Democracy Gone Astray

Democracy, being a human construct, needs to be thought of as directionality rather than an object. As such, to understand it requires not so much a description of existing structures and/or other related phenomena but a declaration of intentionality.
This blog aims at creating labeled lists of published infringements of such intentionality, of points in time where democracy strays from its intended directionality. In addition to outright infringements, this blog also collects important contemporary information and/or discussions that impact our socio-political landscape.

All the posts here were published in the electronic media – main-stream as well as fringe, and maintain links to the original texts.

[NOTE: Due to changes I haven't caught on time in the blogging software, all of the 'Original Article' links were nullified between September 11, 2012 and December 11, 2012. My apologies.]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Myths Of The Criminal Justice System

In conjunction with the launch of HuffPost's Crime vertical, senior writer and criminal justice reporter Radley Balko looks at several myths and misconceptions about the criminal justice system. In this first of three installments, Balko looks at double jeopardy, enhanced sentencing and ignorance of the law.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Source: Huffington 

Public Unions Take On Boss to Win Big Pensions

COSTA MESA, Calif. — City council elections in this Southern California city are usually sedate. Hot-button issues include whether libraries should stay open at night. Campaign budgets often don’t top $10,000.    

Then Jim Righeimer, a conservative activist and real estate developer, jumped into the race last year.

The city was on the road to insolvency, he warned, because public employee unions had pressured politicians into handing over generous salaries and pensions. The police chief received $298,000 a year in total compensation, Mr. Righeimer noted. The deputy fire chief had retired with a pension of more than $182,000 a year.

City workers weren’t fans of Mr. Righeimer, who had been critical of public unions for years. Local police and firefighter groups started mailing leaflets and towing a billboard around town attacking him, implying he had skipped out on numerous debts. Public employees spent more than $100,000 opposing him, and six unions from neighboring regions spent another $33,000 endorsing his opponents.

“They try to drag you through the mud so bad that everyone else says, ‘I don’t ever want these guys as enemies, I’ll just leave them alone,’ ” said Mr. Righeimer, who still managed to win a council seat.

Costa Mesa, population 110,000, is California in miniature. For years, public employee unions across the state have often used their influence — sometimes behind the scenes but occasionally with public, hardball campaigns — to push for improved worker pay and benefits. They have exercised power beyond their numbers by donating money to lawmakers, burnishing candidates’ credentials with endorsements and supplying volunteers during elections.

Public employee unions are hardly the only group involved in bare-knuckles politics. Businesses lobby fiercely and executives make hefty campaign donations.

But public workers have a unique relationship with elected officials, because government employees are effectively negotiating with bosses whom they can campaign to vote out of office if they don’t get what they want. Private unions, in contrast, don’t usually have the power to fire their members’ employers.

Even in recent years, as economic troubles have worsened, benefits for some government workers have grown. In 2008, for instance, lifeguards in Laguna Beach started receiving increased retirement benefits as the state’s economy began to slow. The next year, the town’s chief lifeguard retired at age 57, with a $113,000-a-year pension after 36 years on the job.

Lawmakers in both political parties have often acceded to unions’ requests to avoid political confrontations or to curry favor. They have pushed difficult choices into the future.

But now, with the expenses of past promises coming due, the cost of deferred decision-making is mounting. California alone needs to begin devoting an additional $28 billion a year to state and local public pensions to remedy an existing shortfall, according to one nonpartisan study — and nationwide, estimates of such deficits reach into the trillions over the next few decades.

“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Tony Oliveira, who as a supervisor in Kings County, in central California, voted to increase employees’ benefits, and now is on the board of the state’s enormous pension fund. “This was probably the worst public policy decision in the state’s history. But everyone kept saying there was plenty of money. And no one wants to be responsible if all the cops quit to get paid more in the next town.”

Public employee unions, in their defense, say politicians have unfairly made them into simplistic bogeymen, responsible for problems that have myriad causes. Not all government workers receive generous pensions, they note. A public worker enrolled in the state’s largest pension fund who retired in 2008 with more than 30 years of service received a pension of $66,828 a year, on average, and a retiree with 20 to 25 years of service received around $34,872. Public workers who retire with fewer years on the job receive even less.

Moreover, unions note that they have improved millions of lives and are standing up for workers, who are mostly middle class, at a time when many families are losing ground financially.

“We fight for our pensions and paychecks the same way C.E.O.’s fight for theirs,” said Scott Diederich, a lifeguard and president of the Laguna Beach Municipal Employees’ Association.

Union leaders argue that pension shortfalls account for a proportionally tiny portion of governments’ financial problems and, by all accounts, there are plenty of parties to blame for the growth in payrolls and obligations. Pension officials add that workers are making sacrifices: in the last year, more than 100 California cities and agencies have lowered retirement benefits for new hires or increased the amount employees must contribute for pensions.

Full Article
Source: New York Times 

The Senate Hears Tales From the Struggling Middle Class

“Families who are scraping by every day see no real relief in sight,” Amanda Greubel, an Iowa mother of two, told a roomful of US senators Thursday morning. “We hear that corporate welfare continues and CEOs get six-figure bonuses at taxpayer expense, and we look across the kitchen table at our families eating Ramen noodles for the third time this week…. We know that money talks around here, and that means you don’t hear us.”

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions heard Greubel’s pleas during a hearing called “Stories from the Kitchen Table: How Middle Class Families are Struggling to Make Ends Meet.” As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee three floors below, outlining American plans for “longer-term sustainable development that focuses on spurring growth” in Afghanistan, senators on the HELP Committee heard about the urgent need for “nation building here at home,” as President Obama put it in his address to the country last night.

Greubel and her husband work for the public school system in DeWitt, Iowa, and both had their salaries reduced during recent state spending cuts. She tried to convey to the committee the real effect it had on her family. “The loss of that income required a complete financial, emotional, and spiritual overhaul in our family,” Greubel testified, describing shopping trips to Goodwill stores and discount supermarkets, and cold cereal for her children at dinnertime. “We did everything that all the experts said we should do, and yet we’re still struggling. When you work as hard as we have and still sometimes scrape for the necessities, it really gets you down.”

The committee also watched a short video by documentarian Susan Sipprelle, who is working on project called “Over 50 and Out of Work,” which tells stories from people facing unemployment after long careers but before retirement. It was similar to this version, posted on the project website:

Jared Bernstein, a progressive economist who until recently worked in the White House on Vice President Biden’s economic team, also testified and presented some data behind what he called the “middle class squeeze”—the notion that middle-class families are having an increasingly difficult time achieving things like home ownership, college education and healthcare coverage. He noted that worker productivity has grown at much higher rates in recent decades than real median family incomes, and that income inequality has dramatically increased over that same period.

It was overall an unusual display in the Senate, as stories of economic hardship were brought directly into official hearing rooms. Senator Tom Harkin, who chairs the committee, appeared visibly distressed during some of Greuber’s testimony and later called it “one of the most eloquent statements about the plight of the middle class and what’s happening to families out there that I’ve ever heard.” (You can watch her testimony here, at the fifty-one-minute mark).

But the hearing also had a feeling of futility to it. The Senate is mired in gridlock, and earlier this week wasn’t even able to pass reauthorization of the Economic Development Act, which would have provided grants to economically distressed areas to generate job growth. The reauthorization enjoyed wide bipartisan support in the past.

Full Article
Source: The Nation 

One year later, remembering the G20

One year after the G20 protests in downtown Toronto, the gross excess of police intimidations, interrogations and arrests are hardly a distant memory for activists who rallied to bring attention to the pressing economic and social inequalities of our time -- or for Toronto residents who found themselves caught up in one of the biggest mass arrests in Canadian history -- all while world leaders gathered to negotiate our collective global future behind closed doors.

Calls for a public inquiry into police action during the G20 have continued to go unheeded, despite the plethora of individual stories that continue to emerge detailing police abuse.

On Saturday, June 25, 2011 many will gather at Queen's Park in Toronto to reflect on those days that marked an unprecedented degree of infringement of individual civil liberties and fundamental freedoms, and work to ensure that it doesn't happen again.  Find the details here.

Full Article

Chief Bill Blair maintains mass arrests at G20 necessary

The mass arrests at the G20 summit were necessary to prevent further property destruction Chief Bill Blair said Friday, a day after releasing a review into police tactics at the summit. Despite the review, Chief Blair said he still doesn't know whether any key decisions were made by commanders in other police forces involved in summit security.

In an interview with The Globe and Mail nearly a year after the summit, the chief admitted there were “deficiencies” in how officers handled the operations, but suggested there were good reasons for the arrests that saw 1,118 people rounded up.

On the afternoon of June 26, when a group of black-clad protesters broke away from a labour-organized march and went on a smashing spree, police couldn't keep up with them. Even after the vandalism finished and the Black Bloc melted back into the crowd, officers believed there was a threat it could start again.

“The attack of those who were intent on criminality was being launched from large crowds and so...the decision was made that it was necessary to disperse those crowds in order to lessen the likelihood that other criminal attacks would take place,” he told the Globe and Mail.

He stopped short of saying whether he still felt those arrests were justified.

For the most part, the report suggests decisions were made at the major incident command centre at headquarters by Toronto police officers. However, Chief Blair could not say whether RCMP or OPP officers with the Integrated Security Unit in Barrie played any part.

“I wasn’t in the major incident command centre and I’m not aware of any communication that may have been received from the unified command centre. None of that went through me, I wasn’t involved in that,” he said.

While the report also acknowledges there were problems at a temporary detention centre where arrestees were held – many of them were unable to see a lawyer or receive a medical evaluation – he said the purpose of his review was not to assign blame or hold decision-makers accountable for these issues. His purpose was simply to explain what happened.

“This is not a conduct report, this is an operational response report,” he said. “This report looks at the tactical response to what was taking place in the city of Toronto...and there are lessons that we learned.”

Source: Toronto Star 

G20 report inconclusive, critics call for full public inquiry

Too many questions remain unanswered by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s review of G20 policing, say critics who argue a full public inquiry is the only way to get to the bottom of what happened.

“It doesn’t do a complete job,” said Nathalie Des Rosiers, of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. “It doesn’t have the independence that a public inquiry would have.”

Blair’s 70-page-review released late Thursday, says police were overwhelmed and underprepared for what hit them at the G20, blaming a lack of planning time and training for many of their mistakes.

They were surprised by the Black Bloc, couldn’t handle the number of prisoners they were sending to the temporary detention centre and erred in corralling hundreds of peaceful protesters at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.

“How do you spend a billion dollars in preparation for a two-day summit and not ensure that your members are trained and equipped?” said Edward Sapiano, a well-known Toronto lawyer and police critic. “It boggles the mind.”

The oft-mentioned $1.2 billion summit cost was for both the G8/G20 summits.

Sapiano said police seemed to show a great deal of training in order to corral about 300 protesters at Queen and Spadina — including many curious onlookers and passersby — on the final day of the summit with a controversial crowd-control technique known as “kettling,” which Toronto police now say they will never use again.

“That required a whole heck of a lot of training,” Sapiano said. “It wasn’t a lack of training, it was just the wrong training.”

On Newstalk 1010 Friday afternoon, Blair said police were committed to developing “new responses” and “new tactics” for future large-scale events based on lessons learned at the G20. “Because, sadly, I don’t believe this type of event is necessarily not going to happen again.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star  

Harper parties in asbestos central as Canada blocks dangerous-goods listing

OTTAWA - The prime minister celebrated St-Jean-Baptiste in the heart of the asbestos industry as Canada's delegation to an international summit drew ire by keeping the carcinogen off a hazardous-chemicals list.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government steadfastly refused to let asbestos be added to a United Nations treaty called the Rotterdam Convention.

On Friday, Canada was joined by Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam in blocking the move. Countries must now wait two years for another crack at getting asbestos on the list.

"The conference did not reach consensus on listing chrysotile," UN Environment Program spokesman Michael Stanley-Jones said in an email.

"It annexed the draft decision to the meeting report for consideration at COP6 in 2013."

A pesticide called Endosulfan, which is banned in many countries but still used in others, was added to the list, he added.

Listing asbestos on Annex III of the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could then refuse asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.

When inhaled, asbestos fibres can scar the lungs and lead to a rare form of lung cancer, mesothelioma, for which there is no known cure.

Canada has twice before played a lead role in blocking the inclusion of asbestos under the Rotterdam Convention, which operates by consensus, and the country did so again at this week's summit.

When other asbestos-exporting countries changed their minds and dropped their opposition to the listing, Canada alone came out against the move.

The earth negotiations bulletin published by the International Institute for Sustainable Development reports other countries were "dumbstruck" by Canada's reasons for blocking the listing.

Full Article
Source: Winnepeg Free Press 

Consumer Protection Agency Could Watch Over '100,000 Firms': WSJ

That "little government agency," as it was described by its staunchest defender, Elizabeth Warren, could end up overseeing tens of thousands of firms when all is said and done.

The still-fledgling CFPB has laid out a list of six different types of companies that could soon fall under its wing, including debt relief and check cashing companies, that until now have mostly been free from the eyes of federal regulators, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The consumer protection bureau, first conceived of by Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren and created under last summer's financial reform, aims to protect consumers from abuses by financial institutions.

Thursday’s announcement was the beginning of what could still be the year-long process of defining which consumer finance companies will be regulated by the CFPB.

The WSJ lays out the areas of focus:

The six areas outlined comprise debt collection; consumer reporting; consumer credit and related activities; money transmitting, check cashing and related activities; prepaid cards; and debt-relief services. The bureau also identified automobile loans and personal loans as large sectors that could fall under its supervision.
That would leave the bureau with its work cut out, as the WSJ quotes a senior agency official as saying that the bureau “potentially could be responsible for tens of thousands or even 100,000 firms.” In late May, Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) criticized CFPB as having "virtually unchecked" authority as currently conceived, part of a larger Republican attack against the agency.

Under the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory law, the consumer bureau is required by July 21, 2012 to define which types of nonbank companies are “larger participants” that would be overseen by the bureau.

According to The New York Times:

Banks, credit unions and savings and loan companies have long been subject to regular examinations by federal regulators to ensure that they comply with consumer financial laws. The Dodd-Frank law expanded federal regulation to a host of financial service companies that previously had not been regulated but that some legislators felt had contributed to the instability that worsened the 2008 financial crisis.
The consumer bureau, however, is still facing an uphill battle over the appointment of a permanent director. The bureau is supposed to begin operations next month, but it cannot begin regulating nonbank financial services companies until a director is in place.

As the Journal notes, Republicans have not budged from their firm stance of blocking any nomination until structural changes are made to the agency. President Obama has not yet appointed a director of the CFPB. Elizabeth Warren, a law professor and special advisor to Obama, has been working to get the agency off the ground.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Third World America: Drowning in Debt and Choking on Lies

If a drunk driver crashed his speeding rental car into your house and killed your spouse, you would be outraged if law enforcers took bribes and refused to give the driver a blood test. If the judge then gave the killer a small fine and ordered you to pay the fine and pay for all the damages, you'd be outraged. If the government then handed the drunk-driver keys to a bigger faster rental car, handed the drunk driver an even bigger bottle of whiskey, and then gave you the rental bill; you'd storm Washington, blizzard elected officials with protests and organize friends and associates to vote these malefactors, the elected officials that betrayed your trust, out of office.

Yet, we've remained largely silent in the face of the same sort of behavior by Wall Street and Washington. Bonus-seeking bankers crashed into Main Street's economy and ran control frauds within banks that would have failed without taxpayer bailouts. Bureaucrats and elected officials bailed them out without demanding consequences. Bankers are revving their engines again in credit derivatives, currency derivatives, and commodities trades. "Financial reform" addresses none of the latter problems.

Arianna Huffington's Third World America: How Our Politicians are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream explains that the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the bank bailout package also known as TARP, allotted only $72 billion to infrastructure projects. Another feature of the bill was to have banks agree to lend money to medium and small sized businesses to stimulate the economy. That didn't happen and official unemployment numbers remain above 9%, while unofficial figures for underemployed Americans soar above 20%.

The number one stimulus for any economy is not consumer spending, although that is a powerful secondary effect. The number one stimulus is capital spending, investment in the production of real goods and consumables. As Third World America explains: "There were three flaws with the old economy that has crashed. It favored consumption over production, debt over small savings, and environmental damage over environmental renewal."

Our ongoing bank bailouts included the mispricing of around $4 trillion of toxic assets that the banks cannot afford to honestly price, since bank capital would be wiped out sparking another global financial meltdown. We continue to provide cheap taxpayer funding through the Fed. New accounting rules allow banks to cover-up the low price of impaired assets, and government debt guarantees provide ongoing subsidies to banks that have a value of trillions of dollars.

Ground Zero for America's Debt Crisis

Beyond the banks, we have fiscal mismanagement and corruption that plagues middle class taxpayers. I happen to live in Illinois, the best example of this in the nation. Cook County encompasses Chicago and some of its surrounding suburbs. This week, the Cook County Treasurer discovered "stunning" debt. This debt isn't new, but apparently our officials are now properly terrified. Our total debt for the municipality, education, county, sanitary, park, fire, township, library and special services is now $108 billion. That means the debt per person in Chicago exceeds $23,700 (corrected assuming 2.67 average per household) or more than $63,500 per household, and that is just local debt.

The other problem is that the Illinois economy isn't growing. Many of those households have no income coming in other than government subsidies, and some have no income at all. Unofficial unemployment numbers top 20%. State of Illinois taxes increased from 3% to 5%, an increase of around 67%. Taxes on real estate, utilities, sales, and more are expected to skyrocket. Businesses like the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are being courted by low income tax states (at least the income taxes are currently low) like Florida.

We're not doing better on a national level. Americans owe almost $166,600 (corrected assuming 2.69 average per household) per household or around $45,000 per person (Greek citizens owe $44,000 per person). That's on top of our local debt.

David Walker, the former U.S. comptroller general, says it's even worse than that. When he takes into account future obligations for Medicare, Social Security, Federal debt, Military retirement, Civil servant retirement, and more, we owe $546,663 per household. That doesn't even include your local debt -- it may not be as bad as if you lived in Illinois, but it's substantial nonetheless -- and personal debt including mortgages and consumer debt that average more than $120,000 per household.

We're told we are a great country and we can "grow our way out of it." Exactly how does that occur, when jobs are going overseas, taxes for the wealthiest in our country are uncollectible after exploiting tax breaks, and programs for investment in infrastructure and production are virtually nonexistent?

America's biggest problem by far is that capital spending in new production facilities that create jobs and real products never occurred, not even after trillions of dollars were thrown at banks in the global financial system.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Supreme Court: Prosecutors Can Cancel Plea Deals

THE CANADIAN PRESS -- OTTAWA -- The country's top court has declared that prosecutors have the right to renege on a plea bargain that would have allowed a woman to plead to careless driving in a deadly crash.

The Supreme Court of Canada was unanimous in its decision, the first time the justices have ruled on the discretion allowed prosecutors in plea agreements.

The Alberta case involved Olga Maria Nixon, who was charged with impaired driving causing death and injury in a 2006 crash which killed a couple and injured their seven-year-old son.

A prosecutor concluded there were problems with the admissibility of the breath samples and agreed to reduce the charges to dangerous driving causing death and injury.

Further negotiation led to a deal for a plea of careless driving, a traffic offence. But the deal was quashed by senior Alberta justice officials, which made Nixon's lawyers cry foul.

The Supreme Court has never ruled on whether a prosecutor can cancel a plea deal. But it has looked at other cases involving the discretion of prosecutors.

"So long as the proceedings are ongoing, the Crown may be required to make further decisions about whether the prosecution should be continued and, if so, in respect of what charges," Justice Louise Charron wrote for the majority.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

Canada’s G8/G20 weekend shames all but peaceful protesters

This is the first anniversary of the weekend from hell when Canada hosted the G8 and G20 summits. On a variety of fronts we became a role model other nations will study for years to come. Our peaceable kingdom showed the world how to do absolutely everything wrong.

Take any aspect of the event at all:

» Just for fun, try to recall a single outcome of any kind of the two official meetings of all those powerful heads of governments. I’m betting you can’t. If you say maternal health it means you’ve been sucked in by the Harper government’s propaganda. Of course it helped that some influential reporters, practicing the hallowed craft of churnalism, simply just regurgitated the government’s spin. But as the development experts in the McLeod Group put it, the entire so-called initiative by Stephen Harper was little more than smoke and mirrors.

» There is nothing more that can be added here about the astonishing overall waste of money and the Harper government’s shameless use of so much of it for blatant electoral purposes.

» Among the remarkable moments of the Saturday afternoon remains the vanishing act by all 20,000 cops while a small gang of thugs were trashing the main downtown core of Toronto. Canadians could witness this fabulous Houdini show live on TV. These hooligans (some pretending they had a political agenda) roamed downtown streets looting and smashing without a single copper ever coming into view. How could this have happened? Where did the police disappear to? Which commanders allowed this to happen? How is it possible no heads have rolled for such flagrant dereliction of duty? Why aren’t all businesses being compensated in full for the damage the police enabled?

» Like the scandalous outlay of money, there’s little left to be said about the behaviour of the police. Maybe they were so humiliated by allowing the vandalism that they needed to feel better by beating the crap out of ordinary Canadian citizens who weren’t even guilty of jaywalking. The facts are clear. Toronto had a police riot. The city was turned into a police state. Civil liberties, fundamental freedoms, were suspended. Eleven hundred innocent people were detained, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. No full public inquiry has yet been called. And the police at every level have shamed themselves a second time by their refusal to co-operate. Protests are being held Saturday in defence of fundamental Canadian freedoms. They deserve massive attendance. But watch out for the cops on duty; they may be pissed off again, and you know what that could mean.

» The rioters succeeded brilliantly in diverting all media attention away from the first large public demonstration against the Harper government in years. The moment a tiny fraction of the crowd began rioting, the media – typically enough – lost all interest in the huge crowd of peaceful protestors and the causes they were promoting.

All of this is grist for a cynic’s mill, as if the world needed more. But I harbour a greater grievance beyond all these. My most intense personal anger is aimed at those so-called leftists who advocate and employ violence – anarchists, Black Bloc, whatever hokey name they assign themselves – as well as other leftists who would not themselves use violence yet “understand”, condone or even “respect” its use by others.

Here’s an example of the first, a statement by two self-proclaimed direct-action radicals, one of them Jaggi Singh: “We live in a world which is defined by, and maintained by violence, a violence which self-interested G8/G20 leaders both perpetuate and deny.... In the face of this extreme social violence that is day-to-day reality, there can be no tears shed for the cars and windows broken by those who have had enough with the forces profiting from their exploitation.”

As for the second group, it includes those who insist that breaking windows is somehow not violence (like the Nazi Kristallnacht, perhaps?) and those who refuse to criticize the tactics of anyone on the “left.”

Both positions are completely untenable. None of the adolescent Che or Fanon wannabes who embrace violence have anything to do with the real left, with real protest or with advancing the cause of social justice a single step. They are no better than the nihilistic Vancouver rioters, who at least had the grace not to pretend to noble goals. You don’t fight violence by doing violence; have we not yet learned that? You'd think that after an entire century of unparalleled crimes against humanity and unprecedented mass murder perpetrated by so-called socialists in the name of “the people,” those who claim to seek justice might not be so cavalier about invoking violence or tolerating it when it’s on “our side.”

This is not my side. Anyone who promotes violence sabotages good causes. As a judge rightly told Jaggi Singh just this week, in urging people to tear down the security fence ringing the G20 summit site Mr. Singh knew he was provoking violence on the part of both the police and the protesters. He was summonsing a mob to perpetrate mob violence. The fence could never have been torn down by protesters. Police were bound to lash out. The ostensible cause was instantly forgotten. The rioting escalated, becoming an end in itself. The protesters became a mob. Not a single constructive thing resulted, and nothing constructive could ever have resulted.

Do I need to invoke Tunisia and Egypt? Imagine how a few Black Bloc thugs would have undermined the peaceful protests that were the most thrilling and legitimating characteristic of the Arab Spring. While our self-deluded leftists cry for violence, Palestinians are finally turning to peaceful mass demonstrations that will cause Israel and its allies far more trouble than Hamas’s rockets ever did. These brave demonstrators deserve our enthusiastic support.

Think of the double standard that is being invoked here. Violent protest for the left is the equivalent of torture for the right. Every leftie in the world condemns torture – at least when the Americans do it. Because it’s both reprehensible in principle and largely useless. Because it’s unethical and doesn’t work. Like violent protest, it’s simply wrong, philosophically and practically. It gets you nowhere except another cycle of violence. Violent means invariably beget a violent end, as example after example in our sad world have long shown.

A tough-minded editorial by the leftist Canadian Dimension magazine spelled out the practical consequences of the anarchist/Black Bloc tactics. They legitimate an authoritarian, violent response. They divide and weaken social movements. They discredit progressive ideas. They alienate ordinary citizens from just causes. They mire activists in legal processes. And by no means least, they’re deeply undemocratic, since the decision to use these tactics is made by a small number of self-styled radicals regardless of the views of the vast majority who will be affected by them.

Finally, they muddle the thinking of those democratic radicals who refuse to condemn such tactics, in the sweet-sounding name of accepting a diversity of means to fight a shared end. But violent protest is rarely a means for those who preach it. It is the end. It has no place in the unending struggle for a better, peaceful world.

Full Article
Source: Globe & Mail 

Feeding Resistance: Food Not Bombs Members Arrested in Orlando For Serving Meals Without a Permit

The City of Orlando — the home of Disney World in Florida — is being sued in court today over a city law that has effectively made it illegal for any group to feed more than 25 people at a time in downtown parks without a permit. It also limits groups to no more than two permits per park, per year. The group Food Not Bombs has refused to obey the new law—saying food is a right, not a privilege—and has continued to serve free meals to the poor and homeless. However, over the past month more than 20 members of the organization have been arrested. Keith McHenry, who helped found Food Not Bombs over 30 years ago, was arrested Wednesday and remains in jail. We speak with Benjamin Markeson, an activist involved with Food Not Bombs for several years who was arrested earlier this month; and the group’s attorney, Shayan Elahi.

Source: Democracy Now! 

Haiti: Leaked Cables Expose U.S. Suppression of Min. Wage, Election Doubts and Elite’s Private Army

Drawing on almost 2,000 classified U.S. diplomatic cables on Haiti released by WikiLeaks, a partnership between The Nation magazine and the Haitian weekly, Haïti Liberté, exposes new details on how Fruit of the Loom, Hanes and Levi’s worked with the United States to block an increase in the minimum wage in the hemisphere’s poorest nation, how business owners and members of the country’s elite used Haiti’s police force as their own private army after the 2004 U.S.-backed coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and how the United States, the European Union and the United Nations supported Haiti’s recent presidential and parliamentary elections, despite concerns over the exclusion of Haiti’s largest opposition party, Lavalas, the party of Aristide. We speak with the reports’ authors, longtime Haiti correspondent Dan Coughlin and Haïti Liberté editor, Kim Ives.

Source: Democracy Now! 

New Exposé Reveals Nuclear Regulatory Commission Colluded with Industry to Weaken Safety Standards

Three U.S. senators have called for a congressional probe on safety issues at the nation’s aging nuclear plants following a pair of new exposés. In a special series called “Aging Nukes,” the Associated Press revealed that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the nuclear power industry have been working in tandem to weaken safety standards to keep aging reactors within the rules. Just last year, the NRC weakened the safety margin for acceptable radiation damage to reactor vessels. The AP report also revealed radioactive tritium has leaked from 48 of the 65 U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping. Leaks from at least 37 of those facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard—sometimes at hundreds of times the limit. We speak with AP investigative journalist Jeff Donn.

Source: Democracy Now!

Patent Reform Bill's Wall Street Bailout

Big Wall Street banks really hate Claudio Ballard. A small-time inventor and founder of DataTreasury, a digital imaging company, Ballard has cost big banks at least $400 million by filing legal claims asserting that the banks have stolen his intellectual property, infringed on his patents, and refused to pay him for his work. For years, the banks have been trying to wield their immense political power to shoo this fly. Now, it looks like they might succeed: a new, bipartisan patent-reform bill working its way through Congress contains language written specifically to put Ballard out of business.

For at least five years, big corporations have waged a well-funded and sustained lobbying effort to persuade Congress to overhaul the nation's patent system. They've pushed for measures that, among other things, would squash competition and make it harder for small inventors to fight back against the companies that steal their intellectual property. This week, the House is considering a parallel bill to one passed in the Senate in March that would radically change the 200-year-old process by which the government awards patents.
Historically, the US has granted patent rights to the "first inventor"—the person who could clearly prove that he or she originated an idea. The bill would revise that standard to grant the patent for a particular idea to the first person to file for it. It would also free the patent office from the congressional appropriations process and allow it to tap the millions in fees it generates to supplement its budget. Proponents say the legislation will speed approval times and help clear a backlog of more than 700,000 patent applications. The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill on Thursday; if it passes the full House, President Obama has promised to sign it.

But the bill contains an obscure provision inserted by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the behest of big Wall Street banks. The language essentially immunizes big banks from patent infringement lawsuits filed by Ballard and DataTreasury. Ballard has long alleged that he patented a process for electronically processing checks in the mid-1990s. When most of the country's major banks started using a similar process years later, Ballard started suing. His litigation earned him a reputation as a "patent troll"—someone who makes his money by suing over patents rather than building a company out of them. (DataTreasury is essentially a holding company with only a couple of employees.)

Full Article
Source: Mother Jones 

New Jersey Union Bill Approved By State Assembly, Expected To Be Signed Into Law By Chris Christie

TRENTON, N.J. -- The New Jersey Assembly has passed landmark employee benefits legislation requiring public workers to pay sharply more for pension and health benefits.

The divisive bill passed 46-32 Thursday with support from all Republicans who were present and a smattering of Democrats.

The Senate approved the bill Monday.

Republican Gov. Chris Christie is expected to quickly sign it.

The measure requires 500,000 teachers, police, firefighters and other public workers to pay a portion of their health insurance based on income. It also increases pension contributions.

The state's retirement funds are underfunded by $110 billion.

The bill's backers say higher contributions are needed to ensure solvency.

Opponents object to the four-year suspension of bargaining over health benefits.

More than 8,000 rallied at the Statehouse Thursday to oppose the bill.

Source: Huffington 

Roundup: Birth Defects Caused By World's Top-Selling Weedkiller, Scientists Say

WASHINGTON -- The chemical at the heart of the planet’s most widely used herbicide -- Roundup weedkiller, used in farms and gardens across the U.S. -- is coming under more intense scrutiny following the release of a new report calling for a heightened regulatory response around its use.

Critics have argued for decades that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and other herbicides used around the globe, poses a serious threat to public health. Industry regulators, however, appear to have consistently overlooked their concerns.

A comprehensive review of existing data released this month by Earth Open Source, an organization that uses open-source collaboration to advance sustainable food production, suggests that industry regulators in Europe have known for years that glyphosate, originally introduced by American agricultural biotechnology giant Monsanto in 1976, causes birth defects in the embryos of laboratory animals.

Full Article
Source: Huffington 

G20/G8 summit opponents infiltrated by police

Newly released G8/G20 summit documents reveal the RCMP and various Ontario police forces spent several months infiltrating anti-war, anti-globalization and anarchist groups with the use of undercover officers ahead of last June's summits in Huntsville and Toronto.

The reports by the Joint Intelligence Group formed by the RCMP-led ISU (Integrated Security Unit) show that various police services contributed at least 12 undercover officers to take part in covert surveillance of potential "criminal extremists" in a bid to "detect … and disrupt" any threats.

The reports omit details on specific individuals or groups, nor do they offer conclusions about what, if any, crimes or plots of violence were detected.

"There's a lot of stuff that isn't in there, that's been redacted, or isn't spelled out. But it says these undercover operations were going on, that there were 12 officers," says Tim Groves, who requested and obtained the reports through an access to information request. "The problem is that, looking at these documents, police expected criminal extremism everywhere."

Groves, an investigative journalist and active participant in the alternative media centre during last summer's G20 summit in Toronto, agreed to share the police documents with CBC News.

CBC's independent analysis of the police records reveals:

  • The RCMP set up a Joint Intelligence Group in January 2009, which in turn assigned a dozen officers to a covert PIIT (Primary Intelligence Investigative Team) expressly for monitoring and infiltrating suspected extremist networks.
  • The joint-forces PITT had a mandate to use undercover officers and informants from within the ranks of protest networks, not just to monitor potential criminal activity by organizers, but also to "deter, prevent, investigate and/or disrupt" threats to the summit.
  • The investigative team created and shared files on a long list of individuals, colour coding them according to perceived risk level as red (suspect), orange (person of interest) and yellow (associate).

Police identified "criminal extremists" as a significant threat to the Canadian summits, targeting anti-capitalist groups with grievances tied to the environment, animal rights and First Nations resource-based issues. They noted, however, that "in Canada the criminal extremist activity has never reached the level experienced in some European countries."

RCMP history of citizen surveillance

Laurentian University Prof. Gary Kinsman, a sociologist and historian who has written extensively on RCMP surveillance, says "anti-capitalist perspectives, anarchist perspectives, socialist perspectives, almost get criminalized."

"This is part of a long history of Canadian security police [involved in] major forms of surveillance including infiltration of various different social movements, including the union movement, the gay movement at times, " Kinsman says.

Kinsman acknowledges police may have targeted people who they suspected were actively plotting violence or criminal activity. What surprises him, though, is that according to the ISU documents, undercover officers had an expressed mandate to do more than simply watch and wait for crimes to be committed.

He says their intelligence gathering was used as a basis for pre-emptive arrests of some 50 protest organizers on charges of conspiracy (many of which have been dropped, while 17 remain before the courts.)

"A large number of the people charged with conspiracy were arrested prior to anything happening on that Saturday demonstration," Kinsman told CBC News, saying he himself was among the peaceful demonstrators at last year's Toronto summit.

"So the evidence collected from the people who infiltrated the activist groups was basically used to criminalize the organizers, prior to anything actually taking place."

Undercover officers among demonstrators

In addition to the advance surveillance, plainclothes officers, in teams of at least four, were stationed throughout the crowds at the G8/G20 demonstrations as "event monitors" who were required to "provide real time intelligence of demonstration or large gatherings of protesters where there is pre-existing intelligence and/or evidence of violence," according to the ISU documents

These event monitors were also charged with tracking and reporting on the movements of buses, vans and trains carrying protest groups to and from the summits.

Groves, who initially obtained the police surveillance reports, notes that "they did all this intelligence gathering and there are still things getting broken on the street."

He questions whether all the undercover work served any purpose, given the agitators who still managed to smash windows, loot stores and set police cars on fire with virtually no police intervention.

News of the police surveillance has only served to send a chill through the activist community, he says, making many of its members more distrusting of police, and perhaps hardening their anti-state views.

Source: CBC news 

Chief Bill Blair admits police were unprepared, made mistakes at G20

Toronto police were caught off guard and unprepared for what hit them at the G20, according to Chief Bill Blair’s review of policing at the summit.

They were surprised by the Black Bloc, couldn’t handle the number of prisoners they were sending to the temporary detention centre and erred in corralling hundreds of peaceful protesters at Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.

“Better methods must be developed for extracting individuals posing a threat to public safety from within large crowds,” Blair’s report says in reference to the “kettling” of about 300 protesters, broadcast live on the final day of the summit.

Toronto police have been widely criticized following last June’s meeting of world leaders in the city. They were seen to have seemingly allowed wanton property destruction by a small pack of black-clad vandals, while using heavy-handed tactics against many peaceful protesters in response.

Police arrested more than 1,100 people over the weekend, the largest mass arrest in Canadian history. Most were never charged.

Blair’s 70-page report, released late Thursday, does not explain why so many were arrested, nor does it directly address conditions at the G20 jail on Eastern Ave., which has been sharply criticized for overcrowding and inhumane treatment.

It also makes no mention of the two Toronto police officers who have been charged with assaulting protesters.

The report complains of a lack of planning time, and takes aim at the federal government for its late decision to move the second half of the G8/G20 to Toronto.

“While host cities of some previous G8/G20 summits had two years to prepare,” Toronto police were able to meet security demands in “just six months.”

Regarding Saturday’s events, when a pack of radical anarchists split from the peaceful protest group and began a 90-minute rampage downtown, the report’s blow-by-blow timeline paints a portrait of disorganization and confusion among police, who always seemed a step behind the unpredictable vandals.

Police “lacked the mobility and speed” to respond to the Black Bloc, the report says, so chose not to engage them and instead focused on officer safety. It recommends police develop better strategies to deal with such “dynamic situations.”

Regarding the kettling at Queen and Spadina, Blair says that when using “containment techniques,” police must give law-abiding citizens a route to exit and “a reasonable opportunity to leave the affected area.”

Immediately following the summit, Blair repeatedly told media that everyone inside the kettle was given three clear warnings to disperse — a claim denied by many detained at the intersection.

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Police sued over hellish 11-hour G20 arrest ordeal

“Well, good luck on Saturday.”

These were the five words Sean Salvati cheekily uttered to two RCMP officers on June 23, 2010, three days before the G20 summit. And with that one sentence, what had been a fun evening of friends and Blue Jays baseball quickly became a hellish 11-hour ordeal in which Salvati claims he was arrested, strip-searched, beaten, denied access to a lawyer and left naked in a cell for nearly an hour.

Scenes of Salvati’s ordeal were captured by police security cameras at a downtown police station and his lawyers have obtained several hours of footage through Freedom of Information requests.

In one video, Salvati is shown being led from an interrogation room by three officers and escorted naked past a female officer.

Salvati also alleges he was beaten while officers forcibly strip-searched him.

“One of the officers grabbed the neck and began punching me,” Salvati said in an interview with the Star Thursday. “(He) mentioned something about ‘These are your rights.’ You know? Like: ‘You think you have rights? These are your rights.’

“And I just started screaming.”

Salvati, a 33-year-old licensed paralegal, claims he was an innocent victim caught up in the G20’s overzealous security effort. The charge that allegedly got him thrown in jail — Salvati was pulled from a cab and arrested for public intoxication — was never filed in court.

He is suing the Toronto Police Services Board, the attorney general of Canada and four Toronto police officers for false arrest and imprisonment.

The lawsuit was filed in Ontario Superior Court late Thursday afternoon and seeks at least $75,000 in damages. Salvati further alleges police assaulted him in custody and violated his Charter rights by denying him access to a lawyer and subjecting him to cruel and unusual treatment when they locked him naked in a cell for 48 minutes.

Salvati’s allegations have not yet been proven in court and no statements of defence have been filed.

“You just never imagine when you go about your daily life that this is the kind of thing that could happen to you when you’ve done nothing wrong,” said lawyer Paul Quick, who is representing Salvati along with Murray Klippenstein. “And Sean hasn’t done anything wrong.”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star 

Why won’t Rob Ford go to gay events?

Why the mayor seems to be shunning occasions involving homosexuals is being debated in many corners of Toronto’s gay community as the huge signature Pride festival gets underway.

Rob Ford’s office flatly denies that’s the case. But his decision to head to his cottage rather than the July 3 Pride parade — with no explanation for the festival’s nine other days — coupled with years of brow-raising comments and council votes, has many jumping to conclusions.

“He’s the mayor of a huge metropolis with a big gay community,” said Casey Oraa, chair of the Political Action Committee of Queer Ontario.

“His campaign was all about respect for taxpayers. Where’s his respect for us?”

Ford’s office took the unusual step Thursday of presenting his mother, Diane, to reporters before the mayor cut the ribbon of a medical supply store in Etobicoke.

“He just wants to spend the weekend with his family,” she said when asked about his decision.

Asked if he will attend any Pride events, the mayor said: “I’ll take it one day at a time. My family comes first.” Asked if he is homophobic, Ford looked away and mumbled something unintelligible under his breath.

Ford’s Pride decision follows his rebuffing of a half-dozen other similar overtures since last fall. His singular engagement with the gay community — signing the Pride Week proclamation — was done privately, with nobody from Pride present.

“Clearly it’s an ideological position,” Oraa said. “I’d respect him more if he would own up to his homophobia — say ‘This is what I believe.’”

Full Article
Source: Toronto Star