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Dangerous Court Rulling Is Latest Attempt to Blame Teachers and Weaken Public Education June 11, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Education, Los Angeles.
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Roger’s note: I read about this decision as reported in the New York Times.  Although it did contain quotes from the teachers’ unions, one came away with the impression that the issue is one of student rights, that is, the right to good teachers, thereby ignoring all the socio-economic reasons for poor educational results.  The judge shamelessly compared his decision to the civil rights iconic decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which overturned public school segregation legality.  Of course, the decision was heartily endorsed by Arne Duncan, Obama’s Chicago basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, who  never met a privatization he didn’t like.

It is a sign of our times that civil rights logic is invoked to justify the destructive corporatization and privatization of public education, the thrust of which is being funded, tea party-like,  by those very same corporate private billionaires.

 

Alex Caputo-Pearl, president elect of United Teachers Los Angeles, takes questions on about the verdict of the Vergara v. California lawsuit in Los Angeles Tuesday, June 10, 2014. A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California’s public school teachers as unconstitutional Tuesday, saying such laws harm students, especially poor and minority ones, by saddling them with bad teachers. (Photo: Damian Dovarganes, AP)

Judge Rolf M. Treu, who decided the Vergara case, declared that he was shocked — shocked! — to learn from Professor Raj Chetty and Professor Thomas Kane of Harvard about the enormous harm that one “grossly ineffective” teacher can do to a child’s lifetime earnings or to their academic gains.

How did he define “grossly ineffective” teacher? He didn’t. How did these dreadful teachers get tenure? Clearly, some grossly incompetent principal must have granted it to them. What was the basis — factual or theoretical — that the students would have had high scores if their teachers did not have the right to due process? He didn’t say.

The theory behind the case — as I see it — is that low test scores are caused by bad teachers. Get rid of the bad teachers, replace them with average teachers, and all students will get high test scores. You might call it the judicial version of No Child Left Behind — that is, pull the right policy levers — say, testing and accountability, or eliminate tenure — and every single child in America will be proficient by 2014. Congress should hang its collective head in shame for having passed that ridiculous law, yet it still sits on the books as the scorned, ineffective, toxic law of the land.

Judge Treu was also regurgitating the unproven claims behind Race to the Top, specifically that using test scores to evaluate teachers will make it possible to weed out “bad teachers,” recruit and reward top teachers, and test scores will rise to the top. Given this theory, a concept like tenure (due process) slows down the effort to fire those “grossly ineffective” teachers and delays the day when every student is proficient.

Relying on Chetty and Kane, Judge Treu is quite certain that the theory of universal proficiency is correct. Thus, in his thinking, it becomes a matter of urgency — a civil rights issue — to eliminate tenure and any other legal protection for teachers, leaving principals free to fire them promptly, without delay or hindrance.

Set aside for the moment that this decision lacks any evidentiary basis. Another judge might have heard the same parade of witnesses and reached a different conclusion.

Bear in mind that the case will be appealed to a higher court, and will continue to be appealed until there is no higher court.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the California Teachers Association might negotiate a different tenure process with the legislature, perhaps a requirement of three years probationary status instead of two.

The one thing that does seem certain is that, contrary to the victory claims of hedge fund managers and right-wing editorial writers, no student will gain anything as a result of this decision. Millions more dollars will be spent to litigate the issues in California and elsewhere, but what will students gain? Nothing. The poorest, neediest students will still be in schools that lack the resources to meet their needs. They will still be in schools where classes are too large. They will still be in buildings that need repairs. They will still be in schools where the arts program and nurses and counselors were eliminated by budget cuts.

If their principals fire all or most or some of their teachers, who will take their places? There is no long line of superb teachers waiting for a chance to teach in inner-city schools. Chetty and Kane blithely assume that those who are fired will be replaced by better teachers. How do they know that?

Let’s be clear. No “grossly ineffective” teacher should ever get tenure. Only a “grossly ineffective” principal would give tenure to a “grossly ineffective” teacher. Teachers do not give tenure to themselves.

Unfortunately, the Vergara decision is the latest example of the blame-shifting strategy of the privatization movement. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income, they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education. If they were truly interested in supporting the needs of the children, the backers of this case would be advocating for smaller classes, for arts programs, for well-equipped and up-to-date schools, for after-school programs, for health clinics, for librarians and counselors, and for inducements to attract and retain a stable corps of experienced teachers in the schools attended by Beatriz Vergara and her co-plaintiffs.

Let us hope that a wiser judicial panel speedily overturns this bad decision and seeks a path of school reform that actually helps the plaintiffs without inflicting harm on their teachers.

Are Utility Companies Out to Destroy Solar’s ‘Rooftop Revolution’? October 16, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Energy, Environment.
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In California, customers who install solar systems and battery arrays are finding themselves cut off from grid

 

- Jon Queally, staff writer

In California and elsewhere, utilities see a rooftop solar revolution as fundemental threat. (Photo: shutterstock)

In the nation’s largest state, California, the major utility companies are trying to limit growth.

Of rooftop solar panels, that is.

According to reporting by Bloomberg, the state’s three largest utilities—Edison International, PG&E Corp. and Sempra Energy—are “putting up hurdles” to homeowners who have installed sun-powered energy systems, especially those with “battery backups wired to solar panels,” in order to slow the spread of what has become a threat to their dominant business model.

“The utilities clearly see rooftop solar as the next threat,” Ben Peters, a government affairs analyst at solar company Mainstream Energy Corp., told Bloomberg. “They’re trying to limit the growth.”

According to Peters, as the business news outlet reports, the dispute between those with solar arrays and the utility giants “threatens the state’s $2 billion rooftop solar industry and indicates the depth of utilities’ concerns about consumers producing their own power.  People with rooftop panels are already buying less electricity, and adding batteries takes them closer to the day they won’t need to buy from the local grid at all.”

Citing but one example, Bloomberg reports:

Matthew Sperling, a Santa Barbara, California, resident, installed eight panels and eight batteries at his home in April.

“We wanted to have an alternative in case of a blackout to keep the refrigerator running,” he said in an interview. Southern California Edison rejected his application to link the system to the grid even though city inspectors said “it was one of the nicest they’d ever seen,” he said.

“We’ve installed a $30,000 system and we can’t use it,” Sperling said.

The utilities argue that customers with solar energy-storing batteries might be rigging the system by fraudulently storing conventional energy sent in from the utility grid, storing it in the batteries, and then sending it back to the grid for credit. The solar companies say there is no proof that this is happening.

What environmentalists and solar energy advocates see is the utility companies putting barriers up to a decentralized system they will not no longer be able to control or profit from.

As Danny Kennedy, author of the book “Rooftop Revolution” and co-founder of solar company Sungevity in California, said in an interview with Alternet earlier this year:

Solar power represents a change in electricity that has a potentially disruptive impact on power in both the literal sense (meaning how we get electricity) and in the figurative sense of how we distribute wealth and power in our society. Fossil fuels have led to the concentration of power whereas solar’s potential is really to give power over to the hands of people. This shift has huge community benefits while releasing our dependency on the centralized, monopolized capital of the fossil fuel industry. So it’s revolutionary in the technological and political sense.

The tensions between decentralized forms of energy like rootop solar or small-scale wind and traditional large-scale utilities is nothing new, but as the crisis of climate change has spurred a global grassroots movement push for a complete withdrawal from the fossil fuel and nuclear paradigm that forms the basis of the current electricity grid, these tensions are growing.

But the resistance to these changes is coming strongest from those with a vested interest in the status quo. With most focus on the behavior of the fossil fuel companies themselves, the idea that utility companies will be deeply impacted by this green energy revolution is often overlooked.

Earlier this summer, David Roberts, an energy and environmental blogger at Grist.org, wrote an extensive, multi-part series on the role of utilities in the renewable energy transition, explaining why understanding the politics and economics of the utility industry (despite the grand “tedium” of the task) will be essential for the remainder of the 21st century. Roberts wrote:

There’s very little public discussion of utilities or utility regulations, especially relative to sexier topics like fracking or electric cars. That’s mainly because the subject is excruciatingly boring, a thicket of obscure institutions and processes, opaque jargon, and acronyms out the wazoo. Whether PURPA allows IOUs to customize RFPs for low-carbon QFs is actually quite important, but you, dear reader, don’t know it, because you fell asleep halfway through this sentence. Utilities are shielded by a force field of tedium.

It’s is an unfortunate state of affairs, because this is going to be the century of electricity. Everything that can be electrified will be. (This point calls for its own post, but mark my words: transportation, heat, even lots of industrial work is going to shift to electricity.) So the question of how best to manage electricity is key to both economic competitiveness and ecological sustainability.

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Chevron Pollutes, Here’s What the People Did Back September 16, 2013

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The oil giant is becoming notorious as shareholders, mayors, and indigenous people criticize its actions.

 

 

 

Bay area Summer Heat. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood.

Marchers participate in a “Summer Heat” march in Richmond, Calif., on August 3. Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood / Survival Media / Flickr.

 

The heat is on for Chevron. The oil giant has for decades shirked responsibility for a multitude of toxic transgressions. Now, a diverse coalition of stakeholders burned by the oil giant’s dirty business is using people power to push back.

 

Last month, 3,000 protesters marched on Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif., to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the explosion and toxic cloud that sent 15,000 residents to local hospitals with respiratory problems.

 

A lawsuit by Richmond’s mayor accuses Chevron officials of ignoring public safety concerns.

 

Seventy activist groups, as well as labor unions, nurses, and city residents, took to the front gates of the refinery, expressing outrage at Chevron for ignoring its own inspectors’ recommendations to replace the corroded steel piping and calling out the company for its continued refusal to make safety improvements.

 

Sunflowers in hand as symbols of soil detoxification, protesters like Doria Robinson of Urban Tilth, a local group that operates more than a dozen community gardens in Richmond, spoke about the devastating effects of the toxic plume on the local ecology.

 

“We had to tear out all of the food we were growing because we didn’t know if it was contaminated or not,” Robinson recalled. “It was absolutely devastating.”

 

A day earlier, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin announced that the city had filed a lawsuit against Chevron, listing 14 other toxic gas releases since 1989 and accusing officials of maximizing profits and executive pay while ignoring public safety concerns.

 

Putting additional pressure on one of the biggest extractors of fossil fuel in the world, 350.org brought its Summer Heat campaign to the rally. They also brought author and activist Bill McKibben, who addressed the crowd and encouraged civil disobedience. More than 200 activists were arrested—including a 90-year-old grandmother. The arrests stopped only when the police ran out of zip cuffs.

 

Summer Heat came on the heels of another recent rally at the company’s Annual General Meeting, where Chevron shareholders got an earful at corporate headquarters in San Ramon, Calif.

 

“Just how many shareholders wish to be dragged to hell by the company’s lawyers?”

 

Concerned with issues ranging from its response to the $19 billion environmental disaster in the Ecuadorian Amazon, to the company’s unprecedented election-related spending, to its refusal to invest in renewable energy, several hundred protesters gathered to urge Chevron to clean up its act.

 

Servio Curipoma, who lost both his parents to cancer caused by billions of gallons of toxic wastewater Chevron/Texaco illegally dumped in the Amazon rainforest, told his tragic story to shareholders and presented Chevron CEO John Watson with a large, symbolic “pink slip.” Watson’s pledge to fight the Ecuador judgment “until hell freezes over” elicited a strong response from Simon Billenness, representative of Investor Voice and Zevin Asset Management. “Just how many shareholders wish to be dragged to hell by the company’s lawyers? This shareholder certainly does not.”

 

Chevron’s possibly illegal contribution to a conservative SuperPac during the 2012 election, the largest single contribution by a publicly traded company in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, received a lot of attention. Public Citizen arrived with 26,000 petition signatures and Green Century Management filed a shareholder resolution calling on Chevron to stop spending on elections.

 

The corporation’s refusal to become a responsible twenty-first-century business has awoken a sleeping giant.

 

“It is concerning that Chevron’s board of directors insists on spending unprecedented and increasing amounts in the election process,” said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for sustainable investment firm Green Century. “Chevron is rolling the dice with its spending and the losers are our democracy and shareholders.”

 

Before the end of the annual meeting, activists holding “Corporations are not people” and “Get big money out of politics” signs were greeted by a cheering group of cyclists descending on Chevron’s front gate with flags that read “Go Renewable” and “Free America from the tyranny of oil.”

 

While there are no signs that Chevron is going to give an inch, it’s safe to say that the corporation’s refusal to become a responsible 21st-century business has awakened a sleeping giant: the people. Keeping the heat on a corporation that made $26 billion in profits last year alone is no small task, but all the money is worth a little less if it no longer buys a polluter’s most coveted assets—public silence and apathy.

 


 

Sven EberleinSven Eberlein wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media project that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sven is a San Francisco-based freelance writer.

ASUC Senate bill expresses no confidence in Napolitano September 6, 2013

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Roger’s note: I am proud of my alma mater’s students (ASUC = Associated Students, University of California), who, in a time honored Berkeley tradition, have challenged a stupid and unethical establishment decision.

Napolitano1.Berkeley2011.Joh_

 

The ASUC Senate wasted no time at the beginning of the academic year, gearing up in its first meeting to debate a bill expressing that the senate has “no confidence” in Janet Napolitano as the incoming UC president.

Napolitano’s appointment raised concerns due to the policies she implemented in her previous position as Secretary of Homeland Security. In response, the ASUC Senate will debate SB 2, titled Bill in Support of Undocumented Students and Immigrant Communities, on Monday.

“The ‘no confidence’ comes from a lot of history — she has deported over 2 million undocumented immigrants,” said ASUC Senator Sean Tan, who authored the bill. “There’s a lot of fear in terms of what is her main priority as UC president, because she comes from a background of surveillance and apprehension and security.”

As Homeland Security Secretary, Napolitano played a role in enacting immigration policies such as Secure Communities, a program that allows local governments to report undocumented immigrants to federal officials.

Under her leadership, the Homeland Security Department deported a record number of undocumented immigrants, according to a report by UAW Local 2865, a UC student workers’ union.

“We call for a president devoted to rebuilding our capacity for teaching, research, and learning — not a specialist in cyber surveillance, law enforcement, and border security,” the union’s release states. “We demand that the UC Regents retract Napolitano’s nomination for appointment and reopen the process for selecting the UC president.”

If the bill is passed, ASUC External Affairs Vice President Safeena Mecklai will present a list of priorities detailed in the bill to the UC Student Association. These priorities include holding mandatory annual trainings for the rights of undocumented citizens, holding town halls for the UC campuses in both Northern and Southern California regions and ensuring that Secure Communities will not be implemented on UC campuses.

“A vote of no confidence is more effective when someone has already been in office,” Mecklai said. “For me personally, it’s more impactful to list eight demands with a timeline of when she needs to follow through with them.”

But some UC officials feel it is too soon to judge how Napolitano will perform as UC president. UC spokesperson Steve Montiel believes students will see that she is a person of “great integrity” as they learn more about her.

“She’s coming to lead the University of California, not coming to lead an immigration enforcement program,” Montiel said. “It’s a whole different world.”

The bill also calls for ASUC President DeeJay Pepito to propose a review of the UC president’s selection process to the UCSA Council of Presidents because some students felt that they were unfairly represented in her appointment.

“We as a senate could look at possible policy changes on how the UC president is selected, because we had a real problem with how student voices weren’t heard,” Mecklai said. “My fear is that we’ll only attack Napolitano and not the process, and in 10 years, this will happen again.”

Student Regent Cinthia Flores said the bill provides a proper avenue for students to voice their positions about Napolitano’s appointment.

 

Jane Nho covers student government. Contact her at jnho@dailycal.org.

Education, Not Deportation!”: Undocumented Students Protest Napolitano as UC President July 20, 2013

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Undocumented UC students say they are concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.

Photo Credit: AP Photo

July 19, 2013  |
New America Media             /               By Asha DuMonthier           
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Janet Napolitano became the new president of the University of California Thursday over objections of student protesters. Six students were removed by campus police from the Board of Regents meeting where Napolitano’s appointment was confirmed.

The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security will be the first woman president of the 10-campus UC system and will earn $570,000 per year in her new position. Shortly after Napolitano’s compensation was read at the public meeting, a UC student stepped forward from the audience and started the chant, “Education, not deportation!” Campus police escorted four other students out shortly after when they refused to leave the room.

About 60 students, parents, faculty and staff representing UC Merced, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and other campuses protested outside the meeting to show their disappointment with Napolitano’s nomination.

As Secretary of Homeland Security, Napolitano oversaw a record number of deportations under the Obama administration, about 400,000 undocumented immigrants per year.

Undocumented student protesters said they were concerned about what her appointment could mean for students like them.

“She’s separated a lot of families,” said Wei Lee, an undocumented graduate of UC Santa Cruz, who noted that the UC system is home to many undocumented students. “We cannot allow someone like Janet Napolitano with her background and her experience to run this fine education system.”

Lee, who is ethnically Chinese and was born and raised in Brazil, fell out of immigration status after being denied political asylum. He said that without the advocacy of his friends and community, he and his family would have been deported. Today, he is a part of the student group ASPIRE (Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education) and says that the current immigration system “does not reflect American values.”

San Francisco State University student Akiko Aspillaga held a pink sign that read, “This feminist opposes Napolitano’s appointment.”

“For somebody who justifies the war, who militarizes not just our borders but our communities and separates our families… if those are her values, we don’t want her to be the lead of our education system,” said Aspillaga.

Lotus Yee Fong, whose son has two UC degrees, expressed concern over Napolitano’s credentials: “She is not an educator.”

Protesters also criticized the timing of the appointment. Napolitano was nominated only a week before the public meeting, which they said left them little time to organize.

“It’s more or less a political coup,” said UC Santa Cruz student Daniel Shubat, shaking his head. “They did it during the summer. It’s underhanded and we don’t have a say.”

Supporters are quick to point out that Napolitano has also been criticized by Republicans who accuse her of being too soft on immigration enforcement.

Prisoners Stage Hunger Strikes Worldwide July 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Friday, 12 July 2013 13:03 By Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network

  images  images2

 

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. And welcome to this latest edition of The Ratner Report with Michael Ratner, who’s now joining us from New York.

Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York and the chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. He’s also a board member for The Real News Network.

Thank you for joining us, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Jaisal, and good to be with The Real News.

NOOR: So, Michael, what do you have for us this week?

RATNER: I’ve been very concerned for a long time about the situation both in Pelican Bay, which is the big prison in California where my office has a lawsuit around solitary confinement, obviously concerned by Guantanamo Bay and what’s happening there, as well as over time have spent some attention to Palestinians in Israeli jails, where they’re under administrative detention. In all three of these cases, we now have hunger strikes going on.

And the first thing I want to say about them that’s important is really hunger strikes are a last resort. I remember when I was back teaching and working on the Guantanamo one, which was the Haitian cases, the HIV people left at Guantanamo Bay, kept there by the United States. And after we’d lost all the lawsuits, the Haitians said, what can we do but go on a hunger strike? You hate to see your clients do it. It’s painful. Any of us who have fasted for one day or two days or three days–I know what it’s like. So it’s really a last resort. It’s when all else has failed, when the powers that be failed, when the litigation we do fails, when even a mass movement to some extent has failed, and prisoners and detainees and others say, we’re going to take our fate into our own hands, we’re going to decide our fate, and we’re going to do what’s necessary to change what’s going on; we’re going to become the actors in this drama that is unfolding.

And going back before that, and in my memory, in the early ’80s, there were the hunger strikes that took place by people from the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland in British jails. The one most people have heard of is of course Bobby Sands. Bobby Sands was a prisoner of the British. He went on a hunger strike and he died, actually, from that hunger strike. He died I think in 1981.

And what was interesting, what was established as result of Bobby Sands’s death was that you don’t have a medical right or a legal right to force-feed a person who’s making a conscious decision to go on a hunger strike. That’s the fundamental law. And that’s the law that really developed out of the Bobby Sands case. If we look at it, it’s like any medical decision. I have a right to forgo medical treatment if I want, and I have a right to forgo forced feeding.

Let’s jump forward to today. First, Pelican Bay. Pelican Bay, as I said, has some 29,000 people both at Pelican Bay and in prisons throughout California on hunger strike. There’s a history to that at Pelican Bay. In 2011, some 6,000 people at Pelican Bay in prisons in California went on a hunger strike. California agreed to make certain changes. The main change–and this is really important to understand why people are on hunger strike in California–is to solitary confinement. When you hear the statistic, you just can’t believe it. People have been in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay from 11 to 28 years. That’s right, 11 to 28 years. And they have no real way of getting out. And solitary confinement past something like 15 days is to be considered–is considered by most authorities and legal authorities to be cruel and unusual treatment, and here it is going on in hundreds of cases for 11 to 28 years. The state of California promised to remedy that three years ago after the last hunger strike or two years ago. They didn’t do anything. And just this week the hunger strikes again began. The demands are to end that solitary confinement contrary to the U.S. Constitution as well as international law.

Interestingly, in this whole package, that hunger strike is continuing. My office, the Center for Constitutional rights, has a major class-action going to try and end the practice of solitary confinement. Hopefully the combination of the hunger strike and the heavy pressure of the lawsuit will finally force California to do what any humane society should do, which is get the people out of solitary. That’s California. It should get all of our support. It needs support. The hunger strikers have finally said, we’ve had enough.

Let’s fast–not fast-forward. Let’s just go to Guantanamo, where a hunger strike is continuing right now. Some 100 people are on a hunger strike at Guantanamo. Forty of them are being force fed. Their demands are, one, to finally get them out of Guantanamo. This is only been 11 years that they’ve been at Guantanamo. In some cases many of those people have been cleared for release. They remain there. And what’s most interesting, the most interesting development–of course, they’re being force fed contrary to law. The most interesting development was a lawsuit that a judge ruled on this week in the case of one of the people at Guantanamo. It was someone who had been cleared for release who’s on a hunger strike who’s being force fed. His lawyers went into court and said, you’ve got to stop the force-feeding, it’s illegal, it’s contrary to medical ethics. The judge said, I can’t do that, I don’t have any jurisdiction to do it, there’s just no way the court can do it. So the first thing the court said: there’s no jurisdiction. And the reason the court said that is because our Congress, in it’s great wisdom, passed a law stripping all federal courts of dealing with any conditions at Guantanamo. So the judge had no jurisdiction. She could have ended the case right there, but she went on in two amazing respects, and it’s something–it’s a short opinion, but I’m going to read you a little bit of it, but everybody ought to look at. The first thing she said: she essentially agreed that there’s a consensus in medical and legal opinion that force-feeding violates article 7–article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that prohibits torture, cruel, and inhumane treatment. In other words, forced feeding–and, of course, the way they do it is you sit in a restrained chair like this, your head’s restrained, a tube is put down your nostril into your stomach. It’s a form of torture itself. And so what she’s saying the law is clear that the international covenant on civil and political rights is violated by force-feeding. And then she cited a letter that the American Medical Association wrote to the U.S. Department of Defense, secretary of defense. And here’s what it said. The core ethical values of the medical profession find that force-feeding is a painful, humiliating, and degrading process, so it can’t be done. So the U.S. is violating the law not just in keeping people at Guantanamo, but in forcing them to be fed. So she found first she couldn’t hear the case, but then she went on to say it’s essentially illegal and unethical. And then–and I think the greatest slap we’ve seen from a federal judge in recent times to a sitting president was this. She says, even though the court doesn’t–does–the court must dismiss this case. And she obviously as an individual judge felt very badly in doing so. She says this important thing about President Obama. There is an individual, she says, who does have the authority to address the issue. In a speech on May 23, 2013–it was the big Obama national security speech–she says President Obama stated, quote, look at the current situation where we are force-feeding detainees who are holding a hunger strike. Is that who we are? Is that something that our founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave to our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that. Then she goes on to say, after quoting the speech, she then says the president of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the military. And she quotes the Constitution. And then she says–she ends her opinion. It seems to follow therefore that the president as commander-in-chief has the authority and the power to directly address the issue of the force-feeding of the detainees at Guantanamo. She places the blame squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of Obama, who himself has condemned the force-feeding yet refuses to do anything about the force-feeding or releasing the Guantanamo detainees.

So we have California, we have Guantanamo, and then as when I opened this segment, we have Palestinians in Israeli jails who are on hunger strike. And there’s, you know, at least two dozen of them, very long hunger strikes. Some have come very close to death and have been released as a result because Israel apparently, from what I read and hear, does not have a policy of force-feeding. And so what does that mean in the Israeli context? What it means is that the Israelis–what I understand: the attorney general’s office in Israel is currently examining the legality of a government bill that would enable prison authorities to force-feed hunger-striking prisoners. And they’re doing that because in the past they faced mounting challenges, this article said, to the fact that Palestinian security detainees, in other words, administrative detainees who are held in prison without any charges, are getting early release because the Israelis are so afraid of them dying in prisons. So hunger strikes are effective. And as long as the law is followed, which is to say you can’t force-feed them, they actually can result in change and release of some people. So what’s Israel considering? Complying with the U.S. law, the U.S. law, the U.S. nonlaw. And I’ll end on this little note. The Israeli–the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails have issued a strong solidarity statement with the Pelican Bay prisoners, trying to make us understand that people in this situation, the oppressed, those made and weakened by the state, those abused by the state, can begin to take control in their own hands and their solidarity across these lines from Pelican Bay to Guantanamo to Israeli prisons.

I’ll end on this remarkable statement that I read in the paper that doctors from Israel are coming to the United States because the United States claims it needs help in dealing with hunger strikes, that they’re having trouble figuring out what to do, so they’re going to the Israeli doctors, no less. Now, in some way I don’t believe that headline, because if you accept what I just said, which the Israelis do not force-feed but the U.S. does, in fact what may be happening is the Israelis are coming here to learn how to force-feed prisoners so they don’t have a problem in dealing with the force-feeding of their prisoners. In the end what we’re seeing is people who are the oppressed taking their lives into their own hands, becoming actors in their own dramas. And basically that is the way–sadly, but that is the way that they will make change, whether it’s at Pelican Bay, Guantanamo, or in Israeli prisons where Palestine–where Palestinians are in prison.

NOOR: Michael Ratner, thank you so much for joining us.

RATNER: Thank you for having me on The Real News.

NOOR: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

Tens of Thousands of California Prisoners Launch Mass Hunger Strike July 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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The strikers are calling for an end to long-term solitary confinement and better prison conditions.

Pelican Bay State Prison. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On Monday, July 8, prisoners at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison began a mass hunger strike to protest long-term solitary confinement. It is not the first time such an action has taken place. In 2011, prisoners staged two separate hunger strikes to protest their continued placement in long-term solitary confinement.

Hunger strikers issued five core demands:

1. Eliminate group punishments for individual rules violations.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to long-term solitary confinement.

4. Provide adequate food.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates.

During the first hunger strike, in July 2011, at least 1,035 of the SHU’s 1,111 inmates refused food. The strike spread to thirteen other state prisons and involved at least 6,600 people incarcerated throughout California. The second strike, in September 2011, spread to twelve prisons within California as well as to prisons in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma that housed California prisoners. By the third day, nearly 12,000 people were participating. The strike ended after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) promised a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates.

Now prisoners are striking again. They charge that in the intervening two years the CDCR has not addressed any of these demands, and they have called for a mass hunger strike combined with a nonviolent work stoppage. “Once initiated, this protest will continue indefinitely—until all Five (5) Core Demands are fully met,” they declared. By the second day of the strike, almost 30,000 California prisoners were taking part.

The 2011 hunger strikes mobilized family members as well. For many, this is their first foray into political organizing, even though their loved ones have spent years locked in windowless cells nearly twenty-four hours a day.

Dolores Canales’s son Johnny has spent thirteen years in the SHU. Canales herself has had firsthand experience with solitary confinement. During her own imprisonment, she spent nine months in the Administrative Segregation Unit (ASU) at the California Institute for Women, where she was confined to her cell twenty-two hours a day. “There, I had a window. The guards would take me out to the yard everyday. I’d get to go out to the yard with other people,” she recalled. But being in solitary confinement still took its toll: “There’s an anxiety that overcomes you in the middle of the night because you’re so locked in,” she described. Even after being moved from segregation, Canales was unable to shake that anxiety. She broke into a sweat and panicked each time she saw a group of officers even though she had broken no rules. “I just can’t forget.”

In contrast to his mother’s experience, Johnny spends nearly twenty-four hours a day in a windowless cell. Food is delivered twice a day through a slot in the cell door. The “yard” he is taken to for solitary exercise consists of a cement yard the length of three cells with a roof only partially open to the sky. Johnny never sees the sun.

Over 1,000 people are held in the SHU, and more than half have spent over a decade there. Prison administrators place people in the SHU either for a fixed term for violating a prison rule or for an indeterminate term because they have been accused of membership in a prison gang. Accusations often rely on confidential informants and circumstantial evidence, such as tattoos or possessing certain books. Prison administrators also place prisoners in the SHU on accusations of gang association, again relying on circumstantial evidence such as being seen speaking with an alleged gang member on the housing unit, associating with prisoners of similar background or racial group or possessing literatures associated with political ideologies (such as the Black Panther Party).

Until recently, alleged gang members are released from the SHU only if they “debrief” or provide information incriminating other prisoners. Debriefing can be dangerous to both the prisoner who debriefs and his family on the outside. In addition, prisoners can be falsely identified as gang members by others who debrief in order to escape the SHU. One does not necessarily need to be a gang member or associate to be sent to the SHU: jailhouse lawyers and others who challenge inhumane prison conditions are disproportionately sent to the SHU. Johnny was one of those jailhouse lawyers. “He’s assisted with legal work for alleged associates charged with being in gangs,” his mother stated.

In May 2011, Johnny began sending his mother letters that he asked her to forward to the governor. The letters declared that Johnny and others were going on hunger strike on July 1, 2011, to protest SHU conditions and their indefinite terms within the SHU.

The day the strike began, Canales attended a rally in Los Angeles. “I had no intention of getting involved in organizing,” she recalled. “I just wanted to find out what was going on. I was asked to speak, and I read a letter from Johnny.”

That was Canales’s entry into organizing. “We [family members] started meeting every other day. More and more family members were coming out, sharing stories of their loved ones in different prisons and jails who were on hunger strike.”

In Oakland, Marie Levin was also galvanized into action by the hunger strike. In 2011, Levin had not seen her brother, Sitawa Nantambu Jamaa, for over fifteen years. Shortly before the strike, Carol Strickman, an attorney with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, visited her, bringing an audiotape in which Jamaa talked about his decision to go on hunger strike. Moved, Levin then attended a solidarity rally in San Francisco. “I was activated after going to that rally,” she recalled. Like Canales, this was her entry into political organizing. She joined Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity (PHSS), a coalition of lawyers, advocates and family members. “It was overwhelming at first,” she remembered. “I found out so much information I didn’t know about. Not just about SHU conditions, they were talking about the Black Panthers and history that I didn’t know.” But Levin continued to attend.

Family members, advocates and supporters have held rallies and vigils in various cities to draw public attention. On July 18, 200 family members, lawyers and supporters from across California converged upon CDCR headquarters in Sacramento to deliver a petition with over 7,500 signatures in support of the hunger strikers. They then marched to Governor Brown’s office to demand answers.

The hunger strike lasted three weeks, ending after CDCR officials promised changes. Hunger strikers suspended the strike to allow CDCR a grace period to fulfill their promises. In the meantime, family members continued to speak out about SHU conditions. “We were going to churches, universities, anywhere,” Canales recollected. “I can be on line at the bank and I’ll talk to people. I’ll pull out a picture of the SHU cell and the closed-in yard.” When the California Assembly’s Public Safety Commission held a hearing on SHU conditions in August 2011, Levin and other family members attended and testified about the need for substantial changes to SHU policies and practices. Levin also helped build a mock SHU cell, which they brought to rallies, vigils and speaking events.

When prisoners renewed their hunger strike in September 2011, Canales and other family members started California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement. “A lot of family members work full-time jobs, so the organizing is all in our spare time even though we have families, jobs, etc.” They continued to speak out about SHU conditions. In the Bay Area, Levin and other PHSS members have brought the mock SHU to the city’s parks, universities and vigils.

The second hunger strike ended on October 13, 2011, after the CDCR agreed to a comprehensive review of all SHU prisoners validated as gang members or associates. Family members continued to keep public attention on Pelican Bay. They held rallies in front of the Los Angeles County Jail. They have continued weekly candlelight vigils in cities throughout California. When Senator Dick Durbin held hearings on solitary confinement in June 2012, they traveled to Washington, DC, in a show of support.

They also began coordinating to enable loved ones to visit Pelican Bay. Canales applied five times for permission to visit her son, who was in the SHU at Corcoran State Prison. Each time, her application was denied because of her conviction record. When she was finally approved, Johnny had been transferred to Pelican Bay, thirteen miles from the California-Oregon border, making the trip more time-consuming and expensive for Canales, who, like many family members, lives in Southern California. Organizing with other family members, she learned that this distance prohibited others from seeing their loved ones. “I try to bring other family members up when I’m driving.”

Although Marie Levin lives in the Bay Area, 370 miles closer to Pelican Bay, the cost and distance have also prevented her from visiting her brother for years. Levin credits the hunger strike with bringing together various families who pool resources. “The support that I’ve gotten from the women who go up there has been a blessing. I can carpool with them, we share the [hotel] rooms together, and we share all the costs. We room as if we were family.” She adds, “In the past, we did not have that.”

California Families to Abolish Solitary Confinement also organized larger group visits. On November 19, 2012, the group brought three vans of family members to the prison. Less than one month later, on December 7, 2012, they chartered a bus, half of which were children. The group has since organized several caravans that enable family members to visit their incarcerated loved ones, some for the first time in years.

Family members near the prison in Crescent City have also opened their homes to those traveling from further away. Canales credits this hospitality to the Pelican Bay prisoners’ call to end racial hostilities. “If we really want to bring about substantive meaningful changes to the CDCR system…now is the time for us to collectively seize this moment in time and put an end to more than twenty to thirty years of hostilities between our racial groups,” SHU prisoners announced in August 2012. “Beginning on October 10, 2012, all hostilities between our racial groups…in SHU, Ad-Seg, General Population, and CountyJails, will officially cease.”

“It’s real,” stated Canales. “I’ve stayed in the homes of family members of every alleged organization when I’ve gone to visit. I wouldn’t be able to do that if the cease-fire wasn’t real.”

In Fall 2012, the CDCR unveiled its stepdown program. Under the program, even those who have spent years in the SHU may still be required to spend two to three additional years in solitary confinement. The debriefing program remains in place. Groups of three or more can be labeled as Security Threat Groups, warranting SHU placement. Prisoners, family members and concerned advocates have criticized the program, stating that the program does not address the five core demands and instead expands the criteria for people eligible for SHU placement.

On February 14, 2013, prisoners at Pelican Bay’s SHU announced a renewed hunger strike, combined with a work strike, to begin July 8. This time, they promise to go “all the way” if the CDCR does not meet their five core demands. They demand that the CDCR sign a consent decree spelling out the specific terms of the policies they will enact. In addition, they have issued an additional forty demands, which include prohibiting official sanctions for hunger strike participation as well as improving conditions in the SHU and in general population. On June 20, 2013, prisoners reaffirmed their decision to hunger strike after a court-ordered mediation session with CDCR officials.

In Oakland, Marie Levin and her husband Randy have organized monthly vigils. They bring the mock SHU and invite people to step inside. “A large part of it is ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ People don’t think about the conditions under which people [in prison] have to live. It’s up to me and others to educate them so they know what’s going on.” Levin notes that the public reaction when confronted with the mock SHU cell has generally been outrage and horror. “The majority of people realize this is wrong.”

In April, Levin also began fasting three days each week. “The purpose was to pray for change from the governor, CDCR officials, the Public Safety Commission, the Assembly, even the officials at Pelican Bay.” She ended her fast in June, but plans to fast again this July 4 and may participate in a rolling fast—in which outside supporters fast for one day in solidarity with the hunger strikers. Family members are also planning a caravan and solidarity rally to Corcoran State Prison, which has its own SHU, for Saturday, July 13.

Both Canales and Levin hope that meaningful change will occur before the hunger strike begins. “As a mother, I don’t want them to put their bodies through this,” Canales said. “But these men have come to a point where there’s no turning back.”

Bradley Manning is Off Limits at SF Gay Pride Parade, but Corporate Sleaze is Embraced April 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, LGBT, San Francisco.
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A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.

I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.

First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn’t want, and is now being sued by the US government for “allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web.”

sf pride

The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”

Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”

Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.

SF pride

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.

Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:

As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”

But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.

sf pride

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.

Corporate corruption and sleaze

For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner”, to be held this weekend.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Cases add up of LAPD assaults on restrained suspects November 19, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Los Angeles, Police.
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Monday, Nov 19, 2012 03:14 PM EST, , www.salon.com

Cases add up of LAPD assaults on restrained suspects LAPD officers(Credit: Jose Gil / Shutterstock.com)

A cop Tasered a handcuffed women in fourth case in recent months of LAPD using force on detainees

The LA Times reported over the weekend that an LAPD officer was witnessed shocking a handcuffed woman with a Taser gun while “joking with other officers at the scene.” Just days after a federal jury ruled that Chicago police officers upheld an entrenched “code of silence” in covering up each others’ wrongdoing, reports have emerged to show that Los Angeles cops have lied for two years about the Tasering incident.

The LA Times reports:

Officer Jorge Santander… appeared to lie about the December 2010 incident repeatedly in written reports. The three other LAPD officers who witnessed Santander stun the woman all corroborated his version of events when first questioned and failed to tell supervisors that one officer had recorded a video of the encounter, the records show.

The video shows Santander firing the Taser without warning and later displaying a Superman logo he wore on his chest beneath his uniform, according to the records. Off camera, another officer is heard laughing and singing.

… This marks the fourth time in the last few months that cases have come to light in which LAPD officers are accused of using force on suspects who had been restrained.

… In August, a security surveillance camera captured an officer violently throwing a handcuffed woman to the ground with any apparent provocation. Days later, the Times reported on a July incident in which a video camera in a patrol car recorded a female officer stomping her heel onto the genitals of a woman who was being restrained by other officers. That woman died after being forced into the back of a patrol car, although there is no evidence that her death was caused by the officer’s kick. And this month The Times learned about a botched arrest in July, in which a handcuffed man was mistakenly shot by officers after he escaped custody.

Despite statistics suggesting that there are around 1,700 cases per year of inappropriate force with less than lethal weapons by the LAPD, “department officials rejected the idea that the cases add up to a larger behavioral pattern,” reported the LA Times. “Cmdr. Andrew Smith called them ‘isolated, unrelated cases in which officers got out of line’.” However, the police officers’ attempts to slide Santander’s Taser incident under the rug echo the police culture indicted last week by a federal court — whether LAPD officials admit to a pattern or not.

Gov. Brown denies farm workers the tools to protect themselves from heat-related death October 1, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Labor.
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On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown rejected The Humane Treatment for Farm Workers Act – authored by Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) – that would make it a misdemeanor crime, punishable by jail time and fines, to not provide appropriate water or shade to workers laboring under high heat conditions. The governor also vetoed AB 2346 – The Farm Worker Safety Act – by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler (D-Los Angeles). It would have allowed workers to enforce the state’s heat regulations by suing employers who repeatedly violate the law. The United Farm Workers strongly supported both bills. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez issued the following statement:
“The UFW is appalled at the governor’s decision to deny farm workers the basic legal tools to protect themselves from employers who intentionally put their lives at risk by refusing to provide them with adequate water and shade despite the dangerously high temperatures. By vetoing AB 2676, the governor continues the policy of giving animals more protections than those currently offered to farm workers.
Since California issued regulations in 2005 to keep farm workers from dying of extreme heat, preventable farm worker deaths have continued. State regulators are investigating two possible heat-related farm worker deaths that occurred this summer. There are over 81,500 farms and more than 450,000 farm workers working under a corrupt farm labor contractor system. It’s time the government admits that without adequate enforcement, regulations are ineffective. We are weighing our legal and other options to determine how we better provide the protections farm workers deserve as human beings.”

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