Just Jake

Jake Highton is a journalism professor at the Reynolds School of Journalism, University of Nevada, Reno. He teaches media law, history of journalism and advanced reporting. Highton is the author of numerous books, including "Nevada Newspaper Days." He writes a weekly column for the Daily Sparks Tribune.

Location: United States

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Amnesty essential for Latino immigrants

Intoleration, discrimination and hatred of foreigners is an old, old American tradition.
It began with the Puritans who came to America for religious freedom but refused to grant it to others. Wartime violations of free speech shattered smug feelings about American liberty. The First Amendment did not protect political dissenters.
Xenophobia plagued Nevada in the 19th century. The Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, then considered the best newspaper in the West, railed against Chinese immigrants.: “The Chinaman…is the filthiest human being in existence…He dissipates wildly in that fiery concoction known as rice brandy and is a slave to the opium pipe.”
And in 1908 Nevada’s Tonopah Sun editorialized: “The importance of keeping the Pacific Coast as a white man’s country, protecting it from Chinese immigration, is one of the greatest of any services performed by the U.S. government.”
The Know Nothing Party, blighting mid-19th century politics, sought to curb Irish immigration. Job ads in Boston and New York routinely ended: “No Irish need apply.” Quotas kept Jewish enrollment in law schools artifically low. Much of the nation was outraged when Booker T. Washington, black president of Tuskegee, dined with President Roosevelt.
And so it went throughout U.S. history. Unfortunately, discrimination still litters the American landscape today. The target: Latinos.
Some troglodytes in Congress want to make illegal immigrants felons. Some would make employers who hire illegals subject to fine and jail if they didn’t play Dogberry. Others want to stretch a 700- to 2,000-mile fence along the border between America and Mexico. And some vigilantes, badly named Minutemen, are patrolling the border to keep out illegals.
The guest worker plan of President Bush? It’s just another bracero program: come in, work five years and then go back where you came from. It’s a formula for continued exploitation and denial of citizenship for Latinos. It’s a formula to delight predatory corporations and swollen agribusiness, a formula for indentured servitude.
Immigration has spawned a new civil rights movement. People are taking to the streets for that movement, a movement spearheaded by an unusual coalition of labor, churches, blacks and Spanish-language radio and TV.
Columnist Robert Scheer rightly notes: “Some 2 million immigrant workers now earn less than the minimum wage and millions more work without occupational safety, workers’ compensation, overtime pay and other protections that legal status offers.”
And does anyone need a reminder that the minimum wage is a pitful $5.15 an hour?
Another syndicated columnist, Cynthia Tucker, points out that Lou Dobbs of CNN has turned his TV show into “a forum for nativists bashing illegal immigration.”
Bush says immigrants take jobs that Americans will not. That too is untrue. If Holy Capitalists paid a decent wage, many Americans would take many of those jobs.
Steven Camarota, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, points out: “The idea that there are jobs Americans won’t do is economic gibberish. All the big occupations that immigrants are in--construction, janitorial, even agriculture--are overwhelmingly done by native-born Americans.”
Employers now can exploit immigrant workers with low pay, no health benefits, no unions and constant threats to turn--what they call recalcitrant workers--over to the feds. Adding to the frustration of illegal immigrants is that they can be fired for union organizing or taking part in protest marches.
Holy Capitalism always wins in the perpetual struggle between employers and workers, between the Haves and Have nots.
Immigrants a problem? No. A backward, purblind nation is the problem. The solution is simple: grant immediate anmesty to the 12 million illegal Latinos in America and set them on the path to quick citizenship. (Certainly not the horrible 11-year plan in some proposals.)
But that simple solution will be muddied by pandering pols. Congress rarely does what is good for America. No one has ever accused it of being humane.
Undocumented immigrants should be given immediate residence visas. Discrimination based on migrant status should be outlawed. The hellish fear that undocumented immigrants live with is intolerable in a country that so often responds with great humanitarianism to places hit by Katrinas, earthquakes and tsunamis.
Common decency and humaneness demand that immigrants get health care, education for their kids and access to welfare programs. Immigrants pay taxes, have Social Security deductions and help fuel the economy.
This country has been built on immigration. Immigrants have always chased that dream of a better life. May immigration continue forever.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

'Don't ask' ruling outrageous

The U.S. Supreme Court has put its seal of approval on blatant discrimination.
It upheld a congresssional law that cuts federal funds for universities that do not allow military recruiters on their campuses. But those recruiters were denied access for an excellent reason: the military exclusion of gays and lesbians who are open about their sexual orientation.
Almost as disgraceful as the ruling was the fact that the vote was unanimous. None of the so-called liberals on the court dissented. Not Justice Stevens. Not Justice Souter. Not Justice Ginsburg. Not Justice Breyer.
Oh, to have the late Justices Douglas and Black (in his glory days) still on the court. They were absolutists about the First Amendment. They would have seen clearly what the Roberts Court could not: that bias is intolerable.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy of the military is clearly unconstitutional. But the justices, human beings to the core and not the judicial automatons many take them to be, made a purely political, pro-government decision. Alas, the court almost always upholds military positions and bogus claims of national security.
Moreover, the justices can always marshal reasons for how they want to decide. As Shakespeare put it: “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.”
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the court, sustained the punitive Solomon Amendment to the 2004 law barring U.S. financing for nonaccess.
“The Solomon Amendment regulates conduct, not speech,” Roberts said. “It affects what law schools must do--afford equal access to military recruiters--not what they may or may not say.”
But the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia, reversed by the purblind Supreme Court justices, had it right. The appeals court held that the Solomon Amendment required law schools to surrender their First Amendment rights and become unwilling carriers of the government’s antigay message.
The appeals panel said the amendment forced law schools to “propagate, accommodate and subsidize” the military’s message of disapproval of homosexuality despite the law schools’ commitment to equal rights for gay students.
Or, as Joshua Rosenkranz, attorney for the law schools, noted during oral argument: it was compelled speech. Law schools, he said, “believe it is immoral to abet discrimination.”
An editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle angrily pointed out: “Federal funding conditions have often been about ending discrimination. For example, Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in any public or private program that receives federal funding...
“ ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a policy that treats gays and lesbians, who are serving their country, as second-class citizens. The use of tax dollars to preserve discrimination is outrageous and unacceptable.”

Peremptory challenges have long been a disgrace to the U.S legal system. They allow lawyers to reject propective jurors for no reason other than that they are perceived as a threat to their cases. They should be outlawed by Congress and/or state legislatures.
Morris Hoffman, an obscure Colorado trial judge but a legal scholar on the subject, agrees. Peremptory challenges give trial lawyers “the power to manipulate jury membership by rejecting perfectly fair prospective jurors for any reason or none as long as the rejection does not smack of race, sex or ethnic discrimination,” he notes.
Rich Siegel, head of the Nevada ACLU, is rightly concerned about racism in peremptories.
“The real problem is that prosecutors block nonwhites and lie about their reasons,” Siegel says. “Jury trials should not be a game that the prosecutor plays in the interest of winning…The defendant is entitled to a jury of his peers--and this should not be made more difficult by challenges that are not justified.”
Thurgood Marshall was the first Supreme Court justice to denounce peremptory challenges. Concurring in a 1986 case, Marshall said: “The decision today will not end the racial discrimination that peremptories inject into the jury selection process. That goal can only be accomplished by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.”
Now a second Supreme Court justice, Stephen Breyer, has come out opposing peremptories. In a concurring opinion last year, he called for their elimination.
“Peremptory challenges seem increasingly anomalous in our judicial system,” he said. “A jury system without peremptories is no longer unthinkable.”
Breyer cited William Blackstone, the 18th century British jurist whose commentaries on the law were so influential in American jurisprudence. “Long ago Blackstone recognized the peremptory challenge as an ‘arbitrary and capricious species of challenge.’ ”
Bully for Breyer. But with the Roberts Court packed with reactionaries, don’t expect an immediate cure of a grave judicial ill.
Sparks Tribune, March 16, 2006

Bush targets Iran

The headline over an ad in the New York Times was blunt: “Job approval down to 34%? Time to start another war.” The first sentence of the text was equally blunt: “George W. Bush is hellbent on being our first three-war president.”
The ad, sponsored by the online Velvet Revolution in Washington, D. C., is no joke. Bush warred in Afghanistan and Iraq. Next: Iran.
To Bush, Iran is a rogue nation, part of an evil empire. It must be prevented from developing nuclear weaponry. But the typical U.S. hypocrisy and double standard is obvious. Israel has nuclear weapons so Iran must be prevented from acquiring them.
America always does the bidding of Israel, its client state. (Israel has never acknowledged its nuclear capability but has up to 200 nuclear warheads. Moreover, Israel refuses to admit arms inspectors.)
Richard Falk asked in a recent article in The Nation: should the world regard “as normal a system of nuclear apartheid in which a select group of nations is entitled to such weapons while others seeking to acquire them are treated as ‘rogue states’?”
The answer is no. And, please, this is not anti-Semitism, the usual charge when anyone criticizes Israel.
Walter Pincus, national security reporter for the Washington Post, asks: “Why shouldn’t the Iranians have nuclear weapons?” He answers cogently: “They’re surrounded by countries that have nuclear weapons: India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Israel.”
The scenario is similar to that of Iraq. To support a unilateral strike against Iran, beat the drums of war, demonize the foe, pour on the propaganda, threaten sanctions, urge regime change, tell lies and pretend to go the diplomatic route.
Ray McGovern writes on the Website Truthout: “The juggernaut has begun to roll. The White House and Fox News spin machine is at full tilt.” Heading that juggernaut is Bush. He says “we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel.” Vice President Cheney says Iran faces “meaningful consequences” if it does not abandon its nuclear ambitions. John Bolton, the United Nations-hating U.N. ambassador, says Iran faces “painful consequences if it continues nuclear activities.”
Not to be outdone by Goebbels, Bush proclaims: “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”
The United States under Bush is the real rogue nation, evil empire spanning the globe. It disdains world sentiment. It is contemptuous of the United Nations. Bush and Cheney are warmongers and war criminals. The American people are the losers in blood, coin and morality.
Several months ago Bush warned Iran not to develop nuclear weapons with a war declaration: “all options are on the table.” He added: “We have used force in the recent past to secure our country.”
A strike against Iran secures America? The absurdity is manifest. What it does secure is Israel. And it also ensures still more worldwide hatred of Bush and America.
This would not be the first time America has meddled in Iranian affairs. It overthrew the democratically elected Mossadegh and installed the Shah. This led to a concatenation of events: the Shah’s police state, his overthrow by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the seizure of hostages at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the reactionary rule of President Reagan perpetuated today by Bush.
Nor would it be the first time Israel has made a pre-emptive strike. It attacked Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981. It struck at sites in Lebanon and Syria.
Bush always talks of democracy. But he doesn’t really believe in it. The U.S. opposes the elected Hamas government in Palestine. It opposes elected Shiite rule in Iraq. And remember the democratic socialist government in Chile? Overthrown by America.
As the anti-democratic foreign policy guru, Henry Kissinger, remarked: he could see no reason why Chile should be allowed to “go Marxist” simply because “its people are irresponsible.” Ah, the realpolitik of Kissinger’s beloved Metternich. Is it any wonder that so much of the world hates America?
Iran is no threat to America. But when Bush wants war, as he did in Iraq, he goes to war. Neither the Constitution nor the spineless Congress nor the antiwar cries of the American people will stop him.
American presidents usually lie to justify war: Polk in Mexico, McKinley (about Cuba and the Philippines), Wilson in World War I, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon in Vietnam, Reagan in Grenada, Bush I twice (Panama and the Gulf War) and Bush II in Iraq.
Lies could justify a pre-emptive air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Such a strike by America and/or Israel seems inevitable.
Sparks Tribune, April 13, 2006

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Death with dignity humane

The struggle for nations to become humane, compassionate and truly civilized is a long, long one.
Take the abortion wars. The battle is still being fiercely fought 33 years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade. Take evolution. Right-wingers and religious fanatics are still fighting over the fact of Darwinian evolution 80 years after the Scopes trial settled the matter.
Take gay and lesbian marriages. Just Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands have legalized them. Take euthanasia. Just three countries legalize it: the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. In America, assisted suicide is legal in just one state, Oregon.
So the recent decision by the Supreme Court to upheld Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act was cheering. It was also surprising because it was the kind of wise, bold and innovative law that the court reactionaries salivate to strike down.
Not that that reactionaries did not try. Justices Scalia and Thomas predictably dissented in the 6-3 vote. But most disturbing was that the new chief justice, John Roberts, joined them. The newest justice, Samuel Alito, makes four justices in favor of reaction.
Justice Kennedy is now the crucial swing vote. He is in the same position as the retiring Justice O’Connor. While a moderate conservative like Kennedy, O’Connor often prevented reactionaries from overturning Roe and turning back the clock on other progressive measures.
Kennedy’s vote was not crucial in the Oregon case. But his majority opinion dealt a stinging rebuke to former Attorney General John Ashcroft who attempted to block the law and threatened Oregon doctors. Kennedy declared: “The authority claimed by the attorney general is both beyond his expertise and incongrous with the statutory purposes.”
Kennedy noted that in another assisted-suicide case, Washington v. Glucksberg (1997), the court said that states were free to experiment with this “political and moral” issue. Which was the point that Justice Louis Brandeis stressed when he said: “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may…serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments.”
Oregon is a “courageous” state. Its “laboratory” should never be shut down by religious zealots who insist on imposing their beliefs on everyone else. Assisted suicide is a state matter. It is not for the intrusive thumb of federal officials like the zealot Ashcroft.
Sadly, America is a death-denying culture. Religious fanatics always harp on the sacredness of life. But life is not sacred when devastating illnesses make it worthless. Life is not sacred when a patient is living like a vegetable. Life is not sacred when it is sustained by machines. Life is not sacred if the brain is dead. Life is not sacred if living is agony. Life is not sacred if it is life without life.
The religious and moral objections to mercy deaths are nonsense. The real immorality is allowing patients to suffer unbearably when life can be ended mercifully.
Jack Kevorkian, death-with-dignity martyr who is rotting in a Michigan jail, is an American hero. He was arguing the law of the future, not as the law is now, but as it will be one day. As Kevorkian put it: “Any physician who is a real physician would care for nothing other than the welfare of the patient.”
And that caring means putting a brain-dead Terri Schiavo to sleep mercifully even if pandering pols like President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist grandstand over her grave.
The “slippery slope” argument is another absurdity. It is what lawyers call the parade of horribles, dredging up all the dire things that could happen if euthanasia becomes settled law.Why, next a state will sanction the killing of the old, the crippled, the homeless.
By prolonging a life that is no longer worth living, physicians are actually torturing patients. And they are also contributing to the expenditure of needless thousands of dollars to sustain a life that is “dead.”
Justice Brennan, dissenting in a 1990 Supreme Court decision upholding a Missouri statute denying a dignified death, rightly said: “The thought of an ignoble end, steeped in decay, is abhorrent. A quiet, proud death, bodily integrity intact, is a matter of extreme consequence.”
Assisted suicide is death with compassion, with dignity--and with love. It allows families, loved ones and friends to gather for one last time, creating a searing intimacy.
The right to die with dignity is a basic human right. America will not be truly civilized until all 50 states adopt the Oregon law.
Sparks Tribune, Feb. 2, 2006

Impeach President Bush

President Bush should be impeached, convicted and removed from office. Here is why:
• He launched an unprovoked, unilateral, uncalled for war in Iraq.
• He lied to the American people with bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Iraqi ties to al-Qaida. His minions peddled lies about mushroom clouds and chemical weapons. (The more things change the more they remain the same. Congressman Lincoln in 1848 said President Polk’s Mexican War was “from beginning to end the sheerest deception.”)
• Bush cooked the intelligence books to fit his predetermined war.
• He authorized the National Security Agency to snoop illegally on emails and phone calls without getting a warrant, trashing the Fourth Amendment and evoking the totalitarian horrors of Big Brother.
• He authorized torture contrary to all the lofty principles of the nation. He endorses the notorious torture school at Fort Benning, Georgia.
• He masked torture by rendition--outsourcing it--to countries that do not have the scruples America espouses.
• He sanctioned secret CIA prisons--torture chambers--in Eastern Europe.
• He ordered the Google search firm to hand over millions of records, a gross invasion of privacy.
• He has promulgated a pernicious and unconstitutional doctrine of a “signing statement,” declaring that the law is what he says it is rather than what Congress says it is. Congress passed an anti-torture proviso banning degrading and inhumane treatment of prisoners. But Bush proclaimed in a signing statement that he could ignore the law.
• He has the FBI and NSA badgering peace groups, reaching the absurdity of calling Quakers in Florida a threat because they protested military recruiting in high schools.
• He pushed the Patriot Act with its unconstitutional provisos for “sneak and peek” searches of homes, demands for business and personal records, and library and bookstore records of what people are reading.
• He denies due process to scores of prisoners held for years without charge. He claims he has the right to imprison without trial anyone he labels an “enemy combatant.”
• He has a long record of lies and manipulations, deceptions and distortions. His credibility has vanished.
• He disdains the whole system of checks and balances, the hallmark of U.S. democracy.
• He orders monitoring of defense lawyers, scholars, journalists and political activists with nonterrorist links to the Middle East.
In brief, he unconstitutionally usurped power in his so-called fight--and fearmongering--since 9/11. America is supposed to be a democracy not an absolute monarchy. He is President Bush, not King Bush. Yet in his view, as commander in chief he can invade Iran and order the assassination of whomever he pleases.
Bush’s dumping of the Constitution recalls the prescient novel by Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here,” published in 1935. The book warns of a fascist dictatorship in America. And Bush also reminds you of President Eisenhower’s farewell address in 1961 warning about the military-industrial complex: “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”
Non-impeachable offenses abound in the terrible Bush presidency with its daily outrages.
• He mixes theology with ideology contrary to the nation’s historic separation of church and state. He has substituted religious fundamentalism for hard science, using a zealous faith rather than reason.
• Right-wing politics are everything to him, facts nothing. He says dissent from his policies abets terrorists, making it treason to reason.
• His administration buys favorable news coverage of education in America and pays for propaganda in the Iraqi press…It says the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the United States…His IRS hunts down poor people while not bothering the fat cats…He insists on immoral tax cuts for the wealthy.
• He repeatedly wants to investigate the leakers rather than address the damaging information they reveal. He calls it shameful that the Times broke the story about NSA domestic spying.
• Under Bush’s terribly secretive administration, Vice President Cheney met behind closed doors with oil executives to set energy policy. The public is not entitled to that information, Cheney loftily declares…Bush has allowed his GOP epigones to slime Vietnam veterans like Max Cleland, John Kerry and John Murtha.
The long bill of indictment is sufficient reason to force Bush from office. He has already done great harm to America at home and destroyed its credibility abroad. Impeachment would stop him from doing further harm and eroding still further America’s worldwide moral standing.
Sparks Tribune, Jan. 26, 2006