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Showing posts from May, 2014

Casual Racism v. Institutionalized Racism

We as a nation have become really good at punishing casual racism. Casual racism, you know, using the N-word, or saying overtly cruel things about black people in the presence of a recording device.
Robert Copeland, an 82-year-old town police commissioner in New Hampshire, resigned this week after he unapologetically described President Barack Obama as the N-word. There’s not an equivalent thing to call a white leader of the free world. There’s just not. After Copeland’s resignation, Board of Selectmen Chair Linda Murray told reporters, “The town is pleased. This gives us the opportunity to move on.”

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Opinion You say gun control doesn't work? Fine. Let's ban guns altogether.

In a post Tuesday, I listed the mass shootings since January 2013 in which at least three people were killed. It’s an agonizingly, depressingly long list, and I cited it as the prime reason we need meaningful gun control. The post received the usual blowback from gun owners, most of whom skipped over the scope of gun deaths in this country to look more myopically at last week’s tragic events at Isla Vista (which I mentioned only in passing, seeing this problem as much broader than the most recent headlines).

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From Elections to Mass Movements: How Wealthy Elites Are Hijacking Democracy All Over the World

Mass street protests are usually seen as a hallmark of democratic aspirations. And elections are meant to be a culmination of such aspirations, affording people the opportunity to choose their own leaders and system of government. But in country after country these days, the hallmarks of democracy are being dangerously subverted and co-opted by powerful elites. The question is, are we recognizing what is happening under our noses? Three examples unfolding right now are indicators of this trend: Thailand, Ukraine and Egypt.
Thailand has just witnessed its 19th coup in 82 years. Although coup leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-Ocha has promised “genuine democracy,” he has given no timetable for an end to martial law. The U.S. State Department initially refused to call the takeover a coup, insisting that martial law is consistent with Thailand’s constitution. It then changed its tune to issue a strongly worded condemnation.

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Glenn Greenwald to Publish Names of Americans NSA Spied On

Those who have grown apathetic about the National Security Agency violating privacy rights, may soon find their interest renewed, as the political is about to get very personal. According to The Sunday Times of London, Glenn Greenwald will publish the names of Americans targeted by the NSA.
“One of the big questions when it comes to domestic spying is, ‘Who have been the NSA’s specific targets?’” he told the Times. “Are they political critics and dissidents and activists? Are they genuinely people we’d regard as terrorists? What are the metrics and calculations that go into choosing those targets and what is done with the surveillance that is conducted? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to still answer.”

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Can New York City’s Welfare System Be Saved?

Depending on your politics, the term “safety net” might suggest a government that righteously protects its neediest, or a nanny state that coddles the undeserving. But for many poor New Yorkers, it’s a misnomer—more of a tightrope than a net. Because instead of breaking your fall into poverty, the bureaucracy of the city’s welfare system shoves you further over the edge.
A new study by the legal advocacy group Urban Justice Center (full disclosure: where the author once interned and volunteered), based on surveys of clients, argues that New York City’s primary public assistance agency, the Human Resources Administration (HRA), has become utterly dysfunctional under the last two conservative administrations. It’s not just a matter of incompetence but rather a so-called “culture of deterrence”: a bureaucratic process that indirectly aims to make welfare so unpleasant even eligible people stop applying (which conveniently serves the agendas of politicians who emphasize “per…

The Exponential Growth Of American Incarceration, In Three Graphs

The Prison Policy Initiative released a deluge of data Wednesday on United States prison population rates. The main take-away of the data is nothing new: The U.S. prison population is the highest in the world, and has grown exponentially since the 1970s, tracking the rise of the so-called War on Drugs.
But for all the talk these past few months about the federal prison population — and the concerns there are urgent — these charts call out the major perpetrators of the prison explosion: the states, where incarceration rates have increased more than fourfold:

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Minnesota Becomes 22nd Medical Marijuana State, But The Only One That Won’t Let You Smoke

Minnesota became the 22nd state in addition to the District of Columbia with a medical marijuana bill Thursday, with the signature of Gov. Mark Dayton (D). The new law will allow the distribution and consumption of marijuana for medical purposes, with one major caveat: You can’t smoke it, and you can’t possess the plant in its natural form.
The compromise measure lost the support of many medical marijuana advocates, who say consumption of the plant is the most natural and effective method for managing particular conditions. The law will allow the plant to be distributed only in oil, vapor, or pill forms, after the oil is extracted from the plant through state-licensed manufacturers. While the oil has been particularly value for children suffering from seizures, marijuana is most frequently consumed in its leaf form, particularly because patients can control dosing by taking one puff at a time until they feel relief. Those who utilize this marijuana oil cannot control it…

What the GOP and Donald Sterling Have in Common

Those of the ilk of rancher Cliven Bundy and billionaire Donald Sterling believe there’s a place for African-Americans. And, Sterling said in a taped conversation, that place certainly is not in photographs with his girlfriend posted on Instagram. Bundy, who stiffed the federal government for $1 million in grazing fees, suggested the best place for African-Americans is in cotton picking trade schools, where they’d be taught a skill that would enable them to secure positions as slaves. For Sterling, Bundy and their amoral company, the good old days were pre-emancipation, when white men like them were men, and federal law said black men were, well, only three-fifths human. Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, told his girlfriend she should not bring black people to his team’s basketball games. Bundy told a reporter he thought black people were “better off” as slaves. Crucial to this bigot-think is reduction of some people to subhuman status. That’s how Republicans s…

Skyrocketing Prison Population Devastating US Society: Report

Impacted communities have long slammed U.S. policies of mass incarceration that are locking up more people than any other country in the world. Now that criticism is also resounding from the highly-regarded National Research Council (an arm of the National Academy of Sciences), which issued a devastating report this week charging that "unprecedented" levels incarceration are spreading great social harm.
Following two years of data review, the 464-page report delivers a round indictment of four decades of skyrocketing incarceration that has quadrupled the prison population and torn apart families, communities, society, and the lives of the incarcerated people.
"Those in power have tried to dismiss and disparage the communities and organizations who have been calling attention to these issues and struggling to change things," Isaac Ontiveros of Critical Resistance told Common Dreams. "Now you have the center saying the same thing people having been …

There’s still no evidence that executions deter criminals

Despite botched executions like the one Tuesday night in Oklahoma, a majority of Americans support the death penalty. Most people in favor of capital punishment believe that it is the only just penalty for some crimes, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2011. Other subjects of the survey cited other reasons, such as religious teaching.
By contrast, the question of whether executions discourage criminals from violent acts is not up to the conscience to decide. Despite extensive research on the question, criminologists have been unable to assemble a strong case that capital punishment deters crime.
"We're very hard pressed to find really strong evidence of deterrence," said Columbia Law School's Jeffrey Fagan.

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U.S. Laws Defy Basic Rules Of Justice: Report

Too many laws in the U.S defy basic human rights principles of justice by resorting to overly punitive sentences for nonviolent and low-level crimes, according to a report published Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.
“Almost 30 years of harsh sentencing laws have left the US with over 2.2 million men and women behind bars, most for nonviolent crimes,” the 36-page report concludes, pointing to the more than 53 percent of state prison inmates with sentences of at least a year who are serving time for non-violent offenses.
“Fair and prudent punishment is not only a core human rights principle, but a core principle of American justice that has been neglected for far too long,” Jamie Fellner, co-author of the report and senior adviser to the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch, said in a press release Tuesday. “There is growing national recognition that disproportionately harsh laws are not needed to protect public safety and to hold offenders accountable for their crimes. To the c…

Americans now get to decide which religions we want to protect

When the Supreme Court handed down its decision Monday in Town of Greece v. Galloway, many commentators suggested that it was an overreaction to believe that it would impact religious freedom in America. If anything, they argue, we are all a little bit freer this morning, as the court has moved away from the stifling demand that religious invocations before a town council meeting be limited to “nonsectarian” references, such as the “Almighty” or “addressed only to a generic God.” In a significant shift from earlier case law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that local government “cannot require chaplains to redact the religious content from their message to make it acceptable for the public sphere.” From now on, religious leaders can offer full-throated, unapologetic prayers to the god of their choosing in public meetings. And in language consistent with one of the most speech-protective courts in modern history, Kennedy reminds religious objectors that citizens who “feel ex…

In much of the country, the death penalty is disappearing. In the South, it lives on.

In the wake of Oklahoma’s horrifying mis-execution of Clayton Lockett, could the death penalty itself die off? It seems impossible, I know. Polls show support falling, but still at about 55 percent. And yet, that’s the death penalty in the abstract. On the ground, in many states, a different reality is playing out—one that demonstrates growing discomfort with capital punishment. 

There is one looming exception to this rule: the South. The death penalty has become largely a regional phenomenon that divides the South—or, really, parts of the South—from the rest of the country. While the death penalty remains legal in 32 states, actual death sentences and executions are concentrated in a small and shrinking number of them. The death penalty won’t be abolished throughout America anytime soon. But it could quietly fall into disuse in all but a small number of holdouts.

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Lessons in dissent for the 21st century

Bag News Notes did what it does best and isolated the images in the Cecily McMillan Occupy case.

Look at the whole series.  You'll find that it's almost impossible to conclude that she wasn't being grabbed from behind and reflexively reacting. Certainly there is more than a little bit of reasonable doubt. Now 9 of the 12 jurors are asking the judge for leniency. The law doesn't allow for them to be apprised in advance of the possible sentence and apparently they didn't realize that convicting someone of a felony is very serious and tends to carry jail time.

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