Tags: abby zimet, birth control, Humor, political satire, reproductive rights, republicans, roger hollander, women's health
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Because women today are faced with so many choices, it’s safe to assume most of the decisions they make will be wrong. Coming to their rescue is a new program to sponsor a uterus in need. Act now, and you’ll get a kit including the uterus’ photo, biography and information about “the woman who happens to surround it.” Brought to you by some funny people.
From comments on the program: “I’d like to sponsor a uterus but I’m easily distracted by other things…Can I arrange to have the uterus put down if I lose interest?”
Tags: aboriginal, amnest international, amnesty, Canada, First Nations, George W. Bush, Guantanamo, human rights, john bryden, native women, roger hollander, toronto g8, torture
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The report also takes issue with Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people, refugees and terrorism suspects and its refusal to hold a public inquiry into the arrests of more than 1,000 protesters during the 2010 G8 summit in Toronto.
Canada’s record of alleged human rights violations pales in comparison to the litany of torture, mass executions, and violent suppression of protests cited against countries like Syria and Uganda.
But Amnesty Canada spokesman John Tackaberry says the organization makes no attempt to rate the magnitude or seriousness of human rights abuses among the 155 nations listed in the 2012 report.
Rather, it includes any country in which there’s a “constellation” of violations that cause concern.
In Canada’s case, Tackaberry says Amnesty has “serious concerns” that the country is failing “in a number of cases” to meet its international obligations to protect human rights.
Among the cases mentioned is Canada’s failure last fall to arrest Bush when he visited British Columbia, “despite clear evidence that he was responsible for crimes under international law, including torture.” Amnesty had campaigned for Canada to arrest and prosecute the former president.
The demand for Bush’s arrest “was certainly not a frivolous action on our part,” Tackaberry said in an interview Wednesday.
“We knew that there was little likelihood of this actually taking place but the important principle is that George Bush has been implicated in serious human rights violations and Canada has a responsibility to ensure that people within their jurisdiction who are alleged to have been involved in serious human rights violations … that they be brought to justice.
“It’s imperative that when there are serious human rights violations that individuals be held to account,” he added.
At the time of Bush’s visit last October, Amnesty maintained the former president authorized the use of torture against detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, in Afghanistan and Iraq as the U.S. pursued its war on terror following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
The report, which documents alleged violations during 2011, also chides Canada for its treatment of aboriginal people on a number of fronts, including its failure to adopt a national action plan to address high levels of violence facing native women. It notes that a federal audit last summer found a majority of drinking water and waste water systems in First Nations communities constitute a health risk.
Tags: bill 78, Canada, civil disobedience, civil liberties, classe, jean charest, montreal, montreal protest, quebec, quebec government, quebec students, roger hollander, student strike, student tuition, tuition hike
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Published on Wednesday, May 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Marchers defy Bill 78; Neighborhoods fill with sound of banging pots and pans
“The single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”
That’s how yesterday’s Montreal protest is being described today. Hundreds of thousands red-shirted demonstrators defied Quebec’s new “anti-protest” law and marched through the streets of downtown Montreal filling the city with “rivers of red.”
Tuesday marked the 100th day of the growing student protests against austerity measures and tuition increases. In response to the spreading protests, the conservative Charest government passed a new “emergency” law last Friday – Bill 78.
Since Bill 78 passed, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.Bill 78 mandates:
- Fines of between $1,000 and $5,000 for any individual who prevents someone from entering an educational institution or who participate in an illegal demonstration.
- Penalties climb to between $7,000 and $35,000 for protest leaders and to between $25,000 and $125,000 for unions or student federations.
- All fines DOUBLE for repeat offenders
- Public demonstrations involving more than 50 people have to be flagged to authorities eight hours in advance, include itinerary, duration and time at which they are being held. The police may alter any of these elements and non-compliance would render the protest illegal.
- Offering encouragement for someone to protest at a school, either tacitly or otherwise, is subject to punishment. The Minister of Education has said that this would include things like ‘tweeting’, ‘facebooking’, and has she has implied that wearing the student protest insignia (a red flag-pin) could also be subject to punishment.
- No demonstration can be held within 50 meters of any school campus
Bill 78 not only “enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers.” Since the law passed Friday, people in Montreal neighborhoods have appeared on their balconies and in front of their houses to defiantly bang pots and pans in a clanging protest every night at 8 p.m.
* * *
* * *
The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) reports:
CLASSE spearheaded Tuesday’s march, aided by Quebec’s largest labor federations. The province’s two other main student groups, FEUQ and FECQ, also rallied their supporters.
CLASSE said Monday it would direct members to defy Bill 78, Quebec’s emergency legislation.
The special law was adopted last Friday, suspending the winter semester and imposing strict limits on student protests. Organizers have to submit their itinerary to authorities in advance, or face heavy fines.
CLASSE spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the special legislation goes beyond students and their tuition-hike conflict.
“We want to make the point that there are tens of thousands of citizens who are against this law who think that protesting without asking for a permit is a fundamental right,” he said, walking side by side with other protesters behind a large purple banner.
“If the government wants to apply its law, it will have a lot of work to do. That is part of the objective of the protest today, to underline the fact that this law is absurd and inapplicable.”
* * *
The Montreal Gazette reports:
A protest organizers described as the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history choked the streets of downtown Montreal in the middle of Tuesday’s afternoon rush hour as tens of thousands of demonstrators expressed outrage over a provincial law aimed at containing the very sort of march they staged.
Ostensibly Tuesday’s march was to commemorate the 100th day of a strike by Quebec college and university students over the issue of tuition increases. But a decision last Friday by the Charest government to pass Bill 78 – emergency legislation requiring protest organizers to provide police with an itinerary of their march eight hours in advance – not only enraged civil libertarians and legal experts but also seems to have galvanized ordinary Quebecers into marching through the streets of a city that has seen protests staged here nightly for the past seven weeks.
“I didn’t really have a stand when it came to the tuition hikes,” said Montrealer Gilles Marcotte, a 32-year-old office worker who used a vacation day to attend the event. “But when I saw what the law does, not just to students but to everybody, I felt I had to do something. This is all going too far.”
Tuesday’s march was billed as being two demonstrations taking place at the same time. One, organized by the federations representing Quebec college and university students and attended by contingents from the province’s labor movement, abided by the provisions of the law and provided a route. The other, overseen by CLASSE, an umbrella group of students associations, deliberately did not.
By 3: 30 p.m., a little more than 90 minutes after the marches began to snake their way through downtown, CLASSE, which estimated the crowd at 250,000, described the march as “the single biggest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.”
Other crowd estimates varied between 75,000 and 150,000 protesters. Montreal police do not give official crowd estimates but the Place des festivals, which demonstrators easily filled before the march began, holds roughly 100,000 people.
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Sea of red as hundreds of thousands protest Quebec’s austerity cuts and new anti-protest law, May 22, 2012. (Photo by @philmphoto on instagram)
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The Canadian Press reports:
[…] Shortly before the evening demonstration commenced, supporters in central Montreal districts came out onto their balconies and in front of their homes to bang pots and pans in a seeming call-to-arms.
As well, the powerful Montreal transit union also gave protesters a boost when it called on its members to avoid driving police squads around on city buses during the crowd control operations. Montreal police have for several years used city buses as well as their cruisers to shuttle riot squad officers around to demonstration hotspots and as places to detain prisoners. […]
The daytime march was considered to be one of the biggest protests held in the city and related events were held in New York, Paris, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. […]
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, co-spokesman for the hardline CLASSE group, described Tuesday’s march as a historic act of civil disobedience and said he was ready to face any legal consequences.
“So personally I will be ready
John Brennan’s new power May 22, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, War on Terror.
Tags: civil liberties, counterterrorism, drone missile, due process, glenn greenwald, human rights, john brennan, kill list, presidential assassination, roger hollander, rule of law, war on terror
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Roger’s note: Picture Mr. Brennan enters the Oval Office and informs the President that it is time to sit down and decide who they are going to kill today. This is how a president spends his time? Surreal.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012 07:34 AM EST, www.salon.com
President Obama’s counter-terrorism chief has “seized the lead” in secretly determining who will die by US drone
In this Sept. 7, 2011 file photo, White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan speaks in Washington. )Credit: AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
In November, 2008, media reports strongly suggested that President Obama intended to name John Brennan as CIA Director. But controversy over Brennan’s recent history — he was a Bush-era CIA official who expressly advocated “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition — forced him to “withdraw” from consideration, as he publicly issued a letter citing “strong criticism in some quarters” of his CIA advocacy.
Undeterred by any of that unpleasantness, President Obama instead named Brennan to be his chief counter-Terrorism adviser, a position with arguably more influence that he would have had as CIA chief. Since then, Brennan has been caught peddling serious falsehoods in highly consequential cases, including falsely telling the world that Osama bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces entering his house and “used his wife as a human shield,” and then outright lying when he claimed about the prior year of drone attacks in Pakistan: “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Given his history, it is unsurprising that Brennan has been at the heart of many of the administration’s most radical acts, including claiming the power to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA without due process and the more general policy of secretly targeting people for death by drone.
Now, Brennan’s power has increased even more: he’s on his way to becoming the sole arbiter of life and death, the unchecked judge, jury and executioner of whomever he wants dead (of course, when Associated Press in this report uses the words “Terrorist” or “al-Qaida operative,” what they actually mean is: a person accused by the U.S. Government, with no due process, of involvement in Terrorism):
White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.
The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.
The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon’s role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists. . . .
Brennan’s effort gives him greater input earlier in the process, before making final recommendation to President Barack Obama. Officials outside the White House expressed concern that drawing more of the decision-making process to Brennan’s office could turn it into a pseudo military headquarters, entrusting the fate of al-Qaida targets to a small number of senior officials. . . .
Some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of “how easy it has become to kill someone,” one said. The U.S. is targeting al-Qaida operatives for reasons such as being heard in an intercepted conversation plotting to attack a U.S. ambassador overseas, the official said. . . .
Human rights and civil liberties groups have argued for the White House to make public the legal process by which names end up on the targeting lists.
“We continue to believe, based on the information available, that the (drone) program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project. “It is dangerous to characterize the entire planet as a battlefield.”
Shrinking the pool of people deciding who goes on the capture/kill list means fewer people to hold accountable, said Mieke Eoyang from Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.
“As a general principle, if people think someone is checking their work, they are more careful,” Eoyang said. “Small groups can fall victim to group-think.”
Needless to say, all of this takes place in total secrecy, with no legal framework and no oversight of any kind. Indeed, even after they had Brennan publicly defend the CIA drone program, the Obama administration continue to insist in federal court that the program is too secretive even to confirm its existence. It’s just a tiny cadre of National Security State officials who decide, in the dark, whom they want dead, and then — once the President signs off — it is done. This is the Change with which the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize laureate has gifted us: ”some of the officials carrying out the policy are equally leery of ‘how easy it has become to kill someone.’”
Reuters previously described the secret process used to determine which human beings, including American citizens, would be targeted for due-process-free death-by-CIA: they “are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials” with “no public record” nor “any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules” — an actual death panel, though one invented by the White House rather than established by law. And now John Brennan has even more control over the process, and fewer checks, when issuing these death sentence decrees.
Remember in the Bush era when little things like the Patriot Act and warrantless eavesdropping and military commissions were the Radical and Lawless Assaults Trampling on Our Constitution and Our Values? Now, all those things are completely normalized — controversies over those policies are like quaint and obsolete relics of a more innocent era — and we now have things like unelected Death Sentence Czars instead.
* * * * *
UPDATE: I was on Al Jazeera yesterday debating the potential de-listing of the MeK as a Terrorist group, and that can be seen here (because of technical issues, my participation began at 19:40). I was also interviewed yesterday by Anti War Radio about Obama’s detention policies and the recent court case invalidating the NDAA’s detention powers, and that can be heard here.
Tags: benjamin shingler, graham hughes, michael moore, mick jagger, montreal police, montreal protest, police brutality, quebec, quebec liberals, quebec strike, roger hollander, snl, student strike, student tuition
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Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS
For the second night in a row, police clashed with protesters repeatedly into the late hours Sunday in a chaotic scene that left at least 300 arrested and 20 injured, including 11 police officers. At least one person was taken to hospital with what emergency services called “non-life threatening injuries.”
Windows were smashed, construction cones and signs tossed into the streets, and there were reports a fire hydrant was burst open at the same spot where a bonfire was lit a night earlier.
Riot police used tear gas and sound grenades to try to break up the protest, which was deemed illegal moments after it began for not complying with the new law. The result was a series of violent exchanges between small groups of protesters and police in pockets throughout the downtown core.
One video circulated online captured what appeared to be a police cruiser moving forward briefly with a protester on the hood, before the protester jumped off to the side and the cruiser sped away. Police later denied a rumour that a person had been run over.
Two journalists from local newspapers also reported being arrested and later released.
The legislation passed Friday was intended to put an end to three months of student protests, but it appears only to have given the movement momentum.
“I think the government put the police in a difficult situation,” said protester Nino Gabrielli, who got his Master’s last fall at a Montreal university. “I think the population is mobilizing around this thing.”
As the scenes of unrest played out in the city the movement also gained some celebrity support.
Montreal’s Arcade Fire wore the movement’s iconic red squares during an appearance with Mick Jagger on Saturday Night Live. Activist and filmmaker Michael Moore also gave his support to the students, featuring links about the issue prominently on his website.
“Their uprising is inspiring,” he tweeted to over a million followers. “One of the most amazing mass protests of the year.”
The global hacker collective Anonymous took an interest as well, releasing two videos denouncing the legislation and the planned tuition increases. The group, which regularly hacks into government websites around the world, warned of future actions in Quebec.
“Resistance is futile,” a computer-modulated voice stated in one video. “The hour of war has come.”
The website for the Quebec Liberal party and the province’s Education Ministry were down for portions of the weekend in an apparent cyber attack. Anonymous, however, did not claim responsibility.
The newfound support came during a weekend marked by violence and vandalism. The unrest reached a climax with a blaze of plastic traffic cones and construction materials lit Saturday during a melee on a busy downtown street.
Meanwhile, police came under criticism on Sunday over an altercation caught on video that shows patrons on a bar patio getting pepper sprayed.
Surveillance footage, played in a loop on one of Quebec’s all-news stations, shows several people sprayed by riot police at close range. Customers are seen scrambling to get inside the bar as a police officer knocks over tables and chairs.
Another video from a local TV station shows the officers took action after one was hit by a flying chair. The chair was then flung back toward the patio. The bar owner said police went too far and he’s considering taking legal action.
“People were falling on each other running inside to get away from the pepper spray, breaking things, and then people left by the back exit,” said Martin Guimond, who runs the Saint Bock brasserie in the city’s lively Latin Quarter. His waitress was initially going to call 911 after it happened.
“And then she said, ‘But wait, it’s the police that are doing this,’” Guimond recalled. “That’s when you realize there’s a total loss of security.”
Police didn’t return a request Sunday for comment about the incident, which occurred only steps from where the fires were set.
Police were newly armed on the weekend with Bill 78, which lays out regulations governing demonstrations of over 50 people. It includes requiring organizers to give eight hours’ notice for details such as the protest route, the duration and the time at which they’re being held.
The City of Montreal also adopted a new bylaw that threatens protesters who wear masks with heavy fines. But it failed to deter dozens of protesters from wearing masks Saturday or Sunday night, and police said they would use the new law with discretion.
Montreal police took a tougher stance on the weekend than previously seen during the nightly marches. The march was almost immediately declared illegal on both Saturday and Sunday because, police said, they weren’t provided with a protest route and bottles and rocks were thrown at police.
Tags: chicago police, civil liberties, first amendment, nato protesters, nato summit, nlg, ows, roger hollander, sarah gelsomino
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ROGER’S NOTE: POLICE REPRESSION AGAINST POLITICAL PROTEST CONTINUES TO ESCALATE. THAT INDIVIDUAL PROTESTERS ARE BEING CHARGED AS TERRORISTS IS PARTICULARLY CHILLING. IT IS CLEAR THAT WE CAN EXPECT STATE VIOLENCE AGAINST POLITICAL PROTEST TO REACH NEW LEVELS. IN THIS AGE OF GUANTANAMO AND RENDITION, GOD HELP ANY CITIZEN TURNED OVER TO THE MILITARY OR THE CIA. SCARY.
Published on Saturday, May 19, 2012 by Common Dreams
The City of Chicago has filed charges against three Occupy activists, Jared Chase, Brent Beterly, and Brian Jacob Church, including possession of explosives or incendiary devices, material support for terrorism, and conspiracy.
While police say the suspects had Molotov cocktail-making equipment, the National Lawyers Guild says they only had beer-making equipment and cell phones.
Police conducted a raid without a warrant at a home in the Bridgeport neighborhood in Chicago and arrested the three along with six other activists.
WBEZ Chicago reports that the Cook County Circuit Court judge has ordered a $1.5 million bond for each of three activists.
The three defendants were stopped last week and surrounded last week outside a Chicago CVS and questioned by police officers on what they were doing in Chicago. They recorded a video, as noted by Kevin Gosztola for Firedoglake, of the encounter and posted an edited version to Youtube.
“The National Lawyers Guild deplores the charges against Occupy activists in the strongest degree,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “It’s outrageous for the city to apply terrorism charges when it’s the police who have been terrorizing activists and threatening their right to protest.”
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* * *
Gary Younge in Chicago and Matt Williams in New York reporting for The Guardian:
Three Nato protesters planned Obama campaign HQ attack, prosecutors say
Defence attorneys maintain men fell victim to police entrapment scheme involving purchase of Molotov cocktail equipment
Three Nato protesters arrested in a late night raid on Wednesday have each been held on a $1.5m bond over alleged terrorism-related offences.
Police claim the charges of conspiracy to commit terrorism, providing material support for terrorism and possession of an explosive or incendiary device, are the result of a month-long investigation into a group they believe was making Molotov cocktails.
In court on Saturday, prosecutors said the trio had planned to attack targets including President Barack Obama‘s campaign HQ and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel‘s home in a plot coinciding with the Nato summit being staged in the city.
But defence attorneys countered that the petrol bombs had been brought by undercover officers, and that their clients were victims of a police entrapment.
It is believed that the three defendants came to Chicago late last month to take part in May Day protests.
Attorneys representing the men say the charges are fabricated and aimed at intimidating activists. “We cannot say enough that we believe that these charges are absolutely … very trumped up charges,” said Sarah Gelsomino of the Peoples Law Office. “Clearly in an attempt to continue this intimidation campaign on activists. Charging these people who are here to peacefully protest against Nato for terrorism, when in reality the police have been terrorising activists in Chicago, is absolutely outrageous.
“All three of these guys, interestingly, were in the car about a week ago that was stopped and harassed by the Chicago police department,” Gelsomino said. “They then posted that video online in an attempt to expose that police misconduct. Each of those three are now being charged with these crimes. That’s as much as we know.”
* * *
Release from Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild:
For Immediate Release: May 19, 2012
National Lawyers Guild Decries Terrorism Charges Against Occupy Activists protesting NATO Summit
Preemptive raids and conspiracy charges are common characteristics of National Special Security Events
Chicago, IL — After holding NATO protesters for up to 48 hours, and releasing 6 out of 9 arrestees without any charges, the City of Chicago filed state charges last night against 3 Occupy activists from Florida, including possession of explosives or incendiary devices, material support for terrorism, and conspiracy. On Wednesday night at approximately 11:30pm, police raided a house in the Bridgeport neighborhood, detained several people in multiple apartments, and arrested 9 activists. Police broke down doors with guns drawn and searched residences without a warrant or consent.
“The National Lawyers Guild deplores the charges against Occupy activists in the strongest degree,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “It’s outrageous for the city to apply terrorism charges when it’s the police who have been terrorizing activists and threatening their right to protest.”
NLG attorneys are questioning why it took the city 48 hours, the limit on holding arrestees without a court hearing, to impose such serious charges. Although some accusations of Molotov cocktails have been made by police, they have provided no evidence of criminal intent or wrongdoing on the part of the activists. On Thursday, when asked about the raid at a press conference, Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy knew so little about the alleged terrorism investigation that he said he would have to gather further information before commenting.
The 3 activists charged are Jared Chase, Brent Beterly, and Brian Jacob Church. Last week, all three defendants were surrounded by several police squad cars outside of a CVS, detained for no apparent reason and asked questions about why they were in Chicago and what they planned to do during the NATO summit. One of the defendants recorded the encounter and posted an edited version on YouTube. When Superintendent McCarthy questioned the validity of the footage in the media, the entire video was quickly posted.
More than 20 people have been arrested so far in the lead up to the NATO summit, which begins tomorrow. At least 3 arrestees in addition to the ones charged tonight are still in custody. “Preemptive raids meant to intimidate and stifle dissent are all too common during National Special Security Events, such as the NATO summit,” said Gelsomino.
NLG attorneys will be representing the 3 defendants in their criminal cases and will be at their bond hearing tomorrow at 12pm at 2600 South California Ave.
The Anti-Science Streak in Federal Marijuana Policy May 17, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Drugs.
Tags: ca, cannabis, conor friedersdorf, marijuana, medical marijuana, narcotics, Obama, roger hollander, schedule one
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ROGER’S NOTE: MORE OBAMA HYPOCRISY.
By Conor Friedersdorf, www.opednews.com
Dr. Jody Corey-Bloom, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at UC San Diego, recently helped run a study that provided multiple sclerosis patients with either a marijuana joint or a placebo that looked, smelled, and tasted like marijuana. After smoking whichever substance they were given, patients were tested to see if it reduced their muscle spasticity — an affliction, common to MS patients, that causes painful, uncontrollable spasms of the extremities. Spasticity was unaffected among the placebo patients but dropped 30 percent on average among the patients given real marijuana. The side effects? “Smoking caused fatigue and dizziness in some users,” says Reuters, “and slowed down people’s mental skills soon after they used marijuana.”
The UC San Diego study is just the latest to suggest that marijuana has some medical benefits. Sixteen states, thousands of doctors, and tens of thousands of sick people concur in that judgment. It is dramatized by the personal testimony of sick people who are offered much more powerful drugs, but nevertheless insist that consuming marijuana was most effective at helping them.
Marijuana is nevertheless classified under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule One drug. Under the law, drugs placed in that category must meet all of the following criteria (emphasis added):
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Critics of the Obama Administration’s drug policy, myself included, have focused on the president’s broken promise about federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in jurisdictions where they’re legal. But an even less defensible aspect of Obama’s drug policy is how marijuana is scheduled.
As John Walker points out, the Controlled Substances Act gives the executive branch the power to unilaterally change a drug’s classification:
Obama can instruct the relevant agencies under him to take an honest look at the research and reschedule marijuana so it qualifies as having legitimate medical uses. The Obama administration could easily and justifiably move marijuana to, say, schedule III, which happens to be the same schedule that synthetic THC is in, making medical marijuana legal under federal law.
There would be nothing unusual, extraordinary or legally suspect about Obama doing this. The executive branch has often moved certain drugs to lower or higher schedules based on new data without Congressional involvement. In fact, multiple sitting governors have petitioned the Obama administration asking him to move marijuana to a lower schedule, so he should be aware of the flexible authority he has. Obama is not some hapless victim whose actions on this issue are constrained by congressional law. The truth is pretty much the exact opposite. Under current law Obama effectively has the power to unilaterally make medical marijuana legal.
His failure to do so is frustrating and to his discredit because it’s what the language of a law duly passed by a bygone Congress and signed by a past president demands. There just are accepted medical uses of marijuana today. Pretending otherwise is every bit as much an affront to science and empiricism as the most ill-informed denial of evolution or climate change.
Yet here is how the Obama White House touts its drug policy:
Congress also bears substantial responsibility for the anti-scientific, anti-empirical aspects of American drug policy. If Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are able to define the terms of the upcoming presidential election, this issue won’t come up. But voters have consistently shown interest in the subject when permitted to directly question politicians, and Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, is eager to challenge Obama and Romney on this issue given the chance. When opportunities for these challenges arise, the classification of marijuana is one of the most vulnerable parts of the status quo to attack.12 states have pending medical marijuana legislation.
Tags: barbara ehrenreich, Criminal Justice, debtors prison, poverty, poverty cycle, roger hollander, subprime, usury, wage theft
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By Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch | News Analysis
Thursday, 17 May 2012 10:09
Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But asBusiness Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.
Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.
It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.
The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.
Government Joins the Looters of the Poor
You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.
These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor. The government distributesabout $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.
And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.
At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.
And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country — from California and Texas to Pennsylvania — counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities — most recently, Houston and Philadelphia — have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.
Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense — having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light — at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.
Local Governments as Predators
Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.
According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.
And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.
Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.
In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.
The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell. The further you descend, the faster you fall — until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.
I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
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Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of a number of books including Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
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