Moral Low Ground

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Arizona Again Attacks Martin Luther King Jr’s Legacy with Bill Banning Social Justice Studies

Martin Luther King Jr. shakes hands with President Lyndon B. Johnson after the latter signed the Civil Rights Act into law on July 2, 1964. (US State Department/Flickr Creative Commons)

Just in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in a state that refused to recognize the holiday until 1992, comes yet another attack on the civil rights icon’s teachings and legacy as Arizona Republicans push a bill that would ban social justice education.

Arizona HB 2120 would ban “courses, classes, events and activities” that “promote division, resentment or social justice toward a race, gender, political affiliation, social class or other class of people” or that “advocate solidarity… based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender or social class.” There are exemptions for Native American students, for the Holocaust and for “courses or classes that accurately discuss controversial aspects of history.” The ban would apply to public schools, community colleges and universities. Violators would have 10 percent of their monthly state funding withheld until they comply with the law.

In shockingly Orwellian language, the bill’s co-sponsor, state Rep. Mark Finchem (R-Oro Valley), said it was meant to combat “discrimination and bigotry.”

“I oppose taxpayer funding for anything that seeks to divide people by race, religion, ethnicity, or gender,” Finchem explained to ABC 15. “If private groups want to fund such things that’s their first amendment right, but taxpayer resources should not be used to advance discrimination and bigotry.”

You read that right. MLK, arguably the greatest American who ever lived, dedicated his life to teaching and preaching social justice in order to combat discrimination and bigotry. But to countless millions of white Americans, mostly of the conservative variety, identifying, discussing and resisting racism is, well, racist. It’s a perverse mindset writ large on billboards and banners proclaiming “anti-racist is a code word for anti-white” and in cognitively dissonant statements from throwbacks like Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) who dismiss criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s more bigoted cabinet nominees as a “war on whites.”

While the notion of any “war on whites” may seem absurd, even laughable, to any reasonable observer of contemporary American race relations, it is a notion that is deeply embedded in the minds of untold millions of white Americans. It’s endemic in Arizona, where I’ve spent considerable time covering various social justice stories and visiting the dozen or so white, conservative relatives who live around Phoenix. Relations are excellent with all, save for a federally licensed firearms dealer brother-in-law who feloniously threatened to kill me over a Facebook fight about universal health care. But a close relative I respect too much to name, someone who recently told me he believes President Obama is a foreign-born Islamist terrorist sympathizer, insisted, along with everyone else in the room, that there was nothing racist about Trump calling Mexicans rapists but it was a problem that black people had their own television channel, BET. Only a mind steeped in white privilege could fail to see that nearly every other TV channel caters to a primarily white audience, and what an insignificant bone to pick!

Only in a state steeped in white privilege and racism would voters reject observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, even years after President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law and even when the National Football League relocated Super Bowl XXVII from Phoenix in disgust. Arizonans wouldn’t vote in favor of MLK Day until 1992.

Since then, Arizona has made dubious headlines time and again for racist, discriminatory or unconstitutional bills that have sometimes become dangerous and damaging laws. In recent years, the state has passed SB 1070, the infamously anti-immigrant “show me your papers” law, a measure its Republican author effectively admitted was racially motivated. It also passed a voter suppression act and outlawed ethnic studies. The Tucson school district even banned Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” as somehow subversive.

“The courses don’t represent the values of Arizonans,” state Rep. Bob Thorpe (R-Flagstaff), author of the proposed social justice studies ban, explained to the Daily Caller. What Thorpe should have said was that they don’t represent the values of many white Arizonans, many of whom relocated to the state in waves of white flight from Rust Belt cities where blacks and other minorities were growing in population and power. Instead, he doubled down on insulting King’s legacy by using the slain civil rights leader’s own words to make a fallacious point: “The way these classes are set up is that people are judged not because of the content of their character.”

Martin Luther King Jr. railed against what he called the “three evils” of American society — “racism, extreme materialism and militarism.” He called the United States government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” and rejected capitalism as “evil,” urging America to “move toward a democratic socialism.” MLK was the greatest social justice warrior this nation has ever known. He would be truly horrified at the prospect of bills like HB 2120.

“The function of education… is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically,” King wrote in 1947. “But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals… We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character– that is the goal of true education.”

North Dakota Bill Would Protect Motorists Who Accidentally Kill, Injure Protesters

Native American “water protectors” stand off against law enforcement over construction of the highly controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. (Photo: Twitter/Yes Magazine)

A North Dakota state lawmaker has introduced a bill that would exempt drivers from liability if they accidentally kill or injure a pedestrian, a measure its leading sponsor admits is a response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock.

The Bismarck Tribune reports the measure, House Bill 1203, was co-sponsored by Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman), who said it was about “shifting the burden of proof from the motor vehicle driver to the pedestrian.” Kempenich insisted the bill was needed because #NoDAPL demonstrators blocked or gathered near roadways, causing trouble for passing motorists. The lawmaker said a pipeline protester once jumped out in front of his mother-in-law, who was driving on a road in Morton County.

“They’re intentionally putting themselves in danger,” Kempenich said of the demonstrators, adding that public roads are “not there for the protesters.” He said a tragedy could occur if a motorist alarmed by protesters in the road “punched the accelerator rather than the brakes.”

However, critics questioned who the bill is really meant to protect. The largest donor to Kempenich’s 2014 reelection campaign was the North Dakota Petroleum Council; the third-largest contributor was Marathon Oil Corporation.

ABC News reports another North Dakota bill would make it a crime for adults to wear masks in most situations.

Pipeline protesters, and some Democratic state legislators, have voiced serious concern over the bills. “It’s shocking to see legislation that allows for people to literally be killed for exercising their right to protest in a public space,” Tara Houska, a Native American environmental activist who has been camped with #NoDAPL at Standing Rock since August, told NBC News. “These [bills] are meant to criminalize the protests with no real concern for constitutional law,” she added, calling the proposed laws “a direct violation of our First Amendment rights.”

“Knee-jerk legislation often is poor legislation,” state Rep. Marvin Nelson (D-Rolla), one of the few lawmakers who has visited #NoDAPL protesters, told ABC News.

The proposed North Dakota bills come at a crucial juncture for the #NoDAPL protesters, who call themselves water protectors. Although they won an indefinite reprieve last month when the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company funding the pipeline, an easement to construct under the Missouri River, the incoming Donald Trump administration backs the pipeline and has said it will complete the project. Trump has reportedly reduced his personal investment in Energy Transfer Partners from as much a $1 million in 2015 to between $15,000 and $50,000. The president-elect also reportedly owns as much as $250,000 in stock in Philipps 66, which owns a quarter of DAPL. The incoming chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, former North Dakota governor John Hoeven, is a staunch pipeline supporter, as are key members of the Trump administration, many of whom claim they do not believe the overwhelming international scientific consensus that humans are causing and exacerbating climate change.

The #NoDAPL water protectors claim the pipeline threatens the region’s fresh water supply, desecrates sacred burial grounds, violates Native American treaty rights and, perhaps most importantly, fuels global warming. As thousands of #NoDAPL protesters gathered in Cannon Ball, North Dakota last year to stand with Standing Rock and block work on the pipeline, Native Americans and their allies were beaten, shot with “less lethal” projectiles that resulted in horrific injuries and mauled with dogs images of an attack dog with blood dripping from its teeth and snout shocked the conscience of the world and helped galvanize opposition to the pipeline.

Pipeline proponents argue DAPL will have significant economic benefits and would dramatically reduce crude oil shipments by rail, reducing horrific accidents like the July 6, 2013 Lac-Mégantic derailment in Quebec, Canada that killed 47 people. However, while the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) found there were twice as many oil train accidents as incidents involving pipelines from 2004 to 2012, the pipelines spilled three times as much oil as the trains.

General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, War Criminal

Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is likely to be confirmed as America’s next secretary of defense. (Photo: USGLC/Flickr Creative Commons)

On March 31, 2004, four guards from the private security company Blackwater USA made the fatal mistake of entering a part of Fallujah, Iraq controlled by fighters resisting the US-led occupation.

The contractors were brutally tortured and murdered, their bodies doused in gasoline and set on fire before being dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge. That same day five US Marines were killed not far from the city by a roadside bomb.

Photos of the charred bodies of the four Blackwater guards outraged Americans, and military commanders geared up for an all-out assault to “pacify” Fallujah. However, General James Mattis, commander of the 1st Marine Division, argued against such an offensive, presciently predicting “that a large-scale operation would send the wrong message, unnecessarily endanger civilians, and ultimately fail to achieve the primary objective” of capturing or killing the militants who killed the private contractors.

Once Operation Vigilant Resolve, also known as the First Battle of Fallujah, began on April 4, however, Mattis’ concerns were overridden by the military mandate to get the job done as quickly and with as little loss of American life as possible. Four days into the offensive, women, children and elderly residents were allowed to leave the besieged city, but males over the age of 14 were not. Families faced the horrific choice of splitting up or staying together to face the fury of the invading Marines.

It was some fury. According to witnesses and survivors of the assault, Marines indiscriminately killed men, women, children, the elderly and disabled alike. Civilians waving white flags of surrender were cut down by snipers, who also targeted ambulances carrying the wounded and dying to the few functioning clinics not destroyed by US bombs. “I see people carrying a white flag and yelling at us, saying, ‘We are here, just try to save us,’ but we could not save them because whenever we opened the ambulance door, the Americans would shoot at us,” Dr. Salam Ismael, head of Iraq’s young doctors association, told American investigative reporter Aaron Glantz, who covered the battle as an unembedded journalist. “We tried to carry food or water; the snipers shoot the containers of food.”

Another unembedded American reporter, Dahr Jamail, said he “personally witnessed women, children, elderly people and ambulances being targeted by US snipers under Mattis’ command.” In his book, Beyond the Green Zone, Jamail described “witnessing of an endless stream of women and children who had been shot by the US soldiers,” including “an 18-year-old girl [who] had been shot through the neck, … her younger brother, a small child of 10 with a gunshot wound in his head from a Marine sniper” and “another small child… also shot by a sniper [with] his grandmother, … shot as she was attempting to carry children from their home… She lay on a bed dying, still clutching a bloodied white surrender flag.”

Jamail reported US troops also shot and killed civilians during what was supposedly a cease-fire. So many civilians were killed that a local soccer stadium was converted into a makeshift graveyard. Many victims were left to rot in the streets where they were killed because Marine snipers would shoot relatives or others who tried to retrieve the bodies. “When you see a child, 5 years old with no head, what [can you] say?” Dr. Ismael asked Glantz at the time. “When you see a child with no brain, just opened cavity, what [can you] say? Or when you see a mother just hold her child, still an infant, with no head and the shells all over her body?”

Around 600 civilians were killed during Operation Vigilant Resolve. Incredibly, when confronted with this grisly statistic, top Mattis deputy Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne said “the fact that there are 600 goes back to the fact that the Marines are very good at what they do.”

Gabor Rona, an international law professor at Columbia University in New York, said there is no doubt Mattis is responsible for US war crimes committed in Fallujah. “There have been credible reports that US troops under the command of Gen. Mattis did target civilians, conducted indiscriminate attacks and also conducted attacks against military objectives that caused disproportionate casualties to civilians during military operations in Fallujah,” Rona told Glantz. “All of these are war crimes. Applying the doctrine of command responsibility, Gen. Mattis would be responsible for these misdeeds, these war crimes of troops under his command if he… either knew, should’ve known or did nothing to prevent or punish this behavior.”

It was during the battle for Fallujah that Mattis earned his nickname, “Mad Dog.”

Operation Vigilant Resolve failed to “pacify” Fallujah, or to capture or kill those responsible for killing the four Blackwater guards, and a few months later Mattis found himself involved in the planning — but not the execution; he had been promoted to a stateside command by then —  of Operation Phantom Fury, an even bloodier Second Battle of Fallujah in which the Red Cross said as many as 800 civilians were killed. US troops used white phosphorus, a horrific incendiary weapon banned for use against civilians that ignites on contact with air and burns at nearly 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit, scorching flesh straight through to the bone, and depleted uranium munitions linked to an exponential surge in cancers, still births and birth defects.

Before Mattis left Iraq, he personally authorized an air strike on a wedding party near the Syrian border. The May 19, 2004 attack killed 42 civilians, including 13 children. Survivor Haleema Shihab said US warplanes targeted the civilians “one by one” and recounted how she was forced to leave two of her dead sons behind, one of them decapitated by shrapnel. “I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me,” Shihab told the Guardian. “I pretended to be dead so he wouldn’t kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me.” Mattis refused to accept that the victims were civilians, but days later video emerged of the wedding festivities just before the deadly strike.

On November 19, 2005, Marines responding to the roadside bombing death of a popular lance corporal went on a cold-blooded rampage, massacring 24 men, women and children in Haditha. Ordered to “shoot first and ask questions later,” Marines went house to house and executed terrified civilians, often at point-blank range. Victims ranged in age from 1 to 76. It was the worst mass slaughter of civilians by US troops in Iraq, and clearly a war crime under domestic and international law, yet Mattis defended and dismissed charges against three of the perpetrators. Largely due to Mattis’ influence, not a single Marine who participated in the heinous atrocity was jailed.

“Mattis’ role in whitewashing, if in fact that’s what he did, would be a war crime under international law, and analogous to what we prosecuted and executed Yamashita for,” Rona said, referring to a Japanese general who was executed for commanding troops who committed atrocities against civilians and allied prisoners of war during World War II.

Haditha wasn’t the only case in which Mattis cleared troops who committed atrocities, he also granted clemency to three Marines convicted of conspiracy to commit premeditated murder and kidnapping for the execution of a disabled civilian in Hamdania. The Marines shot 52-year-old Hashim Ibrahim Awad four times in the head while his hands and feet were bound. They then planted a weapon on the innocent man in a failed bid to cover their crime.

Mattis, who once gleefully confessed he found it “a hell of a lot of fun” to shoot other human beings, is likely to be confirmed as America’s next secretary of defense. He got a free pass on Fallujah, Haditha and Hamdania during his Senate confirmation hearing — when it comes to US war crimes, there is a strong bipartisan tendency to choose willful ignorance and impunity over transparency and accountability. The United States has, after all, killed more innocent foreign civilians than any other armed force on the planet over the past half century, a fact almost nobody in America cares to remedy — or even acknowledge.

Barack Obama’s Criminal Legacy on War, Torture and Guantánamo

President Barack Obama meets with top military commanders at the Pentagon. (Photo: US Army)

President Barack Obama leaves behind a criminal legacy on war, torture and Guantánamo Bay. This isn’t hyperbole, it’s legal fact, as what follows will amply demonstrate.

WAR

Obama holds the dubious distinction of being the only president in American history who waged continuous war from the first through the last day of a two-term presidency. He bombed more countries than George W. Bush, although Bush’s death toll was exponentially higher. Still, under Obama, US bombs and bullets killed thousands of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. US forces bombed hospitals, homes, weddings, funerals, first responders and troops from both allied nations and countries with which the United States is not at war. The US dropped at least 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone, or one bombing every 20 minutes.

The president dramatically escalated the drone war started under the previous administration, compiling a “kill list” that includes American citizens. Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, an innocent 16-year-old Denver, Colorado native and the son of an al-Qaeda leader, was killed in 2011 while dining in an outdoor restaurant on a visit to his ancestral homeland, Yemen. His father, also American, had been extrajudicially assassinated in a similar strike two weeks earlier. When pressed on why an innocent American teenager had been killed, a senior Obama adviser said he should have “had a more responsible father.” Obama also redefined the term “militant” to include all combat-age males in a designated strike zone, a deceptive move meant to minimize civilian casualty counts. The administration also covered up war crimes in Afghanistan, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

The Obama administration has provided weapons and diplomatic cover to allies who commit war crimes during their own armed conflicts, including but not limited to Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Obama also supported some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships in countries including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The administration backed a right-wing military coup in Honduras that ushered in an era of state suppression, torture and murder of thousands of people. Obama also personally exempted select nations from the Child Soldiers Prevention Act — signed by George W. Bush in 2008, which banned US military aid to countries whose armed forces enslave, conscript or employ child soldiers.

Obama’s 2011 decision to wage war in Libya without seeking congressional approval as required under the 1973 War Powers Act was illegal.

CIA drone strikes that killed hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen flout international law and may amount to war crimes, according to Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary executions.

The deliberate targeting of civilian homes and institutions — the US admitted intentionally bombing a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF or, in English, Doctors Without Borders) hospital in Afghanistan, killing 42 patients and staff even though there was no direct threat to US troops — was condemned as a breach of international humanitarian law, with MSF calling it a war crime.

The extrajudicial execution of American citizens is a violation of the constitutional guarantee of due process.

TORTURE

During his first presidential campaign a decade ago, Obama promised to investigate Bush administration officials responsible for the torture of prisoners in the war against terrorism. On his second day as president, he signed an executive order banning torture. However, while decreasing dramatically, reports of torture by US forces — and cover-up by the Obama administration — persist, with a shift from brutal physical torture that resulted in dozens of detainee deaths during the Bush era to more psychological forms of torture, including prolonged solitary confinement.

While Obama’s executive order banning torture, his admission that “we tortured some folks” during the Bush years and his decision to preserve the 2014 Senate report on CIA torture in his presidential library are all laudable moves, these actions are outweighed by the president’s failure to declassify the Senate report, his concerted effort to undermine publication of the report and, most importantly by far, his failure to hold the Bush officials who authorized torture accountable. Not only did Obama fail to prosecute the Bush torturers, his administration actively shielded them from any accountability whatsoever. Obama explained he was “more interested in looking forwards… than backwards,” a statement he may come to regret given how the climate of impunity for torture he established could embolden Donald Trump, who has promised to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.”

Shamefully, only one CIA official was prosecuted and imprisoned for torture-related crimes. But John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison not for torturing detainees, but rather for blowing the whistle on torture. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers revealing decades of government lies and abuses during the Vietnam War, blasted the Obama administration for “criminalizing the revelation of illegality [while] decriminalizing the illegality– the torture.” Kiriakou was one of many whistleblowers severely punished under Obama for revealing government crimes and misdeeds.

Under the Convention against Torture and other laws, failure to investigate and prosecute credible allegations of torture is a violation of the law.

GUANTÁNAMO

On his second day in office, President Obama signed an executive order to close the US military concentration camp for terrorists at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba within a year. Nearly eight years later — and 15 years since it first opened — GITMO remains in operation, albeit with a far lower detainee population as the president has worked to find new homes for prisoners, some of whom have been cleared for release for more than a decade. As well he should — Bush administration official Col. Lawrence Wilkerson revealed that top administration officials including Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up the imprisonment of hundreds of innocent men and boys at Guantánamo to protect their plans to invade Iraq. “The vast majority of Guantanamo detainees were innocent,” asserted Wilkerson. In fairness, Congress has fought mightily against every effort Obama has made to close GITMO, but the president’s failure to shut down the prison is one of the biggest embarrassments of his tenure. There have also been reports of continued torture at Guantánamo since Obama took office.

The prolonged indefinite detention and the absence of due process at Guantánamo Bay is a clear violation of international law.

War without end, support for brutal dictators, impunity, cover-up and stonewalling on torture and the colossal broken promise to close Guantánamo will tarnish Barack Obama’s record for many years to come. More than just dark stains, Obama’s war in Libya, drone strikes, targeted assassination of Americans without due process, failure to prosecute the Bush torturers and indefinite detention at GITMO are violations of the law. They are crimes, and this is Obama’s criminal legacy.

US Admits Killing 33 Afghan Civilians in ‘Self Defense’ Strike on Kunduz Village

Afghans gather in November around the bodies of people killed in a battle, in Boz-e Kandahari village, Kunduz province. (Najim Rahim / Associated Press)

The US military admitted Thursday that a joint military operation in Kunduz province, Afghanistan in early November killed 33 Afghan civilians and wounded 27 more in what Pentagon officials called an act of self defense.

The Associated Press reports US and allied Afghan forces were attacked by Taliban fighters in the village of Boz-e Kandahari while on a mission to capture two senior Taliban commanders. “To defend themselves and Afghan forces, US forces returned fire in self-defense at Taliban who were using civilian houses as firing positions,” the US military said. “As an indication of the ferocity of the fire faced by friendly forces from the Taliban-occupied houses, two US soldiers and three Afghan Army Commandos were killed,” it added. “In addition, four US soldiers and 11 commandos were wounded.”

“Regardless of the circumstances, I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives. … I wish to assure President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan that we will take all possible measures to protect Afghan civilian,” the statement quoted General John Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, as saying.

The deaths occurred as US warplanes launched air strikes on villagers’ homes. Local officials said the US casualty count was too low. “More than 50 people, including women and children, were killed in the Afghan and US forces’ attack in Boz-e Kandahari,” Toryalia Kakar, a deputy provincial council member, said. Kakar urged the US to compensate victims of the attack for their dead and wounded relatives and destroyed homes and property.

US military officials said no action will be taken against those responsible for the deadly attack. “It has been determined that no further action will be taken because US forces acted in self-defense and followed all applicable law and policy,” the statement concluded.

Civilian casualties have long caused tension between the Afghan and US governments and have bred widespread hostility toward US and allied forces that began bombing and then invading Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.While the vast majority of the more than 31,000 civilian deaths during the 15-year-long US-led war in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history — have been caused by enemy forces, US-led coalition forces have killed thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. US forces have bombed schools, hospitals, wedding parties, funerals and first responders rushing to aid victims of American air strikes in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Over the past half century, US military forces have killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force on Earth. According to a 2015 study, more than 1.3 million people have died in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan during the course of the 15-year US-led war against Islamist terrorism.

Cory Booker Delivers Unprecedented Testimony Against Attorney General Nominee Jeff Sessions

Sen. Jeff Sessions defended himself against accusations of racism during his Senate hearing to confirm him as the next US attorney general. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) became the first sitting US senator in history to testify against a fellow senator’s cabinet confirmation when he delivered an impassioned plea to lawmakers to reject Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R-AL) attorney general nomination.

Booker, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) also testified against President-elect Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee on Wednesday. Lewis, who fought for civil rights alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, said he worried that Sessions, if confirmed, would “violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed [and] people of color.”

Acknowledging the “exceptional” nature of his testimony against a fellow senator, Booker questioned whether the nominee would protect the rights of all Americans. “America was founded heralding not law and order but justice for all, and critical to that is equal justice under the law,” Booker said. “If there is no justice, there is no peace.”

“Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment… to aggressively pursue… civil rights, equal rights and justice for all our citizens,” Booker continued. “Numerous times in his career he has demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance these ideals.”

“The arc of the moral universe does not just naturally curve toward justice, we must bend it,” Booker added. “America needs an attorney general who is resolute and determined to bend the arc. Sen. Sessions’ record does not speak to that desire, intention or will… The next attorney general must bring hope and healing to this country and this demands a more courageous empathy than Senator Sessions’ record demonstrates.”

On Tuesday, Sessions faced more than nine hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He denied being a racist and distanced himself from some of Trump’s most controversial campaign promises, including banning Muslims from entering the United States and torturing suspected terrorists. Sessions was repeatedly interrupted by protesters, some of whom were dressed in white robes similar to those worn by the Ku Klux Klan. Demonstrators chanted “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” before being removed, sometimes roughly, from the hearing.

Critics point to Sessions’ decades-long history of opposing civil rights legislation, court rulings and policies, as well as his history of racist, homophobic and Islamophobic remarks, as reasons to reject his nomination. The former Alabama attorney general and US attorney has opposed the Voting Rights Act, which he called “intrusive,” and is a staunch supporter of voter ID laws, which Republicans have admitted are used to disenfranchise blacks. He wrongfully prosecuted civil rights activists who were registering blacks to vote. He opposes women’s constitutional right to abortion, voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, twice voted against the Military Justice Improvement Act, a measure to combat the surging epidemic of rape in the US military, and opined that Donald Trump’s boast about grabbing women “by the pussy” did not constitute a description of sexual assault. Sessions has also opposed legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and has vociferously called for a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship to anyone born in the United States. He has been consistently against granting civil rights to LGBTQ people and called same-sex marriage a threat to American culture. He has been criticized for opposing laws and treaties to protect the rights of people with disabilities.

“People have to remember that the attorney general is really the chief protector and enforcer of all of our nation’s civil rights laws, including the constitutional guarantee of equal protection and a host of very important civil rights legislation,” Kyle Barry, policy counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense Fund, told Democracy Now! “And in Jeff Sessions, you have someone who has spent over 40 years of his political and legal career opposing civil rights and opposing principles of equality.”

Barry points to Session’ opposition to sentencing reform — opposition which perpetuates the mass incarceration of mostly poor people of color — as well as his backing of mandatory minimum sentencing and support for prison chain gangs as examples of the nominee’s “extraordinary racial insensitivity.” David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), agrees, telling Democracy Now! that Sessions’ vote against lifting felon disenfranchisement and his support for voter ID laws are proof he is not fit to serve as attorney general. Cole also noted Sessions’ Islamophobia — the Christian senator once called Islam, the world’s second-largest religion, a “toxic ideology” and has backed Donald Trump’s plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States. However, during his confirmation hearing Sessions insisted he would reject such a ban.

Sessions has called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American” and “communist-inspired.”

The many Sessions statements called racist by critics include reportedly saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot” — which Sessions admits saying but claims he was joking, allegedly repeatedly calling black attorneys racial slurs and allegedly calling a white attorney who defended blacks in civil rights cases a “disgrace to his race.”

Critics also note that in 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee deemed Sessions too racist to serve as a federal judge. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) called Sessions “a throwback to a shameful era” in rejecting his nomination. In a letter written at the time, Coretta Scott King, widow of assassinated civil rights champion Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., asserted Sessions “would have a devastating effect not only on the judicial system… but also on the progress we have made… toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.”

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said racism is “not just about a white supremacist yelling the N-word or wearing robes or burning crosses.”

“Racism is perpetrated through systems of power that consistently privilege white people while discriminating against people of color and other Americans,” Barber told Democracy Now! Barber, who also leads the Moral Mondays anti-racism protests in North Carolina, said he was particularly alarmed by Sessions’ disdain for the Voting Rights Act. “That is legislation that people died for,” he said, referring to the many civil rights activists murdered during the 1950s and 1960s.

Others are alarmed by Session’s anti-LGBTQ statements and actions, which include support for discriminatory and unconstitutional anti-sodomy laws, advocacy for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, opposition to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, support for the military’s repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for LGBTQ service members and other discriminatory laws and policies. In voting against hate crime protection for women and LGBTQ people, Sessions said, “I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination. I just don’t see it.”

“Now he’s going to be put in charge of enforcing the hate crimes law,” Cole told Democracy Now! “If you can’t see discrimination, you’re not going to do a very good job enforcing the laws against discrimination.”

Still others said Sessions’ questionable ethical record should preclude him from serving as attorney general. He failed to hand over scores of documents requested by the Senate Judiciary Committee — an act he once called a felony— and failed to disclose he was rejected for federal judgeship in 1986. He also critically failed to disclose his ownership of Alabama oil interests, and he worked with campaign contributor US Steel to prosecute one of the company’s competitors in a case dismissed by a judge who called it the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he’d ever seen.

Undaunted, Sessions’ supporters rallied to his defense. “Jeff is principled, forthright, and hardworking,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said after his nomination. “He cares deeply about his country and the department he will be nominated to lead.”

“I have never witnessed anything to suggest that Senator Sessions is anything but a dedicated public servant and decent man,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) added.

During his confirmation hearing, Sessions insisted he “abhors” the “hateful ideology” of the KKK and said he was keenly aware of the importance of civil rights in America. “I deeply understand the history of civil rights and the horrendous impact that relentless and systemic discrimination and the denial of voting rights has had on our African American brothers and sisters,” he said. “I have witnessed it. We must continue to move forward and never back. I understand the demands for justice and fairness made by our LGBT community. I will ensure that the statutes protecting their civil rights and their safety are full enforced. I understand the lifelong scars born by women who are victims of assault and abuse.”

Progressive lawmakers were not convinced. “I see in Jeff Sessions a man who wants black people to be quiet, immigrants to be silent and invisible, women back in the kitchen and gays in the closet,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) told Democracy Now! “So, if that’s the America you want to make great again, then Jeff Sessions is your guy.”

Sessions will likely be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Tampa Food Not Bombs Activists Arrested for Feeding Hungry People

Food Not Bombs activists serve free meals to hungry people in a public park. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Seven volunteers for Tampa Food Not Bombs, part of a loose-knit network sharing vegan and vegetarian meals with hungry people around the world, were arrested on Saturday for serving food in a park without a permit.

The Tampa Bay Times reports the activists were serving up coffee, bagels and platefuls of quinoa and mushrooms when a police lieutenant warned them to shut down or face arrest. When they did not stop, officers moved in and arrested seven people, including a man who reached for a bagel.

“We’re doing an act of kindness and mutual aid, and that should not be criminalized,” Jimmy Dunson, one of the arrested activists, told the Times. “There shouldn’t be this giant bureaucracy that keeps people from being kind to each other.”

Police spokesman Steve Hegarty said the activists were not arrested simply for serving food, but rather for doing so without the permit needed to serve in a city park. Hegarty added that officers who observed the activists giving away coffee and bagels in the park days earlier had warned them they would be arrested if caught again. “We warned them: You set up table, chairs and everything, that’s against ordinance,” Hegarty told the Times. “We told them exactly what would happen. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Some activists claimed the latest crackdown was more about keeping up appearances as thousands of visitors flocked to Tampa for the College Football Playoff National Championship than it was about food safety concerns, calling the police action a “criminalization of compassion.” Others noted that obtaining the requisite insurance to serve food publicly is prohibitively expensive.

This wasn’t the first time Tampa Food Not Bombs members were arrested while sharing meals — in 2004, three of the group’s volunteers were apprehended in Herman C. Massey Park. Food Not Bombs collectives in other Florida cities, including Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale, have also run afoul of the law.

Tampa Food Not Bombs members defiantly regrouped in Lykes Gaslight Square Park to serve more meals on Tuesday. While there were tense moments as police stood by and watched, nobody was arrested. The group says it “has no plans to stop sharing food with the homeless and hungry and will continue to defy unjust laws that criminalize compassion and mutual aid.”

“We intend to expose the city’s cruelty in the face of thousands in our community who are struggling with issues of food insecurity, mental and medical health issues, poverty, and homelessness,” Tampa Food Not Bombs said in an email to Creative Loafing Tampa. “If the city will not address these problems, the least they can do is not get in the way and stop others from addressing these needs. Compassion should never be criminalized.”

According to Feeding America, the nation’s largest hunger relief organization, more than 200,000 people in Hillsborough County, were Tampa is located, were food insecure in 2012, meaning they lacked reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Out of 3.1 million food insecure people in Florida, 1.1 million were children, meaning more than one in four children in the state were food insecure in 2012.

Nationwide, Feeding America reported 42.2. million Americans living in food insecure households, including 6.3 million households with very low food security — defined by the US government as “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake,” in 2015.

Tampa Food Not Bombs is planning yet another unauthorized meal share on Saturday January 14 in Lykes Gaslight Square Park.

Dylann Roof Sentenced to Death for Charleston Church Massacre

Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for the June 17, 2015 massacre of 9 black worshippers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC.

After about three hours of deliberation, the South Carolina jury that found unrepentant white supremacist Dylann Roof guilty of murdering nine black worshippers at a Charleston church sentenced the 22-year-old to death.

The New York Times reports the jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Roof guilty of 33 counts for the June 17, 2015 massacre at the iconic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, was unanimous in its decision.

Roof fatally shot nine people: pastor and South Carolina state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Dr. Daniel L. Simmons, Ethel Lee Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Susie Jackson and Tywanza Sanders. In his confession, Roof coolly told investigators how he sat silently with churchgoers for 15 minutes on that fateful night while deciding whether or not to go through with his murderous plan. “I just finally decided I had to do it,” he said. Roof fired 74 shots during his rampage. “When I got in there it was not really about how many I could kill,” he explained. “After I shot some, I didn’t feel like I needed to shoot everybody.”

At least one of the massacre survivors was specifically chosen by Roof. “Did I shoot you yet?” Polly Sheppard recalled Roof asking as he pointed a gun at her. “I’m not going to,” he said. “I need you to tell the story.”

Roof never shirked from his crime. “I am guilty,” he declared in his confession. “We all know I’m guilty.”

The avowed white supremacist was motivated by hatred of black people, telling investigators he hoped to spark a race war. “Somebody had to do something because black people are killing white people every day,” Roof said during one FBI interrogation session. “They rape 100 white people a day,” he said. While in prison, roof wrote he was “not sorry” for the killings. “I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,” he wrote. Roof also hated Jews, who he said were “undoubtedly our enemies,” gays and Hispanics, who he said “introduce crime and violence in our country.” He opined that Hitler would one day be “inducted as a saint.”

Last week, Federal District Judge Richard M. Gergel refused to declare Roof incompetent to face the sentencing phase of his trial. Prosecutors in the case urged the jury to sentence Roof to die, saying he had a “hateful heart” for targeting black parishioners who welcomed him into their Bible study session just before he started killing them.

Roof acted as his own attorney during the sentencing phase. He remained unrepentant and showed no remorse during his closing statement, saying “I still feel like I had to do it.” Roof also refused to ask the jury to spare his life. “I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” he said.

Trump Lies: President-Elect Denies Mocking Disabled Reporter After Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe Speech

After an emotional Golden Globe Awards speech in which Meryl Streep took Donald Trump to task for mocking a disabled reporter, the US president-elect fired back, calling the renowned actress “overrated” and a “flunky” and denying he ever mocked the man.

Variety reports Streep, 67, was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement at the 74th Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills. Without ever saying Trump’s name, Streep lambasted the billionaire businessman for demonizing Hollywood, immigrants and the news media.

“You and all of us in this room belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners, and the press,” Streep said to uproarious applause. “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners and if you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.”

Streep then said the “performance” that most stunned her last year was when Trump mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from the congenital joint disorder arthrogryposis, while campaigning in South Carolina.

“It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter — someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head, because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life,” Streep said, her voice cracking with emotion. “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.”

Trump slammed Streep Monday morning, tweeting, “Meryl Streep, one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a Hillary flunky who lost big.” Trump’s tweets also denied he ever mocked Kovaleski — despite video showing him clearly doing so, an assertion he doubled down on in an interview with the New York Times.

“I was never mocking anyone,” Trump emphatically stated. “I was calling into question a reporter who had gotten nervous because he had changed his story.” Trump claims Kovaleski has attempted to distance himself from a Washington Post article he published after the 9/11 terrorist attacks claiming authorities had detained “a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks.” Trump, who sparked great controversy with his campaign pledge to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, cited the article as proof of his spurious claim that he had watched while “thousands and thousands of people” cheered the 9/11 attacks while watching the twin towers of the World Trade Center burn and collapse. The only people arrested after being seen allegedly cheering on September 11, 2001 were a group of Israelis, some of whom later filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the United States claiming they had been tortured during interrogation.

PA Couple Accused of ‘Fantasy’ Rape, Murder of Adopted Daughter Grace Packer, 14

Sara Packer (L) and Jacob Sullivan (R) of Bucks County, Pa. are charged in connection with the “fantasy” rape and murder of Packer’s adopted 14-year-old daughter Grace Packer in July 2016. (Photo: Bucks Co. District Attorney)

A Pennsylvania couple have been charged in connection with the rape, murder and dismemberment of the woman’s adopted teenage daughter, a crime investigators say was committed to fulfill the couple’s shared “rape-murder fantasy.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports 41-year-old Sara Packer and Jacob Sullivan, 44, of Abington Twp., 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Philadelphia, face charges including criminal homicide, rape, kidnapping and abuse of a corpse for the July 2016 killing of 14-year-old Grace Packer. Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub called the crimes “heinous,” “depraved,” and “unspeakable,” claiming the couple planned them for months in order to fulfill a shared sexual obsession.

“They wanted to see a certain result come about to satisfy some sick, perverted fantasy of theirs,” Weintraub told reporters. “And they made it a reality… To them, [Grace] was unfortunately a disposable child.”

Police investigators, who had been searching for Grace since her mother reported her missing from another home she rented on July 11, got an unexpected break in the case over the weekend after a suicide pact between the alleged perpetrators failed and a pill overdose landed them in the hospital. While recovering on Saturday at Abington Memorial Hospital in Abington, Sullivan confessed his crimes to medical staff and instructed them to call police.

Sullivan was subsequently arraigned by District Court Judge Michael W. Petrucci in Newtown on charges of homicide, rape, kidnapping, and related offenses. Packer, who police earlier identified as a person of interest in the case, was arraigned Sunday afternoon, but was not charged with rape because she allegedly only watched Sullivan assault her daughter.

According to court documents, Sullivan and Packer drove Grace, who police say the couple hated, to a house they had rented in Quakertown, 28 miles (45 km) northwest of Newtown. Sullivan told police he then punched the girl in the face before raping her while his partner watched. Sullivan also told police he’d taken Viagra before the attack. They then gave Grace pills, bound and gagged her, and left her to die in the cedar closet of an “extremely hot” attic in the home before returning home, prosecutors said. When the couple returned the following morning, they found Grace still alive and conscious. Sullivan said he wrapped his arm around the girl’s neck and choked her to death, telling police “it was more physical and took much longer than he expected.”

Sullivan told police the couple hid Grace’s body in their attic packed in cat litter to mask the odor of decomposition. The body remained there until mid-October, when police began closing in on them. Sullivan said he then dismembered the corpse with a saw before transporting the remains in plastic bags to a secluded area in Luzerne County, where they disposed of the remains. Packer continued to collect $712 in monthly Social Security disability benefits for her dead daughter. “After they murdered her, they maintained the pretense of Grace being alive so that they could continue to profit off of her existence,” Weintraub told reporters, adding that the crime “shakes one’s belief in the goodness of humanity.”

“The question is: How could any mother do this to a child?” Weintraub asked reporters. “I’m bereft. I don’t have an answer.”

The Bucks County Courier Times reports Sullivan apologized at his arraignment, telling the court. “I’m sorry for what I did.” In a suicide note to his children found by detectives, he claimed to have nothing to do with the murder.

“I know you will always know that we had nothing to do with this no matter what lies they tell,” Sullivan wrote, according to the Inquirer. “I’m sorry to leave you. Remember all I’ve taught you. Be brave, stand tall and do your best to be stronger than I was.”

Douche Du Jour
  • North Dakota Bill Would Protect Motorists Who Accidentally Kill, Injure Protesters
  • Trump Lies: President-Elect Denies Mocking Disabled Reporter After Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe Speech
  • PA Couple Accused of ‘Fantasy’ Rape, Murder of Adopted Daughter Grace Packer, 14
  • Chicago: Hate Crime, Kidnapping Charges for Facebook Live Torture of Mentally Disabled Man
  • ‘Hail Trump!’: Nazi Salutes, Antisemitism at Alt-Right National Policy Institute Conference
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