement that plows deep into our souls,” he writes. “We are flowing together because we recognize that the intersectionality of all of these movements is our opportunity to fundamentally redirect America.” (The full text of Dr. Barber’s email is on my blog.)

“All of these movements”? Yes: The demands of the fast-food workers movement — $15 minimum wage and a union — have helped to unite movements among airport workers, hospital workers, retail workers and more.

There are already results. Two years ago, there was talk of raising the minimum wage to $10; now $15 per hour is seen as the bare minimum. Seattle and San Francisco have already mandated this, Chicago’s City Council voted to gradually increase to a $13 minimum by 2019, Oakland will move to $12.25 in March and a proposal is being considered in Los Angeles. (And although the amounts were woefully inadequate, four red states voted to approve minimum wage increases last month, showing that the concept resonates across party lines.)

Meanwhile, the credibility of those who argue that employers “can’t afford” to raise pay — McDonald’s paid its C.E.O. $9.5 million last year — is nil. For one thing, there are examples of profitable businesses that treat their employees decently, and even countries where fast-food workers can make ends meet. And for another, underpaying workers simply shifts the cost of supporting them onto public coffers. As Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont says, “In essence, taxpayers are subsidizing the wealthiest family in America.” That would be the Waltons. (Incredibly, many Republicans still want the working poor to pay more taxes.)

Then, of course, there are the matters of justice and morality. It simply isn’t right to pay people a sub-living wage with no potential for more, and as the comedian Chris Rock says, employers would pay even less if they could get away with it.

The #blacklivesmatter movement — there’s no better description — is already having an impact as well. Don’t think for a second we’d be having a national debate about police brutality (one that includes many on the right), or a White House plan to examine and fix law enforcement, without demonstrations in the streets.

The initial Obama plan is encouraging but lacking, and that’s all the more reason to keep demonstrating. (What good are body cameras, by the way? The videotape of Rodney King’s beating was seen around the world yet resulted in acquittals; Eric Garner’s choking death, viewed millions of times online, didn’t even lead to a trial, even though police chokeholds are banned in New York City.) Besides, as Sanders says, “Even if every cop were a constitutional lawyer and a great person, if you have 30 percent unemployment among African-American young people you still have a huge problem.”

I have spent a great deal of time talking about the food movement and its potential, because to truly change the food system you really have to change just about everything: good nutrition stems from access to good food; access to good food isn’t going to happen without economic justice; that isn’t going to happen without taxing the superrich; and so on. The same is true of other issues: You can’t fix climate change or the environment without stopping the unlimited exploitation of natural and human resources (see Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”). Same with social well-being.

Everything affects everything. It’s all tied together, and the starting place hardly matters: A just and righteous system will have a positive impact on everything we care about, just as an unjust, exploitative system makes everything worse.

Increasingly, it seems, there’s an appetite and even unity to take on the billionaire class. Let’s recognize that if we are seeing positive change now, it’s in part because elected officials respond to pressure, and let’s remember that that pressure must be maintained no matter who is in office. Even if Bernie Sanders were to become president, the need for pressure would continue.

“True citizenship,” says Jayaraman of Berkeley — echoing Jefferson — “is people continually protesting.” Precisely.

 

By: Mark Bittman, Op-Ed Writer, The New York Times, December 13, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Citizenship, Criminal Justice System, Inequality | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Crash Course In Congressional Mischief”: Voters Have An Entirely New Reason To Scorn Congress

After years of excoriating Congress for not legislating, Americans got a crash course Tuesday night about the mischief that can transpire when Congress actually fulfills its duties.

With both parties (for a change) committed to passing a spending bill by Thursday to avoid a government shutdown, the comprehensive legislation became a lobbyist’s delight. These omnibus last-minute bills traditionally pass Congress with virtually no debate. And since Barack Obama would never veto legislation to fund the government over minor provisions, anything small snuck into the bill is as good as inscribed into law.

Which brings us to the gem that Matea Gold of the Washington Post discovered on Page 1,599 of the 1,603-page bill. The provision — inserted in the legislation by persons unknown — would suddenly allow a married couple to give as much as $1.56 million to their political party and its committees in a two-year election cycle.

No, that isn’t a typo. Without resorting to Super PACs or taking advantage of a new loophole from the Supreme Court, couples or individuals could give roughly eight times more to their party in 2015 than they could in 2014. As election law expert Kenneth Gross told the Washington Post, “The cost of an ambassadorship just went up.”

Technically, this new giving can only go to three designated areas — convention costs, recount expenses and building funds. But while nothing is certain until regulations are written, it is a safe bet that these categories are likely to be porous. Hypothetically, funds for a new addition to the Democratic National Committee that houses the computers that contain the party’s voter files might also be used to update these registration lists. If nothing else, the parties would no longer have to take money from their general operating funds to pay for these activities.

A case can be made for strengthening the political parties in a Super PAC era. If the parties were too financially powerful in the 1990s when they were the only conduits for unregulated “soft money” contributions, now they are suffering from, in effect, being mere millionaires in a billionaire age. This is especially true as Super PACs are beginning to take on many of the traditional functions of parties like candidate recruitment, voter contact and polling.

It is worth recalling that parties are a force for responsibility and moderation in politics — since their ultimate goal is winning elections rather than enforcing an ideological agenda. Also, as ongoing organizations, the Republican and Democratic National Committees will still be around when the enthusiasms of the current generation of Super PAC donors wane or turn to art collecting and buying sports teams.

As a result, there could have been a robust public debate over the best way to fund political parties in this new electoral environment. Both Republican and Democratic party leaders — as well as the candidates themselves — should come to realize that they are the big losers when the mega-rich dominate campaigns through Super PACs.

It would have been possible to imagine bipartisan legislation in the next few years that would have traded increased legal contribution limits for enhanced disclosure of Super PAC and “dark money” spending. Or even swapped more generous giving for a functioning Federal Election Commission.

Instead Congress in its infinite wisdom decided that “dark money” legislating was a wiser solution. And blaming this one exclusively on the Republicans is probably not true, especially since the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is currently $20 million in debt.

The result is that the McCain-Feingold legislation, signed with such high hopes 12 years ago, is now as outmoded as Morse Code. And voters (or, at least, that small remnant who still care) have an entirely new reason to scorn Congress. Quite an accomplishment for a group of stealth middle-of-the-night legislators.

 

By: Walter Shapiro, Brennan Center For Justice, December 10, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Campaign Financing, Congress, Omnibus Spending Bill | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“When Elephants Attack”: Red On Red Violence, Like Ignorance, Is A Signifying Trait Of Wingnuttery

And now, let us have a brief moment of silence to honor the victims of red-on-red violence.

They’re fresh off their biggest electoral victory in years. But when Massachusetts Republicans got together this week for their regular state committee meeting, they dwelt on the losses of last month’s election, voting to scold former governor William F. Weld for endorsing a Democrat.

The members of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee voted 35 to 18 to condemn endorsements of Democrats by Republicans and name-checked their former standard-bearer for his violation. Weld endorsed Democrat Michael Day in the contest for a vacant House seat representing Stoneham and Winchester, narrowly edging out Republican Caroline Colarusso.

The Republicans also called out former party chairman Brian Cresta for his across-the-aisle endorsement of state Representative Theodore Speliotis, a Democrat who edged out Republican Tom Lyons.

You would figure that Republicans in the Bay State would get down on their knees every morning and thank the God they allegedly believe in for Weld, who kicked off a 16-year streak of GOP control of the State House when he defeated the late John Silber in 1990. Of course, ingratitude, like ignorance, is a signifying trait of wingnuttery.

The move comes at a time when Weld is resuming a leading role in Massachusetts. Charlie Baker, the Republican who just won the race for governor, was Weld’s political protege. He has named several fellow former Weld-era officials to his own cabinet…But to disgruntled conservatives, the former governor has betrayed them. The resolution expresses ‘deep disappointment in the poor judgment exercised by any Republican official who supported any candidate other than the Republican candidates during the past election cycle.'”

Keep in mind that the real reason the wingnuts are still angry at Weld is not because of anything he did in this election cycle; it’s because of what he did in the 2008 election cycle, when he endorsed Barack Obama instead of John McCain.

Weld’s endorsement of Mitt Romney in 2012 wasn’t enough for these cranks to set aside their hatred. At least one of the cranks admitted it:

“This guy is a traitor,” said one disgruntled Republican, John DiMascio, who faulted the party establishment for showcasing Weld, despite his support for Democrats. “You don’t turn around and take someone who endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and further make him a celebrity in the state.”

Well, there you go. How dare Weld think for himself! Doesn’t he know he’s a Republican, and therefore he’s not supposed to think at all?

The RINO-hunting will only get worse as we move into the 2016 election cycle, and with your help, we’ll be able to keep an eye on the savagery and stupidity of these scoundrels. Please make a tax-deductible donation today, so that we can continue to record the radicalism and monitor the madness.

 

By: D.R. Tucker, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 14, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Massachusetts, Politics, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Outlier For All The Wrong Reasons”: What America’s Gun-Toting Cops Look Like To The Rest Of The World

From protests in Washington, the police shooting of an unarmed teen in suburban St. Louis looks tragic. From rallies in Los Angeles, the death of a man caught selling cigarettes in New York City looks baffling. From inside churches in Chicago, the police shooting of a black child with a toy gun in Cleveland looks heartbreaking.

Still, there’s often a weariness to these responses, a sense that excessive police force is both shocking and predictable at the same time. Which is why it’s helpful, every now and then, to remember what all of this looks like from abroad.

The Economist this week has penned a blunt editorial that captures how much of the rest of the developed world views the American criminal justice system and our particular brand of policing: “In many cases,” the U.K.-based magazine writes, “Americans simply do not realise how capricious and violent their law-enforcement system is compared with those of other rich countries.”

We forget that other countries (the U.K. included) often police without firearms at all. We don’t realize that other parts of the world maintain public safety without the high costs of over-incarceration. We don’t know — in a country where we’re bad at keeping such stats ourselves — that police killings of any kind are exceeding rare elsewhere.

From that foreign perspective, this is what our system looks like:

Bits of America’s criminal-justice system are exemplary—New York’s cops pioneered data-driven policing, for instance—but overall the country is an outlier for all the wrong reasons. It jails nearly 1% of its adult population, more than five times the rich-country average. A black American man has, by one estimate, a one in three chance of spending time behind bars. Sentences are harsh. Some American states impose life without parole for persistent but non-violent offenders; no other rich nation does. America’s police are motivated to be rapacious: laws allow them to seize assets they merely suspect are linked to a crime and then spend the proceeds on equipment. And, while other nations have focused on community policing, some American police have become paramilitary, equipping themselves with grenade launchers and armoured cars. The number of raids by heavily armed SWAT teams has risen from 3,000 a year in 1980 to 50,000 today, by one estimate.

Above all, American law enforcement is unusually lethal: even the partial numbers show that the police shot and killed at least 458 people last year. By comparison, those in England and Wales shot and killed no one.

The U.S. is an international model in a lot of ways, the magazine points out. But this is decidedly not one of them.

 

By: Emily Badger, Wonkblog, The Washington Post, December 12, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Shootings, United Kingdom | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Normalizing Illegal Behavior”: Why Are Torturers Being Given “Balance” In The Press?

After the publication of the torture report, the torturers and their enablers have been all over the airwaves defending themselves and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” These “techniques” included horrific acts of rape, threatening family members with rape and death, suspension from ceilings and walls for days on end, forcing prisoners to soil themselves in diapers, and various forms of psychological torture including sleep and sensory deprivation. In many cases the people being tortured had done nothing wrong and had no information of value.

There is simply no defense for any of this. None. “It gave us actionable intelligence” isn’t a defense. It happens to be untrue. We know that torture doesn’t produce valuable information, and it didn’t produce valuable information in any of these cases, either. But it doesn’t matter if it worked or not. Cutting the hands off of thieves works wonders to reduce theft, but we don’t do that. A moral people does not do these things. “We’re not as bad they are” isn’t a defense, either. That’s not the standard by which a moral people judges itself–and besides, most of the rest of the industrialized world does hold itself to a higher standard, despite also being victimized by Islamist terror attacks.

This stuff is obvious. And yet the TV shows and newspaper stories are full of balance given to the pro-torture side. Why? Despite objections to the contrary, journalists do not always give balance to both sides of an argument if the other side is deemed irrelevant or depraved. Whenever the deficit bugbear rolls to the forefront, almost no balance is given to the Keynesian point of view despite their predictions being consistently correct: the idea that one needn’t actually cut the deficit during a recession is treated as so outre as to require no journalistic attention.

More pointedly, when journalists write about torture and depredations of current or former regimes, journalists don’t feel the need to get the torturers’ side of the story. No one is rushing to ask Assad’s torturers in Syria if their tactics are necessary to keep “terrorists” in check. No one is asking North Korean guards if their treatment of their people is OK because some other country is worse. No one rushes to counterbalance the accounts of Holocaust victims with the justifications of Nazi guards. It simply isn’t done, any more than we “balance” stories of child sexual abuse with a hot-take counterpoint from a member of NAMBLA. The reason we don’t provide “balance” in these cases is that to do so would be to normalize those behaviors as part of legitimate discourse.

So why in the world are the torturers who subjected innocent people to anal feedings and dungeon ceiling hangings given the courtesy of “balance” in the press? Where is the line that separates issues that require balance from those that do not?

In a decent moral universe, torturers don’t get the benefit of explaining themselves to the press any more than serial killers do, except potentially out of morbid curiosity.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal, The Washington Monthly, December 14, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Journalists, Media, Torture | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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