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by Harry Belafonte
There is a crisis that demands our urgent attention. For the last four decades, this country has been obsessed with expanding the number of people we throw behind bars and the length of time we hold them there. Crime rates have been falling for the last 20 years, but still we have a massive and unsustainable prison population, particularly targeting the poor and powerless. We're not strengthening communities, we're using our criminal justice system to throw away certain people's lives – disproportionately the lives of Black and brown men, women, and children. This has decimated communities around the nation and it's gone on for far too long.
by Norman Solomon
International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”
Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.
Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia—just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.”
It may be the 'country of the First Amendment,' but the United States once again received an abysmal ranking from Reporters Without Borders, an international press monitoring and journalism advocacy group, in its annual review of how well nations protect the rights of individual journalists and overall press freedoms.
by Kevin Gosztola
Few terrorism cases are lost by the government prosecutors in the United States, whether at the federal level or, in rare instances, at the state level. However, last week, a jury came to a verdict in the “NATO 3″ trial that acquitted three young men of all the terrorism charges they had faced.
It was a huge defeat for Illinois State’s Attorney of Cook County, Anita Alvarez, who angrily refused to admit the state had lost during a press conference after the verdict was announced.
Alvarez emphasized that the “NATO 3″ had still been found guilty of possession of an incendiary device with the intent to commit arson as well as two mob action offenses. However, the state did not bring this case as an arson or mob action case and all along the public had been led to believe that these were “terrorists” on trial. And they were so dangerous that the men were going to be charged with offenses under a largely untested state terrorism statute.
by Danny O'Brien
Mass surveillance of electronic communications is a vast, new, government intrusion on the privacy of innocent people worldwide. It is a violation of International human rights law. Without checks and balances, its use will continue to spread from country to country, corrupting democracies and empowering dictators.
That’s why, today, on February 11th, around the world, from Argentina to Uganda, from Colombia to the Philippines, the people of the Internet have united to fight back.
I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.
Pete Seeger, 1955, testimony pursuant to subpoena before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Obama is draping the banner of change over the NSA status quo. Bulk surveillance that caused such outrage will remain in place
by Glenn Greenwald
In response to political scandal and public outrage, official Washington repeatedly uses the same well-worn tactic. It is the one that has been hauled out over decades in response to many of America's most significant political scandals. Predictably, it is the same one that shaped President Obama's much-heralded Friday speech to announce his proposals for "reforming" the National Security Agency in the wake of seven months of intense worldwide controversy.
The crux of this tactic is that US political leaders pretend to validate and even channel public anger by acknowledging that there are "serious questions that have been raised". They vow changes to fix the system and ensure these problems never happen again. And they then set out, with their actions, to do exactly the opposite: to make the system prettier and more politically palatable with empty, cosmetic "reforms" so as to placate public anger while leaving the system fundamentally unchanged, even more immune than before to serious challenge.
by Simon Johnson
There is a tendency in recent American political discourse to use the term “populism” as a form of putdown. The implication is that that while populists may have some legitimate grievances, they are rebelling in a disorganized and ill-informed way. As President Obama implied in early 2009, the populists have pitchforks, while his administration represented the responsible mainstream.
This is an inaccurate portrayal of populism in America, both historically and today. Occupy Wall Street is a perfect example. To be sure, part of that 2011 movement was purely about expressing frustration – justified frustration – at how very powerful people in the finance sector had behaved and continue to behave. But the movement also led to an important offshoot or related development, Occupy the S.E.C., which focused on the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Periodic social upheavals as a result of moral panic seem to be the norm for humanity, with large segments of society reacting, or overreacting, with almost virally propagated outrage to perceived threats. The moral panic of our current age, an obsession with sexual inviolability, illustrates our continued susceptibility to emotional and irrational fears.