Queen of Chaos

Diana Johnstone’s 2016 book Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton is not an election year hit piece like Dinesh D’Souza’s “Hillary’s America.” It is not a book about Hillary’s character flaws or her political flip-flopping. It is a book about foreign policy. More importantly, it is a book that deals with Clinton’s metamorphosis into a war hawk within an already hawkish Democratic Party, and the Democratic Party’s embrace of military aggression within the wider arc of the Cold War and Realpolitik. In 2018, as Russiagate consumes the minds of Centrist Democrats nostalgic for John McCain’s brand of militarism and American Exceptionalism, it’s an important book to revisit.

Johnstone begins with the U.S.-approved, if not engineered, coup which deposed Honduran President Manuel Zalaya. We immediately get a sense of how Hillary Clinton operates, her back-channel deals with old Cold War warriors who supported the Contras, friends in the Honduran military trained at the School of the Americas, and her stonewalling on returning Zalaya to power, even as half of Central and Latin America refused to recognize the eventual “winners” of the putsch.

Johnstone takes the reader through the beginnings of neoconservatism, originating in NSC-68, a 1968 Cold War document that still influences the foreign policy of Republicans and Democrats. She spends some time on the Israeli-American lobbyists who have hijacked American foreign policy and focused it on destroying the Middle East in order to “save” Israel — the only nation in the region to actually possess nuclear weapons. Johnstone goes on to examine the history of American foreign policy, particularly as driven by an interesting rogue’s gallery of female war hawks: Madeline Albright, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice, Victoria Nuland, and Samantha Power, all Democrats.

Describing Clinton’s disconnect from feminism, Johnstone writes at length about the strange cases of PussyRiot and Femen, whose antics were used to full advantage by Clinton and the American media to attack Vladimir Putin and present their actions as “exercises in democracy” while their inevitable arrests were presented as an assault on civil liberties. Though we recoil from the Russian expression for disorderly conduct — “hooliganism” — we have no such compunctions about pepper-spraying and handcuffing peaceful demonstrators here at home. Johnstone also notes the right-wing Ukrainian connections to both groups as well as the co-optation of Amnesty International in serving the State Department.

Two chapters of Johnstone’s book deal with how NATO was expanded in violation of agreements with the former Soviet Union, and on the war that Bill Clinton waged in Yugoslavia. The war was sold as a “humanitarian intervention” to prevent genocide, which set the stage for future expansions of NATO and for more “humanitarian” wars. This particular war, as you may recall, resulted in the dissolution of Yugoslavia into pieces aligned with the West and a Slavic chunk aligned with Russia. Johnstone describes the process by which the West demonized Serbia’s leaders, applied sanctions, supported local proxies, sabotaged international diplomacy, cynically used international courts (which the US refuses to be bound by itself) to prosecute parties it didn’t like, manipulated the media, and bombed the hell out of its enemies. Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, rejected diplomacy while telling reporters, “We intentionally set the bar too high for the Serbs to comply. They need some bombing, and that’s what they are going to get.” This is the same Albright who thought killing half a million Iraqi children through sanctions on medicines was “worth it” to get Iraq to rid itself of imaginary WMD’s.

Then we fast forward into Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, with her own war in Libya. Though her Republican adversaries shamefully exploited the loss of four lives in Benghazi, Clinton herself made a joke about the sodomization and murder of its leader and the transformation of an entire country into a failed state. Clinton famously mocked Obama’s dictum: “don’t do stupid shit,” claiming the United States needed a more sophisticated organizing principle. But “stupid shit” is precisely what Clinton did. She wrecked Libya.

In a long — and today a particularly relevant — chapter entitled “Not Understanding Russia” Johnstone makes the case that Clinton was armed only with an ancient Cold War mindset. Not that much has changed since NSC-68. Russia is still Reagan’s Evil Empire, and Putin is Stalin. “Soviet aggression” has been replaced with “Russian aggression” and NATO must be expanded to envelop Russia. Meanwhile, Poland and the Ukraine have developed strong fascist tendencies, which the United States either ignores or encourages (think Manafort), and Russia’s seizure of Crimea (which had been a gift to Ukraine in the first place) is portrayed in the press like Hitler’s Drang nach Osten. Where Bush expressed an amusing appreciation for Putin’s “soul” Clinton took a harsher view: “he was a KGB agent, by definition he doesn’t have a soul.” Under Secretary Clinton, the United States spent millions on Kremlinologists who, at one point, were trying to analyze Putin’s cowboy gait to see if he had Asperger’s Syndrome.

In June of 2016, the United States led the rest of NATO in war games in Poland, now governed by a far-right administration. In “Operation Anakonda 2016” 31,000 troops from 24 countries practiced for a Soviet and Warsaw Pact invasion. The commander of U.S. Army Europe, Gen. Ben Hodges, explained what the games were all about: “History shows that Russians only respect strength,” he told NPR.

In 1997 former Carter administration advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (and midwife to Al Qaeda) joined Henry Kissinger as one more anti-Russian ideologue dispensing not only anti-Soviet “tough love” but developing a strategy for American domination and hardening of its superpower status in his book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostratic Imperatives.” Brzezinski, whose son Ian was involved in the Ukrainian “Orange revolution,” has a low opinion of democracy, of the intelligence of citizens, of privacy, and of Europe or Asia or the Middle East. It is all a vast field to be plowed by Americans. Only after remaking the new world in the American image can there be peace. “But in the meantime it is imperative that no Eurasian challenger emerges, capable of dominating Eurasia and thus also of challenging America.” Russia is therefore as much an enemy as Iran or ISIS. A reviewer in “Foreign Affairs,” David C. Hendrickson, warned in 1997 that the anti-Russian prescriptions in Brzezinski’s book were so severe that even a democratic Russia would resist them and there would be unpredictable blow-back.

The United States was looking for ways to mire the Soviets in their own Viet Nam. Afghanistan was the stroke of evil genius emanating from Zbigniew Brzezinski’s twisted mind. In the last days of the Carter Administration Brzezinski recognized that Central Asia was the “soft underbelly” of the Russian bear, a source of conflict that, if exploited, could destabilize Moscow and mire it in war. Brzezinski was no Israel hawk like the neoconservatives. His goal was not to merge US and Israeli interests but to weaken the Soviets. But they shared many goals: a unipolar world, massive increases in the U.S. military, nuclear hegemony, regime change, punishing enemies, rewarding friends.

By rewarding our Islamist friends who opposed the Soviet Union in the 80’s and 90’s, the United States actually created terrorists like bin Laden, who at one point was on both U.S. and Saudi payrolls. The antagonism between the United States and Russia became so great that when Russia tried to warn the U.S. of the elder Tsarnaev brother its help was ignored. Putin brokered the surrender of Syria’s last remaining chemical weapons, but it was an unappreciated gesture because it delayed a U.S. attack on Syria. And when Putin took to the editorial pages of the New York Times to explain why the West must exercise caution in Syria, that Assad was also fighting terrorists, the United States paid him back by threatening the Russian-Ukrainian trade pact and building up NATO even more. The U.S. feigned shock when, faced with uncertain southern naval access, Russia took back the gift Khrushchev had given to the Ukraine in 1954 — Crimea, a peninsula the size of Maryland.

Johnstone concludes her book with “The War Party” — amoral neoliberals neither strictly Republicans nor strictly Democrat, but technocrats with political ambitions and wealthy friends from America’s many defense industries. From philanthropists who give money to Islamophobia, to think tanks, PAC donors, owners of the “free” press, opinion-shapers, oligarchs and despots. How is it, Johnstone asks, that Clinton and her ilk can curry favor of the Saudi family, Egyptian military dictators, Wall Street, Nigerian dictators, the Israeli occupation, and Ukrainian fascists? And what about all those wars? It’s bi-partisan. It’s just business.

Johnstone suggests that, for most voters, wars are nothing we need worry our pretty little heads over. We leave wars to the real professionals — contractors, mercenaries — and we pay for it by simply adding to our national debt. Thanks to drones there are now very few American casualties, so why should we worry? If children die in a drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Syria, or Iraq, who is to say their terrorist parents weren’t responsible for putting them in harm’s way? And if the war hawks do get caught with blood on their hands, we accept at face value the lie that this is simply the cost of keeping us safe.

Hillary Clinton may now be a footnote writing memoirs and cashing checks from speaking fees, but the foreign policy she pursued and the neoliberalism she stands for still poisons the Democratic Party.

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Bill Cimbrelo for Congress

Voters in the Massachusetts 9th Congressional District have a choice on Tuesday. They can choose between a four-term incumbent — Blue Dog Democrat, former prosecutor and one of the state’s most conservative Congressmen — or a progressive Democrat and environmental chemist with fresh ideas. Whenever someone challenges an incumbent, it’s as much about their differences as it is about the incumbent’s record. And the incumbent in question is a corporate Democrat far too friendly with conservative Republicans.

Bill Cimbrelo first introduced himself to New Bedford Democrats last March when he appeared at an informal meeting at the Labor Council. Cimbrelo spoke about opportunities for wind power on the Cape, about the many social needs that could be addressed by a Green New Deal — instead of providing corporate welfare via subsidies to fossil fuel giants.

Cimbrelo believes affordable housing, sustainable employment, education and healthcare are human rights. If we can give $1.5 trillion in tax breaks to corporations we can write off student debt — and Cimbrelo spoke about putting millions of student debtors back into an economy in which they can again buy houses, invest in businesses, participate in economic life, and not be debt slaves for the rest of their lives. Cimbrelo believes in debt-free college and vocational training, and repurposing a bloated military budget to actually serve human needs.

Bill Cimbrelo’s progressive vision for healthcare is single-payer, an enhancement to Medicare, which is extremely efficient in comparison to for-profit schemes. He characterized the Affordable Care Act as a “band-aid” that was not sustainable in the long term.

Cimbrelo has won the endorsement of Cape Cod Democratic Socialists of America, the SouthCoast Green-Rainbow Party, Peace Action of Massachusetts, Our Revolution Massachusetts, Warren Mosler, Tim Canova, and Sema Hernandez. He holds progressive views on racial justice, gender issues, foreign policy, economic and criminal justice, and immigration reform (he is a naturalized American citizen). Cimbrelo has promised to support the abolition of private prisons, improve salaries for public defenders, and keep non-violent offenders out of jail through diversion programs.

But then there’s the incumbent.

Bill Keating’s voting record on everything from immigration, discriminatory auto financing, healthcare, college education, mortgage lending, abortion, Citizens United, voter registration, making Wall Street pay its fair share, NAFTA — it’s a long list — has been a profound disappointment. He voted with Republicans to gut Consumer Financial Protection Bureau protections, he’s weak on civil liberties and foreign policy, and his militarism is shameful. Keating’s public cheering for Trump’s Tomahawk missile strike on Syria was designed to play to the Right. Only yesterday WATD 95.9 Radio hosted a forum with both candidates. Keating became defensive when Cimbrelo pointed out that Keating was the only Democrat to sponsor H.R.6018, another posturing “counter-terrorism” bill that Republicans love so much but which was never even voted on.

In word Keating plays the part of a Democrat. But in deed he’s little more than a stealth Republican. Unfortunately too many people buy the act.

Last June Bill Keating spoke at a “Families Belong Together” rally at the Bethel AME Church on County Street in New Bedford. Keating gave an energetic shirtsleeve speech — all clenched fists and outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds. The problem with Keating’s act was not its dramatic fist-pumping; it was the hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Jeff Sessions himself:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

Voters have a choice on Tuesday. Keating may be the favorite in the race, but your vote is truly wasted if you don’t have the courage to spend it on values you care about.

Vote courageously.

Vote for Bill Cimbrelo on Tuesday, September 4th.

Fixing America

If you hadn’t noticed it before, the 2016 presidential election only sharpened our awareness of America’s festering race problem. White liberals may be repulsed by Donald Trump’s Tweets and his unapologetic racism, but White Supremacy in America is not simply foul-mouthed malice. Once you realize that White Supremacy is mainly about creating a system of privilege for White people, it’s like noticing cars exactly like yours on the road — you start recognizing its insidious presence in almost every institution — the courts, schools, jobs, police, housing — and politics. And, like much in this country, the debate over the Democratic Party’s soul often overlooks the importance of African-Americans.

Congress is 90% White and 80% male. The Senate has only three African-American Senators — and only one is a woman. If the Senate looked like the rest of America, we’d have thirteen African-American Senators and seven of them would be women. But. because of demographics and the disproportionate Senate representation that states like Vermont and Wyoming receive, the Senate is one more structural element of White Supremacy. And in a nation with a median age of 37, Congress looks more like a retirement community than Main Street. The average age of the top three House Democrats is 76, and most are millionaires. The people who represent us are nothing like us — and I’m talking about Democrats.

Emily’s List is the second largest Democratic political action committee (PAC) after ActBlue. Its mission is simply to get pro-Choice Democratic women elected, and it’s been pretty successful at it. But when it comes to race, the Democratic Party isn’t ceding power to a younger, browner America. In addition, Democratic political action committees aren’t recognizing candidates of color as “viable” as readily as they do White contenders and they haven’t historically provided much funding. With both representation and funding of African-American candidates lacking by both centrist Democrats and progressives, political consultant and CollectivePAC founder Quentin James wasn’t sugarcoating it when he titled his Medium piece, “The Left Has A White Supremacy Problem, Too.”

Last year the Democratic Party sent its leadership to Berryville, Virginia to woo White voters with its “Better Deal” economic campaign. In a New York Times editorial Steve Phillips, founder of Democracy in Color and author of Brown is the New White, warned of a midterm disaster for Democrats in 2018 if they insisted on repeating the mistakes of 2016, specifically “prioritizing the pursuit of wavering whites over investing in and inspiring African-American voters, who made up 24 percent of Barack Obama’s winning coalition in 2012.” In Brown is the New White Phillips offers postmortems of the 2010 and 2014 midterms. And guess what? Democrats still haven’t learned their lesson — they’re still pursuing the White swing vote in 2018.

In its first iteration, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” candidate list — campaigns designed to take back the House — did not include a single Black candidate. Now, less than a hundred days before midterms, there may be a few more people of color on the roster, but the DCCC’s candidates are still overwhelmingly White and Centrist — technocrats and gatekeepers selected mainly for “viability.” Democrats aren’t listening to Phillips and they aren’t listening to Thomas Frank either. Frank’s book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People, takes Democrats to task for abandoning the working class and embracing a technocratic caste located somewhere between upper-middle and the ruling class. Call it what you want, but it’s not the party of the people.

As elections have unfolded this year, the special Senate race in Alabama (in which a Democrat narrowly beat an alleged pedophile) focused attention on Black women in the party. All of a sudden Black women were receiving thanks and praise, but not feeling enough love to propel them into positions of power. And political power is to politics what air is to breathing. Black women were sick and tired of being sick and tired of being asked to support White candidates without the favor being returned.

Michelle Laws, who challenged incumbent David Price in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional district, said it best during her campaign, “There are many black women around this country who are no longer willing to be the mules of the party, doing the hard work on the ground, and receiving very little in return in terms of support and endorsement of the party to serve in key leadership positions.” With the DCCC’s strategy of defending (White) incumbents, Laws received only 16% in the Democratic primary. Political consultant Jessica Byrd expressed her frustration with the dearth of Senate seats for Black women when she wrote — “how about you get out of my chair?'”

Candidates of color endorsed and financed by PACs like CollectivePAC, PowerPAC+, Color of Change PAC, and BlackPAC have made it possible for younger and browner candidates to throw their hats into political races. Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez in New York are both running campaigns with wide progressive support, which involve hundreds of operatives and canvassers — both adding to a pipeline of future candidates of color and energizing White progressives. And these are the sort of campaigns the Democratic Party should be fiercely supporting.

Steve Phillips’ New American Majority is neither a new idea nor complex math. His thesis is that if you add up white progressives and progressives of color you’ve got a numerical majority that can beat Conservatives — not in 2040, when Whites will be a numerical minority, but right now. Phillips grumbles that he’d rather Greens and Libertarians vote with their Democratic friends than split the vote, but he’d really prefer that the Democratic Party offer better reasons for registered African-Americans voters to show up at the polls — like representation, support, and money. But this requires real change, not rhetoric.

Uniting progressives of different colors will require the blindingly White Democratic Party establishment to loosen its death-grip on power, while candidates of color receive more support to fundraise, train political operatives, and run candidates who reflect who they are and the values they care about. It is no coincidence that the Democratic Party has done so little for national criminal justice reform, police accountability, or immigration. Our most serious problems — racism, xenophobia, income inequality, criminal (in)justice, police abuse, healthcare, education, housing, jobs, militarism, civil liberties, political representation — all have been the concerns of Black America since the very beginning. If African-American and Latinx politicians actually held proportionate political and economic power within the Democratic Party, we might actually see some change.

In July Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez went before both the NAACP Convention in San Antonio and Black voters in Atlanta to apologize for the party’s turning its back on African-Americans. At this late date there’s little hope of changing the party’s orientation to White swing voters. But if the direction is ever to be changed, it will come from the grassroots, not from the leadership.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend CollectivePAC’s Black Campaign School in Atlanta, Georgia. I met Quentin and Stephanie James, lead trainer Jessica Byrd, and numerous candidates (and sitting politicians) of color who shared their campaign experiences with a largely millennial audience of first-time candidates and volunteer staffers. I was not the only White person in attendance; several others were working on campaigns for African-American candidates, mainly in the South.

I came away believing more than ever that Steve Phillips is on to something. The rescue of the country depends on whatever political power the Democratic Party can still muster. But the Democratic Party has a vision problem, a values problem, and a representation problem. When it comes to social and political reforms, the overwhelmingly White Democratic Party leadership just doesn’t have enough skin in the game. Does Chuck Schumer have an incarcerated brother? Stacey Abrams does.

The best way forward, I firmly believe, is by working with, and following the lead, of those who truly, personally, know the value of fixing America.

When they came for me

Now that the Massachusetts Legislature has sold out immigrants, it seemed like a good time to affirm our responsibilities for one another and to our own liberties. Several friends have mentioned this poem in recent weeks (I wonder why?). There have been many versions of this but the martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de identifies this as the first:

Als sie mich holten

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
When the Nazis came for the Communists,
I was silent,
I was not a Communist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
When they locked up the Socialists,
I was silent,
I was not a Socialist.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
When they came for the unionists,
I was silent,
I was not a trade unionist.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.
When they came for me
there was no one left
who could protest.

— Martin Niemoller

Our answer to hate

This my last appeal for citizens to advocate for protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget. Originally proposed as Budget Amendment #1147 by Senator James Eldridge, these protections have been incorporated into Senate Bill S.2530 and are now in conference with the House. Call your State House Representative to ask them to support immigrant family protections. What’s happening in Washington should terrify and motivate state House Democrats to support such protections. This should be our answer to hate.

Here’s why the protections are so important

The Supreme Court just ruled in favor of Trump’s Muslim Ban. An ACLU petition asks Congress to pass legislation to block racist exclusions like this. While a ban is not the same thing as a registry, we don’t yet know how Trump’s Muslim Ban will affect citizens of the Muslim-majority countries who live in Massachusetts, whether CPB, ICE, or DHS will ask the Commonwealth to help track these Muslim neighbors — or if the occasional law enforcement official might have personal motivations to share data with ICE without authorization.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget bar the Commonwealth from cooperating with such registries.

Trump’s deportation machine is abusing families and children in shockingly cruel ways. Elizabeth Warren has a lengthy report on her visit to a McAllen, Texas Border Patrol facility where she was horrified by the treatment of incarcerated children. A report issued recently describes racially-motivated abuses of detainees in ICE facilities, including the Bristol County House of Correction. Last week it was reported that the Boston Public Schools took it upon themselves to share data with ICE, and on the Cape high school students were reported to ICE by guidance counselors for supposed gang affiliations simply because they spoke Spanish. This insanity must end. Let police deal with real criminals and end vigilantism.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget prevent state officials from being used as federal agents. Only the Massachusetts Department of Corrections will be able to fulfill some of these federal immigration functions.

Customs and Border Patrol is stopping vehicles on parts of I-93 and demanding that passengers produce proof of citizenship. Warrantless stops with requests for “papers!” is creepy and totalitarian enough without state and local police being enlisted in violations of the Fourth Amendment. Even with the 100-mile border “loophole,” many of these stops are unconstitutional. Let’s affirm that, at least in Massachusetts, a “nation of laws” requires warrants and probable cause to stop people.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget define strict rules under which police officers can ask about immigration status and require training on the law for all officers.

Read about these provisions yourself. Despite malicious misinformation, these provisions do not prevent police from arresting real criminals. They do make Massachusetts a lot safer for everyone and strengthen Constitutional protections many of us can still remember once having.

Call your State House Representative to ask them to support protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget.

A nation of savages

On April 4th both houses of the Massachusetts legislature passed long-overdue criminal justice reforms. A huge omnibus bill now awaits Charlie Baker’s signature and Democrats will soon learn how moderate a Republican the governor really is. If the bill is signed and reforms make it into law, then next steps in fixing abuses of the criminal justice system should include police accountability and prison reform.

American courts are filled with brown and black and poor people guilty of relatively minor economic and drug offenses. Offenders are processed by zealous DA’s and the courts move them efficiently along a carceral assembly line greased by plea deals. Following often long and severe jail time devoid of any rehabilitation, a prisoner’s remaining rights and dignity are stolen. Former inmates can’t vote, they can’t find jobs, and they frequently have nowhere to live. The Pell Center described this irrational and costly mean-spiritedness:

“Americans are imprisoned for crimes that may not lead to prison sentences in other countries such as passing bad checks, minor drug offenses, and other non-violent crimes. Also, prisoners in the United States are often incarcerated for a lot longer than in other countries. For instance, burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England. [And] with an emphasis on punishment rather than rehabilitation, U.S. prisoners are often released with no better skills to cope in society and are offered little support after their release, increasing the chances of re- offending.”

On April 3rd WGBH’s Greater Boston ran a segment on one prison reform measure that could return a little rationality to the American criminal justice system. Investigator Cristina Quinn looked at Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian’s program for youthful offenders focused on rehabilitation, based on German practices recommended by the Vera Institute, and first pioneered at Connecticut’s Cheshire Correctional Institution.

According to Quinn, German prison reforms are based on a post-Holocaust Constitution which affirms human dignity. In addition, Germany’s 1976 Prison Act specifically defines prison as rehabilitation and tries to make the experience useful for both prisoner and society. The Prison Act’s first principles state:

  • By serving his prison sentence the prisoner shall be enabled in future to lead a life in social responsibility without committing criminal offences (objective of treatment).
  • Life in penal institutions should be approximated as far as possible to general living conditions.
  • Any detrimental effects of imprisonment shall be counteracted.
  • Imprisonment shall be so designed as to help the prisoner to reintegrate himself into life at liberty.

Cruel and pointless punishments are expressly prohibited.

Even municipal laws in Germany protect prisoners. In 2008 Berlin passed a Juvenile Detention Act which gives special protection to young offenders. Berlin’s 2010 Remand Centre Act protects those in detention who have not [yet] been convicted of a crime. A 2011 Berlin ordinance governs how prisoner data can be used. A 2013 Preventive Detention Act rules that inmates kept in preventive detention beyond their sentences (such as sex or violent offenders with psychiatric problems) have the right to extra housing and treatment options.

The incarceration rate in the USA is 8-9 times higher than in Western Europe. At present ours is 666 per 100,000 citizens. In contrast, Canada’s is 114; Germany’s 77. Berlin, with a population of 3.5 million, has 2,800 inmates in its 8 prisons (a rate of 80 / 100,000). In Bristol County, with a population of 561,000, the county jail has 1,400 prisoners in 3 facilities — an incarceration rate of 250 / 100,000. Bristol County has a recidivism rate of 34% in a state with an average recidivism rate of 32% over 3 years.

A 2005 study conducted by the Justice Department tracked 400,000 offenders throughout 30 states and calculated a national recidivism rate of 76% over 5 years. A 2005 U.S. Sentencing Commission study found that almost half of all federal offenders were re-arrested within 8 years. One way to look at it is that 2.5 million incarcerated Americans form a small nation of hopeless savages. Or so the law-and-order types tell us.

But a contrarian view held by William Rhodes argues that the reverse is true — that, nationally, two-thirds of all offenders never return to prison and only 11% return to prison more than once. The problem with the Justice Department statistics, Rhodes writes, is that “offenders who repeatedly return to prison are like frequent mall visitors — they are overrepresented in samples used to estimate the rate at which offenders return to prison.”

“Locking up the same people over and over points to failures in the American penal system,” as one study noted. But whatever the precise percentage of recidivists, the fact remains — American prisons don’t spend much effort on rehabilitation. Norway, with an incarceration rate of 75 per 100,000, invests in rehabilitation and socialization and does not torment its offenders for life. As a result Norway has one of the world’s lowest recidivism rates — 20% compared with 52% in the United States. It is not surprising to discover that one of Norway’s maximum security prisons, Bastoy, with a recidivism rate of 16%, is run by a clinical psychologist and its guards receive three years of training.

Even in more traditional European prison settings one does not find the deprivation, starvation, isolation, and brutality of American institutions. An English-language brochure from Berlin’s Department for Justice and Consumer Protection describes their focus on helping inmates: “Taken as a whole, the Berlin prison system views it­self as a system of enforcing therapy and treatment designed to address both the deficits of prisoners and their competences.”

Since 1980 a massive prison services industry has developed in the U.S. and segments of it serve even states without private prisons. Inmates are gouged at prison stores or for usurious telephone and video conferencing schemes. Outsourced medical, drug, and psychological services of questionable quality may be provided or denied at whim. Food throughout U.S. prisons is often substandard or insufficient. Abusive corrections officers, arbitrary solitary confinement, and overcrowded facilities are all too common hallmarks of American prisons. In some institutions prisoners are denied family visits.

In a German Justizvollzugsanstalt (prison), or JVA, cells are open during the day, inmates cook for themselves, and the law guarantees family visits. Inmates wear their own clothes, live in dorm-like clusters with other inmates, may receive gifts from their families, and obtain outside psychological and drug treatment services. Of course, prisoners are still locked up — but they don’t forget, or they learn, the importance of getting along in society.

Programs like this — and corresponding legal protections for the incarcerated — are necessary so long as we deprive shocking numbers of our fellow citizens of their liberty.

In The House of the Dead Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” If Dostoevsky was right, then the jailers — and not our incarcerated neighbors — may be the true nation of savages.

We need police accountability – now!

Math and language are both quite clear what “all” means. If some parts of a whole are missing, overlooked, undervalued, forgotten — or routinely shot by police — then it’s nonsense to say that “all lives matter.” The hundreds of black people — many unarmed — whose lives are ended by police each year is a testament to how little black lives really do seem to matter — and the severity of a national crisis that demands comprehensive police reform and accountability.

Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Rumain Brisbon, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Stephon Clark, John Crawford, Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Akai Gurley, Eric Harris, Laquan McDonald, Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling. And now, most recently: Saheed Vassell.

The names just keep adding up. In 2015 a Guardian headline reported the scope of this carnage: “Young black men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths.” The Guardian found that young black men are nine times more likely than any other American to be killed by police. Brittany Packnett, a member of Obama’s White House task force on policing, called the killings an “epidemic.”

Fast forward to 2017 and we now have a very different White House. When fielding a question about the 2016 killing of Alton Sterling by two Baton Rouge policemen, Trump’s spokeswoman called the killing a “local matter.” When pressed on the president’s responsibility to deal with an epidemic of police murders, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president’s role was to keep Americans safe from immigrants, to “grow the economy” and to avoid divisive issues. Meanwhile, Trump’s Justice Department, led by an unrepentant segregationist, wants to return to failed “broken windows” policing.

But we can’t blame everything on Trump and the Republican Party. For decades Americans have had better things to do than deal with police abuse.

In 1956 J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI set up the COINTELPRO program which, among other victims, targeted black dissident groups. It was inconceivable to White America that African-American unrest could be a response to second-class citizenship. Instead, dissidence was seen as a product of “outside agitation” by Communists and COINTELPRO was intended to “disrupt” and “neutralize” the agitators. In 1969 the FBI and Chicago police took “neutralization” to extremes when they murdered two Black Panthers, Fred Hampton and Mark Clay, in their sleep during a pre-dawn raid. Besides African-American groups, the Justice Department and FBI also launched attacks on indigenous rights groups, the peace movement, and numerous organizations on the left.

In 1967 Lyndon Johnson commissioned the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, otherwise known as the Kerner Commission. The 1968 Kerner Report chastised White America for its racism, though the word “racism” only appeared in a summary of the full report. Its dismal prediction was: “Our Nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal.” The Kerner Report was attacked from both right and left and its recommendations were generally ignored.

Chapter 11 of the Kerner Report (“Police and the Community”) looked at the toxic relationship between police and African-American communities and offered a number of recommendations including: reviewing police operations and eliminating “abrasive” practices; improving security in black communities; countering “dual standards” in law enforcement; establishing avenues for grievances and police accountability; adopting policy guidelines for community policing; developing community outreach programs; recruiting more African-American police officers and ensuring equal promotion; and funding “junior police officer” programs for young people in the community. It never happened.

In 1998 the Heritage Foundation re-examined the Kerner Commission’s recommendations and concluded it was hogwash concocted by a “Who’s Who of liberal elites.” The real problem, the foundation’s white Conservatives decided, was that poverty, drugs, and crime were symptoms of liberal coddling: “The greatest barrier that the poor face is not racism; it is elitism.” And, specifically, the second-class citizenship of Blacks was the result of their own moral failure: “The crisis we face as a country is fundamentally spiritual, and its answer lies in supporting the moral centers of influence that exist in our communities.”

Fifty years later White America still won’t face reality. If Rodney King didn’t show us that something was seriously wrong with the LAPD in 1991 — or if Amadou Diallo didn’t demonstrate how savage the NYPD’s racism was in 1999 — or if revelations of the existence of racist torture centers run by the Chicago police didn’t shock us — then Michael Brown’s murder in 2014 couldn’t possibly faze us either. None of the shockingly routine murders of black and brown men and children we see on YouTube ever seem to prick our consciences or lead to meaningful police reform.

The United States is swimming in badges and guns. To whites the nation increasingly feels like a police state, though it has long been such to African-Americans. New York City, with a population of 8.5 million, has 35,000 officers — down from 40,000 in 2000. The U.S. has between 200 and 241 police officers for every 100,000 people. That’s about three quarters of a million officers. Many these policemen are armed with unprecedented military and surveillance gear. SWAT teams regularly deliver simple warrants or conduct raids for small amounts of marijuana. We’ve seen armed personnel carriers and tanks in city streets. And when police show up at a demonstration nowadays, they’re dressed and armed to kill.

Since 9-11 more than 2 million Americans have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Department of Justice runs a program called COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) which provides grants to communities to turn “vets to cops.” In 2016 the DOJ handed out $119 million to help pay for approximately 900 policemen. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has created a recruitment guide for veterans, and veterans can use their GI Bill benefits while attending police academy. America increasingly says “thank you for your service” to its warriors by re-deploying them domestically.

But programs like these, and hiring practices that favor ex-military, have a serious downside. By prioritizing military experience over diversity, police departments put communities at risk. For example, the San Jose Police Department, a force with serious racism problems, sees veterans as naturals for the police “because we have a paramilitary structure, [and] military veterans often times can easily integrate.”

Then there is the residue of war. Ellen Kirshman, a psychologist who works with police officers, says that between 19% and 34% of all officers show some sign of PTSD: “This is pretty alarming. An officer with PTSD cannot think clearly. Is probably hyper vigilant, has a short fuse, may not be sleeping well because of nightmares, might be policing in a reckless manner…” And this is precisely what one frequently sees in videos of police encounters with black citizens.

One of the recommendations of the Kerner Report was what we might today call “community policing.” But this is a vague phrase that often translates to “public relations.” Citizen ride-alongs, walk-alongs, Police Athletic Leagues, toy drives, and pretty blue coffee mugs (like mine) are substitutes for real citizen oversight of hiring, management, and holding sworn peace officers to account.

But community policing has always been a vague buzzword — from the 1968 Kerner Commission to the 1970 Knapp Commission. Vague or not, last year Senator Jeanne Shaheen sponsored unanimously-adopted resolution S.288 recognizing “National Community Policing Week.” America may be a little hazy on what community policing actually entails — but we’re crystal clear that it shouldn’t involve oversight or accountability.

In 1991 Rep. William Edwards introduced H.R.2972, the Police Accountability Act of 1991. The bill made it “unlawful for any governmental authority to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct by law enforcement officers that deprives persons of their constitutional or statutory rights, privileges, or immunities.” The bill had only 10 co-sponsors and never made it out of committee.

In 2000 John Conyers Jr. sponsored H.R. 3927, the Law Enforcement Trust and Integrity Act of 2000, which sought to impose national standards on law enforcement as we currently do in education. It had only thirteen Democratic co-sponsors and never made it to a vote. In 2015 Conyers again filed H.R.2875, this time with 48 co-sponsors. But again it died.

In 2015 Rep. Henry Johnson Jr. sponsored H.R.1102, the Police Accountability Act of 2015, which had 15 co-sponsors and died. The bill amended “title 18, United States Code, to provide a penalty for assault or homicide committed by certain State or local law enforcement officers, and for other purposes.” Again in 2017 Johnson filed H.R.4331, with 8 lonely co-sponsors. Again, it died.

In 2017 Rep. Gwen Moore sponsored H.R. 3060, Preventing Tragedies between Police and Communities Act of 2017, which required that police departments receiving federal funding train officers in de-escalation techniques. The bill had only 24 co-sponsors and died in committee — having also failed in 2016.

In 2017 Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee sponsored H.R.47: Kalief’s Law, which sought to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 to provide for the humane treatment of youths in police custody. The bill had only one co-sponsor and there was never a roll call vote.

Whether a majority or minority in Congress, police accountability has never been a priority for Democrats or Republicans. E. Tammy Kim, in an excellent piece in the Nation (“What to Do About the Police”), writes that, “as it stands, the three branches of government are unwilling to regulate the police. Mayors and governors defer to police chiefs and union presidents; judges make cheesecloth of the Fourth and 14th Amendments; and legislators vote again and again to increase law-enforcement budgets.”

In a 2015 ruling the Supreme Court gave police broad latitude to shoot at citizens recklessly and with impunity, when it rejected a suit against a Texas police officer who fired into a car with a high power rifle from an overpass, paralyzing a driver. The officer joked: “How’s that for proactive?” Just this week the Supreme Court again ruled 7-2 in Kisela v. Hughes that police officers can not be sued for arbitrary and unnecessary shootings — effectively granting law enforcement a different set of Constitutional rights than the average citizen enjoys. In dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor called the ruling another sign of “unflinching willingness” to protect rogue cops and wrote that the decision “transforms the doctrine [of qualified immunity] into an absolute shield for law enforcement officers.”

White America may have no appetite for dealing with the racism at the heart of so much police abuse, but we could still hire cops who better represent communities and hold the bad apples accountable. The National Urban League has proposed ten Police Reform and Accountability Recommendations and the ACLU and NAACP have proposed reforms as well.

If the Supreme Court sees police as above the law, then it is incumbent upon Congress to clarify the responsibilities of, and punishments for, sworn officers of the law. But this may be a long way off — or even impossible to achieve in many states. For this reason it is up to municipal voters to select district attorneys and mayors willing to investigate and prosecute police misconduct. It is up to municipalities to create oversight boards with real powers to conduct independent investigations. It is up to state attorneys general to conduct automatic investigations into any police killing. Citizens must know that they can observe and film officers doing their work and not be arrested for exercising their Constitutional right to do so. And yet some states have actually passed laws that limit police accountability.

America needs to begin taking its epidemic of police murders seriously and pass tough reform legislation. Voters need to start choosing politicians willing to take on the root causes of this epidemic. With one exception, every piece of reform legislation mentioned above was sponsored by an African-American. And that ought to tell you something — that if citizens really want police reform with teeth, then maybe we ought to vote for more candidates who have a personal stake in actually making it happen.