Category Archives: Top News Stories

New Congress, Same Old Bribery System

Democrats In Key Leadership Appointments Have Taken Millions From Pharma

Top House Republican also received more than $1 million from drugmakers since 2007.

 

From left: This fall, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) topped the million-dollar mark in drugmaker PAC contributions over the past decade, collecting more than $1.02 million since 2007. Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) has received more from drugmaker PACs over the past decade than any other member of Congress — more than $1.09 million. (Alex Wong/Getty Images and Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

 

Three of the lawmakers who will lead the House in the new term as Congress focuses on skyrocketing drug costs are among the biggest recipients of campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, a new KHN analysis shows.

Democrats selected Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland to serve as the next majority leader and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina as majority whip, making them the No. 2 and No. 3 most powerful Democrats as their party regains control of the House in January.

Both lawmakers have received more than $1 million from pharmaceutical company political action committees in the past decade. Just four members of Congress hold that distinction, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, whom Republicans chose as the next House minority leader earlier this month

Adding re-elected Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the three-person House Democratic leadership team has collected more than $2.3 million total in campaign contributions from drugmakers since the 2007-08 election cycle, according to KHN’s database.

High drug prices surfaced as a major campaign issue in 2018. With almost half of Americans saying they were worried about prescription drug costs last summer, many Democrats told voters they’d tackle the issue in the next Congress. But the large amount of money going to key Democrats, and Republicans, raises questions about whether Congress will take on the pharmaceutical industry.

In the past decade, members of Congress from both parties have received about $81 million from 68 pharma PACs run by employees of companies that make drugs and industry trade groups.

Brendan Fischer, who directs federal reform programs at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said drugmakers, like other wealthy industries, “shower money” on congressional leaders who are mulling legislation that could affect the pharmaceutical industry.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have discussed taking action on prescription drug prices, and drug companies likely expect that big contributions will help them maintain access to, and influence over, powerful lawmakers,” he said.

McCarthy, who has close ties to President Donald Trump, has received more than $1.08 million from drugmaker PACs since 2007. According to the latest data, which runs through September, he received about $250,000 this election cycle.

The fourth lawmaker to top $1 million is Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican who serves on both the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and the Senate Committee on Finance. North Carolina is also home to a number of research universities and drugmakers’ headquarters.

While campaign contributions may seem tantalizing as a metric for influence, industries are not necessarily buying votes with their cash. More likely, they are buying access — a sizable donation from a drugmaker’s PAC may increase the chances its lobbyists get a meeting with an influential lawmaker, for example.

Clyburn, who like Hoyer has served as a top Democratic leader since 2007, has received more from drugmaker PACs over the past decade than any other member of Congress — more than $1.09 million. During the 2018 election cycle, he received at least $170,000, despite trouncing his Republican opponent in his safely Democratic district.

A party leader and the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, Clyburn has had ties to the pharmaceutical industry over the years. In 2013, he was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by PhRMA, the industry’s leading trade group. The conference was held at the James E. Clyburn Research Centerat the Medical University of South Carolina, a hub for biopharmaceutical research.

This past fall, Hoyer topped the million-dollar mark in drugmaker PAC contributions over the past decade, collecting more than $1.02 million since 2007 and more than $128,000 this election cycle.

“Mr. Hoyer’s positions on legislation are based on what is in the best interest of his constituents and the American people, and he has made it clear the new Congress will tackle rising health care and prescription drug costs,” said Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokeswoman.

Pelosi, in contrast to her deputies, has received nearly $193,000 total from drugmaker PACs the past decade. In the month before the midterm elections, she intensified her calls for action to control drug prices, saying on Election Day that she believed Democrats could find “common ground” with Trump on addressing the problem.

Senior committee members also tend to draw huge sums from the industries they oversee. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the Democrat who is expected to chair the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, received nearly $169,000 this election cycle from drugmaker PACs, according to KHN’s database. Since 2007, he has collected more than $840,000.

Similarly, Rep. Greg Walden, the Oregon Republican who is finishing his term as chair of the committee, received $302,300, the most of any member this election cycle in contributions from drugmaker PACs.

By contrast, Rep. Elijah Cummings — the head the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — has attracted minimal drugmaker cash, receiving just $18,500 since the 2007-08 election cycle. He has made it clear that he intends to target pharmaceutical companies as he investigates climbing drug costs.

KHN data editor Elizabeth Lucas and data correspondent Sydney Lupkin contributed to this report.

 

Racketeering Lawsuit Filed Against Private Probation Company

Edwards v. Leaders in Community Alternatives


Private e-carceration, euphemistically known as “electronic monitoring,” involves a private company acting under a court order to strap one or more monitoring devices onto a person’s ankle that record their every movement. The company charges the wearer as much as $25 (or more) for each day the person is forced to wear the device. 

Equal Justice Under Law attorneys spent six months speaking with activists and those subject to e-carceration before concluding that the practice amounted to extortion and violated the Constitution.

Our Lawsuit: On July 31, 2018, Equal Justice Under Law filed a federal civil rights complaint, Edwards v. Leaders in Community Alternatives, against Leaders in Community Alternatives (LCA), Alameda County, and LCA’s parent company, SuperCom. LCA is a private company that has a no-cost contract with Alameda to track people sentenced to wear an electronic monitoring device.  LCA charges its “clients” — those sentenced to wear a monitor — a daily rate of $25 without any regard of the person’s financial situation. The complaint alleges that LCA has engaged in racketeering because the Named Plaintiffs in the lawsuit, and many others, were forced to pay a daily rate far higher than they could afford, in violation of California law.  If they failed to produce the money, LCA would threaten to report them to the court for non-compliance with the program rules, causing them to be sent to jail.  The complaint alleges this amounts to extortion, an act that can form the basis for a racketeering charge.

The lawsuit seeks to end LCA’s pay-or-jail scheme.  It also claims that putting criminal justice supervision in the hands of a private entity motivated by profit violates the 14th Amendment. The Plaintiffs also allege that Alameda County is liable for damages for allowing LCA to engage in its predatory practices. 

CASE DETAILS


The Complaint

Status:

Date Filed: 7/31/18

Plaintiffs: William Edwards, Robert Jackson, James Brooks, Kyser Wilson

Defendants: Leaders in Community Alternatives, Inc., Supercom, Inc., Linda Connelly, Diane Harrington, Kent Borowick, Raelene Rivas, Jeanette Arguello-Ramos, Belinda Doe, Alameda County, Wynne Carvill, Wendy Still

Jurisdiction: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Oakland Division

Partners: 

IMPACT


Non-Profit Groups Targeted in Lois Lerner’s IRS Scandal Receive Settlement Checks

M.D. Kittle / January 11, 2019

Former Internal Revenue Service Director of Exempt Organizations Lois Lerner is sworn in on May 22, 2013, before testifying to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for its investigation into allegations that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofit organizations. (Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images)

MADISON, Wis.—Dozens of conservative organizations are receiving late Christmas presents years after the IRS handed them a lump of coal. 

The federal government in recent days has been issuing settlement checks to 100 right-of-center groups wrongfully targeted for their political beliefs under the Obama administration’s Internal Revenue Service, according to an attorney for the firm that represented plaintiffs in NorCal v. United States.

Three of the claimants in the $3.5 million national class-action suit are based in the Badger State. 

“This is really a groundbreaking case. Hopefully it sets a precedent and will serve as a warning to government officials who further feel tempted to discriminate against U.S. citizens based on their viewpoints,” Edward Greim, attorney for Kansas City, Missouri-based Graves Garrett LLC told MacIver News Service.

The liberal Left continue to push their radical agenda against American values. The good news is there is a solution. Find out more >>

Most of the claimants will each receive a check for approximately $14,000, Greim said. Five conservative groups that were integrally involved in the lawsuit get a bonus payment of $10,000 each, the attorney said. 

About $2 million of the settlement goes to cover the legal costs of five long years of litigation. IRS attorneys attempted delay after delay, objection after objection, trying to use the very taxpayer protection statutes the plaintiffs were suing under to suppress documents.

The agency has admitted no wrongdoing in what a federal report found to be incidents of intrusive inspections of organizations seeking nonprofit status. Greim has said the seven-figure settlement suggests otherwise. 

An IRS spokesman declined to comment. 

Brandon Scholz, managing director of Wisconsin Small Businesses United, one of the groups receiving a settlement check, said the IRS’ conduct had a “chilling effect” on free speech. 

“Shame on those people at the IRS who engaged in putting their foot down on the throats of people who were simply trying to advocate for an issue or express an opinion,” he said. “That stain on the IRS should remain there as a reminder that this should never take place again.” 

Consumer Rights Wisconsin is the other conservative organization receiving a settlement check, according to Greim.

Disgraced former bureaucrat Lois Lerner led the IRS division that processes applications for tax-exempt groups. A 2013 inspector general’s report found the IRS had singled out conservative and tea party organizations for intense scrutiny, oftentimes simply based on their conservative-sounding or tea party names. The IRS delayed for months, even years, the applications, and some groups were improperly questioned about their donors and their religious affiliations and practices.

Lerner claims she did nothing wrong. In clearing her of wrongdoing, an Obama administration Department of Justice review described Lerner as a hero. But she invoked her Fifth Amendment right in refusing to answer questions before a congressional committee. The plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit took the first and only deposition of Lerner, a document that the former IRS official and her attorneys have fought to keep sealed. 

“At one level, it’s hard to even assess a dollar amount to what they did, it’s so contrary to what we think our bureaucrats in Washington should be doing. It boggles the mind,” Greim said. 

In signing off on the agreement in August, federal Judge Michael R. Barrett said the settlement was “fair, reasonable, and adequate.” 

Greim said the money recovered in the settlement approximates the number of IRS violations involved. 

“That’s about what the evidence showed,” the attorney said. “We felt like we got about everything we could.” 

Originally the class-action included some 400 potential claimants. 

Conservative activists are skeptical of the IRS’ public apologies and its pledge to end such targeting practices. 

“The message is do not let up on the gas pedal. Do not be intimidated,” Scholz said.  

This story has been updated to include the following account: 

Autonomous Solidarity Organization Inc., a Madison-based grassroots organization, is among a handful of liberal organizations receiving a settlement check. The vast majority of groups targeted were conservative, but the IRS began adding liberal organizations to its intense-scrutiny initiative after the agency got caught.

“In the spirit of democracy, we would have of course preferred that our organization, as well as all of the others in the class, had been treated fairly and equitably in the first place,” Sara Gilbertson, Autonomous Solidarity treasurer, wrote in an email to MacIver News Service. “As generous as the settlement is, there are fundamental differences in the work we were doing and planning in 2013 and 2014 and what is needed today, and money cannot change the past.”

Gilbertson said it took nearly two years for the organization’s 501(c)(3) status to be granted.

“Today, we are pleased that this class action lawsuit has been settled favorably and hope that going forward, no organization will face such unlawful and arbitrary heightened scrutiny,” she added. “We also find it delightfully ironic that the efforts of the NorCal Tea Party and their attorneys have benefited organizations like ours that are working to uphold human rights, social justice, and worker justice, since we would not have had the resources to pursue legal action on our own.”

Bill Osmulski contributed.

Originally published by the MacIver News Service

Hemp is now legal! Here are 8 inspiring benefits

By Johnny Greenon Dec 21, 2018

cannabis leaf on USA map
Hemp has finally been removed from the list of U.S. Controlled Substances.

Hemp has been prohibited in the United States for many decades with very limited exceptions. This, despite the numerous benefits of allowing hemp cultivation.

That all changed this week when the most recent version of the federal Farm Bill was signed by President Trump.

The legalization of hemp has been a long road, with countless activists and advocates working to make it happen.

There’s still a lot of work to do, especially in states that do not currently have hemp programs.

However, the benefits of hemp legalization are on the way. Below is a handful of them.

#1) United States farmers have a new crop without the previous barriers

Since 2014 U.S. farmers have been allowed to cultivate hemp only if it was part of a state-approved pilot or research program.

That exception to federal hemp prohibition was part of a provision in the 2014 version of the Farm Bill.

Some states took advantage while others didn’t.

Thanks to the newly-approved 2018 Farm Bill, farmers across the country will now be able to cultivate hemp and it will now re-take its rightful place as a top cash crop for U.S. agriculture.

This is outstanding news for U.S. farmers that have been struggling for years, and legal hemp will no doubt give them a much-needed boost.

#2) CBD availability will increase, prices should drop

The status of cannabidiol (CBD) has been complicated from a public policy standpoint since 2014. In some ways, things will clear up while in other ways some confusion will likely remain.

CBD will still remain a controlled substance, while at the same time CBD products derived from hemp will be legal.

It is safe to say that CBD’s availability is going to explode across the country. Because of that, prices for CBD products should dramatically decrease as legal supply surges.

#3) Increased chances for full cannabis legalization

cannabis leaf legal concept
Legal hemp will be heavily regulated, however, it may also clear the way for a lift on federal cannabis prohibition.

The legalization of hemp does not automatically translate to a guaranteed legalization of all forms of cannabis, but it does boost chances for an end to cannabis prohibition at the federal level.

Hemp was prohibited along with all forms of the cannabis plant, and the Green Flower team is hopeful that a successful end to hemp prohibition will help further reduce fears of cannabis.

When federal politicians see that the sky did not fall after hemp legalization, it should increase momentum for support in Congress to end cannabis prohibition too.

#4) Decreased reliance on hemp imports

Importing hemp products was already legal in the United States as long as certain criteria were met, the most noteworthy criteria being that the products contained zero THC.

Now rather than relying on hemp imports from countries like Canada and China, U.S. consumers can buy domestic hemp products.

Because domestic hemp products can contain a little amount of THC, they will be superior compared to imported hemp products.

And hopefully, you will be able to find products that are sourced from clean, safe hemp grows.

#5) Will create ancillary opportunities

In addition to U.S. farmers being able to cultivate hemp and profit from it, a number of other ancillary opportunities come into play.

One big opportunity will revolve around hemp processing facilities. Some hemp will be turned into textile products but far more of this crop is likely to be turned into oil.

It is hard to anticipate exactly what opportunities we’ll see from a robust legal hemp industry in the U.S., but it’s guaranteed there will be lucrative opportunities all over the nation.

#6) Increased research abilities

cannabis medical research
Hemp research and development gets a green light in the U.S.

One of the biggest benefits to the passage of hemp legalization is the increase in research opportunities due to the removal of barriers that have been in place for way too long.

Section 7501 of the Farm Bill extends hemp research by including hemp under the Critical Agricultural Materials Act.

That is a really big deal. Rather than researchers having to jump through countless hoops, hemp research will now be embraced. That is good news for all members of society!

#7) Provides two options for states

Farmers in states that have implemented a hemp pilot program or research program have been able to cultivate hemp since 2014.

But for farmers in states that have not implemented such programs, they were left on the outside looking in.

Hemp legalization at the federal level will now create a federal program that farmers can apply to if they live in a state that doesn’t have a program, in addition to letting current states continue as they have been.

#8) Job creation and a much-needed boost for rural economies 

A booming hemp industry is going to create jobs across the country, from farmhands to harvest crews to delivery drivers and beyond.

That is especially fantastic for rural areas where jobs are hard to come by. In addition to new jobs being created, rural areas will also get a boost to their local economies.

A butterfly effect will spread throughout areas where hemp is grown, with workers spending their hard-earned dollars in the area on everything from food to lodging.

What are your thoughts on hemp legalization? Join the dialogue in the comment section below and let us know what you think.

How High Bail Costs Contribute to Systemic Poverty

Last month, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced the Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act to encourage states to reform their bail systems. Beyond shrinking our overly expanded incarcerated population, bail reform would boost the United States’ stagnating income mobility by reforming a system that traps the poor in poverty.

Of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70% have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Upward mobility has stalled. According to Stanford Professor of Economics Raj Chetty, “social mobility is low and has been for at least thirty or forty years.” Of those born into the bottom income quintile, more than a third remain there as adults. However, progressives who blame the free market misdiagnose the problem.

A 50-state analysis found that in more economically free states – those with fewer labor regulations and smaller governments – the wealth of the poor rises more quickly than the wealth of the rich because freer markets produce more opportunity for everyone. The problem is that government policies like steep bail hamstring low-income individuals’ efforts to advance.

When low-income Americans can’t pay their bail, they go to jail. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, of the 646,000 people in local jails, 70 percent have not yet been convicted of a crime. Most are awaiting their trial. In 2002, those jailed had a median income of $15,109 prior to incarceration. Many inmates are there due to low-level crimes, like not paying a traffic ticket or driving without a license.

Jail Time Is a Huge Economic Hurdle

Being jailed reduces earnings. Jailed individuals often lose their jobs when they don’t show up to work the next day. Many individuals even plead guilty to crimes they didn’t commit in order to avoid the weeks or months of jail time associated with a bail they can’t afford. The Journal of Legal Studies found that when judges assigned a money bail, suspects were 12 percent more likely to be convicted, in part because they were more likely to plead guilty to avoid jail and in part because they had less access to their public defenders.

This can have profound future implications, as many employers are leery of hiring people with a criminal record. Jailed individuals are even likely to become repeat criminals: the same study found that pretrial detention caused a 6-9 percent increase in recidivism.

Jail hurts poor people twice, first by depriving them of income behind bars and then by stigmatizing them once they are free.

These factors add up to lower earnings: a Pew study found incarceration reduced individuals’ yearly earnings by 40 percent. Formerly incarcerated Americans are hit even harder over the course of a lifetime: according to the same study, “By age 48, the typical former inmate will have earned $179,000 less than if he had never been incarcerated.” This doesn’t factor in the loss of income jailed individuals suffer while waiting for their trial.

When individuals are prevented from working and pushed into scenarios that encourage recidivism, they’re less able to escape poverty.

Jail hurts poor people twice: once by depriving them of income behind bars and once by stigmatizing them once they are free. The end result is less income mobility. Formerly incarcerated men in the bottom earnings quintile were twice as likely to still be there 20 years later, compared to men who were never sent to jail or prison. While part of this is due to the fact that incarcerated individuals are more likely to be frequent criminals, part is due to the negative effects of even one jail stretch.

Jail Time Hurts People Who Aren’t Criminals

Jail time also hurts the children of the incarcerated, creating inter-generational poverty. According to a meta-study on the subject, children with incarcerated parents are three times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves. Having an incarcerated parent can leave children with psychological scars such as depression, and can even aggravate learning disabilities.

Even when individuals can make bail and remain free until trial, they often require a bail bond to do so. A bail bond is a payment an insurance company makes on the accused’s behalf, but these companies often charge a payment of 10 percent of bail. The average bail for a felony is $10,000, and even misdemeanors often have four-figure bail amounts. Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Bail bonds often amount to a substantial fine that the working poor are ill-equipped to pay.

Even individuals who can pull together the money for bail on their own may find that it wipes out their savings. While bail money is refunded at trial, going without thousands of dollars for several weeks can leave people, especially poor people, in danger of financial ruin.

Economic mobility is relatively strong for non-incarcerated individuals. Pew notes that 15 percent of never-incarcerated Americans who start in the bottom economic quintile end up in the top quintile. Our bail systems force poor individuals to choose between unfeasible short-term fees that can spell financial ruin, or the long-term earning potential loss that comes with jail time. For these people, upward mobility is a broken promise.

Julian Adorney


Julian Adorney
Julian Adorney is a Young Voices Advocate. His work has been featured in dozens of outlets, including National Review, Fox News’ Nation, and Lawrence Reed’s best-selling economics anthology Excuse Me, Professor.

NYC Prosecutors Pledge to Dismiss 700,000 Minor Warrants

Four of New York City’s district attorneys say they will file motions in coming weeks to toss out 700,000 old warrants issued for low-level offenses like drinking in public and riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, reports the New York Law Journal. Prosecutors in Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan will move to dismiss warrants that are 10 years old or older that stem from NYPD summonses. The mass clearance will dismiss a significant portion of the city’s roughly 1.5 million outstanding warrants.

When warrants aren’t cleared, those who have them are subject to automatic arrest for years and decades to come, even if they come in contact with police because they were involved in a minor traffic accident or while reporting a crime. Bronx DA Darcel Clark said the motions for clearance should not be viewed as mass amnesty. “We’re not telling everyone it’s OK to get a summons and not show up,” Clark said. But she said many of the cases are unprosecutable because of legal sufficiency issues.

Bipartisan Bail Reform Bill Introduced in the Senate

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat, has introduced bipartisan legislation to prod states to reform their bail systems, reports the San Jose Mercury News. The new bill, which Harris co-wrote with Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, and was introduced yesterday, would spend $10 million annually for three years on grants for states that reform their bail systems.

Most courts in the U.S. require money bail, holding defendants in jail before trial until they pay. Advocates say cash bail is unfair to poor defendants who haven’t been convicted of a crime.

Under Harris’ bill — her first major bipartisan legislation — states would be eligible for a grant if they enact reforms such as replacing money bail with systems based on assessing a defendant’s risk to the community, releasing inmates before trial in most cases, or appointing public defenders at the earliest stages of pretrial detention.

In a New York Times commentary, Harris and Paul wrote, “Our justice system was designed with a promise: to treat all people equally. Yet that doesn’t happen for many of the 450,000 Americans who sit in jail today awaiting trial because they cannot afford to pay bail.” They said their proposal encourages better data collection, empowers states to build on best practices, and holds them accountable.

Some states have already moved to change their approach to bail. New Jersey, for example, is shifting away from “money-based” pretrial justice through pretrial risk assessment in a system NPR describes in the latest episode of its “Planet Money” podcasts as a “model” for the nation.

How to Lose Every Argument

Usually, I’m hesitant to lay ultimatums down saying that one tactic or another will never, ever work. That makes a lot of assumptions that I’m not qualified to make, However, I would say that with certain goals, being uncivil harms, not helps, the cause.

This is true for any cause. But it is especially true for the cause of human liberty and social peace.

Defining Civility

Civility has taken quite a beating recently. From being confused with “political correctness,” to being maligned as only the domain of losers, numerous public figures have decided that treating their opponents on either side of the aisle with respect is a thing of the past. In this fracas, civility has often been cast as another term for word policing and censorship.

Civility is a view that the human being you are talking to is your equal.

Yet this definition of civility misses the important reason we developed civil language in the first place.

Civility is a view that the human being you are talking to is your equal. The reason I treat you with respect is because I view you, your opinions, and your ideas as I view myself. No matter how evil or good, uninformed or smart I think you are, if I had your experiences, I could be in your position. I may very well have become you and held your views.

Without this understanding, some of the greatest accomplishments of civilization would have been prevented by the dividing lines of culture.

To put it another way, civility is the humility that if you were born in North Korea, you’d also think Kim-Jong Un had god-like wisdom and power. Reclaiming the position that all of us should be treated as equals to the other is the true definition of civility. The way we speak to each other is the respect developed from that.

As a tactic, though, some have argued that incivility has its uses. It gets attention. It shakes people out of their apathy. Some even contend it won Donald Trump the presidency. The blunt, honest, truth, they call it. I would argue that if our goals are peace and liberty, there are two big reasons incivility has no place in our movement.

Incivility Prevents the Spread of Ideas

Liberty and peace are primarily advanced through the spread of ideas. It was not too long ago that John Locke, arguing that the subjects of the king had inherent rights, refused to put his name on that book, the Second Treatise of Government, for fear he would be hanged for such a radical idea. A mere hundred years later, the Founding Fathers built an entire government based on those ideas. Today, even the word “libertarian” is mainstream, and more people believe in individual rights and self-ownership than ever.

Division prevents the spread of ideas.

Further, nearly every major advance in liberty has been preceded by an advance in our ability to communicate ideas. The printing press, the radio and television, and the internet each have advanced human liberty by leaps and bounds.

And this is where incivility becomes a major problem. Division prevents the spread of ideas, and I’m not sure it’s possible to be irascible, i.e. easily angered, or uncivil, without being divisive. When I divide you, set you apart, say you are not equal to me, you, rightly so, stop listening to me. And that stops the spread of ideas between us.

“Forget” Everything about You

These were the words (more explicit in real life) of Philadelphia woman as she urinated on the American flag this Fourth of July. It contained all the shock doctrine, attention, and brashness praised by opponents of civility. After she got death threats and had a contract put out on her head, the media responded, with everyone from the Daily Mail and The Sun to Breitbart and Fox News picking up the story.

In the face of such an overreaction, there is a tendency to respond in kind. And many writers did, some calling those who respect the American flag “flaggots” and “flag-worshipers” or “admirers of a piece of cloth.” One journalist wrote “you should be offended with your own damnable hypocrisy… calling for the bodily harm of someone committing a nonviolent act against a symbol.”

There’s no need to attack either side for us to agree that harming someone over a symbol is wrong.

This is laying a dividing line down, splitting those who support the flag for what it stands for to them, maybe American values like freedom, liberty, and equality under the law, maybe the only thing they recognized in a foreign country, maybe the last thing they saw draped over their grandfather’s coffin, from those people who see the American flag as a symbol of oppression, genocide, or war.

It is a dividing line that doesn’t need to be laid down, as there’s no need to attack either side for us to agree that harming someone over a symbol is wrong.

This is even a dividing line that doesn’t need to be laid down. Most who support the flag could be easily convinced against those who would cause bodily harm to someone for defacing it, were they not lumped into the same category. They would also be most likely, since they shared similar values, to be able to rein in those who were advocating violence.

I don’t know of a way you can be uncivil – to come from a place where you view the person you are talking about or to as lower than you – without being divisive. They are inherent to each other, as the person targeted is inherently pushed away by such damaging language. When that person is pushed away, rest assured they will lock down, the conversation about our ideas on peace and liberty will end.

The Roots of Tyranny

More importantly, though, we have to recognize the role incivility plays in the roots of tyranny. The roots of tyranny have always been in the beliefs that a group of people deserve fewer rights, are less intelligent, less noble, less pious, less moral than another group. The claim of the inferiority of the other is the one consistent thing that has justified tyranny and force from time immemorial.

We cannot impose tyranny on another person without believing they are lower than us.

Our wars in the Middle East were justified because the Muslims are “savages” and “uncivilized.” Our drug war at home was justified because drug users were considered lower beings than the rest of us. Labor regulations were justified on grounds that some people – you know, those people – just can’t manage their own lives. Chinese immigrants were ruthless and bent on poisoning people, blacks were thugs and uncivilized, and so on.

We cannot impose tyranny on another person without believing they are lower than us. Equality of rights is key to preserving any type of liberty. Equality is what civility starts to bring back. If many of the “proud boys” in the alt-right and members of Antifa sat down at the bar away from politics, they would find plenty to agree on. And both sides having seen the other as human, they would be less likely to use force against the other.

The odds are, if we sat Antifa and the “proud boys” down for a beer, the clash at Berkeley would never have happened. It is only when one group views the other as less than that they are willing to use violence on them.

Civility starts from a position of “we are equal in dignity.” Incivility starts from the opposite position. And all it does is reinforce the divide between whatever sides are in the conversation.

Walk Away

Do you know why we hate lawyers? Because they are the civilized form of a warrior. Prior to legal systems, you would just kill your neighbor if he wronged you. That civility prevents lots of unnecessary deaths.

Do you know why many people hate politics? Because they are on the modern day battlefields. Our ballot box is the pillbox, our elections the great battles across fields of blood, only instead of killing each other with weapons, we are using words.

Beating up your target just turns people on the fence against you.

Lose civility, make it so people think words aren’t enough, and we will go back to the violence of before. That is something I absolutely cannot bear to see happen here, and we are so, so close.

Some people confuse hard truths with a lack of civility. Look at Glenn Greenwald. He tells the truth. He doesn’t hold back. Yet he is still civil. He still commands the conversation always strives for clarity, honesty, sincerity. And because of this, he gains far more respect than if he just spit all over everyone who disagreed with him.

Hard-hitting journalism doesn’t mean you have to beat your target up, and often beating up your target just turns people on the fence against you, exacerbating the problem you were hoping to address in the first place.

Finally, there are people who have no interest in civility. They only want to insult, humiliate, smear, and get attention for doing so. They will always find sparring partners with others who desire the same. What can you do about them?

My suggestion: walk away. There is no good to be accomplished in this realm. Being civil to others, however, serves as a model for others, and a way to gradually change the world to one where there is greater peace and liberty.

Daniel Johnson


Daniel Johnson

Daniel is the Executive Director at Tax Revolution Institute, the President of the Solutions Institute, and an anti-partisan super activist.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Fired Texas Police Officer who killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards Indicted on Murder Charge

The fired Balch Springs cop who fatally shot 15-year-old Jordan Edwards was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury.

Jordan’s family and their attorney said they were “cautiously optimistic” after Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the indictment against 37-year-old Roy Oliver.

Oliver was also indicted on four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant for firing his rifle into a car full of teenagers leaving a party April 29. Jordan, who sat in the front passenger seat, was struck in the head. His two brothers and two friends were also in the car.

Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber originally said the Chevrolet Impala was aggressively reversing toward Oliver and Officer Tyler Gross, but body camera footage contradicted that story. Oliver was fired and arrested on the murder charge in May.

Johnson said prosecuting Oliver is not a “political statement” but rather the right thing to do, something she believes most police officers would agree with.

“I think our police officers would stand with us and say, ‘We do not condone bad behavior,'” she said. “Hopefully, it is a message we are sending to the bad police officers. If you do wrong, we will prosecute you.”

Oliver’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said he was pleased to see Johnson go forward with plans to prosecute Oliver, something that other district attorneys might not do in similar police shootings.

“Far too often we see cases where there’s been a lack of comparable effort in cases that are equally deserving,” Merritt said after the announcement. “We are satisfied with this step.”

Oliver was also indicted last month on two aggravated assault charges following accusations he pulled a gun on two people in an unrelated road-rage incident weeks before Jordan’s death. The district attorney called Oliver a “danger to the community.”

That case was investigated more thoroughly after Jordan’s death. Originally Dallas police said no crime occurred.

The attorneys for Jordan’s family have been critical of how Dallas police handled the road-rage incident.

“Had Dallas taken some action on that particular night when they knew that this officer placed a gun to someone’s head, Jordan would be with us here today,” said attorney Daryl Washington, who also represents the family.

A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury(Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)
A wooden silhouette of a police officer stands in front of the Balch Springs Police and Fire Complex Monday in Balch Springs. Roy Oliver, the fired Balch Springs police officer who shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, was indicted Monday on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury (Tom Fox/Staff Photographer)

Oliver faces up to life in prison for each of the seven felony charges against him. Although no date has been set for Oliver’s trial, Johnson said prosecutors will first pursue the murder charge against Oliver.

Johnson declined to elaborate on the details of the case, but said she is dedicated to “seeking justice for Jordan.”

“We believe we have a very strong case,” Johnson said. “We’re planning to win this case.”

Many who have been strongly advocating that prosecutors move forward with the case have questioned whether the district attorney’s office could win a conviction after so many officers nationwide have been acquitted in shootings of unarmed black men.

But another attorney for Jordan’s family, Jasmine Crockett, said she is no longer one of them.

“There’s no question now in my mind whether he’s going to be locked up,” she said.

In the meantime, Oliver is free on a $700,000 bond related to the murder charge and aggravated assault charges stemming from the road-rage incident. A judge did not increase that bond for the four new aggravated assault charges.

<p>Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge.</p>(Edwards family)
Jordan Edwards (left) with his stepmother, Charmaine Edwards, and his sister Korrie on a family trip to the beach. Jordan was shot and killed at age 15 by a Balch Springs police officer who fired his rifle into a car as Jordan, his brothers and friends drove away. The officer, Roy Oliver, was fired and arrested on a murder charge. (Edwards family)
Oliver and Gross were at the Balch Springs home after a 911 call about reports of drunken teenagers. But they arrived and found no alcohol or drugs in the home. The officers were inside when they and party-goers heard gunshots. Oliver and Gross ran outside. Oliver went to his patrol car for his rifle, and Gross ran toward where he thought the shots came from.

The shots everyone heard while inside the house, investigators later learned, came from the parking lot of a nearby nursing home.

Oliver grabbed his rifle from a patrol car as Jordan, his brothers and two friends got in a car to leave the party. Gross walked up to the car, yelling for them to stop. He broke a window of the car with his gun. The kids drove off.

Oliver, a six-year veteran of the force, shot through a passenger window and killed Jordan.

Jordan’s mother, Charmaine Edwards, described the teen Monday as “a great kid, a great football player, a straight-A student, somebody that was gonna go somewhere.”

She and Odell Edwards said their sons who were with Jordan when he died have been struggling since the shooting. Some days they’re OK, other days they’re not. 

‘Smile that could light up a room’

Jordan was a Mesquite High School freshman who had begged his parents for weeks to attend the party. He was there with his two brothers and two friends, who were in the car when Oliver fired into it.

His football coach Jeff Fleener has said he was “crushed and heartbroken” when he found out Jordan had been killed. He said Jordan was a good kid who never got into trouble and had a GPA over 3.5.

Fleener has been at the school only two months, but he said that Jordan introduced himself on his first day and that the two became “quick friends.” Jordan played on the freshman team and was supposed to begin playing defensive back this spring.

Jordan had many friends and a “smile that could light up a room,” Fleener said.

“The best thing in the world, or the worst thing in the world, would happen, and he’d smile, and everything would be OK,” the coach said. “You create a checklist of everything you would want in a player, a son, a teammate, a friend, and Jordan had all that. He was that kid.”

Massachusetts School Suspends Black Girls With Braids

Two black female students attending a charter school in Massachusetts were recently kicked off their sports teams and prohibited from attending prom all because they wore their hair in braids. The Mystic Valley Charter School in Malden, about nine miles away from Boston, enforces a strict dress code preventing students from wearing their hair in any unnatural way, which includes braids.

Twin students Maya and Deanna Cook, African-American sophomores at the school, told local news outlets they were first told to take their braids out two weeks ago by school officials. The girls’ adoptive mother, Colleen Cook, told Boston’s 25 News that she received a call from the school informing her that students weren’t allowed to wear “anything artificial or unnatural in their hair.”

“We told them there’s nothing wrong with their hair the way it is. Their hair is beautiful, there’s no correcting that needs to be done,” Colleen Cook said, adding that the hair policy seems to only target students of color, who wear their hair in braids or extensions symbolic of their African-American culture.

The dress code policy listed on the school’s website says students can not wear “drastic or unnatural hair colors or styles such as shaved lines or shaved sides or have a hairstyle that could be distracting to other students (extra-long hair or hair more than 2 inch in thickness or height is not allowed). This means no coloring, dying, lightening (sun-in) or streaking of any sort. Hair extensions are not allowed. Hair elastics must be worn in the hair and not on the wrist.”

The Cook girls are just two of many black and biracial students that have been subjected to daily detention because of dress code violations at the school. Other parents told 25 News that their children had also been suspended for wearing braids, and following the Cook sisters’ latest incident, black students were singled out for a hair inspection.

“All the little black children were marched down for a hair inspection, whether they had braids or not, and asked, ‘are those extensions’ ‘are your braids real or not?’” Colleen Cook said.

Alexander J. Dan, the school’s interim director, said in a statement the dress code policy aims to serve a “diverse student population” that fosters “a culture that emphasizes education rather than style, fashion or materialism. Our policy on hair extensions, which tend to be very expensive, is consistent with, and a part of, the educational environment that we believe is so important to our students’ success.”

The dress code policy is also enforced at Mystic Valley Charter Schools in Everett and Medford.

The Mystic Valley Charter School is just one of many that have come under fire for enforcing dress code policies that prohibit braids and other hairstyles representative of African-American culture. In 2016, Butler Traditional High school in Louisville, Kentucky was accused of purporting a racist dress code policy after it banned students from wearing dreadlocks, cornrows and braids. The school amended the controversial hair policy following a flood of outraged parents, including state Representative Attica Scott, a Democrat, who took to social media to condemn the school.

The U.S. military faced severe backlash in 2014 after banning natural hairstyles like dreadlocks and twists.