Wednesday, December 31, 2014


By Patrick

Another year is over. 2014 was eventful, and for domestic US politics, it was not a good year. The next year certainly will be challenging in this respect. Personally, we know that our readers and friends had some very positive experiences, and also some very tragic losses. Life is a journey, in which we have to find ourselves, and find a meaning as well. When the people who were our partners on this journey suddenly disappear, we should remember the times of joy and happiness we had with them, and this is how they would have liked it.

Kathleen and I had a nice break over the Christmas holidays so far, and there was much time for reflection. Living in a little care-free paradise across the ocean, in which most of the problems which we discuss here on our forum on a daily basis virtually do not exist, there is much to think about. Unity, common respect, decency, kindness - these are some of the elements that a society desperately needs, as well as the conviction that rules within a Democracy should not be abused, or altered arbitrarily, just so that one side gets an unfair advantage. Let's hope that the balance of power within the USA does not swing even more towards the rich, because this is in my view the most destructive development in the USA these days.

In accordance with the contemplative tone of this post, I present some winter photos which I took in Germany:

We all leave our little footprints in life:

Finally, switching to a different topic, it is well worth to remember one thing: Gun control works. The tragedies which occur on a daily basis in the USA are almost all preventable. In one of the finest segments of the "Daily Show" ever made, John Oliver got to the bottom of this subject. Maybe you haven't seen these three clips so far - they should be revisited over and over again, and there is actually not much else to say on this subject. Pure brilliance!




We wish you all a happy, 
healthy and wonderful 2015!

Saturday, December 20, 2014


Glasgow, taken in December 2013 (click to enlarge!)

By Patrick

Another year has nearly finished again! Christmas is awaiting us. For many people, the best days of the year. It also is a time for reflection. We look back at a year filled with joy and tragedy, too much tragedy, unfortunately, and we feel with others who lost loved ones. We cannot change the world, but we should also not bury our heads in the sand. We can choose to be stupid, or to be educated.

So the team from Politicalgates wishes our readers a happy, joyful and merry Christmas!

May all your wishes become true.

In order to get into the Christmas spirit, here are some nice video clips.

"Peace on Earth", classic MGM Christmas cartoon from 1939:

George Harrison - Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth):

The "Nutcracker" as a cartoon:

"Yes Minister" Christmas sketch 1982, with Nigel Hawthorne:

Finally, if this was not enough Christmas for you yet, here is the ulimate clip: Christmas Carols and Victorian Christmas postcards. If this does not put you in the Christmas spirit, nothing will! ;-)

You are lucky that the football World Championship 2014 has nothing to do with Christmas, or I just would have posted clips from that. The Germans got their Christmas present already in July! Lucky, lucky Germans! :-)

However, this post would not be complete without the John Lewis Christmas advert 2014, which is a must-see if there ever was a must-see, and I am sure that more of 21 millions viewer on Youtube agree:

So, have a wonderful Christmas, everybody!

Don't forget to comment, message and tweet a lot, about everything. It's the season! :-)

Many thanks to our reader disqusux for the final picture:



I had to update this post with the Sainsbury's Christmas 2014 advert, after I discovered it - see for yourself, it features the famous "Christmas truce" from 1914, very moving indeed:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court Justice from hell, falsely claims in speech that the "US Constitution does not contravene torture" - and says other very silly things as well, as usual

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: Incompetence personified

By Patrick

If there was a TV-program called "America's Worst Judges", then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia would be the most convincing participant, no doubt about it. It is already assured that his name will live in infamy, due to uncountable awful or even horrifying remarks and decisions. But there is always a way to make things even worse, this Supreme Court Justice from hell apparently thought. While virtually everybody around the world and in the USA (excluding the lovers of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes) is deeply shocked about the contents of the recently published US Senate torture report, Justice Scalia apparently does not believe that torture is such a big deal, and now said that he could find nothing in the US Constitution that contravenes torture.

The Associated Press reports:

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is joining the debate over the Senate's torture report by saying it's hard to rule out the use of extreme measures to extract information if millions of lives were threatened.

Scalia told a Swiss broadcast network that American and European liberals who say such tactics may never be used are being self-righteous.

The 78-year-old justice said he doesn't "think it's so clear at all," especially if interrogators were trying to find a ticking nuclear bomb. Scalia has made similar comments in the past, but he renewed his remarks on Wednesday in an interview with Radio Television Suisse, a day after the release of the Senate report detailing the CIA's harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists. RTS aired the interview on Friday.

"Listen, I think it's very facile for people to say, 'Oh, torture is terrible.' You posit the situation where a person that you know for sure knows the location of a nuclear bomb that has been planted in Los Angeles and will kill millions of people. You think it's an easy question? You think it's clear that you cannot use extreme measures to get that information out of that person?" Scalia said.

Scalia also said that while there are U.S. laws against torture, nothing in the Constitution appears to prohibit harsh treatment of suspected terrorists. "I don't know what article of the Constitution that would contravene," he said. Scalia spent a college semester in Switzerland at the University of Fribourg.

Oh, so it's all fine then! There are unnamed "U.S. laws", but the constitution is OK with torture, right? Well, thanks for clearing that up, Justice Scalia. Finally, everyone involved doesn't need to have a bad conscience any more.

You really need to be a brain-dead teabagger to believe this. For those people who are not totally brainwashed or completely incapable of independent thinking, the evidence to the contrary is not difficult to find, and you can bet that every law student would fail his exam if he or she claimed that Justice Scalia was correct. Because such a statement is nothing more than a very dangerous distortion of the Constitution.

Let's for example take a look at the "U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment" (commonly known as the "United Nations Convention against Torture"). The USA ratified the Convention in 1994.

The ratification of this Convention makes it a "treaty" according to the US Constitution's Supremacy Clause [Article VI, Clause 2]. These treaties are one of the three things that are the supreme law of the land. The other two are the Constitution itself and federal laws (see also here).

In Article one of the U.N. Convention, torture is clearly defined as:

Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Which of course fully covers the actions of the CIA and their money-grubbing as well as conscience-free contractors during the "enhanced interrogations" as described in the US Senate torture report.

But is Justice Scalia still right? It's not in the Constitution, right? It might be the "supreme law of the land", but hey, the Constitution itself doesn't talk about torture?

A Supreme Court Justice should know that constitutional matters are not that easy, but when Justice Scalia was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the Supreme Court in 1986, I very much doubt that his professional skills as a lawyer played the major role. So it is not surprising, but still pretty shocking, that Scalia comes across as the "Dumb of Dumber" of the Supreme Court.

Coming from a country where Supreme Court Justices are actually chosen due to their outstanding legal skills in the first place (political considerations come second), which is interesting because the German Constitutional Court was modeled after the US Supreme Court after WWII, I can just continue to scratch my head about the fact that US politicians have no problem to erode their democratic system by appointing incompetent candidates to the Supreme Court, who are obviously chosen for their political persuasions in the first place, or only for their political persuasions. When I say "US politicians", I do talk about Republicans in the first place, of course, as for example President Obama made great choices when it came to the selection of candidates for the Supreme Court.

During my own legal education in Germany, I personally met two German Supreme Court Justices in seminars, and can confirm that the lawyers who are chosen for the court are truly excellent. When appointing the judges, who are serving a 12-year-term, the politicians look for the best and brightest. The reputation of the German Constitutional Court has been very high throughout the decades, and the Court is responsible for many landmark decisions, which helped to establish a free and liberal political system. I can safely say that appointing an idiot like Scalia to the Court would be absolutely inconceivable in Germany and has so far never happened since the Court was established after WWII. Also, I am not aware that politicians in Germany have ever tried to abuse the German Constitutional Court for political gain.

But back to Scalia's claim! We still haven't fully refuted it yet, right? Well, we are in luck! Because when it comes to United Nations Convention against Torture, each country had the opportunity to submit a detailed report. The USA also submitted such a very extensive and detailed report, written in October 1999, and explained in detail why torture is prohibited by the US Constitution! Let's take a look and enlighten ourselves, even though there is apparently no hope left with Justice Scalia!


1. The Government of the United States of America welcomes the opportunity to report to the Committee against Torture on measures giving effect to its undertakings under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in accordance with article 19 thereof. The organization of this initial report follows the revised General Guidelines of the Committee against Torture regarding the form and content of initial reports to be submitted by States parties (CAT/C/4/Rev.2).

2. This report has been prepared by the U.S. Department of State with extensive assistance from the Department of Justice and other relevant departments and agencies of the Federal Government. Substantial contributions were also solicited and received from interested non-governmental organizations, academics and private citizens. The report covers the situation in the United States and the measures taken to give effect to the Convention through September 1999.

3. The United States ratified the Convention against Torture in October 1994, and the Convention entered into force for the United States on 20 November 1994. In its instrument of ratification (deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations on 21 October 1994), the United States made a declaration pursuant to article 21, paragraph 1, recognizing the competence of the Committee against Torture, on a reciprocal basis, to receive and consider a State party’s claims that another State party is not fulfilling its obligations under the Convention. The United States also conditioned its ratification on two reservations and a number of interpretive understandings; these are included at annex I and discussed at the relevant portions of this report.

4. In 1992 the United States became a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, some provisions of which may be considered to have wider application than those of the Convention against Torture. The initial United States report under the Covenant, which provides general information related to United States compliance with and implementation of obligations under the Covenant, was submitted to the Human Rights Committee in July 1994 (see HRI/CORE/1/Add.49 and CCPR/C/81/Add.4). The United States also ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination at the same time as it ratified the Convention against Torture. In February 1995 the United States signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

5. The United States has long been a vigorous supporter of the international fight against torture. United States representatives participated actively in the formulation of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Being Subjected to Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted in 1975, and in the negotiation of the Convention against Torture. The United States continues to be the largest donor to the United Nations Voluntary Fund For Victims of Torture, having contributed over $12.6 million as of August 1999. The United States Government pursues allegations of torture by other governments as an integral part of its overall human rights policy, highlighting such issues in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Conditions.

6. Torture is prohibited by law throughout the United States. It is categorically denounced as a matter of policy and as a tool of state authority. Every act constituting torture under the Convention constitutes a criminal offence under the law of the United States. No official of the Government, federal, state or local, civilian or military, is authorized to commit or to instruct anyone else to commit torture. Nor may any official condone or tolerate torture in any form. No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture. United States law contains no provision permitting otherwise prohibited acts of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to be employed on grounds of exigent circumstances (for example, during a “state of public emergency”) or on orders from a superior officer or public authority, and the protective mechanisms of an independent judiciary are not subject to suspension. The United States is committed to the full and effective implementation of its obligations under the Convention throughout its territory.

That sounds already quite good, doesn't it? I especially like this sentence:

"No exceptional circumstances may be invoked as a justification of torture. "

This was of course before the Bush-cabal tried to bend and distort the applicable laws.

If this was not clear enough yet for Justice Scalia, he is in luck, because there is much more - just another short excerpt from this extremely interesting document:

47. In 1994, Congress enacted a new federal law to implement the requirements of the Convention against Torture relating to acts of torture committed outside United States territory. This law, which is codified at 18 U.S.C. § 2340 et seq., extends United States criminal jurisdiction over any act of (or attempt to commit) torture outside the United States by a United States national or by an alleged offender present in the United States regardless of his or her nationality. The statute adopts the Convention’s definition of torture, consistent with the terms of United States ratification. It permits the criminal prosecution of alleged torturers in federal courts in specified circumstances.

48. Any act falling within the Convention’s definition is clearly illegal and prosecutable everywhere in the country. Because existing criminal law was determined to be adequate to fulfil the Convention’s prohibitory obligations, and in deference to the federal-state relationship, it was decided at the time of ratification not to propose enactment of an omnibus implementing statute for the Convention or to adopt a single federal crime of torture.

49. Torture has always been proscribed by the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments”. This Amendment is directly applicable to actions of the Federal Government and, through the Fourteenth Amendment, to those of the constituent states. See Robinson v. California, 370 U.S. 660, reh’g den. 371 U.S. 905 (1962); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976). While the constitutional and statutory law of the individual states in some cases offers more extensive or more specific protections, the protections of the right to life and liberty, personal freedom and physical integrity found in the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution provide a nationwide standard of treatment beneath which no governmental entity may fall. The constitutional nature of this protection means that it applies to the actions of officials throughout the United States at all levels of government; all individuals enjoy protection under the Constitution, regardless of nationality or citizenship.

50. Every state constitution also contains detailed guarantees of individual liberties, in most cases paralleling the protections set forth in the federal bill of rights. For example, nearly all state constitutions expressly forbid cruel and unusual punishment (including acts constituting “torture”) and guarantee due process protections no less stringent than those in the federal Constitution. The constitutions of 33 states also contain specific protections against unreasonable searches and seizures; only two state constitutions lack explicit protection against self-incrimination in criminal cases; and only five lack double jeopardy clauses. Even in such cases, however, defendants are not deprived of the protections afforded by the federal Constitution: United States constitutional protections are applicable throughout the United States, and the constitutional due process provision is broadly construed by the courts. In some cases, state law guarantees rights not explicitly recognized by the federal Constitution (such as privacy, education or access to courts), the protections afforded by state law sometimes exceeds those required by the federal Constitution.


112. Other constitutional provisions. Because the Eighth Amendment by its terms applies to “punishments”, courts have looked to other constitutional provisions, in particular the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures and the due process requirements of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, to preclude the abuse or ill-treatment of individuals in other custodial circumstances. These constitutional protections are applicable and enforced at all levels of government.


114. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that “[n]o State [shall] deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law”. The Fifth Amendment applies to the Federal Government and similarly provides that no person shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law”. The principle of due process provides a broad and flexible measure of protection against abuse of state power. The due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments may reach actions that are technically outside Eighth Amendment purview, such as excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel during the investigative or pre-trial stages. Denial of pre-trial release by itself may implicate substantive and procedural due process concerns. United States v. Salerno, 481 U.S. 739 (1987).

115. Although the Eighth Amendment does not apply to “pre-trial detainees”, i.e., persons lawfully arrested but not yet convicted and sentenced, the courts have ruled that such individuals enjoy equivalent protection under the Fourteenth Amendment with regard to conditions of detention. “[S]tates may not impose on pre-trial detainees conditions that would violate a convicted person’s Eighth Amendment rights.” Hamm v. DeKalb County, 774 F.2d 1567, 1573-74 (11th Cir. 1985), cert. denied 475 U.S. 1096 (1986). See also Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) (the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a pre-trial detainee from the use of force that amounts to punishment); Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520 (1979); Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651 (1977). In Lancaster v. Monroe County, Ala., 116 F.3d 1419 (11th Cir. 1997), a federal court of appeal stated that the minimum standard of medical care owed to a pre-trial detainee under the Fourteenth Amendment is the same as that required under the Eighth Amendment for a convicted prisoner.

Unless one is smitten with total ignorance, or is just plain malicious, there is simply no way to claim that the US Constitution is "silent" about torture.

This has of course long been acknowledged in the media as well. In an editorial, the Washington Post for example already wrote in 2005:

Interpreting the Constitution as permitting waterboarding in secret prisons is, to most experts outside the administration, legally outrageous and politically untenable. It means that the Bush administration accepts, in principle, that the FBI may use waterboarding, painful stress positions, forced nudity and other methods on Americans, in American prisons, "in certain circumstances." That's why the Justice Department has classified its memos on the subject and kept its conclusions secret. That's why President Bush and Vice President Cheney have worked so hard to stop the McCain amendment, which would pave the way for legal challenges to their interpretation. They want to give themselves the authority to commit human rights abuses without having to explain or justify themselves to the public, the world -- or an impartial court.

By the way, the United Kingdom in contrast does not even have a written constitution. According to Justice Scalia's logic, virtually everything would be constitutionally permitted then, as there clearly is "nothing" in there! Not even a piece of paper! Somebody should quickly tell the UK politicians, I am sure they will be thrilled.


Justice Scalia said in this interview several other outrageous things, as it is obviously his very own "personal style." The darling of the teabaggers strikes again, the AP report is actually very detailed, which is good to see:

The 30-minute interview touched on a range of topics, including the financing of political campaigns, the death penalty and gay marriage, about which Scalia said he should not comment because it is likely the court soon will have the issue before it. Asked about money and U.S. elections, Scalia scoffed that "women may pay more each year to buy cosmetics" than is spent on local, state and federal elections combined.

Women spend more money on cosmetics!! What an ingenious argument!

Dear US Republicans - you might think you are winning right now, but I don't think it will end well. Your lot is simply too stupid for your own good. All the dirty tricks and brainwashing won't help. The dark side will always be the loser in the end.

Have a nice weekend, everybody!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Enough is enough: Stop with the special legal protections for US police forces when they kill or assault citizens - The same self-defence rules should apply to everybody! Plus: The shockingly bad standards of conduct, training and supervision in many US police forces

By Patrick

This is a post I was a bit hesitant to write. Not out of laziness, haha, but because I have looked at so much "stuff" regarding this issue before, and have seen so many horrible things on the internet about police brutality in the USA, for example video clips which are hard to bear, that I really was tempted to turn my eyes away. Also, I live in a country where police brutality is not even an issue. The whole German police force for example fired 85 bullets against people in total in the year 2012, which some US police officers easily managed to do in just one single incident. But don't be surprised if US cops fire up to 600 bullets in a single incident, apparently in order to make sure that absolutely everyone is really dead, including the hostage in this case as well.

Although there are of course single acts of police brutality each year in Germany as well, it is certainly not a widespread problem. Nobody here in Germany is "afraid" of the police in daily encounters, because there is just no reason for it. Also, the police forces in Germany are very well trained and educated. I am not saying that everything is perfect in this respect, no, there will always be "overzealous" or even bad policemen who might be too aggressive, or rude, but there is absolutely no indication that this is a common problem in Germany. Therefore, police misconduct is not a problem I myself encounter in daily life.

However, the problem of police brutality in the USA, especially the problem of US police officers killing citizens in cases where there is no apparent "self-defence situation" has become so horrifying, so shocking, so widespread, that it is just impossible to turn a blind eye. As bloggers we should try to make our modest contribution in order to tackle the issue.

The problem is complicated. There are also quite a lot of police officers killed "in the line of duty" each year in the USA. Wikipedia lists 103 deaths of US policemen so far for 2014, with varies causes, for example gunfire and accidents, a number of deaths which is of course far too high, and should not be accepted as "normal." However, journalists and bloggers reported that the statistics are particularly appalling when one looks in the other direction. It was for example reported in 2013 that from September 9, 2001 until November 2013, no less than 5000 citizens are believed to have been killed by US police forces within this time frame, although this is partially an estimate.

As the recent weeks have shown, police officers in the USA who kill citizens "in the line of duty" virtually never have to fear legal consequences, however shocking or unnecessary the killing might have been. It is not true however that every single killing by a police officer has no legal consequences. Yesterday, the BBC published an article in which they reported that they found a few cases where US police officers were actually charged. But in the very rare event of such a case going to court, an accused police officer does not lose certain privileges, as the BBC notes:

And once a case goes to court, and even a conviction, the tendency to give police officers every benefit appears to extend to the sentencing as well.

After his conviction, Blackwelder was given five years probation for the crime. He had faced up to 20 years based on the charge.

So what is going on here? What is the general problem? Well, there certainly exist lots of different problems, and to mention them all would be impossible in just one post.

However, one fact seems to be more than obvious, if not proven:

The issue of awful policing is not confined to a few police forces, but exists in many cities, in many police forces. It seems to be rooted in the system.

From the Huffington Post:

The various reports by the Department of Justice that the Huffington Post is quoting from read like reports from some third world country. There really is no nicer way to put it. The reports are absolutely frightening, and they clearly show that the problems have their roots in the system: The standards of training and supervision within the police forces are often shockingly bad.

One starts to wonder: Who actually supervises the local police forces on a regular basis? Who ensures that the police is properly trained? Nobody?

For example, from the 2014 report about the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) - read the PDF:

The Huffington Post quotes from further reports, where the Department of Justice reviewed the conduct of other police forces, and the results are equally terrible:

- New Orleans Police Department

- Newark Police Department

- Portland Police Bureau

- Seattle Police Department

The problems which are being mentioned in the reports often sound very similar. From the report about the Seattle Police Department:

In addition, just a few days ago, another report was published, about Cleveland Police Department, the police force which was responsible for killing 12-year-old Tamir Rice. The findings do not really come as a surprise, in light of the other reports, as the findings again sound very familiar indeed:

Excerpt from the report:

Why are so many police forces in the USA in such a terrible state, I would like to ask?

The police should aim to recruit the best and brightest, right? After all, you do not want incompetent police officers to make quick decisions about life and death, concerning US citizens, as well as other people?

This is what we would like to think, however there are reports which claim that exactly the opposite is the case:

Mr. Robert Jordan of New London, Conn. wanted to become a cop. The first step in that jurisdiction is for applicants to take a Wonderlic test. Many Americans have heard of this exam because NFL prospects must take it as part of the draft process.

Jordan took the test on March 16, 1996 and scored a 33 (out of 50). He was not allowed to move on to the next stage of the application process because he scored too high on the test. The City of New London defended its policy, saying Jordan scored too far above the “normative median” of 21 and would “get bored” with the job and quit. The average NFL player also scores around 20 on the test, according to Bleacher Report.

Mr. Jordan filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. The district court dismissed the case, ruling that New London’s policy is “rational.” The U.S. Second Circuit Court Of Appeals affirmed. In other words, it is legal for police departments to purposely hire the least intelligent individuals they can find. (...)

A 2010 Michigan State University study found that cops with a two or four-year degree resorted to using force 56 percent of the time, while those with only a GED or high school diploma used force 68 percent of the time. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found in 2003 that 83 percent of U.S. police agencies require cops only to have a GED or high school diploma, and only one percent require a four-year college degree.

You have to be joking...!

Another issue:

The standards of training and conduct are one thing - and then there are also the actual "policies" which are being enforced. How good are they? Do they work?

Matt Taibbi writes in Rolling Stone about the controversial "Broken Windows" strategy, which in reality causes many more problems than it supposedly solves, when being enforced vigorously, as shown in the tragic case of Eric Garner:

The Garner case was a perfect symbol of everything that's wrong with the proactive police tactics that are now baseline policy in most inner cities. Police surrounded the 43-year-old Garner after he broke up a fight. The officers who responded to that call then decided to get in Garner's face for the preposterous crime of selling "loosies," i.e. single cigarettes from a pack.

When the police announced that they were taking him in to run him for the illegal tobacco sale, Garner balked and demanded to be left alone. A few minutes later he was in a choke hold, gasping "I can't breathe," and en route to fatal cardiac arrest.

On the tape you can actually hear the echo of Garner's years of experience with Broken Windows-style policing, a strategy based on a never-ending stream of small intrusive confrontations between police and residents in target neighborhoods.

The ostensible goal of Broken Windows is to quickly and efficiently weed out people with guns or outstanding warrants. You flood neighborhoods with police, you stop people for anything and everything and demand to see IDs, and before long you've both amassed mountains of intelligence about who hangs with whom, and made it genuinely difficult for fugitives and gunwielders to walk around unmolested.

You can make the argument that the policies work, as multiple studies have cited "hot spot" policing as a cause of urban crime-rate declines (other studies disagree, but let's stipulate).

But the psychic impact of these policies on the massive pool of everyone else in the target neighborhoods is a rising sense of being seriously pissed off. They're tired of being manhandled and searched once a week or more for riding bikes the wrong way down the sidewalk (about 25,000 summonses a year here in New York), smoking in the wrong spot, selling loosies, or just "obstructing pedestrian traffic," a.k.a. walking while black.

This is exactly what you hear Eric Garner complaining about in the last moments of his life. "Every time you see me, you want to mess with me," he says. "It stops today!"

Matt Taibbi adds:

This policy of constantly badgering people for trifles generates bloodcurdling anger in "hot spot" neighborhoods with industrial efficiency. And then something like the Garner case happens and it all comes into relief. Six armed police officers tackling and killing a man for selling a 75-cent cigarette.

That was economic regulation turned lethal, a situation made all the more ridiculous by the fact that we no longer prosecute the countless serious economic crimes committed in this same city. A ferry ride away from Staten Island, on Wall Street, the pure unmolested freedom to fleece whoever you want is considered the sacred birthright of every rake with a briefcase.

If Lloyd Blankfein or Jamie Dimon had come up with the concept of selling loosies, they'd go to their graves defending it as free economic expression that "creates liquidity" and should never be regulated.

Taking it one step further, if Eric Garner had been selling naked credit default swaps instead of cigarettes – if in other words he'd set up a bookmaking operation in which passersby could bet on whether people made their home mortgage payments or companies paid off their bonds – the police by virtue of a federal law called the Commodity Futures Modernization Act would have been barred from even approaching him.

There were more cops surrounding Eric Garner on a Staten Island street this past July 17th then there were surrounding all of AIG during the period when the company was making the toxic bets that nearly destroyed the world economy years ago. Back then AIG's regulator, the OTS, had just one insurance expert on staff, policing a company with over 180,000 employees.

This is the crooked math that's going to crash American law enforcement if policies aren't changed. We flood poor minority neighborhoods with police and tell unwitting officers to aggressively pursue an interventionist strategy that sounds like good solid policing in a vacuum.

Finally, I would highlight one particular, tragic case which is very well documented, from 2013. This case also shows that the victims of "excessive police force" are of course not always black, and this case again exposes the shocking incompetence so often observed within US police forces these days.

The victim in this case was David Silva from Bakersfield, California, here seen with his wife and his four children, who now have to spend their lives without him:

This basically a "textbook case" of what can go wrong if incompetent, poorly trained police officers are at work - from the local news:

Dad who died during arrest 'begged for his life'; witness videos seized

Blood stains are still visible on the sidewalk at the corner of Flower Street and Palm Drive, where a Bakersfield man struggled with as many as nine officers and later died this week.

David Sal Silva, 33 and the father of four young children, died early Wednesday morning after deputies say he fought with them and CHP officers who'd responded to a report of a possibly intoxicated man outside Kern Medical Center.

The question on everyone's mind: Why hasn't video footage of Silva been released?

Debate erupts over cell phone video of Silva beating by officers. Witness: "I can still hear him."

The Kern County Sheriff's Office says Silva resisted, a canine was deployed, more law enforcement arrived, batons were used and the man later had trouble breathing. He was taken to KMC, where he died. An autopsy was slated for Thursday, but no results have been released.

Some witnesses apparently took cellphone video of the incident but deputies moved quickly to seize the phones. The Sheriff's Office, after releasing a statement Wednesday and naming its officers Thursday, declined all further comment.

People who say they witnessed the incident as well as Silva's family members described a scene in which deputies essentially were beating a helpless man to death. They were indignant that cellphone video had been taken away by deputies.

"My brother spent the last eight minutes of his life pleading, begging for his life," said Christopher Silva, 31, brother of the dead man. He said he's talked to witnesses but did not see the incident himself.

At about midnight, Ruben Ceballos, 19,was awakened by screams and loud banging noises outside his home. He said he ran to the left side of his house to find out who was causing the ruckus.

"When I got outside I saw two officers beating a man with batons and they were hitting his head so every time they would swing, I could hear the blows to his head," Ceballos said.

Silva was on the ground screaming for help, but officers continued to beat him, Ceballos said.

After several minutes, Ceballos said, Silva stopped screaming and was no longer responsive.

"His body was just lying on the street and before the ambulance arrived one of the officers performed CPR on him and another one used a flashlight on his eyes but I'm sure he was already dead," Ceballos said.

However, there is not just this newspaper report. There is also the following gripping, shocking TV-report, which simply has to be seen and gives this case another dimension, which goes far beyond a printed report in the newspaper:

We should not forget that behind the statistics are these unbearably tragic cases - and very many of them.

Things have to change.

My opinion:

Police officers should not have special legal protections, when it comes to killing and assault.

The same laws should apply to everybody. When a police officer for example kills somebody, then a court, a prosecutor should apply the laws which also apply to other citizens. That is how it for example works in Germany, and it works very well, there are no problems with this concept at all. In addition, this most likely is one of the main reasons why for example German police in 2012 only killed six people in total - in a country with 80 million citizens.

Why should police officers have the right to kill somebody, if it is not in self-defence?

I don't know if this concept sounds too radical. I do not believe it is, and it works in other countries.

All I know is that these kind of headlines are totally unacceptable:

Things have to change, or they will likely get much, much worse.

Have a good weekend, everybody!



One of the first steps in trying to contain police brutality in the USA could be improving the training standards. As the reviews of the Department of Justice showed, there apparently exist huge problems in this respect all over the country, and significant differences between the police forces. In the USA, each police force seems to have their very own rules and standards regarding the training of police recruits. While it is possible to find police forces where recruits only have to train for 14 weeks, it was reported that the average training time for a police recruit is about 19 weeks. It some cases, training can be up to six months, but this seems to be the exception.

Afterwards, a police officer in the USA then usually enters into a probationary period, and this seems to vary a lot as well, depending on the police force, from several months up to 18 months. From what I have read, the average there seems to be about one year.

I can only compare this with the rules in my own country, and it is quite striking to me that police training in Germany is not only much more "standardized", but also significantly longer. In Germany, the individual states ("Länder") control the local police forces, but there seem to be few differences from state to state. I found an English presentation from the German Police University, which is a joint institution for all police forces, where an overview is given. A police recruit in Germany will undergo training for 2 1/2 years, and in order to rise up the ranks, candidates need to complete Bachelor and Master courses at the state police academies or the Police University. This system aims to ensure a high overall standard of education with the German police forces.

Some slides from this presentation:

From a different presentation (Berlin School of Economics and Law):

Such a system can provide high unified police standards all over the country.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Ferguson-killer Darren Wilson reportedly received a "mid-to-high six figure sum" for his interview with ABC News / Daily Mail reports that he now has a "1$ million war chest" - PLUS: The perverted Grand Jury process in the Ferguson case

Darren Wilson: Killing does pay...a lot!

By Patrick

There is hardly any good news in US politics these days. The events in Ferguson have split the already deeply divided country even further, and justice and peace are nowhere to be seen. At least not when we look at current events.

Adding to the injustice of rigging the grand jury process in order to avoid a trial for killer Darren Wilson (for more about this, see below), is the complete lack of morals. I am talking about the mainstream media, which reportedly got into a bidding war for having an interview with Darren Wilson. An independent news website, and interestingly, it is a right-wing news website, reports that Darren Wilson received a "mid-to-high six figure sum" for giving the interview to George Stephanopoulos from ABC News:

A NBC source with knowledge of the #DarrenWilson interview talks said that ABC offered to pay “mid-to-high” six figures for the interview.

The source did not say an exact figure because NBC stopped bidding for it after ABC upped the ante.

While there is no independent confirmation for this report, it appears very believable. It is certainly not uncommon at all to be paid big bucks for these kind of media appearances. Even Sarah and Bristol Palin received already $ 100,000 for appearing in a cover story for In Touch Weekly in 2010, as an example.

In addition, this reported fact about the money paid to Darren Wilson also ties in with a new report by the Daily Mail, in which the paper reports that Darren Wilson now has a "1$ million" war chest, which at least $ 500,000 coming from donations.

The message that this payment to Darren Wilson sends to the USA and the rest of the world is terrible, and it paints the US society as a place where morals have little or no place. To say that the killing of Michael Brown was "controversial" would be a huge understatement. As is apparent for anyone with a functioning brain not impaired by the relentless right-wing propaganda, the killing itself as well as the following judicial process has been a huge scandal.

The Grand Jury proceedings made a mockery of the established rules. "Think Progress" quotes Supreme Court Justice Scalia in a ruling from 1992:

It is the grand jury’s function not ‘to enquire … upon what foundation [the charge may be] denied,’ or otherwise to try the suspect’s defenses, but only to examine ‘upon what foundation [the charge] is made’ by the prosecutor. Respublica v. Shaffer, 1 Dall. 236 (O. T. Phila. 1788); see also F. Wharton, Criminal Pleading and Practice § 360, pp. 248-249 (8th ed. 1880). As a consequence, neither in this country nor in England has the suspect under investigation by the grand jury ever been thought to have a right to testify or to have exculpatory evidence presented.

One immediately can spot the problem, and one does not have to be a lawyer in order to understand that in this case, the traditional Grand Jury process was perverted by purpose. The "Grand Jury" was promoted a full jury, deliberating in secret.

Legal experts agree:

But the presentation of all of the evidence to the grand jury struck other legal experts as inappropriate.

“[McCulloch] put the grand jury in the role of being a trier of fact, which is not its role,” Cohn said. “The grand jury was put in the position of basically being a jury, but in a one-sided, closed proceeding. The only people inside the grand jury room are the grand jury and prosecutors.”

In contrast, she said, “In a trial, there are lawyers on both sides, witnesses, and the evidence is presented in an adversarial way.”

Making the grand jury weigh evidence and question witnesses also shrouded that process in secrecy—a factor that led to the “rampant speculation” McCulloch criticized in Monday’s night press conference, McGraugh said.

“People could do nothing but speculate because he was using a secret grand jury proceeding,” she said. “He didn’t acknowledge that people had to speculate as a result of his own actions.”

She added that even within the realm of grand jury proceedings, the case spoke to a lack of “equal treatment under law.”

“The law was not applied to Officer Wilson the same way it would be applied to someone who wasn’t a police officer,” said McGraugh, who previously worked as a trial attorney and spent eight years at the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office. “If my client killed someone tomorrow and claimed it was in self-defense, he would be arrested and required to post bond while awaiting a grand jury decision. Then, the prosecutor would not be allowed to bring both sides of the story into the building.”

This sets a very dangerous precedent. Ignoring the "rule of law" is the first step into a lawless society - a society in which the rich and powerful decide themselves how the laws should be interpreted, and in which they decide that existing rules can be ignored, if necessary.

This is one step further towards an authoritarian system. In the USA, there seem to be few people able to imagine that society could gradually slip towards authoritarian rule. According to common US belief (correct me if I am wrong), "good" always wins in the end, always eventually triumphs over evil. A society in which "evil" reigns seems incredibly hard to imagine. People are optimistic that the "system" is going to work properly in the end.

But what if the system can be perverted, without any consequences?

In this context, just yesterday, I came across an interesting little "fun fact" which at first does not seem to be terribly important, but which in my view strongly supports my opinion that the belief that "good" has to triumph in the end is firmly embedded in the American psyche, and is also very hard to ignore.

Many of you will remember the excellent movie "Brazil", made in 1985, a very dark satire in which former "Monty Python" member Terry Gilliam shows a world under dictatorial rule and with perverted morals. It is available on Youtube in low quality HERE.

Now, what is significant regarding this movie? It is 132 minutes long, in its original version, and one if its most important messages is that it actually does NOT have a "Happy End." Well, if you didn't already know, I think you can guess what comes now. A world under dictatorial rule, a dark satire, and no "Happy End"? Not for Americans!! Deciding that Americans should not be bothered with such a rather unpleasant storyline, Universal studios had other ideas:

Sidney Sheinberg, the president of Universal studios had taken an interest in BRAZIL -- Sheinberg "liked many parts of BRAZIL, and thought there were many moments of bravura filmmaking," but what Sheinberg saw lacking was commercial potential. The cure for this, in Sheinberg's eyes was a re-edit, one that took the various parts of BRAZIL that were commercially viable, namely Sam's pursuit of his dream girl, the stunning set design and Gilliam's off-beat style of humor, while removing those things that were not, namely the film's dark ending, the overtones of the dehumanizing effects of the government, and Michael Kamen's witty but dark orchestral score. (...)

Ultimately, this edit subverted the entire point of BRAZIL, making the movie a futuristic fairy tale about a man's quest for a dream woman, with a lot of action and a sub-plot about terrorism thrown in. Gilliam's original message of dehumanization and technology gone wrong was subverted by Scheinberg's edit, which sent the message that if you play the game and stay a good little cog in the machine, that one day you'll end up with your dreams come true.

Yes, stay a good little cog, and keep on dreaming.

In case of the "Ferguson Grand Jury", the system failed. We can only hope that this was a single incident. But in my opinion, the system failed again when Darren Wilson received hundreds-of-thousands of dollars for giving an interview about the killing. Society should be guided not just by laws, but also by morals. Darren Wilson clearly does not deserve to become rich due to the fact that he shot Michael Brown. The media should not support such actions by a police officer, as this was not an apparent case of self-defense, according to numerous witness statement. But it appears that nobody in the media did consider this. All they wanted was "the scoop", all that mattered were the ratings. I call this perverted as well.

See this graphic which was compiled by PBS NewsHour (click to enlarge):

The saddest part: If Michael Brown was was white and Darren Wilson was black, we probably wouldn't have this discussion.

(Big h/t to zane1!)



I wanted to share two items which are not related to this topic, but which you might find interesting.

First, "Sex, Lies and Cigarettes", a new gripping documentary about how the tobacco industry currently conquers Asia, targeting children and teenagers, as well as manipulating politics. It is an industry also devoid of morals, which I found very shocking, maybe because I thought that that tobacco companies have "changed":

Secondly, a new satire clip I found, a real rarity from Monty Python, absolutely brilliant, with the appropriate title "Away From It All" - but you have to watch the full clip in order to get the message, as the first minutes are merely the introduction:

Have a good weekend, everybody!



Retired Philadelphia Cpt. Ray Lewis talks about Police Corruption


Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

There is too much snow in Buffalo, and President Obama will probably be blamed for it - Open Post - UPDATE

By Patrick

Well, this headline is of course not meant to be taken seriously, but just wait until the first right-winger claims that God wanted to punish the people of the USA with a big snowstorm....just wait!

Anyway, let's forget politics for now, as a "once in a lifetime thing", a "monster winter storm", as NBC News calls it in their report, struck Buffalo, New York. It's a real spectacle, and for the people who are trapped in it, it's also a really serious disaster - like our reader "BuffaloGal", who informed us about her situation in the comments of the previous post.

Here is the TV-report by NBC:

There are amazing videos to be found on youtube, some with really beautiful impressions of this magnificent storm - an event which is of course a huge catastrophe as well, which has already claimed the lives of several people.

This is a great time-lapse clip of the storm:

Another good clip from youtube which shows the insanity of the situation (please click here, as I cannot embed the clip).


The cars on the road are stuck (the "still picture" below is misleading, however):

Then, there is the beauty of nature again, captured in this wonderful clip, using a camera-drone:

"RAW"-video without commentary by CBS, posted several hours ago:

Our reader BuffaloGal gave us some insights about her situation 10 hours ago:

Storm update: This is beyond belief. I went to bed last night at 8pm because I was panicking and decided to stop watching it come down. Got up at 4am and forced myself to face the reality of what was outside my window. omg. The snow on the walks and streets measures 5ft, easily. I don't know how I can clear it. Everyone is stranded. Few sidewalks are cleared because the personal plows can't handle it. And it's still coming down like crazy. Nat'l Guard has been called to our little South Buffalo area but I've heard that even the main artery that is in my area is still not done. Supposedly the snow is so deep that regular plows can't handle it. Even if a snow hauler ends up coming down here at some point today, I have no way to get to the street. Beyond my little neighborhood, people are still stranded on the thruway and have been there for days. 100 miles of the thruway , still closed. We've had 4 deaths. This is really bad. Nothing has ever been seen like this. And, to top it off, I'm getting really tired of potato soup! (tho i'm awfully grateful for it too)

We do hope that BuffaloGal is fine right now.

BuffaloGal is not the first reader of Politicalgates who was affected by a natural disaster. In 2012, our reader NYCgirl had to leave her house which was destroyed by hurricane Sandy. She was in a really difficult situation, and from what I remember it took quite a long time for her situation to improve afterwards.

So take care, everyone, as it is supposed to continue snowing - this is the weather forecast:


UPDATE: Saturday, November 22

We received a new, very interesting report from BuffaloGal. The citizens of Buffalo helped each other in a very effective way, which is a very positive and uplifting message indeed!

Update - Hard to believe it's only been 5 days. Feels like a month. Good news of the day is that the thaw is underway. Unfortunately, that's also the bad news. So far, the snow is being compacted and not so much melting. Tomorrow will begin the worrisome event.

South Buffalo is almost dug out. You would not believe the number of troops and military vehicles that are here. They have been amazing. We are a small town, but we got hit so very hard. It was an entire disaster. No one would have believed we could be this far this soon. At the moment I can see the lights and hear the beeps of the snow haulers that are finally working on my street. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the help that has come in from all over.

Last night, my son went out to take food to a friend who couldn't get out to the store. On his way back, he stopped to help a National Guard unit, working to get cars dug out and pushed so the plows could come through. Ben stayed with there for 4 hours. He arrived home feeling exhausted but happy to have helped. Also last night, someone in our area had a great idea and posted a call for action and suggested a "Shovel Brigaide". He asked for volunteers to meet up at 9am this morning to go out and help dig people out. Over 500 people showed up and went door to door in different neighborhoods. And today, we heard of the arrival of large group of Amish who came, shovel ready, ready to get to work. The show of caring, empathy, support and love has been overwhelming. Something happened here this week that will never be forgotten.

We are on our way to the other side of this thing. Thank Goodness! You have all been wonderful, sticking with me and Buffalo / WNY. (and seriously, you all really did help to keep me sane. i was really starting to unravel there at one point. ) Thank you, thank you and thank you.

With the newly bought groceries I was able to make a nice meatloaf for my son and pumpkin muffins for myself. And now, I shall also have a cocktail (and most likely, another ).

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Witch Hunts and Theocracy Then and Now: A Cautionary Tale

by BBT

Right-wing fundamentalists often claim that the United States is a “Christian country,” some even going so far as to argue that it should be governed by “Biblical Law.”  I'd like to take you back in time to look at the theocratic government that existed in northeastern Massachusetts in the 1600s and the terrible consequences of its theocratic excesses; these influenced the founders of the United States to reject theocracy in favor of separation of church and state.

Let's start with a brief recollection that, by the 17th Century in Europe, there were already many examples of why the fusion of religion and political power was, often literally, a double-edged sword – nice for those wielding the power, but not so good for those on the wrong side of the religious-political divide. They were often persecuted, stripped of their power and property, and exiled or executed. The power balance often shifted rather quickly, too, as the “ins” became “outs.” No one was immune, least of all royalty. English King Charles I, who had incurred the suspicion of the Puritans who controlled Parliament when he married a Catholic, and whose tumultuous reign included many military misadventures, led England to civil war and was beheaded in 1649. His Catholic grandmother, Mary, Queen of Scots, had met the same fate in 1587 during Elizabeth I's reign.

Mary, Queen of Scots
Death of Mary, Queen of Scots

This turmoil in England took place during the first century of English colonization of North America. At the same time, England was battling for control of Ireland, Scotland and Wales and engaged in struggles for European supremacy as other countries (especially Spain and France and to a lesser extent Portugal, Holland and Germany) were also colonizing the Americas. Almost all of these political struggles had religious and economic overtones or underpinnings.

The disputes were far more complex than “Catholics vs. Protestants.” Not only Catholics, but Quakers, Lutherans, Mennonites, French Huguenots and other Christian groups were persecuted in England, Holland, Germany, France and elsewhere; where they had political power, they persecuted others. Jews were often marginalized in Europe and America. Religious affiliations were very complicated and very political.  More on this here. While differences about religious dogma could be significant, it was the fusion of religion with political and economic power that often led to war and conflict.

There was also a real belief in witches who actively partnered with the devil to harm to people, crops and livestock. Witch-craft explained natural disasters, and “witches” - most of whom were women - were often scapegoated during plagues, droughts, crop failures etc. From the late middle ages to the late 17th Century, an estimated 80,000-100,000 Europeans were executed for witch-craft. Many more were accused. 

This image is broken!
"Witches" burned at the stake

Against this backdrop, religious persecution was probably the rule more than the exception if you were not one of the “ins” at any particular point in time.  For these, and many other social, economic, political and other reasons, many people chose to take the dangerous voyage to an unknown land. 

From the outset, there were distinctions among the colonies, and within them, about religion. New York and Pennsylvania attracted Mennonites, Lutherans, Quakers, Jews and others who were persecuted in Europe. In Massachusetts, the Pilgrims who settled the Plymouth Colony were “Separatists” who did not follow the Church of England, unlike the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, founded a decade later. The Puritans' religious “platform” was to “purify” the Church of England with rigid interpretations of biblical tenets. 

The Massachusetts Bay Company was rigidly Puritan, but even so, it rejected the call by some adherents for government strictly based on Biblical law. Instead, Massachusetts colonial law expanded upon English law and incorporated theocratic admonitions. The Body of Liberties  was the basis of the first Massachusetts code of laws.

The Body of Liberties is in many ways a remarkably progressive document for its time, enumerating the rights of colonial “freemen” and even including some rights for women, children, servants, “strangers and foreigners” and even animals. Slavery was ostensibly abolished, except that the exceptions in effect legalized slavery in most instances. (Massachusetts abolished slavery in 1780.) In all, these laws, as they applied to civil matters, were remarkably progressive for the 17th Century.

They were not progressive as they applied to religious beliefs, however. Missing church on Sunday was a significant offense that could result in imprisonment, whippings and fines. If you were convicted of being a witch, or a blasphemer, or an adulterer, or a believer in anything other than what the Puritans believed, that was a capital crime for which the punishment was being put to death.

Quaker Mary Dyer being led to her execution 

And they did. Quakers, a new religious group in the 1650s, were persecuted and hung in Massachusetts because they refused to adhere to Puritan orthodoxy. They disrupted church services, engaged in civil disobedience, defied bans and persistently challenged the Puritans' rules. Even on the gallows, they steadfastly refused to save themselves by betraying their beliefs. Here is an account of the persecution of Quakers in Massachusetts, which ended when King Charles II intervened on their behalf.  (Yes, by then, the English were more tolerant than the Puritans.)

There was dissent against the Puritans' rigid theocracy from the earliest days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Roger Williams, a brilliant and charismatic minister who arrived in Massachusetts in 1631, was a separatist who rejected Puritan orthodoxy and preached tolerance. He was a strong and passionate advocate of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, and is said to have strongly influenced Thomas Jefferson and other founders on this issue. He was offered the ministry in Boston when he first arrived from England, but declined because he refused to adhere to their strict tenets, arguing among other things that there should be no punishments for blasphemy, heresy, adultery or other religious transgressions. He became the minister in Salem, where he was generally well-respected, although his “radical” ideas continued to attract attention. In 1635, the Massachusetts General Court convicted him of sedition and heresy, ordering him to be banished. He narrowly avoided being jailed, escaping on foot during a blizzard and walking 105 miles in deep snow to Narragansett Bay, where he was taken in by Native Americans. He went on to found Providence Plantation, where laws only applied to “civil things,” not religion – the first “western” government with separation of church and state. The area attracted many Quakers, Baptists, Jews, and others who were persecuted elsewhere, and was the most tolerant and progressive of the colonies – so much so that Connecticut, Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colonies tried to get it abolished. Williams went to England and succeeded in getting a charter for the area that eventually became Rhode Island.

Roger Williams and Narragansetts

Anne Hutchinson was another charismatic religious leader. She led well-attended weekly meetings of women in Boston that professed a “covenant of grace” that differed from Puritan orthodoxy. Her gatherings became so popular that she had to expand them to include men, including then-Governor Henry Vane. The Puritans became increasingly alarmed at her “free grace” views and growing influence, which were at the root of the Antimonian Controversy. The Puritans voted Vane and others supporting “free grace” out of office in 1637 and prosecuted Hutchinson later that year. She was convicted of contempt and sedition and banished; she escaped to Providence Plantation, establishing a settlement nearby. These settlements, with other religious dissidents, united and formed the colony and later the state of Rhode Island, which became a bastion of religious tolerance. The colony passed laws outlawing witchcraft trials, imprisonment for debt, most capital punishment; Rhode Island also outlawed slavery in 1652.

The Puritans were not only concerned with ridding Massachusetts of religious dissenters; they soon turned their attention to witch-craft. From 1648-1663, 80 people were accused and 13 women and 2 men were executed. The first was Margaret Jones, a midwife and healer whose 1648 execution was witnessed by then-12-yearold John Hale, who later played a key role in the witch-hunts of 1692. In 1688, Cotton Mather, the influential minister of the Old North Church, zealously persecuted a laundress known as “Goody Glover” for bewitching the Goodwin children; he witnessed her execution, took in her children and wrote a book Memorable Providences, Relating to Witchcrafts and Possessions. This book quickly became a “best seller” in Massachusetts. Perhaps as a result, in 1689 there were enough accusations of witch-craft that the jail in Salem could not hold all those accused. 

This all came to a boil in 1692, the year of the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The witch hunt began not in the city of Salem but in Salem Village (now the town of Danvers; see map here); soon it spread to communities throughout northeastern Massachusetts. This account suggests that unrest due to King William's War and other socio-economic factors played a role.

The trouble began in January 1692 when two girls in the household of Reverend Parris started having “fits” and behaving strangely – much like the Goodwin children as described in Mather's book. (It's surprising that the girls themselves weren't accused of being witches; some say that is because they were so young that they were presumed innocent, yet a four-year old child was accused.) Soon, other girls started showing similar behavior. (Interestingly, no boys were affected.) A doctor could find no physical ailments and concluded witch-craft was the cause of their afflictions.

Salem Witch Trial

This led to the accusations. The first accused were women who attracted attention because they were outspoken, not submissive, provocative, “unpuritan,” or social outcasts. 

Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne were accused in late February, along with Tituba, the Parris family's slave. Tituba confessed to being a witch and was spared; her confession was instrumental in causing the hysteria to expand, but she later recanted it.  Sarah Good, who had been born to a prosperous family but lost her property in a legal battle, by 1692 was a pregnant beggar and outcast who was an easy target; she was hung in July and her infant daughter was born and died in the jail. Good's 4-year old daughter was also accused and imprisoned. Sarah Osborne may have been targeted because she hadn't attended church due to illness. She was an in-law of the Putnams and had been involved in disputes with them. She was never tried; she died in jail in Boston after being held captive for several months. Bridget Bishop was another woman who did not fit the mold of women in Puritan society; she was a tavern keeper, had been married 3 times, was described by some as promiscuous, and had been twice accused of witch-craft previously. She was the first of the accused to be tried because the magistrates felt that it would be easy to convict her because of the prior accusations. They were right; she was the first to be hung, in June of 1692. 

While those accused at the outset of the witch hunt were all “outcasts” in some fashion – they did not conform to the Puritan model – this soon changed. That spring and summer, Martha Corey and Rebecca Nurse and many other well-respected members of the communities were accused, and some, including Corey and Nurse, were convicted and hung that summer.

Martha Corey was known for her piety and regularly attended church; however, she did not believe in witch-craft and was outspoken about her opinion that the girls making the accusations were lying. At that point, they accused her. She had no doubt that she would be exonerated; however, the girls' actions at Corey's trial gave the impression that they were possessed and controlled by Corey, leading to her conviction. She was hung in September.

Rebecca Nurse was an elderly, pious, well-respected resident of Salem Village. She was accused by Anne Putnam and her daughter, among others, although Putnam's brother-in-law and others in the family were among those who spoke in Nurse's defense. Apparently Nurse had criticized the younger Anne Putnam for bad behavior on several occasions. Another accusation came from neighbor Sarah Holten, who claimed that Nurse cast a spell that caused her husband to die, after they had argued because his pigs destroyed Nurse's garden.  39 people risked their own lives by signing a petition attesting to her good character and seeking her release. She was initially acquitted, but the girls accusing her starting having fits in the courtroom after the verdict was read, and Chief Magistrate Stoughton ordered the jury to reconsider. Nurse was then convicted and hung in July. To the end, she proclaimed her innocence:

I can say before my Eternal Father I am innocent and God will clear my innocency…The Lord knows I have not hurt them. I am an innocent person.”

Rebecca Nurse's sisters, Mary Easty and Sarah Cloyce, were also accused, and Mary was executed. Sarah was released from prison in January 1693.

Rebecca Nurse Homestead

Remarkably, part of Nurse's 300-acre 17th Century farm and her house are still intact in the midst of a very suburban area; the property includes a graveyard with her remains (dug up from Gallows Hill and moved by her grandson) and those of several other victims of the 1692 witch trials. Three Sovereigns for Sarah was filmed there.  (The Salem Village Historic District is well worth a visit; however, I was alarmed to see that several key buildings in other parts of Danvers, including the Israel Putnam house and Sarah Osborne's house, are falling into disrepair.)

Elizabeth Howe was a cousin of Rebecca Nurse. Howe's husband was blind, leaving her with the tasks of running the farm as well as the household. She had an “assertive personality” and had been accused of causing fits in a girl ten years earlier. In 1692, she was accused of afflicting cows, horses and pigs. At her trial, she said: If it was the last moment I was to live, God knows I am innocent of any thing of this nature”. She was hung. Here is an excellent account of Howe's story. 

Martha Carrier's “crime was not witchcraft but an independence of mind and an unsubmissive character.” Susannah Martin apparently ruffled feathers by contesting her father's will.  Anne Pudeator was a nurse and midwife who was accused after some of those in her care died or babies were stillborn.  Wilmot Redd was an “eccentric” character with a volatile temper who was known to get into lively arguments with her neighbors in Marblehead. Margaret Scott of Rowley was an elderly beggar.  "Non-conformist" Sarah Wildes, Mary and Alice Parker were also executed.

John Proctor was the first man accused (along with his wife, Elizabeth). Proctor was a prosperous farmer with large landholdings in the southern part of Salem Village, in what is now the city of Peabody. He is one of the main characters in Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible (which is not historically accurate). He was executed and his wife was also condemned, but her execution was delayed because she was pregnant, and she was released the following year.

Harvard graduate George Burroughs, who had been a minister in Salem Village, was hung the same day as Proctor, even though he had no “witches marks” on his body and was able to recite the Lord's Prayer, which Puritans believed that witches could not do. After he spoke, the crowd was so moved that they began calling for him to be freed, but Reverend Cotton Mather stepped in and argued that he and four others should be executed.

Death of Giles Corey

80-year old Giles Corey, whose wife Martha was accused, was tortured and crushed to death because he refused to enter a plea, thus preventing the court from seizing his property from his heirs. John Willard was accused after he refused to arrest those whom he thought were innocent; he was hung.  Samuel Wardell, his wife and step-daughter were all accused. He confessed to witch-craft to save himself, but then recanted, and was hung. George Jacobs, Sr. was also executed, based on testimony by his granddaughter, who was also accused and was trying to save herself.

Convictions were often based on hearsay and “spectral evidence.” This was testimony based on visions and dreams that the accusers – many of whom were children - claimed to have, with no tangible proof. Spectral evidence did not meet the legal standard even then, but the magistrates allowed it anyway. The trials led to the execution of 20 people; at least 5 others died in prison.  Another 150 people were jailed in horrible conditions that year, and 200 more were accused. By the fall, more leaders were speaking out against the trials and particularly against spectral evidence.

Cotton Mather 

Several Puritan ministers like Cotton Mather played a key role in instigating the witch-craft hysteria; others helped bring it to an end. Reverend Samuel Parris, minister of Salem Village, helped inflame the hysteria that began in his own household. Reverend John Hale of Beverly testified against the accused in several cases, but his views changed dramatically when his wife and several parishioners were accused. He became a critic of the proceedings and two years later wrote a forthright account, admitting that they had lost their way and became irrational out of fear. Reverend Dane in Andover, where many accusations took place, argued against the hysteria and especially against the use of spectral evidence, and is considered one of the heroes who helped save people from death. Samuel Willard played a similar role in Salem Village and helped foster reconciliation after the end of the hysteria.  Ipswich town records indicate that ministers there spoke out against the witch-craft accusations in 1689 and again in 1692. 

Even Cotton Mather wrote a letter in early June condemning the use of spectral evidence. His father Increase Mather (who was the influential president of Harvard College) decried the use of spectral evidence in a letter in early October, writing: "It were better that ten suspected witches should escape than one innocent person be condemned." 

Thomas Brattle and Robert Calef were community leaders in Boston who were highly critical of the witch trials and whose critiques helped bring them to an end. Calef was a particular critic of Cotton Mather, blaming him for establishing fertile ground for the hysteria to occur. His book More Wonders of the Invisible World is a direct rebuttal of Cotton Mather's 1693 book Wonders of the Invisible World; Calef's book is one of the best contemporaneous reports on the witch trials. 

Eventually, the accusers went too far, accusing more and more respected members of the community, including the wives of Hale and other ministers, and even the wife of Governor Phips. In the fall he disallowed spectral evidence and disbanded the special court; early the next year he put an end to the trials, and in May he pardoned and released the remaining prisoners.

And now Nineteen persons having been hang'd, and one prest to death, and Eight more condemned, in all Twenty and Eight, of which above a third part were Members of some of the Churches of N. England, and more than half of them of a good Conversation in general, and not one clear'd; about Fifty having confest themselves to be Witches, of which not one Executed; above an Hundred and Fifty in Prison, and Two Hundred more accused; the Special Commision of Oyer and Terminer comes to a period. --  Robert Calef

Governor Phips wrote:
When I put an end to the Court there ware at least fifty persons in prision in great misery by reason of the extream cold and their poverty, most of them having only spectre evidence against them and their mittimusses being defective, I caused some of them to be lettout upon bayle and put the Judges upon consideration of a way to reliefe others and to prevent them from perishing in prision, upon which some of them were convinced and acknowledged that their former proceedings were too violent and not grounded upon a right foundation ... The stop put to the first method of proceedings hath dissipated the blak cloud that threatened this Province with destruccion.”  Governor William Phips, February 21st, 1693

Here is a summary from The Smithsonian. On this site, you can read the testimony from many of the trials. 

Of course, it is hard to put ourselves in the 1692 mindset of those who actually believed in witch-craft and to whom the devil was a real entity. Still, how could the accusers – many of them children – be given such credence? This is not just hindsight; many argued at the time that there was no basis to believe that their testimony was true – it made more sense to believe that it was “made up.” But it was accepted by the infamous Court, and people were executed on that basis.

There was also a huge 17th Century Catch-22. If you confessed to being a witch, you would be spared, but if you didn't you'd be executed. Only those who were most true to their religion, refusing to lie and steadfastly maintaining their innocence, were condemned and executed. That in itself would seem to be a red flag that the process was seriously flawed. Who couldn't see that? Why wasn't it obvious. Religious zealotry can blind people to reason.

If anything good could come of such a travesty, the Salem Witch Trials have served for centuries as a cautionary tale against intolerance and mass hysteria. Apt parallels were made during the McCarthy era, when the anti-communist fervor led to a similar suspension of people's rights and lives were ruined based on hearsay and associations. Arthur Miller's play “The Crucible” was inspired by this very parallel.

The Salem Witch Trials set a clear example of why the separation of church and state is necessary. I would take it a step farther: arguably, all religion is “spectral” - there is nothing tangible that proves the tenets of the world's religions. They are based on faith, not evidence. People's faith is real, but in any religion, because the articles of faith are subject to people's interpretations, there will always be differences of opinion and interpretation about what they mean, or what is most important. That's the nature of the beast.

Many of the founders recognized the evils that men do in the name of religion. Practically speaking, they also had to blend the interests of many people of different faiths, and some of no faith, to create a viable political union. That included Rhode Island, founded on principles of religious liberty and separation of church and state. It included Dutch Mennonites in New York, German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Baptists, deists and, yes, atheists. In fact, a number of key revolutionaries and founders of the nation were deists, including George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen. They wisely built a wall to separate church and state.

witty, quotes, sayings, thomas jefferson, religion

We've already had a theocratic tragedy in our early history which can serve as a cautionary tale, if only we are willing to take heed: though religion is supposed to be a force for good, mixing it with political control is unwise and can lead to persecution and bloodshed.

More than once it has been said…that the Salem witchcraft was the rock on which the theocracy shattered.
— George Lincoln Burr

Yet some don't understand the history or choose not to heed the lesson. The Dominionists are the Puritans of today, but with a much more extreme political agenda, fewer scruples, and a stronger determination to combine their religious beliefs with government. Their 7 Mountains strategy aims to take control of business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. Here's a site that has a lot of information on this topic.  Their infiltration of all these areas is well underway; perhaps the infiltration of not only the civilian government, but of the U.S.military, is particularly troubling.

We can learn from history, or we can repeat it.