Jury nullification over pot possession?

I have written before about ‘jury nullification’, the right of juries to decide that a law is wrong and refuse to convict someone of a crime even if the facts are clear that that person is guilty. (See here and here.)

I said last year (see the post script to this) that drug laws against minor offenses such as possession of marijuana in small amounts are the most likely to be nullified and recently there was another example of this.

Ted Rall’s best cartoons for 2010

One thing I hate about this time of year are the best/worst lists and highlights. But I will make an exception for Ted Rall’s choice of what of his own work he liked the best, because I missed some of them the first time around. (Click on each to enlarge.)

Rall is one of the best political cartoonists around but he is not picked up by the major outlets probably because the things he says are outside the mainstream consensus and will make people uncomfortable by challenging them.

A day in the life of Bradley Manning

Manning’s lawyer David Coombs (a former Army major who has served in Iraq) describes Manning’s conditions of solitary confinement that have lasted over seven months. Among other things:

His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The cell has a bed, a drinking fountain, and a toilet.

At 5:00 a.m. he is woken up (on weekends, he is allowed to sleep until 7:00 a.m.). Under the rules for the confinement facility, he is not allowed to sleep at anytime between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. If he attempts to sleep during those hours, he will be made to sit up or stand by the guards.

PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.

The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.

He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

He does receive one hour of “exercise” outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning.

Glenn Greenwald recounts the arguments of all the people who argue that what Manning is being subjected to amounts to torture. Why? In order to break him down so that he will incriminate Julian Assange and WIkiLeaks.

Yesterday US sources revealed that prosecutors are awaiting a decision from the American Attorney-General, Eric Holder, on what form of plea bargaining they should offer to Manning in return for him incriminating Mr Assange as a fellow conspirator in disseminating the classified information.

Officials at the US Justice Department, who are under acute pressure to prosecute, privately acknowledge that a conviction against Mr Assange would be extremely difficult if he was simply the passive recipient of the material disseminated by Private Manning. Any evidence that he had actively facilitated the leak, however, would make extradition and a successful case much more feasible.

Friends of Private Manning stress that so far he has refused to co-operate with the prosecutors. However, they also say that after seven months of solitary confinement in at the Quantico Marine Base in Virginia he is in an increasingly fragile condition.

David House, a computer programmer who visits Private Manning in prison, said in an interview: “Over the last few weeks I have noticed a steady decline in his mental and physical wellbeing. His prolonged confinement in a solitary holding cell is unquestionably taking its toll on his intellect; his inability to exercise due to regulations has affected his physical appearance in a matter which suggests physical weakness.”

The authorities had initially stated that Manning was being kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. Friends like Mr House now believe it is being done for punitive purposes and to exert pressure on his vulnerabilities.

Of course, the people who are authorizing this torture are not interested in the truth. They will continue to treat him in this and even worse ways until he agrees to say what they want him to say. The political leadership and the mainstream media will not raise a fuss about this, because they have all bought into the idea that in the glorious ‘war on terror’ the government has the right to do anything it wants to whomever it designates as its opponents in order to ‘keep us safe’. If they are willing to ignore Obama’s claim that he has the right to order the murder of even US citizens anywhere in the world, why would they bother their heads over mere torture? A recently initiated probe by the United Nations office for torture in Geneva might lead to some redress but given the US’s ability and willingness to pressure the UN for its own ends, I am not too hopeful.

Applying such cruel methods of psychological pressure on someone to break them down and get them to confess and incriminate others are the hallmarks of a brutal police state, not those of a democracy whose leader is supposed to be a constitutional scholar.

The treatment of Manning, along with the Obama administration’s plans to promulgate an executive order that would allow indefinite detention without trial is one more piece of evidence of Obama’s reckless disregard for the constitution. He is basically asserting the right to create a new legal system just on his say so that completely bypasses the constitution and centuries of legal practice based on it.

Childish politics

One of the really distressing things about the political discourse in this country is how many political decisions seem to be based on insubstantial things like the vanity and ego and sheer childishness of people who really should know better. The desire to score cheap political points, to not want to give what the other side can claim as a victory even if the measure is a good one has become so obvious, especially in the Republican party, that it should be embarrassing, if as a nation we had not lost our sense of shame.

During the health care debate, for example, it seemed like all it took for the despicable Joe Lieberman to oppose any measure (such as single payer, the public option, extending eligibility for Medicare) was for any progressive group to express support for it. This may also lie behind the fact that the US still has not adopted the metric system or why there is irrational denial to even consider global warming as a potential threat. Opposition in some quarters seems to be at least partly based on the fact that these measures are popular in other countries.

As another example, look at the to-be Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor’s statement on a suggestion to balance the budget.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.), who is likely to become House majority leader in January, said Tuesday that many lawmakers wouldn’t support VAT-type tax because its ties to Europe might make it politically poisonous in Washington. [My italics]

“I don’t think any of us want us to go the direction of the social welfare states around the world,” Mr. Cantor said at the CEO Council.

There are good and bad things about the VAT (Value-Added Tax) but the fact that it is used in some European countries should be totally irrelevant to the discussion except as a source of data on how well it works.

I am not saying that there are no substantive reasons for the opposition but one gets the palpable sense that if Europe does it or if ‘the left’ supports something, that is enough for Republicans to view it with deep suspicion and seek reasons to oppose it.

Republican party leader Mitch McConnell actually said that one of the reasons he opposed the new START treaty (which was ratified yesterday by the Senate on a 71-26 vote) is because he did not want to give a victory to ‘the left’. I do not have an informed opinion on the START treaty since I have only a little idea of what it contains, but the idea that a major political leader would oppose something of international significance because it might provide a boost to his political opponents is highly disturbing.

But this is what passes for political thinking among the leaders of the Republican party. Not the merits of issue itself but where it comes from and who is supporting it.

I suspect that the current Republican opposition to things like high-speed rail is also based on similar feelings. Creating a massive network of high-speed rail lines that span the country would be a tremendous boost to the economy, creating jobs and stimulating industry. But because other countries such as China and in Europe have taken the lead in this area, following in their footsteps would somehow imply that the US is not #1.

This has reached such absurd levels that some are considering repealing Bush-era legislation that will phase out incandescent light bulbs. They presumably think that replacing them with compact fluorescent bulbs is some kind of evil European socialist plot that seeks to deny them their god-given right to have their choice of light bulbs

At least we should be grateful that this kind of childishness on a large scale is a fairly recent phenomenon. If it had happened in the 19th century, we would still be riding in horse-drawn carriages since these same people would have opposed the introduction of the steam engine because it was invented and developed in Europe.

As the country falls further behind in science and technology, as its infrastructure crumbles and its health system falls apart, these people are not going to look for good ideas wherever they originate because they will be too busy chanting “USA! USA! Were #1!”