United States Fails To Attend Human Rights Hearing

The United States government refused to attend a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as it was planning to raise questions regarding the Trump administration’s actions including its travel ban. The American Civil Liberties Union posted the above picture of the empty chairs where the US delegation would sit, and issued this statement:

The United States has pulled its participation from hearings planned for today by a regional human rights body that has enjoyed the support of every U.S. administration since its founding.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is meeting in Washington, D.C., for a regular session covering human rights issues spanning North and South America. The hearings today are scheduled to cover the Trump administration’s attempt to ban immigration from six predominantly Muslim countries, its immigration enforcement and detention policies, and its approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ACLU is testifying on Tuesday at hearings that can be livestreamed here.

In the past, when U.S. governments have sought to express displeasure at having their records scrutinized, they have occasionally protested by sending lower-level officials. But today’s refusal to engage the commission at all is a deeply troubling indication of its disrespect for human rights norms and the institutions that oversee their protection…

The Trump administration’s refusal to engage with an independent human rights body, which has played a historic role in fighting impunity and barbaric military dictatorships in the region, sets a dangerous precedent that mirrors the behavior of authoritarian regimes and will only serve to embolden them. It is a worrying sign that the administration, which has also said it would review future engagement with the U.N. Human Rights Council, is not only launching an assault on human rights at home. Rather it’s upping the ante and weakening the institutions that hold abusive governments accountable.

Just Security received a response from the Trump administration stating they did not attend as matters were under litigation (an excuse which sounds a lot like Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns because he was being audited):

The Trump administration said it didn’t attend two Tuesday hearings of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because the topics being discussed are related to matters currently in litigation, according to the U.S. State Department. The Commission, which is meeting in Washington, D.C. this week to discuss human rights issues in North and South America, planned to discuss on Tuesday, the new U.S. travel ban, the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement and detention policies, and the administration’s approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“The two thematic hearings held today related, directly or indirectly, to matters currently in litigation,” and “participants at both thematic hearings included parties to such ongoing litigation,” a State Department official said in a statement to Just Security. “We note that our decision not to participate in these hearings does not have any bearing on current or future U.S. engagement with the Commission.”

How Donald Trump Has Hurt American Democracy, And How The ACLU Plans To Fight Back

Brian Klaas, a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, and author of The Despot’s Accomplice: How the West is Aiding and Abetting the Decline of Democracy, has written about five ways in which President Trump has already hurt American democracy — in just 50 days These include Trump’s attacks on the integrity of voting, the integrity of his own election, flouting ethics guidelines without consequence, attacks on the independent judiciary, causing tens of millions of Americans to further lose faith in basic institutions of American government, and his attacks on the free press. More on the final point:

Trump has attacked a cornerstone of every democracy: the free press. He has called legitimate media organizations “fake news” no fewer than 22 times on Twitter in the first 50 days — and many more times in speeches. Worse, Trump called the press the “enemy of the American People,” language that echoes Mao and Stalin rather than Ronald Reagan or John F. Kennedy.

Trump only views the press as a legitimate player in American democracy insofar as it is willing to affirm his narrative. To Trump, negative polls are fake. Unfortunately, his attacks are working. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 81 percent of Republicans agree that the media is “the enemy of the American people.” Eighty-six percent of Republicans trust Trump to tell the truth rather than the media (up from 78 percent just two weeks earlier). Throughout history, the blurring of the line between fact and fiction has been a critical precursor to the breakdown of democracy and the creeping advance of authoritarianism.

Klaas concluded:

The Constitution and checks and balances are not magical guardians. Documents don’t save democracy — people do. American democratic institutions are only as strong as those who fight for them in times of duress. This is one of those times, and this is just the beginning. It will be a long fight. To win it, Democrats and Republicans must set aside policy divides and unite in the defense of democracy.

The American Civil Liberties Union is preparing to engage in this defense of democracy, including learning from tools used by Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Reuters reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union is launching what it bills as the first grassroots mobilization effort in its nearly 100-year history, as it seeks to harness a surge of energy among left-leaning activists since the November election of Republican Donald Trump as U.S. president.

The campaign, known as PeoplePower, kicks off on Saturday with a town hall-style event in Miami featuring “resistance training” that will be streamed live at more than 2,300 local gatherings nationwide.

It will focus on free speech, reproductive rights and immigration and include presentations from legal experts, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and “Top Chef” television star Padma Lakshmi.

Membership in the civil rights organization, which was founded in 1920, has tripled to more than 1 million since Trump’s election, the group says…

Suggested tactics, like the use of text messages as a mass mobilization tool, will mirror some of those employed by the insurgent presidential campaign of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who mounted a surprisingly robust challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

“It’s completely unprecedented,” Romero said of the response since Trump’s victory. “People are wide awake right now and have been since the night of the election.”

Donald Trump Versus Freedom Of The Press

Donald Trump got off to what might be the worst first month of a presidency since William Henry Harrison (who died after his first month in office). While  the apparently impotent White House chief of staff Reince Priebus denies it is a reset, The Washington Post reports that Trump attempts a reset with a rally, new staff and a renewed fight with the media. Regardless of whether it is part of a reset, Donald Trump appears to be further escalating his war on the media. This includes some of his latest Tweets, such as this one proclaiming the media to be “the enemy of the American People.”

Balloon Juice responded to the Tweet in asking if Trump is “a paranoid, unhinged demagogue who doesn’t understand the role of the press in a free society.”

The news media, broadcast more than press, does have serious problems, but we must not confuse legitimate criticism of the media with opposition to the free press, or ignore the importance of the role of the press in a free society. Just look at Donald Trump’s Twitter account, or watch his last press conference. Imagine if there was no free press, and this was our main source of information. Look at the media in totalitarian societies. With all failings of the news media, their reporting is far more representative of reality than what we would get from Trump. As John McCain warned, “That’s how dictators get started.”

CHUCK TODD: I’m curious of your reaction to a tweet that the president sent Friday night. “The fake news media, failing New York Times, NBC News, ABC, CBS, CNN is not my enemy. It is the enemy of the American people.” You believe the press is the enemy? You believe any group of Americans are the enemy of another group of Americans?

JOHN MCCAIN: I was talking about the period as, you know, of the new world order. A fundamental part of that new world order was a free press. I hate the press. I hate you especially. But the fact is we need you. We need a free press. We must have it. It’s vital. If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started.

CHUCK TODD: That’s how dictators get started, with tweets like that?

JOHN MCCAIN: No. They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power when you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press. And I’m not saying that President Trump is trying to be a dictator. I’m just saying we need to learn the lessons of history.

Daniel Politi put this in further historical perspective at Slate:

Trump blasting the news media is nothing new, of course. Even a day earlier, Trump uttered the phrase “fake news” seven times during a White House news conference. Yet labeling the media the “enemy of the American people” seemed to take things to a new level and many quickly drew parallels to tyrants throughout history that were fond of the phrase. Although it harkens back to ancient Rome, many remember that the phrase was used during the purges ordered by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. “It is one of the most controversial phrases in Soviet history,” explained Mitchell Orenstein, professor of Russian and East European studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “What it basically meant was a death sentence.”

The expression was also a favorite of China’s Mao Zedong, who used the “enemies of the people” label against anyone who opposed his policies. Identifying and later punishing those enemies was central to Mao’s rule. A Chinese journalist, Li Yuan, pointed out the parallel on Twitter, noting that “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.”

Beijing seems to be welcoming this fresh attack on the news media with glee. China’s state-run newspaper Global Times noted in an editorial that Trump’s “war with mainstream media” would make it difficult for the president to challenge Beijing on “ideological” issues such as human rights. “His war with mainstream media makes it difficult for Trump to ally with the media on [the] ideological front against China,” the newspaper said. “Many have predicted that Trump’s presidency would exacerbate the recession of liberalism.”

Presumably we will also hear some Democrats speaking out against Trump, but far too often they give the impression of opposing Trump more based upon opposition politics and not principles. The Democratic Party has put itself in a poor position to defend civil liberties after nominating someone with as conservative a record on First Amendment issues as Hillary Clinton in 2016. (The nomination of Clinton similarly weakens the position of Democrats on foreign policy and matters of government corruption.)

While written before his latest attack on the media, Jonathan Rauch looked at comparable problems under Richard Nixon and George Bush when writing Containing Trump for the The Atlantic:

The 45th president, Donald Trump, might pose the gravest threat to the constitutional order since the 37th. Of course, he might not. Perhaps we’ll get Grown-up Trump, an unorthodox and controversial president who, whatever one may think of his policies and personality, proves to be responsible and effective as a chief executive. But we might get Infantile Trump, an undisciplined narcissist who throws tantrums and governs haphazardly. Or perhaps, worse yet, we’ll get Strongman Trump, who turns out to have been telegraphing his real intentions when, during the campaign, he spread innuendo and misinformation, winked at political violence, and proposed multiple violations of the Constitution and basic decency. Quite probably we’ll get some combination of all three (and possibly others).

If we get Strongman Trump or Infantile Trump, how would we protect our democratic institutions and norms? “Don’t be complacent,” warns Timothy Naftali, a New York University historian who was the founding director of the Nixon presidential library. “Don’t assume the system is so strong that a bad president will be sent packing. We have someone now saying things that imply unconstitutional impulses. If he acts on those impulses, we’re going to be in the political struggle of our lifetimes.” Meeting that challenge, I think, hinges on whether civil society can mobilize to contain and channel Trump. Fortunately, that’s happening already.

It’s tempting to think of Trump as a fluke, and to believe that at the end of his administration everything will return to normal. Many people hold a darker view, though—among them Yascha Mounk, the co-founder of a new watchdog group called After Trump. A lecturer on government at Harvard and a fellow at the New America Foundation, Mounk thinks the stakes are high. “Most people,” he told me, “are thinking about Trump as a policy problem: how he will lead to the deportation of undocumented immigrants or lead the U.S. to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. But I think Trump is also potentially an authoritarian threat to the survival of liberal democracy.”

The bad news is that we are not seeing any signs of this fictional Grown-up Trump. The good news is that resistance is already mounting to Strongman Trump and Infantile Trump:

“Civil society had a huge and unprecedented impact during the Bush administration,” Goldsmith told me. The networks that constrained Bush are still there, and Trump has put them on red alert. “Every single thing he does will be scrutinized with an uncharitable eye,” Goldsmith said. “That’s true of most presidents, but it’s true to an even greater degree with Trump.”

The forces are already mobilizing. In the first five days after the election, the American Civil Liberties Union saw what it called the greatest outpouring of support in its history: more than $7 million from 120,000 contributors, a 25 percent increase in Facebook followers (to nearly 1 million), and 150,000 additions to its email list. By early January, the ACLU had raised an impressive $35 million online, from almost 400,000 contributors. Meanwhile, according to Politico, progressive donors were discussing “forming a liberal equivalent to the right’s Judicial Watch, which spent much of the past eight years as a thorn in the Obama administration’s side, filing legal petitions under the Freedom of Information Act.”

I have seen evidence of mobilization firsthand. Just days after the election, a friend told me that he and others were organizing a network of law firms willing to provide pro bono legal services to people fending off harassment or bullying by the new administration or its allies. Before November was out, the Niskanen Center, a center-right think tank in Washington, announced a project to bring together intellectuals and activists and politicians (especially Republicans) to make the case for liberal democracy, hold the line against incursions, and try to prevent Trump’s excesses from being normalized. “It’s important for people coming from the center and center-right to resist the forces and ideas coming out of the Donald Trump campaign,” Jerry Taylor, the center’s director, told me. “We’ll be keeping a very close eye on administration undertakings and events on Capitol Hill, and when things cross the line we will be energetically pushing back.”

Update: Trump Continues To Receive Criticism For His Attacks On The News Media

Civil Libertarians Preparing For Trump Presidency

bill of rights

One of the many discouraging features of the 2016 election was that both candidates had extremely conservative views regarding civil liberties. Now that Donald Trump has been elected, civil libertarians are preparing for the challenges we are likely to face. Elias Groll has this warning in Foreign Affairs: When Trump Takes Control of the Justice Department, Be Afraid:

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump threatened to sue those who crossed him: the scores of women who accused him of sexual assault, the journalists who wrote critical stories about him, and even the Republican National Committee over how it awarded delegates. He will enter the Oval Office on Jan. 20 as arguably the most litigious president in history.

And now, Trump will have vast influence in shaping the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI — and many of the powerful post-9/11 policies that tested America’s legal system by pitting security concerns against civil liberties.

The Justice Department has long prided itself as a fiercely independent agency, with many career prosecutors outlasting any one presidential administration. But even some of the most controversial DOJ alumni now worry how Trump will pursue his vision of justice.

“He thinks all kinds of crazy things about prosecutions,” said John Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who, while serving at DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2003, helped write legal justifications for aggressive interrogation methods that critics call torture. Those memos have since been rescinded.

“I don’t think he has a very good sense of how our law enforcement system works,” Yoo told Foreign Policy.

During the campaign, Trump distinguished himself by his volatility, his vindictiveness, and a desire to strike back at his enemies, qualities that may have served him well in the rough-and-tumble world of New York real estate.

But critics fear Trump will harness the Justice Department to pursue political prosecutions against enemies and otherwise trample civil rights. He will enter the White House after 15 years of presidents — Democratic and Republican — who have wielded nearly untrammelled executive power to conduct investigations, war, covert action, and surveillance operations.

“We are faced with a situation where Trump is going to inherit extremely broad powers that are subject to no meaningful oversight by the other two breaches,” said Jameel Jaffer, the director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

I already noted the day after the election that the American Civil Liberties Union is already preparing to respond to violations of civil liberties under Trump.

President-elect Trump, as you assume the nation’s highest office, we urge you to reconsider and change course on certain campaign promises you have made. These include your plan to amass a deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban the entry of Muslims into our country and aggressively surveil them; punish women for accessing abortion; reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture; and change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression.

These proposals are not simply un-American and wrong-headed, they are unlawful and unconstitutional. They violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and 14th Amendments. If you do not reverse course and instead endeavor to make these campaign promises a reality, you will have to contend with the full firepower of the ACLU at every step. Our staff of litigators and activists in every state, thousands of volunteers and millions of card-carrying members and supporters are ready to fight against any encroachment on our cherished freedoms and rights.

One thing is certain: We will be eternally vigilant every single day of your presidency. And when you leave the Oval Office, we will do the same with your successor as we have done throughout our nearly 100 years of existence. The Constitution and the rule of law are stronger than any one person, and we will see to that. We will never waver.

Amnesty International wrote that Trump’s Poisonous Rhetoric Must Not Become Government Policy:

Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said: “President-elect Trump has provoked grave consternation at many points throughout his election campaign, and raised serious concerns about the strength of commitment we can expect to see from the United States towards human rights in the future. He must now put this behind him and both reaffirm and abide by the United States’ obligations on human rights, at home and abroad.”

Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, said: “In the lead up to this week’s election, the United States has witnessed disturbing and, at times, poisonous rhetoric from President-elect Trump and others. This rhetoric cannot and must not become government policy. The xenophobic, sexist and other hateful remarks made by Trump have no place in government.

“President-elect Trump must publicly commit to upholding the human rights of all without discrimination. From internment camps to the use of torture, we have seen disastrous results when those we elect to represent us flout the United States’ obligations to uphold human rights. All who have been elected today – from the executive office to city council – should bear these lessons in mind.”

Freedom of the Press Foundation calls Donald Trump an “enemy of press freedom.”

Donald J. Trump, now the official President elect, is an enemy of press freedom unlike any we have seen in modern presidential history.

In the past 18 months alone, he has threatened to sue newspapers or journalists over a dozen times and said he will attempt to “open up libel laws” as president to make it easier to take newspapers to court. He has attacked and insulted members of the media almost daily and blacklisted countless news outlets over the course of his campaign. He has blamed “freedom of the press” for a terrorist attack in New York and has said the press has “too much protection” under the First Amendment. And much more.

In short, before he even has taken office, he has waged war against the free speech protections guaranteed under the Constitution at a truly historic pace.

We may be in for the biggest press freedom fight of our lives for the next 4 years. The fight may be hard, and it may be long, but we want you to know: Every threat, every lawsuit, every subpoena, every prosecution, we will be there holding Trump accountable and upholding the First Amendment.

More at BuzzFeed and Hit and Run.

America Rejects Clinton And The Establishment

nope

In an election in which both candidates were dreadful, unfortunately only one could lose. Democratic Party leaders rigged the system to nominate the one candidate who could not even beat Donald Trump. If the Democratic Party was democratic during the primaries we could have woken up today to a President-elect Sanders and a Democratic Senate. Instead, in a year in which the voters wanted change, the Democrats picked the most conservative, establishment choice imaginable. Clinton would have been the best president that money could buy. That is a key reason why she lost. Clinton epitomizes everything which is rotten in our system, and in the end that mattered more than even the racism, xenophobia, and shear idiocy of Donald Trump.

We have seen many versions of Donald Trump over the years, and hopefully we will see one of the better versions of Trump in the White House.  He has been inexcusably racist, but has also sought the support of minorities. While he offers no concrete plans for accomplishing these things, he has differed from Republican orthodoxy in expressing support for providing health care to all, preserving Social Security and Medicare, and rebuilding infrastructure. The extreme social conservatism he has expressed as a candidate may have been motivated by political expediency and hopefully will be abandoned. Many past Republicans have appealed to the religious right to get elected, and ignored them once in office. While Trump often appears dangerously incoherent on foreign policy, he could conceivably be an improvement over the neoconservative interventionism of Hillary Clinton. Better relations with Russia could be a favorable outcome of a Trump presidency, not something to oppose as Clinton has. Trump has even supported an end to the drug war in the past, but that was not heard during this campaign.

Even if Trump does turn out to be more moderate than he has been as a candidate, we will see a turn to the right and many undesirable outcomes of his presidency. However, we would also see a sharp turn to the right with Hillary Clinton, who might have been the lesser evil, but who also could have done more harm. Partisan Democrats ignore how much conservative Bill Clinton’s record actually was.This year they fooled themselves into thinking both that Hillary Clinton is a progressive, and that she is not corrupt. They fell for the claims in their echo chamber and sold their souls in the hopes of winning, and did not even wind up with an election victory.

A Clinton presidency would have meant a return to Cold War relations with Russia, and probably surrogate hot wars–at the very least. Clinton has already indicated a willingness to entertain a grand bargain which would cut Social Security, comparable to how the Clinton’s “reformed” welfare. While she would keep abortion legal, she would also probably make it more rare, having indicated a willingness to cooperate with Republicans to enact further restrictions on its availability. Her far right views on civil liberties, and her support for an increased role of religion in public policy, should have been alarming to more on the left.

This would have been a sad day regardless of who won the presidency. The one good thing to come out of this is that there is now hope that the Democratic Party will not remain under the control of neocons and DLC conservatives like Clinton and Kaine. It has been discouraging to see Democrats justify, and even defend, Clinton’s conservative record. Even worse, many have ignored the overwhelming amount of evidence of corruption on Clinton’s part, and how both Clintons have used their government positions to amass great personal wealth. Lack of an indictment is not a sign of innocence. It is an example of  how rotten the system is, and a Clinton victory would have further institutionalized such corruption.

Democrats deserved to lose by nominating Hillary Clinton, but the failure of the party establishment provides an opportunity to change leadership and reform the party. We are already seeing Clinton supporters blaming Bernie supporters, Stein supporters, Russians, the FBI, misogyny, the electoral college for Clinton’s defeat. They blame everyone except those who deserve the blame: Democrats who rigged the nomination for a candidate who is unfit to be president, and of course Hillary Clinton.  Clinton is both unfit to be president, and she ran a terrible campaign. Her message basically consisted of claims of “it’s my turn” and attacks on Donald Trump. She offered very little in terms of a positive message to support her. Trump’s message that the system is corrupt and needs change resonated far more.

While Trump won as the change candidate, much of the change he offers is not the kind of change we need. We must keep a check on Donald Trump. Fortunately our system does provide mechanisms to do so. The chances of doing so are greater if Democrats now defend liberal principles and do stand up to him when needed. They must behave more as they did during George Bush’s second term, and not as they did during his first. The ACLU is already preparing to challenge Donald Trump if he goes through with his promises which would restrict civil liberties.

There are Americans who want better than what both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have offered. It is looking like a majority might have voted for Clinton over Trump, with most voters not liking either choice. While more voted for third parties than in the past, the number was still small. Unfortunately most people only saw the choice as Trump or Clinton, so many voted for the only change candidate they saw–but did not necessarily agree with his positions. They voted for the wrong type of change, but still change. At least we end the election with a result few would have predicted–the defeat of both the Clinton and Bush families.

ACLU Protests Planned Restrictions On Demonstrations At Democratic Convention In Philadelphia

Chicago-1968-Riots-CC

The likelihood that the 2016 Democratic National Convention will coronate Hillary Clinton, one of the most hawkish politicians in the nation, has drawn many similarities to 1968, when anti-war protesters demonstrated against the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Protests are being organized at the 2016 convention in Philadelphia by Sanders supporters and those who oppose the policies of Hillary Clinton. Besides her foreign policy views, there are expected to be protests against Clinton’s support for oligarchy and the corrupting role of money in politics. With the Democratic Party establishment being firmly in the grasp of Clinton and her supporters, who have never shown much tolerance for freedom of speech or protest, the response is efforts to suppress dissent. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania has issued a protest.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania told Mayor Kenney in a letter Wednesday that recent statements by city lawyers “seem to be setting the City up for conflict with protesters during the Democratic National Convention.”

The letter noted that the ACLU has met regularly with city officials involved in planning for the DNC, an event expected to attract tens of thousands of delegates and protesters July 24-28.

“We are concerned that the City Law Department seems to have walked back several statements made earlier about how the City would accommodate protest during the DNC,” the ACLU wrote in the letter. “The new positions … raise serious First Amendment issues.”

Protest leaders are expected to meet with the city in a closed-door meeting Thursday, and topics like marching on public streets and sleeping overnight at impromptu campsites in city parks are up for discussion. Last week, NBC10.com reported that campsites in South Jersey are already filling up with pro-Bernie Sanders.

As many as 30,000 protesters could flood FDR Park, across the street from the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia, during the entire week in July.

Their treatment at the park is among the concerns cited by the ACLU in their letter to Kenney.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has issued this news release, which also contains a link to the pdf of their letter:

The ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney today asking him to clarify the city’s position on protest activity during the Democratic National Convention. The letter is in response to recent statements by the city’s law department that contradict previous promises not to interfere with protesters.

“We are very troubled that the city seems to be walking back from its previous position of fully accommodating protest during the Democratic National Convention,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “With the eyes of the country – and the world -on Philadelphia during the DNC, there is no better time to show respect for the fundamentally American tradition of peacefully expressing dissent. We hope Mayor Kenney will commit to ensuring that as many protesters as possible will have their voices heard.”

The issues raised in the letter include the city’s new proposal to prohibit all marches on Broad Street and those taking place during rush hour; the city’s plan for handling protesters demonstrating without permits, and fencing around FDR Park, where many protests will be held.

A copy of the letter, which was faxed to the mayor’s office this morning, is available here: www.aclupa.org/kenneydnc

The feeling among many Sanders supporters is that while Donald Trump talks about building walls, Hillary Clinton is building walls–with there being even more serious examples of Hillary Clinton doing what Donald Trump so far has just talked about.

Hopefully this is just the start of a movement to put pressure on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party if Clinton is elected president. While unexpected events could still change matters, Clinton’s election is looking increasingly likely as Donald Trump has shown no ability so far to pivot from attracting right wing extremists to win the GOP nomination to a general election campaign. Like during the Vietnam War when both parties were at fault, the election of Hillary Clinton would be a tremendous victory for the supporters of neoconservative interventionism and for oligarchy, with both major parties supporting expansion of the warfare and surveillance state.

Marijuana, Needle Exchange Programs, And Clinton’s Cultural Conservatism

Clinton Marijuana

Following recent posts about Lincoln Chafee talking about running for the Democratic nomination I began looking to see if there are any other issues where the two have major differences besides Clinton’s support for the Iraq war, which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. which he has been attacking Hillary Clinton on. I was pleased to see that back in 2011 Chaffee called for a reclassification of medical marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substances, which puts states which have legalized medical marijuana at odds with federal laws.

Three years later, Martin O’Malley took this a step even further, signing a bill decriminalizing marijuana, while opposing outright legalization. Hillary Clinton, as would be expected from her overall cultural conservatism, has lagged behind the country, and the Democratic Party, on both legalization of marijuana and medical marijuana.

On a related issue, Clinton’s opposition to needle exchange programs, while certainly not a major issue, was also an early issue in the 2008 nomination battle which differentiated the political philosophies of Clinton from the more liberal Barack Obama. Martin O’Malley, who is also moving well to the left on economic issues, signed a bill allowing needle exchange in Maryland. Clinton and Obama also differed in 2008 on reforming sentencing for violation of drug laws. While Obama’s record on the drug war has certainly been mixed, I would hate to see a move further to the right under Clinton.

Clinton’s cultural conservatism and promotion of conservative causes has often been traced to her membership in The Fellowship while in the Senate. From Mother Jones in 2007:

Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection…

That’s how it works: The Fellowship isn’t out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward…These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives’ group into what may be Coe’s most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast—regularly attended by about 40 members—is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular.

Unlikely partnerships have become a Clinton trademark. Some are symbolic, such as her support for a ban on flag burning with Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and funding for research on the dangers of video games with Brownback and Santorum. But Clinton has also joined the gop on legislation that redefines social justice issues in terms of conservative morality, such as an anti-human-trafficking law that withheld funding from groups working on the sex trade if they didn’t condemn prostitution in the proper terms. With Santorum, Clinton co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act; she didn’t back off even after Republican senators such as Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter pulled their names from the bill citing concerns that the measure would protect those refusing to perform key aspects of their jobs—say, pharmacists who won’t fill birth control prescriptions, or police officers who won’t guard abortion clinics.

Clinton has championed federal funding of faith-based social services, which she embraced years before George W. Bush did; Marci Hamilton, author of God vs. the Gavel, says that the Clintons’ approach to faith-based initiatives “set the stage for Bush.” Clinton has also long supported the Defense of Marriage Act, a measure that has become a purity test for any candidate wishing to avoid war with the Christian right…

The libertarian Cato Institute recently observed that Clinton is “adding the paternalistic agenda of the religious right to her old-fashioned liberal paternalism.” Clinton suggests as much herself in her 1996 book, It Takes a Village, where she writes approvingly of religious groups’ access to schools, lessons in Scripture, and “virtue” making a return to the classroom.

As noted in the above excerpt, Clinton’s affiliation with the religious right was seen in her support for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rick Santorum and opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union for promoting discrimination and reducing access to health care, along with her promotion of restrictions on video games and her introduction of a bill making flag burning a felony. Her social conservatism is also seen in her weak record on abortion rights, such as supporting parental notification laws and stigmatizing women who have abortions with the manner in which she calls for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”

(Links to additional material added on April 19)

Member of Ferguson Grand Jury Suing To Be Allowed To Speak Out On How McCulloch Mischaracterized The Case

There have been multiple irregularities in the grand jury proceedings regarding Darren Wilson, who shot Michael Brown when both eye witnesses and forensic evidence suggest he was attempting to surrender. The case was handled improperly in order to protect Wilson from facing a fair trial, with the prosecutor essentially acting as the defense for Darren Wilson. There were also irregularities in how the evidence was handled and in the directions given to members of the grand jury. Prosecutor Robert McCulloch  has admitted to using testimony from people he knew were lying in defense of Wilson.

It is important in a case such as this for there to be a fair and open trial, in which the evidence can be reviewed,  witnesses are cross examined, and there is public record of the proceedings. Following all the irregularities in the Ferguson case, we now have a member of the grand jury who is suing to be allowed to talk about the hearing, stating that McCulloch has misled the public about the case:

The grand juror, referred to only as “Grand Juror Doe” in the lawsuit, takes issue with how McCulloch characterized the case. McCulloch released evidence presented to the grand jury and publicly discussed the case after the grand jury decided not to indict Wilson, then a Ferguson police officer, in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American.

“In [the grand juror]’s view, the current information available about the grand jurors’ views is not entirely accurate — especially the implication that all grand jurors believed that there was no support for any charges,” the lawsuit says. “Moreover, the public characterization of the grand jurors’ view of witnesses and evidence does not accord with [Doe]’s own.”

“From [the grand juror]’s perspective, the investigation of Wilson had a stronger focus on the victim than in other cases presented to the grand jury,” the lawsuit states. Doe also believes the legal standards were conveyed in a “muddled” and “untimely” manner to the grand jury.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri argues that this case is unique and that the usual reasons for requiring the jurors to maintain secrecy should not apply.

In this specific case, “any interests furthered by maintaining grand jury secrecy are outweighed by the interests secured by the First Amendment,” the lawsuit says, adding that allowing the juror to speak would contribute to a discussion on race in America.

As the grand juror points out in the lawsuit, the Wilson case was handled in a very different manner than other grand juries. Instead of recommending a charge, McCulloch’s office presented thousands of pages worth of evidence and testimony before the grand jury. At one point, McCulloch’s spokesman characterized the grand jury as co-investigators.

“From [Doe]’s perspective, although the release of a large number of records provides an appearance of transparency, with heavy redactions and the absence of context, those records do not fully portray the proceedings before the grand jury,” the lawsuit says.

The New York Times Calls For Prosecution Of Those Responsible For Torture

In an editorial, The New York Times pointed out that Barack Obama “has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects.” They recommended prosecution of those responsible in light of the recent Senate report:

Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.

So it is no wonder that today’s blinkered apologists are desperate to call these acts anything but torture, which they clearly were. As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officials admitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.

The New York Times joins others in dismissing the excuses of apologists for torture and calls for an independent criminal investigation:

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”

The editorial named those who should be held accountable:

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

One would expect Republicans who have gone hoarse braying about Mr. Obama’s executive overreach to be the first to demand accountability, but with one notable exception, Senator John McCain, they have either fallen silent or actively defended the indefensible. They cannot even point to any results: Contrary to repeated claims by the C.I.A., the report concluded that “at no time” did any of these techniques yield intelligence that averted a terror attack. And at least 26 detainees were later determined to have been “wrongfully held.”

This should happen, but we know it will not. It is not only a matter of morality. As I discussed recently, not only does torture not work, but its use corrupts governments which rely upon it and undermine legitimate forms of intelligence gathering.

Kaci Hickox Is A Hero–Now On Two Counts

Kaci Hickox is a hero. First for volunteering to help treat Ebola patients, as eradicating Ebola in West Africa is the only way to handle this disease. She became a hero again for standing up to unjust restrictions upon her civil liberties upon returning home and supporting the concept of making political decisions based upon science and reason as opposed to giving in to public hysteria.

It was Hickox’s protests which forced Governors Christie and Cuomo to back away from guidelines policies which were both unnecessary and counterproductive. Some state governments are still going beyond the extremely cautious CDC guidelines with policies such as home quarantine of individuals who show no sign of the disease for twenty-one days. We know that this is unnecessary based both upon our knowledge of how the Ebola virus is transmitted and based upon our experience to date.  Ebola is not contagious early in the disease and is not transmitted by casual contact. While highly contagious when people are having symptoms such as projectile vomiting and uncontrolled diarrhea, those who do not have symptoms are not contagious. People with Ebola do not yet pose a danger of spreading the disease when they initially reach the CDC’s threshold of a fever of 101.4 degrees, and they certainly are not contagious before reaching this point.

We have seen one patient in Texas be released in error by an Emergency Room and return to the community. We have seen a nurse later revealed to be infected with Ebola fly with a low grade fever. We have had a doctor traveling around a city as densely populated as New York City just prior to meeting criteria for isolation. Not a single person has contracted Ebola due to contact with these individuals. That is the nature of the disease.

Kaci Hickox, well aware of the science, has stated she plans to fight the involuntary home quarantine being imposed:

“I will go to court to attain my freedom,” Hickox told “Good Morning America” today via Skype from her hometown of Fort Kent, Maine. “I have been completely asymptomatic since I’ve been here. I feel absolutely great.”

One of her attorney’s explained her legal position:

New York civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, said she would contest any potential court order requiring her quarantine at home.

“The conditions that the state of Maine is now requiring Kaci to comply with are unconstitutional and illegal and there is no justification for the state of Maine to infringe on her liberty,” he said.

Hickox will abide by daily monitoring, as recommended the by updated guidelines released Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyman said. She has been in regular contact with state health officials, Siegel said.

U.S. CDC Director Tom Frieden called for isolation of people at the highest risk for Ebola infection but said most medical workers returning from the three African nations at the center of the epidemic — Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea — would require daily monitoring without isolation.

The new guidelines recommend considering isolation only for individuals exposed to Ebola who show symptoms. Those with no signs of illness should be monitored for 21 days after the last potential exposure, with symptom-free individuals at the highest risk subject to “restricted movement within the community” and no travel on public transportation, according to the guidelines…

“She understands the nature of the disease, she treated it,” Hyman said. “She understands the nature of the risk.”

The American Civil Liberties Union has posted an article on the over-reaction to Ebola coming from some politicians, in contrast to the more rational guidelines proposed by the Center for Disease Control and the Obama administration:

One over-reaction to the disease that has emerged is a proposal for a blanket travel ban from the affected countries in West Africa. Public health experts say that such bans are not necessary, would not be effective, and would be a poor use of resources. Worse still, experts say they would most likely make matters worse by further isolating the countries where the outbreak is taking place, worsening the situation in those countries and therefore the threat to the United States. Travel bans “hinder relief and response efforts risking further international spread,” as the World Health Organization warned. Experts say such bans would also inevitably drive travelers underground, making it difficult to retrace the path of a disease when a case does appear.

Proposals to close the border to all travelers from affected nations are not a scientifically and medically legitimate exercise of government power and therefore would be arbitrary and discriminatory whether applied to citizens or non-citizens.

Now, of course, we are also seeing the questionable use of quarantine powers in some states. Medical experts have opposed such steps given that Ebola is not transmissible until after a fever begins and is not a highly transmissible disease generally, and given that individuals have strong incentives to carefully monitor themselves. Doctors Without Borders, for example, has condemned these quarantines as a threat to its battle against the disease in Africa. It cites the effect the quarantines will have in deterring doctors and nurses from taking the already remarkably brave step of entering the fight against the disease—and in stigmatizing them when they do. In short such quarantines threaten to weaken the most effective weapon we have in stopping the disease at its source. (It’s also shameful to treat returning health care workers, who have put their own lives at risk to help others, as anything less than heroes.)

Where individuals cooperate with the authorities in allowing close monitoring of their health and other reasonable precautions, the imposition of quarantines on those without symptoms appears to be driven by politics rather than science, and therefore raises serious civil liberties concerns.

While some political leaders have acted out of fear, Obama Administration officials deserve praise for largely sticking to science and not caving in to some of the fear mongering that is swirling around them. The White House has prioritized medicine over politics. It has resisted calls for travel bans, tried to persuade the governors of New Jersey and New York to reconsider their quarantines, and has largely followed the advice of public health experts in the recommendations that they have made. The Administration has also taken helpful steps such as expediting emergency FDA authorization for the use of new machines for rapid detection of the Ebola virus—which could allow detection of the disease before symptoms appear.

In fact, the Obama Administration has a history of good policy on communicable diseases. As we described in a 2009 white paper on that year’s H1N1 flu scare, the Administration acted calmly and appropriately in response to that epidemic, and overall, President Obama has turned away from his predecessor’s military/law enforcement approach to fighting disease, which we criticized in detail in our 2008 report on pandemic preparedness.