Saturday, December 13, 2014

Editorial: Left Needs Sanders

As we start to consider prospects for the 2016 presidential race, progressive Democrats who are unsettled at the prospect of Hillary Clinton sweeping to the Democratic nomination should start looking for alternatives. And in our view the most promising alternative choice for progressive Democrats is Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has run as an independent in Vermont, where he served eight terms as the state’s at-large congressman from 1991 to 2007. He co-founded the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991 and he was elected to the Senate in 2006 by a 2-to-1 margin. He has remained popular, winning a second term in 2012 with 71% of the vote. Caucusing with Democrats, he became chairman of the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee in 2013. Working with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sanders steered to passage the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014, a bill intended to reform the US Department of Veterans Affairs in response to the VA scandal of 2014.

Even as an independent, Bernie Sanders is a better Democrat than most in the Senate caucus, as the agenda he puts forth on our cover shows. He is not afraid to talk like a New Deal Democrat. Sanders supports expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans; and he would ensure the financial stability of the Social Security Trust Fund by eliminating the cap on taxable incomes so that millionaires pay their share. He has worked to protect the US Postal Service from Republican efforts to privatize the mail service. He supports a $1 trillion program to put millions of Americans back to work rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure. He has been active on climate change, sponsoring a bill that would have set up a cap-and-trade system to limit carbon emissions. He supports public disclosure, transparency of campaign finances and a constitutional amendment to reverse the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that overturned state and federal restrictions on corporations getting involved in politics.

Sanders has been traveling around the country, including the strategically important states of Iowa and New Hampshire, as well as South Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota, Wisconsin, California and other states, talking to people and testing possible support for a grassroots campaign. He recently told John Nichols of The Nation that he has found “a real hunger in grassroots America for a fight against the greed of the billionaire class, which is wreaking havoc on our economic and political system.” He expects to “make a decision within the first few months of 2015” on whether to make a bid for the presidency. If he does run, he said, “I will not play the role of a spoiler,” who might tip the 2016 race to a right-wing Republican.

We think it would be best if Sanders ran in the Democratic primaries, where he can engage Hillary Clinton in debates and give Democrats a serious progressive populist choice. A CNN/ORC poll in November showed him in fourth place among potential Democratic candidates in 2016, supported by 5% of respondents. He trails Clinton’s 65%, Elizabeth Warren’s 10% and Joe Biden’s 9%. (We think Warren is seriously not challenging Hillary, after signing a letter in 2013 urging Clinton to run, repeatedly saying she is not running for president, and recently rejecting’s offer to raise $1 million to draft her; but Warren admirers won’t give up hope.) Andrew Cuomo, Deval Patrick and Jim Webb each got 1% in the poll.

Meteor Blades noted at (Dec. 7) that progressives need to build a movement and an infrastructure to create a political environment where a candidate like Sanders can actually be elected president. “If we are ever going to rise above being mere ankle biters, we need to build both,” Blades wrote. “Nonetheless, having Sanders in the 2016 race, seriously in it, repeating his populist message, encouraging the party to move left, would be very good for Democrats, for progressives in and out of the party and for the nation.”

We agree. And Hillary could use the competition. Progressive Democrats of America have a petition at to encourage Sanders to run as a Democrat. You can contact Sanders via or phone 802-862-1505.

Ugly Truth: Torture Shames Us

The 499-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” a.k.a torture, made for depressing reading as it documented that suspected terrorists and potential informants were treated even more brutally by the CIA than we had previously known. The report also documented that the torture — which is a violation of US and international law — failed to produce actionable intelligence on terrorist threats and didn’t lead to Osama bin Laden or any other high-level terrorists, and that the CIA repeatedly lied to policymakers and the public about the program.

Republican fearmongers attacked Democrats who pushed for the release of the committee summary, claiming that the interrogation procedures did not rise to the level of torture and, even if they did, publication of the report would endanger US embassies and Americans overseas. But America-hating terrorists already are trying to attack US embassies, as they are keen to kill or kidnap Americans overseas. The argument that it was a partisan report was undermined by the support of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who suffered torture in a Vietnamese prison and knows it when he sees it. “This question isn’t about our enemies. It’s about us,” he said. “It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

Although it might gall liberals who would like to see the authors of the torture techniques prosecuted, Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, suggested that President Obama should issue pardons to the officials who planned and authorized the torture program.

In a column in the New York Times (Dec. 9), Romero noted that the ACLU has spent 13 years arguing for accountability for the crimes committed by Americans in secret prisons overseas, but the ACLU’s calls for appointment of a special prosecutor and/or establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission have gone unheeded. “And now, many of those responsible for torture can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has run out,” he wrote.

Some could still be prosecuted, he said, “But let’s face it: Mr. Obama is not inclined to pursue prosecutions — no matter how great the outrage, at home or abroad, over the disclosures — because of the political fallout.” By issuing pardons, the president makes the point that crimes were committed and signals to those who might consider torture in the future that they could be prosecuted.

We think President Obama should fire John Brennan, the head of the CIA, who acknowledged errors in the interrogation techniques, but he maintains that those techniques had benefits.

Attorney General Eric Holder should appoint a special prosecutor to examine the charges that could be brought, with an eye toward prosecuting the architects of the torture program as well as any CIA agents who were responsible for deaths or permanent impairment of detainees.

Ironically, the only person connected to the “enhanced interrogation” program who has been imprisoned is former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who was prosecuted for leaking information about the program to journalists.

Kiriakou revealed the CIA interrogation program in an interview with ABC News in 2007. He was convicted in 2013 of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act when he revealed the name of a covert CIA operative and Kiriakou is now serving a 30-month prison sentence. He is due to be released this spring.

No other person was charged with a crime because the Justice Department said their actions had been approved legally. The Senate Intelligence report didn’t provide new information that would cause DOJ to reopen any of the cases, Justice officials said, but President Obama at least should pardon Kiriakou. — JMC
From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2015

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Selections from the January 1-15, 2015 issue

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The various and tortuous ways we Americans bring shame to our country

By Marc Jampole

Republicans and conservative pundits who blasted the release of the Senate report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture gulag brought shame upon themselves and their country. They were really saying that they believe in torture and/or believe in keeping important information from the American people, both extremely un-American traits. Yet I know these men and women to be patriots.

Some who opposed release of the report said that it would embarrass or endanger the country. One female Fox News performer even averred that the President released the report to embarrass us on purpose because he hates this country which elected him president twice. It is their viewpoint that is embarrassing. First of all, endangerment is a joke—homegrown and foreign terrorists of all religions have enough gripes against the United States already, plus they’ve known about the tortures for years.

Why can’t these people just admit that the United States made a mistake? As a country dedicated to freedom, justice and truth, we have a moral—and probably a legal—obligation to admit when we have collectively made a mistake. We gain stature in the world by admitting our mistakes and improving our behavior. Now that President Obama has ended our torture program and the Senate has released its report, all that’s missing is to punish the creators of the torture gulag, who broke numerous laws and sullied our country’s reputation. Obama doesn’t want that to happen, but I wouldn’t do much traveling abroad if I were Bush II, Cheney, Tenet, Yoo, Addington, Bybee or Rumsfeld, since the International Criminal Court will be able to prosecute them.

Particularly shameful are those who still insist that torture works, such as psychologist James Mitchell, who was paid millions to develop CIA torture techniques. These unusually cruel individuals seem to forget that it doesn’t matter whether or not torture works—it’s barbaric, immoral and illegal. I wonder why the news media still pays attention to the discredited views of those, like Dick Cheney and John Yoo, who in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, still believe torture is both legal and effective.

But Republicans and conservatives were not the only ones who embarrassed themselves this week by supporting acts such as torture and cover-ups that are obnoxiously un-American and against our shared notions of freedom and civil liberties. During the same timeframe, the national news media, many of the New York elite and many officials in Washington, D.C. shared in the humiliating display of welcoming and tending to the ego needs of a pair of mediocre nobodies whose only job in life is to represent the last vestiges of the pernicious idea that certain people are inherently better than others. I’m talking about the reception that the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William received during their visit to New York City this week. They attended a basketball game where they met Jay Z, BeyoncĂ© and LeBron James. They rendezvoused with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton elsewhere, and the Prince skedaddled to Washington and back for a meeting with the Prez.

What is wrong with these people? Haven’t they read any history? Don’t they know we fought a war to free ourselves of royalty? Don’t they know how many people died at the hands of soldiers in wars fought for the pleasure or aggrandizement of royalty? How many people starved because of confiscatory taxes to support kings, queens, princes and the whole rot of them in a luxurious lifestyle?

LeBron is the best basketball player and Hillary Clinton is one of the three or four best-known and respected women in the world. They are busy people. Why do they take the time to meet with a couple who have done absolutely nothing?

Many readers are probably shocked that I’m comparing the U.S. torture program to receiving a British prince and his lady. But think of it this way: We tortured fewer than 200 people over a period of less than 10 years. British royalty was responsible for millions of deaths—sometimes by torture, but also by slavery, warfare, induced famine and confiscatory policies—over about 700 years. Consider, too, that Bush II henchmen authorized torture in defense of our representational democracy; the goal of virtually all the torture and wars inflicted by kings and queens was to enlarge their own wealth.

Bush II and Dick Cheney symbolize the torture that took place on their watch. And until he resigns his position as prince, forswears becoming king one day and gets off the public dole, Prince William remains a symbol of all the evil the British kings and queens committed. He also embodies the evil idea that some people are inherently better than others and deserve more than others by divine right.

If Hillary, Chelsea, Jay Z, LeBron and everyone else who went out of their way to show the royal couple a good time wanted to take a stand for democracy and freedom, they would have politely had something else to do when the Duchess and Prince came to town. The news media could have ignored their trip completely, just as they usually ignore the comings and goings of celebrities in the fields of science, engineering, poetry and history. In short, the American establishment should have shunned the royal couple, while making it clear that we will welcome with open arms any legitimate representative of the British government.

Considering how I feel about royalty, I couldn’t help but get angry viewing a photo in the New York Times this week that made a mockery of the history of freedom. Holding a bouquet of flowers, the Duchess greeted children and parents—mostly black—at a Harlem children’s center. Everyone is smiling and two of the children look as if they are in complete awe of the Duchess.

What we see is a joyous encounter between the descendants of people who were forced as slaves to come to the United States and endured generations of oppression and discrimination with someone who married into a family that received a share of the profit generated by selling slaves to its territories and of all the wealth created by exploiting slaves, at least until the American slave owners joined the American rebellion so they could keep the profits all for themselves.

And what is in store for the Duchess and the children and parents she met after their brief afternoon soiree? The parents will go to minimum and low-wage jobs and struggle to make ends meet for their families on less purchasing power than they had 10 years ago. The children will go back to impoverished lives without the extra lessons, tutoring, expensive camps, college consultants and other educational advantages enjoyed by the children of the upper middle class and wealthy. Studies indicate that very few will escape poverty or near poverty, far fewer than used to rise before we became a nation of rich and poor. And the Duchess will continue to live a dream life, a perpetual vacation of meeting other celebrities, smiling at bigwigs at parties, enjoying the finest of foods, wines, clothes and jewelry, getting prime seats at every game and opera, officiating at events, hiding from paparazzi on exotic and luxurious vacations and dabbling at charitable causes. All the while, she will represent the idea of royalty, that some people deserve better lives, not because they worked hard or have some special talent, but because of an accident of birth.

Imagine if instead of being born the child of the next-in-line to the British throne, Prince William were born in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. He shows all signs of being a good soldier who follows directions. That means living in the Middle East, he might have ended up with a tenuous connection to terrorists. The American army might have swept him up in a police action and deposited him at an undisclosed CIA location. Instead of swapping yarns with President Obama this week, he might be a pathetically shell-shocked survivor of water-boarding, shock treatments and rectal hydration.

Yes, we in the United States have a lot to be ashamed about this week.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

ACLU idea to pardon Bush II torture crew won’t prevent future administrations from torturing

By Marc Jampole

Former Vice President and Torturer-in-Chief Dick Cheney disputes the two main findings of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, AKA, America’s torture gulag started by George W. Bush’s administration in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Cheney believes that torture is legal and that it yielded information that helped in the war against terrorism. The Senate Committee report questions the legality of torture and concludes that the CIA’s torturing of 119 incarcerated men yielded absolutely zero information of value. Why anyone needed our grotesque experiment in barbarism to learn that torture never works is beyond me. All you had to do was ask torture victim John McCain.

It makes sense that Dick Cheney would defend his own policies, but I wonder why more responsible conservatives are so upset at the release of the report. It’s too early to tell whether the report will incite violent reactions in the Islamic world, but not to release the report would do much more harm to American ideals than having a few embassies pelted with eggs or hearing crowds exclaim anti-American slogans. We’re an open society, and an open society does not bury its mistakes.

In the United States, we may not bury mistakes, but we often do not make the offenders pay a price for making them. Certainly when a country wages all its wars thousands of miles from its borders, the citizenry is never fully aware of the savagery that wartime inflicts on its victims. Those responsible for the illegal bombing of Cambodia never paid for their crimes. Nor did those who illegally sold guns to the Iranian government and used the profit to fund illegal activities of right-wing rebels in Nicaragua. When he first took office, President Obama quickly ruled out prosecuting anyone in the Bush II administration for torture, even as he moved quickly to eradicate most vestiges of the torture system. Bush II torture gives Obama a perfect straw man: no matter what he does, be it drones, spying on U.S. citizens or killing instead of trying Osama bin Laden, Obama—and the country—can always proudly say that at least it’s not torture.

In good American fashion, Anthony Romero, head of the American Civil Liberties Union, wants to pardon the instigators and implementers of our torture machine. In a New York Times editorial, Romero says that by pardoning the torture crew, we set into stone the idea that torture is illegal, since you can only pardon someone for crimes they commit. Obama is not inclined to prosecute. The pardon would substitute for a conviction in establishing the illegality of torture, thus short-circuiting any future administration that wanted to claim torture was legal.

Romero forgets that torture is already illegal in the Geneva Convention, which the United States signed and has never repudiated. Very few legal experts believe torture is legal–about as many as there are scientists who doubt the Earth is warming.

He also forgets that Gerald Ford’s pardon of Nixon did not prevent future presidents from spying on people, bombing other countries without the permission of Congress or carrying out illegal covert operations. All it did was tie a ribbon on the Nixon story, allowing the country to move forward and forget.

I for one don’t want there to be public closure on this disgraceful stain upon American history and ideals. The best case scenario would be to bring Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Tenet, Addington, Yoo and Bybee up on charges, but that’s probably not going to happen. But it certainly won’t happen when the organization most associated with civil liberties in the country stops clamoring for some kind of court or tribunal for these monsters.

In proposing pardons for the torturers, Romero is doing some Obama-like negotiating: giving away the store as the opening position. The ACLU chief negotiates away the threat of prosecution for what amounts to very little—closure on a shameful era. Instead of proposing pardons, the ACLU should launch an aggressive public communications campaign advocating prosecution of the Bush torture crew. As part of its mission, the ACLU should do whatever it can to use our 21st century inquisition as a constant reminder that in securing the peace we must remain vigilant of the freedoms that make that peace worth securing.

Monday, December 8, 2014

3 cultures poison U.S. policing & lead to killing of black men in Ferguson, Cleveland, Staten Island, Brooklyn & elsewhere

By Marc Jampole

There are some human beings, mostly men, who like to kill or would relish killing if given the opportunity. Although I am a pacifist and despise all wars, I understand why such individuals would
make fine soldiers on the battlefield.

But they make lousy cops, because the job of a police officer is to protect and keep safe, not to kill. When they slip through the rigorous selection process of police departments and then slip up, they should not be protected, but rooted out. Knowing they will be protected if they kill makes these men even more trigger happy. It also makes them do what men who like to kill naturally do—seek the company of other men who like to kill. And thus a culture of violence against civilians develops. I imagine the arming of local police departments with military grade weaponry and armaments only encourages the formation of such a culture.

Let’s change perspectives now and consider that everyone makes mistakes. But adults must pay for their mistakes. Sometimes they make small mistakes and the pay is minimal and even salutary—learning a new skill or technique, taking a class, listening to your wife a little more carefully for a few weeks. The bigger the mistake, the bigger the payment. No one fires you the first time you give a customer the wrong change, but they do if you’re caught stealing. But when an institution decriminalizes mistakes—for example, if employees are not reminded when they turn in reports late or don’t get approvals for cost estimates—then people will continue to make the mistake and a culture of mistakes develops. Looking the other way about chokeholds is no different from winking when someone tells a little white lie to a customer, except for one thing—a chokehold can kill.

It’s clear that most police officers, like virtually all public school teachers, are competent professionals. Most know how to use restraint in their responses to the public. In the prominent recent cases of police officers reacting too quickly or going too far, the cops in question are quite young or have a history of excessive force with suspects. But because police departments, prosecutors and police unions rush to protect the police officer who kills a civilian no matter what the circumstances, those prone to make mistakes feel they have nothing to fear.

The creation of both the culture of violence against civilians and the culture of condoned mistakes certainly explain why police officers commit 3% of all homicides in the United States.

But why are the victims always African-American?

African-Americans are only about 14% of the population. Only 27% of gun owners are black. Compare either of those numbers to the 39 % of all Americans killed by police during an arrest who were unarmed. Estimates of how many unarmed African American die at the hands of armed white police officers range from two a day to six a day. And every high profile case, which means every case in which the police actions were so egregiously overwrought that it caught the attention of the news media, involves an African-American victim.

The culture of racism is the third pernicious culture that turns police departments full of mostly good cops into killing machines. I’ve been reading David Brion Davis’ scholarly three volume analysis of the idea of slavery in western culture, published over a period of about 50 years. One dynamic I have noticed is that as the ideas of representational government, the free market and social mobility crept into western thought in the 17th and 18th centuries, political thinkers began to justify slavery in a world of free agents by conceiving of black people as inferior and more animal-like. The more the ideas of democracy assumed central importance, the more virulent and widespread racist notions became. The supposed inferiority of Africans justified keeping people of dark color as slaves. These attitudes persisted after a nation emancipated slaves, growing even stronger where the former slave populations lived.

The poisonous legacy of racism persists in America. Blacks charged with the same or similar crime as whites receive harsher punishments. Whites demonize those who accept food stamps or welfare and associate poverty with blacks, even though the overwhelming number of people who receive food stamps or are on welfare are white. Politicians use racial code words to win elections. Stop-and-frisk policies and other aggressive policing techniques always focus on minority neighborhoods. The same prosecutor who can’t convict a white man of shooting down a black man (Trayvon Martin) is able to get a jury to send away a black woman 21 years (later overturned) for firing a gun in the air to warn her abusive husband to keep his distance.

Police violence against African-Americans is part of the institutional racism that has not just plagued, but destroyed much that is great about our country. Racism was the primary motive for people to move to the suburbs and into a wasteful car-centric lifestyle after World War II. Racism led to the decline of the cities in the last half of the 20th century. Racism was at the root of the original home schooling and private school movements in regions that were forced to desegregate their schools, movements now gone national and threaten to destroy our public school systems. Racism filled our nation’s prisons with non-violent offenders convicted of victimless crimes.

But we can’t see into the minds of men and so will never know whether racism had anything to do with the acts of the individual police officers who killed Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and other innocent black men. The facts, however, prove that police, police unions and prosecutors condone mistakes and the “shoot first” mentality, even if these institutions and the people who run them proclaim they want cops to avoid violent mistakes and recklessly endangering the public. It is the unwillingness to prosecute and the tendency to close ranks and protect the offenders that allows institutional racism to turn deadly in a system supposedly run according to a fair and consistent application of the law.