Dead Souls

Published on, by ALEXANDER COCKBURN, May 8-10, 2009.

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, nowhere with more caprice than with the criminal justice system. On the plus side, there are at least a couple of good trends: a tilt from the death penalty (with serious qualifications about the “living death” alternative I discussed here recently) and a move away from imprisonment for victimless crimes – as evidenced by medical marijuana laws; impending reform of the Rockefeller drug laws; and Prop 36 in California, offering treatment alternatives to prison.

On the minus side, there are some grim developments. For violent felons, sentencing laws have been getting steadily worse. There have been big increases in sentencing enhancements (time added to your “base sentence” for using a gun, having prior felony convictions, gang-related nature of the crime, hate crimes, etc.). Some of these enhancements are new; others have been around for a long time but have gotten much more punitive, though there was a heartening victory in California in November with the defeat of Prop 6, which would have increased penalties for gang-related crimes …

… McCarthyism and Middle Eastern Studies Viciously strident on some campuses, deviously low-key on others, there’s a McCarthyite campaign in full spate across higher education in the U.S. today. In the sights of the witch-hunters are junior and senior faculty targeted as “anti-Israel”, as terror-symps, as leftists. For every headline case, like Norman Finkelstein or Joseph Massad or Juan Cole there are three or four less publicized smear campaigns, methodical onslaughts to derail a hiring, head off a tenure appointment, disinvite a speaker, fence off the campus from all dangerous thoughts. The consequence: a climate of fear, of methodical censorship, of cowardice.

In this context I highly recommend our current newsletter, featuring Victoria Fontan’s narrative of her own experiences in US academia, after work in Fallujah and other Iraqi towns in the early months of the US occupation. Subscribers also get Alan Farago’s update on the battle to save the Everglades. From Paris  Serge Halimi reports on NATO’s mission creep. (full text).

Alexander Cockburn can be reached by e-mail.

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