U.S. Senate Says “Yes” to Torture

U.S. Senate says yes to torture

“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness…Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” – Joseph Welch

On Thursday the U.S. Senate voted 54 to 45 – with six Democrats voting “yes” and two Republicans voting “no” – to confirm Gina Haspel as the new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. By doing so the Senate excused and rewarded Ms. Haspel’s oversight of the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

In 2002, Ms. Haspel went to Thailand to oversee a CIA black site known as the “Cat’s Eye,” where prisoners were beaten, sleep deprived, held in “stress positions,” locked inside small, wooden boxes, and waterboarded. After the torture program came to light, Ms. Haspel helped order the destruction of videotapes of the torture sessions. During her confirmation hearings Ms. Haspel testified that, in hindsight, the CIA should not have engaged in its “enhanced interrogation program” (the politically correct euphemism for torture). However, during those same hearings she also repeatedly refused to condemn torture as immoral.

To be clear, not only is torture in fact immoral, it also illegal under U.S. and international law. The 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids “cruel and unusual punishments.” Articles 55(c) and 56 of the United Nations Charter, which the U.S. Senate ratified 89 – 2 in 1945, pledges the United States to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.” The Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994 and amended federal law to implement, requires our nation to “take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction,” and specifically makes no exceptions for “a state of war or a threat of war.”

While 54 United States Senators excused and endorsed torture this week, it is worth remembering it wasn’t so long ago that our government prosecuted and imprisoned people as war criminals for the exact same kind of torture Ms. Haspel oversaw. In 1947, the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE) tried Japanese Army interpreter Yukio Asano on charges of of violating “the laws and customs of war” through these specific acts:

Specification 1: That in or about July or August, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Morris O. Killough, an American Prisoner of War, by beating and kicking him, by fastening him on a stretcher and pouring water up his nostrils.

Specification 2: That on or about 15 May, 1944, at Fukoka Prisoner of War Branch Camp Number 3, Kyushu, Japan, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture Thomas B. Armitage, William O. Cash and Munroe Dave Woodall, American Prisoners of War, by beating and kicking them, by forcing water into their mouths and noses, and by pressing lighted cigarettes against their bodies.

Specification 5. That between 1 April, 1943 and 31 December, 1943, the accused Yukio Asano, did, willfully and unlawfully, brutally mistreat and torture John Henry Burton, an American Prisoner of War, by beating him, and by fastening him head downward on a stretcher and forcing water into his nose. (emphasis added)

The IMTFE found Asano guilty, and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor. Seventy-one years later, the United States Senate promoted Gina Haspel to the most powerful intelligence and paramilitary job in the land.

“Let them kill you, but don’t cross the line.” – Hannah Arendt

The Senate’s 54 – 45 vote in favor of Ms. Haspel’s confirmation means she would not have been confirmed but for the six Democratic Senators who voted “yea.”

While it may be true that some of these Democrats cast a vote for Ms. Haspel partly because they face tough 2018 re-election bids (Manchin, Heitkamp), it should go without saying that any job which requires you to endorse torture is not a job worth keeping. 

REPUBLICAN YEAs – 48
Alexander (R-TN)     Barrasso (R-WY)     Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)       Burr (R-NC)             Capito (R-WV)
Cassidy (R-LA)          Collins (R-ME)         Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)           Cotton (R-AR)          Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)                Daines (R-MT)         Enzi (R-WY)
Ernst (R-IA)               Fischer (R-NE)        Hyde-Smith (R-MS)
Gardner (R-CO)        Graham (R-SC)         Grassley (R-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)             Heller (R-NV)           Hoeven (R-ND)
Inhofe (R-OK)           Isakson (R-GA)         Johnson (R-WI)
Kennedy (R-LA)        Lankford (R-OK)     Lee (R-UT)
McConnell (R-KY)    Moran (R-KS)         Murkowski (R-AK)  
Perdue (R-GA)           Portman (R-OH)       Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)           Rounds (R-SD)          Rubio (R-FL)
Sasse (R-NE)               Scott (R-SC)               Shelby (R-AL)
Sullivan (R-AK)         Thune (R-SD)            Tillis (R-NC)
Toomey (R-PA)          Wicker (R-MS)          Young (R-IN)
DEMOCRAT YEAs – 6
Warner (D-VA)          Shaheen (D-NH)       Heitkamp (D-ND)
Nelson (D-FL)            Manchin (D-WV)      Donnelly (D-IN)
REPUBLICAN NAYs – 2
Flake (R-AZ)                Paul (R-KY)
DEMOCRAT & INDEPENDENT NAYs – 43
Baldwin (D-WI)         Bennet (D-CO)         Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)            Brown (D-OH)         Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)           Carper (D-DE)         Casey (D-PA)
Coons (D-DE)             Duckworth (D-IL)   Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)       Gillibrand (D-NY)    Harris (D-CA)
Hassan (D-NH)          Heinrich (D-NM)     Hirono (D-HI)
Jones (D-AL)                Kaine (D-VA)            King (I-ME)
Klobuchar (D-MN)    Leahy (D-VT)           Markey (D-MA)
McCaskill (D-MO)      Menendez (D-NJ)    Merkley (D-OR)
Murphy (D-CT)           Murray (D-WA)      Peters (D-MI)
Reed (D-RI)                  Sanders (I-VT)         Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY)         Smith (D-MN)        Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)             Udall (D-NM)          Van Hollen (D-MD)
Warren (D-MA)           Whitehouse (D-RI)  Wyden (D-OR)
Cortez Masto (D-NV)
NOT VOTING – 1
McCain (R-AZ)

– Joel Feinman

 

The GOP Celebrates Mother’s Day by Assaulting Christian Family Values and the Rule of Law

GOP war on families 1

In an early Mother’s Day gift to the world, on May 7 Attorney General Jeff Sessions scored a tremendous victory in the GOP’s war against families and the rule of law in the United States. Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy for people who enter the U.S. without documentation; henceforth, all undocumented adult immigrants will be prosecuted by the U.S. “Department of Justice.” [sic] This policy makes no accommodations for refugees fleeing poverty and the often extreme violence of their homelands – violence the U.S. is partially responsible for creating.

If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. If you smuggle illegal aliens across our border, then we will prosecute you. If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” – Jeff Session

In case one worries Mr. Sessions won’t really practice what he is preaching, The New York Times reports that “more than 700 children have been taken from adults claiming to be their parents since last October, including more than 100 children under the age of 4.” According to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, despite what many assume this willful destruction of families is not cruel and heartless because, “The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever.”

“America has begun a spiritual reawakening. Faith and hope are being restored. Americans are turning back to God.” – Ronald Reagan

At first glance, tearing apart families may appear to be a strange avocation for an Attorney General whom Evangelical Christian leaders call “a wonderful believer,” who is “on fire for Christ.” However, given the new DOJ policy of ripping children out of the arms of their refugee parents, one must ask – which parts of the Bible does the GOP still believe in?

  • Psalm 82:3-4 seems to be out. (“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy.”)
  • Proverbs 24:11 no longer seems to cut the mustard (“Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.)
  • Ephesians 4:32 can be scratched off. (“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”)
  • Hebrews 13:1-2 doesn’t seem like Mr. Sessions’ thing anymore. (“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”)
  • Matthew 25:35 is clearly not kindling Jesus’ fire in the DOJ these days. (“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”)
  • Leviticus 19:33-34  must have been written by a Hillary-Obama-Islamo-Fascist. (“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”)

We need to recognize the attack Mr. Sessions launched last Monday is not the act of a political renegade, but rather the latest salvo in the GOP’s war on traditional Christian values and the integrity of the family. In the last several years the party, which claims its economic and social policies “should always promote and strengthen that most sacred [family] bond,” has endorsed a candidate accused of sexually assaulting children, passed laws to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, ceaselessly attacked programs that provide health care and social security to the most vulnerable Americans, opposed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights between men and women, and threatened to criminally prosecute people who help refugees. By doing so the GOP has exposed themselves as much more interested in breaking families apart than bringing them together.

 “We are going to restore the rule of law in the United States.” – Donald Trump

The GOP has long cast its position on immigration as an example of its fealty to the rule of law. However, much like its practice of turning the other cheek to biblical passages it finds politically inconvenient, the GOP habitually skips over the U.S. Constitution when it thunders on about which laws it thinks should actually dictate immigration policy.

Article VI Sec. 2 states,

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” (emphasis added)

Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the U.S. ratified in 1992, prohibits our government from arbitrarily arresting and detaining anyone, including refugees and asylum-seekers. The U.S. is also party to the 1967 protocol of the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states in Article 33 that member nations must not return refugees to places where their “life or freedom” would be threatened. Additionally, U.S. law requires immigration officers to refer refugees who seek asylum to an interview with an asylum officer before they can be deported. In 2017, Amnesty International issued a report documenting numerous incidents of Border Patrol agents telling refugees they cannot apply for asylum in the United States, and needed to “go back to Mexico.” Finally, while the U.S. has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (nothing says “New Wold Order” more that human rights for kids), we are a signatory to that treaty, which obliges nations to act in the best interests of children. Suffice it to say any government policy that forcibly separates children from parents is not in the best interests of either, and happens to be illegal under international law, U.S. statutory law, and the Constitution of the United States.

“And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
“Come and see,” and I saw, and behold a white horse.” – Johnny Cash

In the purest distillation of ironic tragedy, the GOP’s war on Christian family values and the rule of law is quickening a functional end of days for the war’s victims. VOX estimates that the Trump administration’s monomaniacal focus on the persecution of refugees will, by January 2020, turn almost 400,000 people legally present in the U.S. into undocumented immigrants, vulnerable to forced deportation and the destruction of their families. These 400,000 men, women, and children are refugees from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, who fled violence and natural disasters in their homelands and have been allowed to legally live and work in the U.S. – for more than 20 years in some cases – under the Temporary Protected Status Program. In a development that will surprise no one, the Trump Administration has broken with previous administrations, and chosen to end TPSP rather than extend it.

This choice illuminates the fantastic hypocrisy of the GOP’s lip service to family values and the rule of law. Under Trump, the Republican party no longer cares how many families it breaks apart or how many laws it violates, if doing so allows it to demonize and persecute even one more refugee. This choice does not seem very Christ-like.

– Joel Feinman

Dispatches From The Carceral State

carcel state

Carceral: adjective, car·cer·al \ ˈkär-sə-rəl: relating to or suggesting a jail or prison, such as the 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, 76 Indian Country jails, and hundreds of other military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and territorial prisons currently operating in the United States of America, AKA the freest nation on earth.

Item #1 – Arizona’s war on women

Women have become the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. incarcerated population. In what will surprise to no one with even a passing familiarity with mass incarceration in this state, the change in women’s state prison incarceration rates has been much smaller in some states, like California and Maine, and far more dramatic in Arizona.

women AZ incarceration graph

Item #2 – APAAC’s war on truth

This March, the taxpayer-funded Arizona Prosecuting Attorneys’ Advisory Council (APAAC) released the 4th edition of its “Prisoners in Arizona” report. Current APAAC Chairperson and Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk  lauded the report for supposedly proving that Arizona prisons are “filled with repeat and violent offenders.”

This is a truly curious assertion, due to the fact that the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) itself states that,

  • 53.8% of Arizona prisoners are in prison for the first time.
  • 21.7% of all Arizona inmates are currently in prison for drug offenses – the highest percentage of all categories of incarcerated offenders. (This includes the 198 people in prison for marijuana possession only. In comparison, ADOC currently houses 150 people convicted of domestic violence.)

Back in 2011, the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice debunked a previous edition of APAAC’s “Prisoners in Arizona” report point-by-point, proving among other things that the report conflates the definition of  “repeat” and “violent” offenders, artificially inflates the number of people classified as “dangerous, violent, or sexual offenders,” and falsely asserts that Arizona’s high incarceration rate is responsible for a drop in crime. The 4th edition of “Prisoners in Arizona” is no better, and might even be worse. Its principal author, John Lott, Jr., is an academic fraud who published a paper in December in which he claimed that undocumented immigrants in Arizona are at least 146% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. This claim is completely false, as it rests on the ridiculous notion that that all deportable, non-US citizens are undocumented immigrants. They aren’t, of course. A huge proportion of them are legal immigrants who violate the terms of tourist visas, work visas, or Green Cards.

Also, one more thing about this “report.” Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery funded Lott’s “research” with RICO funds, which are public dollars raised through civil asset forfeiture and  intended for things like crime victim assistance, substance abuse prevention, and gang violence intervention; “pretty much anything other than promoting the legislative agenda of Arizona’s elected County Attorneys,” said Caroline Isaacs, Program Director for American Friends Service Committee-Arizona.

Item #3 – America’s war on racial equality

The United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a report in 2016 recommending that the government of the United States make reparations to African-Americans as amends for America’s history of racism, racial terror, and mass incarceration. Among its findings:

  • From an early age African-Americans are “treated by the State as a dangerous criminal group and face a presumption of guilt rather than of innocence.”
  • Excessive control and supervision targeting all levels of the lives of African-Americans.
  • Racially based patterns of arrests without justification, detentions without legal counsel, and at times deadly physical abuse against African-Americans committed by members of the Chicago Police Department.
  • The over-representation of African-Americans in federal and state prisons, and disproportionately high incarceration rates for African-American men and women.
  • Federal and state use of mass incarceration as a system of racial control, in much the same way Jim Crow laws were used in previous decades.
  • Inadequate conditions of detention, and serious barriers to detainees accessing physical and mental health treatment.
  • A strong correlation between race and imposition of the death penalty. (African Americans represent 41.7% of the U.S. death row population, and 34.6% of defendants executed since 1976.)

Item #4 – The Carceral State’s war on our wallets

Finally, according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative (If you follow this blog and don’t donate to them, you really should. Their work is priceless), America’s continuing addiction to mass incarceration costs U.S. taxpayers $182 billion every year. This is more than the annual federal discretionary budget for food & agriculture, science, energy & environment, health, and transportation combined.

costs of mass incarceration

Coda – Larry Krasner’s war on injustice

Viva Larry Krasner! As Philadelphia’s new District Attorney, he is making an unprecedented effort to put a stake in the heart of mass incarceration.

– Joel Feinman

The Ghosts of Prop. 204

The ghosts of Prop 204 4

“And in the naked light I saw, ten thousand people, maybe more
people talking without speaking, people hearing without listening
people writing songs that voices never share, and no one dared
disturb the sound of silence.” – Paul Simon

Last November, Tucson voters were asked to consider Proposition 204. Also known as “Strong Start Tucson,” Prop. 204 would have increased the Tucson city sales tax by one half-cent, and generated an estimated $50 million a year to pay for 8,000 children to attend high-quality preschool. The proposal was roundly condemned by a large, bi-partisan group that included Jim Click, the Koch brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity, the Mayor and almost ever City Council person, and a large portion of our Democratic state legislative caucus. When voters and activists asked the Democrats who opposed Prop. 204 why they were so dead-set against a liberal no-brainer like expanded early childhood education, the most common arguments were that Prop. 204 was sloppily written and didn’t go far enough in advancing the goal of educating more of our children. During the run-up to the November 7 election, social media resounded with guarantees from Democratic opponents that, if we voted “no,” our judiciousness would be rewarded with a much better early education proposal. Well, it is going on six months since Prop. 204 was defeated by a margin of 33% to 66%, and our reward so far has been bupkis.

There are some good souls out there; brave and honest elected officials who have at least tried to get something done. This legislative session, a group of Democratic state legislators introduced HB 2363, which would establish an early literacy grant program to improve reading skills for prekindergarten, kindergarten, and elementary school students. LD 10 Democratic State Representative Kirsten Engel introduced HB 2355, which would impose a 0.02% sales tax on soda and sweetened beverages, the entirety of which would be spent on early childhood education programming. Representative Engel’s proposal appears to be a popular one; out of 600 likely, rural 2018 general election voters polled, 59% supported the measure. And…both bills died in committee, after receiving no hearing and almost no attention or interest. (To add insult to injury, the Legislature did pass HB 2484, which essentially prohibits cities and towns from passing soda taxes like the one Representative Engel proposed.)

When it comes to our city government, which took the lead on opposing Prop. 204 among local Democrats, no one has dared disturb the postmortem silence. Tucson City Council minutes from November 8, 2017, through March 20, 2018, (11 regular meetings plus 10 study sessions) reveal not one single mention of early education has yet to darken City Hall. Nor does the Council seem to have any interest in advocating for early childhood education at the state capitol. On November 21, 2017, a mere two weeks after the demise of Prop. 204, the Council discussed Tucson’s 2018 state legislative agenda. The four priorities the Council approved by unanimous a 7-0 vote were:

1.) Defend against any and all cuts to State-shared revenues and other State funds
dedicated to local governments.
2.) Protect and enhance local authority and decision making.
3.) Support the ability of cities to utilize strong economic development tools and increase infrastructure investment and public safety.
4.) Support strong and sustainable water management policies and practices.

Interestingly, the twelfth sub-section of priority #3 is, “Support sufficient State of Arizona funding of K-12, Community College, and University level education without threatening SSR or other funding streams currently designated to support local governments.” Even here, the silence of the Council on new early education programs is deafening.

Finally, during his annual State of the City speech on March 9, the Mayor of Tucson added a cherry of dismissal to the sundae of early education disinterest our city leaders are serving to voters who took their “we promise we will do better than Prop. 204” assurances to heart. The speech was chock full of civic boosterism, which we cannot blame the Mayor for, as that is what such speeches are all about. However, the Mayor did not even bother to pay lip service to supporting an early childhood education program. He didn’t propose to create a study group or recommend a task force – he studiously maintained the silence that has dominated the issue since last November.

Two weeks before the election, I wrote on this blog,

Come 2018, if Prop. 204 fails then all local Democrats should look forward to our City Council and state legislative caucus telling us precisely what the right answer is. If they do not, if the sound of education reform in city hall and the state capitol is the deafening sound of silence…Well, at least we know the value our elected officials place on telling us the truth, and bettering our children’s futures.

Sometimes it really sucks to be right.

– Joel Feinman

The Dirty Heart of Clean Elections

3

“The mind of man is capable of anything — because everything is in it, all the past as well as all the future.” – Joseph Conrad

Manufacturing fear of crime and criminals, and exploiting the boogeyman of the convicted felon is a hallowed American political tradition. As researcher Anthony M. Platt wrote in the journal Social Justice in 1994, “Every politician running for office in the November elections recognized that law and order demagoguery was the ticket to success.” This certainly applies to presidential contenders; see Bush 41’s execrable 1988 Willie Horton ad, Bill Clinton’s interruption of his 1992 presidential campaign to fly back to Arkansas to ensure the execution of a mentally ill black man, and Donald Trump’s seemingly endless invocations of Chicago, “American carnage,” and racialized sexual assault.

None of this fear-mongering and dog-whistling will come as any surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with American politics. What may be surprising is that, in Arizona, people convicted of felonies are forced by law to help pay for some of the very campaigns that demonize them to achieve victory.

Paying for the privilege of the hangman’s noose

On November 3, 1998, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, the “Clean Elections Act.” According to the Commission which oversees it, the Act provides “clean funding” to statewide and state legislative candidates, who want to campaign with public funds instead of private donations as a way of avoiding the influence of private donors. Essentially, candidates who choose to “run clean” must demonstrate they have community support by collecting a set number of $5 qualifying contributions. The Clean Elections Commission then gives these candidates public funds to run their campaigns. These public funds come from three places: 1) the $5 qualifying donations gathered by clean candidates, 2) civil penalties levied against candidates who violate the clean elections law, and 3) a 10% surcharge on civil penalties and criminal fines. It is this third funding source that deserves special scrutiny.

Under Arizona law, any time a court imposes a fine on a defendant for a civil violation (parking ticket) or a criminal violation (robbery), the court must also impose a 10% surcharge on that fine, which goes into the clean elections fund. In October 2002, the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law in the case of May v. McNally, and ruled that the surcharge was a “tax” that did not violate the First Amendment’s ban on compelled speech.

Requiring people convicted of crimes to help fund the campaigns of law & order candidates who will, if elected, make their lives even worse would startle Kafka himself –  unless he was born in Arizona. Lest we think this does not actually occur, we need only examine some of the positions taken by the following “clean” elected officials:

  • State Representative Mark Finchem (R-Tucson), who has been endorsed by Joe Arpaio and the Arizona Citizen’s Defense League.
  • State Representative Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), who likes to tweet about how the liberal media underreports black-on-white crime, and how former Attorney General Eric Holder is “soft on crime” because he doesn’t like how many black men are in prison.
  • State Representative Becky Nutt (R-Clifton), who supports private prisons and thinks “drug and human smuggling are out of control.”
  • State Representative Kelly Townsend (R-Mesa), who voted to lengthen the prison sentences of undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes.
  • State Representative Anthony Kern (R-Glendale), who believes in “mandatory sentencing laws with stiff penalties to prevent violent criminals and predators from being released back onto our streets.”

“A society should be judged not by how it treats its outstanding citizens, but by how it treats its criminals.” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

What could be more cruelly ironic than forcing people convicted of criminal offenses – whose newly depressed job prospects already increase the difficulty of making ends meet – to fund their further political demonization? How about forcing them to pay for an electoral system they cannot participate in.

Arizona law holds that, once a person is convicted of a felony, they automatically lose a host of civil and political rights, including the right to bear arms, the right to serve on a jury and hold public office, and the right to vote. One may think this is appropriate for people convicted of murder, rape, and armed robbery. However, before we clamber up a soap box and preach about not doing the crime if you can’t do the time, we might want to pause and reflect on just how many acts qualify as felonies in Arizona these days. Here are 29 pages of them, an incomplete list that includes such horrors as branding an animal that belongs to another person, pandering, and filing a false bingo report.

Such over-criminalization extracts a heavy toll on our democracy; as of 2016, Arizona had the 8th highest percentage of disenfranchised voters in the nation; 221,170 people, or 4.25% of the State’s population, was ineligible to vote in the last election due to a criminal record. Elections are won and lost by far smaller numbers than this. In 2016 Representative Finchem beat his Democrat opponent by 9,998 votes – 4.5% of Arizona’s disenfranchised voters. Representative Thorpe won his race by 4,770 votes – 2.1% of disenfranchised voters. Representative Kern’s victory over his Democratic opponent was the thinest of all clean elections candidates; he won by 4,001 votes, a mere 1.8% of the Arizonans disenfranchised by a criminal conviction.

“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” he observed. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.” ― Joseph Heller

The Clean Elections Act’s final insult to injury occurs when people with criminal convictions attempt to get their voting rights restored. The law automatically restores most first offenders’ civil rights once they complete probation or are discharged from prison, but only as long as they pay off all of the fines and restitution imposed as part of their sentence.

To see how the momentous injustice of this can play out, let’s assume for the sake argument that our neighbor, John Yossarian, pleads guilty to selling real estate without a proper license, which in Arizona is a felony offense. After his plea the court automatically revokes Yossarian’s right to vote, and orders him to pay a $10,000 fine. This means Yossarian must also pay a $1,000 surcharge to the state clean elections fund on top of that fine. He can no longer sell real estate, so Yossarian cannot get a good job and earn a significant income. After eighteen months he successfully completes probation and doesn’t get into trouble again, but working for minimum wage at a fast food restaurant means he has no extra money to pay either the fine or the surcharge. Consequently Yossarian’s right to vote is not restored, and he cannot vote against his state representative and their tough on crime platform in the 2018 election. Even if Yossarian does scrape together the $11,000 it will take to get his voting rights back, a percentage of that money will help fund his representative’s re-election campaign against a more progressive opponent who, unlike Yossarian’s representative, wants to end mass incarceration and over-criminalization.

This is the realty of the Clean Elections Act, and its injustice plays out hundreds of times a day in courtrooms all over our state. The intention behind the Act – ameliorating the effect of money on elections – may have been noble, but as is so often the case in our history, it is the poorest and most helpless among us who must pay the price for our noble efforts. That price isn’t cheap, and can be measured by the 221,170 Arizonans who could not vote in the last election for a better and more equitable society.

– Joel Feinman

 

Dr. King is no Pawn of White Supremacy

MLK

This picture is a fake. It was photoshopped from a real picture taken of Dr. King on June 19, 1964, showing him giving the peace sign after hearing that the civil rights bill had passed the U.S. Senate.

MLK real picture

Dr. King didn’t give us the finger in 1964. In 2018, we would certainly deserve it.

Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States, is a white supremacist. His victory was the crowing jewel of a resurgent white supremacist system – the same one Dr. King fought against, and the same one that murdered him. The rickety explanation that Trump’s election was nothing more than understandable working class anger collapses in the face of hard data proving it was racism that won him the day, not economic anxiety.

Trump governs in accordance with the ideology of white supremacy. It is visible across all of his policies, from immigration to criminal justice to foreign affairs. His Republican Party – in control of all three branches of the federal government and a majority of state governments – stands firmly behind him, and does not disavow his white supremacy.

So today, let us pause our inspirational memeing about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice and recognize for a moment that this is the government of the United States of America. Today, January 15, 2018, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“We must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
MLK, Eulogy for the Martyred Children, Sept. 18, 1963

Trump does not govern alone. Just as it’s important to understand the system of white supremacy that produced him, it is also critical to identify enablers and co-conspirators who, through both action and inaction, allow his white supremacist government to survive and thrive.

A confederacy of dunces and hate

On January 9 in the state capitol, during, of all things, a harassment and ethics training session at the House of Representatives, LD 10 Representative Todd Clodfelter (R-Tucson) opened his personal laptop which displayed an image of the confederate flag. LD 4 Representative Geraldine Peten (D-Goodyear), one of only two African-American legislators in Arizona, confronted Mr. Clodfelter about the image and asked him to take it down. He initially refused, and said the two lawmakers would have to “agree to disagree.” According to Mr. Clodfelter,

All my family and ancestry is from the South. And my perspective of the imagery of that particular flag is not the same as hers. So from my perspective, it’s acceptable. From hers, it’s offensive.”

Mr. Clodfelter later agreed not to bring his personal laptop to the House floor. He told Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Steller he continues to have a favorable view of the Southern cause, and the confederate flag “represents sovereignty and freedom and revolution toward tyranny.” This is white supremacist ideology. It is also a lie.

With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system…Our confederacy is founded upon principles in strict conformity with these laws.” – Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, March 21, 1861

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.” – Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession, January 9, 1861

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.” – Texas’ Declaration of Secession, February 2, 1861

The confederacy stood for slavery and white supremacy. Its flag celebrates “southern culture and history” only in the same way the Nazi flag celebrates German heritage. The sole difference between the stars & bars and the swastika is that Arizona politicians still feel comfortable displaying the symbol of 19th Century white supremacist genocide inside our state capitol, but draw the line at showing off its 20th Century counterpart.

What is most depressing about Mr. Clodfelter and his prideful adherence to white supremacy is that today, under this President and this government, it is banal. There are hundreds of Todd Clodfelters in state capitols across the U.S., and they are a crucial to normalizing our white supremacist President and his – our – white supremacist government.

Introducing the next Senator from the great state of Arizona

On January 12, Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-CD2) announced her candidacy for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Jeff Flake. During her announcement in Tucson, Ms. McSally made sure to normalize and excuse Trump’s white supremacist condemnation of Haitian, Salvadoran, and African immigrants as coming from “shithole” countries. “I speak a little salty behind closed doors,” the Congresswoman said. Ms. McSally’s campaign announcement video is a masterful amalgam of fear-mongering, dog-whistle racism, and militaristic cheerleading. In it, the Congresswoman explicitly sides with our white supremacist President. She flashes a picture of them posing together and smiling, she brags that she is “Arizona’s most reliable vote for the Trump agenda,” and she plays an audio clip of Trump lauding her as “the real deal” and his “friend.”

Not much analysis or commentary is needed here. “The Trump agenda” is white supremacy, and nothing advances that agenda more effectively than voting for it in Washington. And yet, today Ms. McSally will still be invited to take some stage and lionize the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If Malcom were here he would recognize this old ruse;  the approach of the angel who is really nothing but the devil.

Sadly for us Democrats, the system, the way of life, the philosophy of white supremacy is bipartisan. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-CD9) is also running for Senator Flake’s seat. Ms. Sinema did not brag about her loyalty to the Trump agenda in her campaign announcement video – the sins of that piece of political theatre are of a different order. However if we are taking Dr. King’s admonition seriously, we cannot fail to note how studiously Ms. Sinema avoids opposing our white supremacist President, and the white supremacist policies of his white supremacist government. Her campaign website mentions no policies and takes no positions – it is strictly a fundraising vehicle.* The “latest news” section of her congressional website contains not a single condemnation of anything Trump has ever said. None of her seven legislative priorities include combating Trumpism, and her solutions for “fixing a broken Washington” are limited to withholding congressional salaries until a budget is passed, expanding election spending disclosure rules, and cutting government waste and inefficiency. When you are U.S Congressperson, whose full-time job is to propose, to oppose, and to govern, silence is acquiescence. It is consent. Only a tiny fraction of southerners donned white masks and robes and murdered black men, women, and children during the 1950s and 60s. It was the silence of the majority, who turned their heads and closed their lips, that allowed the white supremacist terrorism of that era to claim so many lives.

Maybe – probably – Mr. Clodfelter, Ms. McSally, and Ms. Sinema do not think their actions and inactions support a system of white supremacy. Maybe – probably – they claim there is no racism in their hearts, and their positions on race and Trump are expedient choices all good politicians must make in order advance their real agendas. Maybe. But on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, when all three will almost certainly march, and be invited to the microphone to mouth empty platitudes about how they too have a dream, they are not fooling the good doctor. And neither are we. He’s not giving us the peace sign today. Today, he’s giving us the finger.

– Joel Feinman

*Editors note: this statement was accurate when this piece was first published in January, 2018. Beginning in March 2018, the website included a “priorities” page.

Oyez, Oyez, Oy Vey! The AZ Legislature Is Now In Session!

AZ SB1016 1

The 2018 legislative session is upon us, and like children lining up for Spongebob Squarepants on Ice tickets, our knees tremble with anticipation to see what zany antics and logic-defying feats of special interest derring-do our elected officials will get up to this year.

SB1016 – Making the Stasi Proud

Thus far it looks like the dumpster fire that has long been the Arizona Republican legislative agenda will not slacken in the slightest. State Senator John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) has introduced SB1016, which requires people to report to police or rescue personnel “a life-threatening emergency,” if they can do so without endangering themselves or others. Failure to report would be a class 1 criminal misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to 6 months in jail.

The problems with this bill are legion. Never mind that it further over-criminalizes life in the “land of the free,” where one lawyer and researcher has estimated the average resident now commits three felonies every day. The bill also makes no effort to define what a “life-threatening emergency” is.

Presumably Mr. Kavanagh and his Republican colleagues consider planning an abortion a life-threatening emergency. If so, everyone from the clinic nurse to the receptionist to the supportive partner will find themselves indicted for a criminal offense if they do not immediately call 911 when they hear a woman utter the word “abortion” to a health care provider. And what about when I was 16, and my best friend Adam jumped off his roof into his pool? Clearly a life-threatening emergency if he’d slipped, or even misjudged the wind a tad. In Senator Kavanagh’s Arizona of small government and maximal individual rights, I should have narced on Adam the moment he clambered up the wall. Likewise the Senator would have you call the police on your squabbling cousins who had too many beers at the family BBQ (shove George too hard and he could fall and hit his head and die), and his bill would mandate you immediately dial 911 when you see another person driving too fast (speeding being a leading cause of deadly traffic accidents).

The AZ Legislature doesn’t want to abolish government; it simply wants to enlarge to the size of a bathtub it can bludgeon us to death with.

SB1016 is not Senator Kavanagh’s first foray into the field of blatantly unconstitutional laws criminalizing innocent behaviour. In 2016 he introduced SB1054, a bill that would have made it illegal for people to shoot video within twenty feet of any law enforcement activity without an officer’s permission. A first offense would have carried a $300 fine, and subsequent violations could have sent people to jail for up to six months. Thankfully the bill went nowhere, but Senator Kavanagh’s past and current legislative efforts expose the intellectual bankruptcy at the core of our state’s legislative majority; they are small government and pro-freedom only as long as people do exactly what they think they should do. The moment their beliefs conflict with the beliefs of others – we shouldn’t be government-mandated narcs, cities should limit the use of polluting plastic bags, schools should teach local history and culture –  our legislative majority seeks to expand the power of the government to arrest, convict, fine and imprison whomever they disagree with. This is big government at its biggest, and the coercive power of the state in it purest form. Senator Kavanagh and his ilk seem hell-bent on proving Reagan right; government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem. At least their government, anyway.

– Joel Feinman