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“Net Neutrality”: To Remain Neutral In A Trump-Clinton Contest Is To Declare That One’s Conscience Has Been Compromised

Is there a more miserable figure than the man or woman who says they will abstain from voting for either Hillary Clinton or Deranged Donnie on November 8?

It’s difficult to have any respect for those (such as Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham and former George W. Bush speechwriter Peter Wehner) who seem to view Trump and Clinton as equally repulsive. It’s odd that these folks would choose to advertise their cowardice rather than take their responsibilities as citizens seriously.

Let’s be honest: when one says they cannot choose between Trump and Clinton, they are saying, in effect, that Trump is only disgusting, not dangerous, and that they will not actively try to resist his rise. To remain neutral in a Trump-Clinton contest is to declare that one’s conscience has been compromised.

It is illogical and immoral to remain neutral in the face of Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia. It is illogical and immoral to remain neutral in the face of Trump’s irrationality and incompetence. It is illogical and immoral to remain neutral in the face of Trump’s threat to American civility and decency.

The decision to remain neutral in a Trump-Clinton contest is one that can only be made from a position of racial and economic privilege. The African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and disadvantaged Americans of all colors who would be beaten down by Trump’s policies don’t have the luxury of remaining neutral. Do the folks who say they will sit on the sidelines in a Trump-Clinton matchup realize how crucial the outcome of this election will be for America’s shunned and stigmatized?

Rush (the band, not the wingnut radio host) got it right 36 years ago in the song “Freewill”: If you choose not to decide/you still have made a choice. By embracing neutrality instead of resistance in the face of Trump’s extremism, those who plan to abstain from voting in the presidential election have chosen to sanction such extremism.

Do these abstainers have children and grandchildren? Do they not care about the behavior those children and grandchildren will witness in the White House over the next four to eight years? Presidents set a moral tone, and when they behave in an immoral fashion, children learn that such behavior is good, that one can get away with the most atrocious of actions. Ask yourself: What kind of moral example did Ronald Reagan set with Iran-Contra? What kind of moral example did George W. Bush set with his lies about WMD? And what kind of moral example would Deranged Donnie set for our children and grandchildren over the course of the next four to eight years?

Much has been made of Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “Confessions of a Republican” ad and how it could apply to today’s election. Let us not forget the key line in that ad:

I’ve thought about just not voting in this election, just staying home — but you can’t do that, because that’s saying you don’t care who wins, and I do care.

The folks who say they will remain neutral in the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are saying they don’t care who wins, that they don’t give a damn about the destruction Trump could bring about as President, that they really do think Clinton is as immoral and irrational and intolerant as Trump. If you know anyone like this in your personal life, don’t cut off communication with them. In fact, you only need to say three words to them:

“Shame on you.”

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 15, 2016

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gun Control Is Political”: So Is Refusing To Address The Politics Of Gun Violence

After the 24-year-old television reporter Alison Parker and her 27-year-old cameraman Adam Ward were killed while on camera from a lake outside of Roanoke, Virginia on Wednesday morning, the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, somewhat predictably tweeted that “[w]e must act to stop gun violence, and we cannot wait any longer” and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe called for new gun control measures in the form of background checks .

The conservative response to Democrats’ anodyne reactions is even more predictable: it’s wrong, they say, to “politicize” individual acts of firearm violence. But gun violence in the United States has everything to do with politics – and we should be talking more, not less, about the impact of America’s failed gun policies on victims and their families and communities.

It is true – as apologists for the status quo will be sure to point out – that it is impossible to know whether today’s murder specifically could have been prevented by a more stringent gun control regime, let alone by one characterized exclusively by background checks. But on a more systematic level, the result of our lack of substantive, internationally comparable gun control is entirely clear: the US is not only an international outlier in its lack of gun control, it is also a massive outlier in terms of firearm violence. The ease of access to firearms clearly causes large numbers of unnecessary deaths by homicide, suicide, and accident.

Thus, the staggering human toll of gun violence in the US is not just a random coincidence; it is the result of political choices.

Which policies could reduce the huge number of mass killings in the US are not a mystery: after 35 people were killed in Tasmania in 1996, Australia’s conservative government enacted sweeping gun control measures. The result was that both homicides and suicides by gun were immediately and sharply reduced, and there have been no mass killings in the country since. Conversely, there have been 885 mass killings in the United States since December 2012, when a gunman killed 20 elementary school students at the Newtown Elementary School in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

Identifying the policy changes that could reduce American firearm slaughter is easy, of course – and figuring out a politically viable way of getting these policies enacted is another matter. Even if the 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v Heller declaring an individual right to bear arms in the 2nd Amendment were to be overruled by the same court, the political obstacles in the path of meaningful gun control are formidable. Isolated state and local measures aren’t meaningless, but there are distinct limits to how much they can accomplish. Tough federal gun control measures could make a big difference, but passing any such measure through both the House and a Senate that massively over-represents small, rural states with a disproportionate number of gun-owners would be impossible for the foreseeable future.

The lack of congressional reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 is instructive on that point. Even very modest, overwhelmingly popular gun control measures, involving background checks and controls on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, failed to pass a Democratic Senate and, even if they had, they would have had no chance of passing the House of Representatives. Australian-style gun control is not coming to the US anytime soon, especially with support for gun rights only growing.

But gun control isn’t the only way to address gun violence, and Parker and Ward are not even its typical victims. Even had Parker and Ward’s killer not turned his gun on himself, there would have been an intensive investigation into their deaths, and the sure-to-have-been apprehended killer would have faced some measure of justice.

Consider, though, the situation 280 miles northeast of Roanoke in Baltimore, Maryland. The horrifying death of Freddie Gray in police custody has highlighted the violence committed by police against Baltimore’s African-American citizens, but what the police have failed to do for the community is also important to understanding how gun violence typically plays out in America. So far in 2015, more people have been killed in Baltimore (population 620,000) than in New York City (population 8.4 million). The more than 200 murder victims in Baltimore receive much less attention from either the investigating authorities or the media, and the vast majority of those victims are poor and African-American. Indeed, the horrifying spike in homicides has been met with a weak response by the police: the clearance rate for murders is less than 40%.

A lack of federal gun control is certainly a large part of the problem of the toll of gun violence. But other policies and social conditions – most obviously high levels of economic and racial inequality – also play a major role, and both are also the result of political choices.

As the journalist Jill Leovy explains in her new book Ghettoside, poor African-American communities in many American urban areas are simultaneously over- and under-policed: they are on the one hand subject to routine harassment, detention, and imprisonment for minor offenses but, when it comes to serious violent offenses committed against poor African-Americans, the reaction by the state and the media is too often apathetic or ineffectual. Most victims of gun violence will never make international news, and their deaths will almost never result in calls for more gun control – let alone the kind of gun control that would reduce the number of guns in the hands of Americans, which is the only tried-and-true method for reducing gun violence.

The American epidemic of gun violence has not been “politicized” by those who seek to alleviate it. It is and always has been an inherently a political question, as is what we’re going to do about it. The answer, at least for now, seems to be “nothing”. But it doesn’t always have to be.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Guardian, August 26, 2015

August 28, 2015 Posted by | Gun Control, Gun Deaths, Gun Violence | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“You’re Not Worthy Of Respect”: Clarence Thomas’s Disgraceful Definition Of Human Dignity

During a break on my reporting trip to Ferguson, Missouri this spring, I visited the museum inside the Old Courthouse, a magnificent, green-domed federal-style building that sits in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch. It houses artifacts and displays relating to the Dred Scott case, tried there in 1847; ten years later, in 1857, the United States Supreme Court would hand Scott—an enslaved man suing for freedom for himself and his family—his final judicial defeat. In arguably the worst decision ever handed down by any American court, in words that are displayed today inside that museum in large, bold, white letters, Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote that African Americans were “beings of an inferior order,” so much so that they had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney’s statement is anathema to the very idea of equality. But he asserted that the Founding Fathers, as indicated in the Constitution itself, would have thought the same of people who looked like Scott, or me. In historical terms, Taney wasn’t far off. The Constitution needed correcting, and it wasn’t until the Fourteenth Amendment, ratified in 1868, eleven years after the Scott decision, that this got cleared up.

But I wondered again this morning, as marriage equality became the law of the land, what Constitution Clarence Thomas is reading, and in what America he lives. On Friday, Thomas—a black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South, a man who should know precisely the meaning of equal protection under the law—issued one of four individual written dissents in the case, Obergefell v. Hodges. It begins in the strict constitutionalist vein that Thomas is known for, but broadens to cover not only the Constitution but also the nation as a whole. For Thomas, the decision isn’t so much about laws as it is about principle:

The Court’s decision today is at odds not only with the Constitution, but with the principles upon which our Nation was built. Since well before 1787, liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits. The Framers created our Constitution to preserve that understanding of liberty. Yet the majority invokes our Constitution in the name of a “liberty” that the Framers would not have recognized, to the detriment of the liberty they sought to protect. Along the way, it rejects the idea—captured in our Declaration of Independence—that human dignity is innate and suggests instead that it comes from the Government.

Let’s consider this passage literally, and let’s consider the kind of liberty that the “Framers” recognized. The Constitution was ratified in 1787, in a new nation in which the enslavement of kidnapped Africans and their descendants—to say nothing of the abuse, murder, and rape they suffered—was already a national institution. Their notion of liberty didn’t include folks who looked like Dred Scott, me, or Thomas himself; Thomas’s “liberty” wasn’t open to gay or lesbian Americans in that day and age, either.

In a paper written in time for the nation’s bicentennial 39 years ago, Louis Crompton noted that homosexuality was punishable by the death when this country began. Its abolition plodded through the states over the next few decades. (In 1792, Thomas Jefferson, Crompton notes, called for the castration of those found guilty of sodomy in a Virginia bill.) Penalties were reduced to imprisonment in most cases; South Carolina, perennially the last state to act in the name of its most vulnerable citizens, was slowest to change, repealing their death penalty only eight years after the Civil War. To use Thomas’s words, I’d argue, strongly, that all of this constitutes the government stripping away the dignity of those suffering legal punishments for being who they are.

Thomas, however, appears to define dignity more strictly, as the quality of being worthy of respect. That’s strange to hear coming from a man who, while the head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexually harassed Anita Hill and likened criticism of his reprehensible behavior to a “high-tech lynching.” But I’ll allow that the idea of preserving dignity and therefore proving oneself as worthy of respect is an idea Thomas, a high-achieving student who nonetheless chose to study English literature in college to help him shed the burden of his Gullah dialect, is quite familiar with.

What I can’t stomach, however, is Thomas’s tendency to ignore the systemic effects of prejudice, and in the process serve as an agent to foster them. By not recognizing what plagues so many, he allows hatred and ignorance to swell. Thomas clearly wants marginalized people to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, all while he’s committed to taking those same bootstraps away. This is his legacy, a disgraceful sequel to the term of the man he succeeded, Thurgood Marshall. Granted, Thomas sometimes interprets symbols—such as burning crosses or Confederate flags—as offensive. But the actual, institutional bias those symbols promote escapes him. Thomas frequently infuses respectability politics into his rulings, which demonstrates his continued obliviousness to reality: It is not the responsibility of a vulnerable people to convince the powerful they are worth protecting. It is not the duty of the marginalized to prove they have dignity and therefore become worthy of being treated as equals; that task lies squarely across the shoulders of the rulers. And, in this regard, Thomas’s blindness shows. This is a person who, during the demonization of black people in the Reagan era, thought we were the main problem.

He returns to the notion of dignity later in the dissent in a passage that is even more shocking and incorrect. Citing the Declaration of Independence’s “all men are created equal”—a phrase that in an increasingly gender-aware nation, should already raise alarms about a lack of inclusion—he writes:

…human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

We live in a nation whose industries, cities, and towns grew out of fertile soil wet with the blood and sweat of slaves. The United States has long been full of unmarked geysers of prejudice, blasting their ignorance on continuously marginalized people—including the LGBTQI Americans who in many ways continue to live, despite this ruling, as second-class citizens. Marriage equality does not close the housing, employment, and healthcare disparities that exist between us cisgender straight folks and those who are not. It is only the beginning of another long march.

We live in a nation where a young white man with a racist manifesto can study the Bible with a group of African Americans and then murder them, and in the aftermath the chattering class will engage in debates about whether a racist act has occurred. We live in a place where Matthew Shepard can be slain for being gay in 1998, and Wyoming, the state where he died, can remain one of five without a hate-crime law nearly two decades later. This is a place where, since its founding, the government has had a strong say over just how much dignity a person is allowed. The right of same-sex couples to marry was one that many straight men were not bound to respect, depending upon their state. There are still many of these men, but they cannot remove the dignity the government has today bestowed.

Dignity may be innate, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be taken away from you. It can become a two-way street. You can consider yourself worthy of honor or respect, as Oxford defines it, all you wish. But if institutional discrimination deprives you of such basic human rights as health care, education, and the right to marry whomever you love, honor and respect is not afforded you. Sometimes, in the course of history, states and people need to be bound by law to respect you. Relying upon human nature, or the Founders’ supposed intentions is ridiculous when you consider yesteryear.

Thomas, having lost the argument over marriage equality, chose to offer a pernicious, unsympathetic dissent that gives short shrift to the forces of discrimination and subjugation legalized by government while further emboldening his self mythology, this legendary story he keeps feeding us. Thomas would have you believe that because he himself could survive the indignities forced upon him by Jim Crow—a system of legal discrimination that eventually came to be made illegal, after a variety of Supreme Court decisions very much like today’s ruling—and that somehow, others should be able to endure something similar without the benefit of the very legal recourse that he can deliver from his perch. Using himself as the basis for a legal argument is asinine. Doing so in the service of discrimination is inexcusable.

 

By: Jamil Smith, Sr Editor, The New Republic, June 26, 2015

June 27, 2015 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Marriage Equality, U. S. Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Killing Of America”: This Country Was Born In The Fires Of Violence, And Will Die In The Flames Of Viciousness

Our country is dying on the streets of Baltimore.

I have argued before that we will never have racial reconciliation in this country, so long as some whites embrace the “They had it coming!” argument to justify police violence against people of color. Now, I’m convinced that America will end in race war. I no longer believe Americans can live together in harmony. We are coming apart.

Two decades ago, in the fall of 1995, I also wondered if America was on its way to race war. In the two weeks between O. J. Simpson’s acquittal and the Million Man March, I feared that it would only be a matter of time before white men and black men took up arms against each other, determined to slaughter as many members of “the other side” as possible.

Those fears subsided, but two decades later, those concerns are stronger than ever. Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, North Charleston and Baltimore are the battles in the race war of our time.

I have always considered myself an integrationist. I always had faith that our society would atone for its original sin of slavery, would move from hatred to healing, would grow from the past and walk together towards a beautiful future. I believed that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream would one day be reality.

Ferguson, New York, Cleveland, North Charleston and Baltimore prove that dreams only happen when you’re asleep.

I understand now why Richard Wright and Josephine Baker decided to leave the United States. I understand now why so many despair about the future of American race relations. I understand now why there’s no hope.

Our race problems cannot be fixed. Barack Obama cannot fix them. Bernie Sanders cannot fix them. Hillary Clinton cannot fix them. Our society is doomed, poisoned by a virus injected into our veins when the slave ships first hit American shores.

Remember Michael Moore’s great cartoon from the film Bowling for Columbine about America’s history of racist violence?

If your children are old enough to understand, require them to watch this video. Compel them to comprehend why our cities are filled with anger. Teach them to recognize that the sins of the Founding Fathers have been visited upon successive generations.

America is dying. America is over. It cannot survive. It is dying from within. This country was born in the fires of violence, and it will die in the flames of viciousness. There is no hope, no change–only hatred and pain.

UPDATE: From 2013, Michael Moore and Michael Eric Dyson on the Molotov cocktail of racism, fear and violence in America.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, May 3, 2015

May 4, 2015 Posted by | American History, Baltimore, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Judging The Supreme Court”: A Disturbing Picture, The Court Is Guilty Of Failing To Adequately Enforce The Constitution

After 227 years of history, how should we judge the United States Supreme Court? All of my years of studying, teaching, and practicing Constitutional law have convinced me that the Supreme Court has rarely lived up to lofty expectations and far more often has upheld discrimination and even egregious violations of basic liberties.

My disappointment in the Court is historical and contemporary. Its preeminent task is to enforce the Constitution in the face of majorities that would violate it. The Court is thus especially important in protecting minorities and in safeguarding rights in times of crisis when passions cause society to lose sight of its long-term values.

For the first 78 years of American history until the ratification of the 13th Amendment in 1865, the Court enforced the institution of slavery. For 58 years, from 1896 until 1954, the Court embraced the noxious doctrine of separate but equal and approved Jim Crow laws that segregated every aspect of Southern life. Nor are egregious mistakes by the Supreme Court on race a thing of the past. The Roberts Court has furthered racial inequality by striking down efforts of school boards to desegregate schools and by declaring unconstitutional crucial provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Court also has continually failed to stand up to majoritarian pressures in times of crisis. During World War I, individuals were imprisoned for speech that criticized the draft and the war without the slightest evidence that the expression had any adverse effect on military recruitment or the war effort. During World War II, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were uprooted from their lifelong homes and placed in what President Franklin Roosevelt referred to as “concentration camps.”

During the McCarthy era, people were imprisoned simply for teaching works by Marx and Engels, and Lenin. In all of these instances, the Court failed to enforce the Constitution. Most recently, the Roberts Court held that individuals could be criminally punished for advising foreign organizations, designated by the United States government as terrorist organizations, as to how to use the United Nations for peaceful resolution of their disputes or how to receive humanitarian assistance.

For almost 40 years, from the 1890s until 1937, the Court declared unconstitutional more than 200 federal, state, and local laws that were designed to protect workers and consumers. The Court even declared unconstitutional the first federal law designed to prevent child labor by prohibiting the shipment in interstate commerce of goods made by child labor. Minimum-wage and maximum-hour laws were frequently invalidated.

Even the areas of the Supreme Court’s triumphs, like Brown v. Board of Education and Gideon v. Wainwright, accomplished less than it might seem. American public schools remain racially separate and terribly unequal. Criminal defendants in so many parts of the country, including in death-penalty cases, have grossly inadequate lawyers.

The Court’s decisions from the last few years — preventing employment discrimination suits and class actions against large corporations, keeping those injured by misconduct of generic drug makers from having any recovery, denying remedies to those unjustly convicted and detained — illustrate what has historically been true: The Court is far more likely to rule in favor of corporations than workers or consumers; it is far more likely to uphold abuses of government power than to stop them.

What should we do about it?

Some scholars urge the abandonment of judicial review, but I reject that conclusion. The limits of the Constitution are meaningful only if there are courts to enforce them. For those I have represented over my career — prisoners, criminal defendants, homeless individuals, a Guantánamo detainee — it is the courts or nothing.

But I believe that there are many reforms that can make the Court better and, taken together, make it less likely that it will so badly fail in the future. I propose a host of changes, including instituting merit selection of court justices, creating a more meaningful confirmation process, establishing term limits for court justices, changing the Court’s communications (that is, televising its proceedings), and applying ethics rules to the court justices.

The Supreme Court’s decisions affect each of us, often in the most important and intimate aspects of our lives. I think that we need to focus on the Court’s long-term and historical performance. If we do, it is a disturbing picture and there is only one possible verdict: The Court is guilty of failing to adequately enforce the Constitution.

But it can and must get better in the years and decades ahead.

 

By: Ewin Chemerinsky; The National Memo, January 5, 2014; Originally Posted at The Washington Spectator

 

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Constitution, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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