Thousands took to the streets in Baltimore earlier this week following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man who died after his spine was nearly severed while riding in a police van. Demonstrators have also gathered in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and nearly a dozen other cities. Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced Friday that the six officers involved in Gray's death will face criminal charges. Protests are planned around the country through the weekend.
In a ruling that might surprise those who've watched recent Supreme Court's rulings on campaign finance issues, the high court ruled today that states can ban judges from directly soliciting campaign donations.
The case, Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, was a First Amendment challenge to a Florida rule that barred judicial candidates from personally asking donors for money. Lanelle Williams-Yulee unsuccessfully ran to become a county judge in 2009. During her campaign, she signed a letter asking for campaign contributions. The Florida Supreme Court later found that she had violated state rules on judicial campaigns. Williams-Yulee challenged that decision but lost.
Among the 39 states hold judicial elections, 30 have bans on judges personally asking for campaign money. As Mother Jones reported last year, judicial elections have quietly become a major battleground in American politics over the last decade. State judicial candidates raised a combined $83 million in the 1990s, a total that was surpassed by roughly $30 million in the 2011-12 election cycle. More than $200 million has been donated to state supreme court candidates since 2000, and independent (and often unaccountable) spending on state judicial races has increased nearly sevenfold in that same time. Sue Bell Cobb, the retired chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, recently likened judicial elections to "legalized extortion."
Justice At Stake, a nonpartisan watchdog group that often speaks out against big money in judicial elections, applauded the Supreme Court's decision. "Today's decision helps judges, by saving them from the compromising job of raising cash from people whose cases they will decide," the group's executive director, Bert Brandenberg said in a statement. " It helps our court system, by shoring up its ability to be fair and impartial. And it helps the public, by reassuring them that they will not find themselves in court before a judge who has received a check directly from the opposing party in their case."
Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court's four liberal justices in the 5-4 decision. "Judges are not politicians, even when they come to the bench by way of the ballot," he wrote. "And a State's decision to elect its judiciary does not compel it to treat judicial candidates like campaigners for political office. A State may assure its people that judges will apply the law without fear or favor—and without having personally asked anyone for money."
Standing side by side with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at the White House on Tuesday, President Barack Obama made some of his most detailed and forceful comments yet about economic inequality and police behavior during recent protests around the country. He told reporters that while there was no excuse for the violence that erupted in Baltimore last night, the unrest could be tied to decades of civil rights issues, income inequality, and a lack of opportunity. Here's an excerpt:
This is not new. This has been going on for decades. And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, we also know if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty, they've got parents, often because of substance abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education, and themselves can't do right by their kids, if it's more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead than that they go to college, and communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men, communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing's been stripped away, and drugs have flooded the community and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a lot of folks, in those environments, if we think that we're just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without, as a nation, and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not going to solve this problem, and we'll go through this same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities, and the occasional riots in the streets and everybody will feign concern until it goes away and we just go about our business as usual.
Chances are you're bad at passwords. Most of us are. A recent statistic offered up by Jonathan LeBlanc, the global head of developer advocacy at PayPal, suggests that nearly 10 percent of people have a password consisting of 123456, 12345678, or, simply, "password."
LeBlanc has some bold thoughts on improving this state of affairs. As he told the Wall Street Journal last week, "embeddable, injectable, and ingestible devices" are the next step companies will use to identify consumers for "mobile payments and other sensitive online interactions."
From the Journal:
While there are more advanced methods to increase login security, like location verification, identifying people by their habits like the way they type in their passwords, fingerprints and other biometric identifiers, these can lead to false negative results, where valid users can't log in to their online services, and false positives, where invalid users can log in.
Mr. Leblanc pointed to more accurate methods of identity verification, like thin silicon chips which can be embedded into the skin. The wireless chips can contain ECG sensors that monitor the heart’s unique electrical activity, and communicate the data via wireless antennae to "wearable computer tattoos."
Ingestible capsules that can detect glucose levels and other unique internal features can use a person's body as a way to identify them and beam that data out.
To be fair, LeBlanc told the paper that these specific technologies aren't necessarily things that PayPal is planning, but he's been raising the possibility in a presentation he's been giving, and has said the online dealbroker is "definitely looking at the identity field" as a means of allowing users a more secure way to identify themselves.
You don't have to be a "mark of the beast" person or a conspiracy theorist to have concerns. Indeed, what could possibly go wrong with a little implanted device that reads your vein patterns or your heart's unique activity or blood glucose levels just so you can seamlessly buy that cup of Starbucks? Wouldn't an insurance company love to use that information to decide that you had one too many donuts—so it won't be covering that bypass surgery after all?
As the Wall Street Journal cautiously notes, "Mr. Leblanc admits that there's still a ways to go before cultural norms catch up with ingestible and injectable ID devices."
Puerto Rican independence movement leader Pedro Albizu Campos speaking to sugarcane workers in the early 1930s
April 21 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos. Most Americans likely haven't heard of Albizu Campos or his plan to challenge the United States' control of Puerto Rico. His supporters remember him as an organizer, an intellectual, and a revolutionary. The FBI and the US government labeled him a radical, a terrorist, and a criminal.
Albizu Campos' story and the history of his ill-fated movement are chronicled in War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony, a new book by Nelson A. Denis, a journalist, activist, and former New York state assemblyman. Denis, whose mother is Puerto Rican, says the book would not have been possible without several decades of personal interest and the release of nearly 2 million documents FBI from secret FBI dossiers known as carpetas, gathered over a period of about 50 years. This trove of papers, made public in 2000, reveal a previously untold story about how the US government worked to undermine the growing Puerto Rican independence movement of the 1940s and '50s.
In 1936, Albizu Campos was imprisoned on sedition charges after helping to successfully organize Puerto Rican workers. After more than a decade in prison, he returned to the island and organized an armed revolt in 1950. His plan was never realized, due in large part to FBI infiltration and harassment as well as legal sanctions such as Public Law 53, the "Gag Law," which made it a criminal act to show any outward support for an independent Puerto Rico. The short-lived violent uprising may mark the only time the US military has launched an aerial attack on its own citizens, when National Guard planes strafed the town of Utuado.
I spoke to Denis about Albizu Campos' uprising and why many Americans don't know about the colonial dynamic between Puerto Rico and the United States.
Mother Jones: Why should Americans pay attention to Puerto Rico?
Nelson Denis: Puerto Ricans are Americans. We've been American citizens since 1917. We fought the same battles, made the same sacrifices. We've lost our land in the same way that Native Americans lost their land, and we've been the subject of discrimination and racism in the same way that African Americans have. We've suffered the full spectrum of oppression, and yet we've been off the map 4,000 miles away so we haven't even been able to argue our case. So when people say, "Why should Americans care?" they don't realize that we are 100 percent Americans and we've more than paid the price of admission into this community.
MJ: Why do most Americans not know about this part of Puerto Rico's history?
ND: Puerto Rico is an island separated by an ocean, a language, a culture. All of that put it in a position where it's like, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," but what happened in Puerto Rico never happened at all. It's not like there was a decades-long conspiracy. It's just the aggregation of all these historical forces made it difficult for this information to exist in one place.
MJ: What set the stage for the Puerto Rican independence movement?
ND: From the beginning it made sense. It wasn't just rooted in some sort of personal intransigence or some passionate Latino temperament. It was rooted in economic and political reality at the time. It also made sense since the founding principles of the United States are supposedly based on government by the consent of the governed, and the sense that all men are created equal.
The United States comes in in 1898. The very next year, Hurricane San Ciriaco devastated the island. The US sends no relief. The following year, the US declares that the Puerto Rican peso, would no longer be valid currency. Then the US imposed new property taxes on every farmer in Puerto Rico. Look at those three blows right after each other: the hurricane, the currency devaluation, and the new taxes. The result was that the farmers were in extreme distress and they had to get loans to try and stay afloat. By 1940, 80 percent of the arable land in Puerto Rico was US-owned.
Now you have Puerto Ricans who lose their land, they have nowhere to go, they try to get jobs. When they try to enact minimum wage legislation for the exploding ranks of these workers, the US Congress simply vetoed it, and when they tried to push it, the Supreme Court ruled that since Puerto Rico was a US territory and not a state, that the United States constitution did not apply, even though in 1917, under the terms of the Jones-Shafroth Act, they were called US citizens. So they're found to be US citizens for purposes of military conscription, but they're not found to be US citizens for purposes of having any rights.
MJ: So that's when an organized freedom movement really took root?
ND: Albizu Campos leads an island-wide agricultural strike in January of '34. When Albizu Campos won that strike, he and the Nationalist Party were suddenly in the crosshairs of the American government and its military and intelligence gathering apparatus. At that point, J. Edgar Hoover started sending squadrons of FBI agents down there to snoop and spy and marginalize any nationalist or any dissenting person on the island and ruin their lives as quickly and as completely as possible.
1943 FBI document discusses former Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Muñoz Marín's "Puerto Rican inferiority complex" and alleged narcotics addiction. Nelson A. Denis/War Against All Puerto Ricans
After the strike they sent down a new governor, General Blanton Winship, who militarized the entire police force. The new chief of police, E. Francis Riggs, orchestrated the Rio Piedras Massacre, where four nationalists were assassinated in broad daylight near the campus of the University of Puerto Rico. When asked at a press conference why this happened, Riggs said that if Albizu Campos and his nationalist party continue to agitate the sugar cane workers and the college students, then he was prepared to wage war to the death against all Puerto Ricans. This war against Puerto Ricans was very real and that's why it became the title of the book.
MJ: Which led to an actual attempt at armed revolution.
ND: Under amazingly dubious circumstances, Albizu Campos was railroaded off the island and imprisoned for 10 years precisely when the island was ready to very aggressively organize for its independence. When he came back in 1947, in very short order, the government put through Public Law 53, the law that made it illegal to utter a word, sing a song, whistle a tune against the United States or in favor of independence. It was basically abrogating the First Amendment rights of 2 million people in order to shut one man up.
Puerto Rican police seizing Puerto Rican flags Nelson A. Denis/War Against All Puerto Ricans
Ahead of a referendum on whether the island should vote on its status with the United States, Albizu Campos and the nationalists felt that they had one last opportunity to bring the world's attention to conditions in Puerto Rico. It was a concerted, deeply thought out, tactically precise effort to let the world know that Puerto Rico was still the one surviving classic colony in this planet, and that the colonial power, the United States, was supposedly the leader of the free world.
MJ: The planned uprising failed. What's happened since then?
ND: There has been a red carpet from Puerto Rico that stretches all the way to Wall Street. It has just been one long succession of corporations going down, extracting resources, and leveraging tax preferences for themselves at the expense of the American taxpayer and the Puerto Rican worker. You have a tremendous tax preference for US investors, hedge fund managers, private equity firms at the same time that you're proposing a 16 percent tax on the poor, middle, and working classes of Puerto Rico.
MJ: Should Puerto Rico be independent or a state?
ND: I don't live on the island, so I don't feel that I have the right to impose my view even though most of my family lives on the island and I visit nearly every year. There's a sense of people saying, "We have a right to self-determination." And so, consistent with that, I would want the Puerto Ricans to have that right. But without imposing my view I will say this: The current status of commonwealth is just morally, politically, and especially economically untenable. It's a business model that is clearly failing and it needs to be mercifully put to rest.
That leaves us with two remaining options. There has to be a decision, either to get married or get divorced. But no more keeping Puerto Rico as its little mistress in the Caribbean. That doesn't work anymore.