Thursday, March 5, 2015

Ferguson financing city operations on backs of the poor is just business as usual

By Marc Jampole

The U.S. Department of Justice Report on the Ferguson,Missouri police department (FPD) makes clear that the City of Ferguson made raising revenue the primary objective of the FPD and the Ferguson court system. In budgets, memos, emails, commands to police and meeting minutes, the DOJ found an explicit collective program to fund city operations with traffic and parking tickets and public safety fines for minor offenses such as not keeping a tidy lawn. The DOJ documents that Ferguson’s fines are much higher than other Missouri cities of the same size, as are the percentage of all city revenues that comes from fining citizens.  

Rural counties in Texas, West Virginia and elsewhere have long had a history of stopping those driving cars with out-of-state plates to pump up the local treasury. Ferguson has taken this gambit one step further by going after its own citizens.

But no one should be surprised or shocked to learn that the Ferguson, Missouri city government financed its operations on the backs of the poor and middle class.  It happens all the time, although usually not with the overtly racist element. When municipalities use tax dollars to build new stadiums with more luxury boxes but fewer cheap seats, as happened in New York, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and elsewhere, it represents a convoluted form of taxing the poor and middle class to fund municipal benefits to the wealthy. When states and local governments decide to fund activities by issuing bonds that constitute safe investments for rich folk and pay off those bonds through taxing everyone, it’s another complicated way to shift financing burdens to the poor and middle class. The report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform a few years back didn’t suggest much to help balance the budget but did propose giving rich folk big fat tax breaks while increasing taxes on the poor and middle class, thus shifting to the latter the burden of paying for government.  The net effect of the several tax breaks and tax hikes over the past 35 years has been to make the poor and middle class pay a larger share of the cost of government and government services.

These and other mechanisms for making the poor and middle class pay more are far more subtle than the naked wealth grab we have seen in Ferguson. The headlines in the DOJ report depict a contemporary version of highway robbery:
·         FPD Engages in a Pattern of Unconstitutional Stops and Arrests in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
·         FPD Engages in a Pattern of First Amendment Violations
·         FPD Engages in a Pattern of Excessive Force in Violation of the Fourth Amendment
·         Court Practices Impose Substantial and Unnecessary Barriers to the Challenge or Resolution of Municipal Code Violations
·         The Court Imposes Unduly Harsh Penalties for Missed Payments or Appearances

We can assume that city officials knew that Afro-Americans were arrested and fined at a much higher rate than their representation in the population, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other: the result of using the criminal justice system as a source of revenue and overtly discriminating against blacks in arrests and court treatment pretty much defines the kind of institutional racism that transcends whatever laws are in place to protect against discrimination. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Global warming deniers share many characteristics with those who defended slavery in first half of 19th century

By Marc Jampole

On close inspection, the political and economic dynamics involving man-made global warming over the past 40 years resemble those of slavery in the United States from about 1790 until the Civil War.

In both the case of slavery and man-made global warming, an overwhelming moral imperative begs us to act as individuals and as a community, but action is forestalled to accommodate the economic interests of a handful of wealthy individuals.

Pretty much everyone except for the hard-core defenders of slavery knew that it was morally wrong by the end of the 18th century. Yet many people like Thomas Jefferson pretended (or stupidly believed) that the main impediment to ending the institution of slavery was the fact that the Black slaves were inferior beings who couldn’t cope with the demands of contemporary society. This belief, often based on a false science called “scientific racism,” persisted despite the preponderance of real-world evidence to the contrary. The lies and distortions used to justify slavery concealed the real reason the institution persisted: slavery was in the economic best interests of a handful of ultra-wealthy and politically connected Southern growers and Northern merchants. Even as more people began to oppose the horrors of slavery and Northern business interests developed alternative economic structures, slavery continued to spread West from the southeastern Atlantic coast towards Texas.

It took the savage butchery of the Civil War to end slavery in the Unites States. In the war to fight secession and end slavery more than 600,000 soldiers died, countless others suffered injuries and the slave-owning states that seceded from the Union saw their economies decimated. Before the war, millions of slaves died from overwork and murder or suffered beatings, whippings, rapes and other violence from their owners and a society that conflated their humanity with private property.

We can see the same dynamics that led to the Civil War working in the case of man-made global warming. It’s as morally wrong to avoid addressing a problem that could lead to the deaths and suffering of hundreds of millions of people in the near future as it was to enslave millions of human beings. BTW, some experts have shown that the adverse effects of environmental degradation hit the poor and people of color around the world much worse than they hit the wealthy.

Global warming deniers tell two kinds of lies to conceal that their main concern is their own selfish short-term interests. The first lie is to deny that the Earth is warming or aver that the warming is part of the natural unfolding of Earth’s history and not because of humans. Another variation of this scientific lie is to postulate that the impact of global warming will not be catastrophic. Just as the super-wealthy whose riches depended on slavery found so-called experts to tell the various lies that justified slavery, so have the ultra-wealthy whose riches depend on polluting our environment. A handful of scientists—less than 1% of those qualified to proffer an opinion—have received undue attention in the mass media for their misrepresentations of the science of climatology; we know that some scientists who deny global warming, like the disgraced and disgraceful Wei-Hock Soon, have been in the pay of groups that deny global warming.

The other big global warming lie is that an expeditious transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources will destroy our economy. Economic studies demonstrate that the impact of increasing pollution limits on fossil fuels and depending on wind, hydraulic and solar energy will be quite minor. Some people will lose their jobs and find others, but that happens in any dynamic economy that routinely introduces new technologies. New pollution controls, research and development into alternative energies, retrofitting manufacturing systems and delivering the new forms of energy to consumers and business will all create new jobs and economic wealth. The big change will be that those who own the means of producing and delivering fossil fuels and fossil-fuel based electricity and those whose industrial processes depend on fossil fuels will see the basis of their incredible wealth upended—which is what happened to slave owners.

Just as slavery continued for decades in the face of growing opposition, even as more people come to realize that continuing to rely on fossil fuels is immoral and short-sighted, the pollution not only continues, but grows.

There is one difference between the dynamics involving slavery. The death and destruction wrought by slavery was apparent to anyone who cared to read the works of abolitionists or to visit a large plantation. The harm caused by man-made global warming and other environmental degradations is harder to picture. We look at the ocean from a beautiful beach and do not see the increased carbon dioxide in the water that’s slowly killing important ecosystems. It’s hard for most people to connect the dramatic increase in extreme weather events with the increase in both average temperatures and ambient carbon dioxide. Moreover, the conflagration—which may involve environmental disasters, weather calamities and wars for resources—is still in the future.

Slavery was a horrible institution. Millions of slaves lived their lives under the yoke of violence, their freedom and dignity denied. I believe that every American should spend at least one minute every day thinking about our nation’s collective guilt in enslaving and mistreating millions of our fellow human beings.

But make no mistake about it. If we don’t act both quickly and radically to address man-made global warming, the death and destruction from it will end up being much greater than what Africans and African-Americans suffered under slavery.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Editorial: Reaping the Whirlwind

President Obama has been opposed almost entirely down the line by Republicans ever since their leaders met at the high-dollar Caucus Room restaurant the night of Obama’s inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, to plan their opposition. Over steaks and cocktails, they pledged to use every parliamentary trick to deny the new president any accomplishments.

Congressman Pete Sessions (D-Texas) even said the Taliban could be a model for the Republican insurgency that would obstruct Obama’s agenda.

It’s bad enough that Republicans tried to block Obama’s and the Dems’ efforts to revive the economy after the bottom dropped out during the last year of George W. Bush’s administration. Almost in lockstep, Republicans opposed the economic stimulus and the loans that helped General Motors and Chrysler survive in 2009. Then, in 2010 Republicans almost unanimously opposed the Affordable Care Act, despite it being based on the individual mandate to buy insurance that the Heritage Foundation originally proposed.

Unfortunately, Republican sabotage also extends to Obama’s attempts to bottle up the terrorists who were spawned by George W. Bush’s ill-considered invasion and occupation of Iraq. It used to be that politics ended at the water’s edge, but under Caucus Room rules, anything that makes Obama look bad is good for the GOP.

As this is written, there is an impasse between the House and Senate over the funding of the Department of Homeland Security. Senate Republicans have indicated their willingness to pass a “clean” bill that would keep the lights on at DHS, but House Republicans have refused to consider any bill that funds Homeland Security but doesn’t repudiate President Obama’s executive authority to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants. Senate Democrats can block the House’s poison-pill bill in the Senate, saving President Obama a veto — but that doesn’t mean the Democrats deserve blame for the shutdown if it occurs at the end of February.

[Post Script: The Senate approved a bipartisan "clean bill" on Friday, Feb. 27, funding the Department of Homeland Security without the provision rejecting Obama's executive actions on immigration. The House took no action on that bill, but it rejected the House Republican leadership's proposal for a three-week extension of the DHS budget 224- 203 Friday afternoon, with 52 Republicans voting with most of the Democrats to reject the stopgap. Friday evening the House voted 357-60, with Democrats joining the Republican leadership, to extend House funding for one week.]

Republicans are playing chicken with national security, and they are placing a hardship on national security professionals. Even if the GOP-imposed shutdown occurs, essential Homeland Security personnel will remain on duty, though they won’t know when they might be paid for their service.
The shutdown might tempt an Al-Qaeda or IS sympathizer to think this is an opportune time to strike an American target. You can be sure Republicans are ready to blame the President if that happens.

If an attack doesn’t happen next week, it probably will happen eventually. We shouldn’t be scared of a gang of extremists who already are stretched thin trying to hold their outposts in Iraq and Syria. But deranged Christians shooting up classrooms, theaters and malls apparently aren’t enough to make us reconsider the sacred “right to bear arms,” so why should we let the threat of an Islamist terrorist with access to Youtube make us suspend the Bill of Rights?

We should keep our guard up in public places in the United States, but in the meantime we should support our Arab and other Islamic allies (including Iran) who are willing to clear IS and Al Qaeda out of the Mideast, with air cover from the US Air Force and other military resources as necessary.

Some of us might not accept the obligation, but the US is responsible for unleashing the murderous gangs in Iraq who have spilled into Syria. Bush and his right-wing friends thought that replacing Saddam Hussein’s secular Ba’athist regime in 2003 would clear the way for a free-market paradise in Iraq. Instead, we found that ousting Hussein was ruinous to Iraqi society as well as our relations with neighboring countries. The Ba’athist army under Hussein had been nominally secular but was dominated by Sunni Muslims. After they were defeated and discharged by the Americans, with no way to make an honest living, many rediscovered their religion and were attracted to Al-Qaeda in Iraq and later to IS.

Egypt’s president at the time, Hosni Mubarak, predicted that the invasion of Iraq would produce “one hundred new bin Ladens,” driving more Muslims to anti-Western militancy. “When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences,” Mubarak told Egyptian solders in Suez on March 31, 2003.

Now it is up to President Obama to clean up the mess that Bush left, and is entirely reasonable for Obama to refuse to legitimize Al Qaeda, the “Islamic State” and other extremist groups who claim to be advancing Islam.

Some have criticized the President for refusing to connect extremism to the religion of Islam — particularly after shootings by Islamist militants in Paris and Copenhagen. On Feb. 18, speaking at a three-day White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, Obama said, “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.” He added, “No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.”

This makes sense when President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are working to get cooperation from Islamic nations in the fight against Islamist extremism. They have signed up 62 nations, including the European Union and the Arab League, in a coalition to fight IS. Five Arab allies — Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar — are participating in air strikes against “Islamic State” targets in Iraq and Syria, while others are offering delivery services and humanitarian aid. Turkey, which initially resisted support for the actions in Syria, has pledged military and logistic support for the operation.”

Even if US military units still are conducting most of the air strikes, it helps to have Arab nations on our side, which would be more difficult if Obama were to adopt the Fox “News” talking point that we are at war with Islam.

The savagery of IS has moved more Muslim nations to side with the US. The videotaped execution of a captured Jordanian pilot by burning him to death (in violation of the Koran) solidified popular support in Jordan for King Abdullah’s campaign against IS. And the beheading of Egyptian Christian workers who had been captured in Libya by an IS-allied group caused Egypt to strike out at IS targets in Libya and called for the US-led coalition to join the fight in that troubled nation.

Egyptian forces already are fighting extremist insurgencies in the Sinai Peninsula in the east and are trying to stamp out dissent after the 2013 coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood, which swept to power in 2012 and attempted to impose Sharia law and cracked down on the Coptic Christian minority after a popular movement drove President Mubarak out of office.

Under new President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, the former general who led the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt has detained tens of thousands of Brotherhood members as well as journalists and other protesters. Police and military have killed hundreds under the banner of fighting terrorism. Democracy is hard ...

The perils of Republican attempts to undermine President Obama abroad are illustrated in the experience of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who in 2013 urged Saudi and Qatari governments to arm Syrian rebel groups when Obama was slow to get the job done. After arms did move to Syrian rebel groups, McCain told CNN’s Candy Crowley in January 2014, “Thank God for the Saudis and Prince Bandar.” But the arms didn’t just go to the “moderate” Free Syrian Army that is backed by the US, Turkey and Western allies. Steve Clemons reported at June 23, 2014, that two groups fighting Syrian President Assad who received arms from Qatar and Saudi Arabia turned out to be Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate, and ISIS, which was expelled from al Qaeda because they were too extreme for the jihadists. Just two weeks after President Obama met with Saudi King Abdullah on March 28, 2014, Bandar was removed from his position as head of Saudi intelligence. McCain apparently learned nothing from the debacle.

Clemons concluded, “John McCain’s desire to help rebel forces toss off a brutal dictator and fight for a more just and inclusive Syria is admirable. But as has been proven repeatedly in the Middle East, ousting strongmen doesn’t necessarily produce more favorable successor governments.” — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2015

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Selections from the March 15, 2015 issue