Later On

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Archive for July 7th, 2013

An example of how a culture enforces it values and treats those who act outside cultural norms

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I’ve been discussing certain pernicious cultures, which use repressive methods and violence to control members who don’t want to abide by its cultural restrictions. I came across an example in the New Yorker, where Louis Menand has an essay that begins:

On February 18, 1965, a civil-rights worker named James Orange was arrested in Marion, Alabama, on charges of disorderly conduct and contributing to the delinquency of minors, and was thrown into the local jail. Orange had organized a march by young people (“minors”) in support of a voter-registration drive being run by several groups, including the one he worked for, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, whose president was Martin Luther King, Jr.

That night, four hundred people gathered in Zion’s Chapel Methodist Church, in Marion, and prepared to walk to the jail, about a block away, and sing freedom songs. They left the church at nine-thirty and ran into a police blockade. Ordered to disperse, they were attacked by fifty or more state troopers and other law-enforcement officials wielding clubs. Street lights had been turned off or shot out; white vigilantes were on the scene; reporters were attacked and cameras were smashed. No photographic record of the night survives.

As Gary May tells the story, in “Bending Toward Justice” (Basic), people still in the church, hearing the screams outside, ran out the back, chased by the troopers. One of those who fled, Cager Lee, was struck on the head, fell to the ground, and was kicked. Lee was eighty-two; he was five feet tall and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds. But he escaped, and ran into a café, where he saw his daughter Viola and two grandchildren, Emma Jean and Jimmie Lee Jackson. When troopers stormed the café and began beating people, Jackson tried to protect his mother. He was shoved up against a cigarette machine and shot twice in the stomach by a trooper named James Fowler. Jackson managed to get out of the café but was beaten over the head until he collapsed on the street. He lay there, bleeding, for thirty minutes. Eventually, after a nearby hospital was unable to treat him, he was driven by a black undertaker, in a hearse, to a hospital in Selma, thirty miles away.

Jackson was twenty-six years old, and an Army veteran. He had tried five times to register to vote, without success. While he was in the hospital, Colonel Al Lingo, the director of public safety for the state of Alabama, placed him under arrest for assault and battery with intent to murder a peace officer. But on February 26th, eight days after the shooting, Jackson died. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, generally regarded as the greatest legislative achievement of the so-called “classical phase” of the civil-rights movement—the phase that began in 1954 with the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education—had three martyrs. Jimmie Lee Jackson was the first.

This is the act a key provision of which was struck down last week by the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby v. Holder. (Other important provisions remain in effect.) The act is celebrated because it was enormously effective in giving African-Americans the vote—far more effective than Brown was in integrating schools—and because it gave African-Americans something desegregation alone could not give them: political power. After Shelby, Congress can rewrite the law, but a Congress that cannot pass a farm bill is unlikely to craft new legislation protecting minority voting rights. The moral and political will that characterized the era for which the act has stood as a prime symbol may have run its course. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 6:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Covering the U.S. Military

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Covering the US military must be difficult. The military idea of “honor” seems to allow for lying—left, right, and center, particularly by officers. Nick Turse comments at TomDispatch on his experience:

The 30-year-old history of U.S. foreign policy: now, there’s a dynamite issue!  Explosive, in fact.  Far too dangerous, it turns out, for Americans to be informed about or have access to basic documents about — so you might conclude from a recent report at Steven Aftergood’s website Secrecy News.

According to him, “A 1991 statute mandated that the State Department publish the documentary record of U.S. foreign policy (known as Foreign Relations of the United States, or FRUS) no later than 30 years after the events described.”  They were years behind when President Obama, still in his sunshine mode, hit the Oval Office and ordered State “to complete the processing of the backlog of 25-year-old records awaiting declassification by the end of December 2013.”

Didn’t happen, of course.  And that, it turns out, is the least of it.  A State Department historical advisory committee (HAC), a “panel of distinguished historians,” has just weighed in with its own fears that “a substantial percentage of those records that have been reviewed by the NDC [National Declassification Center] have not been cleared for release to the public.  In the opinion of the HAC, the relatively high number of reviewed documents that remain withheld from researchers and citizens raises fundamental questions about the declassification guidelines.”  The historians wonder, in fact, whether the majority of the FRUS volumes will ever see the light of day.

History, too, may need its Edward Snowden, a rogue historian with access to those State documents and the urge to travel to Hong Kong or tour the bowels of Moscow’s international airport terminal.  If no such historian appears, then Americans curious about the documentary history of our past may get another 30 years of the good old runaround — and even then it’ll be nothing compared to what TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, received from the U.S. military. Tom

The Classic Military Runaround
Your Tax Dollars at Work Keeping You in the Dark
By Nick Turse

There are hundreds, possibly thousands of U.S. personnel — the military refuses to say how many — stationed in the ochre-tinted country of Qatar.  Out in the searing heat of the desert, they fly fighter jets or fix them.  They equip and arm troops headed to war.  Some work in a high-tech command-and-control center overseeing U.S. air operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere in the Greater Middle East.  Yet I found myself sitting in a hotel room in Doha, Qatar’s capital, about 30 miles east of al-Udeid Air Base, the main U.S. installation in the country, unable to see, let alone talk, to any of them.

In mid-May, weeks before my arrival in Qatar, I sent a request to the public affairs office at the base to arrange a visit with the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, the unit that, according to the military, carries out a “criti­cal combat mission that spans nearly 6,000 miles from the Horn of Africa to Northern Afghanistan.”  Or at least I tried to.  Day or night, weekday or weekend, the website refused to deliver my message.  Finally, I dug up an alternate email address and sent in my request.  Days passed with no word, without even an acknowledgement.  I followed up yet again and finally received a reply — and then it began.

The initial response came on May 28th from the Media Operations Chief at Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs.  She told me that I needed to contact the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing’s Public Affairs liaison, Captain Angela Webb, directly.  So I repeatedly wrote to Captain Webb.  No response.  On June 10th, I received an email from Susan Harrington.  She was, she told me, “taking over” for Captain Webb.  Unfortunately, she added, it was now far too close to my arrival in Qatar to arrange a visit.  “Due to time constraints,” she wrote me, “I do not think it will be possible to support this request since we are likely already within that 30 day window.”

Don’t think I was surprised.  By now, I’m used to it.  Whether I’m trying to figure out what the U.S. military is doing in Latin America or Africa, Afghanistan or Qatar, the response is remarkably uniform  — obstruction and obfuscation, hurdles and hindrances.  In short, the good old-fashioned military runaround.  I had hoped to take a walk around al-Udeid Air Base, perhaps get a glimpse of the jumbotron-sized screens and rows of computers in its Combined Air and Space Operations Center.  I wanted to learn how the drawdown in Afghanistan was affecting life on the base.

Instead, I ended up sitting in the climate-controlled comfort of my hotel room, staring at a cloudless sky, typing these words behind double-paned glass that shielded me from the 106 degree heat outside.  For my trouble, on my return to the United States, I was detained at Kennedy Airport in New York by agents of the Department of Homeland Security.  Their question for me: Was I planning to fight against U.S. forces in Afghanistan?

Base Desires in Africa

If you are an American citizen, you’re really not supposed to know about operations at al-Udeid Air Base.  The men and women there on your dime can’t even “mention the base name or host nation name in any unsecured communications.”  Instead, they’re instructed to say that they are at an “undisclosed location in Southwest Asia” instead of “the Deid,” as they call it.

It isn’t the only base that the Pentagon wants to keep in the shadows.  You’re also not supposed to know . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 3:37 pm

Frank Bruni on the hideous (and punished) crimes of the Catholic church

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Frank Bruni has a good column, but I don’t really expect anything substantive to be done: the Catholic church has decided to minimize, obfuscate, and (when possible) hide the crimes it has committed and, basically, continue on.

BOSTON, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. The archdioceses change but the overarching story line doesn’t, and last week Milwaukee had a turn in the spotlight, with the release of roughly 6,000 pages of records detailing decades of child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests there, a sweeping, searing encyclopedia of crime and insufficient punishment.

But the words I keep marveling at aren’t from that wretched trove. They’re from an open letter that Jerome Listecki, the archbishop of Milwaukee, wrote to Catholics just before the documents came out.

“Prepare to be shocked,” he said.

What a quaint warning, and what a clueless one.

Quaint because at this grim point in 2013, a quarter-century since child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church first captured serious public attention, few if any Catholics are still surprised by a priest’s predations.

Clueless because Listecki was referring to the rapes and molestations themselves, not to what has ultimately eroded many Catholics’ faith and what continues to be even more galling than the evil that a man — any man, including one in a cassock or collar — can do. I mean the evil that an entire institution can do, though it supposedly dedicates itself to good.

I mean the way that a religious organization can behave almost precisely as a corporation does, with fudged words, twisted logic and a transcendent instinct for self-protection that frequently trump the principled handling of a specific grievance or a particular victim.

The Milwaukee documents underscore this, especially in the person of Cardinal Timothy Dolan, now the archbishop of New York, previously the archbishop of Milwaukee from 2002 to 2009 and thus one of the characters in the story that the documents tell. Last week’s headlines rightly focused on his part, because he typifies the slippery ways of too many Catholic leaders.

The documents show that in 2007, as the Milwaukee archdiocese grappled with sex-abuse lawsuits and seemingly pondered bankruptcy, Dolan sought and got permission from the Vatican to transfer $57 million into a trust for Catholic cemetery maintenance, where it might be better protected, as he wrote, “from any legal claim and liability.”

Several church officials have said that the money had been previously flagged for cemetery care, and that Dolan was merely formalizing that.

But even if that’s so, his letter contradicts his strenuous insistence before its emergence that he never sought to shield church funds. He did precisely that, no matter the nuances of the motivation.

He’s expert at drafting and dwelling in gray areas. Back in Milwaukee he . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 12:29 pm

Posted in Law, Religion

The secret FISA court seems to be an arm of the NSA

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Consider: the FISA court in effect is a pat of the Executive Branch, though its judges are appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts. FISA works with NSA to help it get clearance to collect what it wants (namely, everything). It decisions are secret, and it makes those decisions based purely upon what NSA tells it: it does not use an adversarial process. And by keeping everything secret, it can hide all its errors and all its overreaching.

Connor Simpson writes at the Atlantic Wire:

The top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court court at the center of the National Security Agency spying scandal is “almost a parallel Supreme Court,” according to a new report in The New York Times, that has interpreted constitutional law to promote unprecedented levels of surveillance.

The Times‘ Eric Lichtblau reports the 11-member court has become the only voice on questions of surveillance pertaining to our constitutional rights, despite an increase in judicial oversight. The cases that face FISA are rarely disputed or debated anywhere else, not even the Supreme Court. They are the first and only voice in the judicial surveillance debate. The FISA court is “regularly assessing broad constitutional questions and establishing important judicial precedents,” all behind closed doors, with little to no forum for public or private challenges. There’s an appeal process set up that’s only been used a “handful” of times. The court granted a whopping 1,800 surveillance requests last year. No request was denied.

The court’s most important ruling was the expansion of the “special needs” doctrine to include terrorism cases. The special needs doctrine was established in a 1989 Supreme Court ruling allowing railway workers be drug tested on the job. It’s the same law that allows police to carry out drunk driving checkpoints and for the TSA to search your bags and body at the airport. But the FISA court has ruled this same rule applies to the gathering of massive amounts of metadata from many forms of communication, too. It’s a legally questionable practice, at best, Lichtblau explains:

That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”

And the NSA hasn’t used this broad ruling to only focus on your standard chaos and mayhem brand of terrorism, either. The intelligence service routinely uses their metadata collection, taken from the world’s vast network of fibre optic cables as part of a deal made long ago, to monitor and investigate espionage cases, nuclear proliferation and cyber attacks. Even though the NSA collects these massive troves of metadata, like almost every communication by email or phone in Brazil, as the Guardian’sGlenn Greenwald revealed today, agents still need court-approval to access the content of the collected messages. One source explained it with a fishing analogy that seems to work well:

This concept is rooted partly in the “special needs” provision the court has embraced. “The basic idea is that it’s O.K. to create this huge pond of data,” a third official said, “but you have to establish a reason to stick your pole in the water and start fishing.”

That makes the spying seem so quaint, right? It’s almost relaxing.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 11:59 am

GOP May Hold Debt Ceiling Hostage To Enact Paul Ryan’s Budget

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The GOP likes to force things through—the GOP truly does not believe in democracy (deciding by majority rule, something they continually attempt to subvert) because they (a) know that their ideas and policies are unpopular with most people, and (b) they think they know better. Igor Volsky at ThinkProgress describes what we can expect:

House Republicans will hold the national debt ceiling increase hostage until President Obama agrees to mandatory spending cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, the National Journal reports, and will seek to use the leverage of default to force Democrats to enact the policies in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget.

Since slashing discretionary spending to historic lows — the discretionary side of the ledger has grown at a slower rate than inflation since 2007 and now makes up a smaller share of the economy than it did before the Great Recession — the GOP has shifted from demanding dollar-for-dollar immediate spending cuts and is now focusing on drafting a range of options to significantly restructure mandatory benefit programs.

The idea is to throw in the “kitchen sink” and allow Obama to pick and choose the cuts. “If what makes it easier to find the deal is to go in and pick and choose among a dozen different programs and just grab a little bit from all 12 — instead of a lot from one them — then that works just fine,” Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), who heads the Republican Study Committee’s budget and spending task force, told the Journal:

For a long-term deal, one that gives Treasury borrowing authority for three-and-a-half years, Obama would have to agree to premium support. The plan to privatize Medicare, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Ryan budget, is the holy grail for conservatives who say major deficit-reduction can only be achieved by making this type of cut to mandatory spending. “If the president wants to go big, there’s a big idea,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, chairman of the Republican Study Committee.

For a medium-sized increase in the debt-limit, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food stamp program, block-grant Medicaid, or tinker with chained CPI.

For a smaller increase, there is talk of means-testing Social Security, for example, or ending certain agricultural subsidies.

While the menu includes plenty of variables, the underlying strategic goal is to reduce mandatory spending — whatever the scope of the deal. Even at the smallest end of the spectrum — another months-long extension of debt-limit —there is talk of pushing back the eligibility age for Social Security by an equal number of months.

For 50 years, Congress routinely increased the debt ceiling as needed, including seven times under President George W. Bush. But in 2011, Republicans decided the debt ceiling was “a hostage worth ransoming. The brinksmanship caused the first-ever downgrade of the U.S. credit rating by Standard & Poor’s and cost the country a million jobs and $19 billion.

The Treasury Department has not yet said when the nation will hit its debt ceiling and has repeatedly moved back the deadline as a result of “lower spending levels and higher tax revenues.”

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 11:51 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Are vegetarian diets okay?

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As is so often the case, the answer is “It depends.” Specifically, it depends on the diet. “Vegetarian diet” is too undefined: a diet eating nothing other than fresh fruit is a vegetarian diet, but inadequate for humans, who evolved as omnivores. Marion Nestle discusses the issues at Food Politics:

I can’t believe the number of times I have been asked that question but it has just come up again in the context of recent complaints about the health and environmental hazards of eating meat.  So here, once again, is my nutrition academic’s take on the nutritional implications of vegetarian diets.

Full disclosure: I eat meat.  Humans are omnivores and I am one nutritionist who fully subscribes to basic, if banal, principles of healthful diets: variety, balance, and moderation. As I explain in my book, What to Eat, if you eat a variety of foods within and among groups – meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables, and grains – you don’t have to worry about nutritional details.  As long as calories are adequate and the foods are relatively unprocessed, the different kinds of foods complement each other’s nutrient contents and provide everything that is needed in reasonable amounts and proportions.

With that said, it is not necessary to eat meat.  Meat is not an essential nutrient.  I can think of plenty of advantages to eating no meat, eating less meat, or eating meat produced in ways that are far better for the health of animals, people, and the planet.

Why anyone would question the benefits of eating vegetarian diets, or diets that are largely vegetarian is beyond me.   People who eat vegetarian diets are usually healthier – sometimes a lot healthier – than people who eat meat.

But before getting into all this, there is the pesky problem of definition.  What, exactly, is a vegetarian?  As it happens, people who call themselves vegetarians eat many kinds of diets.  The least restrictive vegetarians do not eat beef but occasionally eat pork or lamb.  Next come the groups that eat no red meats, or restrict poultry, dairy, fish, or eggs.  The most restrictive are vegans who eat no foods of animal origin at all.

Nutritional implications depend on the degree of restriction.  The least restrictive diets, those that exclude meat but include fish, milk, or eggs, raise no nutritional issues whatsoever.  People who eat such diets are likely to have a lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers than the average meat-eating American, and a risk of osteoporosis no higher.

Only the most restrictive vegetarian diets raise nutritional concerns.  Vegans, who eat no foods of animal origin, need to do three things: . . .

Continue reading.

FYI: Foods highest in B12. I regularly eat some mussels, oysters, or clams—maybe once a quarter or so.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 11:25 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Good food discussion from Marion Nestle

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From her blog, Food Politics:

My monthly (first Sunday) column for the San Francisco Chronicle appears today.  This time, I caught up with some questions.

Q: What is your opinion about (fill in the blank)?

A: Questions have been flooding in lately asking what I think about one or another food or nutrition topic under current discussion. I ordinarily don’t respond to them because any reader of this column should be able to predict what I’m likely to say. Occasionally, some misunderstand, so let’s deal with some clarifications.

Q: I know you have a very mainstream position and a skepticism for “vegan scientists.” Kaiser Permanente recently came out for plant-based diets. The United Nations says, “A global shift toward a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change.”

A: Of course I favor plant-based diets. Such diets are demonstrably better for health and kinder to the environment. But plant-based does not necessarily mean vegan, which entirely excludes animal products. This quotation appears to come from vegan websites, not the United Nations. The U.N. report notes that animal agriculture contributes to climate change, but says nothing about dietary advice or vegan diets. Kaiser Permanente urges physicians to advocate “eating healthy, whole, plant-based foods (primarily fruits and vegetables) and minimizing consumption of meat, eggs and dairy products.” Minimize is not the same as exclude.

Q: You haven’t said anything about the genetically modified wheat found in Oregon. Don’t you care?

A: I haven’t written about this incident because I’m waiting to learn how the wheat got there. GM wheat is not approved for planting anywhere, and it’s been nine years since Monsanto grew its last test plots. Without more information, I can only speculate. Has GM wheat been growing ever since? Did the seeds suddenly germinate? Were they mixed with conventional seeds by mistake? Monsanto has its own explanation: sabotage. The need for a true explanation is urgent. Several countries have refused to accept shipments of American wheat unless it can be certified GM-free.

Q: Just like everyone else, you don’t write much about food safety. . . [Technically, not a question. – LG]

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 11:16 am

Does NSA ever tell the truth?

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We really need an independent (i.e., outside the Executive Branch) investigation of the NSA mess. It’s expensive, it’s anti-democratic, and it’s out of control. Indeed, looking at the state of the US today, and the direction it’s going, it seems evident that the terrorists, if not winning outright, did indeed achieve a significant long-term victory in destroying the US as an open democracy. Maybe they did hate our freedoms—if so, they certainly were successful in getting rid of many of them.

Timothy Lee has a good article in the Washington Posst:

In recent weeks, the NSA has stressed that it only “targets” people with foreign ties. That argument may satisfy most Americans. But the foreigners in Europe aren’t happy about it.

On Thursday, as Americans celebrated their independence, the European Parliamentpassed a resolution demanding that the U.S. government provide the E.U. with “full information on PRISM and other such programmes involving data collection.” If the U.S. doesn’t cooperate, the E.U. is threatening to curtail a variety of data sharing with the United States. The E.U. has also demanded that surveillance issues be put on the agenda of the upcoming U.S.-E.U. trade talks.

The Internet is forcing the world’s governments to rethink a fundamental premise of surveillance law: the distinction between foreign and domestic surveillance. That distinction makes less and less sense as the Internet becomes increasingly globalized.In the old days, surveillance law was simple: When the U.S. government spied inside U.S. borders, it generally needed a warrant from a judge. When it spied overseas, U.S. law allowed it to do pretty much whatever it wanted. That division of labor was reflected in the structure of the intelligence community: The NSA was limited to foreign intelligence, and its operations received little public scrutiny. The FBI, which focused on domestic law enforcement, received more active public oversight from both the courts and Congress.

The differing legal treatment of domestic and foreign surveillance made sense because spying inside a government’s own borders was a very different proposition from spying on foreign soil. In the 20th century, the most important domestic communications providers — the Post Office and the companies in charge of telephone and telegraph lines — were located inside the U.S. They could therefore be compelled to cooperate with surveillance efforts. The ease of domestic surveillance made it ripe for abuse, so legal safeguards were needed to keep it from getting out of hand.

In contrast, overseas surveillance used to be difficult. The postal service and phone company in France weren’t going to help the U.S. government spy on French citizens — at least not without the approval of the French government. So while U.S. law gave our government unfettered authority to spy on French citizens, its practical ability to spy on French people was fairly limited.

The Internet has obliterated the once-clear line between foreign and domestic surveillance. Hundreds of millions of foreigners use American services such as Gmail and Facebook. The NSA has argued that to preserve its capacity to spy on foreigners, it needs a free hand to tap into online services that are also used by millions of Americans.

But the NSA is trying to have it both ways. With programs like PRISM, the NSA gets all the benefits of domestic surveillance programs. But the NSA has insisted that when it is “targeting” foreigners, it cannot be tied down by the oversight mechanisms that traditionally accompanied domestic surveillance.

That position may prove untenable. Europeans are unlikely to put up with a situation where a foreign government has unfettered access to their private communications. If the E.U. cannot convince the U.S. to provide their citizens with stronger legal protections, then Europeans will have a powerful incentive to switch to online services that are under the physical jurisdiction of their own democratically-elected governments. So even if the U.S. government doesn’t care about the privacy rights of Europeans, it may be forced to change its policies for economic reasons.

And while foreigners are most outraged, the current situation isn’t great for Americans either. The NSA’s assurances that it only “targets” foreigners are essentially on the honor system. The NSA has the technical capability to intercept purely domestic communications, and there are few formal checks to prevent this power from being abused. Changing the law to better protect the rights of foreigners would have the happy side effect of ensuring that “foreign surveillance” doesn’t become a loophole for spying on Americans too.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 11:13 am

Aha! Border security is our new war to support the Military Industrial Complex

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I now understand why it’s so important to militarize the US border: otherwise defense contractors would not get so wealthy from taxpayer money. Joshua Holland writes in Salon:

Last week, John McCain gleefully announced that the Senate immigration bill would result in the “most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall.” Indeed, an amendment authored by Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., authorizes a massive increase in border security dollars — including $30 billion for hiring and training 19,000 new border patrol officers over the next 10 years, and over $13 billion for a “comprehensive Southern border strategy” (including 700 miles of high-tech fencing).

What the senators didn’t tout was that the wall is both functionally useless – and will enrich some of the largest military contractors in the world.

Only about half of the country’s unauthorized immigrants entered illegally through the Southern border to begin with. And with illegal entries at a 40-year low, and the undocumented population down by a million from its 2007 peak, the right’s fetish for security spending is shaping up to be a boondoggle for giant defense contractors with a consistent track record of bungling past efforts to “secure the border.”

The amendment passed with 67 votes, including the support of 15 Republicans. NBC News found it “striking” that “some of these Republican senators had opposed previous immigration-reform efforts — like the 2010 DREAM Act.” But, really, it’s not so striking. Immigration reform is being loaded up with a ton of the sort of “bloated government” and “wasteful spending” the right can get behind: military spending.

Perhaps by design, the defense industry is pushing friendly lawmakers to advance the pork-laden bill. Eric Lipton of the New York Times reported that, “the nation’s largest military contractors, facing federal budget cuts and the withdrawals from two wars, are turning their sights to the Mexican border in the hopes of collecting some of the billions of dollars expected to be spent on tighter security if immigration legislation becomes law.”

The Corker-Hoeven amendment spells out the kinds of equipment to be deployed in very specific terms. In the sector covering Yuma and Tucson, Ariz., for example, it calls for 50 fixed surveillance towers, 72 fixed camera towers with remote surveillance capabilities, 28 mobile surveillance systems, 685 unattended ground sensors and 22 hand-held night-vision and thermal imaging systems.

Reached by phone in Chihuahua, Mexico, Tom Barry, a senior analyst at the Center for International Policy and author of “Border Wars,” told Salon that the effort is simply “absurd.” “Border patrol agents are tripping over themselves now,” he said. “They have nothing to do. They’re reading magazines in their trucks. If they increase the force by the levels they’re talking about now, you’ll have measures of boredom and waste that are almost inconceivable.”

He added that the Border Patrol finds itself “trapped” in its increasingly military rhetoric. “Any measure of border security short of shutting the whole thing down leaves room for people to demand more money. And if you’re looking at the high-tech end of it, the cost-benefit ratio hasn’t been proven,” he said. “It’s a big waste of money – from drones to these high-tech virtual fences, they just haven’t shown to be effective.”

But despite that, Lipton reports that military contractors like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics “are preparing for an unusual desert showdown” this summer, when they will gather in the desert to show off their high-tech gizmos to Homeland Security officials.

KBR — a firm that gained infamy by allegedly exposing soldiers in Iraq to toxic substances, giving them ice tainted by “bodily fluids and putrefied remains,” turning a blind eye to sexual assault (and then suing a woman who claimed to have been imprisoned by the company after reporting that she had been raped), and avoiding paying “hundreds of millions of dollars” in taxes by hiring workers through shell companies located in tropical tax havens — bills itself as “a major provider of border security and protection” that has “been deemed a proven supplier of command and control solutions.”

A 2012 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general (PDF) found that because DHS had more drones than it could deploy, some of them sit idle on the ground. And as NPR reported, the agency itself acknowledges that operating small, piloted aircraft costs just a tenth as much as operating unmanned aerial vehicles. But General Atomics, a company that builds Predator drones as well as “the ground stations that control them and provides pilot training and support services for field operations,” spent almost $2.5 million lobbying Congress last year, according to OpenSecrets. The Corker-Hoeven amendment authorizes DHS to buy four additional drones on top of the 10 it already operates. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 8:20 am

Another marker on the road to a authoritarian society: Heavy-handed authorities, especially police

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One sign that a society is closing down and gearing up to overcome citizen resistance is that authorities become stricter in enforcement of rules and laws and the police forces increasingly act as paramilitary units rather than as community police. This process in the US is well advanced, as discussed in Radley Balko’s book Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police ForcesHere‘s an excerpt in Salon:

Sal Culosi is dead because he bet on a football game — but it wasn’t a bookie or a loan shark who killed him. His local government killed him, ostensibly to protect him from his gambling habit.

Several months earlier at a local bar, Fairfax County, Virginia, detective David Baucum overheard the thirty-eight-year-old optometrist and some friends wagering on a college football game. “To Sal, betting a few bills on the Redskins was a stress reliever, done among friends,” a friend of Culosi’s told me shortly after his death. “None of us single, successful professionals ever thought that betting fifty bucks or so on the Virginia–Virginia Tech football game was a crime worthy of investigation.” Baucum apparently did. After overhearing the men wagering, Baucum befriended Culosi as a cover to begin investigating him. During the next several months, he talked Culosi into raising the stakes of what Culosi thought were just more fun wagers between friends to make watching sports more interesting. Eventually Culosi and Baucum bet more than $2,000 in a single day. Under Virginia law, that was enough for police to charge Culosi with running a gambling operation. And that’s when they brought in the SWAT team.

On the night of January 24, 2006, Baucum called Culosi and arranged a time to drop by to collect his winnings. When Culosi, barefoot and clad in a T-shirt and jeans, stepped out of his house to meet the man he thought was a friend, the SWAT team began to move in. Seconds later, Det. Deval Bullock, who had been on duty since 4:00 AM and hadn’t slept in seventeen hours, fired a bullet that pierced Culosi’s heart.

Sal Culosi’s last words were to Baucum, the cop he thought was a friend: “Dude, what are you doing?”

In March 2006, just two months after its ridiculous gambling investigation resulted in the death of an unarmed man, the Fairfax County Police Department issued a press release warning residents not to participate in office betting pools tied to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The title: “Illegal Gambling Not Worth the Risk.” Given the proximity to Culosi’s death, residents could be forgiven for thinking the police department believed wagering on sports was a crime punishable by execution.

In January 2011, the Culosi family accepted a $2 million settlement offer from Fairfax County. That same year, Virginia’s government spent $20 million promoting the state lottery.

The raid on Sal Culosi was merely another red flag indicating yet more SWAT team mission creep in America. It wasn’t even the first time a Virginia SWAT team had killed someone during a gambling raid. In 1998 a SWAT team in Virginia Beach shot and killed security guard Edward C. Reed during a 3:00 AM raid on a private club suspected of facilitating gambling. Police said they approached the tinted car where Reed was working security, knocked, and identified themselves, then shot Reed when he refused to drop his handgun. Reed’s family insisted the police story was unlikely. Reed had no criminal record. Why would he knowingly point his gun at a heavily armed police team? More likely, they said, Reed mistakenly believed the raiding officers were there to do harm, particularly given that the club had been robbed not long before the raid. Statements by the police themselves seem to back that account. According to officers at the scene, Reed’s last words were, “Why did you shoot me? I was reading a book.”

As the Texas Hold ’Em craze picked up momentum in the mid-2000s, fans of the game started hosting tournaments at private clubs, bars, and residences. Police in many parts of the country responded with SWAT raids. In 2011, for example, police in Baltimore County, Maryland, sent a tactical unit to raid a $65 buy-in poker game at the Lynch Point Social Club. From 2006 to 2008, SWAT teams in South Carolina staged a number of raids to break up poker games in the suburbs of Charleston. Some were well organized and high-stakes, but others were friendly games with a $20 buy-in. “The typical police raid of these games . . . is to literally burst into a home in SWAT gear with guns drawn and treat poker players like a bunch of high-level drug dealers,” an attorney representing poker players told a local newspaper. “Using the taxpayers’ resources for such useless Gestapo-like tactics is more of a crime than is playing of the game.”

In 2007 a Dallas SWAT team actually raided a Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost for hosting charity poker games. Players said the tactics were terrifying. One woman urinated on herself. When police raided a San Mateo, California, poker game in 2008, card players described cops storming the place “in full riot gear” and “with guns drawn.” The games had buy-ins ranging from $25 to $55. Under California law, the games were legal so long as no one took a “rake,” or a cut of the stakes. No one had, but police claimed the $5 the hosts charged players to buy refreshments qualified as a rake. In March 2007, a small army of local cops, ATF agents, National Guard troops, and a helicopter raided a poker game in Cary, North Carolina. They issued forty-one citations, all of them misdemeanors. A columnist at the Fayetteville Observer remarked, “They were there to play cards, not to foment rebellion. . . . [I] wonder . . . what other minutiae, personal vices and petty crimes are occupying [the National Guard’s] time, and where they’re occupying it. . . . Until we get this sorted out, better not jaywalk. There could be a military helicopter overhead.”

Police have justified this sort of heavy-handedness by . . .

Continue reading. It’s lengthy and also interesting—and he does talk about the strange proclivity the police have lately shown for shooting pet dogs to death on no provocation, like it’s just something you do: raid someone’s house, shoot their dog(s), apologize, leave.

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2013 at 7:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

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