Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

A Little Torture

Posted in Barack Obama, law, politics, prison, torture, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 17, 2009

justice“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture

The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.

I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him). 

Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”

This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.

That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.

We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.

The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis. 

This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)

This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.

If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.

The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.

Interview with Professor Noam Chomsky

Posted in BTR, Citizen Radio, politics, religion, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on April 1, 2009

noamchomsky-1Citizen Radio recently interviewed professor Noam Chomsky about the War on Drugs, religion, and what makes him happy. A transcription of the interview is available below.

Listen to the entire episode here.

Called “arguably the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times, Noam Chomsky is also known as a political activist.

In the 1966 essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky challenged intellectuals “to speak the truth and expose lies,” and he carried his protests beyond the printed page: he became a tax resister and he was arrested in 1967 at the Pentagon while protesting military involvement in Southeast Asia.

Chomsky’s criticism of U.S. governmental policies has continued unabated since that time. In Deterring Democracy and in other books he has focused on trade and economic issues and accuses the Government of being a “rogue superpower.” 

“I’m a citizen of the United States,” says Chomsky, “and I have a share of responsibility for what it does.” 

Citizen Radio is on BTR every Wednesday. Episodes air 24/7.

—-

Allison Kilkenny: In an unpublished article for the Washington Post, you wrote that the NAFTA protests during the 90s in Mexico gave, quote: “only a bare glimpse of time bombs waiting to explode. Do you thinks the drug cartels in Mexico are a byproduct of the trade inequalities you explained in that Post article? Also, if you could talk about the roles international banks and corporations play in the War on Drugs.

Noam Chomsky: I can’t really talk about it because there isn’t any war on drugs. If there was a war on drugs, the government would take measures which it knows could control the use of drugs.

Read more…

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Help End Rockefeller Drug Laws

Posted in prison, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on March 13, 2009

NYCLU

12036314_400x400_frontIt’s Finally Happening

New York must reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws

The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. Intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment.

The Rockefeller Drug Laws create stark racial disparities in prison populations and exact an enormous financial toll on all of New York State.

After 36 years, the chance for true reform of these laws is greater this year than it ever has been.

On March 4, the New York State Assembly passed a strong reform bill, the first step on the road to a new direction for New York.

The same progressive bill has now been introduced in the New York State Senate where it faces a much tougher road to passage. Many senators have been intimidated by the scare tactics and misrepresentations of prosecutors who don’t want to give up their power over New Yorkers’ lives. And recent media reports suggest that Governor Paterson, who was once the strongest champion of Rockefeller reform, wants to cut a deal to put a band-aid on these fundamentally broken laws. What we need is real reform, not piecemeal fixes.

Send a free fax to your senators and to Governor Paterson urging them to put 36 years of failed Rockefeller Drug Laws behind us, once and for all. Tell the Senate to pass S.2855, and tell the Governor to sign it into law.

To find out more information about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, click here.

Tell me more

Talking Points

– For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have done nothing to stop drug abuse or help people struggling to overcome addiction in New York. Public health experts agree there is a better way: treatment and rehabilitation.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have created unconscionable racial disparities. While 72 percent of New Yorkers who have used illegal drugs are white, more than 90 percent of people incarcerated for drug offenses in New York State are black or Latino.

– The Rockefeller Drug Laws have destroyed lives, families, neighborhoods and whole communities for decades. More than 25,000 children have been orphaned by our state’s drug laws. Sixty percent of people who have been incarcerated can’t find work a year after release.

– New York State could save $267 million annually by treating and rehabilitating those who need it. Our state can’t afford the Rockefeller Drug Laws.

– Judges must have the authority to do what they think is best in the interest of justice and public safety. Mandatory minimum sentences bust be eliminated and judges must have the option of sending people to drug treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison.

– New York State needs alternatives to incarceration programs in every county in the State. Experts agree: Some drug users need mental health services, treatment, education, and job-training programs instead of a jail cell.

SIGN THE LETTER HERE

VIDEO: NY Legislature to Vote on Overhauling Draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws

Posted in politics, prison, racism, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on March 3, 2009

Democracy Now

n52476290354_57251The New York State Assembly is set to vote Wednesday on legislation that would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance abuse treatment instead of prison. The legislation would also allow thousands of prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses to have their sentences reduce or commuted. It’s the latest step in a long campaign to repeal the draconian Rockefeller laws. The laws impose lengthy minimum sentences on drug offenders, even those with no prior convictions. The laws have disproportionately targeted people of color, while giving prosecutors de facto control over how long convicts are jailed. [includes rush transcript]

Video Guests:

Kirk James, served nine years under the Rockefeller drug laws as a first-time offender. He’s now a social justice activist.

Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Correctional Association’s Drop the Rock, a grassroots campaign to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws.

Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, Representing New York’s 35th Assembly District in Queens, has led efforts in the New York state legislature to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws.

Watch videos here

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U.S. Is Arms Bazaar for Mexican Cartels

Posted in guns, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 26, 2009
Officials say weapons from George Iknadosian’s store in Phoenix ended up in the hands of a cartel that included Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, right.(Left, A.T.F; right, Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Officials say weapons from George Iknadosian’s store in Phoenix ended up in the hands of a cartel that included Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, right.(Left, A.T.F; right, Eduardo Verdugo/AP)

Note from Allison: I love how the conversation regarding Mexico’s political and social volatility is never framed as a problem with guns and/or the War on Drugs. Our policies on arms and a failing drug war are just fine. Those crazy Mexicans just need to get their acts together and figure out a bureaucratically corrupt system where corporations operate on the backs of the poor like we have in the good ole’ U S of A, and they’ll be a world power in no time!

New York Times

PHOENIX — The Mexican agents who moved in on a safe house full of drug dealers last May were not prepared for the fire power that greeted them.

When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store here called X-Caliber Guns.

Now, the owner, George Iknadosian, will go on trial on charges he sold hundreds of weapons, mostly AK-47 rifles, to smugglers, knowing they would send them to a drug cartel in the western state of Sinaloa. The guns helped fuel the gang warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died last year.

Mexican authorities have long complained that American gun dealers are arming the cartels. This case is the most prominent prosecution of an American gun dealer since the United States promised Mexico two years ago it would clamp down on the smuggling of weapons across the border. It also offers a rare glimpse of how weapons delivered to American gun dealers are being moved into Mexico and wielded in horrific crimes.

“We had a direct pipeline from Iknadosian to the Sinaloa cartel,” said Thomas G. Mangan, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Phoenix.

Drug gangs seek out guns in the United States because the gun-control laws are far tougher in Mexico. Mexican civilians must get approval from the military to buy guns and they cannot own large-caliber rifles or high-powered pistols, which are considered military weapons.

The ease with which Mr. Iknadosian and two other men transported weapons to Mexico over a two-year period illustrates just how difficult it is to stop the illicit trade, law enforcement officials here say.

The gun laws in the United States allow the sale of multiple military-style rifles to American citizens without reporting the sales to the government, and the Mexicans search relatively few cars and trucks going south across their border.

What is more, the sheer volume of licensed dealers — more than 6,600 along the border alone, many of them operating out of their houses — makes policing them a tall order. Currently the A.T.F. has about 200 agents assigned to the task.

Smugglers routinely enlist Americans with clean criminal records to buy two or three rifles at a time, often from different shops, then transport them across the border in cars and trucks, often secreting them in door panels or under the hood, law enforcement officials here say. Some of the smuggled weapons are also bought from private individuals at gun shows, and the law requires no notification of the authorities in those cases.

“We can move against the most outrageous purveyors of arms to Mexico, but the characteristic of the arms trade is it’s a ‘parade of ants’ — it’s not any one big dealer, it’s lots of individuals,” said Arizona’s attorney general, Terry Goddard, who is prosecuting Mr. Iknadosian. “That makes it very hard to detect because it’s often below the radar.”

The Mexican government began to clamp down on drug cartels in late 2006, unleashing a war that daily deposits dozens of bodies — often gruesomely tortured — on Mexico’s streets. President Felipe Calderón has characterized the stream of smuggled weapons as one of the most significant threats to security in his country. The Mexican authorities say they seized 20,000 weapons from drug gangs in 2008, the majority bought in the United States.

The authorities in the United States say they do not know how many firearms are transported across the border each year, in part because the federal government does not track gun sales and traces only weapons used in crimes. But A.T.F. officials estimate 90 percent of the weapons recovered in Mexico come from dealers north of the border.

In 2007, the firearms agency traced 2,400 weapons seized in Mexico back to dealers in the United States, and 1,800 of those came from dealers operating in the four states along the border, with Texas first, followed by California, Arizona and New Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian is accused of being one of those dealers. So brazen was his operation that the smugglers paid him in advance for the guns and the straw buyers merely filled out the required paperwork and carried the weapons off, according to A.T.F. investigative reports. The agency said Mr. Iknadosian also sold several guns to undercover agents who had explicitly informed him that they intended to resell them in Mexico.

Mr. Iknadosian, 47, will face trial on March 3 on charges including fraud, conspiracy and assisting a criminal syndicate. His lawyer, Thomas M. Baker, declined to comment on the charges, but said Mr. Iknadosian maintained his innocence. No one answered the telephone at Mr. Iknadosian’s home in Glendale, Ariz.

A native of Egypt who spent much of his life in California, Mr. Iknadosian moved his gun-selling operation to Arizona in 2004, because the gun laws were more lenient, prosecutors said.

Over the two years leading up to his arrest last May, he sold more than 700 weapons of the kind currently sought by drug dealers in Mexico, including 515 AK-47 rifles and one .50 caliber rifle that can penetrate an engine block or bulletproof glass, the A.T.F. said.

Based on the store’s records and the statements of some defendants, investigators estimate at least 600 of those weapons were smuggled to Mexico. So far, the Mexican authorities have seized seven of the Kalashnikov-style rifles from gunmen for the Beltrán Leyva cartel who had battled with the police.

The store was also said to be the source for a Colt .38-caliber pistol stuck in the belt of a reputed drug kingpin, Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, when he was arrested a year ago in the Sinaloan town of Culiacán. Also linked to the store was a diamond-studded handgun carried by another reputed mobster, Hugo David Castro, known as El Once, who was arrested in November on charges he took part in killing a state police chief in Sonora.

According to reports by A.T.F. investigators, Mr. Iknadosian sold more than 60 assault rifles in late 2007 and early 2008 to straw buyers working for two brothers — Hugo Miguel Gamez, 26, and Cesar Bojorguez Gamez, 27 — who then smuggled them into Mexico.

The brothers instructed the buyers to show up at X-Caliber Guns and to tell Mr. Iknadosian they were there to pick up guns for “Cesar” or “C,” the A.T.F. said. Mr. Iknadosian then helped the buyers fill out the required federal form, called the F.B.I. to check their records and handed over the rifles. The straw buyers would then meet one of the brothers to deliver the merchandise. They were paid $100 a gun.

The Gamez brothers have pleaded guilty to a count of attempted fraud. Seven of the buyers arrested last May have pleaded guilty to lesser charges and have agreed to testify against Mr. Iknadosian, prosecutors said.

In one transaction, Mr. Iknadosian gave advice about how to buy weapons and smuggle them to a person who turned out to be an informant who was recording him, according to a transcript. He told the informant to break the sales up into batches and never to carry more than two weapons in a car.

“If you got pulled over, two is no biggie,” Mr. Iknadosian is quoted as saying in the transcript. “Four is a question. Fifteen is, ‘What are you doing?’ ”

We Are a Nation of Junkies Hooked on Media-Fabricated Outrage

Posted in media, politics, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on February 16, 2009

David Sirota

phelps_479089a

I’m not sure if it’s because we’re strung out on “Lost” episodes, or if it’s because we’re still suffering from a post-9/11 stress disorder that makes us crave “breaking news” alerts, or if it’s because the economy has turned us into distraction junkies. But one thing is painfully obvious after Michael Phelps’ marijuana “scandal” erupted last week: Our society is addicted to fake outrage — and to break our dependence, we’re going to need far more potent medicine than the herb Phelps was smoking.

If you haven’t heard (and I’m guessing you have), the Olympic gold medalist was recently photographed taking a toke of weed. The moment the picture hit the Internet, the media blew the story up, pumping out at least 1,200 dispatches about the “controversy,” according to my LexisNexis search. Phelps’ sponsors subsequently threatened to pull their endorsement deals, and USA Swimming suspended him for “disappointing so many people.”
 
America is a place where you can destroy millions of lives as a Wall Street executive and still get invited for photo-ops at the White House; a land where the everyman icon — Joe Sixpack — is named for his love of shotgunning two quarts of beer at holiday gatherings; a “shining city on a hill” where presidential candidates’ previous abuse of alcohol and cocaine is portrayed as positive proof of grittiness and character. And yet, somehow, Phelps is the evildoer of the hour because he went to a party and took a hit off someone’s bong.
 
As with most explosions of fake outrage, the Phelps affair asks us to feign anger at something we know is commonplace. A nation of tabloid readers is apoplectic that Brad and Jen divorced, even though one out of every two American marriages ends the same way. A country fetishizing “family values” goes ballistic over the immorality of Paris Hilton’s sex tapeand then keeps spending billions on pornography. And now we’re expected to be indignant about a 23-year-old kid smoking weed, even though studies show that roughly half of us have done the same thing; most of us think pot should be legal in some form; and many of us regularly devour far more toxic substances than marijuana (nicotine, alcohol, reality TV, etc.).
 
So, in the interest of a little taboo candor, I’m just going to throw editorial caution to the wind and write what lots of us thought — but were afraid to say — when we heard about Phelps. Ready? Here goes:
 
America’s drug policy is idiotic.
 
Doctors can hand out morphine to anyone for anything beyond a headache, but they can’t prescribe marijuana to terminal cancer patients. Madison Avenue encourages a population plagued by heart disease to choke down as many artery-clogging Big Macs and Dunkin’ Donuts as it can, but it’s illegal to consume cannabis, “a weed that has been known to kill approximately no one,” as even the archconservative Colorado Springs Gazette admitted in its editorial slamming Phelps. Indeed, it would be perfectly acceptable — even artistically admirable in some quarters — if I told you that I drank myself into a blind stupor while writing this column, but it would be considered “outrageous” if I told you I was instead smoking a joint (FYI — I wasn’t doing either).
 
That said, what’s even more inane than our irrational reefer madness is our addiction to the same high that every pothead craves: the high of escapism. Nerves fried from orange terror warnings, Drudge Report sirens and disaster capitalism’s roller-coaster economics, our narcotic of choice is fake outrage — and it packs a punch. It gets us to turn on the television, tune in to the latest manufactured drama, and drop out of the real battle for the republic’s future.

The Contradictions Facing a Black President of the American Empire

Posted in Barack Obama, politics, War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on January 23, 2009

Johann Hari

evomoralesThe tears are finally drying – the tears of the Bush years, and the tears of awe at the sight of a black President of the United States. So what now? The cliché of the day is that Barack Obama will inevitably disappoint the hopes of a watching world, but the truth is more subtle than that. If we want to see how Obama will change the world – for good or bad – we need to trace the deep structural factors that underlie US foreign policy, and tease out what he will do about them. A useful case study of these pressures is about to flicker onto our news pages for a moment – from the top of the world.

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its lofty slums 4000 meters above sea level seem a world away from the high theatre of the inauguration. But if we look at this country closely, we can explain one of the great paradoxes of the United States – that it has incubated a triumphant civil rights movement at home, yet thwarted civil rights movements abroad. Bolivia shows us in stark detail the contradictions facing a black President of the American empire.

The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has a story strikingly similar to Obama’s. In 2006 he became the first indigenous President of his country – and a symbol of the potential of democracy. When the Spanish arrived in Bolivia in the sixteenth century, they enslaved the indigenous majority and worked millions to death. As recently as the 1950s, an indigenous person wasn’t even allowed to walk through the centre of La Paz, where the presidential palace and city cathedral stand. They were (and are) routinely compared to monkeys and apes.

Morales was born to a poor potato-farmer in the mountains, and grew up scavenging for discarded orange peel or banana skins to eat. Of his seven siblings, four starved to death as babies. Throughout his adult life, it was taken for granted that the country would be ruled by the white mestizo minority; the “Indians” were too “child-like” to manage a country.

Given that the US is constitutionally a democracy and its Presidents say they are committed to spreading democracy across the world, you would expect them to welcome the democratic rise of Morales. But wait. Bolivia has massive reserves of natural gas – a geo-strategic asset, and one that rakes in billions for US corporations. Here is where the complications set in.

Before Morales, the white mestizo elite was happy to allow US companies to simply take the gas and leave the Bolivian people with short change: just 18 percent of the royalties. Indeed, they handed almost the entire country to US interests, while skimming a small percentage for themselves. In 1999, an American company, Bechtel, was handed the water supply – and water rates for the poor majority doubled.

Morales ran for election against this agenda. He said that Bolivia’s resources should be used for the benefit of millions of bitterly poor Bolivians, not a tiny number of super-rich Americans. He kept his promise. Now Bolivia keeps 82 percent of the vast gas royalties – and he has used the money to increase health spending by 300 percent, and to build the country’s first pension system. He is one of the most popular leaders in the democratic world. In slums across South America, I have seen this pink tide rising through the barrios and favelas, where millions of people are seeing doctors and schools for the first time in their lives.

I suspect that a majority of the American people – who are good and decent – would be pleased and support this process if they were told about it honestly. But how did the US government (and much of the media) react? George Bush fulminated that “democracy is being eroded in Bolivia”, and a recent US ambassador to the country compared Morales to Osama Bin Laden. Why? To them, you are a democrat if you give your resources to US corporations, and you are a dictator if you give them to your own people. The will of the Bolivian people is irrelevant.

There is another layer of disagreement between Morales and US power. Bolivians have a widespread millennia-long tradition chewing coca leaves, or brewing them in tea: it’s a good way of keeping your energy up when you are doing grinding work at such a high altitude. But in the 1980s, the Reagan administration announced that this was contrary to the demands of the “war on drugs”. They trained and paid for elite white military units to forcibly “eliminate coca.” They rampaged across the Bolivian countryside destroying the crops of desperately poor people. Evo Morales – a coca farmer himself – saw them burn a peasant farmer alive, an experience he says “changed me forever.” He wants to legalize coca for private use – and he is supported by 80 percent of Bolivians.

For these reasons, the US has been moving to trash Morales. Latin America still lives in the shadow of its own 9/11: on September 11th 1973, Henry Kissinger and the CIA backed the coup that led to the violent death of the freely elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, to stop his programme of democratic socialism from proceeding

Over the past few years, the techniques have become a little less crude. By an odd quirk of fate, almost all of Bolivia’s gas supplies are in the east of the country – where the richest, whitest part of the population lives. So the US government has been funding and fueling the hard-right separatist movements that want these regions to break away. Then the mestizos would happily hand the gas to US companies like in the good ol’ days – and Morales would be left without resources. The interference became so severe that last September Morales had to expel the US Ambassador for “conspiring against democracy.” This weekend, Morales is holding a major referendum on a new constitution for the country which will entrench the rights of the indigenous people.

Enter Obama – and his paradoxes. He is obviously a person of good will and good sense, but he is operating in a system subject to many undemocratic pressures. Bolivia illustrates the tension. The rise of Morales reminds us of the America the world loves – its yes-we-can openness and civil rights movements. Yet the presence of gas and coca reminds us of the America the world hates – the desire to establish “full spectrum dominance” over the world’s resources and send troops barging into their countries, whatever the pesky natives think.

Which America will Obama embody? The answer is both – at first. Morales has welcomed him as “a brother”, and Obama has made it clear he wants a dialogue, rather than the abuse of the Bush years. Yet who is Obama’s Bolivia advisor? A lawyer called Greg Craig, who represents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada – the hard-right former President of Bolivia who imposed some of the most extreme privatizations of the 1980s, and is now wanted on charges of genocide in Bolivia for the massacres of indigenous protesters. Craig’s legal team says Morales is (yes) leading “an offensive against democracy.”

The structural pressures within the US political system that drove hostility to a democratic civil rights leader like Morales up to now have not dissolved in the cold Washington air. The US is still dependent on foreign fossil fuels to keep its lights on, the drug war bureaucracy will continue its senseless crusade, and US corporations still buy Senators from both parties. Obama will still be swayed by those factors.

But while this is a reason to be frustrated, it isn’t a reason to be cynical. Why? Because while he will be swayed by those factors, he will also subtly erode them over time. Obama has made energy independence – a massive transition away from foreign oil and gas, and towards the wind, sun and waves – the centre of his governing programme. If the US is no longer addicted to Bolivian gas, then its governments will be much less inclined to topple anybody else who wants to control it. (If they’re off oil, they’ll be much less invested in the Saudi tyranny and petro-wars in the Middle East too.)

Obama also says he wants to peel back the distorting effect of corporate money on the US political system. He is already less slathered in corporate cash than any President since the 1920s. The further he pushes it back, the more breathing-space democratic movements like Morales’ get to control their own resources. He also seems to be a less fanatical drug warrior than his predecessors, offering praise in the past for those who believe the US should concentrate on treating addicts at home rather than trying to burn and fumigate their supply from every forest or mountain on earth.

But we will see. If you want to know if Obama is really altering the tectonic forces that drive American power, keep an eye on the rooftop of the world.

Johann Hari is a writer for the Independent. To read more of his articles, click here or here.

Journalists Targeted In Mexico’s Drug War

Posted in War on Drugs by allisonkilkenny on December 8, 2008

Julie Watson

Photographers work as an injured man is taken away during a prison riot at La Mesa State Prison in Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 journalists have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

Photographers work as an injured man is taken away during a prison riot at La Mesa State Prison in Tijuana, Mexico, Monday, Sept. 15, 2008. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — As the photographer pulled his 2000 Ford Explorer into a soccer field, the crackle of his police scanner was broken by a lone accordion riff.

The riff, a fragment of a “narcocorrido” glorifying drug smugglers, was an announcement that the death toll in Mexico’s drug war _ already above 4,000 this year _ had just risen.

Hector Dayer already knew that as he looked out at the seven bodies, bound, beaten and repeatedly shot. What he didn’t know was whether yet another colleague was among the victims.

Two weeks earlier, Dayer had photographed a friend _ a veteran crime reporter from a rival newspaper _ shot dead in his car as his 8-year-old daughter sat shaking in the passenger’s seat.

On this day, none of the bodies belonged to journalists. Dayer grabbed his camera, pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide his face, and stepped out to photograph the carnage.

“We should wear ski masks, like the police,” said Dayer, a father of two who works for the newspaper El Norte. “We are so public. Everyone can see us and identify us.”

Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years.

Many of the victims had recently reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it’s hard to be sure because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee says, only one has been solved.

Some attacks target specific journalists, others entire newsrooms. In at least two cases, grenades have been thrown at newspaper offices.

The attacks are silencing journalists and undermining Mexico’s young democracy. Across the nation, news media have stopped reporting on the drug war, with most limiting their reports to facts put out by authorities, with no context, analysis or investigation. In most places, journalists don’t even report on killings they witness.

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s bloodiest city with about 1,400 deaths this year, is an exception. Here journalists continue to cover the daily deaths, without using bylines or photo credits.

Many use different cars and routes to get to work each day. A few wear bulletproof vests, but most think those make them more of a target.

Nearly all crime reporters have received threats. They include Armando Rodriguez, 40, a veteran with the newspaper El Diario. In February, Rodriguez asked the state prosecutor for protection, but she asked him to file a police report and he never did.

On Nov. 13, Rodriguez sat in his driveway with his 8-year-old daughter, waiting for her 6-year-old sister to come out so he could drive the girls to school. Gunshots rang out.

Rodriguez’s wife, Blanca Martinez, screamed as she looked out the kitchen window. She saw her husband’s head bent down and thought he was searching for his cell phone to call his newspaper to report the gunshots.

Then she realized he wasn’t moving. Their daughter was shaking in the seat next to him.

Martinez ran out and told her daughter to get inside the house, then climbed into the car with her husband, holding his bloody body until police and colleagues arrived.

“I don’t have any hope the guilty will be caught,” she said. “All I want is for them to repent.”

The colleagues who showed up to cover Rodriguez’s death were shaken too.

“I took photos but afterward we all didn’t know what to do,” Dayer said. “There was just silence.”

Rodriguez’s desk at El Diario is much as he left it, notebooks and police communiques stacked haphazardly. El Diario director Pedro Torres says he wants a full investigation, but police have shown little interest.

Hours after The Associated Press asked the office of Mexico’s attorney general why nobody had examined Rodriguez’s computer, El Diario editors say federal investigators called to say they were sending someone to pick it up. The attorney general’s office never got back to the AP.

“We’re not interested in making him a martyr. We just want the truth,” Torres said. “We feel so helpless, so angry _ but not afraid. Because, I insist, you cannot do journalism with fear.”

Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of news Web site La Polaka, agrees. As he was driving to Rodriguez’s wake, his cell phone rang.

“You’re next,” said a voice.

Aguirre parked his car, called his wife and fled to the U.S. with his family. He plans to apply for asylum.

“Any journalist in Juarez is at risk right now of being assassinated just because someone doesn’t like what you published,” he said in a telephone interview from hiding.

Media-freedom groups are pushing for the U.S. to grant such requests, and are lobbying Mexico’s Congress to pass a bill that would make attacks on the news media a federal crime.

“This violence has gone way beyond the press,” said Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It’s going against freedom of expression.”

It is also insanely brutal. Dayer has seen the worst of it this year, from human legs protruding from a large pot commonly used to cook pork, to a body hanging inside a house with a pig mask over the face. When the death count reached eight in the span of an hour, he called his wife and told her to take the kids inside.

Once, as he photographed a headless body hanging from an overpass, someone noticed a man in a car nearby taking pictures of the journalists. A photographer went over to ask what he was doing, but the man sped away. Later in the day, the head was found in a trash bag at the foot of the city’s 28-year-old Journalist Monument, a statue of a newspaper delivery boy.

“I think about that day a lot now,” Dayer said.

Juarez’s journalists take extraordinary risks for their daily blood-and-gore reports. They careen through traffic, often arriving at crime scenes before the police. Photographers have stumbled across hitmen who fired shots, pistol-whipped them and stole their cameras.

On a recent morning, an AP reporter accompanied a TV crew as it plied the streets looking for the day’s dead. The police scanner reported an armed man in a white car nearby, and the driver swung into pursuit. A wailing police car raced up behind the crew, as TV and radio correspondent Ever Chavez screamed at the driver.

“Not too close! Get back!” he said.

The police car stopped the white car and dragged out two men as Chavez moved in with his microphone. Police pulled a black handgun from one of the men’s pockets, but it turned out to be plastic. Chavez went on the air.

“That’s the report we have so far,” Chavez said cheerily. “Be careful out there, and have a good morning.”

California’s Propositions

Posted in Uncategorized by allisonkilkenny on October 29, 2008

I’m posting this here for my California readers. Apparently, there’s some deception going on as indicated in the email I received below. Hope this clears up any confusion. Please forward it to California-based friends.

On a side note, I’m sure you’re familiar with Prop 4 here in california…I keep seeing signs that say “stop child predators”, vote yes on 4. I find it so horrible how the religious movement is completely misleading their followers. Also, if churches want to get involved with politics and hand out political signs, they should loose their tax rights…maybe I’m crazy, but it seems fucked up.

Proposition 1A   

What it does: Authorizes $9.95 billion in bonds to build an electric train to get people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just over 2 1/2 hours.

Back story: This is the governor’s and the Legislature’s baby, years in the making. They pulled similar measures off ballots in 2004 and 2006 because the stars didn’t align for a win. An earlier version (Proposition 1) also got pulled from the 2008 ballot, this time for a revise (that’s why it’s now designated 1A). Lawmakers were arguing aboutamong other things, whether the train would run through Altamont Pass (the site of a deadly 1969 Rolling Stones concert) or Pacheco Pass (site of the hokey but fun tourist stop Casa de Fruta). They went with Pacheco.   

Proposition 2

What it does: Bars use of pens and cages that don’t give farm animals room to turn around, stretch, stand or lie down.

Back story: This is all about chickens. The language on veal calves and sows tugs on voters’ heartstrings, but it’s moot; California produces virtually no commercial pork or veal. Chief opponents — egg producers — argue that without tight cages, their chickens will eat each other and their own droppings. No matter what, the caged chickens are doomed: After a short life laying eggs, they are too spent even for the soup pot.

Proposition 3

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $980 million in bonds to upgrade and expand children’s hospitals in California.

Back story: With interest, the measure would cost about $2 billion over 30 years. Backers are (no surprise) the state’s children’s hospitals. California voters authorized $750 million in bonds for this cause in 2004; just under half of those bonds have yet to be sold. But how can voters say no to sick kids?

Proposition 4

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to require a physician to notify a minor patient’s parent or other adult family member 48 hours before performing an abortion.

Back story: Déjà vu. Californians defeated parental consent or notification for abortion measures in 2005 and 2006, but had last year off. (There is no limit on how often failed ballot measures may be resubmitted to voters.) Proposition 4 adds the “other adult family member” alternative to answer critics of earlier propositions. It also would require a girl who chooses that alternative to allege parental abuse. The Legislature passed a parental consent law in 1987, but it never took effect. The state Supreme Court upheld it in 1996, but on rehearing — after court membership changed — struck it down. Which is why Proposition 4 is a constitutional amendment.

Proposition 5

What it does: Mandates probation with treatment instead of jail or prison for many drug crimes and diminishes sentences and shortens parole for many nonviolent property crimes when drugs are involved.

Back story: This measure pits two well-known liberals against each other — activist and actor Martin Sheen and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Sheen, whose son Charlie had high-profile drug problems in the 1990s, leads the opposition because, he has said, “successful rehabilitation requires accountability.” Soros and former Soros executive Jacob Goldfied are Proposition 5’s top financial backers. If voters pass Proposition 5 and Proposition 6, they would simultaneously loosen and stiffen penalties for drug offenses.

Proposition 6

What it does: Commits close to 1% of the state’s annual general fund budget for anti-crime programs. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates costs of $500 million for additional prison space.

Back story: This is the Son of Three Strikes and Jessica’s Law. It’s sponsored in part by Mike Reynolds, author of the 1994 Three Strikes Initiative, and state Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster), whose anti-sex-offender Proposition 83 — Jessica’s Law — won 71% of the vote in 2006. The top donor is Henry T. Nicholas III, who gave $1 million (see Proposition 9).

Proposition 7

What it does: Increases the clean-generation requirement on investor-owned utilities and extends them to municipal companies, like the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Back story: The primary backer (with a donation of $3 million) is Peter Sperling, son of University of Phoenix founder, cat-cloner and octogenarian liberal proposition-meister John Sperling (who in 2000 gave California Proposition 36, mandating treatment instead of prison for drug convictions, a failed initiative to soften three strikes, and several others besides). Caveat for green voters: This measure is intended to advance green power and improve the environment but is opposed by a host of high-profile environmental groups, who say it will undermine many green-power efforts.

Proposition 8

What it does: Outlaws same-sex marriage by adding the following words to the state Constitution: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Back story: More déjà vu. Californians expressly outlawed same-sex marriage in a voter initiative in 2000. But that was mere law, which the state Supreme Court struck down earlier this year in a case that found that the right to marry is fundamental — the state can’t deny marriage to a couple based on their sex. Proposition 8 opponents tried (but failed) to get the court to also strike the measure from the ballot on the argument that voters cannot strip citizens of their state constitutional rights. If the initiative passes, they will be back.

Proposition 9

What it does: Amends the state Constitution to give enforceable rights to the families of crime victims.

Back story: This is the centerpiece of a law-and-order campaign by billionaire businessman and engineer Henry T. Nicholas III and is called “Marsy’s Law” in memory of his murdered sister. It qualified for the ballot on June 6 — the day after indictments were unsealed against Nicholas for a variety of drug charges and for allegedly violating securities laws. Nicholas gave $4.8 million to the campaign but distanced himself after the charges against him were reported. Among other things, Proposition 9 would limit the number of chances for parole for many convicted criminals.

Proposition 10

What it does: Authorizes the sale of $5 billion in bonds ($9.8 billion when interest is included) to provide rebates to buyers of natural gas and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Back story: Uncle T. Boone Pickens wants you: The Texas oilman is underwriting Proposition 10, which will likely drum up buyers for cars that run on natural gas. His company, Clean Energy Fuels Corp., produces and markets … natural gas.

Proposition 11

What it does: Strips the Legislature of its power to draw the lines of Assembly and Senate districts (every 10 years, after new census figures come out) and turns the job over to a 14-member citizens’ commission.

Back story: Do Californians care that most of the time district boundaries are drawn to consolidate incumbent power? If they do, why did they reject reform in 2005 and eight times before that? In a political sop to Nancy Pelosi, this measure leaves out congressional districts — a fact that has alienated some Republicans. Minority advocates are alienated because there is no guarantee that anyone on the commission will speak for their constituents.

Proposition 12

What it does: Authorizes a bond to extend a state program allowing veterans access to low-interest mortgages.

Back story: The 27th time’s a charm: Voters have already approved bonds for Cal-Vet mortgages 26 times since the program was established for World War I veterans in 1921. Opposition is hard to come by — the “con” ballot argument was written by Gary B. Wesley, a Mountain View lawyer who for many years has taken for himself the task of writing against measures when no one else will. The current Cal-Vet program only covers veterans who served before 1977.

Robert Greene is a member of The Times’ editorial board. See Vote-o-rama (latimes.com/elections) for an opinionated guide to the propositions and everything else on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Ralph Nader: Stop Voting for the Least Worst

Posted in Barack Obama by allisonkilkenny on October 28, 2008

Transcript taken from Ralph Nader’s interview with Drunken Politics

More info is here: Votenader.org

On Corporate debates

Every major poll since 2000 has registered that a majority of the American people want Ralph Nader on the debates.

[In order for a third party candidate to get into the debates] five major polling companies have to poll 15% or higher that people want Nader/Gonzalez on the ticket. But the Commission on Presidential Debates won’t release the names of the polling organizations. And they won’t name the media conglomerates that owns the polling organizations. So if the media isn’t covering third party candidates, they obviously don’t poll well.

So we called Gallup, and asked if they are one of the five. They are. But Gallup said they don’t poll Nader/Gonzalez. This is classic deception. The whole thing is a commercial corporate rigged system designed to keep us off the debates. The game is corporate fascism.

 Only a multi-billionaire like Michael Bloomberg could buy his way onto the debates by purchasing air time. It’s like what FDR said to Congress in 1938 “When government is controlled by private economic power, that’s fascism.”

So we know what the diagnosis is. The question is: what is the prescription?

In 2012, starting in early January, major national and local citizen groups in a massive coalition should get on a letterhead, lay out the entire schedule of 25 debates from Boston to San Diego, Miami to Seattle, for all the presidential candidates who have enough theoretical electoratal college states to win the election. That way, the dynamic shifts from the two parties, who control the agenda and have the photo opportunities, and sweep through certain states and ignore most of the states because they’re slam-dunk Republican or slam-drunk Democrat, and shift the entire power to shape the agenda into citizen groups, who then become participators, and not spectators.

 On the Progressive Platform

What’s going on here is the concentration of too much wealth and power in the hands of the few. And they make decisions for the many. So it’s not surprising that the Nader/Gonzalez campaign and the agenda, which is supported by the majority of the American people: Single payer health, living wage getting out of iraq, cutting the bloated military budget, solar power first, no to nucleur power, is opposed by the minority of power brokers. That’s why we’re exluded from the debates.

It’s not our agenda, it’s your agenda.

The people are in a two party prison. The system is rigged, electoral college, winner take all. There can be something like a Green party in Germany because if you win 5% of the vote you get 5% of the parliament. Here, you’ve got to win 51% or a plurality, which is why people don’t support small starts to make them build into larger movements because they think: well, they’re only 4 or 5% in the polls and I don’t want to waste my vote. It’s time to break out of the prison.

Unfortunately, the only person who could do that is a mega-billionaire with liberal tendencies, who will blow the two parties into a three-way race. That’s coming. Mayor Bloomberg could have done that this year.

On Afghanistan Being Portrayed as the “Good War”

Afghanistan will be Obama’s Vietnam. He’ll sink in that quagmire. Just putting more soldiers in there controlling a high-tech attack on a low-tech resistance will kill a lot of civilians. And it already has and it’ll be more: wedding parties blown up, villagers blown up, children blown up, and that enflames and vastly expands the resistance in those rugged mountains. Nobody conquers those people. The British Empire tried twice and failed, the SU poured everything it had and failed, and the US will fail.

The finance Administrator for Karzai and head of the Afghan national university said you don’t do it that way. You do it through negotiation with tribal chieftons, by public works, by creating jobs, by getting these tribes that have a stake in passifying the area, but Obama, who’s father was an African from Kenya, he should know better, says to pour the soldiers in so he can show he’s more macho than McCain.

It was a macho battle in the third debate. Obama matched him in supporting the militaristic repression and exploitation and colonization of Palestine and its people, in being beligerant toward Iran, and in being beligerant toward Russia. This man is going to be the biggest disappointment ever. He’s a brilliant tactician and he’s pulled something off that nobody could have predicted, but he is going to be the biggest disappointment for Liberals and Progressives that they have ever seen. This is the biggest political con job in the last century, the Barack Obama victory. There’s no mandate. He just floated in. He had an easy act to follow. The Wall Street collapse opened the gap with McCain, who isn’t the greatest campaigner, and who wanted to be a clone of Bush, a disastourous tactical mistake for a so-called Maverick.

You take the 20 leading groups supporting him in the liberal-progressive pantheon: labor, anti-poverty, civil rights, women’s rights, gay-lesbian rights, environment, consumer – you name it – not one of them is putting any demands on him.

Unconditional voting for the least worst of the two parties means that your vote has no political leverage whatsoever. It allows Obama to take it for granted, and not give the anti-war people anything because He knows he has the anti-war vote.  Just like Kerry turned his back on the anti-war movement. Then they go to the right wing and slice off a few votes there by going more corporate and flip-flop on offshore drilling. The same merry-go-around every 4 years.

The liberal intelligensia is doomed unless they solve this problem of unconditional voting for the least worst candidate.

On the Death Penalty/War on Drugs/ Cynthia McKinney

I’ve been against the death penalty since I was a student at Harvard Law school in the 1950s when I saw what kind of defense accused people of impoverished means got when they were prosecuted. They got the most incompetent lawyers, that meant a lot of innocent people got executed just for lack of effective defense. Some of these laywers are so bad they fall asleep in the middle of proceedings.

The death penalty doesn’t deter crime. And it’s much more expensive to proceed on a capital case toward execution than it is life imprisonment without parole. It’s always the poor and minorities who have the huge proportion of people that are executed. Finally, there’s a moral issue. Even Bill Clinton executed a retarded prisoner. Other western states don’t have the death penalty.

We’re for a national amnesty for all non-violent drug offenders. Let them out of jail and use the empty cells and fill them with convicted, corporate crooks. That will also improve prison conditions because powerful convicts just won’t stand for the food.

We don’t send nicotine addicts to jail, and cigarettes take 400,000 lives a year, 40 times what hard drugs do. And we don’t send alcoholics to jail. Why do we send drug addicts to jail? We’re not talking about kingpins. This isn’t a criminial issue. This is a health issue.

800,000 young people in this country are arrested every year in this country for possession mostly of small amounts of marijuana. This is madness, not to mention the billions of dollars this costs taxpayers.

On if Nader’s Raiders Would Be Possible Today

It would possible to form it, but the doors (in Washington) have slammed shut. That’s why I’m running for office. I’m trying to mobilize civic energy. Most of those citizen groups, and many of them I’ve started, just don’t like to admit that they are working harder and harder for virtually nothing. It’s corporate occupied territory. There isn’t one department agency, including departtment of labor that isn’t controlled by corporate influence inside and out. Look at the Treasury, Goldman Sachs veterans going to Washington to bail out their buddies, department of defense, deptartment of agriculture, interior, and so on. Either we organize new institutions, political institutions, or shut down and go watch the whales in Monterey.

The liberals and progressives just don’t want to face reality.  It’s over, and it’s over with the Democrats, too.

The Democrats just thumb their noses at the groups that say you can’t pass the $700 billion bailout like this with a little Barney Frank and Chris Dodd window dressing. You’ve got to have reregulation now. This is when Washington had Wall Street over a barrel. You give authority to shareholders to control their out-of-control bosses, you make the speculators pay for their own bailouts with a 1/10 of 1% of a derivatives’ transaction sales tax. People pay 6-8% sales tax on necessities in stores as we’re speaking and there’s no sales tax on billions of dollars traded every day. It’s $500 trillion traded this year, so 1/10 of 1% would produce $500 billion. We need a speculation tax. But they’re too cowardly to even do that.

So they gave a blank check and said: ‘oh, we’ll look at it next year.’ These people are cowards. Aside from Kucinich and one or two other people, they’re cowards.