OtherWords – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Sat, 21 May 2022 03:08:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.7.6 Is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Spying on Most Americans? https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/immigration-enforcement-americans.html Sat, 21 May 2022 04:04:25 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204750 By Farrah Hassen | –

( Otherwords.org ) – Growing up in the Southern California suburbs, government surveillance never worried me. But my Syrian-American parents were more cautious. They would often warn me against talking about politics over the phone — in case Big Brother was snooping.

As a teenager, I dismissed their concerns. “Listen, we’re not in the Middle East,” I would counter.

My parents knew better though. I soon received a rude awakening in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

A new investigation reveals the immigration agency has collected data on most Americans. It’s the latest case in a worrying trend.

Almost 1,200 people, mostly Muslims, were rounded up and detained after the attacks, often for months without charges. Arabs and South Asians were racially profiled and deported for minor immigration violations. The FBI began surveilling mosques across America.

As part of the homeland security reforms following 9/11, Congress created the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in 2003 to ostensibly fight terrorism and enforce immigration law. But the truth is, ICE went on to use its newly established authority to spy on nearly everyone in the United States.

An independent, two-year investigation has now revealed that ICE collected data on hundreds of millions of Americans under a legally — and ethically — questionable surveillance system largely outside of public oversight.

Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology uncovered this dragnet after filing over 200 Freedom of Information Act requests and reviewing ICE’s contracting records from 2008 to 2021.

In its report, released May 10, the Center found that ICE has spied on most Americans without a warrant and circumvented many state privacy laws, such as those in California. The authors conclude: “ICE now operates as a domestic surveillance agency.”

ICE has carried out this surveillance by turning to third parties like state Departments of Motor Vehicles, large utility companies, and private data brokers like LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

From these sources, ICE gained access to driver’s license data for 3 in 4 adults living in the United States, and scanned a third of the license photos with facial recognition technology. ICE is also able to view over 218 million utility customers’ records across the country, including for over half of California’s residents.

This surveillance network has unsurprisingly hit immigrant communities hardest. The agency has targeted immigrants for deportation by cruelly exploiting their trust in public institutions, such as when undocumented people apply for a driver’s license or sign up for essential utilities like water and electricity.

These practices point to an agency that has clearly overstepped its boundaries. ICE does not have the congressional authority to do this kind of bulk data collection on the public. This overreach underscores the need to shift U.S. immigration law away from the deportation-driven status quo.

Unfortunately, this ICE program isn’t an isolated case. It’s part of a broader domestic surveillance apparatus that spans decades and multiple federal agencies — including the FBI, CIA, and NSA — and ultimately impacts all of us.

During the 1960s and ‘70s, federal agencies spied on anti-Vietnam War protesters and civil rights leaders. More recently, in 2013 whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency created a massive surveillance program that secretly gathered telephone records on millions of Americans, regardless of whether they were suspected of any wrongdoing.

And this February, newly declassified documents exposed the CIA’s own secret bulk data collection program to spy on Americans. The type of data remains classified, but Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Martin Heinrich (D-NM) have called for greater transparency on the agency’s surveillance of Americans.

We should all be alarmed by this growing domestic surveillance state. Left unchecked, it corrodes public trust in our democratic institutions and undermines our civil liberties, most notably the embattled right to privacy.

The history of government surveillance demonstrates that we can never take this right for granted.

Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.

Via Otherwords.org

The GOP’s ‘Pro-Life’ Victory Will Mean More Dead Mothers https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/gops-victory-mothers.html Sat, 14 May 2022 04:04:33 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204624 ( Otherwords.org) – Anti-choice states already have the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality rates. Women who choose to avoid pregnancy could instead face execution. By | May 11, 2022

Under a Louisiana bill likely to become law when the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, a woman who has an abortion is guilty of first-degree murder. For this, she’ll face the death penalty or — if the prosecutor chooses leniency — life imprisonment and hard labor.

Some Republican abortion foes have called for a federal law along the same lines, criminalizing abortions nationally as homicide.

Most of the new wave of anti-abortion statutes include no exceptions for incest or rape. A 14-year-old girl who does not want to give birth to her father’s child could be imprisoned for 10 or 15 years. So could a mother who refuses to add a rapist’s child to her family.

Under many of the statutes, a human egg is defined as an “unborn child” from the moment of fertilization, even before the egg has become implanted in the womb. Criminal penalties therefore apply no matter how early a woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy.

A pregnant person could be charged with the “murder” of what doctors call a “blastocyte,” the stage an egg reaches around the sixth day after fertilization. Anti-abortion laws define this microscopic entity — less than one hundredth of an inch long — as an “unborn child.”

Article continues after bonus IC video
NBC News: “Women Could Face Numerous Health Risks if Roe v. Wade Is Overturned”

An estimated one fourth of American women have had or will in the course of their lives have an abortion. For this, “pro-life” legislators consider these 34 million women and girls to be murderers — and think women who make their choice should be subjected to steep prison terms or even execution

That’s absurd. An acorn is not an oak tree, a fetus is not a baby, and people seeking reproductive health care aren’t murderers.

Lawmakers are entitled to hold religious beliefs to the contrary. But they’re not entitled to punish others for not sharing them.

In the new regime, women must be surveilled to ensure they aren’t secretly aborting, and still births and miscarriages will be suspect. Too often, Republican prosecutors eager to prove their anti-abortion bona fides already charge pregnancy failures as fetal homicide or child neglect. We can expect this to worsen.

Making women’s fertility and reproductive lives the subject of criminal law includes birth control, too. Granting “personhood” to a microscopic fertilized egg criminalizes some birth control methods.

An IUD works by preventing an egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus. If a microscopic fertilized egg is a “child,” preventing implantation is homicide, and any woman who uses an IUD is a “baby-killer.”

Meanwhile, so-called “pro-lifers” seem indifferent to the dangers facing pregnant people.

The states most at war with reproductive rights already have the highest maternal mortality and infant mortality rates: Anti-choice Louisiana, Georgia, and Indiana have seven times the maternal death rate of pro-choice California, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Anti-choice states have twice the infant mortality rate of pro-choice states. Abortion foes have no plan to reduce the infant death rate for real, “born babies” or to reduce maternal deaths.

Many of the GOP’s anti-abortion laws contain no, or dangerously limited, exceptions for life-threatening pregnancies. Some allow abortion only in a “medical emergency” that “immediately” endangers the patient’s life.

The existence of lethal danger to life won’t protect the patient or their doctor from prosecution until the patient is on the verge of death. Better hope the doctor guesses right.

A nationwide abortion ban would worsen this problem, with experts predicting at least a 21 percent increase in pregnancy-related deaths. And that’s before we get to the fate of people who chose illegal abortions when safe abortions are outlawed.

We’re past the time of creeping change on abortion rights. In the new post-Roe world, the GOP will seek to violently impose its take on morality, from abortion to contraception to same-sex marriage to gender transitioning. Now must be the time for full resistance.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning.

Via Otherwords.org

If we want the International Criminal Court to investigate Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, we need to stop undermining it Ourselves https://www.juancole.com/2022/05/international-investigate-undermining.html Thu, 05 May 2022 04:04:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204466 By Farrah Hassen | –

( Otherwords.org ) – As Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, human rights groups have gathered evidence of Russian atrocities against civilians — including executions, rapes, and mass murder. These are war crimes, President Biden asserted recently, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin “should be held accountable.”

Biden is right.

Russia’s crimes in Ukraine clearly violate the laws of war enshrined under the Geneva Conventions as well as the UN Charter, which prohibits wars of aggression. The International Criminal Court, or ICC, has already opened an investigation into Russia’s alleged crimes in Ukraine.

The U.S. wants to support the move, but there’s one big problem: Like Russia, the United States itself refuses to join the court. And that could make it more difficult to get justice for Ukrainians.

National courts would ideally prosecute the perpetrators of international crimes. But when states prove unable or unwilling to prosecute them — including for political reasons — the ICC has stood as the court of last resort.

Established in 2002 by the Rome Statute, the ICC has 123 member states where it can investigate and prosecute crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and state acts of aggression. (Ukraine has also not formally joined the court, but has submitted to its jurisdiction in the past.)

International courts have long played an important role in pursuing justice — and the larger fight against impunity under international law.

After World War II, the prominent Nuremberg trials, led by the U.S. and allied powers, prosecuted Nazi war criminals. The U.S. has also backed international criminal tribunals for the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone, which have held high-ranking individuals accountable for terrible crimes.

But what happens when a state is too powerful to be bound by international courts?

The problem isn’t the absence of law but rather its breakdown, when states refuse to comply and aren’t held accountable. This can further inflame conflicts. The resulting pattern of war, displacement, and rampant human rights violations we’re seeing in Ukraine has tragically become all too familiar.

But it’s not just Russia.

When President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute, he advised against U.S. ratification out of concern that the court could assert jurisdiction over U.S. officials and servicemembers. President George W. Bush then famously “unsigned” the Rome Statute less than one year before his illegal invasion of Iraq.

The Trump administration went so far as to sanction ICC prosecutors who were investigating possible U.S. crimes in Afghanistan.

The U.S. now has an opportunity to reset its contentious relationship with the ICC — and the global rule of law more broadly.

A resolution now in Congress, introduced by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), calls for the U.S. to join the ICC. Another resolution would repeal a 2002 law that prohibits U.S. support for ICC investigations. Enacting both would bolster the court’s effectiveness through greater U.S. involvement and show that the U.S. is serious about international criminal justice.

Ultimately, no country should stand in the way of accountability and remedy for victims of conflict, whether in Ukraine, Palestine, Yemen, or elsewhere. That includes the United States, which must also reckon with its own crimes committed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We cannot successfully cooperate with the rest of the world in establishing a reign of law,” warned Robert H. Jackson, the chief U.S. prosecutor at Nuremberg, “unless we are prepared to have that law sometimes operate against what would be our national advantage.”

Law alone won’t deliver global justice. But if we want fewer wars, more diplomacy, and more international cooperation, then no country can remain above it.

Farrah Hassen, J.D., is a writer, policy analyst, and adjunct professor in the Department of Political Science at Cal Poly Pomona.

Via Otherwords.org )

Americans in poorer Counties have died of COVID at Double the rate of Wealthier Counties https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/americans-counties-wealthier.html Sat, 16 Apr 2022 04:06:37 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=204083 By Karen Dolan | –

( Otherwords ) – As our country approaches 1 million deaths from COVID-19, it can feel impossible to wrap our heads around such a devastating figure. But it’s essential if we want to treat the pre-existing conditions that made it so deadly.

In the beginning, many thought the pandemic would be “a great equalizer,” since the virus doesn’t distinguish between rich and poor. But the tragic reality is that our economic and public health systems do discriminate.

A coalition of researchers convened by the Poor People’s Campaign recently published a report making this reality plain.

The researchers define poverty to include all those living up to 200 percent of the official poverty measure, which has long been considered too low to capture those who struggle the hardest to make ends meet.

Using this measure, they found that COVID-19 death rates in poorer U.S. counties were nearly double those wealthier counties.

The gap was even bigger during the worst phases of the pandemic. During the dark winter of 2020-2021, four and a half times as many people in poorer counties died. During the Delta phase, that number shot up to five times.

Vaccination rates tend to be somewhat greater in wealthier counties, but this study looked at counties where vaccination rates topped more than 85 percent. So vaccination can’t account for the disparity.

What can account for it is poverty. The over 300 counties with the highest death rates had average poverty rates of 45 percent.

These counties include 30 million Americans of every color. Latinx Americans make up about a quarter of their population, while their Black population is about double the national average. What’s more, these counties are home to nearly 30 percent of all Indigenous people in the United States.

They’re also home to many poor whites. Although COVID-related deaths fell disproportionately on people of color, these poorer white people suffered the most deaths.

Experts and impacted people testified recently about these findings in Washington, D.C.

“At times, our county’s rate of COVID hospitalizations and deaths led the nation,” said Bruce Grau of Wausau, Wisconsin. “In the first six months of the pandemic, nearly all of the residents in just one nursing home died penniless and alone.”

“Because I don’t have money, it was 17 days before they told me I had COVID,” testified Tyrone Gardner of Goldsboro, North Carolina. “We were slaughtered for the almighty dollar, and we won’t be sacrificed anymore,” declared Pamela Garrison of West Virginia.

“It was hard for us to get the vaccine,” recalled Vanessa Nosie, a member of the Apache Stronghold in New Mexico. “Our lives aren’t valued. They look at us like it doesn’t hurt that we don’t survive.”

“The findings of this report reveal intentional decisions to not focus on the poor,” summed up Reverend WIlliam Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. “We cannot say that this is because of individual choices or behaviors.”

Instead, he declared, “something deeper is at work: systems that prey on the poor — poor white people and poor people of color.”

The lessons of this pandemic are brutal and myriad. One of its most important is that when a public health crisis runs headlong into systemic inequities in wages, wealth, and health care, the result is mass death among those the system is rigged against.

The Poor People’s Campaign has been mobilizing Americans across the country to un-rig this system. “This data is a wake-up call for this nation to heed the calls of the Poor People’s Campaign,” said John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies.

This summer, the campaign is organizing a mass mobilization of poor and low-income people in Washington, D.C. to fight back. On June 18, thousands of poor people and their allies will arrive in the capital, calling on lawmakers to treat the pre-existing conditions of a pandemic that’s killed nearly 1 million Americans.

They welcome all to join them.

Karen Dolan directs the Criminalization of Race and Poverty Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

Via Otherwords

GOP’s Voter Suppression Laws are a Five-Alarm Emergency for Democracy https://www.juancole.com/2022/04/suppression-emergency-democracy.html Sun, 10 Apr 2022 04:21:26 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203965 By Robert P. Alvarez | –

( Otherwords.org ) – “Voter suppression” is a divisive and highly politicized term. But for the slate of bills Republicans are pushing across the country, it’s the only correct one.

They’re introducing these bills in virtually every state, but three — Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin — are especially worrisome. These swing states, along with Pennsylvania and Michigan, helped decide the last presidential election. Each flipped from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020.

The GOP’s voter suppression laws are working. They need to be stopped before more states adopt them.

But now, in these states and elsewhere, Republicans want to make it harder to vote by mail, get rid of same-day voter registration and ballot drop-off boxes, limit early voting, reduce the number of voting booths at polling locations, and much more.

If you’re not paying attention to these election bills, you should be. They might determine the next president of the United States.

Joe Biden won Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin by a combined 45,000 votes. He didn’t win because of widespread voter fraud or some liberal conspiracy. He won because more people voted for him.

The GOP response hasn’t been to win more votes. It’s been to make sure fewer people get to vote.

Voting rights should be a bipartisan issue. Instead, we’re seeing Republicans throw every voter suppression idea they have at the wall of their Capitol buildings hoping something sticks. A big part of this is Trump’s iron grip over the Republican Party.

To appease Trump, Republicans have spent the last two years trying to overturn the last presidential election. They failed. But if the election bills they’re pushing are signed into law, they may not have to overturn the next one.

Texas Senate Bill 1 is a good example of the kind of restrictive bills Republicans are pursuing in at least 40 states — including those three swing states.

The new Texas law makes it illegal for election officials to send mail-in ballots to voters unless they ask for them. It requires a voter identification number to be included with mail-in ballots. And it bans 24-hour polling places, among other things.

In the first election since the law was implemented, over 27,000 mail ballots were flagged for rejection in Texas. Most rejections were due to a technicality — forgetting to include that newly required voter identification number.

In the end, 23,000 ballots were thrown out, which was about 13 percent of all mail ballots. In Democratic-dominated Harris County around Houston, that figure rose to 19 percent — nearly one in five ballots.

For comparison, less than 1 percent of mail-in ballots in Texas were rejected in the 2020 general election. When ballot rejections increase by 10- to 20-fold, that’s not a free and fair election.

If we see rejection numbers like Texas’s in a general election — especially in swing states like Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin — we’re talking about control of the House, Senate, and presidency being stolen. Not stolen from Democrats, but from voters.

According to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks state-level election legislation, 565 election bills that restrict voter access or election administration have been introduced so far this session. Of those 565 bills, 129 are courtesy of Republicans in Arizona, Georgia, and Wisconsin.

Elections should be about the person with the most votes winning. For Republicans, it’s about putting up as many barriers to voting as possible and shrinking the electorate until it churns out the result they want.

The good news for voters and for supporters of free and fair elections is the vast majority of those bills haven’t made their way out of their state legislatures. There’s still time to stop them.

Robert P. Alvarez is a media relations associate at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Cracking Down on Russian Oligarchs Means Cracking Down on U.S. Tax Havens https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/cracking-russian-oligarchs.html Sat, 19 Mar 2022 04:06:08 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203558

If the U.S. wants to clamp down on “ill-gotten gains” abroad, the first step is to get our own house in order.

By Chuck Collins | –

As part of the sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its European partners are cracking down on Russian oligarchs. They’re freezing assets and tracking the yachts, private jets, and luxury real estate holdings of these Russian billionaires.

“I say to the Russian oligarchs and the corrupt leaders who bilked billions of dollars off this violent regime: no more,” Biden said in his State of the Union address. “We are coming for your ill-begotten gains.”

Targeting Russia’s elites, who have stolen trillions from their own people, is an important strategy to pressure Russian President Vladimir Putin, who himself may be among the wealthiest people on the planet.

But the U.S. faces a major obstacle in this effort: Our own country has become a major destination tax haven for criminal and oligarch wealth from around the world — and not just Russians.

While European Union countries have been increasing transparency and cracking down on kleptocratic capital, the United States is a laggard. As the Pandora Papers disclosed last year, the U.S. has become a weak link in the fight against global corruption.

Delaware, the state President Biden represented in the Senate for 36 years, is the premiere venue for anonymous limited liability companies that don’t have to disclose who their real beneficial owners are, even to law enforcement. And South Dakota is the home for billionaires creating dynasty trusts, where they can park wealth outside the reach of tax authorities for generations.

Even U.S. charities, as my IPS colleague Helen Flannery wrote recently, have received billions from Russian oligarchs, helping to sanitize their reputations.

Global wealth is flooding into the United States, especially in luxury real estate. In February, the New York Post did an expose on the luxury real estate holdings of Russian oligarchs in the Big Apple. But oligarchs hide their wealth in real estate all over the country, as well as art, cryptocurrency, and jewelry.

This vast wealth-hiding apparatus would not exist without an enormous enabling class of lawyers, accountants, and wealth managers. These “wealth defense industry” professionals are the agents of inequality, the facilitators of the wealth disappearing act. This class of professionals uses their considerable political clout to block reforms.

The first step in fixing the hidden wealth system is ownership transparency — requiring the disclosure of beneficial ownership in real estate, trusts, and companies and corporations. Cities like Los Angeles are exploring municipal-level disclosure of real estate ownership so they can know who’s buying their neighborhoods.

But we should also shine a spotlight on the wealth defense industry. Days after the release of the Pandora Papers, U.S. lawmakers introduced the ENABLERS Act, which would require such attorneys, wealth managers, real estate professionals, and art dealers to report suspicious activity. The attention on Russian oligarchs has revived interest in this legislation.

If the U.S. wants to clamp down on Russian oligarchs, the first step is to get our own house in order.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies. He’s the author of The Wealth Hoarders: How Billionaires Pay Millions to Hide Trillions. This op-ed was adapted from Inequality.org and distributed by OtherWords.org.

It’s Not Just Inflation — It’s Price Gouging https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/inflation-price-gouging.html Sun, 13 Mar 2022 05:06:41 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203455

Corporations are using “inflation” as a cover to hike prices and record record profits. We’ve got the proof.

By Lindsay Owens | –

( Otherwords.org) – If you’ve been slammed lately by higher prices on everything from groceries to rental cars and gas prices, you’re probably wondering what on earth is behind these skyrocketing costs.

Corporations are quick to blame this new reality on the pandemic, but another major culprit is hiding in plain sight: their own profiteering.

Four times a year, corporations are required by law to update their investors on how they’re doing in terms of sales and profits. These are called “earnings reports,” and the companies will usually hold calls with the investors to walk them through the latest report.

My organization, Groundwork Collaborative, recently got our hands on the transcripts from hundreds of these earnings calls. And you won’t believe what CEOs are boasting about.

Knowing that the current inflation frenzy is a convenient scapegoat, these companies are charging customers even more to pad their profit margins. They are just admitting it — they’re openly bragging to investors about how well it’s working.

“I think we’ve done a great job with our pricing,” boasted the CFO of Hormel, a maker of popular grocery brands. “I think it’s been very effective.” As prices went up, the company improved its operating income by 19 percent in the first quarter of 2022 compared to 2021.

Constellation Brands, the parent company of popular beers Modelo and Corona, is also engaging in bald-faced profiteering. On its January call, Constellation’s CFO admitted that its consumer base “skews a bit more Hispanic” and the company wants to “take as much as [we] can” from them.

And now, the conflict in Ukraine is providing yet another opportunity for oil and gas companies to pad their bottom lines. “It’s tragic what’s going on in Eastern Europe,” said one oil executive in late February. “But if anything, these high prices, the volatility, drive even more energy security and long-term contracting.”

This pandemic profiteering is taking a massive toll on consumers, workers, and small businesses.

Low-income Americans are pinching pennies to feed their families and pay their bills. And while mega-companies can use their market power to raise prices and generate record profits, small businesses and independent retailers are struggling to keep their doors open.

The appalling price gouging and monopolistic behavior we’re monitoring comes on top of decades of disinvestment in our workers and supply chain, excessive corporate power, and financial markets maximizing short-term profits. This broken system left us wholly unprepared to accommodate increases in demand.

But make no mistake: next time you experience sticker shock in the checkout line, it’s a safe bet that corporate executives and shareholders are reaping the rewards.

People are catching on: A new poll from Data for Progress and Groundwork finds that 63 percent of voters believe that “large corporations are taking advantage of the pandemic to raise prices unfairly on consumers and increase profits.”

Policy makers are taking notice, too. The New York Attorney General’s office just announced new price gouging rules, paving the way for other states to follow suit.

And days after President Biden promised action on pandemic price gouging, congressional oversight panels opened investigations into the three major ocean shipping alliances. These outfits control about 80 percent of seaborne cargo and have seen their profits increase seven-fold from the previous year.

Finally, a recently-introduced bill, the COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act, would help the Federal Trade Commission and State Attorneys General protect people across the country from pandemic profiteering.

Without competition and robust regulation to keep them in check, big corporations have gotten away with using the pandemic to push up prices and fatten their profit margins — and if they aren’t reined in, high prices could be here to stay.

Lindsay Owens, PhD, is the Executive Director of Groundwork Collaborative.

Via Otherwords.org

GOP Hostility to Ketanji Brown Jackson Goes Beyond Hypocrisy https://www.juancole.com/2022/03/hostility-ketanji-hypocrisy.html Sat, 05 Mar 2022 05:06:05 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=203309 ( Otherwords.org ) – Republicans complain about “reverse discrimination” on the Supreme Court. Their real complaint is against constitutional democracy. By | March 2, 2022

No one can seriously dispute that Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s nominee for the Supreme Court, is a brilliant and eminently qualified candidate.

Jackson has had a distinguished 10 year career as a respected federal judge. Before that, the Harvard Law graduate was a lawyer at a large law firm, a public defender, and a member of the bipartisan U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Nonetheless, most Republican senators will vote against confirming her.

Jackson’s work as a federal judge offers no real basis for senators to oppose her appointment — if one accepts that presidents are entitled to appoint qualified justices whose judicial philosophies they agree with.

That principle is actually a bedrock of American democracy.

The Supreme Court asserts authority to override legislatures, determine individual rights, and shape the structure of our democracy. Its claim to legitimacy is ultimately based on its ability to reflect, indirectly and over time, the values the American people ratify when they elect the presidents who appoint the Court’s members.

When a party thwarts that right — as Republicans did when they refused even to consider President Obama’s nominee in 2016 — they negate the Supreme Court’s legitimacy.

Although Republicans may conjure new excuses, the GOP’s current objection to Judge Jackson is that Biden had promised to appoint a Black woman. They’ll say he should have appointed the “most qualified” candidate, whatever their race or gender.

Since 94 percent of Supreme Court justices to date have been white men, we who fall into that category can scarcely claim we’ve been discriminated against. If it takes a conscious decision for the first Black woman ever to be seated on the Supreme Court, so be it. Jackson is more than qualified.

Besides, the Court is best served when its members bring different experiences and strengths. Jackson has insights and perspectives from her life as a Black woman and her work as a public defender that are different from those who’ve come before her. That can only strengthen the Court.

The GOP argument that it’s “reverse discrimination” to consider gender and race ignores the fact that their own party has done it.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan promised to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court, and he did. In 2020, Donald Trump said he would appoint a woman to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He did. No conservative outcries ensued.

As for race, when Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, retired, President George H. W. Bush nominated a Black man to fill his position. No one can say with a straight face that Bush didn’t consider Clarence Thomas’s race when he made the appointment.

They weren’t the first to consider nominees’ race and gender. It’s no coincidence that of the 115 justices the U.S. has ever had, 108 have been white men. For nearly two centuries, presidents thought being white and male were necessary qualifications.

Republican opposition to Judge Jackson’s appointment is worse than hypocrisy.

They resist because they spurn the fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy, beginning with the president’s constitutional right to nominate Supreme Court justices and ending with the right of the people, in a free and fair election, to remove a president.

When the voters rejected Trump in 2020, most Republican officeholders supported Trump’s lawless and dishonest effort — through frivolous litigation, attempted fraud, and finally mob violence — to steal the White House. And they’ve shamelessly followed up with state laws designed to disenfranchise citizens the GOP deems likely to vote for Democrats.

Opposing the seating of this qualified Supreme Court nominee is the Republican way of saying that those they disagree with must have no role in government at all, regardless of what the voters say and regardless of what the Constitution provides.

Confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson over their objections will represent an affirmation of American constitutional democracy.

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller Mississippi Reckoning.

Via Otherwords.org

Why we Really need King’s “Testament of Hope” right about Now https://www.juancole.com/2022/01/really-kings-testament.html Mon, 17 Jan 2022 05:04:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=202462 By Dedrick Asante-Muhammad | –

( Otherwords.org ) – 2022 has begun with melancholy, as our country sees the pandemic reach new heights. Meanwhile our crises of climate, democracy, and inequality seem more entrenched than ever.

All this uncertainty is taking a toll, but uncertain times are far from unprecedented. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to an equally uncertain time and found hope in recognizing the necessity of radical change.

As we celebrate the national holiday dedicated to King, I always encourage people to take some time to look at his writings — and I especially do this year. In moments like these, I like to revisit one of King’s last essays, “A Testament of Hope,” which sounds as relevant today as the day he wrote it.

“Whenever I am asked my opinion of the current state, I am forced to pause,” King wrote. “It is not easy to describe a crisis so profound that it has caused the most powerful nation in the world to stagger in confusion and bewilderment.”

Sound familiar?

“Today’s problems are so acute because the tragic evasions and defaults of several centuries have accumulated to disaster proportions,” King continued. These interrelated problems, he continued, have “now merged into a social crisis of almost stupefying complexity.”

King specifically named “war, inflation, urban decay, white backlash, and a climate of violence” alongside “race relations and poverty” as the cascading crises of his day. To that list we could add the pandemic and climate crisis today.

Even more than half a century ago, King believed that the time for small, incremental changes had passed. “The luxury of a leisurely approach to urgent solutions — the ease of gradualism — was forfeited by ignoring the issues for too long,” he wrote.

“When millions of people have been cheated for centuries, restitution is a costly process. Inferior education, poor housing, unemployment, inadequate health care — each will require billions to correct,” King warned. “Justice so long deferred has accumulated interest and its cost for this society will be substantial in financial as well as human terms.”

But for a country weighed down by segregation, inequality, and the Vietnam War, King also knew that the costs of injustice were greater — something that feels even more true today.

“If we look honestly at the realities of our national life, it is clear that we are not marching forward,” he wrote. “We are groping and stumbling; we are divided and confused.”

In the face of these “deeply rooted evils” and “systemic rather than superficial flaws,” King offered a remedy: the “radical reconstruction of society itself” — and praised the dissenters who called for it, often at great cost.

“Today’s dissenter tells the complacent majority that the time has come when further evasion of social responsibility in a turbulent world will court disaster and death,” he said. “America has not yet changed because so many think it need not change, but this is the illusion of the damned.”

Although King knew that change wouldn’t be easy, he was actually hopeful about it.

“Humanity has the capacity to do right as well as wrong,” King affirmed. “The past is strewn with the ruins of the empires of tyranny, and each is a monument not merely to our blunders but to our capacity to overcome them… That’s why I remain an optimist, though I am also a realist, about the barriers before us.”

King’s “Testament of Hope” is based on a realist’s assessment of the need for political, economic, and moral change. King is clear-eyed that America must embrace radical change — which won’t come from the powerful but from the “naïve and unsophisticated.”

Hope in radical change, for many of us, seems out of place during this time of tension. Yet there has been incredible change over the last few years. Rather than return to our dysfunctional past, King’s “Testament of Hope” points to the need to embrace and advance that change.

As we begin 2022 I find this message as important as ever.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the chief of Race, Wealth, and Community at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Via Otherwords.org